some of my better ideas, part i

Last year at this time I was making THIS DECISION- the decision to stay home with Blythe once she arrived. 

If I'm being honest, I wrestle with that decision from time to time, but mostly I know it was the right one [I'll write a post on this soon]. 

I know also that even though right now I'm technically a stay at home mom, I'm still a teacher. Remember this? That being said, I still have these strange moments that hit me out of no where and I get these [what I think are brilliant] ideas for things I can do in my future classroom. It is kind of like when I was in college prepping to become a teacher, only different because now I have more knowledge on what actually works with kids. 

my classroom in Kentucky
I've had the opportunity a few times this year to pass on ideas to other teachers- some are friends who are just starting out, and some have been at it awhile and have run dry of ideas. 

So in the interest of keeping my teaching bones healthy, I thought I would write a little list of some of the best ideas I've ever had that have worked well in my classroom. Some of them were bred out of necessity to incorporate some tool the district wanted us to use, others out of my sheer boredom at doing things normally. 

If you are a teacher, feel free to steal any ideas or tell me they are ludicrous. 

Here are ten things that worked well in my classroom: INSTALLMENT ONE

1- Ice Cream Sundae Writing Process
and other writer's workshop mini lessons

I found the best way to teach students how to write was to just let them write. Hmmm…sounds simple. Well, these mini lessons made it easy for me to help them through the process, and made the whole thing seem less…stuffy. First, letting Anne Lamott guide me, I did a slight modification to a chapter in her book, "Bird by Bird," and we talked about writing "crappy" first drafts-- just get your thoughts on paper people! Once they were past the panic-stricken this-has-to-be-perfect-the-first-time or I-have-nothing-good-enough-to-write-about moments,  they could actually write. And then that is when the mini lessons came in [and I must give credit to some of this to a workshop I attended by Nancy Atwell]. 

First the kids filed in and then I told them I was going to give them an analogy of the writing process. BORING! their eyes shout it at me but I push on. I tell that that for my "pre-writing" I must gather my supplies. And what to their wondering eyes should appear? I start busting out ice cream, whipped cream, syrups, sprinkles…you name it. Their eyes widen and I have their undivided attention if for no other moment during the entire school year. I proceed, comparing the drafting stage to actually putting my sundae together, revision occurs when I remove syrup, add sprinkles, and move around the whipped cream. Then editing: I clean up the mess. And then the grand finale, that makes this one of the best things I've ever done? I ask them, "So if the next step is publishing, what will come next in my analogy?" Eventually they figure out that this means I must share with them. So I dish up 100+ bowls of ice cream and they work on creating their own analogies on posters to show me they understand. And the beautiful thing is? They GET IT! 

The rest of the week I had a "show don't tell" lesson, which became infamous so I couldn't do it every year because I had to act EXTREMELY upset for about 2 minutes and scream at them… if you're interested in this lesson I'll share more later. 

The idea is, though, that at the end of each lesson they return to their own writing piece and add/fix/move whatever! based on what we just discussed. 

2- Station Work
and others ways to get them moving

Unlike me, my husband did not love to sit in a desk and learn. He was one of my greatest assets when it came to lesson planning. If it sounded boring to him, it would most likely be boring to my students. There are some things that are just boring [i.e. grammar], but there are other things that are only boring if approached the wrong way [i.e. sitting in a desk for hours on end]. So get them moving I say! Once I figured this out and began attempting it, I realized I needed a system, so much of what I learned came from one of the best teachers in the country [I'm serious, she got invited to DC to meet the president because she's so good], that I got to work with [and become her friend for life…I think…I mean, we're still friends, Jenn, right?!] 

So the idea with this is simple. If something can be put on a worksheet, it can just as easily be hung around the room. I would hang up questions, writing prompts, revision stations…you name it- and my students would work in groups or sometimes as individuals. [I actually almost always had them revise their papers this way, really focusing on the different steps of the editing and revision processes at different stations]. Usually each station had to be completed in a different color of pen, which made it easy to check and grade. 
These girls are at the "Lead/Hook" station where they are reading some classmates' introductions to their paper and making sure they have a good lead/hook, and that they state appropriately what their paper will be about. 

Some of the best stations I created were when we were reading and discussing novels. I would post big pieces of poster paper around the room or clump the desks in tables and put them there. Each poster would have ONE thing for them to "discuss"/write about: Visualization, Characters, Predictions, Plot, Questions, Text Connections, Conflict. I would simply split them into groups, each group getting a different color of marker. They would go to a station and they could ask questions or make comments on paper based on that topic. After 5-7 minutes, they would rotate. They would them bring their marker, read what the groups before them wrote, and respond, and then write new questions and or comments. It worked beautifully, especially for the quieter kids who have great thoughts but hesitate to participate. 

It's hard to tell, because this was a pretty small class, but this is station work at its finest. This group of students had me two years in a row, so basically I turned the clock on and they knew what to do. If I had a larger room, there is no telling how crazy I may have gotten with this sort of stuff! :) 
I always used the ONLINE STOPWATCH and just projected it on the screen so kids knew how much time they had at each station to work. It kept them focused and moving, and the class periods FLEW by!

3- Book Talk
using yarn to get them talking

Leading discussions on books can sometimes be dreadful. Sometimes, if you have the right questions, and the moon is in the right phase, and there are no school events happening that evening, and the boys are being right the girls it can be wonderful. So I tried to figure out a way to get the kids talking to one another, and leave me out of it entirely. 

I know this is a little grainy: I snapped a picture with my phone of a picture in the yearbook…but can you see how cute my shoes are? Also, this was an 8th grade class-- I had to help them out a little more. My sophomores and juniors are pretty self sufficient with it. 
Typically I schedule the Book Talk just before the climax of the book, and guide them in their preperation. They must come up with questions, comments, connections etc. the day before. The day of we push the desks back, plop on the floor in a circle, and I go over some basic instructions and then they get to it. The person talking gets the yarn, and then others raise their hands if they want to respond or add to previous comment or question. The person with the yarn keeps one strand and decides who to toss it to. By the time we're done they've created a large web of yarn and I tell them that this represents how much they know about the book. They eventually figure it out and don't need me; by the end they are discussing with one another. I prep them by telling them not to look to me for the answers, but rather their classmates, and they pick it up quickly. I ask that everyone contributes at least 3-4 times in my smaller classes, and 2-3 in larger ones for their grade. 

4- Coffee Shop Poetry
getting them to enjoy and not fear poetry

I was surprised to find out that many teachers fear teaching poetry. It is one of my favorite units all year! My main goal for the poetry unit is to get kids to understand that poetry isn't just Shakespeare Sonnets. We watch SLAM poetry, we read a variety of modern poetry, we find poetic devices in song lyrics, and they write and write and write poetry. 

They create a visual representation of a line from a poem or song that shows me the IMAGERY of the line, and I end up with some pretty cool projects. 
"A child said, What is grass?
fetching it to me with full hands."
Walt Whitman
The thing though that worked really well was our coffee shop poetry reading at the end of the unit. I dim the lights. I project a picture of a coffee shop. I bring in cookies and hot chocolate and coffee [and sometimes lemonade for those boys that sweat ALL the time, let alone when drinking a hot beverage]. We form tables out of the desks. And then one by one my brave little souls parade to the front and share at least two poems they have written during the unit. And then we snap for them. It is fantastic. And then I asked them about poetry and they said THESE THINGS.
My sophomores listening to a classmate share a poem
5- Chains of Knowledge
one of the best LARGE SCALE reviews I've done

Umm…that may be a fire hazard on the lights? 
I hate test time in the spring. I hate it because it's nice out and we are inside "buckling" down. I hate it because I know what my kids know and don't know at this point in the year, and I also know that they don't need the anxiety of a state mandated test to tell them if they are above or below or average. Regardless of how I feel about them though, they come every year, so we try to make the best of them.

One year I wanted to keep my kids busy on that dreaded full day of school before Christmas break. It's like herding cats, people. Herding cats. I thought of those paper chains I used to make as a child to count down the days until Christmas… and then voila…this activity was born. I've since used it as an activity at the end of each semester. 

I turned it into a competition: each link had to contain an "educational nugget" with something learned from the year. AND they had to take it a step further…they couldn't just write "simile" on the link, because that doesn't show that they really learned anything. They had to write a definition OR example with it. The raced the clock, and each other: boys against girls. Good ol' fashioned fun. 

And man o' man did they create some LOOOOOOOONG chains. They had to work without notes for at least 20 minutes, and could use notes for the last 5. It was a fury of stapling and writing and chain making for nearly half an hour. But the best part of this activity? The conversations and terms and words I heard flying around the room while they worked. "Oh! Remember static and dynamic characters?!" "Yeah! But we need to add personification and dangling modifiers too!" "Okay. And when you get done with that write about foreshadowing and author's purpose." Music to my ears. 

I'll share the next five soon: 

6- Writers Notebook-- teaching them to love writing [like this ]
7-Classroom Book
8- Giant plot chart/character chart
9- Review Games [pass back, swat]
10- Sidewalk Chalk/ something different [pixar] 

and a bonus: how to teach high schoolers what an "anecdote" is

For now it's back to this sweet peanut… 

…and please share your best ideas with me! 


Jenny Russell said...

I just want to put my input out there that I remember my times in that classroom and they are some of my favorites!! I hope your past students and future students realize just how lucky they are to have you as one of their teachers!

Hannah said...

we are doing poetry right now... I'm thinking I will have to try out your poetry coffee house idea. I especially like the snapping bit :) ... if you have any other tidbits you think are valuable when it comes to teaching poetry I'd be more than happy for you to share them :)

Thanks for all the other awesome ideas!