As an elementary trained teacher working in The Middle, I frequently find myself making my lessons too “cutesy.” But the funny thing is, the supposedly too cool for school 6th graders LOVE them! Their eyes light up when they see scissors and markers and glue sticks coming out instead of pens and paper. They get so excited, they fail to notice how much work and new learning I manage to hide beneath the fun. It’s a win-win
And then there are the times things backfire, and guess who winds up the loser?
Every year, my students read a realistic fiction novel about a young Jewish girl who escapes from Russia and travels to America. To help the students grasp all the history and background knowledge needed to really understand the story, I created a unit that mimicked an immigrant’s journey.
It was cutesy, complete with passports that I stamped each time they completed an activity. When we created the passports, I had them choose Russian names from a long list of popular boys’ and girls’ names. A few were able to find the Russian version of their own name, but most picked new ones for themselves.
When it came to last names, I explained the history of how the Russian government basically assigned names to the citizens by taking their father’s first name and adding –ov to the end of it, so all the people who had dads named Ivan, would have Ivanov as a last name. Anton would be Antonov, and so on.
“So, I said to the class, “if your dad is Mark, your new last name would be Markov. Got a dad named Steve? Drop the last vowel, and yours would be Stevov. Understand?”
They did, and seemed to like this little tidbit of information as they eagerly went back to the list to find THEIR dad’s names so that they could create a last name for themselves.
I was so busy patting myself on the back for such a well-crafted lesson, that I neglected to walk around the room to observe what it was they were actually writing, so it came as quite a shock when I asked for volunteers to share their new names.
Hands shot up.
“I am Sergei Jackov!” one boy exclaimed.
“And I’m Dimitri Jurgov!” another shouted, after he found the Russian equivalent of his dad’s name, George, on the list.
I did my best to keep a straight face, but I couldn’t hold it. When you’re in The Middle, you learn pretty quickly that it’s usually best to just laugh along.