Similarities and Differences
Over the past several years, researchers have studied thousands of teaching and learning strategies, to determine which ones yielded the best increases in student performance (Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement presents one meta-analysis of these strategies).
The type of learning task that led to the greatest learning in students involved comparing two things to determine how they were alike and how they were different from one another. This shouldn’t surprise us, when we consider that all of us learn new things by comparing the new with the known, in order to better “file” the information in our brains.
This article explains a simple center that you can create to compare any two objects (related to your theme or content), in an interactive bulletin board display. We will use a squirrel’s nest and the nest of a Northern oriole, to accompany our November studies of autumn nature finds.
- Index cards (three colors)
- Colored yarn
- A stapler
- A large photograph of a squirrel’s nest
- An oriole nest (or large photo)
- Bulletin board space
- Sentence strip (2 foot-long pieces)
- Field guides or other non-fiction resources on nests
[NOTE: This is designed to be an independent learning center. The assumption is made that students have already been introduced to, and know how to work with, both the bubble map and double bubble map, described in early posts.]
Provide materials on a counter below a bulletin board (cover the bulletin board with whatever covering you’d like — I used to buy fabric remnants on theme, and kept them folded in the box with the other unit materials, to use year after year).
Students use the photos or actual nests, and the non-fiction resources, to generate characteristics or descriptions of the two nests. In the diagram below, blue index cards are used for the characteristics of the squirrel’s nest, yellow cards for the oriole’s nest, and white cards for descriptors that can be used for both nests. Cards are stapled to the bulletin board, and attached to the appropriate header and/or photo with string (I opted for brightly colored yarn).
Leave the bulletin board up for interactive work for the duration of the unit.
Make the assessment part of the student work, inviting students to question one another and revise one another’s work. For example, I have used a small, simple “o” on interactive bulletin board work, to indicate an “opportunity” for other students to revise a piece of information. When the information is updated successfully, I simply cover the “o” with a small, round sticker.
Periodically use the collaborative display in response work, having students summarize the learning, to date. Refer to the work during whole class instruction, as well.
Once students have used this center, you can use the routine to compare all sorts of things: two books on a theme or topic; two closely related vocabulary words (e.g., blissful, ecstatic); two geometric figures (e.g., rectangle, trapezoid); two biological processes (e.g., photosynthesis, respiration).
In my elementary classroom, interactive bulletin boards were a staple among my learning centers — they fostered conversation and collaboration, were hands-on, and created a healthy “buzz” of learning. The differentiation is built into the task, allowing multiple “entry points” for the content. And the routine of revisiting the work reinforces to students that the classroom displays are meant to be resources for the students to use daily.
Additional lesson ideas
For more instructional activities to use in conjunction with this learning center, please see “New e-Book: Nests, Nests, Nests!”, a 25-page e-Book perfect for the elementary classroom or homeschool science class ($1.95 from Simple Science Strategies).
This set includes both primary and regular-ruled science journaling pages focusing on animal nests, as well as a variety of framed pages for thematic writing, note-taking or nature study. Organizers for studying and comparing nests of different animal orders, coloring and copywork pages, and game cards for sorting and classification tasks make this set versatile, perfect for direct instruction or independent learning tasks. Also included with this e-Book is a summary of ten lesson ideas with linked resources, enough for a great integrated unit on animal nests.