Have you ever started out a lesson that you thought would be perfect, only to find that your students already knew a lot of the information, or that they weren’t as familiar with it as you had assumed? While it can be difficult to plan a lesson and then find out that you may need to change direction, I’m way more comfortable changing plans at the beginning of class, rather than in the middle of it!
Today I’m sharing one of my favorite ways to warm up my students, prepare them for the lesson ahead, and do a mini, sneaky assessment of what they already know using a thought web! If you're looking for a warm up activity to promote creativity and sharing ideas, check out Community Creations. To find out more about what a thought web is and how you can use it in your adult ESL classroom, keep reading below.
How Can a Thought Web Help Me?
To Assess: One of my favorite things about using a thought web is that it allows me to assess what my students already know or feel about the subject at hand. It’s a quick little assessment tool that gives me a better direction to go in while teaching. I can not only survey what knowledge my students already have and need, but I can also survey what their opinions, feelings, and preconceived assumptions are.
To Prepare My Students: As far as my students go, thought webs allow them time to think and prepare for the lesson ahead. It’s an activity that activates schemata, which is a fancy, educational way of saying that it helps them to find out what they already know. Thought webs are also a great tool for building confidence. If your students are uncomfortable jumping into unknown territory, as most people are, thought webs give them an opportunity to slowly dip their toes into the topic at hand.
To Make Judgment Calls: Whether you decide to use your thought web task as an individual warm up or a whole class discussion opportunity, pay attention to the many benefits it has to crafting a lesson plan on the spot. If you find your students are already really familiar with classic poetry, such as Whitman, Dickinson, or Cummings, but aren’t as familiar with the ways that poetry pervades pop culture, focus on that! Don’t be afraid to make changes on the spot in order to meet your students where they are and craft a lesson that will be engaging and helpful!
Building Thought Webs
Student Groupings: Individual - Whole Class
Teacher Prep: Choose a topic
Resources Needed: Chalk/White Board (or paper/pens if using individually)
- To begin your thought web, write a word (or a few) in a circle at the center of the board that pertains to your lesson topic. It can be something as vague as, “transportation,” or something more specific like, “taking the bus.” Throughout this article we’re going to use the example of, “poetry.”
- After writing your word on the board, ask your students to throw out some words that they think of when seeing the topic. After seeing “poetry,” they may throw out words like “reading,” “spoken word,” “Robert Frost,” or “rhyming.” As they give you words, write them on the board around the topic word and organize them. Begin to create a web.
- If your students are running out of ideas, or if you’re looking for a specific thought or opinion, ask questions to prompt them. You could ask your students what their opinion is on a certain topic, how something makes them feel, or why someone would partake of the topic.
- Begin to create a discussion around the web. Ask what a word means, why they thought of something they thought of, or what experiences they’ve had. Take note of words, terms, and concepts your students are already familiar with and where you may need to “fill in the gap.” When talking about poetry, you may want to ask, “what types of feelings does poetry evoke?” “why do you feel like poetry is confusing?” or “are there different kinds of poetry?”
- After creating the web, use it to spark your next activity or as a jumping off point for your teaching time. I like to take this opportunity to go back through the web, ask more questions, and talk more about certain topics. Usually my “teaching time” begins to seep into this warm up activity, which is okay! The activity usually switches between teacher talking time, student discussion, and guided brainstorming
To give more students an opportunity to participate, have students build thought webs individually or in pairs before sharing with another group. Before doing this, though, make sure your students are already familiar with the process of building a thought web!
Don't have time at the beginning of class to commit to building a thought web? Use it at the end of a class to prepare for the next class. Let it influence your lesson planning, and let your students know that you're going to continue the discussion in the next class.
Thought webs are a great tool for your adult ESL classrooms because they allow students to access information they already know, which builds confidence, and they give you, the teacher, a better idea of where your students are coming from. Thought webs are a great precursor to academic English where graphic organizers are used often.
Most importantly, thought webs are a great way to engage your learners in the topic at hand before you even begin teaching. If you find that your students are not responding well to your activities, or that they don't seem to be very invested, check out 4 Ways to Make Any ESL Activity More Engaging.
I Want to Hear From You!
How do you use thought webs in your classroom?
Have you ever planned a lesson, only to find out your students already knew the information? Share your story below!