Adding a Little Spice to Classrooms
By Jill Jenkins
If you’re mentoring new teachers and observe that their classes lack interacting or engaging activities, here are some suggestions that I have found easy to implement and wildly successful. Many new teachers erroneously believe that elementary, middle school and even high school students learn in the same manner as adults. They don’t. These ideas might help them develop other ways of reaching young learners. None of the ideas in this blog are my creations. They’re ideas I learned from workshops, books, and other colleagues, but they are ideas that I have tried in my classroom and found effective.
First, classroom desks need to be arranged to facilitate discussion. The traditional seating arrangement of rows of desk facing front is not conducive for discussion. My favorite configuration is the horseshoe or desks on each side of the room facing the center. The desks are placed in pairs to facilitate pair-share activities and the front two desks can be turned around to face the row behind them to create groups of four. The reason I like this is not only does it easily transform from pair-share activities to small group discussion, but the teacher has easy access to each individual student. This means that the teacher can easily move close to a student who needs more individualized instruction, and can quiet a disruptive student without distracting the rest of the class. Proximity can increase a student’s attention and decrease disruptive behavior. When a student becomes disruptive, the teacher can stand next to the student or behind him. If a student is struggling, the teacher can move next to the child, and kneel down to be face to face to quietly provide added instruction without that student losing face.
Never allow students to select their own seat. If there is a set of disruptive students, separate them. If there is a struggling student, seat him next to a bright, but kind student who might help him. If there are two socially insecure students who depend on each other, put them together. The seating chart is a social chess board. Use it carefully.
Sentence Structure Jigsaw Games
One of the goals in a language arts class is to help students develop more sentence variety in their writing. The first step is to make them aware of the different sentence structures. First put signs on the board: Simple Sentence, Compound Sentence, Complex Sentence, Compound-complex Sentence. Second, define each sentence structure and give them an example. It is best to give them a silly example. For example:
· Simple Sentence: one independent clause: Bob kissed Alice.
· Compound Sentence: two independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction: Bob kissed Alice and Alice slapped Bob.
· Complex Sentence: one dependent clause and one independent clause with a subordinating conjunction: When Bob kissed Alice, Alice slapped Bob.
· Compound-complex Sentence: two dependent clauses and two independent clauses (two complex sentences): When Bob kissed Alice, Alice slapped Bob; however, when Bob kissed Mary, Mary hugged him.
As the teacher reviews each sentence types, she asks each pair of students to create an example and share it with the rest of the class.
Next give each pair of sentence a sentence strip containing a sentence and let them decide which kind of sentence it is and tape it under the appropriate sign. If the pair is confused, allow them to call on “the circle of help.” This means any other student in the room who they call on can help them decide which category it belongs to. Each pair must explain why they placed the sentence where they did. If a student disagrees with their selection or if the teacher disagrees, there can be a discussion to clarify which kind of sentence they have selected.
Applying What They Have Learned
The ultimate goal is to apply this to their writing. To do them ask them to use each of the four sentence types in their next essay. After they complete their rough draft, have them trade papers with their learning partner. The partner is given highlighters and asked to highlight:
· Simple Sentences yellow
· Compound Sentences blue
· Complex Sentences orange
· Compound-complex Sentences Green
To increase their variation of sentence length have them count the number of words in each sentence. When their papers are returned asked the students to revise their papers so they use all of the different sentence types and have some sentences from 5-7 words, some from 7-15 words and some with more than 15 words.
Flash Card Frisbee
To help students learn literary terms, begin with a pair and share activity. The teacher defines each term and gives the students examples either from popular products names or advertisements or from popular music. Then ask each pair to identify another example of that term and share it with the class. This is a quick method to see if students understand the terms and help them if they are confused.
One of the activities that useful for reviewing literary terms or vocabulary words is Flash Card Frisbee. If the teacher has access to an I-Pad and an I-TV, upload any of many flash card application put terms that students need to know. Put a link on the school’s webpage and students can practice on their smart phones or computers at home, but many of them won’t. To help those students, project the flash cards on a screen and throw a soft, foam Frisbee to one of the students. (Use the soft foam type because students like to use them as weapons and bounce the Frisbee off some unaware students’ head. This way the students remain alert without injuring anyone.) The student defines the term and throws the Frisbee another student to try the next term. If an I-pad is not available, same thing, just read the definition to the student.
A variation on this kind of review is Vocabulary Basketball. Collect small buckets (ice cream buckets work well.) and label them with the vocabulary words or the literary terms. Line the students up in two teams. Read the definition of term, an example of the term or a sentence with the term missing and the two students compete by throwing a small basketball into the corresponding bucket. The team the gets most answers correct gets to leave the class first or earns a piece of candy.
Create laminated Bingo cards using the literary terms or the vocabulary words. Give each student a handful of jelly beans to cover the appropriate word when they hear the definition. Read examples of the terms, definitions or sentences with the words missing. The students cover the appropriate words with jelly beans. The first student to completely cover his card with jelly beans wins.
Fly Swatter Vocabulary Tag
As a teacher invest in a couple of plastic fly swatters. Write the literary terms or vocabulary words on the board. Separate the class into two teams. Each team sends one contestant to the starting line. The teacher reads a definition, an example, or a sentence with a word missing. The two contestants run to the board armed with flyswatters. The first contestant to correctly swat the appropriate term wins a piece of candy.
The Pass-Around Poem
To help students apply the literary terms to a poem, the pass-around poem is an excellent activity. The teacher begins by reading Wilfred Owen’s poem Dulce Et Decorum est. (I happen to like this poem, but really any poem will work.) After reading the poem, the teacher explains what mustard gas is and how it was used in World War I. Since most of them may be unaware of mustard gas and World War I, this is important. The teacher tells the students about Wilfred Owen’s life as a soldier. Next the teacher distributes a copy of the poem to each student and asks them to write their name on it. Armed with highlighters and pens, the students highlight any literary device that they find interesting, label it with the pen and describe how it makes them feel or what it makes them think about. The teacher rings a bell and each student passes his paper to the student to his right. This time the students can repeat what they did on the last paper or they can comment on a comment already on the paper. The bell rings and the papers is passed to the right again. When the class period is over the paper should have circulated the room and returned to its original owner. It is important to set up a few guidelines. Remind them they are having a discussion about the impact of a poem. Just like an oral discussion inappropriate comments and vulgar language are not acceptable. This particular activity forces everyone to actively engage and is especially useful for the introverted students who do not feel comfortable engaging in oral discourse.
New teachers need to understand that these activities will be more exciting if they keep their energy levels high. The teacher needs to cheer for students’ efforts and give students many high fives, or thumbs up for student achievement. Teachers are both the cheerleader and the game show host. Teachers should expect to leave work completely exhausted after one of these activities. If your teachers are hoping to have a quiet, docile classroom, they are in the wrong business. They should become a librarian. (Never mind, the latest television program shows the librarians saving the world.) If teachers want to have an exciting classroom where all of the students are engaged and interactive, try these activities. Adding a little spice can help new teachers improve student understanding and discipline.