One of the things I decided early on was that simply giving a menu activity to students doesn't cut it. Sure, it provides lots of choices for students and allows students to work at their own pace, but what about teacher delivery? How can we have the students become more engaged in a menu lesson? How can we meet a child's need for fun? Are we doing all that we can to model creativity if all we do is hand students a menu? Sure, creating menus is a great start toward differentiating instruction, but does it lead to maximum enthusiasm and engagement?
TRANSFORMING THE ROOM
Because I decided to give students a menu, it only made sense to make the classroom look a bit more like a restaurant. I created tables with 4 desks and covered them with butcher-paper "tablecloths". On these table settings, I placed center pieces that included "Did You Know?" statements with random American Indian trivia.
|"Tablecloths" that I made and used in 2012-2013 before I added my "Appetizer".|
|"Tablecloths" that I made and used in 2014 with setting.|
I used my dry-erase board to display a welcome sign and Today's Specials. I prepared a GrooveShark playlist of American Indian music that I have playing when students enter the room. As they come in, they notice that the "Do Now", or starter activity, on my SmartBoard, actually says, "Appetizer."
I meet the students at the door, with a passionate greeting: "Welcome to the Cactus Hill Grill...over 18,000 years of excellent customer service!" (They need to know that evidence that humans lived at Cactus Hill as early as 18,000 years ago makes it one of the oldest archaeological sites in North America.) As students come in, they see the tables and tablecloths. They take a seat and find a paper plate, a spoon, and a fork at their desk. On the back of the paper plate is the name of an American Indian group that we have studied. No tribes are repeated at the same table. Taped to the utensils are crayons for them to draw an image of their assigned American Indian group on the front of their plates. I usually give no more than 5 minutes for this appetizer. After completing the dish, I have students share their artwork and their knowledge of American Indian tribes with their tablemates--what's a restaurant without some conversation!
Usually I will embed some content in the form of customer reviews on one of the boards in my classroom. Some examples are:
"You'll have a whale of a time!" -Inuit customer
"You're going to dig this place!" -Bob, the Archaeologist
A good menu will offer a variety of assignments that take into consideration different readiness levels, learning styles, and interests of your students. Here is a menu for my Cactus Hill Grill:
I usually have a "kids' menu" available for students who tend to struggle with the material and need something that's a bit more straightforward. Some students may also be unable to focus with a large variety of options. For these students, I offer a simple study guide for students to complete.
ABILITY TO WORK ONE-ON-ONE OR IN SMALL GROUPS
A good menu not only provides student choice, but it also creates opportunities for student independence. It gives students a chance to take an idea and run with it. So, while most of them are hard at work, I take the chance to work in small groups or one-on-one with kids who might need the extra help. In order to make this happen, though, kids need all the supplies readily available. You don't want students interrupting one-on-one sessions because they can't find something they need.
If you have other advice on how I could improve this lesson, I'd love to hear it...