Conver-Stations is a great activity to add movement to classroom discussions. It works well at elementary, middle, and secondary levels. Adding movement to classroom discussions adds novelty and gives restless students the chance to move around, control their physical movement needs, and maintain focus. Establishing routines and expectations prior to moving discussions ensures success and efficiency. Click on the link below for a Teacher Channel description of the strategy.
I was talking to a colleague recently, and she passed this idea on to me. She observed a classroom where one of the teachers developed a movement activity corresponding with a set of questions and paper airplanes.
Each student was given a math worksheet with four problems. I generalizing, so some of the details may a be a bit hazy, but, overall, the activity is easily modified. Students were divided in half so that each side of the classroom had roughly the same number of students. Teachers could also divide students into groups of four and have students all around the room. Each student worked through the first math problem. This could be done individual or with a partner. After about five minutes working with the problem, the worksheet was folded into a paper
Each student worked through the first math problem. This could be done individual or with a partner. After about five minutes working with the problem, the worksheet was folded into a paper airplane. On the count of three, or when the chime sounded, students threw the airplanes into the middle of the classroom. At the teacher’s signal, students went to the middle and grabbed an airplane. Students unfolded the airplane, made corrections (if needed) to the first problem and then worked on the second problem. This process continued until each problem was answered.
This activity could have easily been completed with students sitting in pairs or groups for four working on each problem and checking for correct answers. Modifying the assignment in this way did not require a lot of planning. The only planning different from seated group work involved making sure students knew how to make a paper airplane. Throughout the activity, students were engaged and motivated to complete the work. Plus, they were activating key areas of the brain academically, socially, emotionally, and behaviorally.
The importance of processing information is critical if we want students to understand content. Too frequently we rush through curriculum in order to meet the demands and complexity of the pacing required of stringent scope and sequence models. Rushing is detrimental to the overall development of information. The more we cram and rush through material, the more students will not understand, and we will need to reteach. So, it is actually a time-saver, to incorporate processing time.
I recently read a blog post by Bill Ferriter about the overwhelming desire for students to get outside: http://www.teachingquality.org/content/blogs/bill-ferriter/our-dreams-are-simple-we-want-go-outside
Many teachers tend to be creatures of habit, but the ones that take a risk are often more successful. Taking a risk can simply be moving beyond the confines of the classroom walls. In an effort to add processing time to a lesson, a simple action that involves movement is to move students to an outdoor setting. Posing a question, or a prompt, regarding content prior to moving allows students to process while they move to the new setting. Adding the physical component of walking to the desired setting while thinking helps activate the neurons in the brain in multiple ways. Walking forces teachers to add processing time that extends beyond seconds. Complex material, intensity of information, and onslaught of ideas require more processing time. Once students move outdoors, teachers can decide to discuss in pairs, groups, or as a whole group. Or, students can continue move and discuss while walking outdoors.
When the discussion is over, teachers could provide another question or prompt for the return walk to the classroom. In both cases, students would need to walk without talking to give them the quiet time they need to process. This would have to be a routine that is taught and expected.
When I talk to teachers in multiple disciplines, a common frustration is time and the need to race through the curriculum in order to meet the demands of the curriculum or the complexity of the standards. The fast paced world can create stress and general imbalance in the classroom for both students and teachers.
In order to work through the blockage that can occur in an anxious and stressful environment, it is necessary to provide time for students to process as well as time for them to get up and move.
I often suggest that teachers schedule processing time. This may feel like an add-on to an already overcrowded schedule, but the outcome can actually add time. Students that are able to process not only internalize the concepts be taught, they can begin to think beyond the constraints of a packed curriculum. Processing time also helps to lower stress avoiding students from shutting down possibly reducing the number of minutes needed to reteach or address behavioral concerns.
To further reduce stress and activate the brain, students can be given the opportunity to process while moving. A simple way for students to do so is to have them get up and walk in the classroom. I was in a classroom a couple of weeks ago and the teacher mentioned how she set arrows up in the classroom for students to follow. Students can process and walk in the direction of the circles, or students can walk and process following a specific path. The goal is for them to think. Engaging them in movement while thinking helps as the connections in the brain begin to form.
Once students return to their seats, they can continue to process verbally in pairs, small groups, and/or in a whole-class setting. Again, initially this process takes time, but the payoff is beneficial for all, teachers and students.
This week I have the opportunity of presenting at the 2015 AMLE Conference in Columbus, Ohio. I will be presenting a concurrent session and a workshop. My current session is titled: Activate the Adolescent Writer. In this session, I will present ways to use movement activities to help students with the writing process. Many of the movement strategies can be used in areas beyond writing instruction; however, I have aligned movement with specific writing strategies to help students activate the mind prior to and during the writing process.
One of the activities I will be modeling is titled: Think-Time-Share. This activity is aligned to a narrative writing prompt that can be used at the beginning of the class period. Students are shown one or more photos (although it can be any media). As students study the pictures, they think of sensory language that can be applied to each picture. After a minute of observation, all students stand. The instructor asks students to think about a specific picture and a specific sense. The instructor then tells students to perform an action (running in place) for 30 seconds. During these 30 seconds, students think about all of the words they related to the identified sense of the picture. Once the 30 seconds have commenced, students share with a partner, and then volunteers are solicited. The teacher then picks a different sense and a different action. Once the students have had a chance to work through each sense, they write a narrative paragraph about the picture.
Vocabulary instruction is a rewarding and difficult task for teachers at all levels. There are several ways to teach vocabulary. Since students all learn at different rate and levels, multiple strategies are needed to appeal to students. It is important not to rule out strategies because what works for an ELL student may be beneficial for an honors student. The words both sets of students are studying may be different, but the mental process may be very similar.
I often have students make mind-body connections while studying vocabulary. I even encourage students to do the same outside of school when they encounter words they don’t know. As we are in the final preparations for our state testing cycle, we are reinforcing academic vocabulary with our students and having them form body pictures with the word in mind. The idea is that the pose they create will help them remember the word when they encounter it in the future in a text or on the test.
Another strategy I love to use during the warmer seasons is the vocabulary walk. I’m sure I have blogged about this in the past, but it is a fun strategy that helps to break the doldrums of the classroom setting. Recently, I practiced this strategy in my classroom. I had students split into groups of three. Each group was given an envelope. The envelope contained several words, some vocabulary and some adjectives and verbs. As a class, we exited the building and headed outdoors. Each group spread out and one person was selected to take a single word out of the envelope. Each member of the group had 30 seconds to come up with a sentence for the word as the entire group walked together. I gave a signal (this could be a whistle) for groups to stop and a different person in the group was charged with pulling out another word from the envelope. Each member in the group had about 30 seconds to come up with a sentence using both words. This activity continued until all words were used. As more words were pulled from the envelope more time was needed to construct the sentences.
Once we headed back into the classroom, each group was given the chance to share what it thought was the group’s best sentence. This activity uses repetition and movement as a way to reinforce vocabulary concepts.
Taking notes can be a bore. Students will often groan when mentioning part of the class period will be used to take notes, but taking notes can be exhilarating. It is hard to imagine using the words notes and exhilarating in the same sentence. Another word that can create a buzz…in a negative way… is vocabulary. Taking notes on academic vocabulary can be energizing! In fact, some students in my classroom actually get excited when I mention we are going to take notes on academic vocabulary.
One activity that I like to use is called the Hot and Cold Vocabulary. In this activity, I begin by hiding the first vocabulary word around the room before students enter. Usually, I attach it to a student desk or chair. I tell students to begin the activity by trying to locate the first word. Students search their close proximity to find the word. This begins to excite them. After the word is found, we add it the note section of their vocabulary section.
For the second phase, I ask a student to leave the classroom with a watcher (who watches the student). Working together, the rest of the class hides the next term in the room. When the student returns, the class performs an action. For example, we might start clapping. As the student moves closer to the object, we clap faster/louder. As the student moves away, we slow the clapping down or stop clapping altogether. Once the student finds the word, we add it to the vocabulary section.
Depending on time, this process might be repeated multiple times. Following this activity, we explain the words in more depth, or we begin reading a text. Since the students are engaged mentally due to the physical movement, they following activity is usually quiet and met with deep concentration.