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Energizing Students Right From the Start

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I, like many of you, have been doing remote teaching since March, 2020. I am a student-centric, hands on/minds on teacher. In normal times when students come to my classroom (I provide pull-out services for gifted elementary level kids), I get them doing hands-on activities within minutes of entering into my classroom. As many of you know, remote teaching is very different than face-to-face learning. Many of my 3rd-6th grade students join my Google Meet class (used by our district) dragging in and saying they’re tired. My goal is to change these frames of mind to alert, ready-to-go frames of mind. I use a variety of beginning-the-class energizers. It is pretty amazing how well these short activities work in changing the energy of my students. Quickly they become energized, joyful, and engaged.

Beginning of class activities have been used to gain student attention, provide accountability, review material, engage with new content, or establish routines. To gain students’ attention, class might begin by using multi-media, hands-on activities, surprising events, humor, or appealing to students’ emotions (Davis, 2009) ( A Starter Activity to Begin Any Class).

I encourage [teachers] to think carefully about the first five minutes of class. In my lesson plan template, one of the first tasks we discuss when planning in-class time is to prepare what I call a “focusing activity.” A focusing activity is designed to immediately focus students’ attention as soon as they walk in (or log in) to the classroom. Most focusing activities take fewer than five minutes of class time and are highly flexible. Focusing activities may include collaborative activities to connect students, generate discussion, and compare ideas; individual activities where students work on their own by reading, reflecting, or writing; or a brief quiz or some other type of assessment. Finally, focusing activities can be high-tech, low-tech, or no tech (Three Focusing Activities to Engage Students in the First Five Minutes of Class).

When I seek or develop activities to engage students right from the start, I want the activities to achieve the following:

  • Activities wake up students’ minds and emotions.
  • Activities are emotionally and cognitively engaging.
  • Students enjoy the process of engaging in the activities rather than seeking specific academic outcomes.
  • Activities are fun.
  • Student playfulness naturally emerges.
  • Students develop feelings of competence and confidence.
  • Critical thinking is often activated.
  • Activities become so engaging that students want to keep playing.
  • Activities promote discourse and connection between students.

Sample “Engage Students from the Start’ Activities

Here is a list of sample activities I have used with my students. Students find them so much fun that I use them several times during the semester. I will add to this list as I find more. If you have used any of these type of energizers with your students, put them in the comments so I can add them.

Rebus Generator

Rebus Generator creates rebus puzzles from sentences. “A rebus is a puzzle device that combines the use of illustrated pictures with individual letters to depict words and/or phrases.” This particular generator has two levels – normal and hard and has the capability to create rebus puzzles from two dozen languages. Here is an example rebus puzzle – see if you can guess it:

My students generate their own and do a screen share. Others yell out their guesses word by word. A few students do it for each class period until all students get a change to share theirs. The students love this so much that we have done it for two cycles of students.

Online Mad Libs for Kids

Online Mad Libs for Kids offers an online version of Mad Libs: “short, silly stories based on your words. Just pick ten words, click the “generate” button and read your own short story!” This website offers mad lib options about jobs, photo shoot, pizza party, gingerbread man, me, queen, butterflies, and balloon animal. Here is an example about jobs:

Students volunteer one at a time to be the facilitator. They choose the which mad lib they want to facilitate, share their screens, ask for the words to fill in the mad lib, and then share the results. Students, who have done mad libs in the past, have gotten so excited about this activity. Those, who have not, learn what they are and their excitement escalates as we play. Similar to above a few kids facilitate the mad libs each class period until all of them get a change to do so.

Two Truths and a Fib

I have been using two truths and a lie with students of all ages.

The main instructions of the game are that each member of the group introduces themselves by stating two truths and one lie about themselves. The statements don’t have to be intimate, life-revealing things—just simple hobbies, interests, or past experiences that make each person unique. The lie can be outrageous and wacky, or it can sound like a truth to make it harder for the other participants. One at a time, each person shares their statements. The group has to guess which statements are true and which statement is the lie. You can keep score to see who correctly guesses the most lies, or just play for fun to get to know one another—it’s up to your group (How to Play Two Truths and a Lie).

A Jamboard version of Two Truths and a Fib was found on Ditch the Textbook website and was written by Kris Szajner.

The Jamboard is set to “anyone can edit” and shared with the students. Each student gets a slide and types in their name. They use the text tool to write out their two truths and a fib – one per column/area. They should be told to randomly place their fib meaning not all of the fibs are put in area 3. Once all of the students have completed this part, they place a sticky note with their name on each of other students’ slides to indicate which one they think is a fib. Finally, each student, one at a time, tells the group which one was the fib. Laughter and squeals of joy result.

Rebus Puzzles

Rebus Puzzles are a little different than the Rebus Generator discussed earlier. Rebus puzzles are pictures, often made with letters and words, which cryptically represent a word, phrase, or saying. Here are some examples – see if you can guess what they are:

I screen share rebus puzzles one at a time. Students can call out their guesses.

Which On Doesn’t Belong

Which One Doesn’t Belong provides lots of examples in the categories shapes, numbers, and graphs.

What is Going on in this Picture

What is Going On in this Picture are ambiguous pictures published by the New York Times. See examples below:

As per the New York Times directions, students are asked the following questions:

  • What is going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can you find?

Students are given a few minutes to jot down their responses and volunteers then share their responses. As with several of these activities, this one can be used over several class periods with different New York Times pictures used.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Games

Two AI games, the Akinator and Quick, Draw!, really don’t have any educational value but the are fun and get the students excited which wakes them up in preparation for learning.

Akinator is a computer game and mobile app. During gameplay, it attempts to determine what fictional or real-life character, object, or animal the player is thinking of by asking a series of questions (like the game Twenty Questions). It uses an artificial intelligence program that learns the best questions to ask through past questions asked by players (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akinator).

Quick, Draw! is an online game developed by Google that challenges players to draw a picture of an object or idea and then uses a neural network artificial intelligence to guess what the drawings represent. The AI learns from each drawing, increasing its ability to guess correctly in the future (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quick,_Draw!).

Students leave their mics on and share findings, joys, and amazements while they play. There can be some direct educational applications if used prior to a lesson on artificial intelligence.

Drawing Conclusions

Drawing Conclusions is a Jamboard activity developed by Julia’s #STEAMing up Jamboards. It consists of a series of visual puzzles for students to solve – see below for some examples:

The original Jamboard has the answer for each of the puzzles. The one I share with students doesn’t have the answers. They can work alone or with one/two other students in a breakout room (sadly, our district took away the option for breakout rooms). There are nine puzzles. Students can work on all of them in one sitting or they can be split between several class periods.

Minute Mysteries

Minute Mysteries are riddles where students ask yes or no questions to try and solve the riddle. These work best in smaller groups so the shyer and quieter students feel more comfortable asking questions. My students like them so much that they often request for them.

6 Word Story or Memoir with Image

Using Unsplash.com, a website dedicated to sharing stock photography under the Unsplash license, students find an image that speaks to them; that is autobiographical in some way. They then write a 6 word story or memoir for that image. Each students screen shares their image and shares their stories or memoirs. To add suspense and engagement, students can email their images and stories to the teacher who shares them with their students. The students then guess who image/story/memoir it is.

Kahoot or Quizziz

Kahoot and Quizziz use a quiz-style teaching and learning method where users answer questions in a competition with other users on the same quiz. Teachers can create their own quizzes but the libraries of these two websites are so extensive that teachers can find quizzes on most any topic. Students cheer when I say we are going to play Kahoot, thus it achieves the goals for using beginning of the class energizers.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 24, 2020 at 7:11 pm

Teaching Debating Skills

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I, along with many others, have been impressed with how articulate the Parkland students have been regarding their school shooting and gun laws.

When students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High debated gun control in class last November, they never imagined they were preparing to lead a national discussion on how to prevent school shootings. As the debate team filled Google docs with research on state laws, brainstormed arguments for and against universal background checks and wrote speeches, they were amassing information that would later help them formulate arguments on national TV, in face-to-face meetings with Florida legislators and at vigils for their murdered classmates.

What really explains the students’ poise, said Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie, is the school district’s system-wide debate program that teaches extemporaneous speaking from an early age. Every public high school and middle school in the county has a debate program, along with more than two dozen elementary schools. It’s one of the largest debate programs in the country — and, amid the heartbreak, it has helped Broward students position themselves on the front lines of the #NeverAgain movement. (http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/education/article201678544.html)

I used to do debates in my face-to-face teacher education courses; and they were always a great success – proved to be a valuable instructional tool. It slipped my mind when I moved into online college teaching. All of the press regarding the Parkland students and their debate experiences reminded me of the power and benefits of debate.

In general, the benefits of debate include:

  • Gaining broad, multi-faceted knowledge cutting across several disciplines outside the learner’s normal academic subjects.
  • Increasing learners’ confidence, poise, and self-esteem.
  • Providing an engaging, active, learner-centered activity.
  • Improving rigorous higher order and critical thinking skills.
  • Enhancing the ability to structure and organize thoughts.
  • Enhancing learners’ analytical, research and note-taking kills
  • Improving learners’ ability to form balanced, informed arguments and to use reasoning and evidence.
  • Developing effective speech composition and delivery.
  • Encouraging teamwork.

(http://www.qatardebate.org/debate-and-debating/benefits-of-debating)

Because of my interest in the Parkland students and my research about the benefits of debating, I decided to have my gifted students, grades 5 and 6, do a debate on teachers being armed in school. The steps for their debate were as follows:

  1. Decide what side of the issue they wanted to be on. I stressed that sometimes being on the side you don’t necessary agree with can be a good exercise, especially for understanding the other side of the issue.
  2. Explore the issue through online research.
  3. Meet with team members to decide what angle of the issue each member would take.
  4. Do online research to find hard evidence to support each of their issues and angles.
  5. Meet with their groups to review their arguments and go over their presentations.
  6. Learn about the structure of the debate
    • Each side presents their argument – all members of a side present their argument (decided by a coin flip) and then the other side does so.
    • While one side is presenting their argument, learners on the other side write out questions to ask during the rebuttal round.
    • In the rebuttal round, questions are asked of the opposing team.
  7. Review the evaluation criteria – on a scale from 1 to 5 with 5 being the highest. Each learner is evaluated by a panel of judges (some other students and me)
    • How well did the person articulate the argument?
    • How well did the person use references to support his or her argument?
    • How well did the person ask questions of the other team?
    • How well did the person answer questions from the other team?
  8. Do the debate.
  9. Get the judges’ feedback. Add together their scores for each individual and then add these as a team. The team with the highest score wins.

Highlights

Reflection

Although these students did some mini-debates in their regular classroom, it was obvious they had some problems with a more formal debate such as this. If I was to do this over or in the future, I would:

  1. Have each learner share his or her research with me and we would check the reliability of the sources together.
  2. Ask the learners to practice what they are going to say with their teammates several times.
  3. Have the learners watch example debates online and prepare questions for the speakers as if they were there.
  4. Ask learners to present their arguments to their family and/or friends to get feedback from them.

More Resources About Debates in the Classroom

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 7, 2018 at 12:22 am

Specific Ideas for Intentional Creativity

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Recently I wrote a blog post about Intentional Creativity. Here is the graphic created for that post. Below the graphic are specific ideas I am using with my gifted elementary students this school year.

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What follows are the activities I am using this school year to be intentional with sparking creativity in my gifted education classrooms. The titles are links for these activities.

Destination Imagination Instant Challenges

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Goal: To spark creative divergent thinking for STEM, STEAM, and science based learning.

Description: Instant Challenges are fun, STEAM-based group activities that must be solved within a short period of time. Using your imagination, teamwork and few everyday materials, you and your friends will work together to see just how innovative you can be. With hundreds of potential combinations and ways to solve each Instant Challenge, the creative possibilities are endless!

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Write About

Goal: To get learners’ primed to do some creative writing.

Description: Don’t look at Write About as another thing to add. It’s a platform for writing and a community for publishing writing…regardless of the genre, purpose, length or audience. We believe a balance between digital and physical is a healthy thing, and support your pencil/paper writer’s notebooks whole heartedly! But when you want students to transition their writing skills into a digital space…when you want to empower them with choice and visual inspiration for creative sparks…when you want them to have an authentic audience for their writing…when you want them to leverage multi modal tools like audio and images…that’s where we come in!

Minute Mysteries

Goal: To help learners to think outside of the box; to develop alternative perspectives of perceived reality.

Description:  Minute mysteries are riddles where students ask yes or no questions to try and solve the riddle. They are called minute mysteries because they are usually a bit more complex than your average riddle.

Rebus Puzzles

Goal: To help learners playful interact with the symbolic nature of language.

Description: Rebus Puzzles are essentially little pictures or riddles, often made with letters and words, which cryptically represent a word, phrase, or saying.

Classroom Icebreakers

Goal: To build community; help create a classroom climate with a sense of fun and whimsy.

Description: Useful for the beginning of a class period or toward the beginning of a semester when students don’t know each other well, Introduction and Breaking-the-Ice games can dramatically transform the dynamics of your classroom. More ideas can be found at: https://www.pinterest.com/explore/classroom-icebreakers/

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 2, 2017 at 4:11 pm

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