In my college days a "mini-lesson" was defined to me as a part of a Writers Workshop as follows:
The mini-lesson is part of Writers' Workshop and provides a short (5- to 10- minute), structured lesson on a topic related to writing. Topics are selected by the teacher and based on student need or curricular areas. These topics address aspects of the writing process or procedures for independent Writing Workshop time.
Even at the time I blanched a little at making a general term mean only one thing, so I have, with my super powers, expanded it to mean this:
A short lesson on a topic at the moment its need is discovered. The topic addresses a need at the moment it is useful. This is true even if it is only partially related to the overall unit.
With that definition in mind, let me tell you about the mini-lesson I taught this week. I think it may be more aptly described as a maxi-lesson since it ended up taking two days to get the point across.
I will set the scene...
We are pre-reading for an article on water uses. In it is an inset map. The map identifies Washington, Oregon, the Canadian border, and the city of Wenatchee. The conversation goes like so:
Me: What do you see in this map?
Various: Washington. Oregon. Canada. Wen... Wennch...
Me: Wenatchee. Yes. What does this map tell you about the location in this article?
Various: Washington. Oregon. Canada. Weachch...
Me: (sensing lack of comprehension) What state is Wenatchee in?
Various: Oregon? Canada? Washington?
Me (rising horror): It's in Washington. See the state lines here? What two states are showing in this map?
Me (dawning horror): What country do you see here?
Various: Washington? Oregon? Canada? Wnchatcee?
Me: (nearly fully horrified, going to map of USA) Canada is at the top here, what country is right below?
Various: Washington? Texas? San Diego?
Me (trepidatiously): what country do we live in?
Various: San Diego? California? Washington?
Me: Oh my. Lovies... this can't be. You can't do this any more. It's time to know this stuff.
I gave them each a bright green super huge sticky note (thanks TM), and had them write "It's TIME" on top. We listed where they live starting with the planet and going down through the continents, the countries, the states, our county, their cities. It took the rest of the period. It was no longer a mini-lesson. So, we went full-on and made "Where I Live" mobiles (pictures coming soon).
Next up... a commentary on what has happened to allow these kids to get to this point. Not right now though. I'm tired.