Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Vocabulary Activity: Fortunes

I always struggle making vocabulary engaging (beyond the gestures and worksheets).  One activity that always has my students excited to interact with words is called Fortunes.  I true Chinese fortune fashion, we create fortunes for each other using vocabulary words in context.  This activity allows for creative writing while being brief.  With the time constraints on teachers in our high-stakes testing situation, Fortunes is an activity that can be completed in under 10 minutes.


  1. Pass out a small slip of paper to each student.
  2.  Ask students to write a "fortune" on the slip of paper in a complete sentence.  I use the slide (image below) to guide their fortune writing.  I place emphasis on the no death/dismemberment section because, let's be honest, middle schoolers love that kind of gore and, though it catches their attention, it has no place in the ELA classroom.
  3. Have students fold up their fortunes and place them in a hat/container.
  4. Redistribute the fortunes by having each student choose one out of the hat/container.  
  5. Read the fortunes aloud and see what their futures hold!  Note: they LOVE doing this part!

7th Grade Humanities

This year, a colleague and I are embarking on a new challenge: a collaborative co-taught Humanities class.  The class is going to encompass both 7th grade Language Arts AND 7th grade Social Studies. In an effort to best prepare our students for the state test along with our need to have a different type of class for some of our students, we have developed an inquiry based curriculum that is driven by a large project.  Before I get to the nuts and bolts of the class (see future post), I thought I'd share some of the steps that we have taken in order to get this class up and running.

1. Get approval and support from the building level administrator.
We are super lucky because our building administrator is very supportive and is willing to take a risk with us.  I can't tell you how important it is to have you administrator behind you, especially when you're taking a risk.  Props to Mr. R!  He helped us create a course description and helped us go through some of the steps below.  We couldn't have done it without his guidance and support.

2. Get approval from district administrators
This involved quite a few emails.  We emailed our course description, a list of supplies that we would need for the class, and a description of how students would be selected for the class.  Again, we were very lucky.  Our superintendent saw a value in what we are trying to do and was very supportive.

3. Get approval from the school board
We pitched our class to the Board at a meeting.  We presented our course description, rationale, resources requested, and fielded questions from the Board members.  They all seemed very excited about this class, but were concerned about the application/selection process.  Thankfully, our building administrator was in attendance and helped us answer some of the more difficult questions.

4. Determine the schedule and capacity
After getting approval, we then had to see when and where this class would take place.  We wanted to be sure that students in this class were getting the same amount of class time dedicated to Social Studies and Language Arts as all of the other students in their grade level.  For that reason, the scheduling was somewhat difficult.  We had to find 2.5 class periods for these students to be together.  We also had to consider a class capacity.  This was difficult because we were essentially taking two classes (roughly 50 students) and determining how many we could fit into a single classroom.  For the first year, we decided that we would accept 30 applicants.  In the future, this class will most likely be available to 50-60 students.  Thankfully the class coming up to 7th grade is relatively small, so it didn't impact other classes that much.

5. Pitch the class to students
This was the interesting part.  We held a meeting in the morning for any interested 6th graders.  We had a packed house!  Even after talking about the requirements, we still had many students apply.  I'm sure that it partially is due to the fact that this is a "special" class.  A video promotion and talk given by both of us (the teachers for the class) was enough to encourage many students to complete the application.

6. Hold an informational meeting for parents
We held a meeting after school for any interested students and their parents.  We aim to have full transparency with our curriculum and wanted parents to know that there would be a different teaching and learning style in this course.  Many parents came and asked great questions.  They were able to look at the class resources, see the course description, ask questions about grading, and get to know the teachers a little before the applications were due.

7. Select students
Students had to 1- attend the student meeting, 2- have a parent attend the parent meeting, and 3-submit an application. If they did all of those things, they were put in the running.  After we had a list of perspective students, we asked their 6th grade teachers to let us know if any of the applicants struggled with group work or independent thinking.  After that, student names were literally placed in a bucket and drawn out.  We emailed parents and let students know if they were accepted.

We are currently working on our curriculum, which I will share in detail at a later time.  Hopefully this listicle will help you if you are interested in starting a new class at your school!