Meaningful End-Of-Unit Projects

Hey there!  Today I’m blogging about something related to one of my very favorite teaching topics – integrated/thematic units!  When I was in the classroom, creating integrated units was one of my very favorite things to do.  I love tying science and social studies learning into literacy instruction (and math-, when possible).  When my kids are reading, writing, and learning about a topic or theme throughout the school day, they learn so much more vocabulary and gain so much more knowledge than if we are reading random texts during the literacy block and studying a topic only during science and social studies time.  

But moving on from my love affair with integrated units…one of the most important parts (in my opinion) of an integrated unit is the final project!  In a good final project, kids show what they’ve learned.  But in a great final project, kids share what they’ve learned with a real audience and for a real purpose!

Some of the end-of-unit projects I’ve done include:
– Making posters with healthy eating tips and placing them in the school hallways (from my food and farm unit)
– Making books about a topic of study and reading them to younger students or their parents
– Creating a class book about a topic and placing it in the classroom or school library
– Writing letters to the principal or someone in the community to share information and suggestions about how to solve a problem
– Having students participate in a community service project (from my giving project unit
– Helping students create a class video about a topic, for sharing with parents or other students in the school

Sometimes I’ve found that these projects don’t always make a great assessment for the unit – because they don’t thoroughly assess students’ understanding of the topics covered in the unit.  In these cases, I have students complete a quiz or other small project in addition to the more “meaningful” final project for a real audience and a real purpose.  This allows me to get an accurate picture of students’ learning while still providing a meaningful end-of-unit activity.

One of the best parts of developing a meaningful end-of-unit activity is that you can talk about it throughout the entire unit!  When I introduce a unit, I mention what we will be doing at the end in a way that gets the kids excited and looking forward to the project.  This also helps with motivation during the unit (“Why are we learning ____?” “So that we can _____ when we do our final project!” 

Do you create projects or assessments for your students that have a real audience and a real purpose?  Share your ideas below!

Happy teaching!

More Effective Partner Talk

Happy Saturday and happy three day weekend!  Having Labor Day off is always sooo nice after the beginning of the school year. 🙂

You might already know that I also write on the “Who’s Who and Who’s New” collaborative blog, and today I’m teaming up with a few of the other bloggers for a little fun Labor Day Weekend blog hop!  Each one of us will be sharing an idea and a freebie on the topic of student collaboration.

My experience is in the primary grades, and getting young kids to productively work together has always been challenging for me!  But when the little ones do work together well, it’s such a valuable learning experience for them.  

A “turn and talk” or “Think-Pair-Share” is a great collaborative talking activity that can be used in any lesson, any subject area.  You simply ask the kids a question, give them a moment to think, and then have them turn and talk about the question with a partner.  It sounds simple…but doesn’t always go that smoothly with primary kiddos!  Read on for some ideas to help make partner talk more effective.

One challenge I’ve had is that once you even mention that the students will be doing a turn and talk, kids will immediately stop listening and start trying to find a partner.  And then they have no idea what they’re supposed to be talking about!  Here’s what I did to get around this:

1.  Pose the question, just as you would any question:  “I want you to think about this question for a minute:  How would the book have ended differently if the main character didn’t apologize?”

2.  Pause and give students a moment to think.

3.  Give them the “turn and talk” cue:  “Turn and talk with a partner about how you think the book would have ended differently.” (Even if they stop listening after you say “turn and talk,” they’ll at least have heard the question one time!)

Another challenge I had was that when the kids started to talk, one child would do all the talking and the other one would just nod and not say anything – not necessarily because they didn’t want to participate, but because they had intended to say what the first person already said.  One idea to help prevent this from happening is to be very intentional about the kinds of questions you ask.  Open ended questions are best for turn and talk activities.  You can also quickly assign roles for each partner.  For example…

– “Describe the water cycle with your partner.  You should take turns each telling a step” instead of “Describe the water cycle with your partner.”

– “With your partner, make a prediction about what will happen next in the book.  One person can make the prediction and the other person can try to think of some evidence in the text to support that prediction” instead of “Tell your partner what you think will happen next in the book.”

When I was teaching second grade, I also found that using sentence starters to guide partner talk was really helpful.  One person responds to the question, and the second person uses one of these sentence starters to respond to his/her partner.  Here’s a list of “Ways to Respond to a Partner” that you can print and hand out to students or display under a projector during turn and talk activities. Click on the image to download for free!

Graphics by Creative Clips & Melonheadz Illustrating

What other great tips do you have for making turn and talks effective?  Comment below, and then hop on over to Amy’s blog for more tips and a freebie about having students work together!

Have a wonderful and relaxing long weekend!