Article

Grades 6-8: Get Kids Involved in Class

Go beyond raising a hand with teacher-tested strategies for getting students involved in class discussions and collaboration.

By Diana Ling
  • Grades: 6–8

Recommended Reading: Engaging Quiet Students Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
by Susan Cain. $16.
Learn how to get the best out of all kids, especially introverts.

Rethinking Class Participation: Listening to Silent Voices
by Katherine Schultz. $25.95.
Schultz offers ways to use silence to improve learning.

The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When the World Overwhelms Them
by Elaine A. Aron. $14.99.
Explore why “highly sensitive children” are easily overstimulated.

Phone a Friend

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1
Things You'll Need: Download the Phone-a-Friend Template
Looking to encourage students to work with a variety of classmates when it’s time to partner up? Kristine Nannini, a teacher at McGrath Elementary School in Grand Blanc, Michigan, and a blogger at Young Teacher Love, has just the solution. She gives each student a phone template. Students “exchange numbers” by writing the names of classmates in each of the phone’s 10 squares. For instance, if Kate and Brian want to be “partner 1’s,” Kate writes Brian’s name on her phone in the “Partner 1” box. Brian does the same with Kate’s name on his phone. When all of the squares are filled, Nannini laminates the phones and puts a magnet on the back, which allows students to hang their phones on the side of their desks. When it’s time for students to meet in partnerships, she chooses a number, and her students know just who to call!

Take the Class “Temperature”

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1; W.1
Take your class’s “temperature” about a topic. Begin by presenting an argument that has two points of view. Give students five to seven minutes to write their opinions about where they stand on the topic. Next, explain how the thermometer activity works. If students strongly agree with one side of the debate, they should stand on a designated side of the classroom. If they strongly agree with the opposing side, they should go to the opposite side of the room. Those who don’t feel strongly one way or another should stand somewhere between the two extremes.

Jen Levy, an eighth-grade language arts teacher at Tenakill Middle School in Closter, New Jersey, says the thermometer activity makes quiet students feel less “in the spotlight” and more willing to share their opinions since they are standing with their peers.

Show-and-Tell Sleeve

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1
Using dry-erase sleeves is a versatile way to quickly assess what all of your students know—not just the volunteer who raises his or her hand. (These sleeves are fairly inexpensive—a ­couple of dollars each—and can be ordered online.) Give each student a sleeve, a dry-erase marker, a tissue, and a blank sheet of paper. Students should tuck the paper inside the sleeve as a backing. When you ask questions during the lesson, they can write their answers on the sleeves and hold them up for you to see. It’s a quick way to gauge how the whole class understands the topic and identify which students need extra help. Answers can be erased with a tissue before moving on to the next question.

Kristen Frankenfield, an eighth-grade special education teacher at Old Mill Middle School North in Millersville, Maryland, says her students like the sleeves because “any new gimmick other than pencil to paper excites them. They can also share with partners and quickly erase any mistakes.”

The Wingman

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1; SL.3
Things You'll Need: Download the Wingman Worksheet
Sean Paris, a musical theater and academic support teacher at Orange Grove Middle Magnet School in Tampa, recommends a note-taking strategy that encourages all students to be active in discussions. Paris puts ­students in small groups to discuss a text. A designated student, whom he dubs “the wingman,” takes notes about the quality of a group’s discussion. The wingman answers specific questions on a worksheet, noting how often students speak, how many times they cite text evidence to defend arguments, and even the number of times students go off-topic. This approach ensures that all students are held accountable for group work—and that no one group member is flying solo.

Wild Card

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1
Chris McCloud, a seventh-grade math teacher at School of the Future in New York City, uses playing cards to make all of his students the “aces” of class participation. Put this to use in your classroom by taping a playing card to each of the desks in your room. Keep another set of the same cards at hand. During class discussions, pull a card from your deck. The student with the matching card should respond to the question posed. (Remember to shuffle the cards so students can’t memorize when they’ll get picked.) If the students who are called on don’t know the answer, ask them to explain why they are stuck and then ask classmates for help. For students with learning disabilities, you can work out a signal, such as tapping their desk, to let them know they will be called on next.

McCloud uses the playing card technique to allow everyone the same opportunity to participate. He says his “card tricks” have also helped to decrease the number of “students attempting to ‘fake it or make it’ to the end of class.”

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    Classroom Management, Child Development and Behavior, Motivation, School Life, Learning and Classroom Centers
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