Great Classroom Action

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by bledsoe on January 1, 2017

Another teacher and I were recently trying to come up with a list of the top five best teaching strategies or activities that we had ever seen. I remember thinking, "Man, it's really tough trying to narrow it down to just five," and then I remember thinking, "Hey, this reminds me of Dan Meyer's Great Classroom Action posts."

I'm still not sure what my all-time top five would be, but I figured I'd start with a few and then post more later. So with a hat tip to Dan, here's some great classroom action I've seen recently.

Forced questions

This is an activity I first heard about from a former teacher/coach colleague of mine, and is a simple way to overcome the "I can't get my students to ask questions" problem. My friend called her activity "1-2-4" and it went like this:

  1. Stop in the middle of some other activity and have everyone take 30 seconds to write down a question they have about the current topic. (If a student claims they don't have any questions, tell them to write down a question they think one of their classmates might have.)
  2. Have students turn to a partner (or stand up and find a partner), and share their question with their partner. The two of them must choose one of those questions to share with the class.
  3. At this point you could either call on pairs of students to share their questions with the class, or do one more round in which each pair of students finds another pair of students. Each pair of students shares their question, and each group of four students must choose one question to share with the class.

One of the things I like about "1-2-4" is how it overcomes the common challenge of students not wanting to ask questions because they're afraid of looking stupid in front of their classmates. With this activity, the students aren't saying "Here's my question," they're saying, "Here's our question."

High school math teacher Dave Sladkey has a variation on this that he uses while students are working independently:

I told my students that I was going to require them to "Ask a Question" when I was walking around to each person.  I also said that if they did not have a math question, that they could ask any other (appropriate)  question that they liked.  One way or another, they would have to ask me a question.

"Gimme a 2, a 1, or a zero"

I'm a big fan of teachers giving students a specific amount of time to work on a particular task. It generates urgency on the part of students, and efficiency on the part of teachers. But while this is a good idea in theory, it can sometimes be difficult to figure out the best amount of time to allow for a particular task; you want it to be short enough to generate urgency, but not so short that the students don't have sufficient time to do a good job.

I recently saw a teacher use this technique when deciding whether to give her math students additional time to finish working on a problem she had assigned. After the students had been working on the problem for a few minutes and several appeared to be nearly finished, she said, "Gimme a 2, a 1, or a zero," at which point all the students raised a hand and showed either 2 fingers, 1 finger, or no fingers, indicating they needed 2 more minutes, 1 more minute, or zero minutes to complete the problem. The teacher got valuable feedback quickly, and the students understood that they didn't have all day to work on this one task. Win-win.

Quizlet Live

I was previously aware of Quizlet as one of many online sites that allows teachers to create different flashcard type games to study things like vocabulary words, state capitals, etc. Quizlet works well for individualized study, but Quizlet Live adds a team collaboration/conversation component that turns a sometimes dull practice or review activity into a highly engaging group problem-solving activity. I saw an English teacher use this as a vocabulary review, and the level of excitement on the part of the students was clear.

The teacher creates a set of questions or vocabulary words and Quizlet Live randomly assigns students to teams. (Each student needs a computer, laptop, or smartphone to log into the site with a join code provided by the teacher.) When the game starts, the team members work together to choose the correct answers to each question, and the game is structured in a very clever way to encourage student conversations.

Photo Credit: coreeducation Flickr via Compfight cc

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