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.

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

We’ve gathered five fun creative writing activities you can assign to spark a love for writing. Our hope is that these activities will create a workshop-like environment that fosters feedback and collaboration in your writing classroom.

You’ll notice that none of the activities focuses on the technical aspects of writing. Instead, the activities encourage creativity, reflection, and self-expression—hallmarks of meaningful writing.

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?

Developing Students Social and Emotional Intelligence

VLADGRIN, 2014 /

Social-Emotional Intelligence allows us to negotiate our own and others’ emotions and feelings. No wonder it is vital to success in relationships, academics, jobs, sports, and other life activities. Employers, for example, have discovered that 67 percent of the skills they are looking for in new employees are directly related to Social-Emotional Intelligence (Daniel Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence). Yet schools spend only 1.6 percent of the school week developing these skills in students.

Social-Emotional Intelligence

Ollyy, 2014 /

Social-Emotional Intelligence refers to your ability to understand and manage your own emotions and recognize the emotions of others. A few free, quick online quizzes can give you a beginning insight into your Social-Emotional Intelligence. The first two quizzes listed below connect to university research projects, and both measure your ability to recognize emotions and facial expressions. The latter two quizzes measure your understanding of emotions in everyday life and in your classroom.

Business leaders are calling for workers who can solve problems and innovate solutions, but how can educators teach such abstract skills? After all, isn't every problem unique? Doesn't every solution differ? Yes. But the fundamental tools of problems solving are common to all situations, and they can be taught. The two most important mental tools are critical thinking and creative thinking.

Critical thinking is convergent. It focuses intently on a topic, paying careful attention to logic and rules. Critical thinking breaks a subject into its parts and investigates how the parts relate to each other: categorizing, sequencing, comparing, ranking. It is in-the-box thinking.

Creative thinking is divergent. It sees a topic as a whole and imagines it as an analogy for something else: envisioning, improvising, riffing, wondering. Creative thinking reaches out to explore possibilities and defies convention and rules. It is out-of-the-box thinking.

Calvins twisted take on traditional snowpeople shows his creative thinking.

Calvin's twisted take on traditional snowpeople shows his creative thinking.
(Image courtesy of Vegas Bleeds Neon via Wikimedia Commons.)

When I write the first draft of a novel, I'm Calvin from the classic comic series Calvin and Hobbes. Brimming with imagination and life, I don't care what may be sensible, realistic, and conventional. I'm full of passion, flying in many different directions. Sure, there'll be plenty of mistakes, but at least they'll be big.

When I revise and edit a novel, I'm Calvin's parents. I have to look dispassionately and critically at what the child mind has created. I have to analyze and evaluate. Patience, persistence, and a kind of longsuffering skepticism must prevail.

To put it another way, the parents' job is to make the child's life safe, and the child's job is to make the parents' life dangerous.

The Common Core State Standards require students to think more deeply in all classes. But what counts for deeper thinking? Bloom’s revised taxonomy lists thinking skills in order from superficial to deep:

Bloom's Revised Taxonomy List

For many years, we’ve done well teaching and testing the top half of the taxonomy. After all, multiple-choice, true-false, and fill-in-the-blank items do an excellent job of measuring what students remember, understand, and can apply. On the other hand, they don’t easily measure what students can analyze, evaluate, or synthesize. What is tested is taught, so our inability to test these skills has meant that they were not getting taught.

However, the new assessments for the Common Core test the full range of skills required. These tests combine new strategies, interactive environments, simulated research situations, and good-old essay responses in order to assess how well students can analyze, evaluate, and synthesize. Of course, now that these skills will be tested, they must be taught.

How can I teach analyzing and evaluating?

Start by teaching thinking strategies. One strategy that most educators already know is using graphic organizers to stimulate thinking: