Too often, the wonderful stuff we need children to learn about the world is just dry words on a page to them. What is missing is that element that will create meaning or that “something” to which students can relate. Without the ability to relate to what they are learning, internal motivation to learn might be low.
When they don’t learn, check the “packaging”
When children don’t learn, it isn’t because their brains can’t learn. If we embrace the idea that every dry fact (left-brained concept) can be packaged and delivered with enticing right-brained elements, our students’ desire to learn and achievement levels will sky-rocket.
I have two examples from my own school days I would love to share with you. How many of us thrilled to be in history class – reading about all those dead guys and what they did and then memorizing the corresponding dates?
To this day I have very little recall of my history classes. Except for two of them; both of them are burned into my memory. What made those two classes memorable was that both professors mesmerized and enthralled us. They were storytellers, and as I listened, I was there experiencing everything they related to us! I’d stumble out of their classes blinking as I came back to my own reality.
Story is one of the most powerful of teaching tools. Story can put us right in the situation and make it personal to us. It makes material unforgettable. Interestingly enough, when someone hears a story, their brains are stimulated as though they were actually experiencing the story. The scents and smells, the colors, the comfort, the fright, the strenuous race uphill, the chill of the wind – all becomes real to the brain.
Image is another very powerful right-brained element. An image can convey content in a glance, and what goes into visual memory is permanent.
Body movement is a third superpower. Often, what we do is recalled far more than what we just hear.
There are other significant right-brained elements that make for memorable learning experiences. Included are color, music, pattern, metaphor, rhythm. Another important technique for breathing life into otherwise dry vocabulary is word origins and their meanings. A child can learn a big, unfriendly word if he knows what it really means. Memorization is not enough!
1.The water cycle: evaporation, condensation, and precipitation
a. Look at word origins. What is the meaning of “ation?” Ation talks about the act of doing something or the process of doing something. We have to look at the beginning of each word to see what the action is
b. Pattern detection. Each of our three words end in “ation” but the pattern I noticed is that the endings are in alphabetical order: “ration” “sation” and “tation.”
c. Image – here is a sketch I made of the water cycle.
d.Story – The story can be as simple as talking about a family who lived out by the little lake. They loved sit on the hill by the big pine tree and watch the weather. On sunny days, even though they couldn’t see this happening, the hot sun helped the water in the lake to rise in tiny vapor droplets. (Evaporation) These joined together to make fluffy white clouds. Then many droplets bumped together, condensing into bigger and bigger drops… (Condensation) until suddenly, they were too big to stay in the air and they began to fall suddenly. (Precipitation). The family loved every part of this cycle and didn’t even mind getting wet when it rained!
e. Act it out – It is so much fun to have your children act out the water cycle. I did this with my 1st grade class. True story.
i. I was the sun. They were the droplets of water.
ii. We made a big circle of our chairs around the rug.
iii. The students started out lying closely together on the rug – to make a lake.
iv. Next, I stood on a chair and spread my arms out wide – the sun beaming down on them.
v. I prompted them to evaporate. As they chanted “evaporation,” they slowly rose from the rug and climbed onto chairs.
vi. Next, I prompted them to condense. Carefully they got as close to each other on the chairs as they could without falling, and chanted “condensation!”
vii. Finally, as they yelled, “precipitation” they all fell onto the rug again to make a lake.
Children are always able to learn far more than we expect. The keys to unlocking astonishing learning are to suspend any artificial limits we place on children, commit to learn from the child how he learns best, and provide an environment in which this can happen.
First graders can learn big hard words. The key is to make the words make sense and to use them. By adding right-brained elements to dry dusty facts, even young children can learn and understand really big concepts.