Strategies and Activities and More, oh my!

“Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!” is a familiar quote to many from the Wizard of Oz. It’s come to represent the speaker being fearful of a rumored threat. But, we also know that Dorothy locks arms with Tin Man and Scarecrow and plows forward with them in the face of fear and ultimately conquers it (picking up the Cowardly Lion in the process). Perhaps distinguishing strategies from activities isn’t quite as intimidating as encountering wild animals in the Haunted Forest of Oz, but it has leant itself to some uneasiness.

So, let’s extend this analogy a bit: Dorothy’s ultimate goal is to return home to Kansas. In order to do that, she has to employ research-based strategies by engaging in a variety of activities. The first strategy we witness is Feedback; she confers with Glinda, the Good Witch of the North and learns she needs to go on a quest to reach the Wizard. Armed with this new information, Dorothy sets off and soon employs Cooperative Learning as she picks up Scarecrow, Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. She collaborates with her partners to follow the Yellow Brick Road, reaching the Emerald City and the Wizard. Optional extension: continue the metaphor with a partner or on your own; for the rest, here comes the connection!

A couple of weeks ago, Shannon and I teamed up with building admin to deliver PD to middle school teachers in our district on this very subject: distinguishing Strategies and Activities (not The Wizard of Oz). In order for our students to achieve positive academic results, we need to engage in activities that employ research-based strategies to better their performance.

Once the foundation was laid, we targeted one specific strategy: Non-Linguistic Representation (NLR) and a specific activity: Concept Mapping. We briefly reviewed Dual Coding Theory, namely reminding folks that we take in information in two ways, linguistically (word-based) and non-linguistically (sensory), concluding that the more we employ both systems of representation, the better we are able to think about and recall knowledge. Following, we facilitated an activity using a jigsaw process in small groups to complete a Concept Definition Map.

Working in content area groups, teams then brainstormed other types of NLRs that would be applicable to their field. Below is an example of one such list:

NLR ELA examples

Let’s take a look at a few of these NLRs that might be transferrable to various content areas:

The 4-Square is often used for vocabulary and as part of the writing process, but it isn’t the sole property of English Language Arts. Students can help solidify new vocabulary by not only defining it and writing about it, but by also supplying a picture to represent the word. When writing, students may benefit from a structured graphic organizer that helps them organize their thoughts and reminds them to incorporate transitions, details, and a summary conclusion. The designs are many and modifiable, too–truly versatile.

Haiku Deck is a presentation software students can use for a variety of purposes/projects. Check out this Haiku Deck Sample. They also provide a simple introduction video you can access on their home page.

Comic strip templates can be used for visualization activities with difficult text or to explain a process in a visual way. I had sophomores in small groups create a strip for the classic poem, “Lady of Shalott” stanza by stanza in order to “see” the action unfolding, which aided their comprehension. Again, if you are tech-minded, there are several comic strip makers and animation apps free online or for tablets, such as Bitstrips and Toontastic. Scientific processes and historical events, among other adaptations, seem like they would be a natural fit to such an activity.

Roseanne Roseannadanna

So, it’s like Rosanne Rosannadanna says, “It’s always something. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.” Either Dorothy gets bumped on the head, dreams of traveling to the Land of Oz and has to get back home to Kansas, or we have students in our classrooms who have their own dreams of success. Regardless, employing researched-based strategies, engaging students in effective activities, and providing multiple ways of gaining that knowledge is best practice.



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