Escape rooms. Gamified learning. Treasure hunts. Huge project-based learning units. If you are anything like me, you can get overwhelmed by all the possibilities of how to structure a lesson and which method will engage students the most. I’m positive the first time I sat in on a professional development before the school year on all the “new techniques” that had come out since I graduated from my educator program, I quickly found a paper bag to hyperventilate into.
You can ask my husband and immediate family how many stressed out conversations we had over all these methods I had heard zero about not to mention the fact that I was floating. It’s for this reason that when I was teaching MacBeth I decided to incorporate “old school” graphic organizers and close reading activities.
Now, I’m not poo-pooing on escape rooms, gamified learning, or PBL. The complete opposite! These activities are amazing at getting students engaged and participating in their learning. But these activities can also require an abundance of energy from teachers on the backend. I certainly remember those days where I would show up at school at five in the morning and come home at six or seven. And still I’d be thinking and working on the unit.
With all the responsibilities put on a teacher’s shoulders, like homeroom, professional development, evaluation portfolios, a never-ending stream of meetings, and all the dang grading and lesson planning we already don’t have the time for, who has the time?
I personally wanted to lobby the universe for an extra hour a day so I could sleep restfully. I concluded that not every single waking moment of a unit had to be as engaging as the previous one cause, guess what, some standards are inherently engaging.
Some standards are inherently engaging.
In my classroom, I prioritize what I need my students to be engaged in (also known as the boring standards that even bring me to tears) versus inherently engaging standards that my students are easily motivated to learn about. An example of a boring standard would be a synthesis of two texts with common themes.
I’m sure adults could figure a way to make it engaging, but to a student, why the heck would they want to read two articles on the same topic when they could just do with one? This is where I rope in things like reliable sources, the advent of misleading news sources, and reading things with a grain of salt.
It can genuinely turn into an amazing unit, even though I’m sure a big name publishing company’s textbook could make it bore a kid to tears. After I’ve spent my creative juices on making an engaging lesson, I then see what else in the unit might be more engaging on its own and therefore lends itself to traditional teaching methods like graphic organizers.
Analysis of Characters for Traditional Learning
Characterization, in my experience, is one of the easier things for students to learn. They can quickly put themselves in a character’s shoes and usually can’t stop talking about their personal experiences as they relate to the text. This is why I choose to use graphic organizers. The Institute for Advancement of Research in Education (IARE) found that graphic organizers resulted in improvement in the areas of “reading comprehension, student achievement in grade levels and content areas, thinking and learning skills for organizing information, seeing relationships, and categorizing of concepts, retention of information, and achievement among learning disabled students (IARE, 2003, as quoted in p. 234, Bellanca, 2007).” Graphic organizers, therefore, can launch your teaching into another level.
Graphic organizers are amazing.
Close reading. Probably one of the harder things to teach students. So why do I choose to make worksheets for close reading? Because students need to practice annotation. And guiding them with a set of questions starts to show them what questions they should be asking once they get the opportunity to choose their own portion of text to close reading. In my class, I also assign a close reading activity where students choose which text to close read, pick from a set of creative projects, and then perform them or show them in the class. In this sense, traditional learning takes place in the form of I-do, We-Do, You-Do.
I use graphic organizers all over the place in my teaching. And like I said, characterization is one of those standards that lends itself to worksheets and graphic organizers. I used them for Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Shakespeare’s MacBeth, and John Green’s Looking for Alaska.
But you can also use them for other standards. It depends on what you think your classroom likes and dislikes. Are your students history buffs? Are they social justice warriors? Do you have a class full of arts-inclined students? Then use worksheets and easy to put together projects for that class.
At the end of the day you need to look at how to prioritize your time so you don’t burn out.
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