Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Tiered Activities - Give Students Choices

Give students a choice of literacy-related activities that each one can meet at his or her own level. To insure that you ask all students to think at high levels, invite students who choose projects that feature art, movement, or drama to make a class presentation and link their project to some of the big ideas you want students to understand. What follows is a list of choice projects my middle school students enjoy.

POSTERS. Students can design posters to advertise a completed book and its author. Have them include bulleted reasons why the book is a terrific read or why they disliked it.

GRAPHIC TEXT. Invite students to turn a scene from their book into a cartoon putting all the dialogue into speech bubbles. During their presentations, students explain why they selected this scene, and how it related to the genre, issues, or themes their class has been discussing.

ADVERTISEMENT. With students study ads for books in magazines such as The Horn Book and School Library Journal. Next, have students create an advertisement for a book you've enjoyed and share it with classmates.

BOOK TALKS. Each month you can ask students to choose a book they've completed and present a book talk. Book talks can focus on explaining a genre, showing changes in a character, making personal connections to a character, or explaining the importance of the information in a nonfiction text. Keep book talks short and focus--2 to 3 minutes.

TIMELINES. Have students select four to six key events in their book. They can focus on a specific character, several settings, or key plot events. In addition to illustrating the timeline, students can also write captions for each illustration. As part of their presentation, students can explain how their timeline showcases a theme or big idea they found in their book.

STUDENT-LED BOOK DISCUSSIONS. Organize students into small groups, giving each student a chance to talk about his or her independent reading book. Instead of having students retell the plot, ask them to choose an open-ended question such as: What did your book teach you about the issue we've been discussion? Did the book change your mind about the issue? How is the information in this book important to your life? To your community? To the world? Did a character in this book connect you to your own experiences? Explain. Explain how the main character solved a major problem? Would you have done this differently? Explain.

DRAMATIC MONOLOGUES. Have students choose a character and imagine what it is like to be him or her. Ask students to write about two important events in the character's life, including the character's thoughts and feelings, using the first person. Students can then perform their monologues for the entire class. Monologues are a great segway to whole class discussions for the student-audience can share their observations and and ask questions of the presenter.

INTERVIEW. This works well if both students have read the same book. Partners create interview questions based on the plot, characters, conflicts, decisions, and take turns being the interviewer and person being interviewed.

MOVIEMAKING. Have a small group of students choose a scene that they can act out and film with a video camera. Students get to know their characters as they translate them from the book to the camera and screen Groups share their videos with the class. Individuals can make movies of a favorite scene in a book by drawing movie frames on shelving paper. The presenter unrolls the scroll, frame by frame and discusses the event.

POWERPOINT PRESENTATIONS. Ask students to choose four to five important events in a character's life and create a PowerPoint presentation to share with the class. Students can include both images and text. Allow time for presenters to field questions from classmates.

TEXT MESSAGING BETWEEN CHARACTERS. Invite students to choose two characters from their book or two people from a biography who interacted a lot. Using their cell phone, students can create a series of text messages that these characters or people might have exchanged based on the events the characters or people lived through. Ask students to explain how they determined what these characters or people would text about. Have students create a hard copy of these text messages.

CREATE A BLOG. Set up a blog with a character's name and write responses to questions classmates ask using all the knowledge you have about that character. Or you can react to a book and/or author that peers have also read and invite them to start and continue a dialogue about the book or author.

Laura Robb is the author of "Differentiating Reading Instruction: How to Teach Reading to Meet the Needs of Each Student". Published in January 2008, it is the natural "next-steps" book to Robb's best-selling Teaching Reading in Middle School, published in 2000, which received rave reviews and continues to sell in large numbers. This new book reflects and offers ways to deal with the fact that middle school classes include students reading at a diverse range of instructional levels.

To learn more about Robb's books, classroom libraries, books that Robb Recommends, teaching and parent tips, to view her speaking calendar, and to contact her visit her web site at



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