Having a Harry Potter themed classroom, it seemed only appropriate that when we entered the room this morning to find a bunch of shrunken superheroes (and angry wolves – think Minecraft), that it was Voldemort who got the blame.
I love those days when my English lessons are first thing in the morning; I can go round and plant clues to inspire my students. Today, it was once again the turn of my Lego superheroes. Students came in the room to find them planted around the room complete with post-its of what they were saying. The story – Voldemort had slipped into our room overnight, where the superheroes had been sleeping and cast a shrinking spell, now they were only the size of Lego men, and they had to find a way of escaping the room.
Each student chose a character (or wolf – I have a student who loves to do anything Minecraft related), and came up with a post-it of what they thought the character would say. Theirs admittedly were far better than mine; apparently my superhero knowledge is only 3%!! Then when all of our quotes had been assigned around the room with our heroes, students devised a brief plan for escape and regrowth. My students’ imaginations never cease to amaze me – Flash burned through the door, Catwoman walked up the wall and took the tiles off the roof, the wolves became angry, whilst Robin very sensibly got all of the members of the Justice League together before plotting his next move.
There was great excitement all round! It had taken us around an hour, but we were ready to begin planning our stories, this time with our trusty Cue Cards as our prompt. Students lined them up along their desk and completed a post it note for each card. The plan was accomplished and the story writing began!
One student wrote an article for the ‘Gotham Times’, others wrote in more traditional story formats. What’s more, because of all the preparation we’d done together, half of the group were able to produce their finished story independently.
Admittedly, a good proportion of the early part of the lesson was spent with them laughing at my inferior knowledge. But hey, they all knew they could do better so it was all in the name of engagement. Maybe once in a while it pays to let them teach us a few things…
Today I wanted to focus not on the quantity of writing my students produced, but on the quality. I’m only too aware that for some of my students, getting the work done quickly is their primary objective. There are times when that is fantastic, but I like to have a balance.
So there are days I take the pressure of quantity away and we work on building our sentences one word at a time. We explore new words, look in thesaurus’ and generally learn to enjoy language. Today was one of those days. I wanted to work on using and understanding more complex connectives, so that students would become more familiar with them and more likely to use them in their written work.
I’d had a delivery of some very exciting Lego-like (but much cheaper) Superheroes, each one individually wrapped. So it seemed like the perfect time to be exacting about my standards! Students walked into the room to find 10 un-built superheroes on their tables along with post-it notes (yes they’re creeping into my lessons again) and individually written ‘wow’ connectives. The excitement in the room was palpable. My students couldn’t believe their luck! The deal: choose a character from the pile, write one amazing sentence using one of our connectives, then build the character. Next, choose another character, write an amazing sentence about them and a further one combining both of your characters, then build your character, and so on. Never have I seen them look as happy about a literacy lesson!
The sentences were incredible, in fact some of the best they’ve ever written. But that wasn’t the real magic. The magic was the confidence with which they wrote, the willingness with which they engaged with new language, and the conversations that surrounded their writing. It was a lesson I won’t forget in a hurry.
Tangible things to look at can really help with creativity. They are a ready made base to hang ideas from. They take the stress away and add the excitement factor. So what are you waiting for? Get raiding your cupboards – find your wow factor! Your students can write incredible sentences, you just have to start one word at a time.
As for me, whilst Superhero excitement is here, I’m already thinking about how to incorporate them into my next few lessons…
So much of differentiation isn’t about creating a resource, or planning a different lesson. I mean, sure you can do those things, and sometimes doing those things is a great thing to do. Realistically though you can differentiate for many students without doing those things every single lesson.
All you need to do is remember that students are people just like you; they have likes, they have dislikes, they get scared, they get sad and they get excited. You need to learn what makes them tick. Do they love dolls? Are they a Batman fanatic? Is minecraft their one and only true love? Whatever their thing is, it pays to educate yourself. You don’t have to become a world-leading expert, just arm yourself with a little bit of knowledge, believe me it will pay off.
A quick chat on the way out of your room or in a corridor about a topic that interests a student, goes wonders towards making you interesting, and if you’re interesting you are worth working for. And well, if you’re going to make yourself interesting you may as well use it to your advantage! Do you want a story written by a Minecraft fan? Try suggesting they incorporate a character called Steve, or an Angry Wolf in there. Do you want a Science experiment carried out by a Mortal Kombat fan? How about, figuring out a way of making clean drinking water for Scorpian. It doesn’t matter what the interest is, with a little bit of creativity you can incorporate it into virtually any task. You get the lesson objective met, the student thinks they’ve spent the whole lesson doing something they want to do and therefore learns enthusiastically, it’s a win win situation – and best of all not an extra worksheet in sight.
After all, we all work better for someone we like, someone we respect, and someone who cares enough to find out a little about what makes us tick. Why should our students be any different?