Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Scary Left Hand Side!

This has been sitting in my drafts for about two weeks.  Finally, I'm ready to write about this dreaded Left Hand Side (and in some cases, it could be your right side).

Using the ISN is fun. If it's not fun, it becomes a pain for the teacher and the kids (and you) do not get the most out of using this tool. I feel like the side where teachers tend to struggle the most is the dreaded Left Side (at least in my book it's this side).  It's the output side where the kids infer the material that is presented on the other page.

Sure, this is easy, right?  I mean, I can just take those nice little questions out of the book and have the kids answer them on the left side.  Done.  Wrong.  Unless you want a revolt, you have to come up with activities that will stimulate the learning that should be taking place.  Sure, do I have the kids answer questions from time to time during labs?  Yes, but I don't make a habit of it.  Remember, bad habits are very hard to break.

So what can you do instead?  There are LOTS of things that a creative, educated person like yourself can do in your classroom.  I have a bunch of examples that you might be able to use in your classroom.  They might not work for you, but you can tweak them into something that will work for you but more importantly, the students you teach day in and day out.

Let's start with something simple:

I like to call this one "Give me Five" - It's simple.  Have the kids trace their hands.  Yes, even at 14 years old, they still love this.  The next step is that they have to give you five main points or details from the notes/reading/etc. on the right hand side.  It's simple and easy and great for those who struggle with picking out main ideas or details.  It gives them a limit of details needed but it's done in an organized, fun way.  It gets the point across very quick and those hands become the best looking manicured hands in the school :)

Another one that I use a lot is very simple: "Draw It" - Kids draw out something that they learned during the lesson or could take the reading on the other page and interpret it through pictures.  A lot of times I try to organize that left side into sections so their pictures aren't all over the place.  For example, the picture below shows one that I did for notes that the kids researched on different masses in space:

The students took a gallery walk on projects completed by my classes.  I gave them the important areas and they had to search for the information on the posters

Through their gathering of notes, the kids were able to show me their understanding or what they were still not understanding through pictures.

Those two activities are probably some of the easiest things to go on the left hand side.  Like I said before, you can do questions from time to time, but if you do too much the idea of the notebook is lost.

So what else is out there?  Tons.  I have some examples of what I've used and others from places that I've researched over the years.  Here are a few to get you started and please note, you can make these fit your curriculum in ways you would never believe :)

Poems - Acrostic poems are some of the kids favorite because they are simple and easiest to do.  Pick a main word that you'll be covering on the left hand side and have the kids create a poem out of that.

Bumper Sticker - I have some fun with this one.  Again, it depends on the lesson and for the most part, bumper stickers are still relevant (I'll get back to what I mean here in a second) enough to our students that they understand what they are (depending on age).  The kids can create their own slogan with a picture about the information that is being presented in class.  It might be a good idea to have a picture of a few just in case some of the kids get confused with what an actual bumper sticker is (it happens!).  Here's an example of one where my kids created one for balanced and unbalanced forces:

This is just an example of a bumper sticker a student made.  The main idea of the lesson taught can be seen in this picture
Getting back to the idea of being relevant to the students is huge.  I'm noticing more and more that there are some great ideas out there for left side activities, but the problem is, will the kids really care about what you're making them do.  A prime example that at one time was great was to make a CD cover about whatever topic you were covering.  When I first started teaching it wasn't as big of deal, but you go and ask teenagers and probably even more so at the younger kids what a CD cover is, some of them will be like what are you talking about?  You'll be like the thing that plays music or you can watch movies from them, and this could seriously be the responds, "Oh, those round things?  They play blue ray and my XBox 360 games."  Yea, it's a little scary as I'm only 28 and the 'music' CD has basically seen its glory days already.  That was the thing to have when I was in middle school!  Not anymore.  It's all about what's on their iPod or their phone.  I rarely use a CD anymore .  So rather then ask the kids about a CD cover, ask them to create the album art for apple for the topic being taught.  Remember, we have an audience out there, we have to meet their needs and not ours at times.

Ok, rant over.  More ideas!

Graphic Organizers  - I took a class during my long road to become a teacher and I remember one of my professor saying if the kids are able to take the information presented and create a graphic organizer from it that their retention level increases.  It's amazing, but I've seen it work.  It's a great way for the kids to pull out the important information (again) and organize it in a way for them to remember it.  Here's a small example:

The notes were the result of an activity

The students took the information from the activity to create the Venn Diagram.

And some more choices:

  • I've done things were kids create advertisements and even a magazine cover (I'm questioning the relevance at this very moment because really, who reads magazines) about the material that is presented in class.   
  • I've done things were the kids wrote letters to Princeton about a certain topic that had two sides to it and their had to defend their side.  I picked Princeton because it's nice and close and many of my children at the time knew where it was.   
  •  One of my favorites is where the students create their comics (online and ones the students drew).  They tell a short story about the different topics and what the kids produce on paper really tells you if they got it or not.  (Toondoo is one of my favs for online comics!)  
  • The kids have created songs and posters within their notebook.  It's funny because they remember the entries that have meaning to them.  You have to do that for the kids - give them something that interests the student.  
  • I'm going to try that this year with something that I've come across.  I know we all hate "txt" talk.  I'm guilty of started one of my papers my senior year of college with writing ppl instead of people.  When I read it, I seriously was like what are you doing?  I mean really, who does that?  Easy - our students.  So instead of fighting against the man, here and there, I'm going let them use a txt talk in answering or summarizing their work.  Obviously they will have to have a non-txt version to go with it, but it will be fun AND most importantly appropriate for school.  They think I'm stupid....little do they know, that's why Google was invented - so I can google txt talk idk and make sure it's appropriate ;).  There will be LOTS of modeling with this one - I'll let you know how it goes!  Again, I'm doing this for my audience because I want to keep them as engaged as possible.  I have 173 more days of school, I gotta play my cards right! 
So as I end this, I'm going to leave you with a website that I found years ago.  Mr. Roughton's website is amazing.  He has LOTS of information and activities on there where you can use to help you create your own ideas.  His assignments page is one of the best pages I have seen out on the internet to date.  Seriously, this guy gets it.  I hope that you get it to or at least like to listen to me rant about left side madness being directed towards your kids.  I get sick and tired of listening and hearing how we aren't supposed to entertain up there.  I'm sorry, but if I'm not engaged, I really don't care about what's going on around me.  Just think about what your kids are going through day in and day out.  THEY WANT TO BE ENGAGED.  I got a message from a former student this morning and I couldn't believe what she said.  She was telling me about her science teacher and said that she could hand in any paper she wanted to the teacher for homework and he'll just check it off as being collected.  It's like he doesn't even check what they are doing. She said that she....wait for it......

Misses actually having to do homework to my fullest )':

 (sad face is totally her).  Seriously, would you think a kid would come back to you and say that?!  Ever!?  So even if that left hand side may be a bit annoying or your struggling with coming up with activities, the kids appreciate the work that you are putting into it.  And if they really like ya, they'll let you know it one way or another :)  


  1. Great post full of useful information. Thanks for making the left side a bit more clear now! I had even thought about completely doing away with left side/right side and come up with my own version. This helps though :)


    1. I'm glad it helps! It takes awhile to really get used to it and really see what you can actually do with it. I know that it's super easy to get frustrated with it, but over time, I promise it gets better and better. As the year goes on, I'm going to try to post more ideas. These were just a few to get people inspired :)

      You make your ISN your own. The kids will love it no matter what :)

  2. Thank you so much for this post. I am going to be doing ISN with my students this year and was so confused about the left hand side. It makes total sense to me now!

  3. Your txt talk idea gave me another idea that I think I will try this year... I am going to let them create a mock social media post (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc) as their output.