Use cubing to entice your students into prewriting activities

My favorite prewriting organizer is a mindweb because of its informality and flexibility.

But I have recently discovered another organizer—the cube—which I am sure to use more of. Let me suggest you try it to. Here’s how.

A cube is just what it says, a six-sided three-dimensional shape. You can make one out of paper easily. (Go online to http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Paper-Cube.com  or to other cube-making websites for easy directions).

Or you can buy an already made plastic cube or use a child’s block. The cube needs to be big enough to tape a word on each face, so even inch by inch by inch cubes will do though I prefer cubes with two-inch faces because they are easier to read.

diagram of a cube

One cube per student works, but so does one cube per group of students or even one cube per classroom for certain activities.

What words go on the faces? The options are almost limitless, but let me suggest a few for particular kinds of writing.

  • Suppose you (the teacher or parent) are trying to develop higher level thinking skills in a student. You could write the words from Bloom’s Taxonomy (remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing), writing one word on each face of the cube. (Make sure the students know what the words mean.) And suppose your student has just read the novel, Hatchet. You could write six questions, one for each kind of thinking, on a separate piece of paper. The student throws the cube and gets “applying.” He refers to the question about applying, such as, “Suppose the pilot had survived. How would Brian’s summer in Canada have been different? How would he be different at the end of the book?”  Or suppose he throws “analyzing.”  The question could be “Draw a chart showing the organization of the novel chapter by chapter.”
  • Or you could write words like “main characters,” “setting,” “initiating event ,” “problem to be solved,” “climax,” and “resolution/ending.” This set up could be used for almost every novel. The student throws the cube, and for each word or phrase, he takes two or three minutes to write down every detail he can think of. When he has written information for every word or phrase, the student is ready to begin writing a summary or a book review or other kind of writing.
  • Another kind of cube could have the names of six important characters from a novel (Harry Potter, Ron, Hagrid, Malfoy, Voldemort, and Dumbledore, for example). You ask a question related to the novel throw the cube.  The student has to think how that character might respond to that question. For example, you might throw “Ron” and ask, “Should Harry, at 11-years-old, confront Voldemort?  How would Ron respond?” If the student responded for each character, he could read over his answers, and write a reply from just one character’s point of view for a grade.
  • The cube can be used for nonfiction too. Suppose your student is studying a historical event, such as the creation of the Declaration of Independence. How would different people look at that document? On the cube you could write Thomas Jefferson, King George III, Tories, King Louis of France, a slave in Virginia, and Cherokees in north Georgia. In a classroom, each of six groups could write about the perspectives of one of these people.  Or a single student might write about two or three of the people.  Students are forced to consider a historical even from different vantage points.
  • Or in a science class, students learning about minerals could use a cube with such words as color, streaking, luster, hardness, density, and stratification. They could investigate a rock, describing its attributes using the cube as a guide. Or they could study the drought in California from the perspectives of a vineyard owner, a Silicon Valley geek, a migrant farm worker, an homeless person, a home owner whose well is dry, and a car wash worker.

All students would like the variety of using a cube, but less motivated students who might need a gimmick to foster interest might be particularly interested.

For more information, see research by Wiggins & McTighe, 2005.

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