Double-Post Week- Heighten Interest and Broaden Vocabulary by Making Real-Life Connections

By Victoria Jasztal on September 16, 2009

Have you sat in a workshop before, enduring an endless lecture that does not seem pertinent? Has your mind wandered off to Never-Never Land in the midst of something not-so-desirable? I am positive you have at some point and time- and I am absolutely positive my students have been in that position as well. When I am teaching about long division, writing sensational grabbers for expository writing, and adding decimals, I think to myself, Are they really grasping this? Honestly, I wonder at times, and then my mind goes on a pensive tangent.

At times, I think about when I attend a workshop and leave with something meaningful or I am able to manipulate something (like an Interwrite Pad or Mobi) while the instructor is showing us how to use it. I think about when I attend a workshop where the instructor encourages us to make connections to our classroom and communicate with other teachers who are presented with the same curriculum.

We in many ways are like our students- our retention is higher when we can take what we have learned and connect it to our lives. Two mini-units I have presented in my classroom this week encompass this theory of learning.

One mini-unit is called Camp Math. Students complete many activities that revolve around camping and math. They have to analyze weather patterns to determine a good week to bring their theoretical "class" to camp. Additionally, they have to work with a budget and purchase items for their class, which includes tents. They are presented with a "catalog" of items I printed with pictures from Google as well as a checkbook (page) that they can balance. Besides that, they are able to look at another "catalog" of activities they can get involved with during their "camping experience" and set up a "schedule" of classes like kayaking, art, and high ropes. Of course they also complete word problems revolving around the dining hall and complete activities together as a class that meet math objectives in a more exciting manner than the "traditional way".

Camp Math can be found at this website-

The other mini-unit is where students go through five writing center rotations to prepare to write about constructing a dream home. Here are the rotations-

#1- Students use home magazines to write down "million dollar words" (rich vocabulary words) that pertain to architecture. I highlight some of the words in the magazines as examples so students know what kind of words to look for.



#2- Students look at paint samples from the home improvement store and write down rich color words for regular color words. Example- Red can be ruby red, cranberry, fire engine red, and crimson. This activity helps students with "shades of meaning" and being more specific with the descriptions they write.

#3- Students work on a sketch of an ideal swimming pool, label the parts, and use rich vocabulary in writing about the pools they would construct if they had the opportunity. (The picture I included at the beginning of the post is from Maverick, one of my incredible artists.)

#4- Students also write a description of an ideal bedroom. They are presented with different themes to write about like underwater, wild west, rainforest, fantasy,  rock music, and sports themes. They are encouraged to come up with a theme that intrigues and suits them. From there, they describe what would be in that ideal room.

#5- They are also able to play a game in their groups where they are able to answer questions about their dream homes. One question, for example, asks- "Would you live in the city, country, or near the mountains? Tell your group members why."


It is incredible when students can make connections! It is 100% worth it to come up with hands-on opportunities in your classroom- instead of simply telling kids what to do, you see them actively involved in communicating with one another, broadening their schemas and practicing pertinent skills without realizing how much they are truly learning.

I do have to tell one last thing, something humorous I heard in the game center this morning. (The group pictured above did not say this, by the way.) A student answered that she would have a basement in her house, and another student came out with- "I would, too. ...Have you ever heard of the apocalypse?!" They all got these wide-eyed, serious expressions on their faces. Sometimes in the classroom, you have to hold it in. Hard. Very hard.


Victoria- I appreciate your suggestions about attention grabbers/hooks. I will give them a try this week.

... Thank you, Barb... my students are REALLY enjoying writing so far this year. - Victoria :)

Hi Victoria- I love your camp math and dream pool ideas. I actually teach 2nd grade and our students have to write informational essays this year. Do you have any resources or ideas to teach them about attention grabbers/hooks?

... Barb, you are simply too awesome desiring to teach second graders about writing hooks/grabbers. I remember being in my internship and teaching second graders about writing great details- they wrote stories about visiting the rainforest.

Perhaps for your students (it depends on how advanced they are, also), I would start by showing pictures of different items and have them write a basic statement. An example is showing a picture of a sea turtle or giraffe and seeing who writes the most descriptive sentence. I would also, of course, read the first sentences of a number of great books- a few that come to my mind are The Lorax and Sam the Sea Cow. Perhaps they can write down a few favorite first sentences from books they are reading as well. Just tell your students that writing "Hi, my name is..." or "I am going to tell you about..." simply isn't natural. Mine had to learn that in fourth grade this year, but they caught on to lead writing fast enough and we are going to keep working on it this coming week in writing class.

I will of course try to think of more. Teaching students about improving their writing skills is always awesome. -Victoria

I can't tell you how many times I stand in front of the class and wonder if the students are really grasping what I am teaching them. Then I get the blank stares and I know I have to regroup and teach in a different way.

I really like your ideas for the writing center rotations! I might have to steal a few! :)

... Thank you, Kelly! My students absolutely have fun during writing center rotations, which I am planning on having daily this year (starting this coming Monday) during the reading block, along with a reading rotation. I am thinking about putting together a variety of hands-on resources that revolve around different topics that can inspire my students to write. Honestly, I wish I would have thought of good writing rotations during the summer, but obviously it's too late now. :)

Thank you for reading my blog! - Victoria

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