Hexagon Hubbub

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.4

What You Need: Class set of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” by Edgar Allen Poe; paper hexagons (cut from 3-by-3-inch sticky notes or construction paper); chart paper; markers

What to Do: Whitney Myers, a middle school ELA teacher from Lafayette, Louisiana, uses a hexagonal thinking activity to help students make connections among concepts. She finds this activity requires kids to “explain their thinking about how and why they are making those connections.”

Partner students and begin by introducing “The Tell-Tale Heart,” or a short text you have already used in class. Have partners read on their own and then come together to discuss the plot and protagonist, using specific text evidence. For “The Tell-Tale Heart,” students may note the disconnect between what the narrator thinks and his situation. Reconvene as a class and record students’ thoughts on chart paper or a whiteboard.

Then, distribute the paper hexagons, explaining that students will be connecting ideas through hexagonal thinking, a visual way to illustrate connections. Encourage them to think about the connection between the protagonist’s perception and his reality. Each hexagon will be filled in with a word/concept or with a quotation. The hexagons must be placed side by side to create a thinking map; they can only touch if the ideas have a connection.

For “The Tell-Tale Heart,” model by writing the phrase contradictory feelings on one hexagon and connect it to a hexagon on which you’ve written “I loved the old man.… I made up my mind to take the life of the old man.” Ask students to think about concepts or quotations from the text that could connect to either or both of those hexagons. Be sure they can explain the connections between concepts on adjoining hexagons.

Then, send students off to work in pairs, creating hexagonal thinking maps with at least 10 hexagons. They should be able to explain why they chose the connections they did. Lastly, have students walk around to observe their classmates’ maps.

Hook Shots

Standard Met: McREL Thinking and Reasoning Standard 5 (Applies basic trouble-shooting and problem-solving techniques)

What You Need: Writing/scrap paper

What to Do: California high school teacher and basketball lover Larry Ferlazzo found that sneaking in this five-minute lesson when he taught middle school was very effective. Ferlazzo, who blogs at Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…, used this strategy during a lesson on writing openings (or hooks) for essays: He got students to write several hooks, choose the best ones, and explain their choices.

First, define metacognition (“awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes”) and explain that students will be practicing the skill by explaining their choices of strong hooks. Then, wad up a scrap of paper and toss it into a bin (be sure to miss!). Think aloud as you analyze the throw, saying that you could have made it if you’d adjusted in some way. Toss a few more wads of paper, continuing to analyze aloud until you land the shot. Say something like, “Next time, I’ll know to throw underhand with better aim and force.” Finally, have students write several hooks, or openings, for essays on a topic of their choice, adjusting as they go to land the shot!

Meta Math

Standards Met: CCSS.Math.Practice.MP1

What You Need: Whiteboard, markers, writing paper, chart paper with word problem (see below)

What to Do: Prepare a multi-step word problem on chart paper. For example: You and your friends eat 6/9 of a pie. The next day, your brother finishes half of what is left. How much of the pie remains? Then, have students think about their problem-solving strategies. Explain that while they can use learned strategies to solve this problem, a more thoughtful approach will help them solve any kind of word problem.

Model how they can step back to first understand the problem. Underline key words that indicate what type of work may be involved, as well as any tricky language (“6/9 of a pie,” “half of what is left,” “remains”). Once it is clear they understand what the problem is asking, have students identify any “blockers” that could make solving it difficult. One answer may point to the fact that the brother eats half of what’s left (an added step). Encourage kids to identify common blockers in word problems, including unneeded information, counterintuitive questions, and multiple steps.

Next, solve the problem with students’ help, getting them to figure out a strategy that will work, like drawing a picture. Solution in hand, they should share a brief summary of their thinking—how they understood the problem, analyzed blockers, identified a strategy, and solved it—a final step that encourages metacognition.

Have students work on other word problems and record their thinking along the side of their work, including a summary sentence. Discuss how being aware of how they were thinking shaped their work.


Photo: Courtesy of Whitney Myers

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