When my daughter, Ariana, turned 3, we started talking about family chores. Initially, her understanding was surface level, but this year, her list of chores has grown and our conversations have deepened. She is usually pretty excited about her chores (I know…I know she is only 4!) and understands the ways in which chores help families’ function more effectively. The chores concept stuck with my daughter. It was a ‘sticky idea’ for lots of reasons, but one reason was that the conversations and instruction were not done in one day. Rather, they were spaced out over time. This ‘spacing’ concept is true for our writing instruction as well. If we want ‘stickier’ minilessons, then we must space our instruction out over time.
Here are five ways to do just that.
1. Keep it short: It’s tempting when something is new to try and teach all of it in one sitting. Resist that temptation! No matter how good your instruction is, students can only understand so much in that first encounter. Short and sweet, especially with new ideas will keep students interested and make your message stickier over time.
2. Monitor: It’s also tempting to correct students immediately when you see them confused or off track. Resist that as well. Your minilessons will be stickier if you begin by monitoring students from afar. Use that quiet time to reflect upon what you see and come up with a more thoughtful response. The more thoughtful your response, the stickier the idea will ultimately be.
I typically monitor by having a 3-minute time at the start of Writing Workshop where kids know that I am not talking with them. While monitoring you want to look for both positive (kids are doing what you taught) and negative (kids are showing some confusion about what you taught) evidence.
3. Give Feedback: When Ariana was learning to dress herself (one of her chores) she kept forgetting the first step (taking off her pajamas). Once I realized what the problem was, I was able to give more targeted feedback. Based upon what you discover while monitoring, you want to give targeted feedback. This could in the form of another minilesson, a conference, small group work or a share session. For some, this might mean clearing up some confusion and for others it might mean delving deeper into the content. Either way, the more feedback you give students the stickier the idea will be.
4. Work towards independence: Giving feedback is not all you need for an idea to stick. You also want to keep students engaged and excited about the idea. An idea is stickier if kids practice it independently on a regular basis. In the beginning, Ariana was not very excited about getting dressed and would only do it if I was in the room. I had to explicitly explain to her that if I stayed with her while she got dressed, I didn’t get to other family chores. We made a chart of the steps and I told her to use that chart if she forgot what to do next. The first time she got dressed without me in the room was when she finally glowed. Charts and conversations around those charts keep ideas alive and show kids how thrilling it is to do something on their own.
5. Transfer ideas: Ideas are also stickier if kids can see how a concept in one unit can be used in another unit. For example, imagine that in one unit you were helping students envision to create settings in their narratives. You could cycle back to this envisioning concept later in the year when they are working on their nonfiction ‘All About Books’. You could show them how one way to teach about your topic is to envision as a way to create descriptive paragraphs.
Ideas are also stickier if kids return to concepts in deeper ways year after year. At 4, Ariana was able to understand family jobs in a very different way than she was able to when she was 3. The idea of envisioning could be further studied in a persuasive essay by envisioning what the other side thinks (counter argument) and writing a paragraph about that.
This kind of transfer happens when teachers discuss their teaching across grade levels. Together, they can look at curriculum and find places to align language so that kids clearly see how concepts transfer from both unit to unit to year to year.
I look forward to hearing from all of you and hope that you minilessons become stickier and stickier!