How to lead students to think further

middle-school-motivators-464x600How do teachers revisit content without being repetitive? How can we encourage students to spend more time and delve deeper? How can students interact positively with other students and get up out of their seats? In the book Middle School Motivators! 22 Interactive Learning Structures by Responsive Classroom there are explanations for activities that engage students in thinking, interacting with their peers and moving around the classroom. Here I am going to explain three Interactive Learning Structures that work in the Middle School language classroom and to further paint a picture for you of how to use them, I will give examples for each. 

Maîre d’ Call out, “Table for [a number from 2 through 4]”. Students quickly assemble in small groups with that number of members. Ask a question for students to answer in their group or give a topic for them to discuss. After all students have had time to share in their small groups, debrief in the large group asking what students heard from each other. Call out another table number and students form new small groups based on the new number and answer a new question or discuss a new topic.

As an example, when I did a unit on healthy lifestyles and the Interpersonal Assessment at the end of the unit had a prompt to discuss suggestions for a healthy lifestyle, I had students practice for that exam by doing a Maître d’ Interactive Learning Structure with four questions that break down the topic and ask students to revisit the material:

Table for three, What can a person your age do to reduce stress?

Table for two, What are the good outcomes of getting exercise?

Table for five, What actions can you take daily to get exercise?

Table for four, What changes can you make in your eating to improve health?

Prior to this activity the students had done a reading on each topic and this was a way to synthesize the vocabulary and ideas in preparation for the over-arching question of how to live a healthy lifestyle.

Venn-ting After students complete a Venn diagram to compare and contrast two topics, assign one student to be the reporter and the other to be the presenter. The reporter roams the room looking for ideas from others. The presenter stays put and explains the pair’s work to the roaming reporters. Allow reporters to visit 2-3 other groups for 1-2 minutes each. Reporters return to their original partner, discuss what they have learned and add to or revise their original diagram.

As an example, when I did a unit on stories, I had the students analyze using a graphic organizer each story based on a common set of the elements of a story. Then at the end we compared two stories using a Venn diagram and the students did a Venn-ting before passing in their final draft to make it delve deeper.

Four corners Students choose a response to a teacher-posed question that best reflects their thinking or interests. They move to the corner representing that response and discuss it in small groups then share what they have learned with the whole class.

As an example, for a unit on Family and Friends, the essential framing question is, How are we connected to others? We did a reading on what it meant to be a good friend. To encourage students to use the vocabulary and ideas from the reading and further explain their own ideas, I used the Interactive Learning Structure to have them separate into four corners to further examine which statement they agreed with most:

What makes a good friend?

  1. A person you can tell everything to, but you also don’t have to
  2. A person who doesn’t ask anything in exchange for friendship
  3. A person who respects your choices, even if he or she doesn’t agree
  4. A person who stays with you silently when you have a worry

And when we shared what we learned from others, everyone in the room received additional ideas on all four points of view.

These Interactive Learning Structures increase student interest in the content, motivate students, lead them to engage positively with the content and with each other and show students how to think more deeply about the topic.

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