Slice of Life: Toying Around

Today’s post comes as part of Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Tuesday. Give them a peek!

As a teacher of gifted children, I’ve long used Frayer Models as a way of helping kids organize their thinking about topics. I’m all for ways to help kids visualize their thinking, develop generalizations, and synthesize their knowledge.

Image of the standard Frayer Model from the technotes blog

To be honest, though, I’ve never felt like they’ve gone…RIGHT. As in, my kids have struggled with them. Especially with the definition part. It’s like they’re starting right off the bat without much understanding or context. The definition quadrant is always a toughie, and their work has always fallen short.

This year, I decided to shake things up. My fifth graders are studying the development of human language over time (yes, it’s as cool as it sounds), and we’ve begun with the question of: What even IS language anyway? What counts?

I wanted to use a Frayer Model to have kids naturally explore the concept of language. This time, though, I decided to have us go from the concrete to the abstract. I completely left the “definition” quadrant unlabeled, and did a little re-arranging.

I started the lesson by modeling for the concept of “Recess.” I thought that starting with examples and non-examples would give them a smooth start and room to build.

After showing the first three quadrants, I divided the kids up and let them start their thinking about language.

Several minutes in, it was time to drop the markers and go “idea shopping.” It’s one of my favorite strategies. Kids walk around the room reading others’ work, gathering ideas they wish they thought of, and considering new thinking that gets sparked in the sharing.

After their “shopping trip,” kids added more to their three quadrants, and then it was time for me to model quadrant four: the DEFINITION. I really wanted this quadrant to be a synthesis of the other three. Here was my example:

Once I finished, I let the students have at it* with their own definitions of language. They did NOT disappoint.

One of the best parts of this lesson? Acknowledging how hard it was for the kids to put together this definition, and then telling them how very difficult and messy it was for even linguists to nail down. They felt validated in the struggle, and pleased to know they had done some solid academic work.

It was…a GOOD DAY.

*as I was walking around observing, I heard one of my students use the phrase “have at it” when talking about attempting the next quadrant. My teacher heart swelled, just a little.

Published by Lainie Levin

Mom of two, full-time teacher, wife, daughter, sister, friend, and holder of a very full plate

23 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Toying Around

  1. I’m going to use “idea shopping” as a phrase from now on. I spend my life doing that—and look what I got from you today! (My favorite book about language is Stephen Pinker’s The Language Instinct. Have you read it?)

    1. Hey. I haven’t read that one yet. I’ll have to check it out!

      And yes, feel free to use “idea shopping.” It’s important to me that kids value and recognize one another’s thinking. I have found this to be a low-risk way of having students be willing and able to be open to other perspectives. Who knows? Maybe I’ll write a slice on why I think it’s great…

  2. Thank you for sharing your process with the Fryer model. Such a great idea to leave the definition empty until all other sections are filled.

    1. Thanks! I have a couple of colleagues who use a truly constructivist model of learning and teaching, and I work to be more like them. This is one way I can follow their path.

  3. I like your twist on this model. I think that by not working on a definition or having in the back of their minds that will need to write a definition for the word it gives them more freedom to develop and fill in the other quadrants. They can then build their definition base on the information they have come up with rather than making what they come up with fit the definition they have.

    1. Thank you! And it’s interesting. After working through their conversations, they looked at common themes (sense-making, expression, needs a system/structure) and found that their definitions were remarkably close to what the experts had said. They were proud, to say the least.

  4. This is cool! It reminds me of writing definition essays in college and learning the denotative is not the only way to define. It also makes me think of a podcast I heard recently i. which I learned about the history of “woke.” It was fascinating. But what strikes me most is the higher level thinking going on in this lesson! WOW!

    1. “The denotative is not the only way to define.” I’m going to think on THAT one for a while, Glenda!

      And…thank you. I do strive for higher-level thinking when I can. I think kids are almost always more capable than we give them credit for. But that’s the subject of another soapbox. =))

    1. Thanks! You know, it’s strange. Seems like some of my best lessons or ideas have risen from the rubble of a crash-and-burn activity where things don’t turn out very well. This one grew organically, for sure.

  5. You “messed with this classic” in a really good way, from my perspective anyway. I wonder what Frayer would say. It makes a lot of sense to me to work from the examples and non-examples to the definition…and it makes very good sense to start with something that seems easy (like recess) to show that even the familiar can be challenging to pin down…and seen in new light, once it’s explored. I agree with Trish (above) that the Language Instinct was a fascinating read.

    1. All right. Two votes for The Language Instinct. I’ll be finding that one and giving it a peek!

      And yes, I’m glad I started with “Recess” as a way to model. I actually wasn’t so sure WHAT I’d put as my concept. Which, I think, is part of why I’ve struggled with Frayer Models from time to time. Not every idea works so well with them…

    1. Thank you! That’s what I love about the Tuesday Slice. It’s a chance to peek into lots of different worlds. =)

  6. So glad you took time to slide about this and share it. Such a strong lesson! As you study language, you might like looking at the website of DC’s newest museum, Planet Word. And if ever visiitng DC, go for a visit!!!! You will especially like the interactive opening video about the origins of words!

    1. Oooh I’d definitely going to have to check that one out! I’m all for resources that the kids and I can explore as we learn about language and its origins. Thank you!

  7. This is amazing! I’ve always struggled with this model, or lack the time to really go into it. I’ve always thought that students would just “look up the definition” for that quadrant. I never thought of going backwards. Thank you for sharing your ideas! Also “idea shopping” is a cute phrase but I think in the wrong context it can enter into the field of plagiarism 😆

    1. It’s interesting that you mention plagiarism. When I introduced the concept to one of my classes, that was the first response a student had. It opened the door for us to discuss the difference between our activity of “idea shopping” (sharing and acknowledging the wisdom of group members), and “plagiarism” (taking credit for ideas or work that others created)…

  8. I love how you rearranged the model and left off the word ‘definition’ until later…and I LOVE your ‘idea shopping’ as a way to get more ideas. I will find a way to use that when I’m subbing. 🙂

    1. Thank you! I’ve found it to be a great way of helping students see and recognize the thinking of others. Especially when it’s so easy to get stuck in the “my idea is the best one” mode of thinking…

      1. Oh my gosh-I had a huge block of down time subbing in a fifth grade class so I did a writing activity and used your ‘idea shopping’ and the kids loved that part…along with the writing activity. Yippee! 🙂

      2. WOW! That’s amazing to hear. I’m so glad that you found it useful and fun. Yippee indeed!

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