This past week, I tried an experiment with my 7th grade. We have been working on recognizing main ideas in the text and then finding the facts that are connected with them, important skills in history. My colleague and I decided to have them work on an activity that gave them the facts and have them build the category from the facts. We brainstormed a list of significant characteristics of an empire and added some facts that explained or were connected to the category: for example, clear boundaries was a category and mountains, strong military, oceans were some of the facts that we used.
Then I got to thinking about using movement to engage the students and build a richer experience of working with the information. The weather looked wonderful. Beautiful autumn day! We enlarged each fact to 48 point font and glued them to construction paper cards, different colors for each category. All of the Clear Boundaries ones were on green paper; all of the One Leader were on purple, etc. Then we laminated them, just to make them sturdier.
When the students got to class, we marched them outside to the playing fields and gave each one a few cards. We told them to scatter them all around the field and the back porch, not hidden but far apart, and to then come back. They clearly thought we might have lost our minds, but they also that this was better than sitting inside on a beautiful day, so they ran around, dropping their cards. When they were all back, we put them into groups of four and gave out their worksheets. The worksheet had 6 boxes, one for each category. The top line was labeled Purple or Green Category and then there were 5 lines, one for each of the facts. We explained that their job was to run around and collect all of the facts for each category and then, when they had them all, to figure out what that category was.
They loved it! They ran around, sometimes in pairs, sometimes alone, sometimes as full teams, racing around collecting facts. It took about 30 minutes for them to collect and record all of them. By that time, they were ready to sit down and discuss what they found and what it meant.
The next part was challenging for them. They wanted the category to be obvious, and they didn’t like being told that they were heading in the right direction but not there yet. This happened frequently, because they would focus on 2 or 3 of the facts and ignore the others. They wanted Clear Boundaries to simply be Geography, but as they worked at it, they got better at looking at all of the clues and building from them all.
When I asked them at the end why we had had them do it this way, they immediately answered,”Because it was fun!”
“Because it got our brains working!”
“Because we’ll remember it!” All of which were true! And I hope it works!
It was a day of running and laughter, shouting and listening, wrestling and finding solutions! A wonderful way to enjoy the day and learn new skills at the same time.