“If I had more time, I would’ve written less.” – Pascal
As a class, choose a word that best describes something under study. Then ask students to argue for or against the word as a good word to describe the topic of study. It doesn’t matter what they choose, they are still isolating critical attributes of the topic and learning about it. It’s okay to brainstorm three different words, if that’s easier, and allow students to pick one on which to chew.
“The new government regulations for the meat-packing industry in the 1920’s could be seen as an opportunity.”
“Manufacture is not the best word to describe photosynthesis.”
“Picasso’s work is an argument for increasing funding for the fine arts programs in our schools.”
“NASA’s battle with Rockwell industries over the warnings about frozen temperatures and the O-rings on the space shuttle were trench warfare.”
Point of View
Manipulating information for an alternative viewpoint requires students to distill and review critical attributes of a topic. For example, students can tell the story of digestion from the points of view of the bolus passing down the esophagus, the villi in the small intestine that have capillaries receiving and carrying nutrients to the bloodstream, or a muscle in the body that finally receives the nutrients from the food ingested earlier. Students can retell a historical incident from a biased participant’s point of view. They can reveal the truth behind a pronoun being a subject or an object based on which one did the action and which one received the action. No matter which one they choose, students review important features of the topic, and by looking at them from a different angle, they internalize more information for a longer period of time.
Changing perspectives on an event no matter how small is illuminating. Students can retell a story or account of a scientific, mathematical, or manufacturing process, a moment in history, a chemical’s reaction, a concerto’s performance, or a comma’s position in a sentence (from the ending quotation marks’ perspective). In each, students incorporate essential facts and concepts just learned.
Save the Last Word for Me
Ask students to read the intended passage either the night before or in class prior to discussion. If possible, ask them to make reading notations in light pencil. Once students have read the material, ask them to identify three or more sentences they deem worth discussing. These sentences might anger them, pose conflict, cause confusion, support something they believe, or beg further confirmation from students’ own lives; it doesn’t matter. Remind them that they will only choose one of the three sentences to offer the group, but they are choosing more than one in order to have alternative choices in case their first and second choices are taken by someone else.
Following the reading and identification of talking point sentences, divide students into groups of three to five, and ask one member of each group to read a line that he or she marked. It doesn’t matter whether or not it was marked with one of the standard reading notations. It should be one of the three or more they identified as worth discussing. This first person reads one of his sentences aloud only; he doesn’t add any comments or in any way responds to it.
After the first sentence is read, each person in the group other than the first person who made the statement reacts to that one line – agreeing, refuting, supporting, clarifying, commenting, or questioning. After everyone else has had a chance to make a personal response to the statement, the originator of the line gets to offer his or her commentary – “getting the last word” on the topic.
When this round of discussion is done, the next person in the circle calls out his or her chosen line from the text, and everyone responds to the line before this second person offers his or her commentary, and so it goes with each member of the group. Watch your time – This can take any where from 15 to 45 minutes to complete, depending on how experienced your students are.
Once you’ve taught something that has multiple categories like types of government, multiple ideologies, cycles in science, systems of the body, taxonomic nomenclature, or multiple theorems in geometry, you’re ready to do a Sorting Cards summarization. On a chalkboard, posterboard, or bulletin board, place the titles of the categories studied. Then provide students with index cards or Post-it notes with individual facts, concepts, and attributes of the categories recorded on them. Allow them to work in groups to place each fact, concept, or attribute in its correct category.
The conversation among group members is just as important to the learning experience as the placement of the cards, so let students defend their reasoning orally and often. If it’s hard to set this up vertically, don’t be afraid to push back the desks and tables and do it on the floor, in the hallway, or in another room entirely.
If you would like students to do this individually, then it’s wise to ask students to cut out little pieces of paper (one for each fact, concept, or attribute) in advance. You can give them the terms to record on each piece of paper as well. If they make their own pieces like this and place everything in an envelope or Ziploc baggie, then students can practice the activity at home, too.
The summarization occurs every time a student lifts an individual card and makes a decision on where to place the card. He’s weighing everything he’s been taught as he considers his options. If others question his placement, the discussion furthers the impact. If there is great dissent, and it results in students referencing their notes and textbooks for more information, it’s teaching Nirvana.