Meeting Criteria with Creativity: Show Me Challenges

February 6, 2019
Caleb Sanders

Creative ways of showing knowledge has always been intriguing to me. Several years ago, I had geography students create cereal boxes for different types of weather. They had unique names such as Tornadoes instead of Cheerios or Snow Flakes instead of Frosted Flakes. They would include fun-filled facts about their assigned type of weather on the back of the box, and then make up a cool and informative “nutrition label” about the particular type of weather. This would be an all-period affair, sometimes two. I loved how the students had fun tapping into their creativity, and enjoyed seeing them get excited over a unique idea, but I always felt like we dragged the activity out longer than it needed to be. And the only creative thing that we did with weather was the cereal boxes. Everything else was fairly traditional. We followed this up with worksheets, lectures, quizzes, and finally a unit assessment.

This was the genesis of Show Me Challenges. I wanted a way to have students to do several creative projects/activities that dealt with a particular standard we were trying to meet. I didn’t want to spend a whole two days on cereal boxes. I wanted to do multiple creative challenges that would keep the students on their toes and fuel their creativity during a class period. I also wanted to tap into multiple ways of learning in one class period. I wanted things to appeal to the artistic students, linguistic students, analytical students, and so on.

I created Show Me Challenges as a series of activities—challenges—that you could throw at students to help them become familiar with a given topic. The challenges are great for groupwork because many of them are creative in nature and may require somebody with some artistic ability or linguistic skill. Some of the challenges give opportunities for movement and allow kids to get out of their desks.

A huge component of the activities that I have created over the years is that they are ready to apply with minimal preparation time. Teachers always talk about time constraints and how they would do certain things, create better assessments, design better curriculum if only they had more time. Show Me Challenges are already oven-baked and ready to serve!

For instance, if you wanted to introduce your students to the Civil War, and they had a very limited background on the content, you could use Show Me Challenges to do that. But how? You could tell the kids that they have 10 minutes to become familiar with the way the textbook breaks down information on the Civil War. After 10 minutes, you will throw a series of challenges at them that will help them to begin to organize new content about this time period in American history. Select a few challenges from the Show Me Challenges for U.S. History book and see how it goes. Even you may not know much about the Civil War, which is the great thing about these activities! You don’t have to have an advanced degree to inspire creativity in your classroom. The challenges themselves help the students get there. Just throw a challenge at them and see what they come up with!

Let’s talk about time limits. One of the things I mentioned earlier was that I didn’t want to spend a full day or week on creating cereal boxes. I wanted more “reps.” The Show Me Challenges books give students a variety of ways to learn content. You get multiple “reps” in one class period. You could give students five minutes to create a poem about Civil War generals, and take a few additional minutes to have groups share what they were able to create in those five minutes. You could then throw a new challenge out where they have to create a charade dealing with a famous event that led up to the Civil War. Give them three minutes to create their charade, and then try and guess what they are acting out. Then given them another challenge where they create a list of words that they could connect to Abraham Lincoln’s personality. You can see where this is going. You are not waiting on a few students to finish their cereal boxes. You are just moving on to the next challenge and having fun with what they were able to create with the limited time they had. Who cares if they didn’t finish? The more you do these challenges as a class, the more they get used to this pattern of learning.

Students are divided in to groups of two to four students to complete either speed, time, or creative challenges.

After completing several challenges, you can take time to process some of the things that came up by asking the students what they expect to be learning in their next unit of study. You may be asking, Who are some of the people associated with the Civil War? What events did you read or hear about that you had never heard of before? What are some of the issues that could come up in this unit after doing these challenges? Are there any movies you remember seeing that are about anything that came up during these challenges?

Being prepared is a great way to keep structure and discipline in a classroom. Having a series of challenges will help with that. I generally can only get to a small chunk of the challenges that are written in the Show Me Challenges books just because of time. It is a great problem to have! The class period goes quickly, and there are no discipline problems because we are moving from challenge to challenge. I can live with only doing 20% of the challenges when students are exposed to the content in a variety of ways that stimulate their learning and curiosity.

The challenges can also be designed for scavenger hunts. Students move quickly from clue to clue (challenge to challenge), and it is gratifying to see how much exposure to new content a student gets in a short period of time. It gives me, as a teacher, a great foundation to work with as we move deeper into the unit.

The challenges can also be used as review when wrapping up a unit of study. They serve as creative reminders of things that they were taught or exposed to. If your unit assessment is an argumentative essay, then the challenges that they did previously are a great way to remember ideas and supporting arguments. How difficult is it to remember a charade, human statue, or food simile that they had to create on the topic? These challenges help students remember key points that can be used on assessments.

I love Show Me Challenges because I don’t just get to see cereal boxes. I get to hear poems, see charades, laugh at alliterations, read creative “How To” steps, evaluate graphic organizers, hear epitaphs, and many other things. The class stays awake and it is lively! So take a risk and see the reward that comes from Show Me Challenges!

Posted By Caleb Sanders | High School Social Studies Teacher

Recognized as a 2015 Arch Coal Teacher Achievement Award recipient in Wyoming, and as Teacher of the Year by his district, Caleb is also the author of multiple books for Teacher’s Discovery®. He uses mock trials, debates, simulations, and other activities to engage students in lively learning. Check out all of his books here.

Download a sample chapter of Show Me Challenges And Clues for U.S. History here.

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