Category Archives: lessons

Body English

After she read my “Why Bother?” post, a teacher-friend of mine in the U.S. e-mailed me:

The phrases are good, but try introducing some of the technique called Total Physical Response which is used for ELL students.

Make several sets of the phrases, with each phrase on a separate strip of paper.
Do you have little magnets and a magnetic white board so you can affix them to your whiteboard?
… whether with magnets, pins, tape … somehow you can take YOUR copy of the sentence strips and, talking aloud to model your thinking process, put them in order in front of the class. Then pass the sentence strips out to pairs (or individuals) and have them arrange them correctly and glue them on a piece of paper. (Have them check with you for approval before applying the glue).

Sometimes that act of physical movement wakes the brain up.

My U.S. friend’s suggestion dovetails nicely with one I received from Gemma Wiseman, a teacher and blogger in Australia:

Perhaps change the writing exercise to an acting/drama exercise! Put your graph on the board! Select role players for each part on the graph! Students will see the action and connect that with the graph! The fun element will make them less tense about learning!

So here’s what I’ve done. On landscape-oriented paper in 72-point type, I’ve printed all the phrases that I want the kids to put in the Story Plot Graph:

Brian can’t fly plane
Brian escapes crashed plane.
Brian knows The Secret.
Brian lives in New York.
Brian: flying to Canada to visit dad
Brian: on a beach with legs in water
Brian’s parents: divorced.
Main character: Brian
Pilot has heart attack
Plane crashes into a lake
Plane flies off course
Plane runs out of fuel

I’ve also printed, in 72-point type, the following phrases that will be glued to brightly colored construction paper:

I am the Introduction. Let me tell you a story…
I am the Rising Action. I cause problems for the main character.
I am the Climax. I am the most exciting (or most terrible) part of the story.
I am the Falling Action. Things go downhill from me.

I will select four students to play the roles of Introduction, Rising Action, Climax and Falling Action. These students will stand in the four corners of the classroom, one student per corner, holding up his or her brightly colored sign.

All the rest of students will receive a strip of paper with one of the phrases on it. They will need to decide, by conferring with each other, which of the major characters they should align themselves with. When they’ve made that decision, they will go to the appropriate corner of the room.

What happens if “Pilot has heart attack” ends up in the corner where Climax is standing?

I’ll announce to the rest of the actors that one of the actors is in the wrong place. “Could you please help C-Girl get in the right corner?”

I think this way of teaching the lesson on story plots will work. In fact, I’m so confident it will that I’m taking my camera to my classroom tomorrow!

This lesson just might give a whole new meaning to the phrase “body English.”

Getting the Job Done

Thanks to a rather generous grant, our school started out the year with brand-new lockers. In the morning, we escort students to their bright red lockers so that they can deposit their jackets and backpacks and get out their books, pencils and other supplies for the day. In the afternoon, we escort students back to their lockers to reclaim their backpacks and jackets. (The no-backpacks-in-class policy keeps contraband out of the classrooms.)

This afternoon, two seventh-grade girls were struggling with their lockers long after the hallway had emptied of other students. I offered to help. (Sometimes the kids get in a hurry and don’t enter their combinations just right, so the locker won’t open.)

Usually I manage to open a seemingly recalcitrant locker on the first try, but after three attempts on R-Girl’s locker, I was baffled.

“Wait!” she exclaimed. “What’s the number?”

She peered at the locker number and discovered that she had been trying to open the wrong locker. When she entered the combination on the correct locker, the door swung open immediately.

Meanwhile, A-Girl was still unable to open her locker. When she double checked the locker number, she discovered that she, too, had been trying to open someone else’s locker.

Both R-Girl and A-Girl made an important discovery this afternoon: If you use the right tools (in this case, your brain and fingers) in the right place (your locker, not someone else’s), and in the right way (enter the numbers correctly), you get the job done.

Or, to put it negatively: If you have a job to do and use the wrong tool, you’ll never get the results you hope for.

Thanks, girls, for teaching this teacher an important lesson about getting things done quickly and effectively.

Summer School: Day 5

My co-teacher and I had our electronic grade book open as the students lined up to be escorted to the bus. B-Girl rushed over to our desk and asked eagerly, “What do I have in math?”

“You?” I said, feigning disappointment. “About a 20 percent.”

“No way!”

“How do you know?” I said.

“Because,” B-Girl replied, “I believe in myself and I can’t get anything less than an 80 percent.”

“Well, you have a 93,” I conceded. (It’s the highest math grade in the class at the moment.)

B-Girl exudes self-confidence. She doesn’t get everything right, but she tries—hard—and when she makes a mistake, she tries to figures out what went wrong and attempts to fix it. She’s not afraid to ask questions when she doesn’t understand, and she is rarely off task.

I wish all of our students were like B-Girl.

Instead, we have A-Boy, who falls asleep in class—every day. Today was his last chance to stay awake in summer school, and he blew it. The director sent A-Boy home with a note to his parents, saying that he need not return tomorrow and that he will be retained in sixth grade next year.

We have K-Boy, who catches on to new concepts right away, but prefers not to participate in the guided practice portion of the lesson. Alas, when it comes time for independent practice, K-Boy is woefully unprepared and has to ask for help again and again.

And we have C-Boy, who usually neglects to bring his Accelerated Reading book to school, and, as a consequence, must sit out the entire SSR (Silent Sustained Reading) period staring into space or dozing.

What does it take, I wonder, to turn students who are indifferent to learning into students who hunger for knowledge so fiercely that they will not tolerate any impediment to their progress?

Thanksgiving Day

I’m thankful that all my five senses work. I can see and hear and touch and taste and smell. I’m also thankful for my sixth-grade students who generated nearly a score of sensory images for me to savor just before our Thanksgiving break.

“Without saying the word ‘hear,’” I said, “give me some phrases that have to do with sounds. Without using the word ‘smell,’ let’s come up with some images that make our noses twitch.”

And they did:


mousetrap snapping
computer printer printing
students talking
wind brushing trees
writing with a pencil on paper
dragging a chain
dragging a desk
opening a door
slamming a door


fragrance of flowers
students chewing gum
unbrushed teeth
smoke from trash burning
burning rubber
bubbling hot tar
cookies baking
cutting onions
spraying deodorant

Guess what’s next? From little images, great poems grow!