Active Participation in Preparing for Class Activities
Make handouts for the activities you do during class that have several steps such as science labs or other group activities that require a process. Make sure that what you are asking students to do is written clearly with all the details they will need to complete the task. Then try the following:
Ask the students to carefully read through what they will be doing. When they are finished, use a document camera or an overhead projector to display what they have just read.
Students can take turns explaining the process and writing the steps in summary form on the board or another overhead transparency.
If a student has difficulty explaining a step, point out the step on the displayed text and ask other students to assist in analyzing that portion of the text. Unknown vocabulary or syntax may be interfering with comprehension, and oftentimes other students will be able to help out.
The students can then demonstrate their understanding further by going ahead with each step of the task, getting feedback from other students and from the teacher.
This activity forces students to read carefully and analyze portions of text instead of waiting for the teacher to explain what they will be doing.
When you are finished discussing a topic for class, ask the students what else they would like to find out about the topic. They can research the topic further and find related topics to read and write about.
For example, as an extra credit assignment, students could find an article on the web or in a magazine related to a topic they have just covered in class. They could read the article and write a short summary of it to present to the class.
Emphasis here would be on content, but students could take advantage of any English tutors or instructors to make sure they have expressed their ideas clearly.
Ask students to watch close-captioned educational programs and other dramas related to topics you are studying in class ("CSI" for a class on Forensic Science, "Law and Order" for a Social Studies class, "West Wing" for a class discussing politics, etc.). These shows can be taped and left on reserve for students, making it easier for them to take notes if necessary. Teachers can develop questions about the content for students to answer individually or in groups.
A writing assignment can be developed from this activity that asks students to explain how realistic they think the program was, based on what they have learned in class or from their texts. They could use specific examples from class or texts to support their reasoning.
Look for related newspaper articles and bring them in for students to read and discuss during class. These can be used as a springboard for new units or as reinforcement of concepts being taught. Students can also bring in articles related to course content that interest them. Discuss content, new vocabulary, idioms, etc.
To encourage students to reflect on what they are learning in a course or what they are having difficulty with, ask them to keep a learning log. Students should have a separate notebook for their logs, with entries at least once a week for the duration of the course.
Every couple of weeks, collect the learning logs and respond to them in a way that encourages students to reflect further on problems and concerns they are having. Similar to journals, students write in their logs in their own language.
Each log entry can have specific questions to answer to guide students in their writing. Some examples of questions to use after students have read a chapter in their text are listed below:
What interesting material did you learn in this chapter?
Which part of the chapter did you enjoy the most? Why?
What new vocabulary did you learn in this chapter? How have you tried to remember these words?
Were there parts of the chapter that were more difficult to understand than others? If so, why do you think they were more difficult? How did you finally come to understand the difficult parts?
Which questions at the end of the chapter did you get wrong? Did you make careless errors?
What part of the chapter you just read would you like to learn more about? How can you pursue this topic?
What questions do you still have about this chapter?
If you want students to reflect on a class activity or another type of assignment, you can modify these questions or you can develop your own questions.
During labs or other activities when students are asked to predict what will happen, ask them to write their prediction in their notebooks. This ensures that everyone will at least think about the question, try to come up with a prediction, and put it into words (active, rather than passive, participation in class activities).
Share some of the students' responses on a document camera or an overhead projector. Again, emphasize the importance of making the prediction, not being right or wrong about it. During the course of the activity, as students collect more information, they can modify their predictions.
Try adding some creative writing assignments to course content. Sometimes students become bogged down with trying to adhere to discipline-specific forms of writing. With creative writing, students are free to explore a concept or process in a fun way and still show their understanding of course material. Here are a two examples:
For a biology class, ask students to "become a slice of pizza" and write about what it feels like to be eaten. They could describe the process of digestion from beginning to end from the point of view of the slice of pizza.
Ask students to put themselves in a soldier's shoes who is writing home to a girlfriend. This assignment could coincide with various historical time periods the class is studying and could include details about specific battles or other events.