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.

Reflect, Move, & Shuffle

office-155137_960_720I recently presented a professional development session for high school teachers. Part of the presentation required time to reflect on previous work the teachers had completed.  Knowing there the participants ranged in years of service on the work team and comfort level with the topic, I devised a plan to reflect, move, and shuffle.

For this activity:

  1.  Each participant is given a notecard.  Depending on the number of participants, and depending on the desired size of discussion groups, at least four different colors of notecards are distributed around the room.
  2. Participants are given three minutes to write (or brainstorm a list) about previous work (since the last meeting, the beginning of the year, or some other timeline).
  3. Three areas of the rooms are marked with a number (1, 2, or 3). When the writing time has expired, participants are directed to move to a number. Each number can be prescribed, or participants can be given the direction to separate themselves according to their own, individual, criteria. This is completed without talking.
  4. In their newly formed groups, participants share with a partner, or with their entire group, why they placed themselves in the group and highlights from their notecards.
  5. After 3-5 minutes, participants are told to reorganize themselves according to notecard color. The newly formed pairs or groups discuss their reflection, as well as any other insights. When prompted, the groups discuss further work that needs to be completed.
  6. After another 3-5 minutes, participants are directed to return to their seats and a priority list of future work is developed.

This activity allows multiple voices to be heard. Movement activities help energize the reflection process and allow for purposeful processing time to be planned. Processing time is built in during silent writing, multiple times to share, and reflection time prior to devising a priority list.

Although this activity was used during a professional development session, it could easily be adapted for a classroom.  The activity could focus on prior learning, background knowledge, discussion questions, and so forth. Mixing up groups, guiding students to evaluate their learning based on their own criteria, and utilizing movement helps energize the classroom and build the foundation for deep discussions.

Calming the Speaker With Movement

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Public speaking is a fear many people face.  There have been multiple moments in my teaching career when I have encountered a terrified student sweating about giving a presentation, whether it was a presentation meant to be delivered individually or as a group.  In some cases, the student spoke so softly hardly anyone could hear the presentation.  In other cases, the student claimed to have forgotten what he or she was supposed to talk about, so an awkward silence would fill the room.  There were times where a one-on-one presentation opportunity was given to alleviate the burden of public speaking.  Yet, there were also moments (more often than not), when the presentations went smoothly with little hint of anxiety present.

Using physical movement can help reduce stress and anxiety public speaking tends to build in students.  There are multiple ways to add physical movement before public speaking moments.

  1.  Rubric Gallery:  Before starting the presentations for the day, post the rubric around the room.  Ask students to walk around the room to remind themselves of the expectations. As they do so, inform students to generate a goal they have for their presentations. Their goal should include a plan and an indicator to measure their success.
  2. Main Point Tableau:  Students take notes of the main points a speaker is making during his or her presentation.  At the end of the speaker’s presentation, students should stand.  On the teacher’s signal, the students should freeze in a body position that represents a main point of the presentation. The teacher may ask a couple of students to explain their poses and a brief review of the speech can take place.
  3. Wall to Wall Practice:  Students line up on one side of the classroom.  On the signal, students slowly walk to the other side of the classroom reviewing the main points of their presentation. When they get to the other side, they turn around and return to the other side of the classroom.
  4. Speaking Ball Toss:  In groups of five, students toss a koosh ball around the circle.  When they toss the ball, they say a main point of their presentation.  They can also orally state the main components of their speak outline.  For example, they might state a three-word reminder of the hook of their introduction during their first toss.  On their second toss, they might state a phrase from their thesis, and so on.
  5. Small Group Walk:  Journey outdoors (or into the hallway) and have students complete a walk and talk presentation.  In groups of five, one of the students delivers his or her presentation to the rest of the group (and the teacher). The student can walk during the entire presentation or pause as often as he or she feels the need to do so.

Public speaking is scary for many people, but it doesn’t have to be the beast it is perceived as being. By listening and observing the feelings of students as they prepare for and anticipate presentations, teachers can counter some of the fear and anxiety students are expressing. Adding movement is just one way teachers can begin to address this fear.  Providing students with the appropriate skills they need can help them conquer the fear and feel a bit of success.

Flying Through Reading

 

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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.

  1.  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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Flying Airplanes

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.

Image:  http://maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com/static/photo/1x/Flight-Air-Show-Flying-Formation-Planes-Contrail-285568.jpg

Reaching the Reader with Starbucks

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I love this time of year.  The fall season feels like an extended holiday season regardless of the holidays each person celebrates:  Halloween and Thanksgiving followed by the Winter Break holidays. Students, administration, teachers, and parents love giving and receiving  gifts.  With the recent reveal of the 2016 Starbucks Holiday Cups, it is a time to embrace the current season and the holidays to come.

Starbucks has become commonplace to represent coffee around the U.S and the world. Students at all levels are able to identify with the company, logo, and the coffee it serves. In many cities, rural and urban, students have indulged themselves with frappuccinos, lattes, hot chocolate, and steamed milk. Teachers frequent Starbucks this time of year with Peppermint Mochas and Egg Nog Lattes. Admin. teams  and PTA groups often donate carafes of coffee to the teachers’ lounge. Parents and students enjoy peppering teachers with Starbucks gift cards which teachers graciously accept adding to their holiday cheer.

Adding gimmicks to a lesson provides creativity, engages the mind, and increases student motivation.  Gimmicks also help students connect interests to content.  Utilizing physical movement along with gimmicks adds more intrigue and fosters increased brain activity encouraging synaptic connections.

For this activity, Starbucks, movement, and reading have been combined to provide a stimulating experience.

Items You Will Need:

  • Starbucks Coffee Cups (Disposable)
  • Coffee lids
  • Cup Sleeve
  • Coffee Cup Carriers
  • Used Gift Cards

Preparation:

  • Starbucks Coffee Cups (Write a character’s name on cup)
  • Coffee lids (Inference based on character’s actions)
  • Cup Sleeve (Main personality traits of character or textual evidence)
  • Coffee Cup Carriers (Setting description -consider how setting shapes character)
  • Used Gift Cards (vocabulary/literary term written- 1 per card) Hang gift cards from the ceiling or display them around room

To stage the activity, cups will be in one station, lids in another, sleeves in a third, and carriers in a fourth. The gift cards will be hanging or displayed on walls.

To perform the activity, students sit in groups of four.  The teacher informs students that they need to get drinks ready for their study groups. However, unlike going to a real Starbucks, students work together to get their drink orders ready.  Only one person from the groups can be up at a time. The first person must grab a cup. The second-fourth student can go in any order to retrieve the other items. Once each group has one of each item, the group decides if any of the items needs to be returned to its original location.  Groups continue to work until they have four cups (with lids and sleeves) that go together in their carrier.

Depending on the reading content, there can be duplicates. There can be multiple settings at play as well as multiple stories.  This activity can also be used with nonfiction and as a review for a unit of study. At the culmination of the activity, students can decorate the coffee cups and carriers with visuals from the text or additional textual evidence to support their combination.

While the activity takes initial setup time, it is a fun activity to review a text and prepare for a deeper analysis essay or discussion. The activity engages the mind through movement, higher-level thinking skills, and collaboration.

As you start to collect Starbucks coffee cups and gift cards, consider using them to further the education of your students!  Happy Fall and Happy Holidays!

 

 

Costco, Play-Doh, and Reading

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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.

The Movement Routine

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Movement and Routine

 

The start of the school year is one of the most exciting times of the year for teachers, students, and parents.  While some may argue that point, as a teacher I am filled with elation, nervous energy, and satisfaction in my chosen profession.  

 

The start of the school year is filled with preparation, and teacher after teacher will tell you how important it is to set-up the classroom in such a way, to greet students, to establish relationships, to build a positive learning climate, and to establish routines and rules. How individual teachers and classrooms go through this process varies.  

 

Utilizing movement in the classroom is essential, and starting the year off by frequently using movement helps teachers and students get acclimated to the process and helps establish a practice that becomes ingrained in the daily/weekly activity of the classroom procedures.

 

Movement Mindset

When thinking about using movement in the classroom, teachers need to define the purpose behind using movement.  If the purpose of adding movement is to add fun to the classroom or to do it because other classes are doing it, the success may dwindle.  When teachers and students understand the benefits of movement, the benefits kick in and the needs of the whole child are addressed more adequately. One of the reasons I started to use movement in my classroom was to create opportunities of students to refocus on a task or topic at hand. Research has indicated the connection between the use of movement and improved focus or on-task behavior (Grieco, Jowers, & Bartholomew, 2009; Jensen, 1998; Maher et al., 2009). As I gave instructions on how to perform movement activities, I informed students of the benefits of focusing on the task at hand.  Furthermore, I planned activities with the idea that I wanted students to focus on learning a specific task that was either addressed during the activity or immediately after the activity.  If content was specifically challenging, I had students perform the activity prior to engaging in learning difficult content.  Using movement to focus students became my purpose.  Since it was my purpose, I was very intentional in its use, which improved the success and understanding regarding movement activities selected and used throughout the school year.

 

Focusing on a clear purpose helps teachers with consistency.  A clear purpose also helps communicate reasons for using it to students, other teachers, and administrators. Plus, it helps direct evidence towards meeting the needs of diverse learners.

 

Movement Initial Routine

 

Once a purpose has been established (or contemplated), teachers can move into the initial routine process.  Establishing a movement routine should to be addressed each time a new movement activity is introduced.  However, the initial routine introduction is more elaborate.

 

Intentionally practicing how to perform a movement activity takes time initially, but the payoff will save time in the future.

 

Movement Sustained Routine

 

Using movement multiple times per week keeps students engaged with the content and helps students and teachers expect and understand why it is being used.  As movement activities are introduced, students may need to be reminded of the routines in place.  Also, as the year progresses, teachers may wish to add novelty to a previous activity with simple modifications.  The brain feeds off of novelty, and adding new elements to an activity increases student awareness aiding to effective classroom management.

 

Adding movement also helps teachers determine when to involve kids.  A lesson that seems to be teacher-directed can be shifted to more of a student-directed lesson with the addition of individual and collaborative movement activities. Being intentionally with movements helps teachers sustain its use in the classroom and support the routines they established at the beginning of the school year. This is true for content-specific movement activities and brain-break activities.

 

If teachers are worried about classroom management, it is important to establish routines and start with short and simple activities.  For example, having students stand by their desks and form a statue with their bodies representing something they have read is a simple movement.  Students do not have to move away from their desks, and it can be done in seconds. The routine may include telling students to stand to the right of their desks and push their chairs in.  on the count of three, freeze into a position.  Hold the position for 10 seconds and then return to their seats. Another simple activity is to post key questions from a unit of study around the room.  Students stand and move from question to question to complete their answers.  The routine may include informing students to remain silent, walk to a sheet to read a question, make sure no more than three people are at the question, move to another question, and return to their seats when finished. These are simple activities that require small efforts from the teacher and the students. These are also activities that can be elaborated on easily as the year progresses.

Using frequent movement activities in the classroom will transform the teaching experience for teachers and the learning experiences for students.

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