Mini Lessons to get students writing in the subject areas:

Representing Data in Picture Form:

  • Using the following presentation, walk the students through a quick write. This can be done to introduce a topic of making sense of numbers in written form, or just as a way to get them writing about numbers and graphing.

Here's a quick guideline for the lesson:

  1. You will need to project the image in large format for the students to see the detail as we zoom in.
  2. Anticipatory set: Ask the students to think about what numbers mean to them? What do they represent? How are they relative (use the 100 lbs of bricks/100lbs of feathers analogy here)
  3. Tell them they are going to be looking at images that represent numbers.
  4. Begin presentation
  5. After the first image, give them 5 minutes to respond to the prompt at the bottom. At the completion of this, use some cooperative grouping. For this one, since the time of writing and thinking is short, a pair/share might work best.
  6. Use a few students as examples to share to the whole group to get a feel for where they are.
  7. Show them the second image and ask them to re-assess and add to their original thinking. Ask them to hypothesize about what they are looking at.
  8. At the completion of this, I'd again use a cooperative group actiivity--probably a round robin, where in groups of four students are asked to speak to the other three members of the group within a time limit.
  9. Lastly, show them the last image of the close up. Let them view it for a few moments and then ask them for oral responses.
  10. Have them do a one page response to the three questions at the end of the presentations.
Also, here is the presentation in PDF format:


Lesson Plan #1: "Metacognition"- Teaching Students to Think About Their Thinking
Overview: The purpose of this lesson is to help students begin to understand how to communicate their thinking.
Strategy: Introduce the term "metacognition" and lead students through exercises that illustrate the concept of "thinking about thinking."
Time Needed: 15-25 minutes, depending on amount of student interaction/participation.
Materials Needed: Overhead projector, pens for overhead, writing journals
1. Introduce "metacognition" by writing it on the overhead and explaining what it means. Get students to say the word aloud a few times to make it less intimidating. Then you might tell a story about research in how the human brain works.
2. Tell students that the more attention we pay to our thinking, the more we'll come to understand about the process of thinking. Although we're used to just being concerned about the results or the "answers," if we pay more attention to how we think, it would help us to think more clearly, and improve the quality of our results.
3. As a non-threatening exercise to illustrate metacognition, ask students how they decided what to wear that day. Ask three or four students to share their answers out loud. Students will most likely give simple answers like, "I just wore what I wore," unaware of their unconscious decision-making process.
4. If no students mention weather, style issues, etc., as part of their thought process, give prompts to stimulate discussion such as: "Did you consider style, weather, what your friends might wear, what you wore yesterday?" Ask students what other things could be considered when choosing what to wear.
5. List their ideas on the overhead. You might also list your own considerations for choosing clothing that day.

Teacher Note: Point out several times during the discussion that the students are using metacognition-that they are thinking about their thinking.

6. Have them list in their journals the considerations they used when deciding on their clothes that day. Ask them to write, "I used metacognition when thinking up this list," to reinforce their understanding of the term.

7. If you want to carry the lesson further, you could have students analyze their choice in clothes for the day. Had they made the best choice? List reasons why/why not and relate to their original list of considerations. Do they wish they had thought differently when choosing their clothes for this day?


Here is a list of prompts you can use throughout the year to help them get a sense of who they are as a math student (borrowed from this site):
1. Write down some of the early math accomplishments that you remember from when you were little. For instance, when and how did you learn to count? How old were you when you could first count to one hundred? Who taught you? How did they teach you? Did you "show off" this new talent to others?
2. When you were in first, second, or third grade what did you like about math? What didn't you like about math at that time?
3. What do you remember about learning to add and to subtract? Which did you think was more fun? Why did you like that one better?
4. What was your teacher's name in first, second, or third grade? _ What kind of teacher was he or she in regard to teaching mathematics?
5. Did you have any "tricks" you used to remember adding or subtracting?
6. In what ways is adding and subtracting important?
7. Was math ever your favorite subject?
If so, when was it? What about math made it your favorite? If math has never been your favorite subject, what about it do you not like?
8. From your experience, do you think boys or girls tend to like math better? What makes you think this?
9. Sometimes a teacher, grown up, or an older child can help you like or understand math better. Did that ever happen to you? If so, tell about it. If not, tell about how that would have made a difference for you.
10. Sometimes people can recognize a time when their opinion of math dramatically changed either for the better or the worse. If such a time happened for you or for a friend of yours, tell about it. If you did not experience such a thing, tell about your steady feelings about mathematics.
11. Lots of times students think what they learn in math is only for the classroom and is really not of much use outside math class. Think about times you have used something you learned in math in your life outside math class. List some of those times when you used math outside of school.
12. What year in school was math the best for you? What made it a good year in terms of math?
13. What year in school was math one of the worst for you? What made it a bad year in terms of math?
14. If you were in a lengthy conversation about math or math class with friends of yours, what would be some of the things you would say? What would be some of the things they would say?
15. Draw a picture of you and the idea of mathematics.
16. Draw a picture of all you know about mathematics.

Control Yourself!

This four-minute video brings up an interesting point about ethics and science. What if you could control your brain to a degree that you had never known before?

Lesson ideas:

  1. Anticipatory Set: Ask the students a few questions about self-control: how do you calm yourself down? what do you do when you are in pain (reaction)? How does the process of thinking work (scientifically--ask them to explain the process in basic terms)?
  2. Each student should take some notes on the video as it plays. When it's done, ask them to react in conversation with someone across the room (make them get up--you could have used some way to pair them up before class began). Give 3 minutes of discussion.
  3. Ask the students to write their reaction after their discussion (5 minutes)
  4. Share with class by taking examples and by random pick.
  5. Now, ask them to expand the thoughts using these questions: what are the benefits you see with this technology? What are the drawbacks? How would you use it on yourself? What would you enhance? What would you try to eliminate?
  6. Culminating question: Does this strike you as odd or something that will be normal for everyone in the future? Who will be opposed to this type of research and practice?

Biodiversity and Ethics:

Should we be trying to prevent species becoming extinct? If so, why?

  1. Goal: Students will be able to formulate a brief, but informed opinion about the above question.
  2. Give students a quick pre-test (can be done by show of hands,, or paper survey and have partners check and discuss misconceptions about the terms biodiversity, ethics, endangered species, etc.
  3. Give them the chart below, perhaps, piece by piece, or pro first, then con second. You can summarize the information into smaller chunks if you need to, but in the end, this is the information that they will be using to make their decision and support their in-class argument.
  4. Have them write a one-page position paper on this issue.
  5. Further options include having them take this piece at the end of class and discuss it in Socratic Seminar format; have the students take this home and put it on their blog, then take samples from each class and use them to foster discussion at a later date; show them examples of scientists on both sides of this issue: Lovejoy's lecture, or this from the Wall Street Journal.
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The species Homo sapiens is unprecedented and unique among all life on earth. Human sentience and intelligence far surpass those of other creatures. These gifts have allowed human beings to populate the earth, construct industry, and affect the environment in a way that no other species can. This great power comes with great responsibility, and we should avoid abusing the earth, lest we cause irreparable damage - damage like the extinction of species and the consequent reduction in biodiversity cause by deforestation, over-fishing, hunting, the illegal trade in ivory and other species etc.

The idea that extinctions will lead to ecological disaster is an exaggeration. Fossil evidence shows that mass extinctions have occurred many times throughout the history of life on earth, one of the most recent being the mass demise of the dinosaurs. After every collapse of biodiversity, it subsequently rebounded, with the earth coming to no lasting harm. Extinctions are simply part of the natural evolutionary process.
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Protecting endangered species is an extension of our existing system of ethics. Just as modern civilisation protects its weaker and less able members, so humanity should safeguard the welfare of other less privileged species. Animals are sentient creatures whose welfare we should protect (even if they may not have the same full 'rights' that we accord to human beings).

No species on earth would put the interest of another species above its own, so why should human beings be any different? Furthermore, since the very beginnings of life, Nature has operated by the Darwinian principle of "survival of the fittest". Life forms that cannot keep up with the newest species on the block will always risk extinction, unless they adapt to the new challenge. Man has no obligation to save the weaker species; if they cannot match our pace, they deserve to die out and be supplanted by others.
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The most successful pharmaceuticals have often used Nature as a starting point. Antibiotics were first discovered through the study of fungi, and many anticancer drugs are derived from the bark of exotic Amazon trees. Every time a species becomes extinct, scientists forever lose an opportunity to make a new discovery.

Modern science has advanced to the point where inspiration from Nature is no longer required. Today, medicines derived from natural products are in the minority. In any case, the upcoming era of genetic engineering will allow mankind to rid himself of disease without resorting to medicines.
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As occupants of this planet, we must have respect for other life forms, especially since life on Earth may be the only life in the universe. We can show this respect by taking every effort we can to prevent the extinction of existing species, thereby preserving biodiversity.

Even if this respect was justified, its expression comes at a significant cost. Biodiversity policies are financially costly and spend taxpayers' money that could be better used on healthcare and social services. It does not make sense for us to concentrate on other species when humanity has not yet sorted its own welfare out.
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Biodiversity is a global problem and demands a global solution. The developed world should apply pressure on the developing world to adopt more environmentally friendly policies.

Environmental protection and the protection of biodiversity are very much a luxury of developed nations. Many of these policies are beyond the financial means of developing nations, and implementing them would stunt their economic growth and disenfranchise the population. It is hypocritical for the West to criticise the lack of environmental protection in the developing, considering that the West got to its current position through an industrial revolution that paid no heed to biodiversity and other such concerns

Think Like a Genius

  1. Use "Clock-buddies," to have the students set appointments with other students around the room. They will need two different appointments.
  2. Question: Are there specific things about "geniuses" that we can learn from? What makes someone more "intelligent" than someone else?
  3. Have the students write on those questions for about 5 minutes.
  4. The students should then meet with their first appointment to discuss and compare their writing.
  5. Random polling of the students to get a feeling in the room.
  6. Distribute a slip of paper that you cut from this document that details a classic critical thinker/genius.
  7. Each student must read his or her slip of paper and think about it in light of what they have already written and discussed.
  8. At this point, they will find their second clock buddy and discuss their slip of paper as it relates to the first two questions. Some students will have the same slip of paper, others will not.
  9. Assign 5 students to be the "thermometers" and tell them that at the end of the discussion, they will be called upon to summarize the discussions they were in.
  10. Buddies form pairs of four and continue discussion about the slips of paper in light of the original two questions.
  11. Poll the 5 students and open the discussion to the entire class; create a graphic organizer in the front of the room based on their responses.
  12. Students return to their original writing and re-state what they feel about the traits of "geniuses" using the fodder from their discussions and from the organizer in the front of the room.
  13. Follow-up: have the students track down modern examples of genius in various fields of study and post about them on their blog, or open class the following day with micro-presentations from student volunteers.

Storyboarding for How It's Made

Having your students storyboard a short "how to" movie.

  1. Start off by showing them one of these above, or find a video of your own at either Youtube, TeacherTube, or another video site. I would stick to the "How It's Made" series from Discovery Channel, just because they are assured to be rated G.
  2. Once the students understand the concept of the video and have seen the multiple steps involved in these processes, give them a few moments to brainstorm from a set of pre-determined subject headings.
  3. These subject headings should be general enough so that the students will have to pick something much more specific. For example, teachers could have subject headings that deal with science or math topics (classification systems, rock formations, long division, multiplying fractions) life topics (sneakers, the shirt they are wearing, a football) or social studies topics (a senator, a bill or law, a work of art). Once the students pick their specific topic, they can begin to storyboard. Here is a storyboard template you can download and allow your students to use. They must draw out the story in each of the frames before beginning any type of script writing.
  4. The students can then begin writing their script for their "how it's made" movie. While this lesson is only for 55 minutes, their are some obvious extensions you can build on here:
  5. You can ask that the students research specifically how their idea is "made" and compare what they thought v. the truth (this one will work well for clothing and apparel).
  6. You can ask that they actually do the filming and have a small "How it's Made" film festival in your classroom.

Authentic Conversation in the Classroom

Submitted by Frank Champine on 03/11/2008
This idea can be used in most any classroom where students have the skills of independent reading. Where students are weak in this area, some differentiated strategies may be necessary.
Select a editorial from your local newspaper, better a commentary. Notice at the bottom of the article you will find the email address of the writer. This is critical. Hook the students by asking open-ended questions about the theme or topic of the article. Develop strategies to open the reading in a deeper fashion. Example: Have students decide on one word that captures the meaning of the article. Place that word in the center of the circle and have students find supporting evidence from the article to enhance the Big Idea of the article. (See K. Gallagher's Deeper Reading: Comprehending Challenging Texts, 4-12 for more strategies.) Have students form teams and begin a free discussion of their "Power Word" and why they feel the article targets that idea. This sharpens students argumentation skills.
Next move the class into a large circle and conduct a Socratic Seminar on the questions you develop that require students to support their responses from the article. (Search this site for more information on how to run a Socratic Seminar.) This helps deepen the meaning of the big ideas discovered by the other students and it provides students with time to reflect and revise their own thinking. Allow 15 minutes for the discussion. Keep teacher input to only asking questions or clarifying active listening responses. Ask students to evaluate the seminar and see if their is a conclusion that can be drawn from the reading and the discussion.
Finally, have students write a response to the author of the article. This provides a meaningful method and motivation to enter into the writing process to develop a publishable response. Allow students to Email their response or questions to the author and to you the teacher. This authentic writing provides purpose to the assignment, it puts student work in the public domain, and it provides students with a sense of civic involvement - participating in the flow of ideas in the real world.

What's Not in Wikipedia?

This is a quasi-research project, that may be used to help students choose a research project. We have come to depend on this tool for all forms of research and information, and our students have as well. But how does it function? Who puts the content up there? How do we verify it's truth?

One of the best ways to do this to have students search for topics, ideas, places, or pieces of information that are not on wikipedia.

What to do with this information:
  1. If you've got time (a few days) you can develop this into a lesson that allows the students to actually create the wikipedia entry. This will give them the ability to see how the process of editing a page works. It's not a simple process, and it's governed by a community that sticks to rules very strictly.
  2. If you'd like to keep this to a one or two day lesson, then have the students create the entry in written or typed form, complete with links and images. You can then create the account in wikipedia and enter in the information you have gathered. As they information is vetted by the wikipedia community, show the students the dialogue that occurs and the changes that take place in the document.

Inanimate Resumes

Ask your students to write resumes for concepts, non-human animals, single-celled organisms, or anything associated with the content from the previous year's curriculum.
  1. Note: it's a good idea to force the students away from writing resume's for famous people--they've probably done that. Ask them to create something atypical here.
  2. Use this site for some free templates for the students to model after, or create a standard one they can all branch out from. (You can even allow multiple levels of access here. Some students will need more scaffolding, while others will be willing to create their own template or beyond).
  3. Here are some sample concepts:
  • mitochondria
  • golgi apparatus
  • any type of fungus
  • an acute angle
  • the repeating symbol placed above the numbers in a long division answer
  • a semicolon
  • a chloroplast
  • xylem and phloem
  • DNA
  • Haiku

Push thinking, push connection and transfer of content knowledge into this medium.

Images and Flash Writing

The idea behind this is to get them to see a few images that either they uploaded, or that you generate using a slideshow maker (I am using bookr) and have them quickly pour out their writing onto a page. Each image starts a new piece of writing. Many things can be done from here.

Other ideas and options for this one:
  • create the slideshow around a similar theme (search using tags) and ask the students to write within some constraints. For example, you could create a slideshow around images from various structures from the ancient world and ask the students to write as if they are archaeologists telling a brief history of each.
  • Show random images and ask the students to try to tie two or more of them together using a small item or object within the image. Create a narrative based on those items or objects.
  • Constrain their mode of writing: show them images of toxic waste cleanup sites and ask them to write a press release from the company explaining how they have no responsibility to the people of the community to clean it up.

One Sentence

Taken from their website: "
One Sentence is an experiment in brevity. Most of the best stories that we tell from our lives have one really, really good part that make the rest of the boring story worth it.
This is about that one line.
This is about telling the most interesting or poignant story possible in the least amount of words.
This is about small bite-sized pieces of extraordinary lives and ordinary lives alike... the happy, the sad, the funny, the depressing.
Tell your story."
Here are some other examples to use from their page:

Compare and Contrast and Metaphor Exercises

These are classic and can be done with nearly any topic from any content area. Using any of these graphic organizers, or ones you have on your own, have the students compare and contrast any issue you choose, or link new learning to images to create metaphors.
  • Three Light Bulbs: compare and contrast three perspectives on one issue (great for political issues).
  • Metaphor Cards: Present the students with a list of vocabulary they should know and have them work in pairs to create as many metaphors with the images and the vocabulary as they can. This could be done as a game where the groups of two judge the validity of the metaphors created by the other teams.
  • Analogy creation: using stock vocabulary words from the previous year's curriculum, ask the students to create new analogies using the a:b:c:d format.

Random Quote Generator

Using this tool, you will have a random quote appear on your website, blog, or Moodle page everyday. This can be an easy jumping off point for writing.

Quote DB