Mini-Lessons, Super Bowl Style!

Why do you really watch the Super Bowl? To see the game? If your favorite team is playing, or if you are a twelve-year-old boy, or if you are obsessed with Peyton Manning's every move, well then okay, maybe your main reason for watching the game is for the actual game.

But who out there is thinking: the commercials? The commercials are one of the things the Super Bowl is known for, and deep down, you know you'd rather go refill your plate with barbeque meatballs during the middle of the first quarter than during a commercial break.

As a teacher, Super Bowl commercials remind me of my best mini-lessons. Why? Well let's first look at why we like those commercials so much...

For one thing, commercials are short--they don't require much of an attention span. Second, the Super Bowl commercials are fresh--they aren't the ones we've seen a ba-jillion times already. They are powerful--they usually elicit some sort of reaction, usually laughter, sometimes shock. They are engaging--they really grab your attention quickly, and usually keep it throughout the whole commercial. They give you a 'taste' of what the company is about--they are not filled with too much information. And they are just plain well-made--companies spend millions of dollars for those itty-bitty 30 second spots, so they put top-notch work out there.

Many of the qualities of the very best Super Bowl commercials are exactly what I need to incorporate into more of my mini-lessons. Just think about it...

I want a whole-group mini-lesson to be short (okay, maybe not 30-seconds-short, but 10 minutes sure would be a good goal!). I'm going to start losing them with anything longer.

I want that mini-lesson to be powerful and engaging. How will I hook students in a way that grabs their interest, but stays focused on the heart of my lesson?

I don't want to do too much (oh man, I struggle with this one). Often, during a mini-lesson, opportunities will arise to make connections--or are they tangents? I've learned that sometimes it's necessary to put the ka-bosh on lines of thinking that stray away from the lesson's focus, even if it is a great connection or separate teachable moment. These few minutes in which I have students "locked in" are precious--do I really want to stray? I will often write down on a post-it note 2-3 key points, which I will hold onto during the lesson. Even just feeling that post-it in my hand helps me stay focused and to the point.

And finally, I want the quality of the lesson to be the best I have for those kids. For me, that means I really have to think the lesson through... What do I emphasize? How do I transition? What key statements and questions do I want to use? What do I want to save or revisit?

When you think about mini-lessons that have gone really well for you, and that have translated into some sort of student success, what was it that made a difference? What other tips for a SUPER mini-lesson can you share?