One of the growth goals I set for myself last year was to increase my students' vocabulary. I had always done vocabulary activities like KIM charts, Vocabulary Connection Charts and Vocabulary Task Cards, but upon further reflection, I realized that I was only really installing then using vocabulary terms with my students, and not overtly practicing it. I felt I could do better.
One day while driving to school, a great idea hit me! I had stumbled on a quick and easy way for my students to review all their vocabulary terms every day, and it would only take about two minutes of class time!
I call it A-B Partner (or Shoulder Partner or Letter Partner) Vocab Review, and we do it at the beginning of nearly every class. I project one of our unit's vocab words, and person A defines it to person B. If person B thinks they are correct, they give person A a quick thumbs up. After 10 seconds, person B gets to define the next word and so on. All told, 12 words takes 120 seconds (2 minutes)! Sometimes I vary it by projecting the definitions rather than the words and the students must recall the words as sometimes assessments ask vocab questions either way.
I love this strategy. It's quick, easy, and effective. My students get engaged in the vocabulary, can see their progress day-to-day, and have averaged well over 90% on vocab quizzes since I started it!
Do you know when the first toothbrushes were made?
Me neither 'til I looked it up. My son asked me this question the other day, and after I googled a quick answer, I found myself clicking on websites to find out where they were invented and by whom. These searches led me to other questions and answers I didn't even know I wanted to know. For instance, modern looking toothbrushes were invented in 1498, and boar bristles were commonly used until 1938.
So, what's all this have to do with teaching? Well, it's a strategy I use all the time to spark interest and generate questions. Presenting unusual or unexpected information makes kids - especially middle schoolers - curious. This curiosity sparks questions that can inspire future learning.
For example, just before Christmas break, we were learning about ancient Egypt, and my students were losing focus and things were getting a bit stale (no mummy jokes please!), so for my question focus, I showed a picture of a pyramid.
Big deal, right? Egypt is full of pyramids, but so is Cahokia in Illinois! We had a brief discussion about how pyramids aren't just an "Egypt thing", why pyramids exist in the first place, and why they had never heard of the Cahokian ones. Then, with a new-found curiosity and enthusiasm, we learned about Egyptian pyramids!
By the way, an early form of toothbrush existed as long ago as 3000 BCE throughout the ancient world. Who knew?
Here's a quick idea that might help if you struggle with transition times...
When I was new, my class would be going fine, they when we transitioned to a new activity or passed out a material, I'd lose them. The time lost passing getting my students focus back after passing out papers really started to pile up (especially since I move through several activities in most class periods).
Waiting for a guided note taking sheet or map or reading activity is a terrible time to teach new content, but a great time to review!
Here's a typical one, "While my friend Brian passes out your note taking sheet, who can tell me what part of a map tells you what the symbols mean?" Then, use the answer to prompt other questions, "Great job, Maddie! Now, who can tell me another part of a map?" and so on. It usually only takes three or four questions before the papers are passed out and your class is ready to go! You can even keep score to see which table answers the most questions if you want to build more buy-in by making it a game.
On my way back from NCSS 2018 (the National Social Studies Conference AKA: Social Studies Dork Heaven!), I was thinking about all the great sessions I'd gone to and amazing speakers I'd met. My biggest question was, "What new idea should I try first?"
As I paid toll after toll (thanks Chicago...), I couldn't stop thinking about the question formulation technique from the Right Question Institute. It is a way of getting students to generate, improve, then narrow down a list of questions about a topic to generate a student-guided investigation into something. My units are already pretty set in stone, but I wanted to try it on a smaller scale to generate interest and curiosity (especially so close to the holiday break). I modified the strategy to be one to spark curiosity and gave it a try, and I ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT!
Here are the steps:
1. Explain the directions very carefully.
2. Project the picture and DO NOT give any information about it or answer ANY questions.
3. In groups of 2-4, the students round robin-style whisper and record questions they have about the image on a shared piece of paper for about 2 minutes.
4. Give the groups one minute to identify their "1 burning question" and circle it on their lists.
5. Each group shares out their question and you record the questions on the board or sheet of chart paper to be referred to during the day or unit to see if their questions have been answered by the end of the unit or activity.
New Teachers (or Teachers who feel new),
Congratulations! You've almost half way through the school year! If you're like I was at the beginning of my career, the following things probably ring true:
1. It's not at all like on TV.
2. It's a lot harder than you thought it would be.
3. You're starting to get the hang of it.
4. Just a couple more easy weeks, then a nice, long and restful holiday season!
Well, the first two are definitely true. But don't worry; everyone feels like that. The last one, though...
Well, remember how your students were right before Halloween? Multiply that by 10.
So, here are some tips and strategies to try out or keep in mind as we all get geared up for a restful break:
1. Lesson plan and make copies for at least the first week after break so you can actually rest and re-charge.
2. Plan less intense, more interactive activities that let your students talk - 'cause they will anyway. Harness it for learning.
3. Don't be afraid to try something new. If it works - great! If it fails miserably, your students probably won't remember it in two weeks after break anyway.
4. Lastly, relax over break. You are doing your best, and things will get better.
Relax, and Happy Holidays,