Loose papers. Lost handouts. Missing homework. Unorganized binders.
All of these things happened daily in my Resource Room until I decided to make packets for each instructional unit.
Some people might think handing out packets encourages dependency and doesn’t teach organizational skills. I will argue this point by saying that packets create structure and improve the flow of class. Students are still expected to have their packets each day, complete their assignments on time, and are able to see the relationship between what we did yesterday and today and tomorrow.
I have already explained that I like to teach in themes, that I usually see “the big picture”, and I process things whole-to-part.
For each grammar unit, novel, and major writing assignment, I make packets of all the handouts, worksheets, graphic organizers, etc. that I plan on using with the students.
The packet is full of a variety of activities, including group work and homework. The only things not in the packet are assessments or other great ideas I stumbled upon during the course of the unit. (But they will be added to the packet next year.)
- Helps disorganized students have necessary materials. Students know to have their packets ready at the start of class. There’s none of that “What do we need today??” business.
- Helps substitute teachers (no locating and passing out of worksheets)
- Helps me with lesson planning (I look at the packet and the SMARTBoard file and blend the two to develop my plans for the day/week/month.)
- Establishes a theme.
- Makes connections.
- Creates cohesiveness.
Let me describe how I create a packet for a novel, like Stargirl.
- To create my packet, I usually start with my SMARTNotebook file for the unit. I do a full-page print of the pages I want students to have individual copies of. I next add other materials that are not from the SMARTBoard.
- I put these pages in chronological order, number the pages, create the table of contents, and then make a calendar for the length of the unit with an overall plan of how much we will cover each day. I include this calendar in the student packet as it helps them see the pacing and our goals for each day. (There is obviously room for flexibility….thank to snow days, assemblies, absences, and days when we spend a little longer than planned.)
- I usually staple bright-colored copy paper on the front and back. Students create a cover for the packet a few days into the novel. We make a list of characters and settings on the inside front cover. The back cover can be used for random, spur of the moment ideas when a clean sheet of paper is needed.
- As we work through a novel, students can easily turn to a page when I ask them to. They can tell me where we left off. Someone usually takes it upon themselves to be the “recorder” of such info and writes both the book page number and the packet page number on the board at the end of class.
- individual and group work
- a variety of written work to prevent boredom (no chapter is the same)
- cloze paragraphs
- extended response
- short answer
- other graphic organizers
The packet is supplemented with the SMART Notebook file I have been building on each year. The file includes:
- lots of visuals and images for discussion and writing prompts
- audio and video clips (see my Novel Playlists post)
- review games and activities
Things to Note:
- My class is not all worksheet based. For a given novel, I may have 25 pages stapled together. I takes me about 7-8 weeks to complete a novel in the resource room.That’s a worksheet almost every other day.
- We use our dry erase boards almost daily in conjunction with the packet. They may have to summarize a chapter, draw a picture, make a prediction on their dry erase boards. This breaks up the paper-pencil activities.
- We don’t always do all the pages in the packet. Sometimes I have overestimated or underestimated where my students are. If it doesn’t feel right, we only do part of it or we skip it all together.
- Because my class is small, (less than a dozen students), I can easily collect the packets if I want to grade an activity. Most grades come from assessments.
- At the end of the unit, I try to hang onto the students’ packets for work samples and documentation. If they really want to keep their packet (few do), I can easily make copies.
Teaching with a packet requires you:
- To have a “vision” for the unit
- To work way ahead.
- To have previous experience with the topic. I don’t think I could pull off a packet on a novel the first time I read it with the class.
Students need and crave structure, but they also need variety. Packets create natural “chunks” for instruction. Students do well with short 10-12 minute activities. By switching between reading out loud, group discussion, completing packet activities independently, working on the SMARTBoard, and using dry erase boards, the pace of class is fast and engaging. My students know they won’t be doing any one thing longer than 15 minutes.
While I focused on the idea of a novel packet, this can be done with any topic. I have created packets on parts of speech, capitalization rules, vocabulary, test-taking strategies, persuasive writing, business letters, and poetry – to name a few.
Are you a whole-to-part or part-to-whole learner/teacher?
How do you handle worksheets and handouts with your class?
Have you created a packet for an entire unit? What worked for you? What didn’t?