Tying shoes. A simple activity that’s typically performed one or more times daily. Once people learn how to tie shoes, they can do so almost without thinking. One of my favorite activities to do with teachers and students is to teach them how to tie their shoes in a different way, one that is supposedly quicker and more efficient. The task challenges thinking. It builds community with groups of educators who know each other and those who are meeting for the first time. Once groups move…
Summer! I have had the opportunity to spend time at EduFest in Boise, Idaho. Boise is a beautiful city, and despite temperatures over 100, I have been pleasantly surprised by the beauty, food, outdoors, and friendliness of the people. EduFest has also been a great learning experience. The audience for this conference is intended for educators and administrators working with gifted and talented students. Most of the strategies and activities presented in the various sessions would be beneficial for any student.
In one of the sessions that I have attended, I was introduced to a variation of the Tableau Activity that I have written about in previous posts. In a tableau, individuals use their bodies to create a frozen picture representing an object, idea, scene, etc. The frozen picture should include expression, large gestures, and different levels. The session I attended at EduFest was led by Cloyce Weaver from Ontario, Canada. The idea behind the variation described here is to reinforce understanding through collaboration, repetition, and movement. I have modified the activity, but the premise is similar to the original idea introduced in the session.
The example we used in the session was photosynthesis, which I will use here to explain the basic concept in the steps below:
- Students find a space in the room. The teacher provides the initial instruction, “Be the sun.” Students create an frozen picture of the sun.
- The teacher directs students to find a partner. Students pair up and are given another direction, “The two of you represent clouds and rain.” The pair creates a frozen picture, which can become animated when directed, representing this part of the cycle.
- The teacher directs students to create a group of three with classmates they have not yet been with. Once the groups have been formed, the teacher gives the following direction, “As a group of three, become the seed of a plant that begins to grow.” The group performs the action.
- Students are then directed to form a group of four. “As a group of four, create four tableaus depicting the entire cycle.”
- After the group of four presents, the teacher has students return to their original solo spots to become the sun. Next, the students find the spots in the room where as partners they became the rain clouds. They find the spot and become the clouds. The process continues until they perform the final group tableau.
The activity can be extended to include larger groups and eventually the whole class. It can be easily adapted for any nonfiction readings regarding a type of process. It has also can be used to summarize fiction. Students could become the setting and characters as the various tableaus move the class through the plot or storyline. The tableaus could also include the big ideas in the reading, themes, figurative language, and basic analysis. These ideas would take a more processing time, but the repetition and movement may help students recall the information later and apply it to future writing and comprehension assignments.
I had the opportunity of listening to a keynote by Stephen Sroka last week. At one point, Dr. Sroka took out a little bottle of bubbles, took a deep breath, and blew bubbles into the audience. He took three breaths and blew bubble three times to simulate relaxation breathing. I sat there thinking that I wanted to use this technique in my classroom. I know that physical activity helps to reduce stress and anxiety as well as stimulate the mind. Purposeful breathing paired with reflection helps open the mind to deep thinking. I wondered if there was a way to incorporate movement, breathing, and discussing, so I began brainstorming ideas to combine all three. This led to an activity I call Bubble Discussions.
This activity involves all three with the idea that in order for students to participate in deep-thinking conversations, they need to feel respected, calm, and stimulated to engage effectively.
Step 1: Students read a meaningful text. The topic of this short text (no more than two pages) is high-interest with multiple interpretations possible.
Step 2: The teacher chooses quotes from the text to display around the room. In addition to these quotes, the teacher may choose to include visuals (pertaining to topic) and quotes from other power texts. Between 8-12 pieces of paper are hung around the room.
Step 3: Students walk around the room. Using highlighters, they mark the texts identifying words or phrases that are meaningful or resonating with them at that moment. If visuals are used, students highlight specific elements of the visual they find powerful. For example, a facial expression or the lighting of an object in the setting may stimulate a connection a student is making.
Step 4: When prompted, students will return to their seats. The teacher will provide three speech bubbles to the students. Students complete each speech bubble with a thought they have about a specific observation they made viewing the texts. Students then place each speech bubble next to the identified text.
Step 5: Students walk around the room looking at the marked texts and reading the corresponding speech bubbles.
Step 6: The teacher posts an overarching discussion question. While students are reflecting on the activity and the question, students take out bubbles. Each student, as directed, take a deep breath and blow bubbles. They do this three times while thinking about the discussion question.
Step 7: Class Discussion
This activity provides students with several moments to process. They process the text they read, comparison texts and visuals, and the discussion question. Providing students with multiple opportunities helps them successfully prepare for class discussion. At any point during this activity, the teacher can build time for students to complete a think-pair-share or a small group share.
Working with nonfiction texts can be a challenge for students and teachers. Many nonfiction texts contain higher lexile levels and higher levels of complexity. Maintaining a sense of focus for struggling readers may determine the comprehension success of the text.
When I assign a complex nonfiction text, I approach the text using the following steps.
- Setting a purpose. Since struggling readers sometimes have a difficult time understanding why a certain text is being read in class, it is important to set a purpose for reading. Setting a purpose helps students focus on the “why” behind the reading. When students have a clear focus, they can power through obstacles that may get in their way such as unfamiliar words, text structure, and text length.
- Chunking the text. Dividing the text into manageable pieces helps build confidence and endurance. In a two-page article, I divide the text into a minimum of three chunks. Of course, the number of chunks is dependent on the length of the text and the age of the students. When a text has clear divisions, such as headings and subheading, this is an easier task. However, it is important to provide students with specific reading strategies to help them understand what to do during a chunk of reading, what to do at the end of a chunk of reading, and how to proceed to the next chunk of reading.
- Adding movement. With the struggling reading, as well as any reading engaging in a challenging text, I like to give students the opportunity to move at the end of a chunk of reading. The type of movement used, and the purpose of the movement, may change based what students are asked to do with the text as well as the type of readers reading the text. For example, I may add movement to help students with comprehension, or I have students participate in a reading activity designed for deeper analysis.
There are multiple uses for this activity. I mentioned this activity in an earlier post, but I recently used this activity as a during reading activity. The activity is basic, but it does get students up and moving while they are reading.
At the end of a chunk of reading, students are asked to identify textual evidence that supports the overall purpose for reading the text. Students write a piece of textual evidence on a sheet of paper and then they fold the piece of paper into a paper airplane. The class is then divided in half. Half of the class lines up on one side of the classroom and half of the class lines up on the other side of the classroom. The students fly their airplanes to the center of the room, and then they choose an airplane to take back to their desks. At their desks, they read the piece of textual evidence and discuss it in a pair or in a small group. The students proceed to read the second chunk of text. At the end of the second chunk of text, they repeat the process. The activity continues until all three chunks of text have been read.
At the end of the reading, each student will have a piece of paper with three pieces of textual evidence to match the purpose of reading. A class discussion of the evidence may then occur, or students may be assigned a writing prompt. The activity prepares students to look for evidence and analyze evidence of their peers. When writing, all students, regardless of their reading ability, will have textual evidence to use in responding to a prompt.
This activity can be modified in many ways. Instead of textual evidence, students could draw pictures summarizing key points. Students could also answer basic comprehension questions, or they could answer (or develop) higher-order thinking questions.
Providing students with the opportunity to stand during reading, gives them a chance to think about what they have read. It also gives them an opportunity to refocus on another chunk of reading by breaking up the monotony of a being seated while reading a challenging text for an extended amount of time. It also helps reduce stress and anxiety a struggling reader is faced with leading to a more positive and successful reading experience.
My son loves legos. If given the option to do anything, he would spend all day building, creating, and diving into the imaginary world associated with all things legos.
A pile of legos will make many kids happy. Manipulating various shapes, colors, and textures of blocks excites students from kindergarten to middle school to adulthood. Providing students with the time to use their imagination and creativity to build something and associate it with learning allows them to engage multiple senses and areas of the brain sparking synaptic connections increasing the cognitive experience of students in the classroom.
There are several ways to motivate students to read and to perform necessary tasks associated with reading comprehension and analysis. Giving students opportunities to work with legos before, during, and after reading adds a kinesthetic and visual component to the process.
One activity that can be used during reading is to provide each student, or table groups of students, with a bag of legos. During the before reading process, students should chunk the text. Preferably, teachers would choose a text that is already set up with heading and subheadings to make the sections of the text visible to students. After students read a section of the text, time would be given to the students to pause and create a lego representation of what was read. The skills involved may range from focusing on simple details to analyzing arguments through inferences and tone. The lego representation could be completed individually or as a team. When all teams have completed the task, a table group gallery walk could take place for each team to see the work of other teams. The hands-on approach to visualization offers time for mind-body connections to be made associated with a text or reading skill.
A variation of this activity could emphasize lego colors. In this variation, students are provided with specific lego colors. Each color could represent a specific reading skill or concept. For example, groups could be charged with creating a visual representation of a particular section. Green legos could represent main details of the passage and red legos could represent inferences based on the details. The overall visual would symbolize the text. Another example could be based on colors and numbers. Blue legos could form the base of the visual and represent the topic sentence. Yellow legos could be added to represent details, and black legos could represent descriptive words used throughout the paragraph. The activity can be extended to include lego people and objects. The options are endless.
While legos may be intimidating to some teachers, the novelty students experience makes the activity worthwhile. The levels of cognitive engagement are various as are the levels of high-level thinking opportunities.
October is one of my favorite months of the year. Halloween with my kids is one of the reasons despite the loads of candy they receive. This is why I love Costco and the small containers of Play-Doh they offer so parents have an alternative to candy and what they offer to trick-or-treaters. There is another reason I love those small containers of Play-Doh….
Reading nonfiction texts may not be the most exciting task for middle school students. Add to this task long periods of silently seated work and repetitive highlighting and annotating, and teachers will find students at all levels of reading fleeing away from reading engagement. Of course, there are times when reading silently is necessary. And, there are times when highlighting and annotations are important. In fact, I have led several workshops on close reading and effective highlighting reading strategies. However, if the process becomes stagnant, readers, especially reluctant readers, will become complacent and reading gains may be limited.
I recently shared a reading strategy that involves tactile movement performed during reading of a nonfiction text. Adding movement activities to lessons does not always entail having students get out of their seats. Some teachers shy away from having students stand and move due to time constraints or interruptions to the flow of a lesson.
For this activity, I chose a nonfiction text that could be easily chunked. Since this text was meant to involve close reading strategies, the text was limited to two pages. The text features included subheadings, which were clearly marked and placed for a natural stopping point for students. I handed out Play-Doh to each participant and gave them specific instructions as to what to do and what not to do with it. Since this was the first time using Play-Doh, class routines had to be set and taught. The amount of emphasis needed for routine instruction depends on the needs of the students .
Participants listened to the first chunk of reading. At the end of the first section, participants were informed to sculpt anything that could represent what they read. They then discussed with their partner pairs their connections. After the second section, they sculpted something connected to inferences that could be made. After the third section, they sculpted something connected to the author’s tone. The goal was to increased the level of thinking of each section and to prepare students for a writing response.
When students connect visually and tactilely with a text, the levels of understanding deepen. Rather than have students highlight and annotate, students are creating, visualizing, and discussing the text. The basic strategies of close reading are present, but the approach is novel.
I have always enjoyed reading. I love escaping into a fictional world and letting my imagination soar. Similarly, I love escaping into professional reading and letting my creative juices flow into planning the next lesson or PD session.
Summer is my favorite season of the year for so many reasons. As an educator, I enjoy the weeks of playing with my family, travelling to places here and there, exercising in the great outdoors, and camping in the woods or on the ocean beaches. The other part of summer I love is reading. Of course, I can read at any time of the year, but I particularly enjoy reading outdoors. Reading outside can take on many different forms. My kids and I love to go the library and then take our books to the local coffee shop to divulge in the pictures and content of what we have just selected to explore. We do this throughout the year, but the summer allows us to sit outside the coffee shop rather than inside.
A goal for this summer is to take reading outdoors to a new level. Since we love reading, love to exercise, and love nature, it makes sense to combine these three loves. After walking along one of the beaches, it is common for us to plop down on a blanket and enjoy a chapter or two. Once we have finished swimming in our pool, or during a snack or rest break, we like to read a few pages of the books we are in the middle of. Before we are finished playing at the local park, it is necessary to hydrate while sitting on a bench with a book in hand.
Creating these moments prioritizes exercise, venturing outdoors, and reading a good book. These are experiences my kids will take into their adult lives as habits are set early. Creating a love for reading does not have to be a chore. Allowing kids to be creative outdoors while exercising does not have to feel forced. We embrace and value these three activities reinforcing each other with positive experiences the mind craves. The positivity increases the learning environment of my children. I wonder how this might be reflected in the classroom…. I know there is a way to embrace this experience and replicate it. I curious on the ideas people have to use movement, nature, and reading during the school year.