Posts from the ‘Strategies’ Category

Management vs. Engagement

Over the course of my 15 years of teaching in the classroom, there has been a continual debate over management vs. engagement. The argument is that if you create an engaging lesson, then management issues will fade away like a bad stain in the washing machine. The opposite has also been stated, if you have good management then “engagement” (which has been confused with compliance, in this instance), also increases. We need to look beyond the either/or to the both/and.

A classroom should have good student management in place, but it should also include lessons/activities that are engaging. It is very difficult to have one without the other. You can spend hours creating an amazing lesson, but if your students don’t pay attention, then they will not be successful or find value in your plan. If you create your lessons with only you in mind, then the likelihood of students finding it engaging also decreases. In this scenario, you won’t necessarily have open rebellion, after all, your class is well managed, but you also won’t see student ownership of learning, that sparkle that lights up their eyes when they are excited about what they get to work on. And really, isn’t that what it’s all about?

The Management Side:

It has been my stance for years that each teacher must decide for themselves what type of management system they want to have in their classroom. This does not mean, however, that you should have NO management system in place. That will lead to big problems down the road. Students crave structure. They need to know what they can and can’t do in your class – what’s O.K. and what’s not O.K., and they need to know where the lines are. That is only fair. We all have lines laid down for us in our lives, places that it is acceptable to go or talk about, and others where it isn’t. Students, however, need to have it explicitly stated. Depending upon the grade level you teach, they are developing their reasoning function, their ability to tie action and reaction together. We need to help them function in our classrooms in a manner that is appropriate. Don’t hide your expectations – let them know ahead of time. No surprises. I’ve talked to many students over the years who have gotten in trouble in a class. For many, the answer to the question, “what did you do to get in trouble?” is met with, “I don’t know. I did what I always do and the teacher just blew up at me.” With no guidelines laid down ahead of time, a teacher will reach their boiling point and explode. The student is left standing there with mud on their face, not sure what just happened. A management system that is thought out ahead of time and communicated to students and parents, will mitigate much of this issue.

One final thought on management – there are many different ideas on what classroom management could and should look like (some educators create management plans in partnership with their students), but always make sure it is something that works for you and that you can live with. Taking someone else’s management ideas or style and just copying them can also cause problems. Make sure it is something that you are committed to.

For those of you that are curious, I have a couple of podcasts of my management plan. The first is here: and the second is here:

The Engagement Side:

When we create lessons for our students, we need to purposefully plan for engaging activities. Don’t let it be an accident. You should consider the following questions to determine engagement opportunities: How do I want students to interact with my information? How deep do I want their understanding to be? How often will they need to process my information? What types of products do I want them to create that will show me that they have reached the level of understanding that I desire?

The answers to these questions will help guide your lesson planning. Engagement, as with management, can take on various forms. It might include individual projects or learning opportunities, cooperative learning, a novel experience, or experiential learning, to name a few. Some teachers begin lessons with exposing students to a new idea, experiment, video – something that causes the eyes to widen and questions to come pouring into the brains and out of their mouths. Others allow students to independently showcase their learning in individual ways. Still others allow create structures in their classrooms that allow students to productively engage with the other learners in the class to make the new learning more meaningful. All of these ideas are ways to increase engagement in classrooms.

But, for a bigger picture of motivation (and engagement first begins with a motivation to do something), I would refer you to Daniel Pink’s Drive. It is an amazing book on what motivates people and can be directly tied into a classroom. I’ve embedded a short video that outlines the book graphically for you (and wouldn’t this be an engaging project for your visual/artistic learners to do?).

As with all learning, make it meaningful, make it student owned and centered. That will start you on the path toward engagement.

Together in Harmony

Imagine a well organized and engaged classroom. A place where students feel safe, comfortable, and are willing to take chances. A place that they are excited to be in and hate leaving. It’s not a utopian vision, it can, to a large extent, happen. But it only happens with lots of planning, forethought, instruction, and monitoring. It will also not usually happen for 100% of your students, no matter how you try and tweak and alter and change. As with everything, you will also find higher levels of management and engagement during certain activities or lessons. Your job is to analyze the causal factors of both to help determine how to better replicate the highs and eliminate many of the lows.

It’s a big task and it isn’t easy. But it sure is rewarding…

Coming Soon…In the next week or so, I will write several blog posts specifically on engagement. Topics will include: How do you set it up? What are some good structures? How do you manage a student independent classroom? If there are specific questions you would like for me to address, please leave a comment on this post.

Word Walls

I was working with a teacher several weeks ago on various math strategies when an idea struck me. I was talking about the coordinate-graph vocabulary strategy that my colleague Laura Zoromski created (and I blogged about in an earlier post) because his students were struggling with vocabulary.  I mentioned word walls to him and he indicated that he used them.  That was when the idea hit – add an additional component to the wall.  If a student proves that he/she not only knows the definition of a word, but can use it and explain it to others, put their name under the word on the word wall.  That way, if a student has a question about that word, they know that they can ask the teacher or one of the students listed there.  It would also provide a way to see what words most of your students truly own and those you need to reinforce.  I think if you paired it with the coordinate-graph strategy, students will become much for effective in self-evaluating their level of knowledge – which is the direction I think we need to be heading.

Language Arts Stations

I have been working with a teacher who has an 8th grade Language Arts class that has quite a few ELL and SPED students.  She is struggling to find a way to meet the diverse needs in the class, work with students in small groups, and maintain classroom management.  I talked to this teacher about coming in and co-teaching with her.

I met with the teacher to plan out the lesson and decide what she wanted the focus to be.  She has been working on determining the subject and predicate in sentences and is moving into the different types of sentences.  She also wanted to be able to meet with a small group of kids.  We decided to set up stations.  She would create groups based on some classroom data.  That way when a group came to her, she would be able work on specific skills that that group was missing.  The four stations that we decided on were:  teacher station, creating sentences finding the subject and predicate, types of sentences foldable, and a parts of speech bingo.  I would create the foldable, provide the game, and an introduction to types of sentences.  She would create the stations, the subject and predicate station, and her teacher station materials.

Before class began, we arranged the desks in the class and put the materials at the appropriate stations.  When the students came in, we told them the station that they needed to sit at.  We did this because we knew that this group would struggle with movement after the instructions.  We started the lesson with an introduction to types of sentences.  I created a powerpoint (you can view or download it at this address: ). to introduce the topic and explain the foldable.

After the introduction, we explained the task at each station.  At the subject/predicate station, students had to write one sentence based on a picture and then highlight the subject and predicate in each sentence. This sheet would be used as a pre-assessment for the teacher at her station (the one right after the subject/predicate station).


Subject/Predicate Station

Subject/Predicate Station

We got some good data from this station.  One entire group neglected to add a subject to any sentence.  This allowed the teacher to know exactly where she needed to begin her instruction – even further back than she had anticipated.  

At the foldable station,  students made a hotdog fold and cut out four sections.  Each section would be used to describe one of the types of sentences.  They would write a definition, a sample sentence, and a picture illustrating that picture.  They will use this foldable as a study guide for future assignments.


Types of Sentence Foldable

Types of Sentence Foldable

Inside of foldable.

Inside of foldable.


















With our short classes (only 45 minutes), we ran out of time very quickly.  Students did not get to finish the foldable.  We decided to create an overhead and have them finish it as a warm-up.  We would provide the definition and they would add the sample question and picture.  This would provide a quick assessment for the teacher to see if they comprehended the various types at a very simple level.



Students working in stations.

Students working in stations.



At our debriefing, we talked about how great a job the students did, how surprised she was that a group of students didn’t add subjects to any of their sentences, how she adjusted her instruction to that, the fact that students were upset when they couldn’t finish their foldable (how many students do you know who complain when they can’t finish their work?!?), and how to build in the time to finish the foldable during a later class.

All in all, the kids did a great job.  I think that this might be a strategy that will be successful with this class.  

On a different note, the more foldables that I make, the more excited I am about this strategy and using it with students.

Building Background

The longer I teach, the more I realize that activating my students’ background knowledge about a topic is critical.  I find this especially true with ELL students.  There are lots of ways to find out what your students already know about a topic and what misconceptions they have.  This is also incredibly important – what do students not understand.  

There are several ways that I try and get at my students’ knowledge beyond KWL charts or having a whole class discussion.

Brain dump – where students draw a picture, give an example, or write down everything that they know about a topic or vocabulary words or a process, etc.  I might have students do this as a warm-up activity, an exit ticket, or at the beginning of a unit.  If it is an exit ticket, I would assign it before we started a new unit or topic.  That way I can collect some information that informs my instruction in the unit.  There are many off-shoots or extensions for this activity.  After students have written, you can group them using a Kagan structure (like HandUp, StandUp, PairUp) and have them share their thinking (maybe using RallyRobin).  This allows them to hear about many sets of knowledge.  You need to keep in mind that some students might share some incorrect information.  This is why you will probably want to collect their writing – so that you can address these.

What is the topic?  – You can use this strategy when you are introducing a new topic.  You write vocabulary words on the board (or overhead, etc) and based on the words, the students must decide what you will be focusing on.  This allows you to see if your students have any frame of reference for the topic.

What words don’t fit? – This activity is similar to the previous, except the students are told the topic and they must decide which words written on the board (or overhead) should be included in the unit and which words should be discarded. 

My colleague, Laura Zoromski, has created a great building background activity that she uses in her math class.coordianate-graph-explanation Click on this link to view an example and the explanation.

If you have a specific set of vocabulary words that you will be teaching, you can have the students pre-assess their familiarity with the words.  You can create a basic chart that lists the word and options on a knowledge continuum.  vocabulary-checklist Click on this link to view an example.  After you have taught the unit, have students re-evaluate where they fall on the continuum.

By no means is this an exhaustive list of strategies, but these are some simple, quick, and useful ways to help your students activate their background knowledge.


Almost a month ago, I signed my classes up at  It is a website that matches classrooms from around the world that are looking to work on similar projects together.  I had my students get parental permission and started e-mailing teachers in other countries that had students of a similar age.  I finally had a class respond over the weekend and my students e-mailed students in Italy today.  My students are incredibly excited and enthused about communicating with students from around the world.

Here is how it works.  After you get parent permission (the site wants it for students under the age of 13, I made all of my students get one), you create an account for each student.  There are several options on the types of accounts that you can create for them – those are explained at the site.  After you have created the accounts, you get to select the amount of monitoring that you would like to have over each account.  I selected the highest level of monitoring, which means that each e-mail has to be approved for delivery both incoming and outgoing.  My students grumbled a little bit about this, but when I explained why this was necessary, they understood.  It was also a selling point with parents.  Students can access their account anywhere they have access to the internet.  I have signed up for computer lab time, our ePals are e-mailing us from their homes.

Even after our first day e-mailing, I can see the types of conversations that we will have about letter writing, use of slang, how to write questions, spelling, and editing on the computer.  I am excited to have them start receiving responses.

Eventually, I want them to share the books that they are reading and the literature that their ePals are reading.  This might lead into a shared project – the sky’s the limit!

Foldables® – Social Studies Continent Book

I have an old, new favorite.  Foldables.  I was exposed to them several years ago by a science teacher and used them in my Newcomer Social Studies class when I couldn’t find appropriate materials.  I was working on the 7 continents, the countries within those continents, and pulling facts from text.  I pulled maps from the Geography Coloring Book which was great because they were small enough to fit into my book.  I then assembled a foldable that allowed each continent to have its own two page spread.


Front cover of Continent Book

Front cover of Continent Book

Each continent had three sets of information:  country names, climate zones, and facts about two countries in that continent.  They were able to choose the type of information that they found on their countries.  They could choose:  animals, landmarks, culture, landforms, or historical events.  I checked nonfiction texts out from the library to help them find the information.  We used an atlas to find the names of the countries.


Left side of the continent book with country names.

Left side of the continent book with country facts.

Right side of continent book with climate zones and country facts.

Right side of continent book with climate zones and country facts.














By the end of this project, my newcomers were able to search for specific information from nonfiction text, pull that information from text, and use it in their book.  As a culminating activity, I had them answer questions using the book as their resource.  I was looking to see if they could pull specific information from their own book.

This activity was engaging, interactive, and students were able to work at their own pace.  A success all around!

Since then, I have discovered that Dinah Zike has created many books on the different types of foldables that you can use in classrooms.  Pictured below are some other social studies examples from her.  I purchased one of her books and am looking forward to incorporating these strategies into my classes.

from Dinah Zike's Notebook Foldable book.

from Dinah Zike's Notebook Foldables book




From Dinah Zike's Notebook Foldables book

From Dinah Zike's Notebook Foldables book















I will also be talking about math, science, and language arts foldables that I have created and used in my classrooms.

Amazon Book Reviews

As I looked at my students’ proficiency levels at the beginning of this school year, I noticed that most of my students struggled with their writing.  My district requires quarterly assessments, and again, they were unsatisfactory or partially proficient in writing.  I didn’t just want them to write for class, but I wanted an audience and for them to publish it as often as possible.

I was surfing Amazon and it finally connected for me – my students could post book reviews online.  I decided to find a way for them to use this site to publish their writing.  As I looked further into the site, I discovered that they could post their reviews as “A Kid’s Review.”  This was perfect as I don’t want them to put up their names or locations.  They will log in under my name, type their reviews, and post it as a kids’ review.

Earlier in the year I showed my students (most of them had never visited the site or heard of it) and how to search for books and read book reviews.  So that was where I started.  With a borrowed laptop and LCD projector, my students and I search the site, looking specifically at book reviews.  We pulled up reviews on books that they were reading.  They were shocked that people wrote reviews about books that they didn’t like and that people didn’t necessarily like the books that they loved.  They were also concerned that the authors would read the reviews and see that people didn’t necessarily love their book.  We made sure that we previewed some of the reviews before class so that we could specifically show them some examples where the reviewer had a lot of voice and was creative.  One of my students wanted to post a review about his favorite book right there, so we did.  He dictated what he wanted to say, read it over, edited it, and then we posted it.  It takes about 48 hours for a review to post, so I checked back a couple of days later, and there it was.  I showed it to him, but he said that he had already looked online and seen it.  

My next step was to have my students start breaking apart reviews and looking for the “must haves.”  I created a PowerPoint presentation to show students the various parts of a book review.


Pod area set up ready for class.

Pod area set up ready for class.


After going through the example, students worked in groups to highlight the major parts of their book review.



Students highlighting book reviews.

Students highlighting book reviews.


Groups working.

Groups working.














I discovered that it was difficult for them to tell the difference between opinions and plot.  I can tell that we are going to have to work on this as they begin writing their own reviews – which will be next week.

If you would like to see or use the PowerPoint, it is uploaded at: