As part of the Twitter ELL book club, I read The ELL Teacher's Toolbox by Larry Ferlazzo and Katie Hull Sypnieski. I love being part of this book club, as I have been exposed to strategies for working with ELLs - and ALL students - that I might not run across otherwise. The unfortunate part about this particular book was that we started reading it at the end of the school year, and I did not have time to implement all of these ideas that had my brain swimming in excitement.
One activity I have been anxious to use in my classroom since last spring is Katie Toppel's Nine Box Grid. The authors acknowledge that they have modified this strategy, and I have to acknowledge that I, in turn, modified and magnified the strategy for my own needs based on the time constraints of the camp.
The Nine Box Grid involves creating a nine numbered boxes. A word is entered into each box, and they are used one at a time in a writing activity. During the school year, I am likely to use related words that we are learning in class, but due to limited time with my camp students, I chose to use a random word generator to come up with the nine words. These are readily available online. Some allow you to choose the words you want; others provide a set list. I used different types of generators for different groups of students to test out how I could make this activity work. My higher level classes received a specific set of words; my still-working-on-it groups were able to choose words from those provided to build our own list.
I also turned the activity into a writing challenge by adding in rounds, For each round, the students received a topic (I also used an online generator for this). We started by writing about a topic with one word from the nine box grid. After completing a round, I changed the topic and increased the number of words. Most of the classes completed four rounds.
- Round 1
- Run topic generator
- Pick a number on a card (the book says to use dice, but I don't even know where anything is in my classroom right now)
- Write a sentence with the word in the box matching that number that connects to the topic
- Share out
- Round two
- Run topic generator
- Pick two number cards
- Write a sentence with both of the chosen words, connecting to the topic
- Share out
My camp classes consist of English language learners (I have one student who has been here for two years, and she speaks eight languages), 504, special education, Pre-AP, and academic students. Within all of these groups, there was a great deal of groaning when I said we were going to write. I am happy to report that this was not the case by the end of the activity. The kids truly rose to the challenge. If we do not find ways to make writing fun for our kids, regardless of which student groups they fall into, those groans will never go away. We have a responsibility to light a fire within our students.
In addition, I have a special education co-teacher with me during one of my class sessions. She loved this activity, and her final class of the day joined mine in order to participate. She took lots of notes and said she is excited to use this with her kids once we return to school. When we model these activities for others, and they get to see how the kids respond, we spread the wealth.
Do not be afraid to take risks and try new things. Be contagious. Our kids deserve it.