Bubble Discussions

soap-bubble-386641_960_720I 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.  

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Untie the Thinking

shoelace-2211218_960_720One of the activities that I like to do was inspired by the forced analogy process.  For this activity, students are given a shoelace. I used to use pieces of yarn, but I have found that using colorful shoelaces (I ordered some from Amazon) are better because they are more durable, and they can be easily put in the wash.  

As a hook, I often will give students the shoelace as they enter the classroom. This gives students a type of fidget, but it also sparks the curiosity of the brain.

I call this activity Shoelace Construction. This activity builds to challenge thinking, build community, and deepen conversations.

  1. Students are given a prompt:  Using the shoelace, create a visual depicting your current thinking regarding_______________ and ______________.
  2. After students create their visuals, they share with an elbow partner.
  3. Students are given the next prompt:  Now with a partner, combine your thinking into a new visual.  
  4. After they create their visuals, they share with a neighboring pair.
  5. Students are given the final prompt:  Join with another pair.  As a group of four, create a visual that represents how________________ shapes our learning of ____________________.

The level of creativity is fun to watch.  Students will often choose to get out of their seats and create a larger visual using their bodies and the shoelaces. The prompts can be used in a variety of ways as well as a formative assessment.  The visuals + body connections enable students to solidify content to their memory. Taking snapshots of the creations can also be used to remind students of connections at a later date.

Throwing Koosh Balls to Improve Management

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Koosh Ball Toss

Koosh balls are used for a variety of reasons in the classroom. One of my favorite activities in the first few weeks of school is a Koosh ball toss.  This activity serves two purposes:  1.  Build community in the classroom, and 2.  Establish classroom routines.  

In order to help teach classroom routines, the teacher spends some time instructing students what to do when furniture needs to be moved, or when students are simply about to participate in a movement activity. Taking time to be explicit in movement expectations pays off in the long run and helps establish effective classroom management practices.

When I start this activity, I tell students that when they participate in a movement activity, no talking is permitted.  We practice standing up, pushing chairs in, and standing behind our desks. Even though it may seem elementary, I actually have students practice this a couple of times.  I make a game out of it by timing them to see how quickly (and quietly) they can do so.  Next, I divide the students into groups so they know where to put desks and chairs around the room to create space for the activity.  I model how to pick up and set down desks and chairs quietly.  We practice this a couple of times (again timed to see how quickly and quietly they can do so). After moving the furniture, I indicate where students should stand to receive the next set of directions. Depending on the length of the class period, this type of routine modeling could take a majority of one 50 minute class period.

To actually begin the ball toss activity, the class is divided into two or three groups.  A leader is chosen for each group. The leader tosses the ball to another person in the circle (not to his or her immediate right or left). That person tosses the ball to another person and so on until every person has received the ball one time.  The ball is then tossed back to the leader.  If at any time the ball is dropped, the progress starts from the beginning.  The idea is to pass the ball around the circle without dropping the ball.  The passing order does not change.  Once the group has successfully completed a round, the group is timed.  Each group is timed to determine which group is able to pass the ball (without dropping it) the fastest. The competition can go on as long as the teacher wishes to do so.  There are also variations:    1.  Students could state the name of the person they are passing the ball two.  2.  A second or third ball can be added so greater concentration is needed as more balls are being passed.  3.  After the small group toss, students can participate in a large group toss.   

Once the activity is completed, the teacher can instruct how to put the room back to its original setup. If this was modeled initially, this process should be able to do quickly.  Or, the teacher can move into a classroom discussion.  When I completed this activity, I often moved into a Socratic Seminar setup.  Since the desks were already pushed aside, I modeled how to set up an inner and outer circle discussion arrangement. We then discussed the purpose of the activity as well as how the activity can act as a metaphor for our year together.

By the end of this activity, I have modeled how to stand for movement activities, how to move furniture to the side, how to set up for Socratic Seminar discussions, and how to be quiet and efficient overall. By doing it once, I can always remind students later in the year (once they are comfortable in the classroom setting) how perfectly they were able to move.  Thus, classroom management issues are minimized.

Modeling routines at the start of the year is critical at any level regardless if teachers are teaching at the elementary, middle, or high school level.  Adding movement early in the year sets a precedent for the remainder of the year. Plus, it becomes natural for both the student and the teacher.

 

Vocabulary Tableau, Technology, and Movement

3672794277_c1a12f8d3fVocabulary retention is increased when words are used in context. In an English Language Arts classroom that often means using vocabulary words correctly in writing.  Writing assignments vary from sentences to creative writing prompts, to essays. Using physical movement during vocabulary instruction adds a mind-body connection increasing the likelihood of adding these words to one’s personal word bank. Not only does physical movement create a mind-body connection, it also may utilize the creative and innovation outlets the brain craves as these connections add a sense of novelty.  Furthermore, adding technology reinforces contextual learning as well as creativity. Combining physical activity with technology may be overload for some teachers, but there are some simple apps that can enhance the vocabulary tableau activities I have mentioned in previous posts.

 

Simple Videos: Built-In Cameras

One of the easiest ways to add video technology in the classroom is by using the built-in camera on a tablet or smartphone. For this activity, students work in groups of 3-4.  Each group receives a vocabulary word.  The task for the group is to create a 15-second video of a vocabulary tableau. Groups can either choose one formation that they freeze in for the entire length of the video, or they can create two formations in which the move from one frozen pose to the next. These videos are then uploaded to Google Drive with URLs shared with the teacher. The teacher organizes the URLs in a Google Sheet for students or groups to access.  Students can then view the videos to determine the vocabulary words each group was assigned. The activity can end here, or students can be asked to demonstrate the tableau “live” in class when words are encountered in the text.

 

Photos + Narration:  Shaddow Puppet EDU (http://get-puppet.co/)

This activity adds another layer to the built-in camera option. For this activity, students create an audio slideshow of their vocabulary tableau. Students upload a picture of their tableau to the iPad app, Shaddow Puppet EDU. Students can add a narration of the tableau.  This narration may include synonyms/antonyms or other clues to the physical tableau.  Students can also add other photos available on the web to create a larger slideshow mixing media formats. These slideshows can also be uploaded to Google Drive and shared. Adding audio clues with the tableau utilizes higher-level thinking strategies challenging students at all levels.

 

Photos + Narration + Animation: Tellagami (http://tellagami.com)

Another layer of this activity can involve animation. Tellagami is an easy iPad app that allows students to pick characters and settings from a menu of options. Customization is available with the option of adding pictures from the camera roll to the setting. Students can add pictures of their tableau and then add narration to characters. The narration may include a storyline with the vocabulary word in mind, or it may involve clues similar to those in the audio videos. These videos can be uploaded to Google Drive.

 

Each of these tools can enhance vocabulary instruction. Adding movement, technology, and personalization helps students use and retain vocabulary.  Of course, this entire activity progression can be used with the comprehension of fictional and nonfictional texts instead.

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.

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.