Monday, February 7, 2011

A Lesson in Action and Word Choice

My students are developing their choice in words and in particular how to create a more exciting story.  I often find that students are tired of writing by the time they reach the exciting bits and so it ends up being shortened and not fully developed.  This action word lesson sprung from this problem.

Day 1:
  • I read them "Crazy Hair" by Neil Gaiman and asked them to take note of any "delicious" words that he used.  Whenever students submitted a delicious word, we discussed what other words he could have chosen and why we thought he didn't.
  • We then return to our prior knowledge of the 6 + 1 Traits of Writing, which ones have we discussed more (organization, voice) and which ones do we need to explore; word choice.
  • This always lead to a discussion of why word choice is so important, where the students take ownership of making their writing better. 
  • I also introduce the "circle it" strategy here for spelling words: don't skip a word just because you cannot spell it, spell it as best as you can, circle it and come back to it when you edit.  This eliminates kids stopping and losing their momentum in their writing.
  • Then they need to spice up some boring sentences to get their creative juices flowing, my list of boring sentences can be found here.  I only gave them 4 to work on in a small group and they had about 5 min. to improve.  Then present to the class and the students compliment each others sentences.
  • I do a teaser for the next day about how excited I am to introduce their writing project etc.

Day 2:
  • Write the word "ACTION" on the white board.  Let students guess for a minute why.  Then refresh their memory about the lesson from day 1.   What does action have to do with word choice?
  • After discussion of this we speak about the climax of a story.  My students already know about the parts of a story so they recognize the diagram I draw on the board.  I circle the middle part because this is where the focus needs to be.
  • We discuss how movies are filled with action and then how would you write a scene from a movie?  I offer them my example. We discuss why it works as an action sequence.
  • Then it is their turn.  In small groups, they are to brainstorm using our huge whiteboards (24" x 32") and then write our a short action sequence using the most exciting word choices they can come up with. I project their brainstorm help questions to save paper.
  • I have them write in small groups as a guided writing step, some students would be capable of writing their own example right away but this way they help each other gain strength.  I gave my students 30 min to brainstorm and write.  They all finished just in time.
  • Share the stories and compliment what can be complimented.
  • Then I reveal the final project: their own short story, starting at the beginning of the action and ending at the end of the action.  No set up, no explanation, no denouement, just pure action.
Day 3:
  • Brainstorm using these sheets from www.writingfix.com.  This fit our purpose of using transtion words to shift from place to place as well as keeping the focus on the action.
  • Students will spend a lesson brainstorming and meeting with peers to help each other out.
Day 4:
  • Meet with me to discuss their idea and then begin the actual writing process.
Days spent on this lesson will depend on progress of students.  I envision about 2 weeks with a comic like illustration to go along with their action sequence.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Math Obstacle Course

The point has been reached in my 4th grade EDM curriculum where the kids start to really spread out as far as their abilities.  I knew I needed a review day but did not want to start at the whiteboard droning on.  Enter the math obstacle course!

The idea was simple: 5 different obstacles or stations, 3 volunteers, self-paced kids and a final project.  The five stations were:
  1. Rounding numbers
  2. Multi-digit multiplication
  3. Long division
  4. Build a Buck (adding and subtracting decimals)
  5. Fraction of Game
I recruited one fabulous parent volunteer to run the long-division station, had my fantastic special ed. teacher teach a different way of doing rounding, and then had the incredible ELL teacher teach at the multiplication station.  I ran the game stations and did various check-ins.

The students were told they had to complete all 5 obstacles before they could get to the final station; Build your Dream House using pattern blocks (they had to label them, so that was review all the way back to the 1st unit of the year).  They decided where they went, and then set their own pace.  Kid could get re-taught certain concepts if they needed it or they could choose to do the challenge questions right away and see if they completed the obstacle right away.

I drew a map of the obstacles on the board, explained the concepts, and off they went.  They loved it!  It was a bit of organized chaos, but the connections I was able to share with kids and witness them make just floored me.  All students completed all 5 obstacles, even those who needed some extra review, and they loved the creative final project.  Many of the students were eager to share their dream houses and all brought them home.  

I will definitely be doing this type of review again and could recruit more volunteers if needed.  To see the challenge questions and course card, click here for English version and here for Spanish version.

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