Category Archives: re-teaching

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.”

They Just Don’t Get It

I introduced my seventh-graders to metaphors Monday, using several short poems, including Langston Hughes’ “The City,” in which a great metropolis “spreads its wings.”

“What spreads its wings?” I asked.

“The city,” one student replied.

“No, no, I mean in nature. What creature spreads its wings?”

“Oh, a bird.”

“Exactly! And here in this poem Langston Hughes is giving us a picture of the city as a great big bird spreading its wings. Notice that he doesn’t say that the city is like a bird spreading its wings. If he had said that, he would have been using a simile. He just says that the city spreads its wings—a metaphor—and he gives us a picture in our heads of a bird, without even saying the word bird.”

I thought a simple exercise would help enhance my students’ understanding of metaphors. Together we answered seven questions, including these:

If we say that somebody is a volcano ready to explode, we really mean that …

When we say someone is a pig we really mean that he or she is …

Next, I showed the kids how to construct their own metaphors, writing nearly 20 examples on the board.

Finally, I turned them loose to write five metaphors on their own, using the following prompts:

(fat) She is ______________

(thin) He is_______________

(evil) She is ______________

(kind) He is ______________

(ugly) She is _____________

J-Boy turned in a blank paper. T-Boy and several others wrote: She is a thin. He is a fat. She is a evil. He is a ugly. She is a kind.

Only C-Girl came close to understanding how to put together a metaphor. She described a fat person this way: She is a elephant. Of the thin person she wrote: He is a stick.

Clearly, I have my work cut out for me, because even after three days of direct instruction and guided practice in writing metaphors, my students still don’t get it.

Helping Kids to ‘Get It’

Sometimes I wonder about the people who write and edit textbooks. I may not be a math wizard, but I know a heck of a lot about gardening. So when I came across this word-problem in the Saxon math series several days ago, the gardener in me cried out in dismay. Whoever wrote this problem knows nothing about carrots or how to grow them:

Choose an appropriate problem-solving strategy to solve this problem. In his backyard garden, Randall planted three rows of carrots. He planted eight carrots in each row. Altogether, how many carrots did Randall plant? Explain how you arrived at your answer.

Suburban gardeners usually drive to the local plant store, buy a six-pack of tomatoes or bell peppers and then take them home to transplant them. If you want to plant eight tomatoes or eight bell peppers in a row, you can do that (assuming that you’ve bought at least two six-packs). Just dig a hole, put some compost in the bottom, set the plant in the hole (roots at the bottom of the hole, of course), fill in around the roots with soil, and then water generously.

Not so with carrots. You can’t transplant carrots, as the Saxon math word-problem suggests. You have to grow carrots from seeds. And the seeds are so small that unless you use tweezers, you’ll find it impossible to plant only eight seeds per row. The usual practice is to sprinkle the seeds as thinly as possible in a shallow trench, and then cover them with a light layer of soil, well firmed down.

After the seeds germinate (which can take up to two or three weeks, depending on weather and soil conditions), and when they’re about an inch or two tall, you have to thin them. That’s right, you have to yank perfectly healthy plants out of the soil and toss them aside, because if you don’t, you’ll end up with a severe case of carrot-crowding, which will result in no root growth—and nothing edible to show for your labors.

Not only do the Saxon math writers and editors know nothing about how to plant and grow carrots, but they also make erroneous assumptions about the extent of student knowledge. Consider this word problem:

Lucille had 4 marigolds. Lola gave her some more marigolds. Now Lola has 12 marigolds. How many marigolds did Lola give Lucille?

My students had no trouble doing the math. Most of them figured out pretty quickly that Lola gave Lucille 8 marigolds.

But what exactly are marigolds?

Not one of my students could tell me. Not one!

I seized the moment, of course, as any decent teacher would, and explained that marigolds are flowers. Then I moved on.

I should have stopped, gone to Google Images and pulled up some photos of marigolds. (We all know that aphorism comparing one picture to a thousand words.) I’ll do that tomorrow.

There’s nothing wrong with revisiting a lesson or re-teaching a concept. In fact, that’s one of the beauties of Saxon math: As new concepts are introduced, old ones are continually revisited.

I want to do whatever it takes to help my students to “get it.” It’s time to revisit the concept of marigolds as flowers—and show my students, using some online photos, just how captivating these beauties can be.