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Can Dim Lighting Make Our Students More Creative?

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Feb 21, 2014 10:43:00 AM

student writingI work in the dark. I mean, it’s not pitch black in my office, but I only flip the switch to those eye-melting fluorescents when I absolutely have to.

It’s unusual, I know—but the fact of the matter is that I work better in dim light. I can’t think or write otherwise and according to a recent study, my quirk may actually have a drop of science to it.

According to the findings of a 2013 study by German researchers Anna Steidle and Lioba Werth, darkness may actually reduce feelings of constraint and spark creativity. Here’s what they reported in The Journal of Environmental Psychology.  

One key experiment featured 114 German undergraduates who were seated in groups of two or three in a small room designed to simulate an office. The room was lit by a single fixture hanging directly over the group’s desk. The amount of illumination varied with each group: some received only 150 lux (dim light), others 500 lux (the recommended lighting level for an office), and still others 1,500 lux (bright light).

After a 15-minute acclimation period, each group was asked to work on “four creative insight problems” that required creativity to find a solution. After two minutes, groups were asked to report their level of self-assurance, how free from constraint they felt and the degree to which they felt externally controlled. Here’s what the researchers found:

Those in the dimly lit room solved significantly more problems correctly than those in the brightly lit room. They also felt freer and less inhibited than their intensely illuminated counterparts.

Interesting business. I wonder what would happen if we dimmed our classroom lights during testing, problem-solving exercises and group work. Could it make our students more creative?

To read more about Steidle and Werth’s study, you can find a summary here.

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Tags: mindfulness in the classroom, writing strategies, Writing, writing skills, multisensory learning, mindfulness exercises

5 Five-Minute Activities to Improve Vocabulary Building & Description

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Aug 8, 2013 9:36:00 AM

In addition to the longer lessons that make up the main body of our curriculum, we like to add supplementary activities. Sometimes these are quick warm-ups intended to loosen up our students and get them into the right frame of mind. Other activities help us with vocabulary building, or simply act as intellectual “filler” to give students a respite from a class full of heavier, harder-to-digest content. We recently picked up a copy of Penny Ur’s and Andrew Wright’s book, Five-Minute Activities and thought we’d share a few of our favorite 5-minute activities with you.

5 Five-Minute Activities to Improve Vocabulary Building & Description

vocabulary buildingThe Abstract Picture
Draw a big rectangle on the board; inside of it add a variety of lines, squiggles, dots and shapes. Now take a step back and ask the class what they see. What do they think the picture represents? You will get more interaction if you assure students that there is no right or wrong answer. This activity works particularly well for English teachers who are teaching descriptive or creative writing and vocabulary.


vocabulary buildingAdjectives and Nouns
This activity asks students to suggest adjective-noun phrases. For example, an abstract painting, or a drowsy truck driver. As your students make suggestions, write the adjectives on one side of the board and the nouns on the other.

Now students have to create different adjective-noun combinations. When a suggestion is made, draw a line to connect one word to another. If your students suggest something unusual—a drowsy painting, for example—ask them to explain their word combination. Can a painting be drowsy? How so?

The Ambiguous Picture
This is another fun activity for teaching description. vocabulary building
Begin by drawing a small part of a picture. Now ask your students to guess what it’s going to be. The more opinions the better—and be sure not to reject ideas. Now build up your picture in stages, each time asking your students to guess what it is. If students guess, we like to throw them for a loop by changing the original idea.

Word Associations
We use this activity to review vocabulary and practice imaginative association. The teacher begins the activity by saying a word—tyrant, for example. Now the teacher randomly points to a student who must come up with a word association. The student might associate tyrant with merciless. Now that student points to another student who continues the process. If you want to quicken the pace of the game or make it more challenging, set a time limit or limit students to using only the vocabulary words they are studying.

Brainstorming ‘Round a Word
Start by writing a recently learned vocabulary word on the board and then ask your students to suggest all the words they associate with it. Write these down and draw spokes from each association to the root word.

If you want to make the game more challenging, impose restrictions. For example, tell students that they can only use adjectives that apply to the central noun. Or invite verbs that apply to the noun.

For advanced classes, try beginning with a root word—“part,” for example. This might lead to words like depart, impart, partner, part-time, and so on.

These are only five of over 130 activities you’ll find in Five-Minute Activities. Should you need more, check out our most recent guide, Breaking the Ice: 15 Ways to Kick Start the First Day of School.



Guide to Reading Comprehension

Tags: vocabulary, vocabulary enrichment, arts integration, multisensory learning

What do Lady Gaga, a Medical Student and Flocabulary Have in Common?

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Mar 19, 2013 12:42:00 PM


flocabularyEven if you didn’t want to like that Lady Gaga song, there’s a good chance you can faithfully parrot the sugary chorus of it. Be honest now, you know it: Can't read my/ Can't read my/ No he can't read my poker face.” Some hooks are unforgettable, even after a single listen, and though you may not be able to glean anything particularly academic from “Poker Face,” we think a case can be made for using the pop-song formula as a teaching and studying tool. 

It may sound ridiculous (and we suppose it is to some extent), but students have long been putting information to music and using it as learning tool. In fact, we know of one medical student who starting writing anatomy and physiology songs so that he could pass his exams. Included in his oeuvre are crowd-pleasers like “Integumentary System, How Do You Do It?” and “If I were a Skeletal Muscle Tissue.” Let’s get to the point though:

We’d like to introduce Flocabulary, an online learning platform that delivers educational hip-hop songs and videos to students in grades K-12. Flocabulary has been around for a little over a decade and boasts a weekly audience of 5 million students. Their mission: “To motivate kids and help them reach their full academic potential, not only by raising test scores but by fostering a love of learning in every child.”

Flocabulary’s database of songs covers anything from the discovery of America and the Bill of Rights to the scientific method, grammar and Mark Twain.

You’re free to try Flocabulary at no cost for 14 days. Thereafter, you can choose from three plans:

  • Flocabulary: ($5/month) Access to hundreds of original songs & videos in all major K-12 Subject Areas and standards-aligned lessons for each song
  • Week in Rap: ($5/month) Every Friday you’ll receive the week’s biggest stories in a rap music video
  • Flocabulary + The Week in Rap: ($7/month)

Here’s a sample of what they have to offer:

If your students are anything like ours, they love it when technology is integrated into the classroom. To help you do this, we’ve put together a resource that offers 50 of our favorite teacher-friendly websites and apps. Our descriptions of each resource are brief and lighthearted—and hopefully, substantive enough to give you a sense for whether or not they will fit your students’ and your needs. Check it out and share it with your friends and colleagues!

Download our FREE guide: 50 Apps for Teachers!

Tags: apps for educators, vocabulary, vocabulary enrichment, arts integration, multisensory learning, apps for teachers

Using music and multisensory learning to engage students

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Sep 20, 2012 4:53:00 PM

Like most of FNietzscheriedrich Nietzsche’s philosophies, his thoughts on music were both thought provoking and extreme: “Without music, life would be a mistake.” Whether or not you agree with our Deutsche friend, it is true that music has a profound and transformational impact on human identity. It is also true that music is a great way to liven up your classroom and incorporate multisensory learning into your activities.

Although tradition—as opposed to scientific data—has influenced many educators to set academic information to music (think about the way you learned the ABCs), research does suggest that it works. In his book, A Teacher’s Guide to Multisensory Learning, Lawrence Baines cites scholarly research that rather convincingly suggests that music-infused classrooms positively impact students’ reading comprehension, vocabulary acquisition and pronunciation.

In our last post, we talked a bit about arts integration. We’d like to continue the discussion by offering a few ideas for how you might incorporate music and multisensory learning into your lesson plans.

Multisensory Learning Activity: The Film Score

  • After your students read a novel or short story, explain to them that there’s good news: The novel has been adapted for the big screen and they are responsible for scoring five of the film’s scenes.

  • You’ve already selected five songs, typed up the lyrics to songs that aren’t instrumental and handed them out to the studeconductor handsnts.

  • Before you play each song, you should spend some time (it would be best if this was done the day before the activity) going over some basic music terminology.  For example, do they understand tone, dissonance, consonance and tempo? You don’t want to bog them down with technical jargon, but you do want to equip them with some necessary language so that they know what to listen for and how to articulate what they hear.

  • Play each song and have your students takes notes on what they hear. You may need to replay some of the tracks.

  • Next, put your students into groups of four. Assign a “secretary” to each group—s/he will be the note taker who is responsible for jotting down the group’s conclusions—and ask them to collectively decide which song should be paired with which scene in the novel. Explain to them that they must write persuasively about their decision by telling the reader (you) what they heard and why it suits the tone, plot, dialogue, language, etc., of the scene they’ve paired it with.

  • Come back together as a class and have each group discuss their conclusions.

If you want to get fancy, you can take this activity a step further and have your students choose contemporary actors, actresses and directors for this film adaptation. The idea, of course, is for them to write persuasively about their choices and use textual support to bolster their argument.


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Tags: multisensory learning

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