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Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Collaborative Place Mats: A Brainstorming Technique for Middle School Humanities

I have been working closely with the literacy support teacher at my school recently.  She and I have been co-teaching a Grade 8 Social Studies class and today I'd like to share an activity that she introduced me to: Collaborative Place Mats.  This technique is especially helpful at the beginning of a project or inquiry to help groups start to brainstorm about their big idea, topic, or question.

Before we began the activity, we talked as a class about what behaviours we wanted to follow as we worked in groups.  Students offered ideas, and they were recorded on chart paper.

From their criteria, I created a self-assessment checklist for the students to use as a reflection after the activity.

Once we had established the guidelines, we explained the place mat activity.  Here's how it works:
  • Each table received a piece of chart paper with our project question in the middle.  In this case, the question was "How would you provide for people in a community."
  • Each group separated the chart paper into equal sections, one for every member of the group, then we asked the students to write their names in their sections.
  • Students had 2 minutes of silent writing time to think on their own and write their ideas in their section of the place mat.

  •  After the 2 minutes were up, the students took turns explaining what they wrote down to the other members of their group.  Each student got 1 minute to explain while the other students listened silently.
  • After every student in the group shared his or her ideas, then the other students could ask questions.  We gave the groups 5 more minutes for questions and discussion, encouraging them to write more if they had more ideas.
  • We then asked each group to choose 3 or 4 ideas to share out to the whole class. As the groups were sharing out, each student was encouraged to continue writing down ideas they liked on their own place mat.
  • After the groups each shared out, the students had a chance to walk from table to table to see and read the other groups' place mats.
This was a great way to unpack a lot of their initial thinking on our topic.  It allowed everyone's voice in the group to be heard and validated.  Now, as they work their way through the project (creating their own self-sustaining communities), I will have the place mats posted to remind them of their collective ideas.

I used this technique in a Middle School Social Studies class, but I really believe it could be differentiated for any grade level in any subject area. 

Have you used this brainstorming technique (or something like it) before? Let me know what worked/didn't work for you in the comments below.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

French Growing Bundle

I've created a growing bundle of beginner French resources that will save you time and money!

What will I get?

Right now, the bundle includes enough resources for a full semester of French!  It includes all of my beginner French units (je me presente, family, clothing, community, sports, school), my regular verbs unit, my passe compose unit, and all irregular verbs lessons (avoir, faire, aller, and etre) at a savings of over 15% what you would pay to buy them all separately.

What is a growing bundle?

As I make more French resources, I will add them to this bundle.  Whenever a new product is added, you can re-download the bundle and get all the new updates. What's better is that you won't have to pay for the new updates!

For example, today's purchase price is $27.00.  When I add more resources, the price will go up, but if you paid $27.00, you get all the new updates for free. 

What will be added?

I haven't decided yet!  If you have an idea for a unit theme, irregular verb, etc. that you would like to use in your class, please let me know in the comments below, or by sending me an email at

Where can I buy the bundle?

Simply click here to see what's included and to purchase this bundle!

Saturday, 11 February 2017

French Irregular Verbs Bundle - Aller, Avoir, Faire, Etre

I have combined my irregular verb packs on TpT into a convenient bundle!

Click on the picture below to redirect to the product listing page.

For each verb, there are conjugation notes (in present tense), a practice page, notes on how to form the verb in negative (using ne..pas), and a page to change positive sentences into the negative.

See examples below: 

You can buy the packs separately, too.  Click on the pictures to be redirected to the sales page.

What other irregular verbs would you like resources for?  Let me know in the comments below. 

Exploring Artifacts to Spark Critical Thinking - Middle School Social Studies

This term, I've partnered up with the Literacy Support teacher in my school for my Social Studies 8 class.  For two blocks each week, she comes into the classroom and we co-teach lessons for the Grade 8s.

She has more experience and so many more ideas than me, so it's been amazing getting to work with her in the classroom and learn from her.

One idea that she had was to do an artifact study to explore culture and to spark critical thinking. This is what we did over the course of 4 days.

Day 1:  
As a whole class, we had a discussion about artifacts.  My co-teacher, Laurie, is Ukrainian and brought in a Ukrainian headscarf from her family.  She didn't tell the kids a lot about the scarf at teh beginning of the lesson.  Instead, she asked them to observe it, ask questions, and arrive at conclusions about it.  

For example, one student noticed it was made from wool, and concluded that the people who made it must have had access to sheep to collect the wool.

After the students had a chance to observe the item, Laurie shared a little bit of history of the scarf, just to satisfy the curiosity of the kids.

The enduring understandings that came out of the discussion were: 

Artifacts are human-made objects.
Artifacts can tell us about the people who used them.

These two statements became our big ideas for the rest of the lessons. 

Day 2: 
Laurie and I brought in several random artifacts and gave one to each table.  We asked the students to go around from table to table to observe and describe the artifacts, make connections or conclusions about how they were used and what they could tell about the people who used them, and ask questions about them.

We tried to pick artifacts that the students would be unfamiliar with, such as a camel mask, but some were simple household items.

The artifacts were numbered by table.  We had 9 in total, but only had time for the students to explore 5 or 6 each.

 The amount of conversation and questions coming form the students was amazing!  They were noticing details and making connections and thinking critically.

We asked them to record their observations on a page similar to this:

The observation sheets were used as formative assessment.

Day 3:  
We gave feedback on the observation pages and returned them to the students. 

We broke into 2 groups, with me taking half the students and Laurie taking the other half, and had discussions about the activity from the day before.  

We let the students discuss the artifacts and their conclusions/questions.  It was great to hear the debate over the artifacts that they didn't agree on.  For example, there was one object that some people thought was a belt, and others thought was a guitar strap.  For another artifact, half the class believed it was a musical instrument, and the other half thought it must be a decorative statue.

We also talked about what made for really good, deep-thinking questions.  (This discussion helped later in the month when the students were crafting questions for an inquiry project on Vikings.)

Most of the kids wanted to know the true story about the artifacts, but we didn't ever tell them the "real" uses.

Then we repeated the activity from Day 2, but this time we used new artifacts and each table just had one to analyze.  We pushed them to go deeper into their description, connections, and questions.  That analysis was taken in for a summative assessment and given a grade.

Day 4:  
The students each brought in an artifact that represented themselves or their cultures.  The students decided what the criteria for the presentations should be.

They students shared their artifacts and self-assessed according to the class-created criteria.

Overall, I think the mini-unit was a success.  It allowed for a lot of collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and questioning from the students.

Have you done something similar?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Family Photo Shoot on the Windiest Day of the Year!

This year for Mother's Day, my siblings and I got my mom a family photo shoot.  We haven't had family photos taken with everyone since my grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary 8 years ago.  My nieces and nephew weren't alive yet, so we needed updated versions!

We live on Vancouver Island on the west coast of Canada.  We're surrounded by natural beauty and beaches, so we decided to use the ocean as our backdrop.  It was a gorgeous day, but it was so windy!  As I kept reminding my mom, it just made the photos look more whimsical :)

Here are some of my favourite shots.
Watching the ferry boats

My sister with her husband and kids

My nephew, Caleb

My niece, Emily

My niece, Nati
My parents

Me and my siblings

My parents  with their kids

Me :)

Another shot of us watching the ferry boats :)

My brother and his daughter

All of us

Friday, 26 August 2016

Early Explorers to Canada Unit - Cabot, Cartier, Frobisher, Champlain, and Hudson!

I've been working on this unit for awhile and I'm so glad it's ready! 

This unit has biographies, reading comprehension questions, maps, and puzzles for five Early Explorers to Canada - John Cabot, Jacques Cartier, Samuel de Champlain, Martin Frobisher, and Henry Hudson.

In it, you'll find:

I've also included answer keys to all the questions and puzzles (except the Cartier maze).

 Download the unit here!

Are there any other explorers you'd like to see in this unit?  Let me know in the comments below!