Teaching Sixth Grade - A Good Year


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Robert Jackson

Information about Robert Jackson

  1. Mastery
  2. Limits on the Teacher's Time
  3. Background: Principles of Teaching
  4. Teaching Strategies
  5. Textbooks, the Framework of Classroom Life
  6. Students Can Produce Cartoons (line drawings) on Any Classroom Topic
  7. Certificates of Accomplishment
  8. What Certificates of Accomplishment Can Be Awarded For
  9. Choral reading selections
  10. Sixth Grade - A Good Year

1. Mastery

Mastery is the goal of all teaching. In a classroom there is a special problem: the students vary so much in knowledge and abilities that it is impractical to expect all students to master all of the material taught.

Since, as students grow older, the gap in knowledge and abilities among them widens, getting all students in sixth grade to learn the basic materials for the grade becomes even more difficult than it was in the early grades.

Should teachers throw up their hands and give up on the slower learners? This is a mistake that some teachers make.

Slower learners respond to conscientious instruction. There are several strategies that teachers employ:

  1. The teacher teaches a single student or a small group during class time or after school.

  2. A faster student is assigned to help a slower student.

  3. The teacher finds special instructional materials for slower students to work on independently either during school time or at home.

  4. The teacher enlists the parents to teach the child at home using instructional materials supplied by the teacher.

When mastery is sought, as it should be, the importance of testing is readily apparent. With test results in hand, both teacher and student can see how well the student has learned, and plans for next steps can be made. There is a proper use of tests and an improper use. Properly used, tests are used to identify the next steps needed in a child's education. Improperly used, tests are used to reward the good students and stigmatize the poor students.

When it comes to report cards, the teacher is, of course, constrained by the school system. However, the most commonly used reporting system - the A-B-C-D-F grading system - is a brutal invention. To knock poorly achieving students down further with a poor report card has serious lasting consequences - poor self-esteem, troublemaking, and worse. These students are eager to succeed - at something! - and what they can succeed at is contrary to what one might wish. The teacher has to make sure that these students get to answer questions, to help out with classroom chores (passing out paper, etc.), and to receive the teacher's encouragement.

2. Limits on the Teacher's Time

The idea of mastery sounds good, but how can the teacher find the time needed? Obviously, compromises are needed. The teacher's time is finite.

First, limit the amount of student work that you have to correct. Student compositions should be no more than a half a page long. Forget about homework - it's not all that valuable, the teacher doesn't have the time for it, and it just causes friction at home. Second, take responsibility just for the basic curriculum, not all the extras that ambitious parents might want you to add. Third, explain to students who take up too much of your time that your time is limited and that you have to pay attention to everybody. Fourth, make students captains of your centers. Fifth, assign chores - keeping desktops clean, cleaning window sills, cleaning tables, keeping floor in coat closet picked up, keeping art supplies orderly, keeping paper supplies orderly, etc.

It is a wonderful thing to see students themselves take charge of an enterprise. They amaze you with their industry. A capable student can produce an entire play. Students can be put in charge of setting up and demonstrating science experiments.

Note: if you have already visited the "Students Can Learn On Their Own" Web site, you should skip to "Textbooks, the Framework of Classroom Life" - skip.

3. Background: Principles of Teaching

Two Kinds of Assignments

Assigned School Work: Part of a Continuum?

School Work: Do Students See It as Purposeful?

Asking Students Questions

Whole Class Instruction: Is It Out of Date?

4. Teaching Strategies

Keeping a Studious Classroom

Test Often, Test Widely

Obtaining Student Commitment to Independent Work

Providing for Student Management of Classroom Materials

5. Textbooks, the Framework of Classroom Life

Textbooks form the framework of classroom life. It is impractical for school systems to produce them on their own. School systems make a mistake in being led down the garden path of "behavioral objectives." The textbook publishers have already done that work. If textbooks are wisely selected, they can be relied upon to provide the structure and information needed in each subject-matter area. Furthermore, the teacher's manuals give many worthwhile suggestions.

Best practice: read to the students from the textbook. Student readers usually cannot hold the attention of the class, so it is up to the teacher to read to the students from the textbook, asking questions as you go along and writing vocabulary words on the whiteboard. End your reading with an informal test "on the fly," open-ended or true-false, only a few questions, enough to emphasize important learnings and to fix those learnings in the students' minds. Read out the answers so that the students can grade their own papers. Collect the papers and throw them away later.

Learning from reading textbooks requires close leadership by the teacher. You turn the students' attention to only one paragraph at a time. You start with word study of words in the paragraph - new or interesting or difficult words. After sufficient preparation, the students read the paragraph or the sentence silently. The teacher then checks student understanding by asking questions about the paragraph.

For guidance in choosing textbooks, a teacher (or school system) can be helped by learning of state-wide adoptions, as found in these links:
North Carolina State-Wide Textbook Adoptions

Texas State-Wide Textbook Adoptions

6. Students Can Produce Cartoons (line drawings) on Any Classroom Topic

Cartooning (line drawing) is an important basic skill with all kinds of applications - illustrations of events in social studies, illustrations of characters or episodes in literature and reading books, illustrations of science experiments, events in history, current events, etc.

Students can be introduced to cartooning by, initially, copying and modifying cartoonists' line drawings and then creating their own cartoons. Here are thirty cartooning worksheets that can be printed and bound to make a folder:
Cartoon Index

7. Certificates of Accomplishment

Certificates give students recognition for 1) extra work accomplished and 2) special contributions to the classroom. They are a basic teaching tool. They can be created generically and reproduced in quantity.

They can be printed free at this site: Certificates


8. What Certificates of Accomplishment Can Be Awarded For

"Extra work" assignments for the year can be organized into loose-leaf binders and kept on a special bookshelf. A binder sheet is created for each item. Here are sample binder sheets that can be used. To print, in "page setup" set left margin to 1 inch and right margin to minimum. Sheet protectors are needed, such as these: Sheet protectors. They are also available from Office Depot.
Binder Sheet#1
Binder Sheet#2
Binder Sheet#3
Binder Sheet#4
Binder Sheet#5
Binder Sheet#6
Binder Sheet#7
Binder Sheet#8
Here are some examples:
Initial Cartooning Skills Binder. One binder sheet for each of the thirty cartoons. See link to Cartoon Index above. A Certificate of Accomplishment is awarded for completing twenty cartoon assignments.

Creative Writing Binder. A Certificate of Accomplishment is awarded for fifteen polished essays (limit for each: one page. There is a danger of getting too much material from wordy students.).

Have a set of punctuation and capitalization rules in a sheet protector available. More extensive is The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation.

Typical binder pages:
  • My autobiography (ethnicity, family, neighborhood, interests, the future, . . .)
  • My brother/sister
  • My father
  • My mother
  • My pet
  • My house
  • My grandmother/grandfather
  • If I could do anything for one day, it would be . . .
  • If I won a million dollars, I would . . .
  • The best time I ever had was . . .
  • What I like most in a friend is . . .
  • I would like to be an educated/uneducated person because . . .
  • What worries me most in the world is . . .
  • In my spare time I like to . . .
  • Etc. - student's own ideas
Math Binder. A Certificate of Accomplishment is awarded for creating (and presenting to the class) twenty-five word problems. A binder sheet is needed for each item. Topics are taken from the math textbook.
Example (a binder page for each):
Make up a word problem requiring:
  • Two-place division
  • The use of money
  • The use of percentages
  • Multiplying decimals
  • Square roots
  • Estimation - products of multiplication
  • Estimation - quotients of division
  • Adding positive and negative numbers
  • Subtracting positive and negative numbers
  • Multiplying positive and negative numbers
  • Dividing positive and negative numbers
  • Multiplying multi-digit whole numbers
  • Dividing multi-digit whole numbers
  • Multiple steps
  • Ratios
  • Proportions
  • Percents greater than 100%
  • Percents less than 1%
  • Percent of increase or decrease
  • Conversions within the metric system
  • Units of time as fractions and decimals
  • Angles
  • Triangles
  • Perimeter
  • Area
  • Circumference of a circle
  • Circle graph
  • Sampling a population
Geography Binder. A Certificate of Accomplishment is awarded for a 15-page booklet showing the locations of fifteen countries in maps of hemispheres of the globe. The hemispheres can be shown from any viewpoint - from the North, from the South, from the plane of the Equator, etc., such as these:
Using a globe, the student chooses a hemisphere and copies it (showing the continents) in a circle on paper. (A circle can be printed here. Use CTRL-P to print. Choose landscape.) He or she then colors in a country and names it.

Science Binder. A Certificate of Accomplishment is awarded for one booklet or three presentations.

Give a report to the class on five breeds of dogs - their characteristics, history, special needs, etc. (information from Wikipedia or another encyclopedia).

Give a report on five kinds of African animals.

Make a booklet on leaves from five types of trees. Copy a picture of each leaf for the booklet.

Make a booklet on five flowers (copy illustrations from an encyclopedia).

Make a booklet on five insects (including illustrations).

Etc. - exhaustive (sometimes exhausting) information can be found at dmoz.

The classroom should be supplied with one or two books of science experiments for elementary grades. The binder would contain one page for each presentation (see sample binder page Sample binder page). The following books, found at Amazon.com or Alibris.com (search term: children science experiments) or the local library, are typical of what is available:
  • Exploratopia by Pat Murphy and others

  • Thomas Edison Book of Easy and Incredible Experiments by James G. Cook

  • Science Experiments for Elementary Schools by Robert E. Walters

  • Science Surprises!: Ready-To-Use Experiments & Activities for Young Learners by Jean R. Feldman and Rebecca Feldman Foster

  • Science Activities for Children by Willard J. Jacobson and Abby B. Bergman

  • Science in Seconds with Toys by Jean Potter
For example, here is a sampling of science experiments available in Science in Seconds with Toys. The selection is made easy by the use of the Activity Index.
  • Sounds (Science in Seconds with Toys - present to the class five experiments from pages 98-113)

  • Static Electricity (Science in Seconds with Toys - Electric Record page 89)

  • Energy (Science in Seconds with Toys - choose three experiments to present from pages 33, 79, 85-88, 90)

  • Etc.
Literature/Languages Binder. A Certificate of Accomplishment is awarded for each of the following or for several as a group. A binder sheet is needed for each item.
  • Report to the class on a favorite movie or produce a book of cartoons (line drawings). Use http://www.imdb.com for information.
  • Produce a book of cartoons (line drawings) about a favorite book.
  • Report to the class on a favorite book.
  • Report to the class on a book chosen from a Book List (search Google for "sixth grade book list," limiting the final number to ten or fifteen books).
  • Produce and present one play. A selection of suitable plays: Plays
  • Memorize and recite three poems to the class. A selection of poetry collections: Poetry
  • Produce and present one impersonation from literature.
  • Etc.
Languages (search Google for "French audio" or "German audio" etc.)
  • Speak (to the class) twenty French nouns. (http://audiofrench.com)
  • Speak (to the class) twenty German nouns. (http://german.about.com/library/blaudio_lek09.htm)
  • Etc. with other languages.
Music Binder. A Certificate of Accomplishment is awarded for each of the following or for several as a group. A binder sheet is needed for each item.
  • Recite to the class from memory the words of a folksong - all verses.
  • Accompany (piano, guitar - chords only) a folk song that requires only two or three chords - i, iv, v .

    C major chords
    Chords in C major

    i chord = i-iii-v
    i chord=i-iii-v

    • Go Tell Aunt Rhody
    • Down in the Valley
    • Billy Boy
    • Hush Little Baby
    • He's got the Whole World
    • John Henry
    • Skip to My Lou
    • etc.
Discovery Table. A Certificate of Accomplishment is awarded for 1) creating a box containing discarded tools or pieces of equipment that can be used on the Discovery Table or 2) drawing and labeling the workings of ten items on the Discovery Table. Four or five items per month are put on the table.

It would help students to be taught the three types of levers. A lever is comprised of the pivot (fulcrum), the effort, and the effect. Class I has the pivot between the effort and the effect (scissors). Class II has the pivot at one end, and the effect is between the pivot and the effort (nutcracker). Class III also has the pivot at one end - the effort is between the effect and the pivot (spring-back tweezers).

Typical contents. A binder sheet is needed for each item.
  • electric razor
  • bathroom scale
  • other scales
  • toaster
  • watch
  • lenses (old eye glasses), prisms, magnifiers, microscope
  • dice
  • zipper
  • hand-powered rotary egg beater
  • hand-powered salad spinner
  • light bulb
  • book bindings
  • magnets
  • computer keyboard
  • spring scale (with a hook at the bottom)
  • wheel and axle (toy truck/car)
  • spring-back tweezers
  • two-armed corkscrew
  • ice cream scoop with movable dispenser
  • jar opener (pivot at one end)
  • medicine dropper
  • garlic press
  • sponge
  • stapler
  • faucet
  • can opener with twist handle
  • pliers
  • scissors
  • nutcracker
  • clamp that screws down (or a vise)
  • clamp that uses a spring
  • monkey wrench
  • nail puller (with a claw)
  • fingernail clippers (pivot at one end)
  • toy boat
  • suction cup
  • balance a straw with screw stuck in one end of it (as a weight)
  • electric switch
  • mounted weather thermometer with a bare bulb (touch moistened (warm, cold) finger to the bulb and see the colored liquid expand/contract)
  • sounds from a fork/spoon/tablespoon suspended on string and struck with a pencil
  • wind chimes
  • things that reflect (mirror, shiny spoon, other shiny surfaces)
  • tape measure, yardstick (for measuring)
  • coiled tape measure that retracts into its case - sometimes a plastic cover can be pried loose or unscrewed, revealing the workings inside
  • flashlight (imitating the sun) to shine on the globe. Stick a few pieces of clay to the globe to imitate mountains - as the globe is slowly turned toward the "sun," the "mountains" pick up the sunlight.
School Library Independent Study Units. If the school librarian is willing to work with you, the school library can become a research center for advanced students. Here is the plan:
  1. As you approach the beginning a new unit of study, identify topics of study that advanced students can work on independently. For example, if the unit of study is ancient Rome, list these:
    • Roman money
    • Roman clothing
    • Roman cooking
    • Roman military equipment
    • Etc.
  2. Ask the librarian to find references for each topic, with book titles and page numbers. The resulting list is stored in a special binder in the school library. School Library Project Binder Sheet (On the printer, specify a left margin of one inch. Sheet protectors are needed.)

  3. The student's task is to read the material referred to and to write five to ten facts about the topic. Alternative: instead of five to ten facts, a student can create several cartoons/illustrations. A Certificate of Accomplishment is awarded for each topic reported on.

9. Choral reading selections

(If the sections for "all" are too long, you can break them up with solo parts. To make changes in a poem: ctrl-a to highlight the Web page, ctrl-C to copy it to clipboard, open Microsoft Word, ctrl-v to paste onto Microsoft Word)
Suggestion: teach one poem a month and give a performance in the spring. Example of a costume: long-sleeved shirt + tie or silk scarf + hat from home
Abdullah Bulbul Amir
The Babbitt and the Bromide
   Watch a video of this poem here
The Groom's Story
The Aged Pilot Man
   Listen to a recitation of this poem here
Billy Boy
   Listen to a rendition of this poem here
A Boy's Song
   Listen to a rendition of this poem here
Concord Hymn
   Listen to President Clinton recite this poem here
A Couple of Swells
   See Fred Astaire and Judy Garland perform this poem here
Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight
I Know Something
The Night Wind
Grandfather's Clock
   Burl Ives sings this poem here
The Raven
   Vincent Price recites this poem here
The Country Store
April Rain Song
In School Days
I, Too, Sing America
Dried-Apple Pies
Home, Sweet Home
   Helen Traubel sings this poem here
The Blind Men and the Elephant
   Listen to a recitation of this poem here
Breathes There a Man
   Listen to a recitation of this poem here
The Walrus and the Carpenter
   Listen to a recitation of this poem here
Life Doesn't Frighten Me At All
Annabel Lee
   Listen to a recitation of this poem here
The Ride of Paul Revere
   Listen to a recitation of this poem here
'Twas the Night Before Christmas
   Perry Como recites this poem here
Casey at the Bat
   Listen to a recitation of this poem here
I've Been Everywhere, Man
   Johnny Cash sings this poem here
The Akond of Swat
   Listen to a recitation of this poem here
Little Orphan Annie
   Listen to a recitation of this poem here
Cane-Bottom'd Chair
   A recitation of this poem is here
What a Wonderful World
   David Attenborough recites this poem here
Ring Out the Old, Ring in the New
The Star-Spangled Banner
The above list is duplicated here.

10. Sixth Grade - A Good Year

Every sixth-grade teacher needs a plan for the year. This plan can be sent home to parents, who often can make contributions to a unit of study. The framework for the plan will be based on the contents of textbooks. Here is a typical plan:
History and Geography
September and October - Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome

November and December - The Enlightenment and the French Revolution

January and February - Romanticism, Industrialism, Capitalism, and Socialism

March and April - Latin American Independence and Immigration to the United States

May and June - Industrialism and Urbanization, Reform
September and October - Plate Tectonics

November and December - Oceans

January and February - Astronomy

March and April - Energy, Heat, and Energy Transfer

May and June - The Human Body

Health and Safety
September and October - Personal Appearance/Dental Health/Health Maintenance

November and December - Our Food Supply/Exercise and Fitness/Cure and Prevention of Common Diseases

January and February - The Heart/Accident Prevention

March and April - Safety and First Aid/The Health Professions

May and June - Understanding Emotions/Coping with Stress and Anxiety/Preparing for Puberty/Human Reproduction/Substance Abuse
September and October - Numbers and Number Sense

November and December - Computations - multiplying and dividing multi-digit whole numbers, multiplying and dividiing fractions, estimating, word problems with multiple steps, etc.

January and February - Ratio, Proportion, and Percent

March and April - Measurement and Geometry

May and June - Probability and Statistics, Pre-Algebra

English, Literature, Reading, and Spelling
Information taken from the reading, literature, and spelling textbooks.

In lieu of a spelling textbook, word lists for weekly spelling tests can be found at these Internet sites:



Description of the creative art program and the visual arts program
Description of the singing program and the instrumental music program and information about the music program taken from the music textbook
Recess (Excerpted from The Importance of Recess in the August 2009 issue of Harvard Mental Health Letter)
Children are less fidgety and more attentive after recess.

Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, a pediatrician at the University of Pennsylvania, described play as essential for healthy brain development, with positive effects for intellectual and emotional development. It promotes not just intelligence but also creativity, imagination, and resilience.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that play, particularly active and creative play, will help children be more successful.

Navigate to Students Can Learn On Their Own - Students Can Learn On Their Own

Navigate to A Packet for Substitute Teachers - A Packet for Substitute Teachers

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