Spring is in the air (despite the need for sweaters in mid April), and the students are feeling it. They may be feeling it a bit more this year because of our lack of an actual spring. Something magically happens to their already abbreviated attention spans after spring break come rain, sleet, snow, or sunshine.
But we still have six weeks until summer break. Six weeks that can be long and excruciating, or six weeks that can be engaging and productive. Each year, I count down to summer break by looking for strategies in an attempt to steer my classroom along the second route.
My past series have focused mainly on tech tips. This year, I’m looking into simple, engaging strategies that may or may not involve tech. But hopefully, these are ideas that will be easy for you to implement and will help hold your students’ interest until the bitter end.
So here is Simple Spring Engagement # 6:
Use Your Smartphone to Make Discussions Count
This is an insanely simple strategy to implement in the age of Smartphones. Seriously, if I wanted to take pictures in class, I used to have to check a camera out from the media center. Now, I always have one in my pocket.
Our students are native documenters–they are constantly snapping selfies and posting to social media. So when having a simple classroom discussion, a great way to get students engaged and to give an otherwise mundane activity a sense of importance is by documenting it (almost) just like they document every aspect of their lives.
What you need to make this happen:
1. An optional homework assignment to provide students with background knowledge for the discussion.
I am using a lesson my student teacher implemented as an example here. We were going to discuss Machiavelli’s ideas about leaders the next day in class, so he assigned students an excerpt from The Prince and an APPARTS (primary source analysis graphic organizer). There is a social media activity that accompanies this activity that he assigned for homework AFTER the class discussion. You can preview the assignment here.
2. A discussion topic with an “activator,” such as a KWL chart to get the conversation going.
My student teacher wanted to have a discussion over Machiavelli’s ideas about leadership. He drew a chart on the board asking for types of leaders, characteristics of good leaders, and ways for leaders to get things done. Students could approach the board and write their answers. Conversely, they could “shout out” their answers, and he would write them on the board.
|Wishing I had taken a minute to clean the board….|
3. A Guiding Presentation so that the discussion doesn’t wander out into the springtime courtyard.
He created a PowerPoint Presentation with selected quotes from The Prince. He also put each quote into his own words (to make them easy for students to understand). He put students into pairs, and they were instructed to discuss the quote and decide whether they agreed or disagreed with Machiavelli’s assertion about leadership, and to explain why or why not.
4. Mini whiteboards, scratch paper, or 1:1 devices with a whiteboard app (I discuss a free site here that can be used on any device). Employ the Think-Pair-Share strategy:
He gave students a couple of minutes to individually write their responses on their mini whiteboard. Then they had to discuss their opinions with their partner, come to a consensus, and write their consensus on one of their whiteboards. Then each pair shared their response with the class.
5. The camera on your Smartphone to “make it count.”
My student teacher and I decided which response was the most well-thought-out and clearly explained. I snapped a picture of that pair holding up their whiteboard. This immediately grabbed their attention. They loved posing for the picture. We added an extra dimension to this by awarding XP (experience points for my gamified classroom). If you don’t gamify, extra credit or candy has a similar motivating effect.
|An added benefit of the camera is that it offers paperless reinforcement and accountability.|
|Preview them HERE.|
6. An Exit Activity, such as an exit ticket or poll, to encourage students to reflect over the activity.
7. Butcher Paper to “publish” your photos.
On planning the next day, I got a piece of butcher paper from the media center. I uploaded the pictures I had taken to my computer. I opened PowerPoint and inserted the pictures to make a collage. Then I pulled a speech bubble in from the “shapes” feature in the “insert” toolbar.
I copied and pasted Machiavelli’s quotes from my student teacher’s PowerPoint into speech bubbles. I then typed snippets from my students’ whiteboard pictures into speech bubbles with their pictures next to their quotes.
It took about thirty minutes to put together, but the students loved seeing it hanging in the room. It added a sense of importance to an otherwise normal classroom discussion.
How do you make discussions count in your classroom? Leave a comment below to let us know! And I’ll see you next week for another Simple Spring Engagement idea.
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