In my unit titled The Age of Exploration students discover the events that resulted in European settlement of the Americas. To set the stage for settlement I back up the content a bit and discuss The Silk Road, Marco Polo and how the Renaissance led to new scientific discoveries such as the astrolabe, compass, and caravel that aided explorers in their travels. None of this is possible without the student’s undivided attention and their personal motivation to participate in the activities I have planned.
One method to engage each and every students is to plan an anticipatory set. This is a fancy way of describing different techniques to relate the topics at hand with a student’s prior knowledge and life experiences. This very important portion of a unit also organizes the content by focusing on major concepts to be learned.
I begin my anticipatory set by telling students how as a child I used to love to go visiting family and friends with my parents. While the adults visited I would excuse myself to go to the restroom. I would usually end up roaming about the home looking in cabinets, peering in closets, and peeking under beds. After admitting my guilty pleasure I ask students if they have ever done any snooping as well. Usually half of the class raises their hands. I tell them that even though it’s rude to do this, and my parents would have been mortified if they had known, it is common for us all to have curiosity about an unknown place. My admission appeals to my intuitive-feeling learners since that are naturally curious. They are probably the ones who raise their hands. My sensing-feeling learners would also enjoy my story since they are sensitive to the feelings of others. Intrapersonal and interpersonal learners would also feel comfortable during this activity. This portion of my anticipatory set creates a comfortable mood as I admit to doing something as a child they have all done at one time or another.
I then ask students to brainstorm in groups regarding other reasons why people would explore the unknown and what types of unknowns are there that can be explored. After an appropriate amount of time we gather together again and I write group responses on the board in the form of a concept web that has the word exploration at the center, reasons to explore to the left, and unknown things to explore to the right. Students usually decide that people explore because we all have curiosity about the unknown, we gain new knowledge, and might discover new resources. They generally come up with unknown areas to explore such as space, the rainforest, and under the oceans. All learners would enjoy this group activity as it provides interaction with others, some personal reflection, facts, and there is a purpose in the activity. Students can use this activity to link a time period in the past with current explorations going on today. The Age of Exploration is ongoing.
I then pose a new problem for the groups. I give each group a world map, and tell them to try and agree among themselves on a favorite food. Everyone must agree that the group choice is a favorite food choice of theirs. Each map shows continents in the eastern hemisphere and, each map has one of the following countries highlighted: Spain, England, France, or Portugal. I tell each group that they live in the country that is highlighted on their group map. I tell each group that their favorite food only comes from one place and that is China. Students draw a straight line from their country to China. Students who are spatial and logical-mathematical will take to this activity. Verbal linguistic and interpersonal students will also be successful.
Finally, I tell students to notice that on their route to China to obtain their favorite food they pass through other countries. One day one or two of these other countries decide they are tired of people going through their land to get their favorite foods. The route is closed. What are students going to do? I ask students to solve their problem. They need to find a new route. Generally students choose new routes through Africa, around Africa, or north across northern Europe and Asia. A group or two choose to travel west as well towards North America. I post their maps and as we progress through the unit I refer back to the routes students suggested. This activity gets students thinking about Europe in relation to Asia. It also gives them an opportunity to discover their feelings regarding being shut out from something they want. sensing-thinking learners will enjoy this activity as it is practical for them. They have personal purpose to obtain a new route. Intuitive-feeling learners will like this activity since it appeals to their need to be imaginative.
I show students various spices poured out on a platter as well as squares of silk cloth. They smell the spices, feel the cloth, and I explain how the spices are used today as well as how people in the 1400s used them. I ask students about salt. Have they ever tasted mashed potatos or grits (it’s a southern thing) without salt? I tell students that these spices and the silk cloth have a lot to do with the Age of Exploration. I explain to students they are going to be learning about a closed route to Asia and, they will discover what people will do to get their favorite things.
All of these activities provide a base for me to begin the unit. Students are given opportunities to recall prior knowledge and are given scaffolding they can hang on to and refer back to as I discuss new content throughout the unit.
Anticipatory sets are aptly named since they do just that……they set the anticipation level in the classroom serving as a learning appetizer from wee ones to our most mature learners.