Maintain Control During Mini-Lessons
FAQ: How can I shorten my mini-lessons?
ANSWER: All whole-class mini-lessons follow the same 4-step rhythm: 1) Introduce, 2) Instruct, 3) Interact, 4) Close. They are short, thus mini. They last only 10-15 minutes, in most cases.
If lessons are running long, first evaluate the content being presented. Often teachers attempt to deliver too much information within a single mini-lesson. The concept of a mini-lesson is not just that it’s mini in time; it’s mini in focus, too.
Assuming that the planned 6-Traits lesson is on a narrowly-focused skill, valuable time can be consumed in the mismanagement of Step 3–the interactive component. After explaining and modeling a new skill in Step 2, all mini-lessons should include an opportunity for students to experience the skill during the lesson. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean teachers have to relinquish control to the students.
When teachers “share the pen” and offer for someone to try the next example, that student now controls the floor…and the clock! If that individual takes a while to make his way to the board and/or share his thought, then precious minutes are lost. In addition, all the kids that weren’t called upon often tune out and become disengaged.
A more powerful way to involve students in a lesson would be to have all students participate in a short Turn & Talk. Such moments are initiated when the teacher poses a whole-class question in Step 3 (e.g., Let’s look at another example. What would the answer be in this situation?). Then follow with the instruction to “turn and talk.” Students would immediately pivot to a peer and collaborate orally.
Keep Turn-and-Talks short
Be careful not to give students too much time to turn and talk. It’s a specific task that should cause students to quickly share their thoughts with a peer. If they don’t have an answer, then they pivot to hear their peer’s suggestion. Either way, in these instances, the Turn & Talk is only about 6-10 seconds long.
DISCLAIMER: Classrooms should absolutely include opportunities for students to discuss, ponder, consider, analyze and generally pour over ideas. These much longer peer conversations do have a place in the classroom. However, in the mini-lesson, student interactions in Step 3 need to be efficient and effective. An efficient Turn & Talk offers such an experience.
Introduce the procedures
In order for students to dive immediately into a Turn & Talk, they need to know that it’s coming. In other words, introduce this code phrase explicitly. Let them know who their Turn & Talk partner is. If they are sitting in rows, it’s the students in front of them or behind them or across the aisle. If their desks are clustered, then identify who their individual buddies are.
Stay at the front of the room
While students are turning and talking, don’t walk around! Remember, it’s only six seconds. If the teacher strays from the board, then the lesson tends to go long. Rather, stay at the front of the room and listen in as students quickly discuss an idea/answer.
After 6-10 seconds, declare “Back to me.” Again, explain to students this code phrase indicates that they should immediately stop talking, face forward, and be ready to share out.
This is when a handful of kids are invited to share their thinking orally, while the teacher applies their ideas to the writing sample. (Another option might be to reveal ideas that were overheard during the Turn & Talk.) Eventually, pose another example related to the skill at hand and provide a second Turn & Talk opportunity during Step 3.
The “Turn & Talk” and “Back to me” code phrases are essential ways to manage time and increase engagement during the interactive steps of a 15-minute mini-lesson. They allow for all students to experience 2-3 examples orally, which is significantly better than only 2-3 students each experiencing a single written example at the board.