I come from a family of all girls, so I’m not always used to the concerns and actions of the boys in my classroom. Getting married has helped somewhat, because I can always ask my husband things like, “Is it normal for four boys to jump and try to hit the top of the door in quick succession as they leave the classroom?” (answer: yes, yes it is). Therefore, I sometimes try to take the opportunity to find out more about how boys learn. Last November I attended a workshop by Diana Cruchley, an experienced teacher, in an attempt to learn how we can encourage boys to become better writers and enjoy writing in the process. I liked how she started off by explaining what type of environment boys need in the classroom, and how we could think of some of their needs when we are planning our lessons. These needs included a low-threat competitive environment, a chance for leadership and autonomy, an opportunity to make choices, and a chance for movement and humour. She then launched right into a variety of activities that we could use in the classroom. Here is a sampling of some of the great ideas she presented:
• The Overhead Dash: Choose 20 vocabulary words from any classroom unit, and make sure students have had an opportunity to go over the meanings of these words. Place 10 of the words on an overhead. Students are in partners, with one facing away from the words. One student gives clues, and the other student tries to guess the words. Students get approximately 2 minutes to play, and then they can reverse their roles to play a second round with the other 10 words. You can set up your own rules regarding the clues. This gives low threat competition, and the students are practicing their vocabulary. I tried this in my class with our 20 spelling words, and both the boys and girls were engaged. When I asked if this is a game we would be interested in playing again, one boy piped up, “I’m up for playing it again today, if you’re interested.”
• Using the tangram story Grandfather Tang as a model, students create their own story about the characters that they create using tangram pieces. For many grades, this covers both writing and math learning outcomes. As well, the boys are given some movement, and you could make it into a low threat competition by seeing how long it takes the students to create each tangram in the book.
• Reversing Ideas: Have students write a paragraph explaining clearly how “not” to do something. Examples are: 10 Ways to Die on the Fraser River Gold Rush, How Not to Build a Pyramid, or How Not to Present a Speech. This gives the students an opportunity to add some humour to what might be a boring descriptive paragraph assignment.