some of my better ideas, part ii

For my teacher-friends having post-christmas-break-brain, I am compiling a little list of some things have have worked well for me in my classroom. Here are the first five ideas in PART I . Now more of my classroom craziness: 

6- Writer's Notebook
 teaching them to love writing [like this ]
The major thing I did in class was writers' notebooks. It was my favorite thing we did, and ended up being many of my students favorite thing too. When I first taught I had 70 minute class periods, so we did Writer's Notebook [WNB] everyday for ten minutes at the beginning of class. Here I had 50 minute class periods so we could only do it two or three times a week. The set up was simple: students would walk into class an there was a WNB prompt/invitation on the screen. When they saw it, they knew to pick up their composition notebooks, which were kept in a tub for each class. When the bell rang I read them them the invitation, then they numbered their entry, I played some mellow music, and they would write for 8-10 minutes. At the end of that time if anyone wanted to share they could. Obviously this took prep work to get them into the routine, so I always spent a week or two walking them through what was expected and read them personal examples of what I write in response to certain prompts. Sometimes the invitations were poems, or song lyrics, sometimes they were just a picture or a video clip, other times they were starter lines or questions…the options are endless. 

At the beginning of the year many resisted and struggled with writing…but I tell them to just keep their pencils moving the entire time. I always told them, "If you write everyday you get better at writing every day." Eventually they get mad because ten minutes just isn't enough time! Some would use it for creative writing stories, others for stories about their childhood, some for poetry…whatever! That is why I love it. I them them it isn't a diary though, and to push themselves to try different styles of writing. Here are some examples of responses from my 8th graders a few years ago. 

It is a lot of writing though, and as a teacher you simply can't read it all. Someone once told me, "If you are reading EVERYTHING they write, then they aren't writing enough!" This gave me the freedom to let them write every day without being stressed to grade it all. I walked around and skimmed while they were writing everyday, and then graded their notebooks once a quarter [or once a semester if I was way behind!] I simply counted their entries, made sure they were writing something of substance and writing enough, and then read two entries they selected. I made it a test grade, because it was that important. They do need to know you're reading it at some point, but my kids never seemed to care that I didn't read them every day/week. 

7-Classroom Book
creating something collectively 

Two years ago my sophomores watched the film "Freedom Writers." They ate it up. So I decided to run with it. I created open ended prompts around the room [in STATIONS!] and they took their notebooks and wrote and wrote. They spent only two minutes at 9 stations…so they had to not filter and just write. The first thing they wrote at the top of their notebook page was a quote from the movie:

"We have something to say to people. We are writers with our own voices. Even if no one ever reads what we write it says, 'We were here. We matter. We won't forget.'" 

The prompts varied from "I want…" to "I wish…" to "I felt loss when…" to "What I really want to say is…"

Once I saw their responses I knew I had to do something with them. So we made a book. It took way more time than I thought it would but it was totally worth it. I cried and cried as I read their honest and raw responses. We voted on a title, book dedications…everything. I had a limited budget [i.e. I didn't have one], so it was made with simple white computer paper. At the end of the year they all got a copy. 

The day after I passed them out to the students a boy came up to me and handed me a folded piece of notebook paper. I opened it up, and in sharpie he had written: "Thank you for listening." 

I will always be connected to that class in a unique way because of the book we created together and the stories we shared in it. I gave a copy to local youth pastors, our school counselor, and our principal saying, "If you really want to know how teens feel, read this." If my house caught on fire, I would grab the book. 

8- Giant plot chart/character chart
because "go big or go home" is an excellent idea

Reading and comprehending novels is sometimes difficult for visual learners: enter GINORMOUS charts that cover my classroom walls and windows for a couple months. Who needs to see the outside when you're discussing "To Kill a Mockingbird" or "The Great Gatsby"? Am I right? 

We discuss plot: Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution…and then I put up the HUGE chards. Once a week I pass our sticky notes and everyone [EVERYONE!] has to add something NEW to the chart and update the one they have in their binders. We also use this time to talk about other elements like foreshadowing and literary devices etc. We do the same with our character chart and talk about characterization and how the author develops each character and we sometimes use string to show how they are connected. 

And then during the test, when the charts are no longer on the wall, those visual learners are staring so hard at where it used to be they nearly burn holes. And they do well on the test! Score! 

9- Review Games
you've already put in the work, so preparing for tests should be fun

I love review game day. Giving students a study guide and letting them sit quietly and study all hour WOULD be easier for me but who wants to do that when you could be playing games?! Not this girl. 

A few games that always worked well:

SWAT: This game works very well if there is a lot of vocabulary that needs to be learned. I simply throw up the words on a power point, and divide my class into two teams. Each line is given a fly swatter. I read the definition and the first one to swat the correct word gets a point. That's the gist. They love it. 

PASS BACK 5: I put them in rows of five and create different "challenges" for them. Each challenge has 5 questions, so each row starts with Challenge One. THe catch is that the first person answers question one on their own, then passes it back to person two. Person two cannot change person one's answer, and can only answer number two. They pass back to three and so on. Once number 5 is done, they run [literally] up to the front and give me their row's paper. I check them. If they got one wrong I mark it and start it back in the row and they have to correct the wrong ones person by person as well. Once they get them all correct, they can move on the Challenge Two. The row that finishes all the challenges first and correctly wins [candy or bonus points on test, usually]. They get so competitive! It's a lot of fun. Usually I try to ask questions that can be answered in somewhat short, quick responses that still show they understand the content. 

If it can be reviewed in a game…do it! [Because that is when moments like THIS happen! :)]

10- Sidewalk Chalk
the art of doing something unusual

Similar to creating stations to get them out of their seats, I learned it was important to keep them guessing. If I was ever creating a lesson and though, "Sheesh! This is boring." I would rack my brain to try and think of another way to do it. 

We once did grammar outside with sidewalk chalk. 

Don't read sentences too closely- I was making them up off the top of my head
We did homophones on clear contact paper and pasted them all over my room [and ceiling!]. 

We took notes about commas on the desks! [either by putting down clear contact paper and using sharpies or writing with expo markers] 

We learned about short story elements by watching Disney Pixar Digital Short films. 

You get the idea. I found when I got them out of their seat and thought beyond worksheets and book work, we all had more fun, but more importantly THEY GOT IT! 

and a bonus: how to teach high schoolers what an "anecdote" is
  I am a firm believer in laughing. I think laughter can create community with my students. So when we were studying non-fiction writing, and they needed to learn what an anecdote was, this story popped into my head. You be the judge of whether or not this moment was appropriate:

Me: Does anyone know what an anecdote is?
Them: silence. crickets chirping.
Me: Okay-- well, an anecdote is a short story or account of an event that's usually interesting or amusing in someway. Anecdotes usually help us remember something or give us insight into how a person views the event. 
Them: silence. crickets chirping.
Me: Okay. Here is a an anecdote my friend shared with me about her new job at a daycare:
 She took the kids outside and was sitting on a bench watching them play. One child was jumping across on these fireman pole things-- jump, jump…she then noticed him jump crotch first into one. He came walking over to her: "Umm, Mith Becker," he lisped, "I just bonked my penith on that blue pole over there. Can I get an ithe-pack or thomething?" 
Them: laughter. 

Most of them remembered what an anecdote was the next time I asked too! 

That's all I have for now, folks. Thanks for letting me put on my teacher shoes for a little bit! 

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