Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fun Review Strategies

Whenever you find yourself with some extra time to fill or reviewing information with students for an upcoming test, you might want to try some of these fun review strategies. Some can be used whenever you have a few minutes to spare before the bell rings, while waiting in line for Art or PE, or you need a time-filler between activities. Others are perfect for long review sessions to prepare students for an upcoming assessment. Whatever your need, I think you’ll find these activities to be motivating and fun for everyone.

In Class Review Sessions

Review Bingo
BINGO is such a fun game to play and you can adapt it to review for all sorts of different information. Be sure to point out in advance whether you are playing line, T, or blackout (full card) to win. Below are a few variations:
1. Put vocabulary words on BINGO cards and call out the definitions.
2. Put math equations on BINGO cards and call out answers.
3. Put capitol cities on BINGO cards and call out states or countries.
4. Put song names, note names, musician or artist names, styles of art, names of sports, etc. on BINGO cards. You can then call out the musician, artist or time period, and rules of a sport.
5. Put element names on BINGO cards. Show pictures of atoms. Students place their marker on the correct element for each atom.
There are many different ways to adapt this fun game to help you review information!

Learning Chain
Cut different colored construction paper (light colors only) into long strips. Give each student several strips and have them write a review fact, word & definition, or rule on each strip. Next, have students create a loop with the strip of paper, adding the loops together to make a chain. You can do this as a whole class, in small groups, or as individuals. Then have each individual or small group share the information they chained together.
A variation on this is to create a chain yourself with one question per link. During review time have the students come up one at a time and pull a link from the chain. The student then reads the question aloud. All the students write (or call out) the answer to the question.

This is a fun game to play with students for review questions. Sort your information into four or five categories. On one side of a piece of construction paper write a fact students need to know (or it could be a question). On the other side write a point value (ie – 100 pts, 250 pts, 500 pts). Break students into teams. One at a time, students on each team choose a category & point value. Flip the card over and read the fact or question. Students then either identify a question to go with the fact or answer the question. If they are correct, record the points for their team.

Open Windows
Have students take a sheet of paper and fold it in half four times until they end up with a small square. When opening the paper, there should be 16 small squares. Depending on the age of your students and the amount of information you are studying, you can fold it either more or less (or use several sheets of paper).
Next, give students a sheet of numbered review questions (or place one on your overhead or projector station). Have students write the answers to each question in the squares (one per square). They should not write the answers in order, but should mix them up on the page. Be sure to have students write the number of the question next to the answer. (Ex: 1) a reptile; 2) a mammal)

Once students have written all the answers in each square, have them paste their full page of answers onto a piece of construction paper.

Next, give students a second piece of construction paper and have them fold it the same as before, into 16 squares the same size as their answer squares. Have students write each numbered review question on a separate square. Students should then cut out each square so that they have 16 individual squares.

Match the numbered question square to the correct answer square and tape it at the top so that the question now covers the answer, but can be lifted like a flap. When finished, every answer should be covered by the corresponding question.

The finished product is a page of flaps. Students read the question, try to answer it on their own, then raise the flap to see if they got the answer correct. This makes a great review sheet to take home and use with their parents for studying.

Review Time Fillers

Who/What Am I?
This review game is like 20 questions. Choose a person, place, or thing from your unit of study. Students then ask questions to help them determine the person, place, or thing you’ve chosen. Remind them that they only get 20 questions to figure it out.
Have strips of paper with a person, place, or thing you are studying written on each. Place these in a jar, hat, or box. Students take turns pulling one out and acting/drawing it for the class to guess.

This is a great game for reviewing spelling and vocabulary words. Again, have the words written each on a strip of paper for students to draw from a box. The student should draw the correct number of spaces for the word chosen. You can also choose for them to have a “clue” by providing the definition of the word.

Matching Partners
Think of connected ideas, people, or events that could be matched for your unit of study. Write each of these on white or construction paper. Attach a page to the back of each student so they cannot see who or what they are. Make sure you have enough to match up correctly. Students must then walk around the class and ask questions to: 1) determine who/what is on their sign and 2) locate their partner.

Thoughts for Reflection:
What kinds of review activities do you utilize in your classroom? Do you find your students actively engaged or snoozing? Which of the activities listed above do you think you might use with your students? Which do you think might be most effective with your students? Why? How might you modify any one of these activities to best fit your subject area and the students you teach? What other common board games or tv game shows could you adapt to use in the classroom for reviewing information?

Inspirational Quote:
“I am always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.”
~Winston Churchill

Facebook Fans
Okay, some of you have seen this, but I've created an actual page for Inspiring Teachers. If you love what we do here, please become a fan and join our group! To find us, do a search from your main facebook page (top right corner) for Inspiring Teachers. Our page and group will show up. You can become a fan of our page and share it with others. I'm posting events (places where I'll be) and other information there as well.
Also, please write on our wall and share some of the creative and inspiring things you are doing in your classroom! Let's get a collection of awesome ideas going for other teachers to read and use. I'd love to hear from all of you who are active on Facebook! If you don't have a page, it is so easy to join. Click on the link below and follow the directions.
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Friday, November 14, 2008

Maintaining a Positive Classroom Environment: Handling Student Transitions

Before school started you probably spent quite a bit of time determining how you would welcome your students and create a positive classroom environment for them. You may have implemented special introductions, ice-breakers, and bonding type activities. But what do you do when students arrive during the school year? It can be difficult to add a new personality into a mix of people that seems to be working well. How can you make the transition smooth for all your students?

First, have a welcome packet prepared in advance. This packet should include all the information/handouts you passed out during the first day and week of school. Your new students will need to know your homework and grading policy, your discipline plan, the expectations and procedures of the classroom, and a little bit of information about you. Some of this may have been communicated verbally at the start of school. You should take some time to write down any of this information not included in a handout since you will not have time to go over it all again every time you receive a new student.

Packet Materials:

  • Welcome letter and Goody Bag (maybe spirit items such as a pencil, badge, or sticker)
  • List of classroom expectations and consequences for not meeting expectations
  • List of classroom procedures
  • Homework policy/information
  • Grading policy/information
  • A Teacher information sheet – what do students and their parents need to know about you? You might include your philosophy of teaching (how you operate), your pet peeves (so students know what NOT to do), and a little background information about yourself. Try to remember the spiel you gave your students at the beginning of the year and write it down.
  • Student Information Sheet/Get to Know Sheet (this may have been an activity you did with the other students the first or second day of class)
  • Parent Information Sheet (parents fill out to give you contact information, let you know whether they are interested in volunteering, bring you up to date on what is going on with their child/comments and concerns from the previous school to help you)

Second, develop a tradition within the classroom for introducing the new student. Being introduced by the teacher can be incredibly embarrassing for most new students. Instead, try to find a student within the classroom who is both well-liked and compassionate. Introduce the new student to that person and ask him/her to make the introductions around class and school. Can you find a way to make this an honored “position”? One of your class jobs could be that of “Ambassador” with several students on the list. Have students apply for this job and set specific requirements to be met in order to be considered. Make it a position of esteem with extra freedoms or benefits attached to it. This will help make being an ambassador a highly sought position within the classroom.

Part of the job of Ambassador should be as an advocate for the new student. As such, you should take some time to train your ambassadors in ways to be a positive advocate. One example would be inviting the new student to join him/her for lunch. This is a wonderful time for the new student to be introduced to another group of people. Another example is to offer the “low-down” on the other teachers of the school. What does each expect from students? What is acceptable and not acceptable to do in each class? This kind of information will help keep students (especially secondary students) from making unwitting mistakes which may haunt them throughout the year. Remember to tell your ambassadors that an advocate is someone who helps, defends, and watches out for another person.

Throughout the year you should also set aside time for the class to participate in bonding/ice-breaking activities. These won’t necessarily be name games, but rather activities that help students rely on one another and get to know each other better. This allows new students a chance to bond with other students within the class and form deeper relationships with their new classmates. It isn’t time wasted, either. Building relationships between the teacher and the students as well as between the students themselves maintains a positive classroom culture. This in turn helps prevent discipline issues which cause distractions and lost learning time.

The other half of this coin deals with the issue of students leaving in the middle of the year. How can you help these students transition? Leaving the familiar and facing the unknown can be very traumatic for students. There may be times when you are given several days or weeks notice before a student leaves. Other times you may not find out until the day the student leaves. The worst scenario is when you don’t find out until after the student is already gone. So what can you do? Below are a few suggestions to help with closure and transition:

  • Have a few (or a stack) of “Good Bye” or “We’ll Miss You” cards ready to go.
  • Have students in the class sign the card and write messages to the student who is leaving.
  • Give the card to the student OR mail to the address on file in the school office. Most people have their mail forwarded and the student will receive the card.
  • Use a paper bag instead of a card. Have students sign and write messages on the bag. Allow students to put personal messages, photos, or small appropriate items as “going away gifts”. Include a message of encouragement from yourself and some candy or a pencil and bookmark inside the bag. Staple it shut and give to the student before he/she leaves.

Call the student before he/she moves and offer words of encouragement. You might even give out your school email address so the student can write and let you know how everything is going at the new school. Sometimes this link to the familiar can provide a strong system of support to a student who moves.

Whether coming or going, remember that developing and maintaining relationships with students is the key to developing a positive classroom environment and the respect of your class.


How do you currently welcome new students to your classroom? Do you have a packet of information ready to pass out as soon as a student enters? What is included in your packet? How might you utilize the other students in helping to make the new student feel more welcome in the classroom? What are some other activities you might incorporate to help the new student become a part of your classroom culture? Do you feel the idea of student ambassadors would be helpful in welcoming new students to you class? Why or why not? Do you currently do anything special to say good-bye to a student who is leaving? Why or why not? What do you do, if anything? Why do you think it would be helpful to have some way of saying good-bye to students leaving the school? What strategy do you think would work best for you and your class?

Inspirational Thought:
“Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse? Think of the last time you felt humiliated or treated unfairly. Did you feel like cooperating or doing better?”
~Jane Nelson

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Handling Beligerent Unruly Students

The following question was asked of me via email and I thought I'd share my answer in this blog with the hopes that it will help other new teachers facing the same issues.

Question: When teaching high school students how do you handle a beligerent, unruly individual?

It depends on several factors. However, usually there is a reason behind the belligerence in any student. Take some time to talk with your student and find out what is going on. It could be that the student feels he/she must be rude or belligerent to maintain a reputation in class. It could be the student feels unable to keep up in class and turns to acting out in order to mask his or her frustration. There may be issues going on at home, with his or her friends, with a boyfriend/girlfriend, or at work that are causing this behavior. Often it is a lack of self-esteem where the student feels that he/she is not smart, not good, not able, etc. and these feelings are turned outward in the form of misbehavior.

The best way to begin is by talking one on one with the student. This will not be easy and it will not resolve the problem immediately. In fact, more than likely your overtures will be rebuffed by the student and you'll probably be treated to more rude behavior. You will need to persevere. The one thing that really gets to every student is a teacher (or adult) who cares. The problem is that many try the "caring" route without actually caring about the student. After a couple of name calling sessions, rude actions, and deliberate attempts on the part of the student to be as annoying as possible, those teachers/adults back off. The student then "proves" to himself/herself that the teacher never really cared in the first place. This only adds fuel to the misbehavior. You cannot give up and you must believe that it is important to you to be a part of that student's life. It is the only way you will reach him/her.

When rebuffed, ridiculed, etc. by the student, you need to respond with, "I don't care that you are acting like this. I care about you anyway and I really want to know what's going on. I'm here to help." You need to reassure the student every day. Greet the student with a smile and ask about his/her day. Make an effort every day to try and get to know the student better so you understand what is going on underneath. After a while (and I don't mean a couple of days), the student will finally figure out that he/she isn't going to shake you and will begin to talk. Use those opportunities to talk to the student about class and what you can do to help.

Can the student help you? Is this person someone who has leadership potential? Oftentimes the ones with the most potential are the ones who fall the hardest into misbehavior if they are not guided and encouraged. Find out what the student likes and figure out how to bring those topics into lessons. Once the student begins to open up to you, bring your talks around to asking why the student behaves as he/she does during class. What can you do to help make class a place he/she wants to be? Don't just ask the questions - listen to the answers and try to address the issues raised. When the student sees you are interested in him/her as a person and listen to their opinions seriously, you will find yourself with an advocate within the classroom. That student who once gave you so much trouble will often become your best ally.

This is not always the case, but it happens quite often. The difference is in how you approach the student, how much you persevere, and how much of a relationship you build with the student. When the student sees that you truly care, you will begin to see a difference.

There is no quick fix to this kind of problem. I cannot tell you to use one magic strategy and make the problem go away. We are in the business of working with human beings who are independent. Each responds a different way to different strategies. However, I can tell you that by focusing on positives rather than negatives you have a much higher chance of getting the student to willingly change his/her behavior. Punishment will not work. It will only worsen the situation for you.

I highly recommend reading Jim Fay's book, "Teaching with Love and Logic." It is a wonderful book that I think you may find helpful.

I'm sorry there is no quick-fix for this type of situation, but I encourage you to develop a positive relationship with this student. It will not only help make your year of teaching better, but it will help your student become a better person as well!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Keeping Parents Informed and Involved

Research shows us that parent involvement has a higher impact on student success than does any other factor, including culture and socio-economic status. For teachers, simply calling parents when a problem arises is not enough to keep them involved. It also does not promote a positive relationship between teacher and parent. Children and adolescents need their parent(s) to play an active role in their academic careers. As teachers we must foster active parent participation as much as possible. How can we do this?

· Routinely invite parents into the classrooms and schools for assemblies, special classroom
events, and project presentations.
· Enlist parents as volunteers whenever possible.
· Keep parents informed about classroom events and procedures.
· Help parents understand the meaning behind education phrases used in communications.
· Keep parents informed of educational strategies used in the school and classroom.
· “Train” parents on how to effectively help their children develop good study/work habits.

First, by inviting parents into your school and classroom on a regular basis, you are promoting a general feeling of welcome and openness. When parents feel welcome to come into a school or classroom, they are more likely to be involved as a volunteer and not just a spectator (or complainer). Parents will then be the very best PR for you and your school as they tell other parents, the district, and community members how pleased they are with the school and teacher. They will also be a strong motivator and supporter of what you do in the classroom and will be a positive influence on their child in the school.

On the other hand, even the most involved parents and those actively seeking to be a part of their child’s academic life will tend to stay away from a school and classroom where they do not feel welcomed. This will cause tension and frustration on the part of the parent. You may then find yourself the recipient of complaints and bad PR. Parents who feel frustrated and tense about their child’s school frequently make themselves heard to other parents, the district, and other members of the community. If others feel the same lack of welcome, you will find yourself facing an overwhelming lack of support for everything you do. These parents will not support you in anything you try to do within the classroom and often will exert a negative influence on their child towards you.

Second, enlisting parents as volunteers serves two purposes. The first is that it shares the workload. When we have parents willing to help, why must we do everything ourselves? You may find yourself with a parent who would enjoy helping you put up a bulletin board, post student work, laminate and pull together materials for lessons, or even read one-on-one with students who need extra help. You may also find that you have very talented parents who are willing to share their knowledge as a guest speaker or demonstrate a skill as part of a unit you are studying. Rather than ignoring these resources, find out what you have available and use them as they are willing!

Additionally, many parents are quite anxious to know what is happening in their child/teen’s life during school hours. As a volunteer, the parent is in a position where he/she can see what is happening on a regular basis. This in turn eases their many fears and questions. The parent is also able to meet the other children/teens interacting with their child. In turn, the child sees that his/her parent is an active part of their school life. The parent is informed of what is happening in the classroom and so the child is unable to pull the wool over the parent’s eyes, so to speak. This kind of knowledge also helps the parent encourage the child to be a better student.

Third, it is important to keep parents informed of classroom procedures and events. Again, many parents want to know what is happening with their child in school. What is being learned? What does the teacher expect of the students? What can the parent do to help support the teacher at home? Knowledge is an enabler. It gives parents the ability to help their child and you. When a parent understands what is happening in the classroom and why, he/she is more likely to support you. Parents will strongly encourage homework to be completed correctly and behaviors to be appropriate for school when they know what is expected.

A newsletter or website is an excellent way to keep parents informed. A newsletter can go home monthly with important information for parents. Within a newsletter you can share:
· Main objectives or goals from the curriculum
· Important dates for assignments, field trips, or school events
· Birthdays
· Wish list of items needed for lessons
· Ideas for parents to do at home to support learning

A website is a more permanent and flexible tool that will allow you to keep older information and update it as necessary. With a website you are able to share:
· Topics of study, objectives or goals from the curriculum
· Homework assignments
· Important dates for projects due, events, or field trips
· Vocabulary for current unit of study
· Tips on how to extend learning at home – what parents can do with their child to support what
you are teaching
· Star Student profiles
· Communicate with both students and parents
· Explain educational phrases used or strategies for specific skills – helps parents understand
what is being taught and HOW it is being taught

Explaining educational phrases and strategies is another tool you can provide parents to help you at home. When parents understand how their child is being taught or what phrases to use when helping with homework, it makes your job easier. Often homework is done incorrectly at home because the parent doesn’t understand the “new” way of teaching/learning the skill. Methods and phrases used in education tend to change rapidly as we discover new research about how students learn best. Most parents, however, do not have this information and will help their child in the only way they know how – as they were taught __ number of years ago. This causes confusion within the child and ends up hindering what we are trying to teach in the classroom.

However, when we keep parents informed of the words/phrases to use and the procedure to follow for skills being practiced, we enable them to help their child in a way that supports what is happening in the classroom. A website is an excellent way to keep parents informed of this information because you only need to upload it once. You might make a section on your website for “Educational Phrases and their meanings” and “Tips for Helping Your Child with Homework” to give parents the information they need. As new skills are being taught, add another post with information to help the parent understand what you expect from your students.

When we keep our parents informed and offer them tools and strategies for helping their child in the learning process, we are actually helping ourselves. We create positive PR for our school and classrooms within the community. We gain much needed help with time-consuming tasks. We develop positive relationships with people who will support us. We enable intelligent adults to continue the teaching at home in a way that sustains what is learned in the classroom. In the end we get students who are successful learners.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Discovery Learning in the Classroom

Rather than trying to teach your students facts, try teaching them how to LEARN! Our brains learn much better and retain more when we are forced to figure out the answer for ourselves. Have your students research important questions for your unit of study and then teach their information to the rest of the class. The Learning Pyramid shows that 90% of learning is retained when done in direct application or when teaching others. Wow! What a statement that makes! When we teach our students how to learn, to be able to find information for themselves, we are in effect teaching them how to be lifelong learners.

Does this mean that as teachers we sit back and do nothing? Of course not! We are the facilitators in this process. Our students need to be taught HOW to ask the right questions and HOW to find the information. They also need to be taught how to process and use that same information. We must teach about sources of information. We must teach how to take notes from information we read. We must teach how to put that information into an organized presentation, and show our students how to either apply or teach it to others!

Start by teaching your students the basics:

1)What kind of question do I ask?
2)Where do I go to find the information? (primary & secondary sources)
3)How do I pull out the most important and relevant information to answer my question?
4)How do I organize this information?
5)How can I apply this information in a meaningful way?
6)How can I best teach others this information?

Once you've taught your students these important skills, then utilize them each six weeks in a project related to your unit of study. Let your students discover the knowledge for themselves and share their findings with others. I think you'll find you have a classroom full of motivated and excited students who want to learn!

I always start out with a simple project such as answering one question in one or two paragraphs with an explanation, and get more involved from there. I may have students do a simple presentation and visual. Pop-up books are fun for students to make and do not take up much class time to create when only one page.

Don't forget about experiments, learning centers, scavenger hunts, web quests, and other simple projects that may not be as time-consuming. Even finding the answer to a simple question promotes active learning on the part of a student. No child is too young or too old to learn these skills!

These are some questions I ask myself when I reflect about discovery learning in my classroom:

Do I encourage my students to be active learners, seeking information for themselves? How do I make this happen? Are my lessons teacher centered (you do most of the thinking and work) or student centered (students do most of the thinking and work)? Am I mostly at the lecturn, giving notes and facts, or do I ask my students questions and require them to find the information to back up their answers? When I think about my upcoming lessons, I ask myself - how can I incorporate a way for students to discover the knowledge for themselves?