Tag Archives: motivation

Unpacking Playing Cards

5th December 2014

Don’t Call on Kids with Raised Hands

The random questioning of my students was something I struggled with for several years; I was given ideas by my administrators like making a Popsicle stick for each student or drawing name cards – both seemed like a lot of work for me to make and also not truly “random”. I wanted something unique for my own classroom and came up with this: I tape a playing card (no face cards or aces unless I need them) to each student desk. I place them on the corner and use packing tape to keep them down. Then, I have another deck of cards in my hands with the same cards that I used on the desks. I shuffle them and pull. If their card is called, they answer. However, I didn’t realize until a year later that they made great grouping strategies as well (“all 2s get together” or “all hearts in that corner of the room”). I make sure that my groups of four in my classroom have one of each suit on their desks that way I can nominate certain students for different tasks throughout a lesson (“clubs put the books away”, “spades turn in the worksheets”, “hearts are writing the group paragraph”, etc.).

Accountability and Positive Peer Pressure

The cards have become an extremely useful tool in teaching my students accountability. There is no doubt when their card, or number, or suit is called, they are participating and if they don’t, the person next to them will surely let you know that you called their neighbor’s card (don’t you love teenagers, so willing to throw their partner under the “bus”?!). My student’s call it “mini-panic attack of the day”; but they also know that if they can’t answer they can say that they don’t know and explain why they are confused and they can ask for help from another person of their same card suit, they can “phone another heart.”

Beginning with the End in Mind

When a new quarter begins, I provide my students with their final performance task for that quarter on the first or second day back. *Please note that a performance task or assessment is not a novel test or study guide but an essay, presentation, or speech. This way, my students know from the start of the quarter what they will need to complete (and also learn in order to complete it) by the end.

In order to get them to understand their assignment, I have them “unpack” the assignment sheet like they would unpack a suitcase, taking one item from the assignment out at each time. They are basically picking apart the assignment and making a poster to represent that assignment (not completing the assignment at that moment). Each group member has a piece of white printer paper and a specific task to complete. Once each member has completed their task directions on their computer paper piece, the students tape their papers together to make a complete poster.

Below are sample directions and images of finished products for unpacking a performance task (an argumentative speech) I gave my students last quarter (I call them embedded assessments):


 Embedded Assessment Summarizer (HEART)

Your role is to identify the title of the project and summarize what you are being asked to do.

On your sheet of paper, complete the following steps:

Identify the title of the embedded assessment, and write it in a decorative, but legible way on your paper.

Summarize the task of the assignment on and write a summary, in your own words, underneath the title on your paper.

Illustrator (Whole Group)

Your role is to create a visual that represents what the project is asking you to do or the skills/knowledge is asking you to acquire.

Once all other pieces are finalized, complete the following steps anywhere on your group poster:

Read the embedded assessment title, assignment & suggestions.

Sketch a neat, colorful, and engaging central image that represents the information that you read.

Skills and Knowledge Specialist (SPADE)

Your role requires you to identify the skills and knowledge you will need to demonstrate on this assessment.

Complete the following steps on your own paper:

Write “Skills and Knowledge” decoratively across the top of your paper.

To identify the skills and knowledge, look over contains the task, suggestions, and scoring rubric. What skills do you need to successfully accomplish this embedded assessment?

Guiding Questions:

Q: What must you complete to plan your argument essay?

Q: What skills will you need to write the essay?

Q: What skills will you need to publish your essay?

Content Specialist (CLUB)

Your role will be to identify the vocabulary and content you will acquire leading up to completing this project.

On your piece of paper, complete the following steps:

Write “Ideas to Learn” decoratively and neatly across the top of your paper.

Look the assignment and find academic vocabulary words and concepts from this assessment that you may not be familiar with yet or need to include – this can include titles of pieces or authors you are unfamiliar with.

 Exemplary Explain-er (DIAMOND)

Your role is to identify the exemplary elements that may need to be included i.e. what everyone is aiming for with this project (so a “6”)?

On your paper, complete the following steps.

Write the title “A Successful Argument Essay Should” on the top of your paper decoratively and neatly.

Examine the Scoring Rubric. Summarize the information in the “6” section and write them neatly and creatively.

See rubric on back.

Extra Poster Motivation

I then offer a clothespin (see my “Motivational Clothespins” post) to the team in each class with the “best/most complete/etc.” poster and TWO (yes, two – this is a big deal in my classroom) clothespins to the poster I pick to display on the front board the entire quarter. See samples below:

2014-10-30 13.56.26 2014-10-30 13.56.30

What I like about the unpacking poster project is that as I teach specific lessons, I can refer to the poster on the front board to remind them that what I am teaching today is to help them on their performance task. The students know that I am not just wasting their time and I rarely have late assignments or projects because they knew about it up front and have heard about it for several weeks. I think they also appreciate that something that is worth a lot of points instead a surprise.

If you have any question please feel free to reply below to this post!