Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Symptom: How do you make a dictionary lesson exciting?

One of the third grade teachers (Angela) and I were talking at lunch one day about how her students needed a refresher lesson on dictionary skills and asked if I could help.  One caveat – it was on the day our school system’s curriculum department was coming to see evidence of academic rigor, differentiation and technology integration along with a host of other things. We went ahead with the plans since it was the only time I had available on my schedule for the next few weeks. This lesson had to pack in a lot in a short amount of time, and be impressive enough for the curriculum department. No pressure, right? :)

Prescription: Collaboration plus Centers = Excitement (with learning and all those other things the curriculum department wants to see!)

I forgot to mention that during that lunch, a second grade teacher (Denise) stopped by to say hi and I asked her about any interesting dictionary ideas she had used. It was perfect timing, because she was using one right now that she said her students really enjoyed and now understood the parts of a dictionary entry.  Sidebar – Collaboration doesn’t have to be a formal sit-down meeting. The way it happens in my life is usually exactly like this – short conversations followed up by emails or a quick hello before or after school. If you wait to have time to sit down to meet, you’re never going to have time for collaboration.

That evening, Angela and I both started scouring our collections of resources, searched Pinterest, (Honestly, how did the teaching world function without this?) and searched websites that have helped us in the past. Not surprisingly, we found some ideas on Pinterest. We found a pin that led us to a freebie on Teachers Pay Teachers (http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/ABC-Order-Center-for-Guide-Words-636351) from Pam Olivieri’s Rockin’ Resources. 

We found some other things on Teachers Pay Teachers, but the packets weren’t exactly what we were looking for. However, we did narrow down our ideas to three centers:  

(1) Dictionary Challenge (using QR codes to check their answers)
(2) Color Coded Entry (like the mini-lesson)
(3) Alphabetical Order (using the TPT freebie) 

Angela and I co-created the materials needed for centers 1 and 2 and printed out the TPT freebie for center 3. The lesson would take place in the media center and be co-taught by Angela and myself. We would do a mini lesson first using the idea from Denise where we modeled the parts of a dictionary entry. Next we would have student move to their beginning center and rotate as we called time. 

We allotted an hour for this, and it took way (and I mean WAY) longer than we anticipated.  The mini lesson took about 25 minutes because the students just weren’t getting it, but by the end of it they understood. The centers needed more monitoring than we realized, with each of us working with a group at a center. The ESOL teacher stopped by to check on one of her students, and stepped in to help cover the third center. We really only had enough time for the mini-lesson and one center to be completed and the second rotation was started. Angela ended up taking the centers back to her classroom and using them as centers for the next week or so.

As you can see from the photos below, the students were excited even though the whole topic was about a dictionary. They worked really hard during the lesson and in Angela’s class in the following weeks. We were able to see growth in their understanding, so even though the lesson didn't go as planned, it still gave us the results we wanted. 

I bet you’re wondering about the curriculum department’s visit… Well, they came by about five minutes into the mini-lesson, so they didn’t see the more interesting activities taking place. However, we did send the photos to our principal and she’s really good about sharing.

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