Lists. You make them. I make them. They are on our computer, our phone and on our refrigerator. They are for shopping, for things to do and for books to read. Lists usually get longer and seldom get shorter. So, why do we make lists? What purpose do they serve?

Lists help us organize our thinking. Sometimes our purpose is to save time but almost always lists help us become more efficient in our deeds, tasks and thinking.

Several years ago I used lists to teach, as a part of my instructional curriculum, and it was very insightful. My reason for including lists into my instruction was assessments of students continued to indicate that my students were scoring poorly on classifications. So, I bought each student a steno pad and we began.

Our lists started simple and then became more complex but in every situation the lists were informal assessments of my students’ knowledge and classification skills. Some of our first earliest lists were:

  • Ways we are related
  • Holidays
  • Places you’d like to go on vacation
  • Sport you have watched on TV or in person

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As we continued the lists became more complex. But each day the students would retrieve their steno pads and begin a list – classifying responses to the topic that I had written on the board. They loved this activity and eagerly began. Eventually they began to suggest other topics for our lists.

Some more advanced lists included:

  • Possible careers that match my interests
  • Vocabulary words that express feelings
  • Books read that taught a lesson
  • Behaviors to avoid when selecting friends
  • Vocabulary words associated with space and earth science
  • Ways to earn money over the summer
  • Things I can do to support others through charity

The lists varied. Some were broader and others more content specific. But all lists included informal assessment, were purposeful and were not on a whim. Reviewing individual lists provided great insights into the student. Sharing items on their lists with the class expanded their thinking and always resulted in new plans for instruction.

Lists can be recorded in many forms and kept private or shared individually or collectively. In whatever way lists are used, consider this list of planning suggestions:

  1. Plan lists with purpose. Always be thoughtful about the topics of lists. Any activity that takes instructional time should serve a useful purpose.
  2. Assess lists for instructional purposes. After reviewing lists consider where gaps are and how will you address them. First and foremost, are all responses related to the topic? Were students able to classify topics according to topic?
  3. Clarify how student responses will be used. If you plan to share the responses with the class inform the students in advance.
  4. Consider the usefulness of classification. For instance, if you plan to review for a test on a particular unit of learning in science or social studies suggest that students lists topics (or questions) that might appear on the test.
  5. Assess the merits of classification and the use of lists. Any instructional strategy that is used should be reviewed for its effectiveness. Set goals for what you expect these classification exercises will be met by using lists.

Enjoy learning together while using lists as an instructional tool. While classification skills improve, may your lists get shorter!

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Pamela Musick

Pamela Musick

Teacher, Administrator, Consultant

Note: Fresh Ideas for Teaching blog contributors have been compensated for sharing personal teaching experiences on our blog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.