Beyond the K-W-L: Activities that Activate Schema

One of my most popular posts this past spring was about alternative closure activities beyond the exit slip strategy.  After seeing the K-W-L activity (A brainstorm of what students know, what they want to know, and what students learned) over used often by teachers and pre-service teachers, I felt the need to create a list of alternative activities to kick off inquiry in the classroom.  Here are ideas, in addition to K-W-L charts, to activate prior knowledge and are alternatives to the traditional brainstorm.

1. Anticipation Guides – Before a new unit or a reading develop six or more true/false questions about the topic for students to respond to or agree/disagree with.  For example, prior to reading an excerpt from Ian Stewart’s Letters to a Young Mathematician, I asked my students to respond True or False to the following statements: Math is a bunch of numbers; I use math every day in my life; One should not have to worry about basic math because we have calculators and computers to do that for us; and There is math in everything we see, use, and do.  There were a total of eight statements regarding math on the Anticipation Guide.  After the reading I asked students to go back to the anticipation guide and check for accuracy in terms of the content of the article.  This became a great discussion tool for after the reading as well.

2. Four Corners – A great idea that was suggested by The Learning Network blog and a technique similar to an anticipation guide.  Students are asked to react in some way to a series of controversial statements about a topic they are about to study.  In Four Corners, students move around the room to show their degree of agreement or disagreement with various statements about, for instance, the health risking of tanning or toddler beauty pageants.

3. Gallery Walks – Another suggestion from The Learning Network, and a way to immerse students into a topic at the beginning of a unit is a Gallery Walk.  This is a teacher-created collection of images, articles, maps, quotations, graphs and other written and visual texts that offers students information about a broad subject. Students circulate through the gallery, reading, writing, and talking about what they see.

4. Webquest – Similar to the Gallery Walk, a Webquest is completed online and students are given a specific role to help investigate a topic or subject.  Whether they are a private investigator or a rock historian, their objective is to find clues and evidence that will help them understand a topic.

5. Quick Write and Journaling –  Ask students to write down or respond to a question or statement.  For example, “What would you do it if . . . ?”  Students could then get into small groups or with a partner to discuss their writing.

6. Poll Everywhere – Take your anticipation guide or pre-test online and have students use their mobile devices to answer questions regarding a topic – these questions should be true/false or agree/disagree.  There are many different free polling sites like polleverywhere and polldaddy to easily create an online quiz or survey.

7. Possible Sentences – Give your students a word splash or create a Wordle using a variety of words that will be in the reading or the subject being studied.  Students can work independently or in small groups to create possible sentences or make predictions about the words they will come across.  Later, students can revisit the sentences to check accuracy.

Another idea with the possible sentences is to have students create a “gist statement” using many of the words on the word splash which they predict will summarize the reading or topic.  Finally, they list the things they hope to discover as a result of the words they didn’t understand or questions that inspired the process (This idea comes from Daneils & Zemelman’s Subjects Matter)

8. Dramatic Role Play – Students work in pairs or small groups to act out a situation or event they will come across later in the reading or subject.  For example, in social studies class where the students are going to study the Boston Tea Party, break up the students in small groups and give them role play cards with a brief description about the event (don’t name any names yet). Students brainstorm and then act out what they would do.  Each group can take on a different perspective or give each group a different type of reaction to see different responses to one issue.

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