A New Activity Every 15 Minutes

The title of this post is a goal I set for myself two years ago. I do fairly well now in this endeavor, though it was quite difficult at first. Now, I feel like it’s becoming second nature to refocus my students every 15 minutes.

And the results are telling.

My classes have raised their overall averages significantly, and attendance in my classes is high. Students compete to get into some of the courses I teach, which is all well and good (and not really that telling because they fight to get into the Video Queen’s classes too) but the best comment I hear in my room now is this:

“Class is over? Already?”

Because I shift the students’ focus frequently, they often do not have time to get bored, and I rarely ever hear the b-word any more.

—————————————— Sample Lesson ——————————————

We have just finished the first 50 pages of a complex novel (Fools Crow), and I want the students to review the characters and a major theme.

1. I have the students get into groups of 3-4 and have them face one another.

2. Next, I have the first group pick a number from 1-6 which corresponds to a card on which I have listed a character. The group is given the character on the selected card. The next group chooses from the remaining five cards, the next group from the remaining four cards, and so on.

3. Now, I tell the students their task which I have projected onto the wall: “You have ten minutes to compile a physical description of your character and to list three adjectives describing your character’s personality. For each adjective, provide an example from the text.”

4. At the end of the ten minutes (I use an online stopwatch to count down the time), I ask the students to tell me their character’s name and to give me their physical descriptions and adjectives with examples. I have a chart ready to go to record this information and type the information into this projected chart. The students around the room can copy down my chart or use another note-taking method to record the information as well. Believe it or not, this group recording only took about ten minutes.

5. Once we finish this, I have the students in their groups number off so each student is a 1, 2, 3, or 4. I then have the students numbered as a one move one group clockwise, and the two moves one group counter-clockwise.

6. I then have the students exchange names and prepare for the next activity. (I also require that my students refer to one another by name, so we introduce ourselves frequently when getting into new small groups until they know everyone.)

7. This time I provide a big idea question and reset the ten minute timer. Here is the second question: “What do the Pikuni people value? Provide examples from the text and include page numbers.” This forces the students to follow their character analyses with a thematic analysis as well as reinforce citation skills I will build on later.

8. At the end of the ten minutes I project a blank word processing document and record the value (for example, “weapons”) and the page number but not the explanation. I have each group tell me one value and page number, and then I allow anyone to give me examples.  The students again copy down the information, and this takes about 5-7 minutes total.

9. At this point I now have 13 minutes left in class. I have the students return to their original seats and pull out a sheet of paper in addition to their notes and texts. I then ask the students to compare and contrast two characters they believe are being set up as foils; they must use at least two quotations with page numbers in their single paragraph response.

10. I reset the timer for 10 minutes and have the students hand me this sheet as they leave and I tell each student “good-bye” or “have a good day” or something along those lines. (I like to say something individually to each student each day, even if it’s just a greeting or a farewell.)

I don’t really grade the paragraph, but I can immediately see who is understanding the novel, who can compare and contrast, and who is having writing troubles (citations, sentence structure, etc.).

Anyway, this is a sample lesson I used last week, and my students said they felt good about the lesson and the material. Even though everything was timed, it was a low-stress environment and the writings were quite good considering the short amount of time.

A second bonus was hearing two students walk down the hall debating the morality of one of the characters. They took the day’s learning with them! 🙂

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5 thoughts on “A New Activity Every 15 Minutes

  1. cmroberts1

    I LOVE your ideas! Thank you for sharing them. I have never felt like I can have my students read materials on their own, so I end up spending way too much time reading to my students (I have many students with IEPs or who are just slow or lazy readers). What do you do?

    Reply
    1. drpezz Post author

      Students have to meet the standards of a course to pass it, and I assign reading for homework simply because there isn’t time to do it during class. This doesn’t mean I don’t provide study guides or scaffold some help items for struggling readers; however, there is also the understanding that some students will just take longer than others to complete the same work. Fortunately, we have an intervention period during the day where students can get extra help in addition to a homework center and peer tutors who will work with students one on one (or para-educators in extreme cases).

      Slow or lazy isn’t an excuse. Sometimes I’m a bit harsh and say “well, let’s go talk to your counselor now and let him/her know that you have decided not to graduate since you won’t read.” That works with kids who need a direct approach. Other times I call home to mom/dad and let them know every day that reading is due (and I have an online calendar which helps), or I set up another accountability system. In all honesty, the more I get the parents on my side, the easier things go.

      Reply
  2. Pingback: An English classroom for active learners « Differentiation Daily

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