The following is one of fifty engagement tasks in Aaron's newest book Worksheets Don't Work. Each image is hyperlinked to a Google Slide that can be copied and edited as needed. The last section has been added to modify this task for virtual learning. To have upcoming blog posts in this series sent directly to your inbox, add your email address here.
While textbooks and worksheets tend to simplify information into easy-to-swallow portions, reality is a lot messier. Students who memorize information within a narrow context have difficulty recalling it when it looks completely different. Rather than keeping learning within tightly controlled lines, have students examine traditional concepts from a variety of angles. Even familiar topics can be viewed with fresh eyes if students do so with a new frame of mind.
Take 5 can be used with either content knowledge or skills. Students use a template or a blank piece of paper folded into quarters with a rhombus in the middle. Examining the topic or information under scrutiny, they record their thoughts on it from five separate vantage points. They write down facts about the subject and any emotions it evokes. They consider the positive aspects of the topic as well as the negative. Finally, students use the central rhombus to put a real-world spin on the subject. If it is a problem, they consider possible solutions. If not, they think about how it can be applied in their lives.
Why It Works
The more connections a memory has in the brain, the better chance there is of future recall. When information is newly learned, its permanence is in no way guaranteed. In fact, if multiple pathways are not quickly formed to the new topic, the chances of it lasting past the week are slim. Take 5 can be used with even the most seemingly simplistic topics to encourage fresh looks at old or disconnected ideas.
While facts are often the bread and butter of classroom instruction, emotions are oftentimes minimized or neglected. Feelings do, however, play a large part in student cognition. Consider the student with test anxiety that can solve any math problem during class but freezes up when faced with a high-stakes test. This worksheet alternative allows students to think about how certain topics or skills make them feel. Also, not all things they learn in school are completely positive. Students also examine if there are any negative aspects to what they are learning, either for themselves or for society in general.
It’s the central rhombus, however, that students might find most invigorating. Instead of leaving learning in its ivory tower, students need to examine their topic in light of how it is used outside the classroom. They explore applications, think of possible solutions, and consider real-world applications.
Before diving into this simple but powerful tool, there are few considerations to ponder.
1. Evaluate the content or skill that students will be examining. While most subjects will work well, there might be a few topics that are too narrow or too technical for consideration. As a test, make a quick take 5 yourself to see how easy or difficult it is to create.
2. Consider any alterations that need to be made to the categories. The five sections supplied are not sacred in themselves but simply lenses students can use. If only four categories would work, go with that. If one of the categories would work better if renamed, tweak it.
3. Think about how you want to group students for this activity. The ideal size is working in partners or small groups. However, this can also be accomplished individually. As with most of the other alternatives in this book, it is the conversations that students participate in surrounding the strategy that hold the greatest potential for learning.
4. Grading considerations should also be kept in mind. Students should know beforehand if their completed papers will be evaluated in any way, such as the quality of responses or by filling in all the blank spaces. If the former, be careful to not be too strict or forbidding. The purpose is for students to record what they believe, not what they think is the right answer.
5. Before assigning take 5, talk through the categories with students. Hold a brainstorming session and create an exemplar so students have a starting point for their own creations. If possible, make an anchor chart and post it in a prominent location so students can refer to it as needed.
6. Set aside time to review completed papers, preferably with the entire class. Make a class summary utilizing input from all the various groups to clarify thinking and clear up any misconceptions.
Ms. Serrato’s high school social studies classes were examining the global climate change crisis. More than simply examining the facts that scientists from both sides put forth to defend their views, she wanted them to explore the narrative. Between the scientists, the activists, and the media, a rich story was being woven. Since many of her students already had fixed views on the issue because of their familiarity with various forms of social media, she wanted them to look at climate change from a fresh perspective. Actually, five fresh perspectives.
“As you know, we’ll be studying climate change this week. The graphic organizer that you will use to record your findings will be a five-part tool called take 5. Please take out a sheet of notebook paper and fold it in half lengthwise. Open it back up and fold it in half horizontally so that you have four quadrants. Once you’ve checked to make sure you’ve folded it correctly, fold it back into fourths and find the corner that’s at the center of the paper, the one with two folds. Fold back a sizeable triangle from that corner and then open it back up. You should now have a paper with four quadrants and a rhombus in the middle.
“Label the top-left quadrant facts,” Ms. Serrato continued. “During your research, you will look for verifiable facts about climate change from both sides of the argument. If you see bullet points on a website somewhere, dig deeper and validate where the information is coming from. What studies are being cited? In the bottom-left quadrant, write emotions. Jot down any words, phrases, or tones you pick up from your research. How is the information being presented in a way that evokes strong emotions?
“The two right-hand quadrants should be labeled pro-cc and anti-cc. This is where you take sides and find the most compelling arguments for both views. Those arguments that support the belief that climate change is a real threat should be placed in the top pro-cc box. In the bottom-right box, find as much as you can to support the climate change deniers. Place justifications to support the idea that it’s just a fictional doomsday hoax in the anti-cc box. Finally, your own analysis will go in the central rhombus. Label this solutions and fill it in last. Once you’ve completed the other four sections, share what solutions you believe humanity can take in the next 20 years to combat however much of climate change you believe in. Are there any questions?” Ms. Serrato concluded. She had barely finished speaking before an energized hum overtook the class as papers were pulled out and folded.
The simplest way to customize take 5 would be to adapt the categories to meet the needs of the cognitive task. Specifically, the central rhombus, which asks for applications or solutions, should be individualized for the learning activity. In the case of the scenario above, climate change is seen as a problem so the culmination of the task should require students to provide possible solutions. In other contents or disciplines, applications might be more well-suited. For instance, students examining the concept of multiplication through the take 5 lens would finish by brainstorming applications of it in their everyday lives.
Another take on this worksheet alternative would be to vary how students record their thoughts on the paper. The traditional method involves writing words or phrases but students could instead elect to draw their answers. Using illustrations, word maps, or any form of creative expression, students could annotate their take 5s with color and artistic license.
Additionally, the method that students use to capture their thoughts in various perspectives does not need to be pencil and paper. Many digital platforms exist that could allow students to utilize a wide variety of media formats and avenues. Digital take 5s could include website links, embedded YouTube videos, and even popular memes. Students could even create digital multimedia presentations to supplement the various viewpoints they use to examine topics. For younger students, take 5 can be adjusted to ask a series of questions that students respond to. Instead of facts, they answer, What do you know? Emotions is replaced with the question, How do you feel? Subsequently, positive and negative are replaced with two similar questions, What are the good/bad parts? The change of the categories from topical titles to questions that need to be answered makes the learning activity more inviting and accessible.
Finally, some students might want to personalize their take 5s. After students have participated in multiple take 5 experiences, varied to meet the needs of the content or skill, a bank of categories will have been created. Instead of preassigning the five categories, teachers can provide students with a list of the various perspectives they’ve used in the past. They can then choose the four angles that encompass the outer four quadrants. I would suggest keeping the inner rhombus as a culminating section, either asking students to apply the knowledge or provide a possible solution.
Modifying This For Virtual Learning
When using this digitally, it opens up a wide variety of responses for students. In addition to using words and phrases, students can also insert images, memes, animated gifs, and even links to YouTube videos. More than that, students can create word clouds to capture a variety of terms. The image of the finished word cloud can be copied and pasted into the various parts of their Take 5.
Responses can even be more visual. Using drawing applications, screen recorders, or embedded webcams, students can record their responses and thoughts to the Take 5, using the structure to merely categorize the responses. The core of the student responses can be communicated through these audio/video tools and accessed through the digital Take 5.