To start my Biomes unit this year, I tried something new. I thought it was so successful I had to post about it here. Please feel free to use this and tell me how it goes. I believe the strategy could be used for almost any subject/content when you start a unit. I am going to do my best here to step you through each part of the lesson, but feel free to reach out to me if you want more details.
- On the board, I wrote these directions for when the students came into class. “On a piece of paper, write every word you can think of related to ‘Biomes’.” I did not collect this list and was upfront about that when asked. I allowed about 3 minutes of quiet writing after the bell before moving on.
- On the board, I drew a simple mind map and explained while I drew. I put a circle in the middle and wrote Biomes inside the circle. Then I branched out from the center -Tundra on one side and Desert on the other. Off of these two biome types, I added words like cold, polar bears, Arctic, permafrost for Tundra, and dry, snakes, sand, Sahara for Desert. Then, I added color to connect each of these branching words. For example, I circled polar bears and snakes in red because they were both animals. I explained each of these steps to the students.
- After demonstrating the mind map, I asked students to create a mind map under or next to their word bank. They could use additional words than were in the word bank if they had thought of new ones. I allowed enough time until it appeared 70% of the students were no longer adding to their work.
- Now came the fun part. I gave a 2 foot by 2 foot white board to each table group (3-4 students). I asked the groups to create a mind map that encompassed the ideas of every member in the group. I offered multiple colors of dry erase markers if they wanted them. I expected each member of the group to participate and contribute. To accomplish this, I walked around and sometimes had to do a little prodding to get the more reluctant students to jump in.
- Once the initial board mind map was done, I had them view a different group’s work. To do this, I told group X to go to group Y. When there, group Y would explain their organization strategy, though not read every word on the mind map. Group X would read the words to themselves. I asked Group X to notice what was different from their product and what they would change (add to or delete) from their mind map based on group Y. Then, we switched and Group Y went to listen and see Group X’s product. I only had them share with one other group.
- Next, I showed the train ride clip from “Zootopia” and asked the students to notice what they saw in the clip that might be helpful to add to their boards.
- Groups returned to their boards to make a “final” product. I added a component to this part, though, that I think was helpful. If, while the group was finishing modifying their board, a student had a relevant question, the student was to write the question on a sticky note. For example, if a student asked the group, “Is a city a biome?” and they could not agree on an answer, then the student would write that question on the sticky note. I collected these questions near the end of class.
- I asked students to stand up and share their final boards with the class. I did not ask them to read or describe anything, just stand up and show the class the board. After everyone shared, I read the questions and we discussed them. I did not give answers, just guided a discussion. Honestly, we ran out of time for all of the questions. I will hang onto them for later, but not the next class – probably the very end of the unit.
- Another funny/interesting thing happened. I offered students the option of taking a picture of their boards before erasing them. I was surprised at how many students wanted to take a picture of their boards. By doing this, I also received much less moaning when I asked them to erase the boards.
This was a great starter activity. The initial word banks students created were often very slim, some only had 3 words. By the time class was over (44 minutes later), the group boards were absolutely full. As I walked around, I saw some misconceptions on the board and it was a little difficult to not “correct” them, but I now have some ideas of what we need to make sure and address in this unit.
I think this activity also helped build some confidence in the students. I am excited to see how this unit progresses and what the level of engagement will be for my spectrum of students.
I am also planning to use this intro strategy for other units throughout the year. I would love to hear how any of you use this or a similar strategy to introduce a new unit and to assess prior knowledge.