Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Holidays Are Coming...

Dashing through the standards,
can't wait til break is here,
kids are off the wall,
experiencing Christmas cheer.
How to make the time
meaningful and fun?
Plan a lesson that you're sure 
will be a homerun!
Writing Songs! Writing Songs!
Writing on Display!
Oh, what fun it is to use
the standards in this way. Hey!

How can we meet students where they are as the holiday season approaches and still have a meaningful learning experience? Celebrate the holidays through song writing and review the material taught in the first semester! That's right, on the day before the winter break, I like to have my students write and sing carols. 

I don't provide a whole lot of instruction for my students with this activity. Rather, I tell them to use the knowledge they have learned in the semester and a tune that they are familiar with (holiday-related or not so as to respect those that do not celebrate holidays during the winter break) to come up with an amazing song that they would be willing to perform for their classmates. They choose who, if anyone, they will work with. I typically say no more than five in a group. I set a timer (for about 35 minutes), and off they go. With Christmas vacation starting the next day, the students know they need to get it done in a timely fashion so that they have time to perform their songs at the end of class.

Of course, in order to get them jazzed up about the assignment, you might want to consider providing them with an example, no matter how bad a singer you might be...

Most of the kids rise to the challenge of creating a song and performing the song for their peers.  In fact, I've had a few groups of students that worked so hard on their song and were brave enough to perform for large groups of students in the cafeteria during lunch. One group of students wrote about Susan B. Anthony in a song entitled, "Susan, the Woman Suffragist" to the tune of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Another wrote about the American Indians to the tune of "Jingle Bells". Others wrote and sang, "Lincoln, the President" to the tune of "Frosty, the Snowman." The students blow me away with the creativity displayed in their songwriting and the courage demonstrated by their performances. Another song that I remember distinctly is written below.

"On the History Exam" (to the tune of the "Twelve Days of Christmas")

On the history exam we might be asked about:

12 colonies at the First Continental Congress
11 Confederate states
10 amendments in the Bill of Rights
9 states-a-ratifying
8 geographic regions
7 large continents
6 western territories
5 American Indian tribes
4 border states
3 branches of government
2 houses of Congress
and 1 vote per state under the Articles of Confederation
Having students combine content and fun through song will help to focus all of the energy and excitement that your students will enter the classroom with on the day before a holiday vacation. Students are encouraged to create, collaborate, and step out of their comfort zones as they review previously taught material.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

'Speed Dating' Activity

So, I wasn't sure how this one would go over with my 6th grade history students. But, when I tried it last year, it went pretty well.

First, I created my "matches," or pairs of historical figures that I had taught throughout the year that had some clear connection to one another. Some examples of the pairs that I used are:
  • Samuel de Champlain and Robert La Salle (both French explorers)
  • Paul Revere and Samuel Adams
  • Lord Cornwallis and King George III (whom I refer to as KG3 after a student of mine who was a Redskins fan suggested I do so)
  • Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony
  • Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson
  • Cyrus McCormick and Jo Anderson (both credited with the invention of the reaper)

For each pair, I wrote down one of the 2 names on a notecard in blue and the other in red. The students that sit in the outside of the speed dating square (see below) would be assigned an individual whose name was written in blue, and the students on the inside would get the ones in red. It is important that  individuals in a match are not both assigned to students sitting in the outside of the circle or students in the inside, they should be separated--which is why I use the colors.

The objective of the activity is for students to take the perspective of the individual they have been assigned and find someone with whom they have a common bond. As you can see above, the students will be sitting across from a partner. The pair of students will have one minute (30 seconds each) to discuss their interests, hobbies, and notable accomplishments WITHOUT SAYING THEIR HISTORICAL FIGURE'S NAME.

For example, the student assigned to Frederick Douglass might say, "I was born into slavery, but escaped to the North. I am an activist who has worked hard to extend rights to women and African Americans. I wrote a newspaper called the North Star in the hopes of advancing the abolitionist cause and was a friend of Abraham Lincoln's."

The person across from them may or may not be their match. For example, if they were Samuel de Champlain they would talk about their explorations along the St. Lawrence River and the establishment of Quebec. In that minute, they will realize, that they really don't have enough in common to be a solid match.

However, if the person across from them sounds like the match, which in this case is William Lloyd Garrison, they might say something like, "Wow, I wrote an abolitionist newspaper too. Mine was called The Liberator. I fought for the immediate emancipation of slaves, and, like you, wanted to extend rights to African Americans."

Once the one minute timer concludes and the buzzer sounds, the students who have found their match stand up and say something like, "I've found the one!" or "This is a match made in heaven!" or "I've discovered my new BFF!"  This adds a bit of fun and silliness to the activity. Then, I ask them to reveal who they are. I then ask the students to share what they think the common bond between the two is.

Once a pair has discovered their match, they stay put. Everyone in the outer circle in search of their "soul mate" will rotate one seat to the left. They now have a new partner that they will share their interests, hobbies, and accomplishments with. The steps repeat until everyone has found their match.

This activity requires students to know about the accomplishments of notable people in history, take the perspective of a historical figure, and make connections. It also requires students to practice their conversation skills--including good listening.

Depending on the age group, content, and school where you teach, it might not be wise to call the game Speed Dating. Try Fast Friends, Common Bond, or Match Made In Heaven.