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These flexible strategies are great ways to increase student learning by having them make connections between the different things they’re learning. I noticed such an improvement in my students’ ability to retain and build upon their learning after I started using these strategies.
These are quick and easy to implement. They require minimal preparation on your part, and best of all, the students will be working harder than the teacher to make meaning of what they’ve learned. You can use these strategies in the middle or the end of a unit, after learning a complex topic, at the end of the quarter, while preparing for state tests, as a quick activity during a novel study, etc. Depending on how you choose to incorporate them, these activities can be short (10-15 minutes), extended to take a full class period, or assigned as homework. Best of all, these apply to any content area and provide a great opportunity to create cross-curricular connections!
Word Webs and Why They Work:
This exercise forces students to think about two different words/topics and find what connects them together. Instead of all their knowledge being in little silos that don’t touch or interact, suddenly they’re realizing, for example, that ideas during the Enlightenment may have fueled some of the revolutions after all. Or maybe they start to see how the order of operations is also important while trying to solve for a variable. If you include terms from previous units, it’s also keeping that information fresh and embedding it deeper because its connecting with current information they’re learning.
There are so many ways you can use this strategy, so it never has to get old! It’s also interesting for students to see how their classmates may create a different looking web than theirs. As long as the information on the web isn’t incorrect, there really isn’t a “wrong way” to do this. Even students who struggle, if given support (perhaps a few lower level words with higher level sprinkled in, a list of definitions, etc.), can do well with this activity. The more new things are connected together and connected to things we remember, the more we retain and understand their significance.
Vocabulary Round-Ups and Why They Work:
The vocabulary round-ups focus on students pulling on the most essential information they learned in the previous lesson, unit, quarter, year, etc. I found that my students waited for me to tell them what was most important or essential and relied on my list of “important terms”. While it’s certainly okay to provide students with structure/background, my students stopped thinking for themselves. Doing these vocabulary activities gets students doing the thinking, working, and questioning. They had to think about the topics we covered and determine what was most important/essential. It helps them to look back at the content we covered and see the big picture of how it all fits together.
In some cases, they will have to defend why they think a term is “essential”. In other cases, they may have to make connections between the words in creative ways through sorting or pairing words together. Ultimately, students will be owning their learning, and that’s what we always want!