Saturday, September 17, 2016

It's All In the Presentation-- Excellent Tips for Differentiation and Teaching Out of the Box in ELA/Science/SS

My last post for today focuses on a different gamut of teaching-- differentiation and teaching outside the box in Language Arts/Science/Social Studies. (Math may come in another post.) Many of these ideas are ones that you can use automatically while others may take planning and research.


  • I compiled charts that include: my students' Lexiles (and which students fall within a similar bracket), an analysis of placement test data from this year, and an analysis of historical data. Additionally, I analyzed my students' results from Laura Candler's Multiple Intelligences Survey to see which of my students preferred specific learning styles the most. If students scored at least a 12 in a specific category, I marked it "Extremely Strong", with a score of an 7-11 being "Somewhat Strong", and 6 or less not being a preference at all. 
  • I also wrote out a list of specific activities (such as writing songs about content they are learning about in class, making green screen videos, and making presentations (Prezi, PowerPoint, etc.) to help teach the class) and had my students rate their desire to complete that activity from a 1-5, with 5 being an immense desire. 
  • If you have access, utilize various Google Apps to help differentiate instruction. 
  • A few sensational websites I have come across for differentiated articles are: NewsELA, Smithsonian Tween Tribune, DOGONews, ThinkCERCA, and ReadWorks. If you need any other sites beyond these, the Illinois Reading Council offers numerous valuable suggestions. 
  • I also suggest subscribing to a Scholastic magazine if you have not done so already. I have subscribed to Scholastic Science World for the past three years, and perhaps combined with SuperScience, you can have differentiated magazine options for your students. 
  • If you teach upper elementary ELA, Erin Cobb of Lovin' Lit offers incredible resources that my students have done well with so far. Erin not only offers phenomenal interactive notebook resources, but she also offers three levels of differentiation for every skill in the realm of Literature, Informational Text, and Grammar. Her resources are created for grades 4-5, 6, and then 7-8, so they are extremely appropriate for my gifted 5th grade students who precisely read within this range! 
  • For your musical learners, students can analyze mood by listening to soundtracks from movies they know. The Disney soundtrack for The Lion King offers "This Land", "To Die For", and songs we know well like "Can You Feel the Love Tonight". On the other hand, The Lion King Broadway soundtrack offers tracks like "Rafiki Mourns", "They Live in You", and "King of Pride Rock/Circle of Life". Besides mood, students can perhaps compare two soundtracks from the same story but different depictions (Disney/Broadway) of a specific scene. 
  • Encourage your artistic learners to explore sketchnoting
  • Make sure you include excellent videos to enrich your visual learners, though in my opinion this enhances the instruction of everyone in the room. While teaching the scientific method, I show my students a number of videos from Steve Spangler's Sick Science to get them thinking about the nature of science, show them the powers of observation, and encourage them to make strong inferences as well as develop thick questions. 
  • Visual learners can utilize program coding to analyze cause and effect relationships. 
  • Visual/artistic learners can also utilize books like The Invention of Hugo Cabret (and others) by Brian Selznick to analyze mood, make inferences, determine character traits, and more. 
  • Analyze numerous aspects of a topic like space, and look at your students' Lexiles (as well as other data) to choose an article that is in their comfortable range. Here is an example of a list I recently developed for my reference because we are studying space in class right now: 

“Asteroid Attack!”—840L

“Partial Eclipse”—920L 

“A Hole in the Planet!”—980L 

“Ice Picks”—1000L 

“From the Earth to Outer Space”—1130L 

“Cold Faithful”—1170L 

“The Meteor”—1230L 

“Seven Minutes of Terror, Eight Years of Ingenuity”—1260L

“Climbing Space” (JFK)—1420L 

  • Think of how your students progress in learning a skill to differentiate. Here is an example I recently wrote for analyzing multiple choice questions: 

The answers have been chosen, but why? 
1. Your teacher has circled the answer to each of the multiple choice questions that accommodate the article. 
2. Describe why each of those answers are correct, using specific details from the article, and why other answers may be correct. 

Narrowing down the answers: 
1. Look at your questions. For each multiple choice question, choose an answer you KNOW is incorrect. Explain how you know it is incorrect. 
2. Choose the correct answers as well. 
3. Afterward, with details strengthening the explanation, explain what the main idea of the article is and how you know it is the main idea. 

Citing Paragraphs: 
1. Look at your multiple choice questions. Pinpoint the place in the article that helped you to locate your answer. 
2. Afterward, develop an ACE question people can respond to when reading the story or article you just read. 

Develop Your Own Multiple Choice Questions: 
1. Respond to the multiple choice questions that are in your article. Pinpoint the place in the article that helped you to locate your answer.
2. Afterward, develop two STRONG multiple choice questions that require readers to infer beyond “yes”, “no”, or other concrete/cut and dry answers. The catch is coming up with four multiple choice answers that cause the reader to think and not necessarily choose a specific answer right off the bat. 

Here is one more differentiated idea that focuses on settings, inferences, and the power of description: 

Students will take information they know about a place and write a vivid “mind movie” description with strong sensory language. My example revolves around Antarctica
  • Informational article about Antarctica:
  • Students will watch approximately 5 minutes of this video:
  • They will write down notable facts and phrases:  “The secret to Earth’s future lies buried in Antarctica’s past”, “secrets beneath the ice” “coldest, windiest, driest, most desolate”, “this frosty continent appears locked in a perpetual ice age”, “a colossal cloak of ice”, “the ice is so heavy it depresses the Earth’s crust at least a half a mile”, etc. 
  • They will think about figurative language that describes Antarctica. An example from the video is “Earth’s freezer”. 

Collaborative Structures: 
  • My co-worker Amy suggested the app Team Shake during our fifth grade PLC the other day. In the description on the Apple Store, it states, "The quick and easy selection of random (or balanced) teams eliminates fighting over who will be on each team. Innovative use of the iPhone shake gesture gives users the satisfying feeling of shaking a virtual hat without the trouble of carrying around an actual hat." Teachers can create between 1-64 teams that can be completely random or balanced. Students can be paired according to strengths as well. 
  • I cannot resist the awesomeness of Kahoot. My students gather together to play in Team Mode when reviewing for science unit tests and chapter tests in social studies. The instant feedback is a MASSIVE draw and plus for the kids. 
Varying Up Your Offerings in ELA: 
  • Choose Your Own Adventure stories correlate very well with cause and effect. Students can read books out there and analyze their choices as well as write stories of their own. When I attended ISTE this summer, there was even a workshop on how students can make Choose Your Own Adventure stories using Google Forms. 
  • Simulations are also wonderful for reviewing cause and effect, and they often seamlessly tie in Social Studies concepts.
  • Future Planning-- Have your students write to a professional in his or her field. This can help students to acquire a more advanced vocabulary within their desired career path or a topic they are passionate about. This activity also enhances using proper grammar, addresses writing to a more specific formal audience, encourages students to ask deep questions, and help them prepare for further independent study. 
  • Students also enjoy applying their knowledge to the real world. Analyzing recipes and science experiments as well as phenomena is exciting for cause and effect because students can analyze what caused something major to occur or where something went terribly wrong during experimentation/cooking. 
  • Often, tying in video game elements during a Language Arts discussion gets students thinking quickly. Students can analyze plot elements, cause and effect, and even problem and solution as they analyze cheats/weaponry they have utilized to defeat forces/enemies in the game. 
  • Another extremely enriching activity is a classroom breakout session, which taps into inferring, collaboration, the powers of observation, and (I don't doubt) much more. Check out Breakout EDU to see how teachers are utilizing escape room approaches in their classrooms. Also, if you have the opportunity, real escape rooms like Escapology offer wonderful field trips for students in upper elementary classrooms and older. 
  • In the same respect, I have thought about a concept called Choose Your Own Adventure rooms (I have not seen these mentioned anywhere else, so if you develop a scenario like this, you saw the idea here first and should credit me for sharing it.) I envision teachers setting up numerous artifacts and challenges around the classroom for students to visit in groups as they make choices in a simulation-like activity. The activity may have to be geared for small groups like in breakout sessions so numerous groups do not head to the same stations for choices at the same time. (Really, I guess it depends on how you organize the session.) 
  • Encourage your students to read books that delve into empathy. One excellent book for upper elementary is Wonder by RJ Palacio. Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson is also phenomenal (though there may be a few bathroom-humor excerpts teachers may not desire to read out loud). For an amazing list that spans numerous reading levels and ages, click here
  • This brings me to analyzing quotes; 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne's Book of Precepts gets students thinking about scenarios that apply to various profound quotes. 
  • Last, students can make inferences and develop mini-plots from image collections like these. I titled this Pinterest board "Mystical Novel Settings". 

I hope you can benefit from this list! Let me know if you have any other ideas to differentiate and enhance instruction in these three classes. 

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