During much of my career so far, I’ve fit into the traditional teacher model, where the span of my unit usually fits in some way into the following setup: I deliver content up front through an example, I complete a model with my class, I let my students pair up and work on it with someone else, and then I have them try it themselves. During this last step, hopefully I can assess their learning.
The last days of this model are dreaded to me, as either one of two extremes happens: I either am bored out of my mind, begging students to ask me for help, or I am swamped with questions because my students realize at that point that they don’t quite get it yet. In this latter case, usually the questions are the same over and over again. Perhaps you’re in the same boat.
To change this, I’ve started offering Mini-Lessons in my classroom. These lessons are always review topics on something we are either practicing now or something that we’ve been building on this year that some students might still not have down yet.
You can download a copy of my mini lesson request forms at the following link on my TPT store for just $1! https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Mini-Lesson-Request-Forms-4492079
As an example, my students are currently writing an essay using evidence from the text. Because many of the students are working at different spots and different paces, today I offered these two mini lessons (shown above) so that they could receive help from me in a small group. We learned the graphic organizer yesterday, and we’ve been building on that thesis statement all year. It’s interesting to see that not many needed help on the more recent thing we’ve learned–the graphic oraganizer–but more needed help on the bigger monster, AKA their thesis.
I have students sign up for the mini-lessons on my whiteboard so I can gain an understanding of what topics are needed. If one fills up the entire way, I will usually deliver more whole-class instruction on it before holding the mini-lesson. (I can guess that it might then be a fault of my own that so many students still need help.) I also always tell my students that if they didn’t originally sign up, but then decide they could use the help, they are always welcome to just join us without officially writing their name. While I deliver the mini-lesson content to the students who sign up, the rest of the class is working at their own pace, quietly.
During the mini lesson session, I usually break out small white boards that I can show the group of students examples on. The mini lessons are totally unscripted; I don’t prepare worksheets or extra work for the kids. I simply talk with them and do an informal review presentation to them, specific to their concerns.
For the lessons, we usually just sit on the floor in a circle together. I sit, too, and I like that this shows I’m down on their level and approachable. For some classes, of course, I’m not able to do this as I need to keep a better watch on some of the kids for behavior reasons. You’ll know when it’s a good idea and when it’s not. Sitting at another table so you are more elevated can eliminate any of these concerns.
So, why do I think this mini-lesson system has changed my classroom?
- It helps my students with their retaining skill. Middle school students in general have a short attention span, but we also need to consider our students with specific educational needs regarding attention. When you think about all of the instruction that they receive throughout the day, it’s clear that they learn A LOT and expecting all students to just pick up from where they left off the day before (AKA maybe 9 classes prior) is unrealistic and almost unfair. Some students are able to jump right in, but for some, having 5-10 minutes to review with the teacher can help them drastically.
- No matter how friendly or approachable you think you are, some students are still afraid to ask you questions. I’ve circulated the room over and over again and somehow missed (once for 2 days!) that one of my quieter students was stuck on something and was afraid to ask me for help or accept my help when I asked if she needed any. Because she was stuck, she was unable to complete the assignment on time. Whenever you offer specific sessions, it allows kids to just sit and process the information again. This requires very little bravery!
- They create “positive peer pressure” where students are able to see that they’re not the only ones who need help. There’s something cool in middle school about joining in with the group, and I love to see the “cool” thing being getting extra help from the teacher! Using the sign up’s or seeing the circle of students form makes other students want to join in. I love this!
- It challenges my class to think more critically. For those days or periods that I was swarmed with questions, many of my answers ended up being either questions in return (trying to get them to figure it out on their own) or helping to point them to resources that I’ve given them that could assist them in figuring it out. Whenever I’m not circulating, and instead am giving mini lessons to small groups, it seems that many of my students back at their desks rely more on themselves to solve their problems by quietly asking a neighbor or checking their binder resources instead of always defaulting to me.
- I feel rejuvenated enough to make dinner, hang out with my husband, and play with my dog! On a serious note, I used to come home drained from answering 500 questions in one day (many of which were the same question over and over), so much so that when my husband would ask me what was for dinner, he would either receive a frowny face or a “is there a place you can find this information?” Not cool of me. Now that I can answer questions once with a small group of students all hearing the answer, I feel like I have the energy to still be a human. And that’s honestly important.
To help enhance your mini lesson system, I also provide my students half sheets in order to let them request what they want to learn during these mini sessions. Again, this helps my quieter students have a way to get the help that they need, and it helps me assess where my classes are at. You can pick up a digital download of this on my TPT for $1 by clicking this link! https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Mini-Lesson-Request-Forms-4492079
Mini lessons have changed the way independent work is completed in my classroom. I hope they help your classroom too! ❤ Mrs. Middle School