Getting Started…

Planning with Engagement in Mind

Our primary focus started out as incorporating Spider Web discussions, but as we discussed the rolling out of the new unit, Historical Fiction Book Club, we started thinking even more about engagement. Enter our PIIC Regional Meeting. Diane and I went to the regional meeting to present and once again use the Spider Web Discussion, but throughout the day, we attended two other professional development sessions. I happened to choose a session on Maker ELA. Mind blown! We participated in a maker activity that had us thinking about theme related to a story, and my wheels started turning.

The next week Diane and I met to discuss rolling out the new unit and how we were going to get it started. I instantly thought of the Maker ELA session I attended and we brainstormed how that would work with introducing this new unit in an engaging way. We looked at our goal for the unit and it all just came together for us.

We decided to use videos for each of the topics for our book clubs and have students watch the video for one topic with their turn and talk partner while asking themselves, What is your biggest takeaway related to struggle, suffering, and perseverance? Afterwards partners would discuss their takeaways then receive a maker bag in which they have a short period of time to make a visual representation of their combined take away related to their topic.

Each partnership explores one of the six topics connected to the historical fiction book clubs

Watching the Video

The students were given 20 minutes to watch their video, discuss their takeaways, then make a visual representation of their thinking using only the items in their bag.

Getting Down to Making

Once the videos were over and the bags started opening, the ideas began to fly. Kids were engrossed in their ideas and some of the thinking was deep and symbolic. One student exclaimed at the end of the period, “This was so much better than writing a TDA!” Diane and I laughed. Silly kids…we were doing a TDA!

“This was so much better than writing a TDA!”

one eighth grade student

Once students made their visual representation, they each did a quick write on a long post-it to explain their thinking.

Civil Rights

Student 1 wrote,

Our creation was representing the fight for equal rights. We made a scale with the same amount of toothpicks to represent how people were fighting for all people to be seen as equals.

Student 2 wrote

Our creation is about whites and blacks being equal. It is a scale weighing the same amount on each side. This represents that we weren’t always equal but now are and how we came together.

Student 1 wrote,

The person is representing a person of color that is now on the same level as the white person. The crown is representing power that the white people originally had and how the people of color are getting power and fighting for their rights. So really it’s about everybody being equal and all having the same rights.

Student 2 wrote,

The crown is representing power that people of color didn’t have initially. The person represents the people of color who are now gaining power jusy like white people.

Student 1 wrote,

My creation is Character A (a black man) falling to racism while character B is pointing and laughing at him, but character A is persevering and rising up against the hate.

Student 2 wrote,

It is a white man laughing at a black man and mocking him for his struggles. He is pointing at him and just laughing without trying to help him go through his struggles.

Slavery in America

Student 1 wrote,

This represents a hierarchy. At the top is all of the slave owners. They were all the people who were rich and powerful. Then at the bottom is a smaller cup that has the slaves. What it means is that the slaves have no where to go. They have no rights. That’s why they’re in the cup. The slave owners are on top because they are free.

Student 2 wrote,

Our creation represents hierarchy and the powers of the people who own slaves. So we put the larger popsicle sticks on the bigger cup and the smaller sticks in the smaller cup. This shows that the rich were higher than the slaves. This was all inside a triangle to represent the hierarchy and they were labeled with “power” and “no power”.

The Holocaust

Student 1 wrote, 

Our creation represents Hitler above all the Jews with his Nazis to kill them and put shame on their name. It shows how he dictated the Jews and made them suffer until they died. He used them for experiments and used their bodies for clothing and bombs.

Student 2 wrote,

Hitler is above all the Jews and has more power than them. The Jews were tortured and suffered during this period of time. The struggle, suffering, and perseverance of the Jews were used every day. Hitler treated them badly.

Refugees and Deportation

This student wrote,

My creation represents a Polish person making a message in a bottle so people will remember their story after they pass on because the boat they recently were on to escape was struck by the Soviet Union. It represents fear and suffering.

The student even used Google Translate to write the message in Polish.

Student 1 wrote,

This is a representation of how the sinking of this German ships was sunk and how wo divers first went down to unveil the horrifying image after this tragic event. One thing that was uncovered was and army member who still had boots and a belt on from the event.

Student 2 wrote,

It was a recreation of a soldier who had struggled to keep living when the German ship, The Millennium, was sinking after two divers found his dead body many years later.

The Gallery Walk

Once time was up, students took a walk around to look at and read about other topics and visual representations of student thinking.

After the gallery walk students were given a small post-it to write feedback for the one partnership whose work stood out to them.

Some examples of the feedback post-its


We had a great day and so did the kids. So good in fact that over the course of the day only a couple students even asked to go to the bathroom. In middle school that is a major sign of increased student engagement!

We are going to call that a win!

Coming Up Next…

The Historical Fiction Book Club Tasting!

2 thoughts on “Getting Started…

  1. Hi! I just attended your session at the May PLO, and I love this blog! I’d like some more information on what’s inside the maker bags – is every bag’s contents identical? What items are in the bags? I’ve seen a similar activity with play-doh, but I like the “Chopped” aspect of using what’s in the bag.

    Thanks for sharing!!


    1. Hi Marissa! Thanks for attending our session. The bags had random items including play dough, popsicle sticks, tooth picks, sticky notes, paper clips, pipe cleaners, a large styrofoam cup and a condiment cup. The kids loved the challenge of making with what they had in a timed period of time.


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