Teaching Ideas : Topic Tree

You can use the shape of a tree to get the children to demonstrate and record their prior understanding and knowledge of a new classroom topic. This can help you prepare future topic lessons to develop and extend the children’s knowledge and skills building on what the class already know and their abilities in different curriculum skills.

You can also use the tree shape to get the children to identify questions that they could research during the topic and record steps in locating, recording and presenting the answers. The completed tree can be used as an assessment tool at the end of the topic to check progress.

Tree Display
At the launch of the topic you can start building the topic tree in the classroom. Bend a piece of coloured paper to act as the main trunk of the tree. You can record the name of the topic on the trunk which can stapled to a display board in the classroom. Roll some pieces of paper to make branches to add to the tree trunk. As you discuss the topic with the class then you add the children’s ideas for research questions to the tree following some paired discussion work. Add some the shape of clouds to the back of the tree display and some blades of grass along the bottom to complete the picture of the topic tree. The topic tree can be displayed and utilised throughout the topic to track progress in knowledge understanding and skills development.

Open and Closed Questions
Spend some time teaching the children about effective questions that they can utilise to research aspects of the new curriculum topic. Explain to the class that closed questions can be only provide simple answers about the facts connected to a specific topic such as where did the Romans choose to live in Britain or which planet is closest to the Sun. Show the children how to develop open questions using the answers to any closed questions that will be more effective when researching a topic such as why did the Romans choose to live in particular areas in Britain or how is the planet closest to the Sun the same or different to Earth. Provide the class with a list of words that they can use when selecting questions to research aspects of the topic.

Class Discussion
When beginning work on the new curriculum topic allow the children to work in pairs or small groups to discuss their initial ideas about the topic and record some of their prior knowledge. The children can make a list of aspects that can be investigated during the topic work such as when learning about the lives of the Vikings they can explore travel, settlement, housing and jobs. Get the groups of children to make a list of open questions that can be used as a starting point when investigating each aspect of the topic.

Individual Trees
As well as using a class topic tree the children can make their own individual trees to keep a record of some of the questions that they can research during the topic. Provide the children with the template shape of a tree trunk to add branches to containing questions for research. The class can add thick branches to the tree trunk to indicate an aspect of the topic and then add smaller branches containing the selected questions. The children can stick their individual trees to the front of a topic folder so that they can refer to the research questions and keep track of progress.

Topic Tracking
Use the main tree in the classroom to keep a record of the children’s progress in a particular topic. At the start of a topic lesson. you can refer to the questions listed on the tree that the class will be researching to develop their skills and understanding. When the class have completed one of the branches in the topic by successfully researching a question then you can add some leaves to indicate the completion of one aspect of the topic until the whole tree has been covered in leaves.

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