We’re continuing our series about talking less in class. In this article, we’ll explore the power of the non-example.
How NOT To Do A Push-Up
A high-quality example is one technique for less teacher talk. How many words would you have to use to explain a correct push-up versus just dropping down and demonstrating? But the power of an example increases when paired with a non-example.
If you explain the basic idea, then demonstrate a correct push-up, and then show some bad versions, you’ll communicate far more information without any more words.
With several non-examples, you’ll immediately clear up common mistakes and misunderstandings. Plus, non-examples are super fun to create and deliver. Think of how you’d show a kid how not to do a push-up.
- I’d curve my back all weird.
- I’d only go down half an inch and yell “did it!”
- I’d put my butt way up in the air.
- I’d drop my knees.
How NOT To Draw An Elbow
Flipping through my Art of Adventure Time book, I was struck by how many example/non-example explanations I saw for how to draw in the show’s style.
Here’s how to draw Adventure Time elbows:
Notice how the example and non-example work together to clarify that tiny written explanation. I totally get how to draw an Adventure Time elbow but needed very few words.
Name on Paper
Here’s a super simple example. You tell students where to put their names on a paper, but many put the name somewhere else.
- Tell the class to always put their names on the top right corner of the paper.
- Demonstrate with an example. Post the example on the wall.
- BUT THEN: show them a wrong way to do it. Bonus if this is a silly example (name on the back, upside down on the bottom, etc). Now post the non-example on your wall.
- Bonus: Ask for some silly non-examples from the class: write it backward, write in a spiral, use a yellow crayon.
Of course, come back to that example in the end to highlight the right way, but think about how memorable and clear your instruction has become!
I’m sure you’ve seen the same writing problems pop up year after year. These recurring problems are perfect non-examples. Rather than becoming frustrated by them, use them.
Each year, my class “remixed” The Three Little Pigs. I always asked for an interesting twist. But just saying “I want a twist” resulted in maybe a 25% success rate.
So I’d also write up a sample of a twist:
“In my story, the pigs will be astronauts creating the first settlements on Mars. Instead of a wolf, their structures will be threatened by their own malfunctioning robot. However, (and here’s the twist!) the robot is also their only hope of returning home.“
Taking time to create an example meant maybe 66% of the class would add the twist. But I’d still have a group who “remixed” The 3 Little Pigs into The 3 Little Bears. So boring!
So then I wrote an explicit non-example to counteract this pattern:
“Now here’s a twist that is really boring: In my story, the pigs will be dogs!”
The class would laugh. “Ha ha ha. Who would do such a thing!? That’s not a twist at all.” I’d smile and agree: such a silly idea!
But the result was magical. NO ONE wrote the dreaded 3 Little Mice or 3 Little Cows. Even my least confident writer took a step beyond simply replacing the animal.
My mid-range writers had a much better understanding of what a twist should and shouldn’t look like.
And remember the bonus level: ask your class for some other “bad” twists.
Raise The Roof & The Floor
If a high-quality example raises the ceiling of what students see is possible, the non-example raises the floor.
Great examples give successful students something concrete to aim for, and non-examples give an extra scaffold for struggling students.
What’s Annoying You?
Is there something your students keep doing (or keep not doing) year after frustrating year? This is the perfect chance for bringing in a non-example to enhance the explanation and example.
The example / non-example combination is also the basis of:
- The concept attainment model of instruction
- The Frayer Model for definitions
- Countless exercise tapes!
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