Set the Stage to Engage: SuperRoots!

Woooohooo....Week #2! 

{Warning: This is a long one. Break it into parts or dive in for the long haul! I promise it will be worth it.} 

It's time for week #2 of my Set the Stage to Engage series. Last week was all about how I create an environment that enhances student engagement. How I "flip" my classroom and really get the students engaged and excited about tough content. You can read about that {HERE}

This week. Ahhh...this week is all about how I engage my students in boring {can I say that?} but necessary content. Greek and Latin Roots. Let's all board the train to the town of Boremetodeath. If you find roots interesting, I am truly sorry. Hey, we wall have our areas of interest, right? But I found that my kids felt the exact same way about this content. However, we know as teachers, the engagement factor is on us. Right? Right! #noexcuses

Here is the bottom line. I needed the kids to learn 36 roots. In three. DAYS. Eeek! I still had so much content to teach, and I needed to knock this out. And fast!

Could I have used 1,000 worksheets? Sure. {Big yawn! For them. And me!}

Could I have used flashcards and made them study, study, study? Sure. 

Could I have made them write and rewrite the definitions 100x each? Absolutely. 

But here is what I have found about all of the things listed above (most of the time). They remember the content for the test and then that knowledge is no more. Or at least, it is not a strong knowledge and understanding. So basically that means that I have wasted precious class time for my kids to pass a test. I don't know about you, but I feel some kinda way about that. 

Plus, when I use the above strategies frequently, my kids sorta look a little something like this...

Yep. I have been there. Even as a student. Isn't that the worst feeling ever? I couldn't...and wouldn't exactly consider this student engaged. 

Instead, I had to find ways that would engage my kids and still teach and drill, drill, drill the content. I wanted my kids to have a thorough knowledge of how to use these roots to enhance and grow their vocabulary and help them better understand unfamiliar words. And I wanted it to stick...and for longer than the time it took to take a test.

So while you may not all have to teach Greek and Latin roots, think about content that you have that might not always pique your students' interest. Maybe you can find ways to incorporate these ideas below to engage your students and have them hungry for more. More roots. More multiplication facts. More vocabulary words. More sight words. More ________________ (you fill in the blank). 

Step 1: Super Roots

I give you...Super Roots! Each student selected a root that we were studying and had to morph that root into a superhero character complete with a superhero mask. Because we know all superheroes have to disguise their true identify. They had to create a superhero name and prepare a minute long introduction. Now, in their intro, they couldn't tell us their root. 

The details on their mask and in their presentation {whether it was drama, a rap, a song, a dance, a speech...their choice} had to reveal which root they were describing. I guess the presentations were almost like riddles if you will.

At the end of each riddle, the students would have 30 seconds to guess which SuperRoot each student was representing. They would write their answers and evidence on a frisbee with a dry erase marker. Once the 30 seconds were up, they would reveal their answers, and we would discuss. Then the SuperRoot would reveal their superhero name which also had to contain their root.   

This was a great higher level activity that really allowed the students to get their hands dirty in roots. Pun completely intended. :) 

Can you tell her root is "gon"? Check out all of those angles! 

When they presented, I had to set the stage. This made them even more excited about what they were learning. This was an extremely easy "flip". I found four aluminum trashcans around the school {and I might have filled them with dry ice for a smoky effect}. I put a cool cityscape on the Promethean. Then I added some superhero music and a few spot lights. Our classroom quickly became the land of all SuperRoots. 

I have found that changing the environment also helps the students really get into character and presentations go from drab to fab! 

Just look at these SuperRoots...

Step 2: Music {We be jammin'}

One of the most effective ways for students to retain and remember heavy and difficult content and vocabulary you ask? Songs! I still remember songs from my freshman year of high school that my geometry teacher taught me. And that was back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth! Just in case you were wondering! ;)  

 I somehow managed to put all 36 roots and their meanings into a little song. WHY I don't have a video of my kids singing this? I have no clue. So instead you have me! I am SO sorry. I will replace this with a video of my sweet kids once we get back to school. 

Unable to display content. Adobe Flash is required.

You can click on the picture above to grab the lyrics. Then, of course, you also need a little beat. Here ya go! 

Step 3: Movement

Along with rigorous instruction and our SuperRoot presentations, I also needed to drill, drill, and drill {some more} these roots and their meanings. How do you engage 31 brains all at once in some drill and practice? 

Glad you asked! TWISTER! 

I quickly printed our roots on colorful paper. Now, since this is 5th grade...I did have a boys side and a girls side. Need I say more? Here is a little look up close and personal at the board: 

As you can see, the board repeats itself. So on each side, I essentially had 4 of the same twister boards all pieced together. 

Then, we played the game just as if we were playing the real thing. I would spin the wheel, and if it landed on right hand/yellow, I would say right hand/empty. They would then have to recall the root which means empty (vac) and place their right hand on that root. 

Important to note: Remember our focus is engagement. When playing Twister, obviously students are eliminated. Whether they are on the game board or not, it is my job to keep them engaged. Now I could just say to sit around the edge and think about the answers. Ha! Yeah right. Like they will really do that. Instead, when each student was eliminated, they had to grab a frisbee and dry erase marker. They would write the definition to the word on the frisbee and reveal the answer at the appropriate time. They would continue this until the next round began. 

I think it is safe to say, they loved it! 

Step 4: Games

Games are always a winner in my classroom and are a great way to engage learners. I am going to talk about games a little more in a few weeks here in the series. I saw this cute game on my sweet friend, Brown Bag Teacher's blog. She calls it Stacks. Perfect!

It's super simple. We wrote the root on the bottom of the cup and the meaning on the inside. I told you...simple. Then the students would create teams and select a cup. They had to identify the meaning of the root. If they got it correct, they could add to their tower. The student with the tallest {not widest} tower was declared the winner of that round. During round 2, they had to use the word correctly in a sentence. 

Tip: I had the kids create the cups. I would have still been there writing the root on the outside and the definition on the inside. It took them about 10 minutes, and we had hundreds of cups. And I definitely told them to not bend them so I will be able to use them again next year! 

Step 4 1/2: Flashcards and Study

Sorry. No pictures necessary for this step. Which got me thinking. If it isn't picture engaging could it possibly be? Lol! 

BUT...I don't want anyone throwing shade, so let me say this...I do agree that there is a time and place for worksheets and flashcards. Just not so much in our instruction. Assessments...yes. Homework...on occasion. But if we expect worksheets and flashcards to really teach our kids at the level of depth and complexity that we need, it's probably not going to happen.  

So why do I feel so passionately about student engagement? It works! It sticks! Here is just one (of the many) examples of how I know this to be true: 

While I was traveling with my students to St. Louis, my kids were pointing out roots all over the place and discussing what words could possibly mean. AND how that meaning could relate to the overall content of what was being discussed. They truly had lightbulbs going off all over the place. Their connections to words were deep and profound all over the city. Talk about a happy teacher moment. It makes it all worth it. They didn't just memorize 36 roots, they could accurately apply them to strengthen their knowledge of a word or subject. I'd say they #nailedit.

So what is some of that "boring" content that you teach? How could you rethink your approach to your instruction and teach that concept in a way that will truly engage your kiddos. Or better yet, how have you already made that happen?  

I know that was a long one. I hope you maybe found at least one idea that you can use with your kiddos in your classroom. Next week I will be posting LIVE...from Vegas! Can't wait to see thousands of amazing teachers in once place. I hope you will be one of those! ;)

 I will also post the Q&A later tonight on my Facebook! Hit me with all of your questions, and I will be back to answer them this weekend!  

Happy Thursday, y'all! It's my 5th wedding anniversary. Let's see what my hunky husband has planned today! ;) 


Set the Stage to Engage Q&A: Spy Headquarters

Happy Sunday, everyone! I hope you enjoyed my last post all about how I engage my students while reading nonfiction texts. If you missed that, you can check it out here

I know a lot of you had questions about lesson specifics, so I grouped some of the questions together to hopefully provide you more information about how I made this happen in my classroom. So let's get started...

1. Does this theme last a day/week/month/year? ;) Do you incorporate all subject areas into this theme or only this specific lesson? 

Part 1: Let me begin by answering the first part. The length of how long something stays up honestly depends on the theme, and how I am incorporating it into my instructional content. The spy theme was a little tricky because you literally had to walk over lasers during each lesson. It was the best workout ever, and I was completely sore. LOL! {I hope that didn't scare you away.} So for this specific lesson, I left it up for two days. The students really just got the hang of the lesson on day one, and on day two they were really getting deep into literature. 

Now this specific "flip" (as I like to call it) was only up for a short time. However, when I turned my room into a safari in 2nd grade, I left it up for two weeks throughout our entire unit of study. Here is a little peek at that. It really depends on a) how conducive the decor is to the classroom logistics and b) if it is meant to enhance a lesson or an entire unit. 

Here is a look at the safari:

Part 2: The spy headquarters was used to teach one concept in ELA. However, that concept was pretty deep, so I had to build up to that lesson. Using the same example as above when I turned my room into a safari, I integrated it into every part of our day. Interdisciplinary units can be powerful. More on that later. Not only were we studying groups of animals and their habitats/life cycles in science, I also incorporated it into measurement in math, research/reading for ELA, etc. You can learn more about my safari by clicking on the titles below. 

All of that to say...there is no one way to flip your room. It depends on how long you can handle it {until it drives you crazy} and really how long it can be used to really pull your students in and enhance, rather than take away, from your instruction. 

2. How might you modify this for other grade levels? 

This would be extremely easy to use with any nonfiction text. For upper grades, as I did with my students, I used this lesson to really emphasize the need to summarize and include all key events, details, etc. for a spy profile. 

If I did this exact concept with 1st or 2nd, I could take it 100 different directions. Perhaps they are working to simply spy on the facts of a text. Or maybe they are deciphering between facts and opinions in a lesson. That would be great for some magnifying glasses...because...well you know a magnifying glass definitely helps spot the difference. ;) Or maybe they are even working on finding text "evidence" {see...perfect for a spy unit} to support some questions about a topic. It's never too early to start that. Like I said, the list could go on. You really can just make these "flips" work for you and most importantly, for your students. Find a way to make it fit that reinforces and really challenges your students on what you have been studying. Remember...the rigor and challenge level is equally (if not MORE) important than the environment. They really should compliment one another well. 

I have also had a lot of recommendations and requests to create my Spy Headquarters for other grade levels. If you are interested, I would love to hear from you. I am thinking that I will try to split it up early elementary and upper elementary. Crossing my fingers that these will be ready by next week. 

Book recommendations for lower elementary: 

I was talking with a teacher bestie yesterday, and she reminded me about the types of books below. I used them all the time to teach nonfiction when I taught 1-2nd grades. I also loved, loved, loved my Weekly Readers from Scholastic. So did the kids. Weekly Readers would be excellent to incorporate into a lesson like this. I still use Weekly Readers for my older friends and they are by far their favorite nonfiction source.

3. How did you create the "crack the code" portion of the lesson? 

Easy! The codes identified which text structure the students were reading. Prior to cracking the code, they had to first use textual evidence to support which structure they thought they were working with after reading the passage. 

Now I couldn't just say sequencing, description, compare/contrast because they would just count the letters and guess. I had it say something like "All clues point to sequence." or "All clues point to description." 

To make the code, I simply wrote it out and either made it the letter before the actual letter or the letter after. Clear as mud, right? Here is an example of letter before. If the word was dog, it would look like this: cnf {letter "c" is before "d", letter "n" is before "o", letter "f" is before "g".} I hope that makes better sense. Then I just wrote the clue out on a piece of neon paper, and the students had to figure out the pattern and crack the code. 

4. Did you do this lesson as an introduction, mid-unit, or end of unit lesson? 

This specific lesson was done at the end of our unit on nonfiction features, text structures, and effective summarization skills and techniques. However, I have "flipped" my classroom for a variety of lessons all coming at different points in my instruction. In the safari unit that I mentioned above, I flipped the classroom right when the unit began. The kids came in and were in uproar about what we would be leaning about. It really set the tone for that unit.

5. What are the size of the black lights and how many did you use? 

I used four of the large black lights. They were probably 36 inches long. I have a relatively large room, so it was needed for a large amount of space. If you have a smaller room, two would probably do the trick! 

6. How do I black my room out? I have so much light coming in through my windows. 

Oh, that's an easy fix as well. Trash bags and a spray bottle filled with water. Those trash bags will suction straight to your window. 

Alright y'all. I hoped this helped answer some of your questions about the logistics of this lesson. I will be back next week for week number TWO of my Set the Stage to Engage Series! 

I would also like to see some of the things that you do to set the stage in your room. Post some of your favorites on Instagram and use the #hashtag below. I can't wait to add to my bag of tricks with all of your fabulous ideas! 

See ya next week! 

Spy Headquarters: Creating engaging learning environments

Are y'all ready for week number ONE of my Set the Stage to Engage series. No seriously? Are you ready? ;) 

Today is all about creating a learning environment that sets the tone and builds your students with so much excitement and anticipation, that they simply can't even help but be engaged. Really, there is no other choice. Let's not give them too many options. There is be engaged. engaged! 

...and here is why I do it! 

I have found this to be true 100% of the time. As teachers, we have to be unpredictable and....well...a little crazy. Once we step outside of our comfort zone and create lessons that are a little outside of the box, our students will be filled with anticipation and hopefully running into our doors every single day. 

I can't wait to share one of my absolute favorite lessons from the year that does just that. So, put on your best disguise and let's begin. 

{P.S. My full intention was to create a video that explains how this lesson went down for my people {like me} not really interested in reading a tremendous amount of text. It's not working exactly as I had planned, but as soon as I get it all figured out, I will post it for you! :) } 

The lesson began when each student arrived to my door with a warm { warm as a spy can be} welcome from Agent Stone. Emma Stone! I used an easy app called Finger Reader {clever title, right?} to scan each student's finger. Once they were cleared through all forms of security, they entered the spy lab one by one. 

Tip #1: have to dress the part. I hope during this little engagement series, I am able to challenge you to step outside of your comfort zone. Don't be afraid to dress in costume. Your kids will GO CRAZY. AND you totally have to be in character. The kids love when I act like I have no clue whatsoever that there was a spy in our classroom. 

Come on people! Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. This is where you need to live...the uncomfortable zone! I promise, you will grow to love it. So will your kids. 

To create the lab, you need a TON of materials. Brace yourself. You will need to make sure you have: 

1) white yarn
2) black lights I was totally kidding about the "ton of materials" thing. Thank goodness you didn't stop reading. No seriously. That's it. Two things and BAM...a state of the art spy lab. 

Tip #2: Set up: It only took about an hour to set this lab up. I tied long strands of yarn in groups of six to my ceiling. Then I simply stretched them down and tied them to desks. Super SUPER easy.

I also had push lights and disguise glasses/mustaches laid out for the students. I found both of these things at Dollar Tree. I also had this little Matrix gem playing on my Promethean and some good ol' spy music on Pandora. I think I looked up James Bond or something like that. 

Tip #3: It is amazing how a little background music can totally transform your lesson and environment. I usually try to find theme music without words so that it doesn't distract the students while they are working. Imagine walking into a silent spy lab {meh...kinda boring}. But imagine walking into this...

{Begin around 27 seconds}

Now it's time to get down to the content. I love creating the atmosphere, but let's get serious. It's not going to teach the lesson for you. One of the most important things about transforming your space is remembering to pair it with extremely rigorous content. 

The lab got them in the door and beyond thrilled about what was going to be a pretty darn difficult assignment. Once you win them over, they are willing to put in that work! 

We had been working on analyzing nonfiction texts and this lesson was really piecing everything together. The students were each assigned a section out of The Dark Game. If you teach grades 5/6, this book is an excellent nonfiction source. However, this lesson can be used with any piece of nonfiction text.

The materials on their desk looked a little something like this. {Printables resources will be included in my spy unit below.} 

The students were given the task to read that passage {pretty lengthy} about an American spy during one of the major wars. They were then challenged to create a brand new profile for the spy because our American files had been hacked and all information had been destroyed.  This required a strong understanding of summarizing information and organizing most important details.

The spy group had to first decide what text structure was used to present the information.  As a group, they discussed their reading from the night before and came to a consensus. Once they agreed, they had to work together to crack their very first spy code. Once they cracked the code, their text structure should have been confirmed. {The code told the text structure of the section they read}. 

Then they had to decide what details needed to be included, and what details were considered "fluff" and could be excluded from the file. The students created a graphic organizer {depending on the text structure} to show the most important information. Then they combined and "shrank" their list to identify the top 5 most important pieces of information about their spy. That is the information they used to create the spy profile. 

Throughout the lesson, I issued spy points for a variety of things {work ethic, cooperation, remembering my spy name ;), not touching lasers, etc.}. At the end of the lesson, we celebrated our top spy group. 

Now...who has questions? ;)

Visit my Facebook page tomorrow {June 26th} to begin leaving your questions under this graphic. I will return this weekend with some answers. 

If you are interested in the printable resources that I used for this lesson, along with some other resources that I used to teach nonfiction, I will be putting this up in my shop next week. I would love for you to check it out. 

I hope you all enjoyed week one of my Set the Stage to Engage Series. I would love to hear what you think below. 

I will be back this weekend to answer some of your questions!

For now, I am signing off! 

Agent Emma Stone ;)