This year, I'm really working on helping students to understand some of the key words behind our reading content. I've already talked about giving students a firm knowledge of the words feature and structure. As I started working with guided reading groups, I decided it was time to help students understand the word strategy.
How could I do this? Typically, my brain raced through lots of impractical and crazy ideas (a large scale game of Capture the Flag, for example) before I thought of a simple solution: Tic Tac Toe.
To get us ready for the discussion, students had to find a partner and sit at desks somewhere in the room. Then, we looked at the definition for strategy--"a plan for achieving a goal". We started out by talking with partners about our strategies in soccer. In soccer, the goal is--well, the goal, which made it very literal and concrete. After we made a list of soccer strategies, we talked about the goal in tic tac toe. What were we trying to accomplish? Of course, getting three in a row. Then, I chose a few students to go against me in a game of tic tac toe on the overhead, talking about our how we could both use a strategy.
After I played a few games, students worked with their partners to try out some strategies for tic tac toe. They needed the instant gratification that comes from applying a strategy and seeing it succeed. And it worked! They had quite a few strategies to share--use the middle, distract your opponent, set it up so that you had two opportunities to win--and were able to see pretty quickly the benefit of choosing a strategy.
I was amazed at how quickly the lesson on reading strategies went after this experience. What is our goal for reading? It's not to get three in a row (the kids all giggled at this), but to understand the text. What are some strategies that we can use? Suddenly, there were quite a few suggestions.
The next day, I had to leave school early to take my two sons to get their flu shots. I left behind a sorting activity that had students match reading strategies to their definitions. When I returned, I found (happily) that pairs of students working together could generate the different reading strategies and explain what they meant. Not bad for a 20 minute activity with a substitute! The richness of their understanding of the word strategy gave them an instant framework for the reading strategies.
Of course, there is much work to be done. We need to look at how to use strategies, when to change strategies, and how to see if our strategy use is working. For now, though, I'm pleased that the students have a better understanding of the word strategy than ever before.
And I have some killer new tic tac toe moves!