Category Archives: Writing

thinkLaw

thinkLaw is a curriculum that aims to teach critical thinking skills through the use of real legal cases.  The program’s founder, Colin Seale, won the “Shark Tank One Day Challenge” in 2016.  thinkLaw is aligned with US standards for grades 5-12, but some of the lessons can be used with younger students.  To purchase the full curriculum, you will need to contact the company.  However, you can download a free sample and purchase other segments on the Teachers Pay Teachers website.

When looking at the free sample that is offered, “The Chair,” I realized that it fit in beautifully with an ethics discussion my students and I conducted last week about Tuck Everlasting.  In the story, one of the main characters (spoiler alert!) hits another character over the head with a shotgun.  At the time, we talked about whether it was ever okay to hit someone and, if so, under what circumstances is it acceptable?  “The Chair” walks students through a real legal case from the 1950’s, in which the aunt sued her 5-year-old nephew for pulling a chair out from underneath her.  Students learn legal terms such as: plaintiff, defendant, liable, and battery.  They find out the four criteria for the legal definition of battery, and weigh the evidence to determine if the nephew should be held liable.

When it comes to Depth and Complexity, this thinkLaw lesson incorporates many of the icons: Multiple Perspectives, Big Idea, Details, Ethics, and Trends, to name a few.  Students are polled a few times throughout the lesson to see how their thinking changes as they get more information.  After learning the outcome of the case, they are given a similar case to analyze using their new skills.

At first, I couldn’t quite gauge the interest of the students.  The conversation was hesitant, but everyone seemed to be absorbed in learning more. (There are 7 students in this class.)  It wasn’t until recess time that I learned the impact of the lesson…

Me:  “Okay everyone.  It’s recess time.  We are going to have indoor recess because of the weather.  You can play foosball, Osmo, or one of the other games.”

They moved toward foosball, and then one student said, “Let’s have court!”

Suddenly, furniture was being moved, parts were being assigned (judge, attorneys, plaintiff, defendant, witness), and a new scenario was proposed.  For the entire recess time, with no input from me, the students applied everything they had just learned to their imagined court case.

Voluntarily.

Instead of playing foosball.

Kind of funny when you think about it.  Holding court during a recess.  (very bad legal pun – sorry)

Experienced teachers know that we often don’t know what has made a real impression on our students.  If we do find out, it may be years later when a student visits and says, “Remember when…?”  This time, however, I received immediate proof that this lesson is likely to stick.

Want to find out who won the real legal case?  Download the free sample for yourself here!  Also, check out some of their other lessons (not free, and I haven’t reviewed them) that could be great for this time of year, including an MLK Jr. one, Valentine’s lessons, Superbowl, and Winter Olympics.  (I’ll be doing, “Always Watching” with my 5th graders next week because it ties in so well with The Giver.)

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image from Pixabay
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Wrestling with Writing

It is not uncommon for GT students to dislike writing.  I was intrigued recently when I saw the article, “Why Do So Many Gifted and Talented Children Hate to Write?”  Although the article does not give any scientific evidence, it does suggest that it can sometimes be difficult for gifted students to gather thoughts that make perfect sense to them and go through the excruciatingly slow process of organizing and communicating those thoughts on paper (or screen).  I like to compare it to asking an adult to write down the instructions for tying a shoelace or walking.  Sometimes we just know things, and we don’t find it pleasant to try to tease out the details.

The above article suggests a writing exercise that turns the task into more of a challenge.  I haven’t tried it with my students, but I have learned that giving them unusual rules or restrictions often seems to motivate them more than unlimited freedom (which usually just paralyzes them).  This article from Alice Keeler also recommends adding constraints to writing, and she provides a spreadsheet template to help this process.

Unexpected topics can also stimulate ideas.  You can find some fun video writing prompts here.  “Writing Sparks” from Night Zookeeper offers random topics. (Click on “Create Spark.”) Different perspectives can also galvanize student writing.  And one of my favorite online tools that has never failed to intrigue my students with its incredible illustrations has been Storybird.

Writing can be a challenge for anyone.  Students with high I.Q.’s are not immune to academic difficulties.  What may be perceived as laziness can often be just a matter of fear of failure.  With a bit of creativity and lot of support, students who “hate” to write may discover a strength they didn’t know they possessed.

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image from USDA on Flickr

ELA 12 Days of Christmas

Last Thursday, Richard Byrne shared an absolute treasure trove of Google Drive templates created and shared by Darren Maltais.  You can click the link above to read Richard’s post.  One of the templates that you may want to consider using in the near future is “ELA 12 Days of Christmas,” which offers 12 different creative writing ideas, along with examples. Whether you plan to use some or all of these, you should definitely make a copy of this to help you and your students make it through this occasionally overwhelming time of year!  (I particularly like the Facebook example with comments from Buddy the Elf and Rudolph!) By the way, if you would like math activities for the 12 Days of Christmas, you can try this.

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image from Wikimedia

 

Interactive Onomatopoeia

When my students were working on their cardboard mini golf courses, I casually suggested using a Makey Makey to make things interesting – and realized that I hadn’t yet introduced this group of kids to the wonders of this invention tool.  When I saw a post from Colleen Graves about making interactive stories and poems using Makey Makey and Scratch, I knew this would be the perfect project for my 4th graders.  They are studying literary masterpieces right now, and learning about figurative language.  It seemed to be a natural transition from discussing onomatopoeia to designing simple Scratch programs that would allow us to add sounds using the Makey Makey.

After teaching some of the basics of Scratch, I showed the students an onomatopoeia poem to which I had added some heavily penciled symbols (the graphite will conduct if you lay it on pretty thick).  I attached the Makey Makey to the symbols and my computer, and started my Scratch program, reading the poem and pressing the symbols at the appropriate moments.  Then the students got to choose their own poems from some I had printed out to program in pairs.  They got to share their creations on Seesaw, and were pretty excited about the way their projects turned out.

This was just the beginning.  Now that the students know the concept, they will be able to apply it to poetry they will be writing in the next couple of weeks.  I’m hoping to also guide them toward creating more complex artwork using copper tape or conductive paint for the Makey Makey triggers.

The Makey Makey was on “Gifts for the Gifted” list in 2014.  Since then, I have seen many more uses for it.  In fact, I just ordered Graves’ book, 20 Makey Makey Projects for the Evil Genius, which may keep my 4th graders busy for the rest of this year!

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image from Josh Burker on Flickr

Adapt Your Classroom for a New “Pet”

My 2nd graders have been learning about physical and structural adaptations in nature.  To exercise their creativity, I asked them to brainstorm wild animals that would make unusual class pets.  Then they were asked to draw our classroom with adaptations for the pet.  The twist was that they could not actually draw the animal in the classroom.  The rest of us tried to guess the “pets” by using clues in their pictures and the descriptions that they wrote.  I was proud of their varied ideas and some of the incredible details they added to the drawings.  I’ve included some examples below.  (I love how the first student decided the most unusual animal he could think of would be an alien from outer space!) . Usually, my students have a difficult time with the “Adapt” part of S.C.A.M.P.E.R., but this activity proved to be really fun and they couldn’t wait to share their work.  I’m definitely putting this in the file, “Do Again Next Year!”

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Send Me a Rainbow

If you teach older students who have their own phones, this might be a fun idea for an impromptu writing prompt.  The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has decided to make more of its artwork available to the public by digitizing it and allowing us to text requests.  Only 5% of its entire collection can be viewed in the SFMOMA’s physical building, but thousands more pieces are accessible through this new feature.  You can text the number 57251, and type, “Send me” followed by a keyword or color.  There’s something suspenseful about the whole endeavor that makes it a bit addictive.

I tried it out by texting, “Send me kindness, ” and received the following, somewhat depressing, reply.

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Maybe kindness was too abstract?  So I tried, “Love.”

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Now remember, this is the Museum of Modern Art, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by the answer to my next request.

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Not really sure what the museum bot was trying to tell me there…

Anyway,  I soon discovered that trying to use this activity as a “pick-me-up” was a bit too unpredictable, especially after I received a sad portrait of the war in Iraq after I asked for “home.”  However, my daughter and I did have fun using emojis and asking for pictures of bread and dogs.  (It does work with emojis, by the way.)

Not to be outdone by artifical intelligence, I decided to end our texting communication by asking for something that couldn’t possibly be mis-interpreted in a bleak way by a computer. “Send me a rainbow,” I asked.

And it did.

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Refute It

One of the reasons I keep a blog is because I have a horrible memory.  It’s nice to go back in time every once in awhile and look at the posts I wrote so I can rediscover some great resources.  Luke Neff’s Writing Prompts site is one of those tools.  I originally mentioned the site in 2011.  Neff takes interesting images or quotes, and creates unusual, thought-provoking prompts for older students.  I revisited the site yesterday, and found a prompt that really resonated.  I want so much for my students to question and to use critical thinking skills.  This prompt may activate some lively discussion in my class – which is what I am aiming for!

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image from: http://writingprompts.tumblr.com/image/144026412485

For my list of my favorite online writing tools in 2011 (before Google Docs existed!), click here.