Using Lists Effectively with Classroom Instruction

Using Lists Effectively with Classroom Instruction

Since making lists may seem like a routine task, what is the big deal about it? 

On the surface, making and using lists with students may appear to be a simplistic process.  However, upon further exploration, lists can be used for more than just gathering and collecting information. Lists are used on a daily basis in the real world as well, whether it is used to identify items to purchase at the grocery store or used for personal goal setting.  The use of lists is used commonly with instruction and may be overlooked as a strategy to stretch student thinking.  Specifically, lists can be used to expand upon higher order thinking skills and can guide independent student planning and collaboration.  Using lists with a variety of other instructional strategies can further enhance lessons and student learning when employed with classification, sorting, and prioritization tasks.

Lists are used on a daily basis in the real world as well, whether it is used to identify items to purchase at the grocery store or used for personal goal setting.  The use of lists is used commonly with instruction and may be overlooked as a strategy to stretch student thinking.  Specifically, lists can be used to expand upon higher order thinking skills and can guide independent student planning and collaboration.  Using lists with a variety of other instructional strategies can further enhance lessons and student learning when employed with classification, sorting, and prioritization tasks.

Lists can not only cultivate critical thinking skills but can be used to strengthen metacognitive and reflective thinking skills.

For example working with students to understand the composition of a list may provide deeper knowledge and understanding about how information is classified, prioritized, organized or sequenced, which can be later used to recall, synthesize, analyze or apply such information.  In essence, making lists can be used along with mnemonic memory tools to build higher order thinking skills with students or may be used to find information in texts, as well as narrowing research conducted when surfing the Internet.

Strategies for Using Lists

Mnemonic Devices and Tools:

Using lists in conjunction with the use of mnemonic devices are often very popular.  A mnemonic device or tool is used as a memory aide to remember or recall information and can be used with lists of information as well.  For instance, students may use a mnemonic for remembering information using the first letter of each word.  For example, to remember the colors of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet), ROY. G. BIV represents the first letter of each color.  This mnemonic can be used to describe a boy’s name, with his first name as Roy, his middle initial as G., and his last name as Biv. This is just one example of how a list is completed using a mnemonic and helps to retrieve information easily.

Prioritization:

Making a list can be used to prioritize completion of tasks.  This is very common in the workforce to help employees with their time management skills, and also, can be used with students to manage their time for studying and completing tasks.  Knowing how to prioritize is critical not only for time management but can also build individual problem solving and analytical thinking skills with students.

See the following set of directions on how to prioritize time with high school students as one example:

  1. Break down your to-do list according to time limits or guidelines. For instance, study for the history exam (4 hours), work on the science lab experiment with your team mates (2 hours), and review the vocabulary words for Spanish (1 hour).  Determine which items might be done over time (i.e. for 30 minutes each day).  For instance, studying for the history exam may be best done gradually, for 30 minutes daily over the course of 2 weeks.
  2. Prioritize your time to complete each task. Decide which of the items on the list must be done today, this week, by two weeks and so forth.  For instance, the Spanish assignment might be due tomorrow, while the history exam won’t be for another two weeks.
  3. Identify any tasks on the to-do-list that might involve other people, such as the team project for the science lab experiment.
  4. Examine and identify consequences for not completing something on your list. Do this with every item. If there is something of extreme importance, move it to the front of the list.
  5. Weed out any events or projects that always sink to the bottom of the list and which, might not be that important.

Similarly, lists can be used to put information in order or sequence, such as a set of directions or highlighting key points of an event.

Sorting:

With young students in Kindergarten to first grade, students may physically sort objects into different piles, such as objects with various shapes or different colored items.  As students sort these items, a teacher may summarize the task by listing these items into each of the different categories (red colored items vs. green and yellow colored items).  With older primary students they can work in small groups to compile their own lists and then share out their results to the entire class.

Classification/Categorization:

One of the most common reasons to make lists may be to classify or categorize items.  As defined by Robert Marzano (2001), classifying involves organizing elements based upon their similarities. This may be found most frequently in the case of science courses, but can apply to nearly any subject area:  make a list for the classification of the different types of woodwind and brass instruments in music, the categorization of different types of artists and their artistic styles in art class, or the classification of different types of fitness sports in physical education class.

Brainstorming/Writing Strategies:
In language arts or history class, students may be asked to brainstorm ideas for research topics or to summarize key points of a story, in which, making a list may be the best option.   This might be used for students to identify key vocabulary terms they are unfamiliar with or difficult words that are challenging to spell.  Students might list out their favorite memories, reflecting on personal experiences to help prompt ideas for various writing tasks.

An Assortment of Various Strategies

Keep in mind that making a list can use several different strategies or involve several different activities, which can further sharpen students’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Using graphic organizers can be used in conjunction with making lists, such as, using Venn Diagrams to compare and contrast ‘living’ and ‘nonliving’ organisms with first-grade students.  Such a comparison task also will build critical thinking skills, such as making comparisons, considering Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Therefore, time should be spent with students to cultivate the use of these lists, so that time and care is spent to design lists most effectively.  It is recommended to focus on personal topics first with a specific purpose, such as, what are your top ten pastimes, in order, and why.  Once students have practiced with prioritizing a list, then more complex tasks can be provided to students that focus on more content/curriculum based activities.

The more often that lists are incorporated with instructional tasks, the more complex their uses may become. Using lists in creative ways, such as, to stimulate a free-write activity or to brainstorm new ideas, may help to rejuvenate student interest in nearly any topic of study!

Here are a few of our online courses you may want to consider.

  1. Increasing Student Engagement Planning Outside the Box (Grade K-12)
  2. Creating Learning Classrooms for Today’s Students (Grades K-12)
  3. Creating Enthusiastic Student Writers (Grades 3-5)
  4. Raising Rigor In Your Classroom (Grades K-12)