The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Other Uses for T-Charts

For the past two weeks, the fourth graders in my classroom have been learning how to use T-charts for organising and explaining their mathematical thinking. When we first started, they had a difficult time slowing down and really thinking about not just what they were doing but why they were doing it. But now that we’ve been doing them for several days, they are much more comfortable using this particular tool.

One of the (extremely justified) worries teachers have whenever they introduce a new tool or model a particular way of doing something is that the students will convince themselves that that is the only way to use it or do it. I see this happening all the time. When the students begin an independent project and I show an exemplar from a past year, such as a poster, at least 80% of the class will do a poster, even when I provide a list of other options. But that’s just the nature of modeling. We spend so much time teaching young children to “do as I’m doing” that we forget that we need to then teach them to think outside the presented model and consider alternative uses. So we need teach them other ways to do it and then give them ample time to practice that, too.

So today I decided it was time to expand our use of the T-charts. While they are an invaluable tool for organising and explaining the steps of a mathematical problem, there are other ways to use this simple organiser. One way I shared today was for taking notes while reading. It doesn’t matter whether the text is fiction or nonfiction, the principle is the same: on the left side, you list what you read (using just a few words); on the right side, you list why it is important to the narrative or the concept.

The students used our social studies history text to get started. There is a section in the book that lists 12 key events leading up to the Revolutionary War, with 1-2 short paragraphs summarising what happened. So, armed with a blank paper and a pencil, they set out to use a T-chart to take notes. While I was introducing this, one student made the comment that she thought T-charts were only for math. Once I explained the other uses, though, she and others in the class agreed that it would be a useful way to take notes. We will use these some more tomorrow to explore using T-charts with other texts as well.

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