Teachers have more instructional choices than ever before. Online lessons, classroom simulations, centers, discussion groups, videos to name a few. How do educators strike a balance meeting curriculum goals, state standards and keeping busy middle school students engaged? Mini lessons are key components to this goal. Every week they are built into science lessons and they help students connect topics and understand larger goals.
What is a mini lesson
A small 15-minute direct instruction lesson where the teacher introduces, reinforces or challenges students to learn a topic. For example, when my student engages in the Bouncing ball lab, a classic science lab where students graph the relationship between drop height and rebound height. Prior to the start of this activity, we do a brief discussion on data types and analysis of data. This sets them up perfectly understand why they are studying data in science lab. Mini lessons depart from a traditional classroom lecture in the length of time, rather than a 40 minute teacher led session, these are broken down into smaller segments more suited for middle level students.
What is a mini lesson made of?
Bell Ringer (3 to 5 minutes)
Students need to be engaged quickly at the start of class, bell ringers can be anything you can bend, twist or connect to the lesson. The other day I posted stats from students favorite NFL team and asked them if the stats indicated a win or a loss (drawing conclusions!). Or when doing a genetics problem to open class themed after sponge bob, while playing a Sponge Bob music track, kids loved it. On a side note, it was fun to watch 8th graders (who are too cool for about everything) sing Sponge Bob. Aside from getting kids on track at the start of class, these also serve as great classroom management tools (Busy hands are happy hands!)
Core Lesson Next 10 Minutes
This is the section where you get to talk, ask questions, probe and activate your learners on a subject. I specifically target these to our “objectives” which are classic learning goals. Speak with enthusiasm, teach like your hair is one fire. This is the most fun part of teaching. This is where kids connect to the person that is their teacher. Don’t be afraid to add kids to your discussion, I frequently throw kids into black holes (talking about scientific theories), push kids off the roofs (scientific laws) in these sessions. Kids laugh. The minute you speak a student’s name in this type of session you will be sure to get smiles. In addition, high quality visuals help connect students to the concepts being taught especially your visual learners.
During this session notetaking skills are taught. Students need to be able record thoughts, ideas and concepts to review and reflect upon later. I like the Cornell note method because of the Summary section you find at the bottom of the page. The summary is perfect for a next day bell ringer or end of class closure session. It is essential to have kids reflect on what they learned in a few sentences within 24 hours, this goes a long way developing long term learning. I generally provide some sort of incomplete notes for kids. This ensures I am meeting my students IEP requirements. I would rather err on giving everyone help, then ignore kids who need it.
Length of Mini Lessons
Mini lessons need to be adjusted based on grade levels. Sixth grade would be closer to 10 minutes while Eighth graders could be stretched to 20 minutes. Each grade level in unique and you will find that pacing and on task behavior linked. Eight graders preparing for high school can handle longer sustained sessions, with deeper questions and a faster pace than sixth graders.
What do I do afterwards?
This is where classic middle school activities come into play. Lab activities, cooperative learning groups, individual practice follow the mini lesson. This allows kids to get up and move, apply what they learned and explore different concepts. Mini lessons connect the dots between lesson activities and major course concepts. Middle school kids move from one place to the next, its important to give them opportunity to reflect and grow. Additionally face to face group teaching provides that personal connection that students crave.
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