3-12, Critical Thinking, Education, Language Arts, Music, Student Products, Teaching Tools

Formative Assessment with Music Lyrics

Even though I really enjoy hearing the conversations that go on when my students do a Hexagonal Learning activity, my students will tell you that the playlist assessment is actually their favorite when it comes to demonstrating their understanding of a novel.  According to them, they enjoy being able to work independently on this assignment, and to really “dig deep” (their words) into the meaning of lyrics as well as the novels we are analyzing.  

Here’s how our playlist assignments work:  I give the students 5 songs to listen to, in addition to the lyrics from each of the songs.  The students are told to choose one song that they think represents the book the best – in other words, if the book were turned into a movie, this song would be a great theme song.  Then they must justify their answers using at least three different lyrics with at least three different examples from the book.  

A couple of notes: 1.) I like to give students choice, so the first couple of years I did this activity, I asked them to bring in their own ideas for songs.  They never did.  I still offer the option to request a song be added, but the students rarely suggest one.  They seem happier with the ones I recommend.  2.) If you choose to do this activity, you will need to “vet” the best way for the students to access the songs.  Podsnack is a nice site for creating playlists, but won’t play when my students log in.  YouTube lyrics videos work for us, using SafeShare, as long as I have approved the videos beforehand.  Another option is to create a station where students can listen to the songs downloaded on an iPad or iPod.

I’ve done this activity with groups of different sizes, and the silence is eerie when everyone puts  on their headphones and get started.  The students are intensely focused on the assignment.  Some take notes on scratch paper before choosing a song.  Others page through their novels as they listen.  I almost feel useless as the students work because they are so incredibly engaged that there is no need for redirection.  Instead, I periodically give them feedback in Google Classroom to encourage them or remark on their interesting ideas.

My 4th graders do this activity with Tuck Everlasting.  My 5th graders do it with The Giver.  I asked my 5th graders this time if I could share a couple of their responses with you, and they agreed.



If you are interested in using The Giver Playlist Assignment, here is a link to make a copy.  Within that document is a link to the Exemplars that I used with my students to show them the different levels of responses.

I should probably warn you that, once the students do this assignment, they may request to listen to the music while doing other assignments as well.  Some of them get very attached to the songs!

3-12, Critical Thinking, Education, Language Arts, Reading, Science, Social Studies, Student Products, Teaching Tools

Formative Assessment with Hexagonal Learning

Even though I’ve already mentioned Hexagonal Learning a couple of other times on this blog, it definitely bears repeating.  If you want to listen to your students having rich conversations about a topic and to discover how well they understand something they have read or that you have taught, this activity will deliver.  And, although I can’t make any guarantees, I have always seen complete engagement with Hexagonal Learning – even from introverts and students who have attention difficulties.

You can find details in last year’s post (linked above).  I just completed another round of Hexagonal Learning for Tuck Everlasting with a new class, and was once again blown away by the intensity of the discussions and deliberate care that went into each group’s connections.  My 5th graders, who were last year’s Tuck Everlasting class, also just completed the same assignment with hexagons from The Giver.

Of course, Hexagonal Learning can be used in ways other than analyzing literature.  Russel Tarr has a great post on how he used this idea in history class.  Tarr also gives a link to a post by John Mitchell on Visual Hexagons, which is an interesting twist I would like to try!

One group’s interpretation of how to connect the themes, symbols, and characters from Tuck Everlasting
Depth and Complexity, Education, Philosophy, Teaching Tools, Videos

Ethics, Tuck Everlasting, and the Trolley Car Dilemma

Arthur Miller

In my 4th grade GT class yesterday, we came to the part in Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt, where Mae Tuck hits The Man in the Yellow Suit with the barrel of a shotgun.  For those of you who have not read the story, The Man in the Yellow Suit learns the location of a spring that gives anyone who drinks its water eternal life.  He wants to advertise and sell the water, and to forcibly use a young girl, Winnie, as living proof of its effectiveness.  The Tucks don’t want the secret given away – and don’t want Winnie to be taken by The Man in the Yellow Suit.  So, Mae conks him in the head with the gun.

This dramatic scene in the story always spawns the ethical question, “Is it ever right to use violence?”  When applied to Mae’s actions, the class of 15 students seemed to be somewhat split on whether she behaved appropriately or not.  Some, of course, argued that violence is okay when it is in defense of yourself or others.  Some felt that Mae had alternatives.

When pressed, though, all seemed to be absolutely certain that violence is right if you are protecting yourself or others – if it’s the only alternative.

I don’t like it when everyone is certain 😉

So, I posed a problem that I had heard on the radio.  Unfortunately, I got a few of the details wrong.  But, essentially, my scenario was the same as the one you can see in the video below, created by Professor Joyce Chaplin of Harvard (which I originally found on Larry Ferlazzo’s website).

The way I told it was: Suppose you are on a bridge, and you see that there is a train headed straight for a section of track that is broken.  If it gets there, the train will surely careen off the tracks and everyone in it will die.  But you can save them.  On the bridge is a button.  If you push it, the train will switch tracks.  The only problem is – there is someone on the second track.  He will not have time to get out of the way, and the train will not have time to stop.  Do you push the button?

Most of them said, “Yes!” But that’s not the end of the thought experiment.  Then I asked, “Well, what if there was no button, but there is a heavyset man next to you on the bridge.  If you push him on to the tracks below, he will stop the train, saving hundreds of people.  Would you do that?”

This was a little bit more disconcerting to them, and we discussed why.  Essentially, the math is the same, but…

Then, one of my students said, “What if the man you have to push was the President of the United States?”

Wow.  That really changed the conversation.  Are some lives more valuable than others?  Should we save a train full of hundreds of strangers or the President?

And then someone said, “What if you have family members on the train?”

There were more “what if” questions, and I loved them all.  Now, no one was certain.

Mark Twain once said, “Education is the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty.”  I would borrow from Arthur Miller, and tweak Twain’s quote a bit by saying, “Education is the path from cocky ignorance to humble uncertainty.”

Students usually have no problem identifying black and white.  It’s admitting that there’s a gray that can be the greatest challenge.

(By the way, this is not a discussion, nor a video, that I would share with younger students.  There needs to be  a certain level maturity, and a classroom environment that allows for deep discussion, for this to be meaningful.)

3-12, Education, Language Arts, Reading, Student Products, Teaching Tools, Websites, Writing

Parallel Poetry

Update 4/11/2022: This poetry lesson, along with many others, appears in my Poetry Wakelet collection. Click here to find more free ideas!

I don’t often repeat lessons from one year to the next.  But this has been one of my favorites to use with my 4th grade GT students during my career.  The only change I made this year was to integrate it with some technology lessons on using Google Drive – specifically the Presentations.

In 4th grade, we read Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt, which is rich with wonderful examples of figurative language.  It’s truly one of the most poetic pieces of prose that I have ever read, and I delight in the author’s descriptive phrases each year – though I’ve read it over 14 times.

I’m not sure if it’s the age or the GT-ness of my students, but I always have a high percentage of reluctant writers in 4th grade.  The Found/Parallel Poetry lesson on ReadWriteThink, however, seems to bring out the most amazing ideas from nearly every one.

After going over the figurative language in the story (here is one Haiku Deck lesson we did at the beginning to practice), I ask the students to pick one of their favorite paragraphs from the novel.  They write the paragraph, and then I tell them to take it apart – get rid of extraneous words and punctuation.  Then they “move the words” to create lines that have a rhythm.  The result is their “Found” poem.  You can see an example here from the ReadWriteThink site.

Then, it’s time to create a “Parallel” poem.  Mimicking the rhythm of the “Found” poem, but writing about a completely different topic that is relevant to them, the students compose something in their own words.

Here are some of this year’s examples (Click on each slide to enlarge.):

Plane Ride



3-12, Apps, Education, Student Products, Teaching Tools, Writing

Haiku Deck

figurative language slide created with Haiku Deck, quote from Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt

Many of you are probably familiar with the iPad app, Haiku Deck (options for editing on the web are coming soon).  It can be used to create presentations (similar to Powerpoint, but more graphically appealing, in my opinion), and is very user-friendly.

One of the things that I like about Haiku Deck is that it does not allow you to add huge blocks of text to your slides.  This is good because too much text makes for a very boring presentation. (Take a look at “What Would Steve Do”, #3 as supporting evidence for this.)  I also like the ease with which you can find images to punctuate your text.

My 4th graders are reading Tuck Everlasting, and discussing the figurative language in the book.  Usually, when I first introduce figurative language, I ask them to find examples for each type (simile, metaphor, hyperbole, and personification), and share with the class to show their understanding so I can quickly gauge if there is a need for more instruction.

Yesterday, I thought, “Why don’t I let them type their examples in Haiku Deck?  Then they can learn the app, and show what they know about figurative language at the same time.”  And, yes, I was in the middle of the lesson when I thought of that.  To be honest, I’ve done the lesson for so many years, I was boring myself – which does not usually bode well for keeping the student’s attention.

In 5 minutes, I was able to show the students how to create a slide, add text, select an image, and share the product.  Once all of the products were in, we played a quick game to identify the type of figurative language as I showed each example on the big screen.

While they were working with their partners, I heard one student say, “I love doing this!”

I love that they were engaged and learning, and all it cost me was about 10 minutes more than the previous times I’ve taught that lesson. Now, they have a new digital tool in their belt that they can choose from when they write their own examples of figurative language.

slide created with Haiku Deck
slide created with Haiku Deck, quote from Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt