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3 Simple and Fun Ways to Get Kids to Think Deeper and Inquire More!

By Erin Klein on October 15, 2013
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

Being a mother of two beautiful children, I love hearing them talk about the fun they had throughout their school day. As a mom, I couldn't be happier that they love school so much. I know that it's because of the creative and caring adults that help shape this wonderful experience for my children each day.  

As a teacher, I strive to create this same experience for my students. Each year, the students are different. The class dynamics are different. However, one factor remains the same: children are curious. They light up when the subject is something they're interested in learning about. They also love to know why. Making connections to their world and inspiring them to seek answers to their questions are two ways that I've found success with keeping that spark ablaze.  

There are several strategies/tools that can support such creative and fun learning. My favorite ideas are those that are free, fun, and simple to implement and that easily integrate with our existing schedule and curriculum. The following three ideas are a few of my favorite ways to get kids thinking deeper about their learning and inquiring more about topics that spark their interest.  

Start Your Day With a Wonder

I used to do a Morning Message each day; however, I found that my messages became less interesting over time and more challenging to create. I also found, for the most part, only my ideas being shared. I wanted something that was fun, engaging, simple to do, and involved the kids more. That's when I found one of my favorite resources, Wonderopolis. Wonderopolis is a free site that shares a short video each day. The videos are engaging for students and encourage creative thinking. My kids love getting into the classroom each day to see what the new Wonder will be for the day.  

My students quickly come into the classroom, get their composition notebooks, and begin responding to the Wonder of the Day. They love being able to let their minds wander and write about whatever they wish. I try to refrain from making corrections but encourage deeper thinking and making more connections. I always try to stop by each child's area and make a specific comment that relates directly to their writing.  

I don't have class jobs. This became more of a management piece for me as a teacher.  If an entire week went by with no phone calls, the secretary would be sad since he or she didn't get an opportunity to do his or her job. I'd also forget, on occasion, to rotate the children. I even found myself creating jobs to allow for more opportunities in our room. This was too much work. Now, I have a "special person of the day." They do all of the jobs that day from taking down attendance, getting snacks, acting as line leader, etc. I start with person number one in ABC order. The next day, person two will be the special person and so on . . .

An added benefit is that the special person gets to bring in an item from home to share (I encourage a talent like playing an instrument, or a Lego sculpture, or an item they're proud of), and they get to have their journal response entered as a comment for that day's Wonder. They love seeing their writing appear on the "real Internet."  The best part is that the fantastic team at Wonderopolis replies to each comment. So, the next day, we get to read the special person's reply from Wonderopolis. How awesome!

Estimation Station

I started using an estimation station last year around January. The response I received from my students was shocking. I honestly only started this because I received the station as a gift. So, naturally, I brought it into my classroom for the students to use. They went nuts! The kids couldn't wait for it to be their turn to take the station home and fill it with their favorite objects.  

On Friday, I would give the station to a new child along with a slip of paper sharing examples of what items could be used to fill the container. They would also write the actual number of items on this paper.  

Throughout the week, we do a part of the activity page. We work on skills such as mean, median, and mode. The work is authentic since they were involved in the process. I'll admit, I was excited to see what each child would bring in to share, too. They were so adorable throughout the week hearing their friend's guesses. On Friday, we reveal the actual number of items. The person closest to the number gets to select a sticker for their activity page. Everyone else gets a fancy star drawn on their paper. Scholastic has a fantastic printable for you to download and create your own estimation station.

Genius Hour and Passion-Based Learning

Genius Hour is a wonderful way to celebrate children and their creativity and passions. During this time, students select a topic they are interested in exploring. This should be a topic they're passionate about. Then, they come up with a driving question to launch their research. After exploring their topic over time, they decide a way to share their knowledge with others. Here is a fantastic video you can watch to learn more about Genius Hour — click here.  

My Messy Planning Process:

 

This year, I'm doing a version of Genius Hour. My school has done a quality job setting up reading and writing workshop, so I've blended the creative ideas behind Genius Hour into my workshop time. Because teaching time is precious, and our academic calendar is roughly 150 days, I need to make sure each minute and hour counts. So, after collaborating with my second grade teammates, we decided to infuse elements of Genius Hour into our classroom workshop time. Together, we've been gathering books and resources based on our children's interest. This past weekend, I found four great books that a few of my boys are going to go crazy over. I can' t wait to share them with the kids. They get so excited when they see a book that speaks right to their heart. These stories fly off of our shelves. It's a joy seeing kids gobble up literature with such enthusiasm.  

You can start simple and grow it over time. You can even allow collaboration between different classrooms based on children's interests. This would be a great opportunity to invite community members into your classroom to support the student's learning. It's student driven and flexible!

 

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Comments (8)

Erin,
Do you have a form or format for the Wonderopolis responses? Or did you give students guidelines in terms of how to construct their thoughts/responses?

I have Wonderopolis embedded on my webpage, what a great way to encourage students to use it!

Hello Erin,

I love reading your posts and especially now on Top Teaching! I love your Wonderopolis idea, I had been wondering (no pun intended!) how to work Wonder of the day into my schedule! I'm wondering (I teach 2nd grade also) how your students do on the days that the topics are pretty high level (for example, dry ice was one over the weekend). Are they so into it that it doesn't matter what the topic is? Or do you have to do more guiding on those days?
Thanks so much!
Alyssa

As a secondary teacher, I always appreciate the windows into elementary that your posts provide. If you're looking for slightly higher level ways to start a class a la Wonderopolis, check out http://tdc.ds106.us/ and http://writingprompts.tumblr.com/. Both are fantastic for grades 6-12 and I'd wager there's some useable stuff in there for k-5, too.

Genius Hour makes me think of the IB PYP "Exhibition" process :)

"You can start simple and grow over time." YES! I hope many other teachers take on that attitude, even if I did happen to jump into Genius Hour with both feet (and have learned a TON doing so).

I hear you say "teaching time is precious," but with Genius Hour-type learning, "learning time is precious." You may not be teaching, but if students are learning, your goal is met. Enjoy your journey into the unknown, as I know the students will! I'm adding this post to the Genius Hour LiveBinder under "Supporting this Type of Learning."

Great ideas! Many of our teachers are now using Wonderopolis regularly in their early years classrooms, and the students are loving it! Thanks for sharing!

Hi Lori,

Thanks so much!! I'm excited to hear your teachers are using Wonderopolis as well. It's such a fabulous resource.

Have a great week,

Erin

I love the Wonderopolis idea to change up morning message. Thank you for sharing all of these ideas.

Hi Jana,

Thank you so much! I'm happy you like the ideas. I really appreciate you stopping by to leave feedback.

Have a great week,

Erin

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