Deep Dives and Side Quests: Idea Gold Mines

As an American now living and teaching in Canada, I’ve had to learn a lot in a short period of time.

I’m teaching a self-contained 3rd + 4th grade class this year, which means I’m teaching Social Studies, and the American Education system doesn’t really give us all that much about our neighbors to the north. On top of that, British Columbia’s curriculum deals with topics (I’m ashamed to admit) that I hadn’t considered as much as I should have.

On whose unceded lands am I living? How did British Columbia go from being British to being…Canadian? How did they settle on the border for what would be British/Canadian and what would be American? And how did all of this affect the indigenous people who lost everything in the process?

A couple weeks ago, I took a break from my research, and I spread out my notes on my desk. A teaching epiphany ensued…

Researchers Engage in Deep Dives and Side Quests

I have no idea why I chose such a tiny notepad for this work.

As I looked over my notes, I noticed that sometimes I’d do a deep dive where I might find out everything about Lord Aberdeen in order to understand why he’d give up so much land to America when settling the US/UK-Canadian border. I also did deep dives on each of the First Nations who are native to the Vancouver area, where I reside. Other times, I’d go on little side quests to find out more about things like George Vancouver’s journeys with Captain James Cook.

Deep dives and side quests. If I had to sum up what good researchers do, that would be it. So, the next step was to translate this into a series of lessons for my 3rd and 4th graders. Today, I’ll share lesson number 1, which is a precursor to the Deep Dive.

Creating the DDSQ Notebook

I’m rebranding Genius Hour this year. I heard from the teachers in my new school that they tried Genius Hour last year, and though it worked well for some, a lot of kids struggled. It’s a super common issue–and a great opportunity to roll out this Deep Dives and Side Quests idea!

My “DDSQ” Demo Notebook

Day 1: After our first Morning Meeting of the new school year, I handed out notebooks to kids. The directions were to make sure it said “Deep Dives and Side Quests” or “DDSQ” on the cover, and to decorate and design it (ie–add a pen holder) however they’d like. I also did a demonstration on how to retrieve and replace the art supplies they use (a lesson I’ll be reteaching every school day for the rest of my life, probably). After they finished, they were to number the first 10 pages or more. In a way, creating and customizing their notebooks would be their first side quest.

After kids crafted their notebooks, we had a quick show and tell. One student was excited to share the pipe-cleaner bookmark he’d attached to his notebook (an idea I later stole for my own notebook).

Then, I told students that this year, we’ll be doing lots of creative work, and sometimes we’ll do deep dives where we dig deep into an important project or idea, and sometimes we’ll go on creative side quests to explore other interesting possibilities. This is the notebook we’ll use to capture all of our thinking along the way.

At this point, your students will likely be ready for a break before jumping into the next step. For us, it was recess time. When they returned we opened up our notebook for DDSQ Lesson #1: “We can make creative gold mines that we can go back to for ideas.”

After Recess: Setting up a DDSQ Goldmine

Teacher: Turn and Talk to a neighbor about where creative people get their ideas.

Students turn and talk. Teacher eavesdrops.

Teacher: Okay, I overheard some interesting conversations. Would anyone like to share?

Students share. Teacher writes ideas on the board/In a notebook displayed by a document camera.

Teacher: These are all really good! And the thing is, there are lots of ways that people come up with great ideas. Today, I’m going to teach you one way that writers can make a creative gold mine, a place in your notebook that’s full of great ideas, that you can go back to again and again. It’s called the Heart Map.

My original Heart Map only contained a few items, and I added more as class went on.

Quick aside: There are lots of other things you might do here. You might have students make a list of their favorite things, or maybe you might have them make a list of things that drive them crazy. Neighborhood maps are always good, too!

Teacher: Who would like to share something from their Heart Map? …Thanks for volunteering, _______. Now, as she shares something from her Heart Map, your job is to listen and see if what she shares sparks an idea for something you might add to your own Heart Map!

Student shares. I model how her share sparks an idea for something I might add to my Heart Map + give kids a few seconds to do the same. Repeat process with a few more students.

Aside: Another option = invite students to give a partner a tour of their Heart Map.

Teacher: Look at your Heart Map, if I asked you to do research today, which things might you look into?

Students share. Pause after each share to ask the class if they already have something like what the student shared in their Heart Maps. If not, invite them to add it.

Teacher: Look at your Heart Map again. If I asked you to write a poem, which things in your Heart Map might you write about?

Aside: From here, you’ll want to read the room. You could do a few more, if kids are still engaged: graphic novel, essay, fictional story based on true events, news article. The reason I do this work is because I want students thinking about multi-modal (aka multi genre) writing from day 1.

Teacher: Today, you’ve done the important work of creating your very own creative gold mine. And just like a miner, when you strike gold, you go back again and again…to find more gold! Your Heart Map will be one of the places you can go for ideas whenever we do a creative deep dive or side quest. Tomorrow, I’ll show you how.

Teacher guides students through transition to next subject area.

Now your playbook is wide open. Tomorrow, you can have kids use their DDSQ notebooks to generate writing ideas by thinking about first times, good times, and bad times (adapted from a TCRWP Units of Study mini-lesson) with some of the things they have in their Heart Maps. You might also invite them to try something multi-modal, using a mentor text from the Mentor Text Dropbox.

What we’re doing here is dedicating the first few pages to all the ideas that might eventually become “Deep Dives” where they really dig into a topic and “Side Quests” where they sample a topic to see if it might turn into something useful.

During the first couple weeks of school, I like to weave in and out of writing and creating and making new “Idea Goldmines” (Neighborhood Map, “Times I Got in Trouble” List, etc.). Our first few pieces are multi-modal (aka multi genre), so I have students work on these in their DDSQ notebooks, but eventually this notebook will be used more for Genius Hour-y types of projects.

As one of my Moving Writers Colleagues would say, the Important Thing is that kids see creative, inquiry based work not just as “research” but as what it really is: a deep dive or a side quest.

Stay tuned for future DDSQ posts! In my first semester beat, we’ll dig into ways you can show students how and when to do “Deep Dives” and how to execute meaningful “Side Quests”!

How do you engage kids with creative and inquiry-based practices at the beginning of the year? I’d love to hear about your process! Leave a comment below, or connect with me on Twitter @MrWteach, and be sure to follow @MovingWriters on Twitter and Instagram!

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