Monday, February 25, 2013

Activities for the Book Holes

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Holes, by Louis Sachar, is one of my favorite young adult novels to read with my students.  Although it's challenging for my classes (reading level 5.2), it's funny, engaging, and smart.  This book doesn't talk down to my students.  It's proud of its complexity, but not too proud to be silly in all the right ways.  I mean, a book about pre-teen boys sweating away in a desert work camp is BOUND to include lots of stink-humor.  And my kids LOVE it.

We've been reading aloud in small groups of 5-6 students.  The kids take turns reading a page aloud, under the supervision and guidance of my amazing cohort, Chris, while I run grammar and writing skills groups.  We use rotations, so small groups of students are all doing different things around the room at any given time, and I am fortunate to have Chris with me this year to help supervise these groups.  I mean, after all, we KNOW 6th graders will always do what they're supposed to do without direct supervision, right?? Ha!

Anyway, the students have worked very hard through this book and have participated fully.  They've asked thoughtful questions along the way to improve their understanding, they've made connections with their own experiences, and they've made smart predictions about what may happen next.  Because they've knocked my socks off, I felt it was only fitting to celebrate the conclusion of the book with some fun activities.  Feel free to use any of them with your own classes and modify things as you see fit (thought it's always nice to give credit to your!).  If you're on MyBigCampus, look me up (Katie Powell); I have quizzes and other resources in a bundle I'd happily share with you.

Trivia Challenge

I selected 30 or so questions from the quizzes we've done along the way, focusing on themes and plot elements that run throughout the story (such as why Kate Barlow became an outlaw, how Zero and Stanley are connected back in their ancestry, what The Warden is really looking for, the importance of Stanley and Zero's journey on the mountain, etc).  I printed a clip art of a shovel in a hole and pasted one question onto the back of each.  I also printed a picture of treasure and one of a lizard (colored to have yellow spots).  Then I asked our secretary to laminate them all.

For the game, I laid the "holes" out on the floor.  Since my students are already divided into three groups, they played in their rotation groups, but you can group your students into any number of teams.  The objective is to "dig" the most "holes" by answering questions correctly.  The first player from the first team tosses a bean bag and has to answer the question the bean bag lands on.  I did not allow team-mates to help so that each individual student was accountable for full participation.  If the player cannot answer the question correctly, the card is returned to the floor.  Similar to memory games, other players should make note of the card's location, especially if they know the answer, so they can get an easy "hole" on their turn.  If the card has treasure on the back, everyone on the team gets a piece of candy (but I did not count this card as a "hole").  If the bean bag lands on a yellow-spotted lizard, the team must surrender a "hole."  The team with the most "holes" when all cards are collected is the winner.  Total game play for 3 teams of 5-6 students, 30+ cards, took us approximately 40-45 minutes.

My students were VERY engaged.  They cheered and jumped around for the treasure and groaned and yelled about the lizards.  And they KNEW the information!!  I was so impressed by how well they did!

Typically I make games that can be applied to multiple areas of content, so I was hesitant to spend this much time setting up a game that would just be used once a year.  But this book is such a hit year after year that I felt it was worth it. 

Extension Idea:
This game could be used as an assessment.  You could call students back one at a time to toss the bean bag to answer a set number of questions, however many you want for your assessment.  You could tally how many they get right or wrong.  You could even number the cards to keep question statistics, such as which questions were most often missed, etc.  You could take a quiz or assessment score right from the game!  I'd probably remove the lizard cards but keep the treasure in for random candy/sticker incentives along the way :)

Celebration Stations

To celebrate the end of the book, I set up centers around the room for the following activities:
1) Holes-inspired treats: donut holes, samples of various kinds of onions, dirt pudding, and sploosh (for us, I used peach-flavored applesauce, but peach preserves, sliced peaches, etc would also work).

2) What's Your Nickname prompt: I printed this page.  The students wrote their Holes nickname on the name tag picture and then wrote a sentence explanation on the page.  I had name tag stickers for them to wear too :)  We then hung the prompts in the hallway.

3) Yellow-Spotted Lizard pencil pals: The students traced my example lizard twice onto craft foam, cut them out, and then I helped hot-glue them together along the sides, leaving the space down the middle open.  I allowed the students to use any color spots they wanted.  Once dry, you can slide a pencil down inside.  This "pencil pal" keeps pencils from rolling off the desk :)

4) Moon Sand: On a teacher message board, a teacher said they go outside to dig holes every year to celebrate the end of the book.  She said it's the student's favorite activity every year.  I found this surprising and funny, so I told my class about it.  And guess what--they all wanted to go dig holes.  I don't know if you're familiar with February in Indiana, but our ground's pretty frozen.  That's a no-go.  But I found a recipe on Pinterest (yay!) for moon sand that called for 8 cups flour and 1 cup baby oil.  I had about 3/4 cup baby oil, so I supplemented with cooking oil, and it seemed to work just fine :)  I dumped the whole concoction in a large bucket, tossed in some sand box toys, and laid down a plastic table cloth to protect the floor.  I tried it out at home with my own kiddos first, and I have a couple observations: my 3 year old was less messy than my 6th graders, and my 6th graders enjoyed the moon sand as much as my 3 year old.  What a hit!

5) Of course, the movie was part of our celebration too!  And since my projector burned out recently, we got to watch with our BRAND NEW projector!  Woot!

Writing Prompt

We have ISTEP coming up in a week.  But even if you don't have statewide testing (lucky!) or aren't in testing season, writing prompts are great assessments.  This is the prompt I'm using this year:
I print several on a page and then cut them apart to affix to photocopied ISTEP prompt paper to keep the experience as authentic to our assessment as possible.

This is the rubric I'm using.  The students do peer assessing first which helps deepen their own understanding of the writing process while also helping them catch their weaknesses.  After revising, I grade.  I use the rubric as a basic checklist (the element is present or isn't), but you could use a point scale too.

 So there ya have it!  That's our Holes celebration, at a glance.  Again, if you're on MyBigCampus, look me up.  I have more resources on there I'd be happy to share.  What are your favorite Holes activities?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Giant Floor Graph City

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For coordinate graphing, I made a giant floor graph using a sheet of plastic drop cloth and masking tape.  I taped the underside of the plastic and numbered each axis.

For several years now, I've used this graph as a way to get kids up and moving during our graphing unit.  However, this year I noticed some of my students having trouble following the grid lines up to each axis to find the numbers for the ordered pairs (coordinates).  Many of my students have visual/perceptual disabilities, so following a line can be difficult.  To meet that need, we came up with the following activities:

Driving on the Floor Graph
I printed basic clip art images that say "Crash!".  I laminated them and then placed them around the graph.  I brought in some Hot Wheels-style cars (Shh! Don't tell my kids!).  The students placed 2 cars at the crash site and then "drove" out along the "roads" (grid lines) until they reached each axis. 

Have you ever seen 6th grade boys with toy cars? Ha!  They had a blast!  And we solved the problem of students not being able to follow the grid lines.

This idea then morphed or grew into the Floor Graph City Challenge.

Floor Graph City Challenge
This activity has 2 parts.  I printed clip art of basic city locations like a hospital, school, park, church, house, and store.  I laminated these, then affixed a loop of tape on the back of each.  

For the first part of the challenge, I placed the buildings around the graph.  Students used their toy cars to "drive" out from each location to the axis lines.  

For the second part, I listed ordered pairs (coordinates) for each building, and the students had to place them correctly on the graph.  They could use the toy cars to check their work.

You could easily use a floor graph like this for many more activities.  What would you use if for?

UPDATE: here are the Google Docs I use with this activity. Feel free to download and edit!

Teaching Persuasion

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I LOVE teaching persuasive writing.  Here are some of the activities I've used:

I opened our unit on persuasion with a clip from the movie The Lorax, found on  In this clip, the characters are pitching their idea of bottled air to their boss.  This clip is familiar to the students but is also a great example of persuasion, so it serves as an effective hook for the unit.

Teaching Target Audience Through Common Products
For this activity, you'll need to gather several examples of one category of product marketed to specific audiences.  For example, you could gather body sprays, shampoos, and soaps for women, men, and kids.  Or you could use cereals: kids' cereal, cereal for extra fiber, cereal for those on a diet.  Regardless of what kind of product you pick, make sure a clear, specific audience is being targeted.  I used health and beauty products.

Label each product with a number.  Use one product as an example and talk about how companies use colors, shapes, characters, fonts, word choices, etc to reach the very specific audience they are trying to reach.  Women's products often use curvy lines, soft or feminine colors, and far more adjectives than you would think a shampoo would warrant.  Men's products often use bold colors, solid shapes, and even use picture directions instead of words (seriously!).  Kids' products are marketed not only at kids (typically using bright colors and familiar characters), but also at their parents (using terms that denote their product as safe, healthy, etc).  

I arranged students into groups of 2-4 and gave each group a product.  I also created an "assignment" with the same number as the product on our MyBigCampus page (similar to edmodo or other virtual classroom platforms).  You could have students hand-write their answers on paper or even just discuss aloud.  Students sought to answer these questions by examining the products together:
1) What is the target audience for this product?
2) What elements of the physical packaging attract that audience?
3) What word choices reach that audience?

When the students realized the men's body spray I brought actually used picture directions, they burst into laughter.  They also thought the overly-dramatic and descriptive language on the women's products was excessive.

This is a great, easy way to teach target audience!

Using Emotion to Persuade
For this lesson, I pulled some favorite commercials off Youtube.  One was an example of using comedy, one was an example of getting the audience to feel a need to help, and one was an infomercial (masters of persuasion!).  Here are the videos I used:
After watching all three videos, we discussed how they were different yet equally effective and memorable and what lessons from each we could apply to our own writing.  This tends to be a springboard for helping students understand that it's harder to keep someone's attention or make them feel an emotion in WRITING than it is in person or via video. This gets them to start expanding their writing beyond the basics.

Students are naturally good persuaders.  They try to talk Mom and Dad into letting them do things all the time!  These simple, engaging lessons are a way to tap into that natural ability and guide them to a more academic use for their powers of persuasion.  Consider following these activities with a real-world persuasive assignment like having them persuade you how to spend your classroom funds, to persuade the principal or school board to make a change, to write letters to the editor of the local newspaper, or to write to a government official about an issue they care about.

Preposition Lego Challenge

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I've spent the better part of the last six weeks recovering from the flu (apparently something as mundane as the flu does a real number on someone with chronic illness...), so I'm going to publish a couple posts back-to-back today to update you all on some recent classroom activities I've really enjoyed.

This first one originated out of an attempt to keep my students PHYSICALLY participating in their learning.  Back at my Johnson University days, I was taught that physical activity should be part of every lesson.  Although I don't hit that goal 100% of the time these days, I do try to work multiple active learning opportunities into every unit.

Shortly after Christmas break, I was teaching prepositions.  I was looking for ways to teach prepositions actively without too much prep work since I was still something akin to a zombie thanks to my New Year's Day flu diagnosis.  Here were my ideas:

Preposition Scavenger Hunt
This idea was simple.  I had one student volunteer stand in the hallway outside my room while another hid a designated object somewhere in the room.  I reminded the rest of the class to not give clues with their eyes or body language.  Then I called the volunteer back in.  The rest of the class took turns giving verbal clues using prepositions until the volunteer located the item.  Then we rotated roles.

Preposition Drawings
This is an idea I've used for a few years, and it actually led to the Preposition Lego Challenge idea.  For this activity, students will need to be grouped in partners or small groups.  Each student needs a piece of paper and a pencil.  Students are seated facing away from each other.  One student in each group is designated the original drawer.  Then they draw a simple picture using basic shapes and lines--nothing too complicated.   After completing the drawing, this student uses clear step-by-step directions, with a focus on prepositions, to instruct his or her group members how to recreate their drawing.  When finished, everyone compares their drawings (usually with lots of giggles).

Preposition Lego Challenge
This idea was a new extension of the Preposition Drawing activity.  I have a tub of Legos in my room, and my students LOVE to build with them.  Looking for a way to engage and interest my most reluctant learners, I decided to include Legos in our preposition lessons.  Students were grouped similarly to the preposition drawing activity (groups of 3 or partners, seated back-to-back).  I divided my Legos into plastic cups, one for each student, with identical Lego blocks in each.  One student in each group or partnership was designated the builder.  This student constructed anything they wanted with their Legos, without having to use all the blocks I gave them.  When they were finished, they gave step-by-step directions, using prepositions, so their partner could recreate their design.  When finished, students compared (and giggled).  

I allowed the partners to ask for clarification ("When you said to put the small red block in the middle, did you mean the middle of the short side or the long side?"), and I was delighted to witness the careful, specific communication skills they used.  I have students with a wide range of abilities and disabilities, and even my most reluctant communicators were carefully selecting their words and thinking critically to seek more information.  We know students tend to remember information better when learning is connected to movement, and we also know that building with blocks engages the same areas of the brain needed for mathematical thinking, so by adding these communication and language skills, this was a well-rounded learning activity that could easily be adapted for other skill sets.  

Students were engaged and had a blast.  How many other teachers use Legos for grammar?  Yet another reason why Mrs. Powell's class is one of the best ;)

If you are a teacher, you know how much better your class runs when your students are ACTIVELY learning.  These activities are just a few examples of how easily physical activity and creativity can be added to everyday learning.  What are your favorite preposition activities?