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! ;) 



  1. I am really enjoying your Engage Series! I read Teach Like a Pirate at the beginning of the summer and I am trying to come up with engaging ways to teach in my classroom! I love your ideas!


    The Pickett Press

  2. Hope,
    Thank you so much for sharing these great ideas. The song is amazing and Twister..genius! I can't wait to use these with my sixth graders. Happy Anniversary.
    :) Michele
    Coffee Cups and Lesson Plans

  3. I love that Twister wasn't the game! This series is so great, and I'm passing it on to the ELA teacher on my team.

  4. Love, love, love this post! You make me want to come back to 5th grade...almost! ;) Thanks for the shout-out, friend!

  5. These will be perfect for my fourth graders! Thank you so much for sharing!

  6. This is awesome! I am planning on teaching root words this year and was really struggling with how to do it. I LOVE this. You can tell your kids are totally engaged. Thank you so much for sharing these great ideas!!
    Are We There Yet?

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  8. Wow Wow Wow! Thank you for sharing this! I cannot wait to use this next year. You have inspired me. :) Question - about how long did you spend on these activities?

  9. I have just finished reading all of Mr. Clark's books (except the brand new one) and I have been loving it- I can see why you are working at RCA! You are amazing. Keep doing what you are doing!

  10. This is great! I want to use this for fourth grade. :)

  11. This is absolutely incredible. I can't wait to sing this song to my students next year. I love to sing fun songs to the kids. :)
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  12. Love the song... but I am definitely waiting on your kids to sing this so I can catch that beat!! LOL!! Such fun and engaging ways to enjoy the power of words!