Friday, June 8, 2012

Simplifying Explanations

One of the skills I've been working on as a teacher is providing simple explanations for how to do something. I've been getting better. I'll share a couple good examples with you.

A few days back, I was trying to teach a couple students how to do what another student referred to as a street style hockey face off. Unfortunately, I can't find a video, so I'll have to explain it to you. Regularly, in a face off, one player from each team will be in the center to attempt to take the puck (or in our case, ball). The ref drops the ball and the hockey players in the face off swipe for it.

In a "street style" hockey face off, the ball is not dropped into the center circle of the hockey area. It is simply sitting in the circle. Simultaneously, their sticks his the ground, each others' sticks three times, and then swipe for the ball.

A part of giving a simple explanation involves using as few words as possible. One way to do that is to do an action and simply associate a single name with it. When I demonstrate the action of my stick hitting the ground, I merely call that "ground." When I demonstrate the action of my stick colliding with the other player's stick, I merely call that "air." So, I say, "ground, air, ground, air, ground, air, swipe." That was pretty effective for the student I was teaching.

Another example pertains to a lesson I was teaching in my new job. I was teaching my students how to write a paragraph. Specifically, I was teaching them how to identify the main idea and supporting details of a paragraph. For now, they assume that the main idea will tend to be the first sentence of a paragraph. Let's say the main idea is "The best thing about my mom is that she is caring." Then, when you go to each sentence, you simply ask this question: "Is this sentence about my mom being caring?" If "yes," then it is a supporting detail. If "no," then it is irrelevant to the paragraph. That's a simple way to get students to identify the supporting detail of a given paragraph because it only requires students to answer a simple yes or no question. The great thing about that question is that it doesn't take much to remember it. It is the main idea of the paragraph incorporated into a question.

The simpler the words and the necessary background knowledge, the easier it will be for your students to use what you teach them. 

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