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Hi, and welcome to our blog. This space is designed to share ideas and methodologies that we use to teach Turkish teenagers. In particular, there is a strong focus on ICT-ELT, which means if you like visual and technological support for your style of teaching, this blog is for you. My colleague, Brentson Ramsey, has been working alongside me for three years. He is also a big proponent of the ICT-ELT Paradigm, which means he will also be posting from his own teaching perspective on the blog.

2010 was the beginning of this new journey, and although there is no definitive ICT-ELT road map available for everyone to follow, it is exciting to explore the technological means to make teaching more fun and affective for students. Our main message is for teachers to ADOPT & ADAPT the paradigm shift for their own needs, and remember that

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Weekly KWL Essential Questions

As educators, there are probably two questions that we hear most often from students throughout the academic year, and I am sure you are familiar with them. Although, 'What time does the lesson finish?', certainly ranks in the top five as a question you know only too well, it didn't make the top two. Another, 'What is the next lesson?', is also a strong contender.  But, surprisingly instead, we have, 'What are we doing today?', as our top finisher, and coming in second place is, 'Why are we learning this?' Of course, this is not a scientific study by any means, but in our high school English classroom, these two questions are what we are hearing several times daily, and they far outweigh any other. 

While the first question is one that pushes our patience, since we post our daily program on the board first thing in the morning, we actually enjoy hearing the second question. From the very first day of class, we encourage our students to ask, "Why?". Not only does it get them to critically think about what they are learning, but it also encourages us to give a proper explanation.

With that in mind, my colleague and I came up with a class and homework activity that gets right to the heart of what and why we are teaching each week. At the beginning of the week, when we have finalized our weekly plan, we write down two or three 'why' questions based on the most important topics or thematic units we are teaching that week. We not only post them in the classroom on Monday morning for all the students to see, but we also share them with the students via Google Docs. We call this activity: Weekly Essential Questions.


Step 1: After making your weekly plan (We recommend a brilliant online lesson planning website called Common Curriculum), think about what you expect your students to learn during the week. Then, come up with two or three questions based on the activities that you are doing, as pictured above. Of course, you can write down as many questions as you wish. It can certainly be more than three. However, my colleague and I prefer to focus on a limited number of topics so that the students can concentrate on those.  Furthermore, we try to focus on 'why' questions, but they can also be questions beginning with how, when or what. The main idea is that you avoid 'Yes/No' questions so that the students must provide an answer with reason.   Another goal is to get students to think about how they are going to connect what they have learned to their life.  That is when 'real' understanding takes place.

Here are some recent questions that we have asked our students:

When do we use the simple present tense?

How it is beneficial for me to check Edmodo everyday after school?

Why do we always do silent reading in the library instead of the classroom?

Step 2: After brainstorming and finalizing your essential questions, we highly recommend making a Google Doc.  The major reason for this is that Google Docs are so simple to share with colleagues and students, not to mention saving lots of paper. In our format, we type the essential questions at the top of the page, and include a classic KWL chart at the bottom, the reason for which will be explained below. We then make a copy of the Google Doc for each one of our students and share it with them first thing on Monday morning.

Step 3: Procedure on Monday

In the first lesson on a Monday, my colleague and I open the Google Doc on the classroom IWB for all the students to see and read.  We introduce the essential questions of the week and then have a small discussion about each one.  Primarily, we focus on the first two sections of the KWL chart; what the students (K)now about the topics, and what they (W)ant to know.  After chatting for a few minutes, we then have our students open their computers and fill in the K and W sections of the chart.  Once they finish, we examine a few of them and check what the students have written.

Step 4: Weekend Homework

During the last lesson on a Friday, we then remind the students of the essential questions of the week, and that it is their weekend homework to fill in the final section of the chart, what they have (L)earned.  The benefit of this is that visit the essential questions twice a week, and they can more easily realize what they have learned about the given topics during the week. We further explain to them that we expect this part of the KWL chart to be filled in properly.  We give our students until 6 p.m. on Sunday to complete their KWL charts on Google Docs. As they do, we give them feedback on their answers.

Here is an example of a student's recent work:


It may sound like a hassle and a lot of extra work when doing this activity week in and week out. However, once you try it, we promise that you won't regret it. In fact, it is just an extension to your already planned week ahead, and requires a few more minutes formulating the questions for posting on the wall and sharing a Google Doc with your students.  When I think back to my own high school years, I used to constantly ask myself why I was being made to "learn" certain things. Why was doing what we were doing necessary? I wish I had had a teacher back then who would have explained the reasons to me. And even more importantly, got myself to ask the right questions and autonomously find the wright answers. 

For certain, this activity will not completely eradicate the banal, irritating and vapid questions normally associated with most teenagers' questions. That is just part of the adolescent brain it seems. But, these questions just might give them a sense of what and why they are learning the subjects we are teaching, as well as what they have learned in the process.

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