Thursday, March 10, 2016

Tic Tac Toe, Show What You Know

There is a growing trend in education, to make things more student-centered.  At our Student-Led conferences this Spring, my friend and colleague, Melodie Harris came up with this AWESOME idea for students to showcase their communication skills.  She was gracious enough to write a guest-blog post about it.

If you need an awesome idea with a catchy title...look no further than Mrs. Harris' Tic Tac Toe, Show What You Know!

Everyone likes a simple game of tic tac toe and that’s what my seventh graders did for student-led conferences this spring. Instead of self-reflecting on projects and setting goals like I’ve had them do in the past, students picked three activities from a grid of nine boxes. It was a showcase of what goes on in my communications classroom.

The Tic Tac Toe paper.

 These 12-year-olds might have enjoyed learning how to write their first-ever research paper with parenthetical documentation, so they choose that one. But that means they’ll do a comma and vocab activity or a creative writing exercise along with capitalization and apostrophe practice because those are the other choices in those rows.

In preparing for this, some students were automatically drawn to the paperless classroom choice.  They wanted to make their parents operate their iPad. But then they were locked into certain other choices they might not have initially chosen. But that’s okay. Stretching them to perform or explain something they’re weak in is okay too.

The enjoyment of teaching a parent about a device!

Of my 63 students this year, only one drew a crooked line on the paper and said, “I can’t find three in a row. I want to do this instead.” I said that wasn’t allowed, so we looked again at what was in the middle that she was avoiding. When I took her to the part of the room to remind her of the differences between singular possessives and plural possessives, she realized she did know that.

Poetry Choices.

 The tic tac toe paper allowed students to show-off how being an effective communicator really is an integrated thing. When students look at a print advertisement and explain the persuasive technique used, they can also find alliteration, or rhyme, or onomatopoeia--and it’s not even a poem—but this is cool because for some, there was no way they were going to pick the poetry performance activity.

I taught these parents too!
Years ago our district made a deliberate choice to call this class communications instead of language arts. We expect our students to do just that. Communicate.

We read, write, listen, speak, research, act, produce, design, and create. Of course I teach grammar and capitalization and vocab and punctuation—but all within the context of quality literature. Sometimes it’s fiction. Sometimes it’s nonfiction. It might be a novel. It might be through technical or persuasive text. We write skits and act in them. We film them. We edit them. We get irritated enough at each other that we have to say I’m sorry. Sometimes it’s serious enough to ask for forgiveness. We know who’s good at coming up with ideas and who can’t spell. We know who loves to act with their voice and who never wants to get in front of a camera. We know who should design the props or make the poster.

Less than a month into the school year, I know this about each student.

I usually start telling them how they’ll react to certain projects. I’ll say something like “Joan will love this, but Colby will hate it. Amanda will choose this, but Adam will want to do it like that.” And it surprises them that I know them so soon. But I have to. Because it’s my job to capitalize on their strengths and make them work on their weaknesses.

No state test can measure that. No one assignment can do that either. And in most cases, a student’s weakness isn’t as big of a weakness near the end of the year. Some might be able to make it their strength. I love it when that happens. I love watching them become what they can become.

So that’s why students had a smorgasbord of activities to pick from at student-led conferences.

Oh, smorgasbord. Wonder if they know what that means. I feel a vocab game brewing.


  1. Wonderful, Mel! Your classroom has always been a kid friendly, garden for learners!

    1. I like that metaphor, Meg. Your kids bloomed in my classroom. Great memories of my teaching life with Miriam and Seth (and you too with all our committee work). Thanks for reading and commenting on Jill's blog!

  2. I love grammar! I love being a forever student, too. :)

    1. That's what makes us teachers, Shelli, always learning. I think the students teach me something each day--and sometimes it has nothing to do with technology.

  3. This is fantastic. I taught Grade six here in Canada (12 & 13 year old-s.) I loved trying different approaches and this one is well thought out and coordinated. I'd have used it.

    One of my events for poetry was to recite from memory The Grave of the Hundred Head by Kipling. (I learned it from my mother, a teacher) when I was about 12. I had overheads with pictures and history of the area(it was a long time ago) and stories about people who used poetry in different ways. It seemed to work - they wrote some great poems and learned a few by heart.

    1. Thank you, Mahrie. I was out walking the dogs about a week before conferences when I thought of doing it this way. Our 8th grade teacher used to make the kids memorize "The Road Not Taken" by Frost. Maybe I need to revive that practice. I think memorization helps students see and hear the chunks of language apparent in a text.

      This week, my students are orally reading a poem from a Dust Bowl novel called Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. They'll also point out deeper meanings and the poetic language found in it.

      Oh--I taught with overheads too back in the day!