On a whirlwind tour of classrooms in Smyrna, Delaware this week, I saw a teacher use a simple strategy for engaging students. The teacher had 10 paper lunch bags, one for each small group to share. Inside the bags she had placed 26 cards, each with one letter of the alphabet. The lesson objective was to identify and discuss the impact of the narrative elements in a story. Students were listening to the teacher read, and reading along in their own books. Every so often, the teacher stopped, directed the students to pull a letter out of their “letter bag,” and then make a connection between the letter and a narrative element. For example, one group pulled an “O” and discussed how the setting of the story was “outdoors.” Another group pulled an “E” and wondered what the “exciting” climax would be.
This is the type of strategy I love for 3 reasons:
1. Highly engaging – it was multi-modality and had an element of unpredictability that students immediately loved
2. Highly applicable – the same strategy could be used to encourage connections to any content discussion, as an activator, or even as a summarizing moment, K-12!
3. Low prep – such a quick thing to put together
Encourage students to make connections between what they are learning in class and the larger world around them.
Bring in a pile of newspapers or choose some online news sites. Give each student a section of the paper and ask them to find something, anything, in the paper that relates to the concept or vocabulary term you are learning.
For example, in a middle school math lesson on polygons, students searched the paper for something related to polygons. After a few moments, students shared their findings with the whole class. Examples included: a picture of a cell phone, a basketball court, a corporate logo and a boxed ad.
With the school year coming to a close, this is a great time for students to share their knowledge with next year’s incoming class. One strategy for accomplishing this is “Pay it Forward Post-Its.”
Here’s how we used it this week. I was working with students on
CCS RI.4.5. Describe the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in a text or part of a text.
After students had a solid understanding of the different types of informational text, they were each given several sticky notes. At the top of each they were directed to write “Example of _______,” filling in the text type name. Underneath, they drew a visual representation that might aid their comprehension or note taking. For example, underneath “Example of Compare/Contrast” might be a Venn Diagram.
Students were then given time to wander the classroom, looking for informational texts. As they browsed a text, they looked for a page on which they could stick their note, showing a good example of that text type. These sticky notes will be left in the books until next year, when new students will come across them as they explore books. This will expose the new students to the concepts and vocabulary in real contexts.
Pay it Forward Post-Its can be used in a variety of content areas. For example, students in a math class could place sticky notes in their math texts that identify certain types of problem solving (i.e. decomposition.) Students in social studies could place sticky notes that identify specific types of conflict (i.e. territorial.) Next year’s students will have a head start on understanding these concepts by occasionally coming across these notes, and this year's students have an opportunity to reinforce their current understanding before heading off on vacation. A win-win!
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