Expect Unexpected Engagement When you try Hexagonal Thinking in ELA


288: A Lesser-Known Amanda Gorman Gem
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Active Teaching: 10 Out-of-their-Seats Activities

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Sitting all day is not the answer to life’s great questions. Even if you’re sitting in cool flexible seating, or admiring the most epic bulletin boards, or having a wide-eyed-leaning-in-wowza-kapowza discussion. The school day is long, and we all need a chance to stretch and move and talk to stay awake and interested in what’s going on.

So, time to integrate yoga and Tae Bo? (True story, I once met Billy Blanks in Beverly Hills.)

Probably not.

Luckily, there are a lot of lovely ways to help students get up and get moving in your classroom while still staying true to what you want to teach.

I’m sure you’re already doing some of these, but maybe you’ll find some new ideas in this list, or be inspired to make fun tweaks to what you’re already doing.


You can listen in to episode 162 below, click here to tune in on any podcast player, or read on for the full post.

Today’s episode is brought to you by Kind Cotton, a small family-run business changing the world one book at a time. When you purchase one of their lovely teacher tees or sweatshirts, they donate one inclusive children’s book (and they’re almost up to 80,000!). You can use my affiliate code “BETSY” for 10% off your next purchase right here. I especially like the “Read Inclusive Books” and the “Ban Guns not Books” sweatshirts in the new fall collection!

#1 Try Stations

Stations are one of my favorite ways to teach. They let kids move at their own pace and give you space to move around the room and work with small groups or individuals. Plus, you can cover almost anything with them.

Let’s take a look at a sit-in-your-seat lesson plan, and see how you might adapt it into a day of stations.

Maybe you were planning to have students edit writing drafts. They were going to self-edit first, using a checklist you provide. Then they were going to trade with two different peers to provide feedback, and finally begin their rewrites.

This easily translates out into stations. At one station, they can self-edit with a checklist available at the table, and maybe some additional resources like a citation guide and a model introduction with labeled parts. At another, they can swap with a peer and focus entirely on grammar and spelling, using a poster of common errors to help guide their work. At another, they can swap with a peer and go through a list of questions to have an actual conversation about what is coming through and what is confusing. Finally, since they don’t need you to keep things moving, you can run a station and help struggling students troubleshoot. You could even have a rewriting station if you think you’ll have early finishers moving through all these stations double time.

Cool, right?

Read more: 8 Station Ideas for Secondary ELA

#2 Dive into Escape Rooms

Escape rooms get students out of their seats and keep them there! Together with a partner or a group, they explore your room doing various activities and searching out clues to solve the final puzzle.

Are escape rooms an everyday sort of experience? Well, I spent a month last year researching the best methods for creating them and creating some, and I’d have to say no! I’d either create or purchase one or two for your classes, and then enjoy them as special events year after year. Each one takes a ton of work, but then it really is such a memorable, unique learning experience.

Read more: Escape Room How-To: As to your Qs, Demystifying Escape Rooms: The Poe Case Study

Shop this room: Edgar Allan Poe Introductory Escape Room on TPT

#3 Listen Outside

When I design podcasting curriculum, I often build in several models for students to listen to before they begin crafting their own shows. When a creative teacher inside my Lighthouse membership shared with me that she had her students choose shows to listen to as they took a walk outside, I was on board immediately!

If your students have access to earbuds and listening devices, sharing a podcast or chapter from an audiobook while spending some time in the sunshine is a lovely option. Take a walk around the track, spread out on the quad, or meander wherever you can.

#4 Try Collaborative Annotation Posters

When you’d like students to annotate a text, printing a large version for your wall to go with your annotation guide can help bring movement and energy to the task. Add colorful markers and post-its, and your students can create a meaningful visual interpretation of whatever you’re studying.

As they finish, give them time to wander and see each other’s work as well as present back some of their favorite parts to the group.

Read more: Design and Print Large Text Posters for your Classroom

Shop this Activity: Annotating Text with Collaborative Roles

#5 Perform It

There are so many ways to build performance into your classroom! One of my favorite ways to springboard performance is to build up a theater corner (or shelf, closet, hanging rack, storage box, etc.) in your space, then dip into it regularly.

With even just a few props available, reader’s theater takes on a fresh sense of fun. You can invite student groups to act out scenes from the reading or script and perform “lightning versions” of a text, do class scenes from plays with character props and costume pieces, or even work on a full class play performance.

Read more: The Perfect Theater Project for any Play

#6 Explore Makerspace Activities

You know how I feel about Angela Stockman’s concept of the writing makerspace! (Heart eye emojis everywhere).

Helping students use maker materials to explore their writing ideas before they write can get them out of their seats and thinking in new ways.

Maybe you invite them, as a group, to cover your whiteboard in post-its describing tastes. Then let them snag three post-its as inspiration for a journal entry.

Maybe you bring in popsicle sticks, paper, markers, and googley eyes, and have them each create a puppet. Then get them into small groups and have them write dialogues between their puppets.

Maybe you put out loose parts and invite everyone to find room on the floor and build an idea for an argument. Angela often references the day she invited students to build in response to the prompt “What is unfair?” and students immediately went to work creating.

There are so many ways to incorporate the writing makerspace once you start warming up to the concept.

Read more: How to Start a Writing Makerspace

#7 Experiment with Hexagonal Thinking

Hexagonal Thinking helps students think critically, argue effectively, and improve their group dynamics. (Yep, I’ve got my soap box right here). But it’s also a great way to change up the physical feel of class. You can let students spread out across your classroom or hallway as they construct webs of linking ideas, or you can give them tape and have them create their webs on your classroom or hallway walls.

#8 Try Rotating Circles

When I was in graduate school at Bread Loaf School of English, I took the most magical course called Discovering the Imagination. One of our texts was Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and I’m pretty sure that’s where I first stumbled up on the idea of rotating circles, though it probably wasn’t named that.

Here’s how it works, and yes, you can use it in a MILLION ways in the classroom!

Have your students stand up and create an inner circle and an outer circle. Each person in the inner circle should be facing a person in the outer circle. They’ll do a short activity together, and then you rotate one or both circles so that everyone has a new partner. You’ll repeat this as many times as you wish.

You can use this to have kids talk to a partner about a discussion question. To have them share a short piece of writing they’ve just completed and get a little feedback. To have them present a word wall poster to their partner and quickly review many words. To have them practice a performance poem or speech. To have them share a project they’ve just completed.

The rotating circle is one of my favorite toolbox tools, and it really does help fight that after-lunch lethargy that creeps up on the best of 5th period classes.

#9 Invite Gallery Walks

This strategy is so fundamental to me that I almost forgot to include it! Taking time for students to see and learn from each other’s work is something quick and easy you can integrate practically every day.

Did your students try sketchnotes with a Ted Talk? Have them turn their notebooks around on their desks, stand up, and wander the aisles seeing how other people used icons and sketches to help bring out the meaning of the talk.

Did your students create blackout poetry? Let them tape their work to the walls and wander the room to see each other’s work.

Did your students film one minute videos? You know what I’m going to say.

If your gallery walk is going to be longer than a few minutes, and you’re worried about students staying focused, ask them to complete some kind of feedback task to help each other. That can be as simple as filling out two post-its with compliments, or as complex as voting (with rationale) for awards to be handed out to impressive work.

#10 Speed Dating a Book / Speed Debating / Speed Argument / Etc.

There are a lot of ways to put your own spin on this concept. Line up desks or tables facing each other in a line or lines throughout your room. Each student will face either another student or a book or a prompt (or something else?).

You set up the rules and act as the timer.

Let’s say you’re doing speed dating a book. Every student has maybe one minute to look at the book. They can flip through the front and back cover, check out the review quotes, read the first sentence, etc. They’ve got to hurry because you’re about to hit a funny sound effect on your phone that means “SWITCH!”

Or let’s say you’re doing speed argument. Students will get to a desk, face a prompt, and have two minutes to write a position and two or three sentences to support it. They can’t think too much, they’ve just got to practice forming a quick thesis.

BONUS #11 Hold a Silent Discussion

Silent discussion is one of my favorite strategies for helping more student to participate in class conversations. Sometimes the most outgoing students, and the ones who find their English flows the most quickly, dominate vocal classroom discussions. Of course, you can work with them on this, and help the class grow in terms of their group dynamics. But you can also help all students to see that students who may be quieter have a lot to contribute when you hold a silent discussion.

Here’s a fun way to do it:

Either post prompts around the room on large butcher paper kids can write directly on, or post questions on printer paper and give everyone post-its to respond with. Then give everyone time to move between the prompts, adding responses and reading responses, and sometimes responding TO responses.

I often like to use silent discussions as a springboard into verbal discussions, because once everyone has given some deep thought to the questions and also read others’ thoughts, the conversation flows more easily and with more depth.

OK, that’s a wrap for this week! I hope you found some new strategies to try in the coming months.

Psst. By the way, did you catch episode 160, the expert workshop on the college essay? It’s not too late to listen and snag the free curriculum to help guide your seniors through the college essay process! You can sign up right here.

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I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!







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