If you are getting ready to kick off a new unit, and want a no-prep, no-planning idea to get kids in the zone, here’s something I tried last week that worked great. It’s sort of a takeoff on a SCOOT activity that is so popular in the primary grades, but with a twist for older students. It makes for a great pre-assessment or “brain dump” activity.
My 5th/6th class was ready to start a geometry unit, but they are ALL over the place as far as skill level and math experience goes (levels in the class range from 3rd grade to high school math level). I needed an activity that would engage all students, get them moving, and get them motivated for the unit.
1 blank piece of paper for each student
That’s it – see? Easy!
Tell students that they will have 2 minutes to write down/draw everything they know about the topic. My topic was “Geometry,” but this same technique could have just as easily been replaced with something else (desert habitats, the first Thanksgiving, the solar system, fractions, etc.). I showed students how our tables would rotate. In my classroom we have 4 tables with 3-4 students at each table (I know – I am extremely lucky to have such a small class). I repeated the order of the rotations a few times, but I tried to have kids rotate in a way that would be easy to remember. I told students that when they got to a new spot, their first order of business was to read EVERYTHING on the sheet, and then add their own ideas.
For the first rotation, students started off at their own seats. I reminded them to write down everything they knew about geometry, but to keep quiet and focused on their own papers. The high level students wrote down geometric formulas, while some of my lower kids wrote/drew very simple things, such as a square or triangle.
After 2 minutes I yelled, “SWITCH!” and students left their papers, but took their pencils with them to the next rotation. (You could yell “SCOOT” or another key word at this point). I reminded students to read over everything before writing their own ideas on the paper. At this second rotation I heard one student say, “Ohhhhh! THAT’S what geometry is!” This student had mistakenly mixed up the words geometry and geography on his initial paper, but now realized he was supposed to be writing/drawing about shapes and not physical locations on the Earth.
After the initial 2-minute rotation, each rotation after that was 1-2 minutes, depending on how focused or squirrelly the kids were acting. You could definitely use an actual timer for this procedure if you wanted to.
I circulated the room and encouraged kids to label drawings that other kids had started, correct any errors they noticed, etc. Once in a while I would say something like, “Hmm, no one has mentioned parallel or perpendicular lines yet” or “I wonder if there’s a way you can determine if an angle is acute” and kids would grab onto these not-so-subtle hints. I was happy when one student drew a shape and labeled it “tube” and the next student wrote the word “cylinder” next to it.
My class is really small, so every kid was able to scoot to every place and then land back in their original spot. In a large class, you will probably be able to tell when students are starting to burn out – I think about 10 rotations of 1-2 minutes each is a good number to shoot for. Here is another example picture – not the best quality, but you get the point.
Here are a few reasons why I loved this activity:
- All of the kids were engaged
- The kids got to MOVE/SCOOT, which they love doing and kept the momentum of the activity moving
- All kids got to tap into their prior knowledge, no matter how much they knew about the topic
- All of the kids had a great understanding of geometry by the end of the lesson
- The kids learned about geometry from reading what other people wrote on their papers
- I was able to collect the papers afterwards and see if there were any misconceptions that needed to be cleared up
- The kids seem to be really engaged with the geometry unit, and I think that having such a positive experience on the first day really helped with that
This is definitely an activity that I will repeat in the future. Making sure to tap into prior knowledge is key to a developing a successful unit of study.
Do you have a great idea for kick-starting a unit or tapping into prior knowledge? We would love to hear about it in the comments!
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