Red Card, Black Card, Move

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The utilization of movement varies from grade level to grade level and from teacher to teacher. I was visiting with a teacher recently, and she mentioned how the use of “brain breaks” is different from elementary to middle school.  Middle school teachers were labeling time to get up and pass in papers or sharpen pencils as brain breaks.  Elementary school teachers were incorporating dance moves or stretching as brain breaks.  I think both, depending on how they are used, or the outcomes of the movements could be considered brain breaks.

I also often hear teachers request the use of movement to enhance content, or the use of movement in conjunction with content.  Many of the activities on this site are, or can be, used alongside the delivery of content.  I also hear from teachers the need for the use of movement in their classrooms to be simple and easy to implement.  This activity is both simple and easily adapted to any content.  A colleague of mine was explaining the activity in the following manner:

Each student is given either a red playing card or a black playing card. In the front of the room, one of the unit’s essential questions was written on a red piece of chart paper, and a second essential question was written on a black piece of chart paper.  Each student was also given a sticky note. When directed, students answered the essential question according to the playing card they received. Students then found a partner with the same playing card and discussed their answers (and made any modification) to the essential question they were assigned.  The sticky notes were then placed on the corresponding chart paper.

This is a simple activity that does not require a lot of thought. It can be modified in many ways. Students could pair up with someone with the opposite color of playing cards and have a conversation. Students could have a large group conversation after dividing themselves up into two large groups.  As the unit progresses, students could be asked to answer the other essential question and repeat the activity.  The same can happen at the end of the unit as a check to see if the essential questions were addressed throughout the unit.

Using movement in the classroom does not have to be flashy.  It can be simple and enhance the normal flow content delivery and classroom discussions; therefore, all teachers should be able to add more movement to their classes on a daily basis.

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Writing Connections With K’NEX

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Everyone has experienced some type of writer’s block. For some students, this occurs more frequently than others.  There ar many causes of writer’s block which may include: structure, classroom environment, brainstorming of ideas, topic, class, focus, time, health, boredom, interest, and so on.  This list can be endless.

There are multiple ways to address writer’s block. In order to combat issues related to stress, anxiety, focus, and lack of ideas, physical movement and tactile manipulation can help calm inhibitors and stimulate the mind allowing writing to occur more freely, or naturally.

Struggling students often need structure to give them stability and guide them through the writing steps they need to produce an effective writing piece. The delivery of the structure can vary from class to class (and year to year), but providing students with options and clear connections between a topic and the writing process is often critical to success.

For this activity, K’NEX (http://www.knexeducation.com/) are used to help inspire creativity and to help illustrate connections in the writing process. K’NEX are building toys consisting of colorful rods and connectors.  The various K’NEX building sets range from simple parts and machines to elaborate systems utilizing pulleys and levers. K’NEX are utilized in some schools to accent STEM activities, but they can also be used in a more simplified manner to help teach students the writing process.

One way to utilize K’NEX is through teaching a basic writing structure. For example, a paragraph may consist of a topic sentence, a detail sentence, an explanation of the detail sentence, followed by a second detail and explanation sentence, and ending with a connecting or concluding sentence. Of course, there are many variations of this and the type of writing and age level will influence this structure. This can be stretched to an essay including an introduction paragraph, body paragraphs, and a conclusion paragraph.  The elaboration of the structure varies from text to text. After an introduction to the writing structure, student groups (or teams) are given a pile of K’NEX. As a group, they create a visual representation of a paragraph, essay, or other writing text. Since K’NEX are color-coded and have the ability to connect in multiple ways, as well as bend, these visual representations can be quite powerful. As an alternative, the instructor can assign elements of a paragraph a color, so students may have to figure out how to connect pieces based on their role.  Since the rods are different sizes and shapes, teachers can use this as a formative assessment to determine the understanding of paragraph/essay structure.

A second way to use K’NEX with writing, is to have students use building sets in relation to an assigned topic. Students can work in teams, or individually, to construct a representation of their topic. The physical manipulation, and the creative outlet, helps students move beyond initial writer’s block allowing them to proceed with the writing process.

Adding more movement to the activity could include a gallery walk or a human representation of the K’NEX creations. The hands-on activity, followed by the physical movement, provides needed mind-body connections that further enhance the academic progress with writing.