May 28

Using the Micro Lab Protocol to Defend Colony Choice

While on a CoT tour at Leonard Elementary, Troy, I watched as Karen Socier, grade 5 teacher, used the Micro Lab Protocol in a social studies lesson.  This is a summary of my visit.

Grade 5 Social Studies unit on the 13 Colonies.

 Karen Socier, teacher, Leonard Elementary

 Micro Lab Protocol:  The purpose of this routine is to deepen thinking and understanding by engaging students in synthesizing and organizing their ideas  This protocol is designed to ensure equal participation and make sure everyone contributes.  It works best when students are in groups of three.  A protocol is distinguishedl from a routine in that the rounds of sharing are timed by the teacher to keep all the groups on track, and focused. There are four key parts to this protocol:  a) First person shares (1-2 minutes), b) Pause for 20-30 seconds for group members to reflect, c) Repeat for persons 2 and 3, d) Discuss as a group (5-10minutes)

Teaching Points: 

  • Guide student thinking through the stages of focusing, analyzing and reflecting on the learning goal.
  •  Build listening skills.
  • Learn how to connect to the ideas of others and build on the thinking of others to deepen understanding.
  • Increase quality of contributions by providing adequate time to think and write.
  • Make connections to what others have said and ask clarifying questions.

 Prior to tour visit:  This fifth-grade class  read about and took notes on six of the original 13 colonies.  Using these notes and what they had already learned about the colonies, they were asked to make and defend a decision by answering the question:  “In which colony would I choose to settle?”

During the tour visit:  Students worked in groups of three to share their thinking.  Before sharing with their group members, students were given writing time to state and provide reasons for their decisions.  Responses varied and group members were able to draw on their readings and notes to help them defend their choices.  Many chose New York as their preferred colony because they felt that there would be more jobs available.  (I wondered if some students were making a cognitive link to their world beyond school and the current economic and immigration issues.)   A lively discussion took place in one group about the need to find a job that fits with your interests, skills and abilities vs. just finding a job.  Would New York be the best fit?  This protocol certainly helped to make the thinking of these students visible.

 Examples of what students did and said to show thinking and understanding  All the students were highly engaged and shared their individual decisions with confidence and enthusiasm.  They listened carefully and asked clarifying questions which required group members to look for deeper and more convincing reasons for their decisions. Some changed their minds about their preferred colony after listening to others in their group.  It was apparent that each student felt he/she had a contribution to make and felt confirmed by the group.

 Examples of what the teacher did and said to show thinking and understanding  Karen modeled valuing student thinking and depth of understanding throughout the lesson.  She carefully planned and prepared students for the use of the protocol and provided a framed response sheet to help support student thinking and sharing.  As students discussed, Karen rotated from group to group and listened to their conversations.  She asked probing questions of students to push them to go deeper and provide more details to support their choices.

 After the tour visit/lesson follow-up:  Each student made a poster to convince others to move to his/her colony of choice.  They engaged in critical and creative thinking as they produced logos, slogans, rhymes and jingles to convince others that his/her colony was the place to be.

 You are invited to leave comments or questions for Karen and watch for the next classroom vignette on Monday, June 3, 2013.




  1. Dianne Jeppson

    I love the way you used the Micro Lab protocol with the colony question. I have used it before with my 3rd grade class and Book Clubs and I have found that it helps the discussion. Students also learn valuable listening and speaking skills as they discuss their novel.

    I agree with Karen that modeling expectations is very important.

    I liked the idea of a follow up activity so that all the groups could share their discussions and thinking with the rest of the class.

  2. L. Heydenburg

    Sounds like a very interesting lesson and great topic. The Micro Lab Protocol seems like a great way to look at the different options and have students stand behind their thinking. I like that it allows all the students thinking to be heard and seen as valuable. I wondered if the students had to reflect on their thinking after the protocol and/or after they created and saw others posters. It seems like that may be a natural next step to this lesson. Nice work! Thanks for sharing!

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