Here’s a sneak-peak into my classrooms, some successful lessons, units or tools that I’ve developed in my last 8.5 years of teaching between the USA, China and Turkey. Read below for details. Please also check out some of the other tidbits found under “Tech in L.A. Class” to see how I’ve added effective tech choices to support my current lesson content, pedagogy and context. (This page is under construction.)
One of the first activities I arrange at the beginning of each school year is a get-to-know-you activity linked to a relative math concept. After modeling specific question-asking prompts and any necessary vocabulary, the students learn about each other by moving around the room, asking each other an introductory question (that we could graph in this case) such as”When is your birthday?” or “What is your favorite fruit?” In this case, my students here in Grade 1 were asking the latter and logging their answers. After the data was collected and the interviews were complete, we came back together to compare notes and make final counts. We talked about how we might want to use this information and that we could use colored, fruit pictures to physically build a pictograph. On our tiled floor, one-by-one, we each carefully took our turn to lay down our representation. Following the pictograph, in the next days, we discussed that to represent a fruit picture, we could also use a colored bar. Again, we physically each placed our section of the colored bar down, each of us, one-by-one. This photo represents not only our new friendships that were made at the beginning of that school year, but also how the 1st Graders’ ability to construct and interpret pictographs and bar graphs was supported by an interactive and authentic learning experience.
One must-have element in all of my classrooms is a word wall! In each of my teaching positions, the majority of my students, if not all of them, have been ELLs (English Language Learners). Word walls are alive and useful for all students, and especially so for an emergent English speaker. Whenever presenting new spelling/vocabulary words, students follow a specific routine that fits the class’ needs. For example: Look, Say, Look, Spell, Write. These words, like high frequency words, have a special color on the wall. Names and other subject vocabulary are also on the wall, color-coded. Words also take a box-like shape for students with different learning systems. If spelling is particularly tricky, these students are able to create a story or picture in their mind about the specific shapes of words. Throughout the year, the word wall will play important roles with review activities and “What to Do When You’re Through” activities.
I work constantly to connect students old learning to new learning, to integrate subject areas, to make learning meaningful. This project in 1st Grade captured my attempts, in my given school context. We had finished a science unit on living/nonliving things, observation and using our five senses. After reviewing specific vocabulary and building background knowledge on Japanese gardens (with the help of several Japanese students in our class) I presented this project to my students. It was a “blueprint” to design their own Japanese garden. After the students completed their garden details, we worked with their IT teacher to create digital illustrations, which also aligned with the IT class’ objectives. These made for truly beautiful assessments!
Another comprehensive learning activity I organized for my 5th graders in Language Arts class was through he use of a “Two Voice Poem”. Through out the school year we practice several reading skills and strategies and by the end of the year, 5th graders are able to use the skills and strategies without much prompting, quite thoughtfully, in English. In this activity, the students are asked to arrange a poem by comparing and contrasting, summarizing and giving proof of character traits of two main characters between two different 5th grade novels. In pairs, students used the “Two Voice Poem” template to compile their ideas (with the help of a Venn Diagram, too). Later, they published their poems, added illustrations and performed their poems for their peers. What a fantastic example of my students’ English capabilities, comprehension and creativity!
Organization is key! I strive to be organized not only for myself and the general logistics of running a classroom, but also to model for my students what successful planning and organization looks and feels like. One way that I accomplish this is by having chapter organizers in my 5th and 6th grade Language Arts classes. The organizers keep track of the majority of our in class learning, reading skills and strategies and vocabulary work. Planning the organizers is critical for my own organization and they guide the path that the learning takes. What is it that the students need to learn? What will the assessment look and feel like? What skills or strategies require more practice? After each novel, my colleague and I re-format our novel’s chapter organizer. We reflect on what worked well and what didn’t, and what we need to include for the next novel to best support our students’ learning needs. What’s more, the chapter organizers are great evidence of what the student completed for a particular novel. Often students use these to review for tests or to keep in a portfolio. It is my students’ responsibility to keep their chapter organizers neat, tidy and located in a special clear file, as to be prepared for each lesson.
In teaching 1st Grade, I was given a Core Knowledge’s social studies unit on Mexico. After learning about Mexico’s culture, important holidays and wars, and other facts about the land and flag, my first graders and I organized stations about Mexico for the school’s U.N.Day. The 1st graders were responsible for teaching school visitors about some of the details we had learned in social studies. They presented our work (Mexico organizers, flags, maps and a board game) in an open house style setting. Here, in this photo, you see me teaching 1st graders how to play a child-friendly version of “Loteria“, a Mexican bingo-like game. They were then, each responsible for teaching and leading a round of this game for several sets of U.N. Day visitors.
After my students get comfortable with the writing activities (and their English writing skills) I arrange in class, I introduce the writing process in the late fall, usually. We use the writing process for all significant writing pieces from there on out. One of my absolute favorite lessons is always the fourth step–editing! I must admit, the students do come with some experience editing in our mini-lessons or our warm-ups, and that makes the following lesson a little easier. My former colleague in China, who shared this successful lesson with me, calls this editing lesson “Editing Experts”. Students, according to their writing skills and language ability, are organized into different editing categories. (For example, I usually start off with groups for: spelling, capitals, punctuation and verbs. I have realized over the last 6 years that these groups can be fewer/greater and or arranged for more emergent/fluent English speakers. As the year continues, I can add in other groups for: taking out/inserting words, conjunctions, etc.) I found that the key to introducing each group to their expert group is modeling, using color, a timer, and assigning special or extra jobs to keep editors on task! Students can be paired with peers that can model as well if they struggle to work on their own, however, the students should be given a job that isn’t too big for them to handle. Each group edits the class’ writing pieces. After a group has finished editing their share, the writing pieces are moved to the next editing expert group. It helps, to have editors sign-off on the back of the writing piece, have a timer set, use some “cheat sheet” cards for each editor handy, and to color code the jobs.
After a couple goes at this routine, students start developing a good writer repertoire, they ask to try out other groups, politely correct their friend’s work, perceive corrections well on their own work, and eventually, start mentally editing their work as their confidence grows as writers! They truly do become experts. The other fantastic element of Editing Experts is that it is such a flexible activity. While teaching in Turkey, I also shared this activity with my 5th Grade colleague. She preferred to not move several writing pieces around the class as I had suggested. We worked together to adapt the editing groups to fit her class’ needs. At each table, she put a member from each type of editing group. They worked together to finish a select group of writing pieces. She also gave multiple jobs to some of her “high flyers”. What wonderful adaptations. I eventually was able to move to her structure as my students became more confident editors later in the year.
Fraction flags are one of my favorite activities in an elementary classroom! Students must show they’ve understood the math concept but have the freedom to be imaginative and add meaning to their math project. In this case, students were to illustrate their understanding of halves. They chose their colors and design after a basic understanding of what a flag’s role is. What’s more, students that needed a further challenge, were asked to describe their design by adding meaning to their color choice and what their flag represented. These students were able to speak about their flags’ meanings drawing on what we had previously learned about Kenya’s and Mexico’s flags in social studies.