Ah, the beauty of tools. I don’t mean beauty tools (though those are vitally important as well, especially if you have hoards of curls). I’m talking about teaching tool. I cannot even begin to explain the power of a unique tool when it’s used inside the classroom.
About a week ago, my writing class was working on developing strong paragraphs. We talked about how writing a strong paragraph is kind of like a slice of pie. The top crust is the topic sentence, the filling is a series of supporting detail sentences, and the bottom crust is the clincher sentence that pulls the whole paragraph together. Sometimes, a paragraph is like a sandwich or a hamburger – you get the idea. In order to practice this important skill, I provided my class with a variety of colorful strips of paper. We discussed how each one would be used – pink for the title, purple for the topic sentence, yellow for the supporting detail sentences (minimum of 3), and the blue for the clincher sentence. The students worked in pairs to complete this activity. It was a roaring success.
Fast forward to the afternoon. Reading class.
We were working on building our “Work on Writing” stamina (by the way, anyone who has not read about The Daily Five reading class model, I HIGHLY recommend it!). I have a few reluctant writers, so I decided to offer them a new option. Here’s what I told them, “Anyone who enjoyed our paragraph writing activity this morning may write another paragraph. I made extra strips of paper, so feel free to write a new paragraph!”
My most reluctant writer was one of the first to grab sentence strips. He started writing away before I even told the class to begin!
Last year, one of my favorite vocabulary activities was developed from a need to get one of my least motivated students to prove to me that he understood lesson vocabulary. I knew that I wanted my students to practice their reading vocabulary words. In my lesson plans, I had written that the students would write sentences using those words. I knew that my young gentleman would refuse to do so. He would sit, forehead affixed to his desk, and simply ignore my request.
Out of necessity, Vocabulary Voyage was born.
I decided to write the vocabulary words into questions. The questions were posted on the walls around the classroom inside folded pieces of construction paper. On the outside of the construction paper, I wrote “Harbor 1,” “Harbor 2,” and so forth. On questions that included two or more vocabulary words, I wrote, “Port of Call 1,” etc. When my students returned from lunch, they immediately noticed the walls. I played up the voyage aspect of the activity. Students would “take a trip” around the classroom, answering the questions. I assured them they would not need to check a bag, all they needed to pack was a pencil for this voyage. Each students was responsible for answering at least 5 questions out of the 8 or 9 posted. Since the ports had more challenging questions to answer, I told students that I would walk around and tap them on the shoulder. The number of times I tapped them was the number of port questions they were responsible for answering. My gifted students received the most shoulder taps, but every student was tapped on the shoulder at least once. We “shipped out” of our desks and the students embarked upon their journey.
And that students I was worried about?
He not only answered his 5 questions…he answered ALL of them. Ports and harbors alike.