“Put Up a Parking Lot” – On Your Board!

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p1070480Jeffrey Ayer, WTWL Writer

Ever notice how a discussion you want to have with students can severely lag?  Okay, think May or June, and I’m sure every teacher out there has struggled with this in his or her own classroom.

Enter the parking lot.  For those of you not familiar (and some of you are thinking, “Oh, yeah, I remember that”), here’s how it works.

First,  select an area in the classroom where you could have students place sticky notes or tape scraps of paper.  What works ideally is to use a large sheet of butcher paper, or if you have room cleared on your board, you can work from there.  I usually clear white board space, and then create an actual parking lot layout. 

 To encourage students, I also intermittently place sticky notes in some of the blanks, and sometimes for fun, I’ll include a few parking lot notes (like “Student Parking Here”). 

Once that’s on the board, it’s a discussion cue to my classes (I’ve used it for the better portion of a recent novel unit).  Just direct them to take up a parking space over the course of the class period; based on how many spaces are filled by the end of the hour, I ensure them that I will leave aside enough time for us to discuss the “parked” questions before the bell rings.

Advantages?  One, students don’t have to write their names, so there’s a level of anonymity (this seemingly defeats the “dumb question” phobia).  Two, students have the class period to think about the novel.  For many, questions don’t just arise the instant the teacher asks, “Any questions on the novel at this point?”  So over the course of the class period, no matter what activity may be taking place, students are more likely to have an “I don’t understand” moment and then post that on the board.  And third, the activity simply encourages critical thinking, because I don’t answer the questions, I prompt students to answer them together.

parking-lotThis activity could also be applied to just about anything where you want students to develop questions (I-searches in the research process, thesis statement possibilities, questions they would pose to a historical figure, comments, opinions on a topic, and the list goes on).

Give it a shot.  Give it some thought.  And call it what you want (parking lot works, but imagine the number of names you could assign this approach to discussion – I just thought of “Landing Pad” as another, and I’m just hacking away at a keyboard).

Share your ideas by commenting; I would love to begin collaborating with you!

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