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Focused Mini Lessons for Homeschoolers

Written by Mimi Rothschild
Friday, 16 November 2007 08:04

1 Comment

By Mimi Rothschild

Here’s another brilliant article to add to your collection of homeschool resources.  This article examines mini lessons, how they work, and why they’re so important for your homeschool curriculum.



What Is It?


A mini lesson is a short lesson with a narrow focus that provides instruction in a skill or concept that students will then relate to a larger lesson that will follow. A mini lesson typically precedes reading workshop or writing workshop, but it can serve as an introduction to a social studies, science, or math lesson. Mini lessons can be used to teach particular skills, extend previous learning, create interest in a topic and generate questions, or introduce strategies.


Why Is It Important?


As Lucy Calkins explains in The Art of Teaching Writing, the mini lesson allows a teacher to convey a tip or strategy to students that they will use often (Calkins 1986). Sharing tips and strategies in this way allows students to gain valuable, relevant skills on a regular basis without spending too much time on drill and worksheets that might otherwise be used to teach the same skills. The lessons can focus on any number of topics, including reading, writing, problem-solving strategies and skills, or even classroom procedures. Using authentic student work as a springboard, teacher-created mini lessons can serve the needs of students by focusing on a single topic across multiple instructional levels.


When Should It Be Taught?


The mini lesson serves as a lead-in to a larger lesson in just about any subject area and can be as short as 5 minutes or as long as 15 minutes.


What Does It Look Like?


The mini lesson may be taught to a whole class, a selected small group, or individual students. The mini lesson should be short and focused on one strategy, skill, or concept. Teachers introduce the topic; demonstrate the strategy, skill, or concept; guide student practice; discuss the topic; volunteer more examples; and talk about what was taught. At the end of the mini lesson, teachers should give directions for the next activity, the literacy centers, or independent assignments.


How Can You Make It Happen?


A great place to find ideas for mini lessons is right in your own classroom. What are your students struggling with? What errors pop up in their work over and over again? Take those errors and turn them into learning opportunities.


1.       Primary


If students are having trouble with bigger words, the strategy of finding little words in the word might help. Take a sentence that contains a big word, such as sentence in the following example, and write it for students to read.


There were many words in the sentence.


Model what would happen if you came across the word and did not know how to read it. Thinking aloud, try to find a little word in the word you don’t know. Are there any words that you know? Show students that you can find the words sent and ten in the big word. You could take the big word and write each letter on an index card to show students clearly how the little words can be found. Then you might ask, “What things have many words in them?” The answer might be dictionaries, books, paragraphs, sentences, and so forth. Tell students that finding little words within a bigger word might help them read a word they don’t know.


2.       Intermediate


A common problem that intermediate students have is how to use the words there, their, and they’re. Searching through student writing is likely to turn up several cases of correct and incorrect usage of these words. Taking a few sentences from student work to analyze with students allows them to think about the words in an authentic context. These words can also be found in books the students are reading.


You might start a mini lesson on the uses of there, their, and they’re by showing four or five sentences from student work that uses these words. Some teachers put sentences on transparencies and use an overhead projector. You might also use a computer to link to a TV monitor to display sentences from student work. Allow students to try to figure out which sentences are correct. From this discussion, guide students toward describing the correct usage of each word.


Ask students to find a passage or two from books they are reading that contain the words. Students can use these passages to confirm their ideas about the correct usage of words that they came up with in their previous discussion.


As a class, create two correct sentences for each word. Post these sentences on the wall of the classroom so that students will be able to refer to them as they write in the future. This mini lesson might lead into writing workshop.


3.       Middle/High School


Teaching students to elaborate on their ideas can help them better support and clarify their ideas and write more commanding essays and papers. Reflecting on and evaluating ideas is a strategy that students can use both in discussions and writing.


Model how to interact with texts in different ways to show students what it looks like to elaborate on an idea. Think aloud as you model how to clarify, speculate, observe, or argue with texts.


Some prompts students can use when clarifying ideas are:
I think ___ because…
I was surprised by ___
This is the same as ___
Now I see ___
One example of ___ is…


After modeling these strategies using the prompts, have students practice using the strategies by discussing texts with a partner.


How Can You Measure Success?


To measure the success of the mini lesson, look at student work to see if it has been affected by the topics addressed in the mini lessons. For example, a week after a mini lesson on there, their, and they’re, look to see if the words are being used correctly more often. What about a month later?


It may be necessary to do more than one mini lesson on a given topic before improvement is seen throughout the class.

One Response to “Focused Mini Lessons for Homeschoolers”

  1. Dana says:

    Great ideas! I used to do mini-lessons a lot as a teacher and have sort of been lax with them recently. They really are great for focusing children and helping them get the most out of a lesson.

    btw, I recently started a weekly project at my blog to share lesson ideas, etc., and you are welcome to stop by and share this with my readers!

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