When designing a lesson, one tactic I try is to push the idea I’m teaching to an extreme. This works especially well in math (what if we multiply/divide by a HUGE/teeny number) but one of my favorite uses has been in a grammar lesson.
I took the rather dull topic of “its” vs “it’s” and explored the idea of over-using these two, easily confused words. What if we pushed this topic to an extreme? What if students had to use these words over and over and over?
So, after teaching the lesson and practicing with my students, I presented them with this task:
Write a paragraph story about a creature named It. The title of your story must be “It’s Big Day.” And you must use “its” and “it’s” exactly five times each. Include an illustration.
These super-tight constraints combined with the over-use of its/it’s led to some incredibly fun stories. And, boy, could I tell who knew how to use each word correctly. Naturally, we did a read-aloud (really fast since each story is only a paragraph) so everyone could enjoy “It’s Big Day.”
Oh, and the best part? I had my sixth graders write their stories using kindergarten paper with its MASSIVE line-spacing! Their reaction was a mix of delight and horror. I highly recommend this twist. It sure made their handwriting neater (but they also kept ripping through the paper with their erasers 😝).
One of my favorite parts of a task with these weird requirements is seeing who gets unexpectedly into it. It’s not always who I’d predict.