A Very Venn Valentine's Day

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

I love using Venn diagrams with my students! Research shows that identifying similarities and differences is one of the most powerful strategies for improving student learning - (Marzano, Robert. (2001). Classroom Instruction that Works) - and Venn diagrams are a terrific tool to help students realize this strategy.

Venn diagrams are great because the format is familiar to students and consistent in nature – only the content matter changes, so no time consuming teaching of procedures. Furthermore, Venn diagrams are easy to differentiate with little to no prep work! (Isn’t that the best :-)

So, as a fun Valentine's Day treat for my teachers, I created a series of Very Venn Enrichment activities to help them celebrate the day with their sweet kiddos. (You can download it for free, too! Read on :-)

Some of the diagrams in this download include “forced associations.” Examples:

click here to download (for FREE :-)

A forced association asks students to find similarities among items/ideas that are seemingly unrelated. By combining words that appear to be dissimilar, students are encouraged to think in new ways and to develop new perspectives and understandings. Forced associations help students to think critically and creatively, build divergent thinking skills, and develop an awareness of relationships. Oh yeah, and they’re fun! :-)

Venn diagrams can easily be differentiated to meet the needs of ALL learners! Below are some of the easy, LOW PREP strategies for successful differentiation and implementation.

Implementation Ideas:
  • Teacher-directed activities: In a teacher-directed Venn activity, the teacher identifies the elements to be compared. For example, if comparing two fables, a teacher might direct students to compare characters, setting, problem, solution, and theme/moral. Providing specific guidelines helps to focus student attention on the most salient features. Teacher-directed Venn diagrams can also provide scaffolding for students who may need support.
  • Student-directed activities: In a student-directed Venn activity, students select the elements to compare. This task is a wonderful, open-ended way to nurture higher-order thinking skills like divergent thinking. When tiering Venn activities, the content can be the same (ex: fractions/decimals), but tier one can be teacher directed and tier 2 can be student-driven. Students explore the same content, but at different levels of complexity.

Strategies for Differentiation:
  • Concrete to Abstract: As teachers, we need to deliver the same concepts and essential understandings to all students, even though they are at varying levels of readiness. One way to do this effectively is by offering activities on a spectrum from concrete to abstract. (To learn more about this differentiation continuum, check out Carol Ann Tomlinson’s web site http://www.caroltomlinson.com/ differentiation goddess!) In a Venn diagram, we can do the same thing! A concrete task compares two objects, ideas, or concepts from the same category. Here are some examples: oranges/apples; Cinderella/Snow White; condensation/ precipitation; needs/wants; etc. We can then gradually progress to more abstract, challenging comparisons that require “forced associations.”
  • Teacher vs. Student-directed activities: This is an easy, low-prep way to differentiate Venn activities, while still providing the same rich content to ALL students. Let’s say your class is exploring number sense and you place the terms “odd” and “even” in a Venn diagram. In the tier one activity, the teacher would select the most salient and significant characteristics to be addressed, such as: examples, images/illustrations, definition, etc. In the tier two activity, no characteristics are provided, so students must identify the relevant, key characteristics on their own. This step adds depth and complexity to the task, while still exploring the same content. 

Teacher Tips:
  • Provide explicit instruction and guidance: Model for students how to select important characteristics to compare. Identifying relevant features will improve the depth of student thought and the quality of their work.
  • Use a rubric to ensure high quality, thoughtful responses. A rubric can be a student road map to success. With detailed descriptors, rubrics outline expectations so that students know exactly how to produce their best work. Particularly with open-ended responses/tasks like the ones shown here, explicit criteria helps students to produce thorough, insightful work. 
  • Make it a game! Students select two things to compare and use a Venn diagram to identify the ways in which the items/ideas are alike and different. When they finish, students swap papers with a classmate. Students then use the clues provided to infer what two objects are being compared. This is a great way to develop a meaningful understanding of discipline specific vocabulary! 
If you like the Very Venn Valentine's, check out my Very Venn Enrichment Activities!

This includes 20 WEEKS of student center activities and a RUBRIC to help you evaluate their work. I put a ton of thought into this product and am so proud of the results. I hope you love it, too!

Thanks for reading! Off to prep for tomorrow, friends! :-)

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