It all starts with a conversation!

It all starts with a conversation! Third grade teacher Michelle Burrus helped her administrator see how TpT for Schools offered a real solution to their school’s challenges. Read her whole story and learn more here about how to start the conversation with your own administrator: http://bit.ly/tpt-for-schools

Teachers Pay Teachers for School

Teachers,

I want to make sure you know about TpT for Schools! Educators like  you already turn to TpT to get resources to meet the needs of all types of learners — and now your school can support you in purchasing these resources! TpT for Schools is an easy, centralized way for your administrator to use school funds to buy the resources you need from TpT.

Learn more here about how your administrator can sign up: bit.ly/tpt4schools

Creating Community in Your Classroom: 4 Conditions

4 Conditions for Creating Community in the Classroom

Most teachers I talk to agree that we need to create strong communities in our classroom. Now a few teachers do claim that relationships in the classroom don’t matter much, and that we should focus on the content of the class. However, even they concede that creating community helps with classroom management and that creating a sense of belonging is not a bad thing.

However, we also know that helping students get to know each other is a slippery thing. While some students love a good icebreaker where they share a fact about themselves, others are reticent. Being forced to share too much personal information may drive them away from the group in fact. I know a teacher who started classes with a hula-hoop activity. A lot of students loved the chance to play and be silly in class. Others felt that the activity was a sign the teacher wasn’t serious about academics. So how do you bring your students together and make them feel like a community?

Having put out a book of icebreakers and getting to know you activities, I get a lot of feedback about conditions for an activity to break the ice in class and build rapport. And my big a-ha moment came when I realized I didn’t want to just break the ice. I didn’t want kids to just talk to each other. And I didn’t want to just have students feel kind of good about coming to my class because I’m a nice guy and the other students are pretty nice, or at least polite with each other. I wanted to create community.

Creating Community

So what’s the difference between a classroom where everyone follows the rules and the teacher is a good guy, and a classroom with a sense of community? It may sound like a cop-out to say that you know a community when you see it. However, it’s really my way of saying that there is no one definitive set of criteria. Here are some of the things I’ve seen in classrooms where the students feel there is a strong sense of community and rapport.

  • students asking each other for help
  • open and meaningful discussions between teachers and students
  • students enforcing the rules themselves
  • students listening and agreeing or disagreeing respectfully
  • tasks done with a sense of interest, not resignation
  • students trying, and sometimes failing, to use new language items

You can see that the signs of a community can also be illustrations of the benefits. In a strong community, you see students taking risks with language, which is a benefit to creating community.

Conditions for Creating Community

So what are the four conditions for creating community in your classroom?

  1. A clear and meaningful task
  2. Freedom to make decisions about how to accomplish that task
  3. The need to work together as a team
  4. The risk of failure

A clear and meaningful task

Students have to want to work on the task for the task to truly bring them together as a team. The task cannot be busy work. Make sure your students understand why you are having them do the activity. Is it to learn a new skill? Or practice a set of vocabulary? Or to become familiar with a particular tool or technique? Ensure that the goal is desirable to the students, that the activities align with the goal, and that they understand how the task meets that goal.

For students to be able to work together on a task, the task also needs be clear. hey need to know exactly what the task is. All parameters, expectations, and objectives should be clearly spelled out. They can’t throw themselves into work if they feel that there’s some information they don’t have or they aren’t totally sure whether they are on task or not.

Freedom to make decisions

While the parameters of the task should be clear, there also needs to be room for students to think about how they will accomplish the task. If the students are doing routine tasks that require few decisions, or if there’s only one right way to do the task, there’s no need for the students to really work together. In a complex task with multiple paths to success, individual students will find a place where they shine, whether it be a talent for a particular aspect of the task or leadership and facilitation skills. They will rely on each other  to complete the work and be forced to find ways to work together and get along. They will practice teamwork skills without realizing it because they are being forced to make decisions and support each other at every turn.

The need to work together as a team

This brings me to the next condition. For an activity to create community, it has to be one that students cannot do alone. If one or two students take over and dominate the process, there will be little chance of building a community. Instead, the task should be carefully designed so that every member of the group is needed. There are a number of ways to do this. You can design tasks that rely on students’ individual talents. You ensure each student has one part of the information required to complete the task. Jigsaw activities and information gaps are great ways to do that. Or make the task complex enough that they really need all hands on deck.

The risk of failure

Finally, there has to be a chance that the team will fail. If there’s no risk, there’s no sense of urgency to the task. Now, a risk of failure doesn’t necessarily mean that students will get a 0 if they don’t do a good job. Grades are one way to create a sense of risk, but so it a time-limit, or clear criteria for success. You can also design the task to create a sense of authentic failure. Role plays are a nice way to do this. In a role play, students have to convey information and often do a real-world task. If they cannot communicate effectively, they will fail.

Why is failure important? Well, it’s a motivator because no one likes to fail. It also makes the task meaningful. Arguably, any task that students cannot fail to do is empty busy work. Finally, fear of failure creates a sense of urgency. Urgency is a kind of glue that keeps students working together.

 

What do you think? What conditions make for a good community building activity? How are you creating community in your classroom?

Hat tip to this great article that helped clarify a lot of my thoughts on this topic.

Originally posted on the Alphabet Publishing Blog

Thanksgiving Lesson Plans and Activities

Thanksgiving Lesson Plans and Activities are always a fun way to teach American culture. But Thanksgiving lessons also raise timeless themes such as gratitude, types of food, and how we celebrate holidays in general. Plus, it’s nice to pop in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving sometimes and have some fun! So here’s some links to some of my most popular Thanksgiving activities and lesson plans.

Thanksgiving Day Lesson Plans and Activities for ESL, EFL, ELA Classes on Teachers Pay TeachersThanksgiving Lesson Plans and Activities

Thanksgiving

  •  A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving lesson plan is another great activity. The video does a great job of introducing the pilgrims and the Native Americans and the first thanksgiving. It also depicts the religious side of this holiday and the turkey and mashed potatoes. Even the football game is mentioned! You can also have fun introducing the Peanuts characters and running gags. Linus’ blanket, Sally’s crush on Linus, and Lucy always pulling away that football all are here.  There are a number of comprehension questions for students to answer as they watch. There’s also a guide for teachers that breaks the movie into scenes. For each scene, there’s some key vocabulary, major themes, and a summary of the action. You can use it to break the viewing into parts. Or to pre-teach some vocab you think students might need to know. Or ask students to make their own outline of the video and then compare it to your outline.
  • The Missing Mashed Potatoes. This is a clue by clue critical thinking mystery puzzle with a Thanksgiving theme. Maybe you had a favorite dish that you only ate on holidays. And everybody fought to get more than anyone else. In my family, it was the mashed potatoes. That’s what led me to write this mystery where students have to follow the clues to figure out who ate all the mashed potatoes!
  • Looking for a quick warm-up for your Thanksgiving Lesson Plans and Activities? The Thanksgiving Word Association Brainstorm is exactly what it sounds like: A worksheet that asks students to name 5 things they associate with Thanksgiving. It’s a simple activity, but powerful. You can elicit vocabulary, use their answers as discussion prompts, discover misunderstandings your students have, create a word cloud, or ask students to share the reasons for their associations!
  • Word Processing Skills Thanksgiving Day Edition is a fun activity that teaches students basic word processing skills. Students are given a text and rules on how to manipulate that text. In the process, they uncover a mystery message. This one is all about thankfulness! Tired of students that don’t know how to copy-and-paste? Want to make sure they know how to format in 12-point Times New Roman? Try this fun activity out.

FoodThanksgiving Lesson Plans and Activities

  • The Food and Holidays Lesson Plan gives students a chance to talk about their national food, then gives you a chance to discuss Thanksgiving and the traditional foods we eat on that holiday. Finally students get talk about their special holiday meals. It’s a great way to approach Thanksgiving with international students. They may not know a lot about this primarily American holiday, but they do know how to talk about food. It’s also a topic that is accessible to advanced, intermediate and beginner students.
  • One part of the Food and Holidays Lesson Plan is the food and adjectives worksheet. In fact, I’ve designed it in two different ways:  a Food and Adjectives Chart where students fill in words to describe tastes, ways of cooking, ways to describe food.
  • For less advanced students, there’s also a Food Adjectives Cloze Worksheet that gives some more support in the form of sample vocabulary and sentence frames. Students can also graduate from this scaffolded version to the more open Food and Adjectives Chart.

Clue by Clue Critical Thinking Mystery: The Break-In

I originally wrote The Break-In to use in presentations where I demonstrate how clue by clues work. As such it’s not the most sophisticated Clue by Clue but I really like it. It started with a fun question, “What if someone breaks into a store and doesn’t steal anything?” From there my brain developed a fun narrative. Can your students also follow the clues and figure out what would make someone break into a story without taking a thing? If you have imaginative and clever students, they might be able to figure it out by the third clue!  These are far and away

 

What’s a Clue by Clue?

A clue by clue is a critical thinking mystery activity that generates a lot of  discussion. Students are given a situation to analyze. They are then given the clue cards, one at a time. In pairs or small groups, students analyze each clue to try to decide if it’s relevant or irrelevant. They also analyze it to figure out how it helps solve the mystery. It’s a great way for students to practice critical thinking skills. Solving a mystery means evaluating evidence, synthesizing information from different clues, and telling truth from lie and fact from opinion. (Check out my post on Why short mysteries make awesome critical thinking activities for more and a list of all my clue by clue activities). Continue reading “Clue by Clue Critical Thinking Mystery: The Break-In”

Halloween Logic Puzzle: Light as a Feather

Halloween Logic Puzzle: Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board

 

Light as a Feather Stiff as a Board is the my first logic puzzle. While thinking of some fun Halloween-themed activities, the party game Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board came to me naturally. What’s more creepy or mysterious than a game where you sit in the dark, tell the story of someone’s death, and then lift them with only your finger? However, rather than a normal clue by clue mystery game, this one evolved into a Halloween Logic Puzzle. It seemed only natural as I imagined the scenario. Everyone is in costume. It’s pitch-black. The police need to figure out who is who before they can say who the mystery is.

What’s a Logic Puzzle?

A logic puzzle, or logic grid puzzle, is a kind of critical thinking activity where students must use clues to match people with facts about them. In this Halloween logic puzzle, students must figure out which costume each person was wearing and where they are sitting. Often it helps to draw a grid to solve this kind of logic puzzle, and I’ve included one with this fun classroom activity.

Why do a Logic Puzzle?

Although this isn’t a typical clue by clue mystery, the benefits still hold. As with all clue by clue mysteries, students are given the situation to analyze. They are then given the clue cards, one at a time. In pairs or small groups, students analyze each clue to try to decide if it’s relevant or irrelevant. They also analyze it to figure out how it helps solve the mystery. It’s a great way for students to practice critical thinking skills. Solving a mystery means evaluating evidence, synthesizing information from different clues, and telling truth from lie and fact from opinion. (Check out my post on Why short mysteries make awesome critical thinking activities for more and a list of all my clue by clue activities). Continue reading “Halloween Logic Puzzle: Light as a Feather”

Halloween Mystery Activity: The Candy Thief

The Halloween Mystery Activity: The Candy Thief is the first clue by clue I wrote with a holiday theme, namely Halloween. It’s also the first one  targeted to younger learners. While trick or treating, a boy is knocked over and his candy stolen. His three friends were wearing costumes so they didn’t see much. But, one of them is lying about what they know.  Can your students find the lie and figure out which one was an accomplice to the robbery?

While the mystery may be aimed at younger learners, the benefits of a clue by clue are clear. As with all clue by clue mysteries, students are given the situation to analyze. They are then given the clue cards, one at a time. In pairs or small groups, students analyze each clue to try to decide if it’s relevant or irrelevant. They also analyze it to figure out how it helps solve the mystery. It’s a great way for students to practice critical thinking skills. Solving a mystery means evaluating evidence, synthesizing information from different clues, and telling truth from lie and fact from opinion. (Check out my post on Why short mysteries make awesome critical thinking activities for more and a list of all my clue by clue activities). Continue reading “Halloween Mystery Activity: The Candy Thief”