Here are some of my recent favorite EFL activities.
We managed to finish the ‘Personal Excellence’ bulletin board just in time for Back-to-School night. We ended up writing a list of adjectives. It was easier for the students to understand when they thought of it as a fill in the blank activity. For example, “I’m showing personal excellence when I’m (brave, generous, kind, etc.).” We started applying these qualities as we worked on our first fiction and non-fiction language arts unit on pets. Our journal topic became, “What personal excellence qualities do you need to own a pet?” As you can imagine the list they each came up with was long. Afterwards they enjoyed talking and sharing their ideas.
I’ve also been watching intently to see when the student’s energy rises and when the joy starts showing through their eyes and faces. Naturally, this happened as they talked about their pets. Since I wanted them to experience more this year I knew I had to have a “pet day”. I asked them to bring in their pets if they could (pictures if they couldn’t) and share their pet stories with the whole class. It was just plain fun learning and sharing! Thanks to help from many parents, we had many dogs, birds, hamsters, a python, two bearded dragons (that's one of them on the right), turtles and tortoises. No cats, because of student allergies. Next week we have to practice our 5 paragraph essays complete with introduction, body, conclusions. The topic will, of course, be PETS to make it less painful!
I must say that sometimes the rise in energy and joy catches me by surprise because their interests are so varied. For example, in attempting to make history more relevant for them we went over the meaning of the phrase, “We are who we are because of what we and others did in the past.” For homework I had them bring in an “artifact” (one of their vocabulary words) that was personally significant from their past, that had made an impact on their lives. It could be a personal or family item. I learned so much about each student from this activity. I found one girl’s intense interest for antique typewriters! Her eyes lit up as she brought in and shared her 1917 Corona typewriter and talked about the other two that she had at home. Another student who I thought was already struggling academically went into a 5 minute detailed scientific lecture on all she knew about the trilobite fossils that she and her grandmother had found. As she talked all her self-confidence came out with the passion she felt about the subject. I learned so much along with my students!
With EFL I know instilling a sense of service is important. I’m helping to start a service project for the 6th graders this year, usually this has been provided for only our 7th and 8th graders for some reason. A handful of teachers and I are helping the students start an environmental program and turn the school into a Green Ribbon School. The students need to help make the school energy efficient. They are tackling the waste produced by our cafeteria. They are setting up recycling,waste, and even compost bins with clearly marked posters that they made. They also take turns standing by the bins and helping their classmates figure out where the different leftovers go. This is a big job since we have around 400 6th graders!
The last experience I want to share this time is about one of the things I talked to the parents at Back-to-School. As I shared some of the new ideas that I had learned through Education for Life I talked about the week long field trip that we always take in 6th grade when we go to Outdoor School. We go live in the redwoods near the California coast and attend an environmental education program that teaches about the different eco-systems in our region. It’s definitely experiential and it also costs $315 per student. This year I knew from studying EFL ideals (specially Nitai Deranja’s examples) how important it is for students to participate in raising at least a percentage of the fee for a program that is for their own personal benefit. The school does provide a fund raiser where the families sell gift wrap and the students get 40% of what they sell towards their $315 fee. This year I encouraged the parents to let their child earn part of the money as well as take direct part in the fund raiser. The students came up with quite a creative list of things they could safely do as eleven year olds to raise money like garage sales, car washes, lemonade and cookie stands, working for family businesses, dog walking, pet sitting, lawn mowing where among the top choices. We go in March 2013 so they have a few months to raise the money.
Since I’m making this up as I go along this year, I have to gauge the energy of my students before I know what will happen next. I have lesson plans but where they will take us depends a lot on the students. I will keep posting the most interesting experiences.