The Art of Manipulation

Thursday, August 15, 2013
brought to you by Lori

Getting your kids highly engaged in a secondary English class is hard, but it can be done! This year, helping kids who needed acceleration demanded that I find ways to get them engaged and keep them engaged. 

Typically kids who struggle in English think differently. Often [but certainly not always] they are good at spatial organization and they are kinesthetic learners. They don't like to sit and read and talk and write. They want to move, touch, organize, and think. 

That's a tough learning-style to tap into, so here's how I have successfully used manipulatives. 

In the fall, I organized and planned for Camp Onomatopoeia--a 2-Saturday writing camp to help retesting kids. Camp O focused on writing, so it offered lessons in essay planning, revision, and grammar. [Those are all lessons guaranteed to bring any teacher to her knees, so I promise to blog about them in the future.] 

Flying at 10,000 feet, here is what the revision session looked like. This is just about the simplest way to use manipulatives, and was more cutesy than anything. The brain does love novelty though, and this lesson was lots of fun for both teachers and kids. I took simple sentences [The fish was big. There were so many stars in the sky. The marshmallow was sticky.] and cut them out and stuck them to little die cut fishies. Students were then given strategies to develop those sentences with way more detail and then they wrote them on the bigger fish. I really wish my big fish matched my little fish just a bit more, but hey...go with what works. These were fun finished products to post in the hall.

Camp Onomatopoeia--"Gone Fishin'"
A Lesson in Revision
This next one is less cutesy and definitely more bang for the buck. I LOVED this lesson. I taught it under the premise that all sentences are trails with clues (or trail blazes) about where to go and how to read that sentence. I taught a whole group session showing students how different parts of the sentence work. To make it work, I used laminated sentence strips and stuck magnets to the back. As I taught, I moved kids around, I made kids stand in front of other kids...I even eventually had kids tell other kids where to go. Once the sentence was formed, we could stick it on the white board because of the magnets. It really was a powerful session for kids who had never really understood how a sentence worked or why they needed a comma. 
Camp Onomatopoeia--"Sentence Trails"
Whole Group Lesson

During that same session, I broke them into small groups and had them play with smaller maniuplatives at their desks. The packet of maniuplatives included independent clauses, dependent clauses, FANBOYS [coordinating conjunctions], and AAAWWWUUBBIS words [subordinate conjunctions]. For 5 minutes, I'd tell them to make compound sentences. Then for another 5 minutes, I'd tell them to make complex sentences. If you give the kids a vis-a-vis marker, they can even add in the appropriate punctuation and clean up the desks later. 

Camp Onomatopoeia--"Sentence Trails"
Blazing our sentence trail with words and punctuation

Now...little known fact...I'm actually a mind-reader, and I know that you're already thinking..."ain't nobody got time for that!" And you're almost right. Creating manipulatives is SO time-intensive, but the payoff is huge! For the fishies above, I was lucky enough to rope in a parent volunteer. For every other subsequent manipulative packet--it's been me and Suzanne, scissors, trash cans, and a whole lot of laughter! Sometimes does get overwhelming. This summer, I prepped classroom sets of manipulatives for 7 different teachers!! SEVEN! I promise that it will never, never, never be that bad for you. You can do a set of manipulatives in a couple of well-planned hours.

Here are a few nitty-gritty details to help you keep your sanity while you work on the art of manipulation:

  1. Spell check does not recognize the word "manipulatives". It's annoying. Just get used to it telling you that you are wrong. [But you know inside that you're right because I said so.]
  2. Color-code them!! When you find the random word "because" laying on your floor and you're not quite sure who it belongs to, it is WAAAAAAY easier to find your green group [and give them the ugly teacher face for losing materials] than it is to reconcile each group's manipulative envelope.
  3. Keep them in resealable envelopes. Suzanne and I steal borrow these from the office downstairs on a regular basis because they've got cool little brads for closing.
  4. Finally, when you're done, bundle them together with a rubber band and label the bundle. The one in the picture even reminds me that it is camp themed. Trust me...once you get cranking on these bad boys, you'll want good record-keeping. 

Good luck perfecting the art of manipulation and student engagement! 

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