Thoughtful Learning Blog

Thoughtful Learning Blog

The Thoughtful Learning blog features articles about English language arts, 21st century skills, and social-emotional learning. Insights come from the teachers, writers, and developers at Thoughtful Learning, who have been creating top-notch instructional materials for more than 40 years.

This awesome photojournalism project comes from Cindy Smith of Karcher Middle School in Burlington, Wisconsin. Students research a historic spot in their community and create a slide show or digital story that portrays the history of the spot in images and words. You can use this project in your classroom to develop students' thinking, reading, writing, speaking, and literacy skills—all while connecting kids to the community and to history.

4 Writing Strategies for Creative Thinking

When your students think creatively, they discover new, original ideas. They open their minds to possibilities rather than seeking expected answers. Creative thinking works hand in hand with critical thinking to help students deepen their learning.

The word creative comes from the Latin word crescere, meaning “to grow.” Creative thinking grows when students are interested, challenged, and motivated. You can foster creativity by encouraging your students to take risks and learn from mistakes. Also, you can use the following writing activities to help students develop four traits of creative thinking: fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration.

How Project-Based Learning Motivates Students

How can we motivate our students? Rewards? Punishments? Brownie points? Rules? What works for one student may not work for another. That's why teacher-centered strategies often fail to create student engagement.

Not surprisingly, student-centered classrooms tend to have greater engagement. One method we can use to build a student-centered classroom is project-based learning (PBL). Research provides seven reasons that PBL helps motivate learners.

Reason 1: Students gain autonomy.

In an exploration of more than 50 years of research, Daniel Pink found that autonomy of work is a greater driver of motivation than rewards (grades) or punishments (88). Conversely, rote instruction with little student interaction or project work is a leading cause of apathy. Our students need to have a “sense of control over the work” in order to be engaged and motivated (Headden and McKay 4).

7 Graphic Organizers for Critical Thinking

smit, 2015 /

We all want students to think critically about the subjects we teach, but how can we make it happen? What does deeper thinking look like in English language arts, science, social studies, and math?

One way to see students' thinking is to have them create graphic organizers. Each graphic organizer that follows requires your students to use different critical thinking skills (in parentheses). Read about each organizer and the thinking it creates, and then click to see minilesson activities you can present to your students to get them thinking deeply.

In a teachable moment in To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch provides his daughter Scout with these words of wisdom: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.” This passage is quoted often in the context of teaching empathy, as is the adage “standing in someone else’s shoes.”

Writing is a game of show and tell. “Telling” is the most common move. It conveys information to a reader. Your students probably feel most comfortable telling with their writing. “Showing” is a trickier move, but when done skillfully, its effect is magical. Your students can bring descriptions to life by showing through sensory details.

Understanding how and when to show and tell will help your students use both strategies more effectively in their writing.

5 Fun Creative Writing Activities

Cue the Pledge of Allegiance, because school is back in session.

We pledge to lend a hand as you settle into a new year with new students and new challenges. To start, we’ve gathered five fun creative writing activities you can assign to spark a love for writing. Our hope, too, is that these activities will create a workshop-like environment that fosters feedback and collaboration in your writing classroom.

All teachers teach basic literacy: students learn any subject by reading, writing, speaking, and listening. These days, we also need to teach more advanced literacies, such as knowing how to use technology and manage information.

But how can we teach all of those literacies? Is there a simple approach that makes sense of literacy in science, history, art, literature, computers, math, drama, and media?