Jumping Jacks Teach Transitions

5 Apr

Flickr image by jasohill

When is the last time you tried to do a jumping jack? I actually do them fairly frequently. My boxing instructor is a jovial sadist, and we do calisthenics until our arms hang like fresh pasta. I also do at least one jumping jack per year to introduce transitions to my students.

I the introductory transition lesson without an explanation of WHY. Instead, I walk in the room and immediately bark at the students to stack the chairs and push the desks against the walls. I then ask them to find some clear space where they won’t hit their neighbor if they fling their arms around. (I encourage them to fling their arms and test things out.) I then tell the class I will award prestigious prizes for the MOST CREATIVE JUMPING JACK, as judged by me.

SIDE NOTE: I keep a BAG ‘O MYSTERY filled with a few good prizes (mixed CDs I’ve made…toy light sabers…a Napolean Dynamite collapsible cup) and A LOT of obnoxious junk. I regularly comb thrift stores and garage sales and keep a strict nothing-over-a-dollar-rule. The kids (I’m talking juniors and seniors) go pretty crazy over this finely curated detritus. I always hype up the prestige of getting to pull from the BAG ‘O MYSTERY, and students usually take great pride in receiving the dorkiest of prizes. One student kept a chipped garden gnome in his locker throughout his entire high school career.

Everyone has to do at least three jumping jacks…even if they’re on crutches. (If I have students physically unable to do jumping jacks, I find a goofy way to modify the task.) Naturally, some students can take some coercing, but surprisingly I always witness some spectacular attempts…the all time best being an upside down jumping jack performed by someone doing a head stand.

After the jumping jack contest, I have their attention…obviously. I then ask, “You know we’re going to be working on writing today…Why did we just do that?” The answers are just as creative as the jumping jacks, but I always steer the discussion towards a metaphor that compares the act of writing with a jumping jack (scanned copy of the handout here). I think Jane Shaffer originally shared this comparison with me, but I’ve forgotten.

After quickly explaining the metaphor and my thinking, I usually hold a two and a half minute art contest, giving the students a second chance to pull from the BAG-O-MYSTERY by decorating their stick figure. Again, the most creative drawing—as judged by me—wins. Such contests sound incredibly cheesy when written down, but if they’re sold in the right way, they end up being very funny, memorable moments. And I desperately want them to remember the lesson.

I give out very few handouts, and always have back-ups on-line, but I want them to remember this information and this analogy. Months later I can say to a student, “You need to review the concept of transitions, remember the sheet where you drew the transvestite fish in evening wear? Find that sheet and let’s go over this stuff again.”

After I’ve reviewed the concept of transitions using the stick figure handout, I then teach the students two different ways to create them: using a TRANSITIONAL WORD/PHRASE (found on the chart on the back of the stick figure handout) or by using an IDEA HOOK. I take some time to explain that concept using the second handout.

After this work (which takes about 25 minutes), I then handout an article that relates to our study or comes from current pop culture. Before handing out the article, I remove the transitions. The students then have to add at least three transitions, using a variety of words/phrases and idea hooks. I give students formative feedback as they work, and they can’t move on until I’ve approved the transitions they’ve added. Naturally, some students get my approval on the first try. Others need to make multiple attempts and get more specific feedback (from their peers and me). A few have to take the work home and try again the next day.

Once a student has received my approval, I ask them work on a recent writing piece, revising only for transitions. They have to add a logical progression of ideas by concentrating on the way they link their paragraphs and their ideas within paragraphs. Because we use Google Docs for every assignment, I can easily track the changes each student makes.

Of course, I have to reinforce this work throughout the year through individual comments, additional mini-lessons, and more group exercises…but I have found this lesson to be a highly effective way of leading any age student—I’ve done this with every grade between 6 and 12—to an examination of how language can be effectively linked.

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