Now that you've hit the halfway point in the school year and have more confidence in your teaching style, you'll find it easier to vary your instructional approach from time to time. In fact, changing up routines and introducing different types of lesson activities have a way of invigorating the classroom. To help you diversify instruction and connect more closely with students, check out these creative and easy-to-implement learning activities.
- ABC Books: After conducting research on any topic, students can brainstorm ideas for an ABC book to show what they have learned. Assign letters to students; then give each student a piece of construction paper on which to write and illustrate one idea to put in the book. An ABC book on Red Rock Canyon might include pages such as: "A is for Anasazi — the ancient ones," "B is for Boulder — there are large boulders of sandstone at Red Rock," "C is for Canyon — Ice Box Canyon gets cold breezes." Bind the book to keep in the class library. You may also choose to make copies of it for your students to use during reading instruction. They are always more interested when they're reading their own or their classmates' writing.
- You Were There: Another fun way to help students process research is to have them "time travel" to a famous event or location, then "become" news reporters or characters. Journalists can interview participants or observe them role-playing the action, then write a newspaper or web article about the event.
- Stage It: Students can demonstrate comprehension of a fictional story by turning it into a play or choral reading. Teach them how to write a script, and then set them loose — you'll be amazed at their creativity! One of my favorite third-grade activities was to have small groups transform different chapters from The Adventures of Spider by J. Arkhurst into scripts. For backdrops, they drew scenery on overhead transparencies with permanent markers. To show the backdrops, I placed the overhead projector behind the action facing a large white sheet. It took much less time than creating backdrops on butcher paper.
- Talk Show: Have students create a talk show featuring the characters from a book they've read. Students prepare questions and answers that offer insight into the characters they are portraying, demonstrating comprehension of character traits. You may discover some exceptional Oprahs or Larry Kings in your class!
- Cartoon It: After reading a story with a clear sequence, have students divide a piece of paper into four to twelve squares, depending upon their grade level and/or the number of events in the story. Ask them to illustrate the important events from the book in sequence using a comic-strip format. You can teach them that whatever goes in the bubble of a comic-strip format is a direct quote and requires quotation marks when written in a book.
- Picture This: Students can illustrate and label an event from the beginning, middle, and end of a book on a paper folded into thirds in "kid language." Older students can write a paragraph summarizing what happened in each part of the story.
- Where Is It?: Students brainstorm information about the setting from a fictional story, and then draw a map of what the area could look like. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien has several excellent examples of fictional maps that look real. Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran and Barbara Cooney and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis are good books to use with this activity.
- Board Games: Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg is a good vehicle for teaching children how to make board games. After reading any book, students can create a board game that hits the high points and low points of the action.
- Pictures and Captions: Students copy the exact text from a story, then illustrate it according to their understanding of the text. You can also print the text in a mini-book format, make a copy for each student to illustrate, and send the mini-books home for student practice.
- Innovate a Fairy Tale: Students rewrite a story, changing one or more components. To innovate a fairy tale, tell it from a different character's point of view (The True Story of the Three Little Pigs), change the qualities of the characters (The Frog Prince, Continued), change the setting (The Three Little Javelinas), or modernize the story (The Principal's New Clothes). Predictable books are excellent for innovations. A classic example is to turn Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? into "Children, Children, What Do You See?" as a first-week kindergarten project. For additional fairy tale recommendations, see Bookshelf Bests: Once Upon a Fairy Tale Stories for the Elementary Classroom.
- Directed Reading-Writing-Thinking Activity: Read a story to the students, stopping in key places to ask them to write or draw what they think will happen next. Give them just one or two minutes for each prediction; then have a few students share what they thought would happen before moving on with the story. Older students can write down their predictions, exchange papers at each stopping point, and react to one another's ideas on paper or in groups. Involve everyone and model appreciation for each student's contribution and unique thinking.
- Research Writing: Here's a great idea on how to assist students in research writing while minimizing opportunities to plagiarize. Have students brainstorm the general topics others might want to know about the research topic. For example, if they are studying an animal, categories might include appearance, habitat, enemies, family, and interesting habits; if they are studying a country, categories might include location, people, plant life, animal life, and celebrations. Students choose three categories and write them across the top of a data chart. Then they find three sources for information and write the bibliographies on the back of the data chart (see below). As they read through a source, they write a few words to help them remember what they've read in the appropriate column — there isn't room to copy entire sentences. After their research is completed, they are ready to turn their brief notes into meaningful sentences and paragraphs, which have been roughly organized in the data chart. Data charts can be used successfully in grades 2–5 and sometimes the end of first grade if students are working in mixed ability groups to do research.
This article was adapted from The New Teacher's Complete Sourcebook: Grades K–4, by Bonnie P. Murray (© 2002, Scholastic).