Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Jimmy Fallon Guide to Test Prep (Part 2): Word Sneak Vocabulary Review

One of Jimmy Fallon’s favorite games to play with his guests is Word Sneak.

The rules are pretty simple: Players receive a random set of words, and are instructed to sneak them into a casual conversation or story.

What makes this segment so interesting is that since the words have no connection to one another, a casual conversation is next to impossible to pull off. So these impromptu dialogues are entertaining, absurd, and sometimes downright hilarious. 

Watch Jimmy Fallon and Steve Carell attempt to have a casual conversation using words given to them by the director in this Word Sneak  video clip.

Tonight Show Clip

Word Sneak is a fun way for students to apply and review vocabulary words in any subject area. What students are actually being asked to do is use their vocabulary words in sentences - but since Word Sneak is being presented in a game format, it doesn’t feel like a traditional use-the-words-in-sentences exercise.  

Sometimes, I have students practice in pairs before I ask for volunteers to present publicly, but most of the time I ask for volunteers to play Word Sneak extemporaneously in the style of the Jimmy and Steve video clip.

On the Tonight Show, guests are each given 5 words. In the classroom, 3 words work best. Weaving 6 words into a conversation or storyline is far more manageable than 10, and more students get a chance to participate that way, too!

I use playing cards as game cards because they give the activity more of a game show feel - and because they make it easy for students to keep the cards in order (e.g. Jack, Queen, King). 

Verb Word Sneak 
Since kids tend to shuffle the cards as soon as they receive them, playing cards help them to reorder the cards once the activity starts. I also put the words and the definitions on the students’ cards so players can concentrate on their story ideas instead of having to recall the definitions first.  The audience members, however, simply see the words projected on the screen as the players are using them.

It's easy to make your own Word Sneak game by attaching vocabulary labels to a deck of playing cards. If you want a shrink-wrapped verb deck/game you can find one on Amazon, or you can download a set of Verb Playing Cards featuring a Verb Word Sneak game display on TpT.

Are you a Jimmy Fallon fan? Check out this content review game called, The Jimmy Fallon Guide to Test Prep (Part 1): Random Object Shootout, and the classroom version of  Hasbro's Catch Phrase in The Jimmy Fallon Guide to Test Prep (Part 3): Idiom Catch Phrase.

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That's it for now, so until next time...stay committed...teach with passion...and inspire students with who you are. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Best Teaching Advice I've Ever Gotten

When I first started teaching, I designed every lesson with the if-you-build it-they-will-come mindset. I figured if I could build a lesson I was excited about, my enthusiasm would be so contagious that every student would come to class eager to learn. 

So I spent hours creating anticipatory sets, content memory hooks, and if-you-thought-today-was-great-wait-until-tomorrow endings.

Sometimes it worked. 

But sometimes it didn’t.

The tragic part, though, was that my joy was linked to my students’ reactions to each lesson.

My Worst Nightmare

The possibility of looking at a sea of frozen faces and glassy eyes staring at random spaces behind me was my greatest fear.

Whenever this happened, voices in my head talked to me.

One voice would say, “You’re doing fine. They just came back from lunch so, of course, they’re feeling a little lethargic. Besides, everything can’t be fun.”

At the same time another voice (a much louder one) would shout, “Hello! Look at them. They may not have drifted off into dreamland yet, but this lesson is putting them to sleep faster than a lullaby.”

A Dream Come True (No Genie Lamp Required)

What I didn’t know then and what I do know now is that if I continued on with a lesson while student energy levels were low, any words of wisdom I was hoping to deliver would be rejected.

So what kind of lucky break or magic trick can turn a lifeless lesson into a memorable one?

The truth is that it isn’t about luck or magic any more than making a dream come true is about rubbing a lamp and having a genie grant it on the spot.

The key to getting kids to focus and participate…is the ability to BE FLEXIBLE.

So whenever I sense that an important lesson is bombing, I STOP THE LESSON.

Sometimes I’m slick about it, but sometimes I just stop mid-sentence and pull out Plan B…or C…or D - any plan that will prevent the lesson (and me) from crashing and burning.

The best part is I only need a few go-to lesson savers, to make sure my worst nightmare doesn't turn into a recurring dream.

Energy-Changing Backup Plans

Here are three backup plans which have helped me transform a classroom of apathetic students into enthusiastic ones - often before they realized they were zoning out:

#1 Make a No-Speech Speech

4-Minute Podcast with Step-by-Step Instructions

Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Walk to the front of the room, stand behind a podium or table and say, "Good morning."

Step 2: Then look directly at someone in the class and count to 3 in your head. Look at a second student and count to 3 in your head. Look at one more student, count to 3 in your head, and say, "Thank you very much."

Step 3: Walk back to your chair and sit down.

Have each student try this No-Speech Speech while fellow classmates observe. 

* This exercise never fails to stir up curiosity and reset engagement levels. As an added bonus, it gives students a non-threatening way to practice public speaking.

Check out this entire no-prep strategy and suggested follow-up lessons on YouTube.

#2 Vote From Your Seat

Here’s how it works:

Step 1:  Make a claim and ask students to express their opinions by…

staying seated if they disagree,

standing up if they agree, or

placing their hands on their desks if they believe both sides have merit.

Sample school-related claims: 1) I believe school should start at 11:00 AM and end at 5:00 PM.  2) 50% of required classes should be given online.  3) The school year should be longer 4) I like gym class. 5) I like to read. 6) I think all classes should be pass/fail.

Step 2:  Call on several students to defend their opinions.

* Since students find out quickly that they might be asked to defend their positions at any time, they get their answers ready - just in case the teacher picks on them to share that day.

#3 Create Alphabet Scripts

Sentence Variety: 90 Second Alphabet

Here’s how it works:

Step 1:  Show students a "90-Second Alphabet" Whose Line Is It Anyway? video clip.

Step 2:  Have students write down 7 letters in alphabetical order. Skip three lines between each letter or use this free template.

Step 3:  Announce a setting. 

Sample settings: Six Flags, a cafeteria, McDonalds, a bowling alley, K-Mart, a beach, Chuckie Cheese

Step 4:  Have student pairs take turns writing every other line of a seven line script. For example, if the letters are A-G, one person writes the lines beginning with A, C, E and G while the other person writes the lines beginning with B, D and F.

Step 5:  Give all students a few minutes to practice. Then ask for volunteers to act out their scripts.

* This is a great sentence variety exercise disguised as a brain break. 

Watch a demo of this fun activity on YouTube. 

Flexibility Payoffs

Abandoning great content because students do not seem interested in it is never wise. But neither is attempting to deliver great content to a lethargic or resistant class.

The fact is that good teachers know how to read students and how to adjust energy levels throughout a lesson.

Mastering this skill is a game changer - because once teacher’s and the students’ energy levels are back in sync, that’s when it’s time to go back to the original plan and start again. 

If I had learned this lesson earlier in my career, it would have made consistently delivering meaningful and memorable lessons a whole lot easier!

Thanks to ELA Buffet and Desktop Learning Adventures for hosting this blog hop. Be sure to check out more best-teaching-advice posts below.

Until next time…stay committed…teach with passion…and inspire students with who you are.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Short Story Recommendation: The Chaser

If you like story lines filled with mystery, manipulation, and magic, you’ll love The Chaser by John Collier.

This little story poses big questions like...
…what constitutes criminal intent?
…what qualifies someone as a victim?
…what types of decisions (if any) determine destiny? 

As the story unfolds, Collier compels every reader to wonder, “What would I be willing to do to gratify my deepest desires?” 

This well-crafted story is guaranteed to inspire lively (and sometimes heated) discussions in middle/secondary classrooms.

Check out The Chaser online or in Milton Crane's 50 Great Short Stories.

Close reading activities, step by step plans, and task cards are also available here:

Single Story

That's it for now, so until next time…stay committed…teach with passion…and inspire students with who you are.