Snowball Stories

25 Feb

I was reading about literacy activities and stumbled on snowball stories.  Students write the start of a story in response to a prompt.  Then, when the allocated writing time has expired, they scrunch up the paper and throw it towards the front of the class.  Students then rush to the front, selecting a snowball.  They write the next phase of the story.  The process then repeats until the stories are finished.  Teachers should endeavour to provide an engaging writing prompt, and should scaffold the expectations for each phase of the story.

Teachers could also extend/challenge students by offering stipulations regarding a secondary character that the protagonist must encounter (for example, a man in a frayed green cardigan), an object that must be introduced at a particular point in the narrative, or a line of dialogue that must be plausibly incorporated.

STOP! Poetry Time!

22 Feb

Ask students to spend one week ‘collecting’ words from signs.  They may, for example, write the word STOP on their list after seeing a stop sign, or ‘mask’ after reading a sign on the bus requesting that passengers wear a mask while on public transport.  At the end of the week, students create a poem using only the words they have collected.  If students have insufficient words, either allow students to pool their words together or change the requirement so that at least one of the found words appear in each line of the poem.

Getting to Know You Activities

21 Feb

Each year I ask my students to write me a letter introducing themselves.  While the letter does give students ample opportunity to let me know who they are, and is helpful from a welfare perspective, it does not really offer students the opportunity to showcase their creativity.  To that end, I have devised a list of alternate options:

  1. Compose and present a song about yourself set to the tune of a well-known nursery rhyme
  2. Imagine that your life is a book.  What would the title be?  Why?
  3. Imagine that your life is a book.  What image(s) would be on the front cover?  Why?
  4. Imagine that your life is a book.  Write the blurb.
  5. Create a storyboard for a film about your life.  The storyboard should highlight five key moments of struggle and/or growth.
  6. Imagine that you were creating a collage to represent your feelings about the new school year and studying English.  Which images would you include?  Which textures would you include?  Which colours would you include?  Why?
  7. Write a poem/slam poem/rap introducing yourself.

Musical Characters

1 Dec

The last few weeks of a school year can be difficult, not least of all because all because assessments are completed, reports are written and thus external motivators for students are spent.  One interesting activity – which doubles as a way of reviewing the year – is to have students select a character from one of the texts they have studied and attempt to plausibly insert that character into a different text.  This character is the ‘musical’ character as, like in a game of musical chairs, it moves from one place (text) to another.  Students could be encouraged to represent their hypotheses as short stories, chapter rewriting, film posters and/or reviews of imagined revised texts.

Writing in Miniature

26 Nov

Strong student writing appreciates demonstrates capacity to zoom in and out of spaces, capturing details that help to immerse the reader in the story or fuel the plot.  It is the zooming in skill that ‘writing in miniature’ seeks to develop.  For this activity, students will be shown an artwork of an internal space (house, caravan, castle) and asked to craft a short section of narrative centred in and about this space.  For added complexity, teachers may wish to assign each student one of the senses as a means of encouraging a focus on touch, smell or sounds, for example.

If one wished to develop this activity further, students could then partner with students who study food technology, music or art, who are then asked to create a meal/piece of music/artwork that captures the essence of the room as conveyed through the English student’s writing.

Vocabulary Wall

1 Nov

Most teachers provide students with metalanguage lists at the start of the unit, often accompanying these with definitions.  I think it could be helpful to flesh out this resource by making it a ‘living document’ on the wall of the classroom.  Thus, as students produce work that illustrates integration of the metalanguage or functions as exemplars for the metalanguage, a copy can be posted to the wall for the benefit of the class.

Unpacking Filmed Media Stories

29 Oct

News is often communicated through the medium of film.  Students thus need to understand the conventions of film, and how these conventions are leveraged by media outlets to communicate ideas and information.

To this end, students need to become familiar with basic film shots.  Create for students a checklist of film shots, asking them to consider possible impacts of each of these choices on the viewer.  Then, have students watch a selection of filmed news segments to track and reflect upon the shots used and the impact on the view.  Finally, in the form of an inner-outer circle discussion, students must reflect upon what they have viewed and understood.  This activity should culminate in a class discussion in which learning is summarised.

An extension of this activity would be having students create a short (1 to 2 minute) filmed news story, demonstrating their learning in concrete form.  To challenge students, the teacher could stipulate audience and desired impact, thus requiring students to tailor their presentation to achieve these goals.  Hopefully, this would allow students to understand how the media’s filming and editing of news stories can impact how they are received and understood.

Collaborative Cloze Passages

27 Oct

One of my colleagues shared an awesome idea for building the foundations for respect and collaboration in the classroom.  Students work in pairs, with each student furnished with a copy of the same passage albeit with different words missing.  Without looking at each other’s work, the students must read their passage, working at a pace and volume suitable for their partner.  By giving each partner the power of having the answers that the other needs, students must listen to one another and be patient – their success is intertwined.

Early Childhood: Extending Interactive Reading

27 Oct

My recent post Interactive Reading offered suggestions for how to engage children in the world of the text while it is being read to them.  This post seeks to extend that discussion, offering ways of making connections between the world and the text.  Some fun activities include:

  1. After reading a book about a construction site, take the child to a construction site and ask them to identify the structures and machines from the book.
  2. Take the child on a walk through the neighbourhood, and ask them to identify buildings, structures or building materials references in a book they have read.
  3. After reading a book about colours, provide the child with a cardboard sheet of a particular colour and ask the child to locate things of that colour in the home, garden or neighbourhood.
  4. After reading a book about numbers, make the child a scavenger hunt list that identifies how many of each item the child should locate in the home, garden or neighbourhood.
  5. After reading a book about the alphabet, set the child a challenge of locating one item per letter of the alphabet.  For younger children, this could be varied to focus on just one letter or sound, or even for the child to select from a pre-curated selection of objects.
  6. After reading a book about the alphabet or colours, take the child to the fruit and vegetable market/store and challenge them to select elements for a meal that all start with the same letter or are all the same colour.  Then, set up a picnic in the park.
  7.  After reading a book about the alphabet, have the child select one letter and ask them to make an artwork that only includes images of things that start with that letter.  Variations include a collage of found objects starting with the chosen letter, a collage that only includes colours or textures starting with that letter, a three-dimensional artwork made only of materials starting with the chosen letter.
  8. After reading a book about colours, engage the child in the task of sorting washing into colour-coded piles.
  9. After reading a book about numbers, ask the child to select an outfit for themselves where the requirements are numerical.  For example: two things to put on your feet, one thing to wear on your legs, three things to wear on your body, one thing to wear on your head.
  10. Work with your child to recreate a meal eaten by a character in one of their books.

Civil Conversations

21 Oct

I recently happened upon ‘Our 2020 Civil Conversation Challenge‘ in the NY Times.  I love this as a model for reinforcing the skills gleaned through activities such as those flagged in my post preparing to disagree.

Additionally, students could use the winning conversations released by the NY Times as mentor texts, analysing and unpacking them to build a vocabulary for having conversations about contentious issues.