I can name all of the U.S. states in alphabetical order thanks to the song “Fifty Nifty United States.” Because of the sentence “My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas.,” I can quickly rattle off the planets (and now it seems 1 dwarf planet!) in their order from the sun. I’ll never forget the difference between desert and dessert because desserts are doubly delicious!
Mnemonic devices work well for me in learning new material. While they haven’t always worked for deepening thinking or conceptualizing large ideas, they certainly helped me as a child (and now!) memorize information that would aid me in diving into those deeper knowledge levels.
As an interventionist for ELL students and non-ELL students struggling with academic content, I need to find engaging ways to help students learn material that was difficult for them in the whole class setting. The reality is, all of my students, regardless of their language status, have academic language deficits. Therefore, I teach all students as if they were ELL students, as every one of them is learning the content language they need to be successful in school.
What this means is vocabulary is explicitly taught with modeling, role play and real photographs. Concepts are taught through interactive posters. Songs and chants are used to engage students in a variety of ways.
Currently, my 4th grade math students are working on measurement conversions. The Common Core State Standards say:
4.MD.1 – Know relative sizes of measurement units within one system of units including km, m, cm; kg, g; lb, oz.; l, ml; hr, min, sec. Within a single system of measurement, express measurements in a larger unit in terms of a smaller unit. Record measurement equivalents in a two-column table.
4.MD.2– Use the four operations to solve word problems involving distances, intervals of time, liquid volumes, masses of objects, and money, including problems involving simple fractions or decimals, and problems that require expressing measurements given in a larger unit in terms of a smaller unit.
My students have struggled with converting within units, however it’s not because they are incapable of simple mathematical calculations. My students need an engaging way to memorize incredibly long lists of conversions to be used in problem solving. In order to make this possible, I’ve broken the content into categories such as customary distance, metric distance, customary volume, metric volume, time, etc. For each of those categories different strategies are used including flow charts, flip books, and songs to memorize the units necessary.
When it recently came to customary measures of volume, I pulled out what I’ve always used. We created a giant ‘G’ on a poster board to represent 1 gallon. Inside we put 4 ‘Q’s to represent the 4 quarts. It goes on. You get the picture.
However, this year, it didn’t click as quickly for all of my students. And being a firm believer that every child must succeed in order to call my instruction a success, I searched for something new. With a quick Google search I found a story to go with my graphic. It was cheesy and a bit strange. But I knew my students were story tellers. They’ve demonstrated learning through stories and making connections all year long. So I went for it. I told the story. I cut out pictures to match the story. Students glued the pictures into a chart that represented both the story and liquid measurement.
It worked. Every one of these struggling kiddos was able to convert between customary units of volume. You see, it’s because these students never struggled with mathematical conversions. They struggled with keeping copious amounts of vocabulary straight. When presented to them both as a story and visually, there were suddenly no longer any troubles.
Oh, and if you’re wondering how the story goes, here it is:
Once upon a time there was a King of the Kingdom of Gallon. King Gallon could not keep up with all of the duties of a king, so he asked for 4 queens (quarts) to join his forces. Each of those queens had 2 children – princes or princesses (pints). The princes and princesses loved animals and begged their mothers for pets. The queens agreed that each prince or princess could have 2 cats (cups). Every cat drank 8 ounces of milk each day! This means that the Kingdom of Gallon needed 128 ounces of milk delivered each day. What a chore!
How do you engage students deficit in academic language?
I grew up here in Western Washington, wanting to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. As the oldest child in my family, I had plenty of opportunities to "practice" teaching my younger siblings. I enjoyed this. They may not have. :) When I'm not working, I enjoy outdoor activities with my husband and our two Australian Shepherds (whom are far too spoiled for their own good!). I also love spending time with my family, being an auntie (to the cutest kids ever to grace this planet!), hosting dinner parties for friends, crafting, taking photographs and shopping.