Putting things– tangible things — real things — into the hands of students when asking them to write and to learn, works. And works well.
I am blessed with a mother who shares willingly so that I can be a better teacher. In 4th grade in California, we cover California history in Social Studies. I asked my mother to please share some of her bagillions of pieces of broken arrowheads and knives and spear points and pieces of half-worked obsidian so that I could bring this alive to the students. And, of course, she did.
So, last week, I put the pieces of obsidian into the hands of the students. We talked about it — how the rock itself was made, how the Piutes (who are the local tribes where my mother lives) made them, how the always found a beautiful place to sit and look for them, how my mother has a gift for finding them and I’ve never found anything other than chips.
And, then I asked them to write. To describe with vivid, juicy details their piece of obsidian. I asked them to make it come alive in their writing.
We brainstormed things we could say together. How they looked, felt, sounded, smelled, and made us feel. I asked the kids to please not taste the rocks! :)
And, then, they wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote.
Even better was the next day when they drew. I asked them to please draw a piece of obsidian. Their excitement level was huge. They drew and drew and drew and drew. They added details and texture and drew. Some drew more than one version . . . one side and then the other, what it looks like when you hold it to the light. They were so fully engaged that when I asked to stop for lunch . . . they were disappointed.
So, yea, hands on stuff . . . that works!