Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Jigsaw Activity - Best Answer

Sometimes we need ideas for activities that get students up, moving, and collaborating with their peers.  This allows them to demonstrate their thinking in a different way.  One fun way to accomplish this is to use this jigsaw activity - best answer.

Have a variety of different questions that you want students to be working on - you will want about 4-5 students working on the same question.  You will also need different coloured post it notes.  Each question correlates to a different colour.

Post the questions on the board and ensure that students understand which question correlates to each colour.  Distribute one post it note to each student - you can distribute these randomly, or you can be strategic based on the students that you have in your class - and tell them to write the best answer that they can to their question on their post it note.  Once all of the students have written down an answer, they will get up and find all of the classmates who had the same coloured post it note.  As a group, they will determine who had the best answer.  They should be able to explain why they chose the answer that they did.  They will share their question and answer with the class.

My favourite time to use this activity is in exam preparation.  I will use an old reading comprehension multiple choice exam and complete the reading (short story, poem, non fiction) together.  Then I take the questions associated with the text and use these as the questions that students will answer on their post its.  Students will not see the four multiple choice options.  After students present their best answer as a group, I will show the four multiple choice options.  As a class, we discuss which of these options comes closest to the answer that the group came up with.  Then we will see if that is the correct answer.

Food for thought... what are some fun activities that you can do as an alternative to traditional exam prep? 

Monday, 16 November 2015

Exit Slip - What is the Question?

Many times, I want to do a quick check to see if my students have the knowledge and understanding that I want them to have on a given topic.  There are lots of quick "exit slip" activities that I have used, and this is one of my favourites.

I call this assessment activity "What is the Question?".  It allows for differentiation, because students can "question the answer" at their own level.

For this activity, I write an answer on the board.  This answer is the topic that I want to ensure that my students understand.  For example, I might put up the name of a character.  I tell students that this is the answer to a question, and I need them to tell me what the question might be.  I like to use mini whiteboards with this activity - each student has a mini whiteboard, writes their answer down, and holds it up for me to see.  This ensures that every student answers the question, but students don't have to worry about other students seeing their own answer.  I can do a quick scan to see where my students are and move on with my lesson.

Food for thought... what are your favourite exit slip activities?

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Vocabulary Building Activities

English teachers are always looking for new ways to teach vocabulary.  Sometimes, telling students to "write the definition in your own words" or "use the word in a sentence" just isn't going to cut it.  Here are a few fun ideas:

Write key vocabulary terms all over the board.  One at a time, students come up to the board, choose a word to erase, and tell the class something about that word.  You can support your struggling students by choosing the order that the students come to the board in a strategic manner.  You might also decide to give the words to students ahead of time to reduce anxiety.

Play What's Up.  This app, promoted by Ellen Degeneres, has an add on that allows you to enter your own words.  You can enter vocabulary words and have the students play.  Player one holds the phone or iPad with the word to his or her forehead while player two tries to get player one to guess the word.

Play Funglish.  This is another idea from Ellen... she must love English teachers!  There are three categories- "Definitely," "Not," and "Kind of."  Students put descriptive words in these categories to try to get the class to guess the word.  

Food for thought... what are your favourite vocabulary games?

Monday, 9 November 2015

Showing vs. Telling

English teachers often tell their students to "show, not tell."  We know what this means.  But what about our struggling students?  How can we model this for them?

One easy way to talk to students about showing vs. telling is to brainstorm what we might see in certain situations.  Take some very basic sentences that students might write about a character:

-He was sad.
-He felt happy.
-She was scared.
-She felt embarrassed.

Now how can we "show, not tell" in these sentences?

Let's start with the word "sad."  Have the class brainstorm how you might know that someone is sad.  Perhaps they have tears all over their face, they are blowing their nose with a tissue, their bottom lip is trembling... these descriptions "show" sadness instead of stating that someone is sad.

Try a gradual release of responsibility with an activity like this.  First you can show them how you would complete the activity.  For sentence number two, have students share answers as a whole group and you can write down their responses.  For sentence three, have students work together with a partner or in a small group.  Finally, have students brainstorm on the last sentence individually.

Food for thought... how do you help your students to be more descriptive writers?

Friday, 6 November 2015

Writing Games - Musical Writing

When I talk to my colleagues in other content areas, they are always telling me about games that they play to reinforce skills with their students.  Math games, History games, Science games... and of course games in Phys. Ed.  These are always discussed with great joy as students love playing these games and they seem to do a really good job of teaching content in an engaging way.  So what are some games that I can play in English Language Arts?

One idea is Musical Writing.  It is a fun spin on Musical Chairs.  Although it is based on a game meant for young children, I have played this game successfully with high school students.  It gets kids up and moving, and it has students practice writing in context.

Set up chairs so that they are facing outward in a circle.  There should be a chair for each student.  Unlike traditional Musical Chairs, you will not be removing chairs as the game goes on.  Students will each sit in a chair with a notebook and a pen or pencil.  Students will be given a particular time frame to write.  This time frame should be very short, but think about your students and their abilities when you choose a length of time.  The teacher will need to decide if there will be a prompt or if this will be an opportunity for free writing.  I like doing this activity with a prompt because it will allow students to see how different writers approach a similar prompt in very different ways.

Allow students to write for their given times and then have them stop and drop their writing on their chairs.  Just like in musical chairs, play music for a few moments and have students travel around in a circle.  When the music stops, they stop, sit down, and pick up the writing that was left behind on the chair.  They must read what has been written so far and then continue the writing.  The teacher should consider that each round of writing will require more time to allow students to read the story that has been created thus far by their classmates.

When the game is almost over, tell the students that this will be the last round.  When the music starts, their job will be to read the story and conclude it in some way.  Once the stories have been wrapped up, have each student collect his or her original notebook and read how their first few sentences were changed by their classmates.  Have students share any extraordinary stories with the class.  You might even do a carousel activity to allow students to read all of the stories.

Food for thought... do you have any favourite ELA games?    

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Character Values-Based Report Cards

Characters are a big part of what makes reading fun.  We connect to characters - whether we love them or hate them.  We want to see what decisions they will make and how their relationships will evolve.  We want to see how their lives will end up.  Teachers are always on the hunt for engaging and meaningful assignments that will help their students to better understand the characters that they are reading about.  Creating a values-based report card for a character is a method that can be applied to any character in any text.

First, you must come up with a list of values.  This list might be generated by the teacher or by the students.  Each student might be working with the same list of values, or they might have different lists.  Then the student must assign a grade and a comment to each of those values, similar to what they would see on a report card.  You might even want to use the report card that your school uses as a template for your character report cards.  Students are required to think critically about characters, and they are also working on using strong vocabulary.

Here are some possible examples of character report cards - what grades and comments would you leave for the following characters?

Iago (Othello)

Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird)

Gilbert Grape (What's Eating Gilbert Grape?)

Gregor Samsa (The Metamorphosis)

Auggie Pullman (Wonder)

Food for thought... what grades would you give to these characters and why?  Which characters would you like to grade?

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Blogging in the Classroom

Chances are, you follow at least one blog.  From the term "web log," a blog is essentially a digital journal of a person's thoughts.  Many are content specific - fitness, cooking, sports etc. - while others are more informal and conversational - lifestyle blogs.  This means that there is a blog for every interest.  Why wouldn't we tap into this opportunity for high-interest texts for our students to read?  Blogging allows students to:

Build reading skills- giving them high interest texts will help increase student engagement.  Teachers can use these texts to allow students to practice reading skills.

Learn in a cross-curricular manner- skills and content from all subject areas can come together in a blog.  Reading and writing skills from the English Language Arts curriculum, technology outcomes, and fine arts outcomes can combine with content from Science, Math, and Social Studies.  Why not have students write a blog entry about the process of completing a lab in Biology?  Or about the mock election held in Social Studies?

Communicate to an authentic audience- posting online gives students a global audience.  Even if school district policy requires your student blogs to be private, they will be publishing something that their classmates have access to.  When students create content for people other than the teacher, they need to learn what it means to take audience into account.

Build digital literacy- in an increasingly digital world, students need to know how to be digitally literate.  How do they determine whether a website is a good source?  Creating a blog will require that students take these factors into account as they create their own content.  They will also need to learn how to effectively engage in an online conversation, how to be a good digital citizen, how to ensure that they are leaving a positive digital footprint, and how to ensure that they are not plagiarizing.

Learn how to give and receive effective feedback- blogs are social in that they allow the reader to engage in a conversation with the author via blog comments.  So what does it mean to leave a good comment?  Is it okay to say, "nice blog!" to all of your friends?  Is this really engaging in a conversation and enhancing learning?

Food for thought... have you ever tried blogging with your students?  How did it go?  Is something keeping you from blogging in the classroom?