Posted in Uncategorized

Tiered Learning Experiences

Tiered Learning Experiences— From the book Teaching Gifted Kids in Today’s Classroom, here is a glimpse at tiered lesson planning. Don’t let the title of the book fool you– this style of lesson planning can be beneficial to use with all kids, especially in mixed-ability classroom settings. When first reading about tiered learning experiences, my mind automatically made the connection to choice or menu boards. This is differentiation! Though they are similar in a way, tiered lesson planning looks a little different. Here’s a quick comparison:

Menu Boards, Tic-Tac-Toe, & Choice Boards

  • Choice in process & product.
  • All students participate, though not in the same way.
  • Similar level of difficulty of tasks.

Tiered Lessons

  • Teacher directed differentiation.
  • All students engage with same content then experience it slightly differently.
  • Tiered levels of difficulty.

Tiered lessons provide all students with whole-group instruction and activities on the topic to build background knowledge. Where they become unique is after that instruction students are provided with different tasks to allow them an opportunity to work with the content. These tasks are tiered by difficulty (versus by learning modality) — entry-level activities, advanced activities, and most challenging activities. Once students have completed learning tasks at the appropriate level for them, the teacher brings the whole group back to process and wrap up the lesson. Here’s a quick, “for instance” example–

EL/Topic/Skill: Food Webs
Whole Group Inst./Activities: YouTube video, re-tell activity, read text w/ strategy
Tier 1 Activity: Tier 2 Activity: Tier 3 Activity:
Identify food chain vs. food web through card sort activity Construct food web when provided info about ecosystem Evaluate the effect of species removal from web through “what if…” scenario
Whole Group Inst./Activities: game-based review, exit ticket

Notice the activities are all centered around the same topic or essential goals while they move up the Taxonomy of Thinking. This allows students to engage with the content at an appropriate level for them. Utilize pre-test data, quick-checks, formative assessment data, or even allow choice at times to know which students should participate in which activities. Think about titling the activities with content-area words, “readiness” levels, or even use colored paper and distribute to students as “red group”, “green group”, etc. 

One idea I really like about this type of planning is that the teacher always has another activity at the ready for those early finishers. If a student working with the tier 1 activity finishes they can then move on to the tier 2. Students that have completed tier 2 can then move on to the tier 3. Students that complete the tier 3 activity can be moved on to a pre-prepared extension activity that is more in-depth or complex, if needed. This also allows students the opportunity to interact with the content at those more challenging levels when they are ready.

Going to give it a go? Post the date and class periods to the Pineapple Chart to welcome other teachers in to check it out!



Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

Posted in Uncategorized

Classroom Management Ideas– Consistent & Clear Expectations

This week I thought I’d share a few classroom management ideas. We are getting to the point in the year where we are in the swing of things but sometimes we get a group that just still hasn’t “caught on.” They continue to talk while you’re talking, ask a million questions that you just provided the answers to, struggle to refocus after an activity and so on. Here are a couple of easy-to-implement ideas to try. The real trick with each of these strategies is to be consistent. As soon as you stop doing them you will begin to see the behaviors you were hoping to abolish just creep right back in. 

Call to Attention– This quick strategy is one that is easy to implement and can yield big results. A call to attention is just an attention-getter that the teacher uses consistently to bring students’ attention back to them. This can be a call and response, a simple phrase, clapping pattern, etc. The real trick here is to teach the expected behavior and then be consistent with using it. For example, in my classroom the phrase “Good morning!” or “Good afternoon!” was my students’ cue to be quiet and focus on me. The first few days of class I needed to remind them that my greeting to the group did not require a response but simply for them to be quiet (they all wanted to say “Good morning!” right back to me). I would often tap my ear as a visual cue. After consistently doing this it became a habit. Students knew what behavior was expected of them and complied. Of course, a quick reminder was always needed throughout the year but repeating this same greeting anytime I needed their attention (at any point in the class period) signaled to students what they were expected to do. Here are a few other ideas for call to attentions:

  • If you can hear me clap 2 times. If you can hear me clap 3 times. (students respond with clapping)
  • Hey Class….Hey What? (say it in different voices and they mimic)
  • Say school name and students respond with mascot: CG!….Trojans!
  • Have students create one and vote?
  • Hand signals or standing “on the spot/mark.”
  • Anything content specific that you can say often.
  • Echo Clap (teacher claps a pattern and students repeat it)

Here is a great video clip from The Teaching Channel showing a teacher setting expectations, following through, and utilizing a call to attention technique.  

Wait for Quiet– This idea really goes hand-in-hand with a call to attention. Once we have asked for our students’ attention with our consistent signal, we have to then wait for the correct response. If students have not gotten quiet we tend to move on– we have so many things to get to this period, right?! The real trick here is to wait them out. If they are not being quiet… wait for it. If you have waited a considerable amount of time and still are not getting the response that you want, do the call to attention again. Now wait. This can be tough to make a habit but it is well worth it. Check out this post from Cult of Pedagogy for more–

Repeat Back Instructions– So now you’ve used your call to attention, and waited for students to be quiet, now it’s time to give those instructions. After being clear with instructions/expectations for the activity, assignment, or just the next few minutes have students repeat back what you said in unison. This lets you know that everyone is on the same page but also allows anyone that missed it to get caught up. Didn’t hear enough responses? Ask them to tell you again. Quick and easy. Here is a video of a teacher requiring students to repeat back the learning objective of the day– same idea, different implementation.

Pre-Plan Corrections– Now you’ve done all of the strategies above and you feel pretty good… until a student is off task, talks out, or is just plain not doing what he/she is supposed to do. It can be easy to respond to that student sort of “off-the-cuff” with whatever comes to mind. One idea is to pre-plan those corrections so that you are consistent, clear, and your response does not escalate the situation through added emotion. Take a look at this checklist from Jim Knight’s book High Impact Instruction. Following these steps ensures that you already have a plan for when students are not following procedures so that you can consistently implement them. This makes students feel like you are fair– you didn’t say one thing to that other student but another to them. It also takes the emotion out of the situation keeping it from escalating into an argument or other disruption. Take a look.

Fluent Corrections:

  1. Craft corrections for the most common misbehaviors you see your students do. For each common misbehavior, identify your first, second, and third actions.
  2. Become masterful at corrections by practicing one common behavior at a time. Gather data (by video or audio recording, or by having a coach visit your classroom). Keep practicing until you make it a habit to be consistent for each of the common behaviors.
  3. Consider adjusting your consequences if they are too tight or too loose for your students.
  4. Make sure your consequences are enforceable. If you can’t enforce them, change either your approach or your consequences.

If you’ve been using these ideas but aren’t seeing results, I would first be sure that you have implemented them consistently. If you haven’t tried any of these, but would like to, don’t hesitate to start right away. You don’t have to wait until a new grading period or new group comes in to try something new. Just remember that you will need to teach students the behavior that you expect from them for each of these, then follow through.


Posted in Uncategorized

Teachin’, Learnin’, and Coachin’ every day– TLC Conference Tidbits

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Teaching Learning Coaching Conference, hosted by Corwin Publishing, here in Indianapolis. Though much of what I gleaned from the conference was directly focused on instructional coaching, there were a number of nuggets from some of the keynote speakers that I felt would be great to share. Though I won’t go into great depth here, I will link to each of the books and resources available throughout the post so you may pursue further anything that interests you.

Bad Work, Good Work, Great Work– One of the keynote speakers was Michael Bungay Stanier, creator of Box of Crayons and author of The Coaching Habit. He was very funny and direct, which I like, and shared this idea that “everything you do forces you into 3 different buckets– bad work, good work, and great work.” So, he asked us to think about the impact we make with the work we do and create a sort of pie chart indicating the proportion of each that we find ourselves in. Here is the breakdown of each “bucket” so that you can do this activity, too. 

  1. Bad work: WOMBAT– Waste of Money, Bandwidth, and Time.
  2. Good work: Productive, efficient, gets things done– your job description.
  3. Great work: Makes an impact and has personal meaning.

Now take a second to draw a circle and break it down into the work you do. What do you see? Michael urged us to think about “that thing you want to work on” that gets you excited, fired-up, and raring to go and how the “good work” might be getting in the way. Check out this video about Do More Great Work. Interested? There are a number of videos on YouTube and links to his website and books are included above.

Wayfinding– Keynote speaker Zaretta Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students, began her presentation with the idea of wayfinding– how people find their way and guide themselves to their destinations or their “goals”.  How do we help Ss find their way and give them signs or visuals to help them know when they are going off the path? Here is a quick glimpse at a few of her strategies:

  • Power of yet– shift from “always” and “can’t” to “not yet.”
  • Encourage students to write letters to their younger self– highlighting what they now know but didn’t know then.
  • Give them recognition that they already have “grit.”
  • Assist students in finding the gift in the obstacle.
  • When students hit the brick wall in the “learning pit,” that is productive struggle.  We want them to experience that and give them tools to work through it.
  • If we use “friendship” to build an “alliance” then students can begin to become leaders of their own learning.They will give teachers permission to push them because of the alliance they have built together.
  • Notice and name–offer micro-affirmations. In order to start rewiring the brain to see the positive, you have to be able to hold on to something good that happened for over 90 seconds. Try not to let your brain dwell in its negativity bias.

Want to know more? A quick Google search will give you loads of video, info, and more. Also, Jennifer Gonzalez of Cult of Pedagogy has posted a review of the book and more from Zaretta.

Student Voice– Russ Quaglia is the author of Student Voice: The Instrument of Change and is co-founder of Aspirations Academies Trust. Russ shared a number of statistics based on surveys and research he has completed over many years and has compiled in his School Voice Report. Take a look. Russ has also published Teacher Voice and Principal Voice. Here are a few statements he made–  

  • People feel heard when they hear their voice through you.
  • When students have true voice, they are–
    • 7x more likely to learn.
    • 4x more likely to feel confident.
    • 8x more likely to be engaged in school.
    • 9x more likely to have a sense of purpose.
  • I challenge you to… spend more time thinking about where your kids are going, not where they come from.
  • Students are the potential, not the problem.
  • Students want to know the relevance and connection of the content in your class to the other classes they attend throughout the day– not the connection to their lives outside of school.

Did you see anything that sparked your interest?  I apologize for this post being a little “link-heavy” and very surface level, but my hope is you will find a little something to look deeper into. 


Posted in Uncategorized

Growth Mindset– Teacher Edition

My last post was about guiding students towards success with classroom strategies that support a growth mindset. This week, I’d like to flip the script and focus on supporting that growth mindset when you are an adult. What’s out there to help us grow and keep the right attitude when times get tough?

Grow your PLN— There is nothing better than turning to your colleagues for support. They’ve been there, maybe done that, and survived. Building your Professional Learning Network is one way to support your growth mindset. Lots of teachers have begun turning to Twitter for an easy way to connect with other educators. Join a Twitter chat which takes place on a certain day or time about a specific topic, or just take a quick dip into the never-ending river of posts. A number of educators have created groups through Facebook and other social media, as well. Want to know more? Check out this post on TeachThought for the rundown on using hashtags, chats, and more. Not sure where to start? Start following a few people that you know and then check out who they follow. Taking the time to read the person’s “little blurb” and check out a few of their posts will let you know if you are interested in following them. Here are a few Twitter hashtags to get you started– #TLAP   #lrnchat   #edchat   #edtech   #k12

Breaking the Mold– Look into non-traditional professional development opportunities. I just finished reading The Four O’Clock Faculty: A Rogue Guide to Revolutionizing Professional Development by Rich Czyz. What a breath of fresh air it can be to learn something new in a fun, informal, and relevant way. “Un-conferences” such as EdCamps have become popular in my district as well as around the nation. This style of PD brings to mind the idea that “the smartest person in the room, is the room.” Groups hold casual discussion about topics of interest– no presenter, no expert, no agenda. Think about visiting other classrooms to observe another teacher for ideas and strategies. Here at North, teachers that welcome visitors post pineapples outside their doors. Don’t be nervous– they are welcoming you in! Join a book study or even host one. Interested in some “outside the box” PD but not finding it in your district? Ask for it!

Work with your Instructional Coach– Your Instructional Coach is a great resource and is happy to find and share new strategies, ideas, and info– but that’s not all! One of the most relevant and powerful forms of professional development comes from having a few conversations with your coach and trying something new. Here’s what it looks like:

  • Identify an area of growth– what do you want to try, learn, or change? Think about that one class period that you drive home replaying in your mind. Or that idea that you’ve wanted to try but have just never implemented. Possibly that daily battle with a certain student.
  • Learn more about that “something new” by talking with your coach.
  • Improve your practice by trying out this new growth focus and seeing what you think. It might not be perfect the first time, or even something you want to stick with, but it was worth the try! Talk about how it went with your coach.

Notice Self-Talk– Don’t forget to go easy on yourself. Noticing negative self-talk can be difficult for us– we are usually noticing it from our students, right?! Try to stop yourself from verbalizing those negative thoughts you may be having about something you’ve attempted and flip that to a positive. Maybe think about a mantra that you will say out loud anytime you catch yourself like, “mistakes are proof that you are trying” or “all things are difficult before they are easy.”  I know it might sound silly, but a little positive thinking can go a long way.

Get Out of the Building– Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is to learn something new that has nothing to do with work. Get out and try something new that does not involve your school, content area, or education. Stretch your brain! Look into a fitness or cooking class. Attend a movie night with a group each month. Sign up for a basketball league, art class or knitting club. Anyone interested in starting a group for “hopeless-adults-that-still-love everything-Harry-Potter?” The possibilities are endless!
Have some ideas on building and maintaining a growth mindset as an adult? I’d love to hear them!


Posted in Uncategorized

The Growth Mindset Playbook– Retrieval Practice

I just received my copy of The Growth Mindset Playbook by Annie Brock and Heather Hundley and thought I’d share a few tidbits. This book follows up the much-loved The Growth Mindset Coach that I am sharing information, tips, and strategies from throughout the year with teachers at North. The feedback that I have received from teachers is that they would like to know the “how” of implementing a growth mindset focus in their classrooms. What do they actually “do” in their classrooms to support this idea? I came across this chapter and it screamed to be shared. Here are a few ideas–

Retrieval Practice– Brock and Hundley hone in on research by Pooja Agarwal and provide a few quick strategies to help support new learning. They say, “Teachers, Agarwal contends, are usually focused on getting information into student brains through the delivery of content, but often don’t consider how the student will get the information out later on.”

  • Quick Quiz– Ask students a few questions about the content that has been taught. This should be a low-stakes quiz, focusing on recall vs recognition, that also provides feedback. My instant thought is to use Kahoot for this, but I wonder if it would lack that essential part of providing feedback? Would another online tool like Quizizz provide more info? Or a Google doc/slide/whatever that students use to respond then get feedback from you and their peers? Brainstorming here.
  • 3-2-1– Many of us use 3-2-1s in different ways already, so think about using the format for an exit ticket. Have students recall 3 things they learned from the previous class period, 2 from today’s class, and then ask 1 question about the topic at hand.
  • Entry ticket– Exit tickets are pretty much a “go-to” when wanting to collect formative feedback from students. Try flipping the script and having students complete an entry ticket to connect learning from the previous class period, such as: connect to their lives or other content/classes, answer an open-ended question, solve a problem, or ask a question.
  • Practice Prompts– Here are a few exit or entry ticket ideas to get students thinking back to what they have learned:
    • Two things I remember from today’s lesson are:
    • If I had to explain __________ from yesterday’s lesson to someone who missed class, here’s what I would say:
    • Draw a picture that represents what we learned today.

I know that none of these ideas are really reinventing the wheel, but do keep in mind that utilizing those tried and true strategies correctly and consistently can lead to big learning. Want more? Check out or check out these bookmarks from The Learning Scientists that remind students of quick strategies for retrieval practice.


Posted in Classroom Ideas, Uncategorized

Close Reading, Leveled Reading, & Reading for Pleasure Resources

We are now starting to take a look at all of our standardized-test data and thinking about what we can do to provide support to our students in those tested subjects across all content areas. So, here are a few resources, specific to reading, that I thought you might be interested in checking out– especially if you are not an E/LA teacher. Have a great idea to share? Let me know!

Close Reading– Take a look at this strategy for reading comprehension that is easy to use in any content area. Kristina Smekens, literacy guru, has a great website and e-newsletter for all things literacy. Close reading is one way to help students tackle a text by reading it 3 times. I know this might sound daunting, it’s tough to get them to read it once, right?! Don’t get discouraged. Take a look–

Image result for smekens close reading

1st– general idea, topic, etc.

2nd– vocab, details, should be using a writing utensil while reading

3rd– zoom out to the “bigger picture” such as author credibility, making connections to other reading/background knowledge, lesson, etc.

Imagine if all of our students were familiar with this process and followed these steps when reading in each of their classes. Not only would we be teaching them a skill to be used later in life when reading any materials such as, textbooks, manuals, articles, etc., but we would also be helping them to understand the text for use right then and there in class. I love the idea of having students become familiar with the glasses, microscope, and telescope icons. Tying that visual to the steps would help them remember the purpose of each read-through. Kristina even shares how to utilize this strategy when working story problems in this post.

Leveled Reading–  Recently on the office whiteboard, a teacher posted that she was using leveled texts in their world language classroom. Though we often think about this in E/LA classes I don’t know that it is common practice in other content areas. What is leveled reading? Here is a great explanation from Gay Su Pinnell on Leveled reading is simply providing reading materials at varying levels of readability to allow for all learners to be sufficiently challenged. is a great resource for non-fiction content-specific readings to support your lessons. Not only does it feature articles that can be used in all content areas, it also allows you to choose the reading level of the text. I ran across this post by Larry Ferlazzo (@larryferlazzo) the other day that shares a few more resources that may be helpful when looking for leveled texts.

Book Recommendations for Tweens– I ran across this post the other day and thought it had some great suggestions. Check out for posts, podcasts, and videos about books and reading. As we know, to get better at something you have to practice it– let’s keep urging our students to read for pleasure. Great resource!

Epic Reads: First 5 newsletter– Another Connect resource here. I believe I have encouraged you to follow @EpicReads on Twitter in the past for book recommendations and such. If your students aren’t using Twitter think about having them sign up for the First 5 to get samples of new and upcoming books in their inbox weekly to keep students reading. Or sign up yourself!



Photo by Mari Helin-Tuominen on Unsplash

Posted in Uncategorized

Whiteboard Prompts & Chat Stations

One new thing I’ve tried this year is whiteboard prompts. Though the year has only just begun, I know this is something I’ll want to keep up with this year. Here’s some info on whiteboard prompts–

Whiteboard Prompts– On your classroom whiteboard, write a question or writing/drawing prompt for your students to respond to. They can write directly on the whiteboard (which they love) or can respond on Post-its at their desks that they stick on the board. This could be a great activity to throw into your bell work rotation. A quick Pinterest search will give you loads and loads of examples to choose from and use! Here are just a few ideas–

  • Content-specific prompt
  • Analyze a quote
  • Character-building
  • What would you do if…?
  • Respond to an image, song lyric, idea
  • Getting-to-know you questions
  • Would you rather…?
  • Here is the answer… what was the question?
  • Draw a pic to represent…
  • Jokes

The possibilities are endless! Want more information? Check out this post by Miss 5th. I’m not sure if she is the creator of Whiteboard Prompts or not but she has a great following of teachers using her prompts and sharing their ideas with her. Don’t feel limited to starting the class period with this. I can imagine some of these making great brain-breaks and a chance for students to get out of their seats. Got some great prompts? I’d love for you to send your ideas my way!

This week, on our office whiteboard, I posed the question– “What is one new thing you have tried this year that you will do again?” One of the responses that I received from teachers was Chat Stations. Here are a few resources from Jennifer Gonzalez at Cult of Pedagogy to give it a try in your classroom.

Chat Stations– The idea is pretty simple. Students move around the room from station to station having conversations with their peers based on the prompts posted at each place. This is a great way for students to get up, get moving, and  go from that “safe” to “unsafe” participation in class. Take a look at this video from Cult of Pedagogy to walk through the process. Here is also the post to read the what, why and how of implementing Chat Stations.



Posted in Uncategorized

Badges/Brag Tags & Slides Collaboration

Badges & Brag Tags– Interested in offering incentives in your classroom but want to get away from giving kids more “stuff” like candy, small toys, food, etc.? A number of teachers are using badges and “brag tags”– virtual or physical stickers/tags that signify when a student has accomplished a skill, behavior, task, or proficiency level. Doing some looking into this idea, I came across this post on that does a great job of explaining badges, why you might use them, and how to get started.

Kasey Bell (@shakeuplearning) has a great blog post where she recommends a number of tech tools for getting started with badges. Jeff Peterson (@petersonjeffrey) just tried out and was pleased with the end product, but said the technology was a little cumbersome. Though there was a bit of a learning curve with the technology, Jeff created a badge for each Essential Learning that students are expected to be proficient in by the end of the year. Jeff plans to use these “merit badges”  when a student reaches proficiency of an Essential Learning. He is turning them into stickers for students to add to their interactive science notebooks as they progress through the course. Though Jeff is using actual stickers in his class, there are a number of tech options available– even ones that are supposed to integrate with Canvas. Take a look at Kasey Bell’s post that was mentioned above.

I’ve also heard this similar concept called “brag tags”, which might be more prevalent at the elementary level. There are loads of resources, Pinterest boards, Teacher Pay Teachers templates, and posts online if you’d like to give a physical incentive vs. digital. A quick Google search will give you tons of ideas and resources.


Collaborative Google Slides– Last Spring I attended the Ditch That Homework workshop with Alice Keeler (@alicekeeler) and Matt Miller (@jmattmiller) where using Google Slides as an interactive way to lead a class period was shared. I have noticed that I love using all of the Google Apps but often struggle with utilizing the best part about them– the ease of collaboration. Here are a few ideas that Alice shared that might kick-start some collaboration and feedback in your classroom:

  • Feedback Loop– Alice demonstrated how she has students work on an assignment in a Google Slides presentation that is the “template” for their work. All students share the same presentation but add their own slide. She sits with a few students and provides feedback while looking over their shoulders and then goes to her computer and posts comments on slides for a few more. She repeats this process and attempts to provide personalized feedback to as many students as possible. She talked a lot about providing quality feedback and even teaching students how to do the same. Since the presentation is shared students can also leave feedback for each other. To get started, be sure to make a copy of your Slides presentation then share the copy (with editing rights) with your students. This can be done directly by inviting them to edit or making the URL accessible to them.
  • “Post-its”– Create a slide in your presentation that poses a question or task that requires a response. Then create an empty text box, change the fill color, copy & paste it a number of times. During class, students will then drag and drop a text box on the slide and type their response. The end result looks a lot like Padlet, but the comments button allows the teacher (and students) to push or guide thinking. Students can also be asked to comment on other students’ responses.
  • Polling– Want to ask a super quick question but don’t want to exit out of your presentation or use a polling app like PollEverywhere? Pose a question at the top of the slide and create a large text box for each possible response (such as “yes” and “no”). Choose an image or icon and copy paste that image a number of times into the slide. During class, students will show their response to the question by moving an image into the appropriate response box.

To access more ideas, step-by-step instructions, and templates visit Alice’s website


Posted in Uncategorized

Beginning of the Year Strategies for Making Connections from Poor Students, Rich Teaching

I borrowed a book from a friend and colleague that I’d like to share a few tidbits from. They are particularly relevant for these first few weeks of school, no matter your student population or make-up. Poor Students, Rich Teaching: Mindsets for Change by Eric Jensen is full of classroom strategies for student success that he places under 4 categories: relational mindset, achievement mindset, rich classroom climate mindset, and engagement mindset. I’m still reading, but finished the chunk on relational mindset with a list of ideas to share. Image result for poor students rich teaching

As we know, building relationships with our students early in the year will lead to more positive experiences in the classroom all year long. Jensen says this about the “relational mindset”– “We are all connected in this life together. Always connect first as a person (and an ally) and then as a teacher second.” Here are the 3 big ideas from this mindset:

  • Personalize the learning.
  • Connect everyone for success.
  • Show empathy.

To put these ideas into practice, Jensen describes a number of activities and strategies to use in your classroom. Here are just a few that I found relevant and timely–

Name Learning Strategies for Teachers & Students– This is always tough at the beginning of the year, isn’t it? Check out a few of these ideas.

  • Introductions– have students say their name before asking a question or making a comment for the first few weeks of school. You’ll eventually tie the name with the face.
  • Desk Name tags
  • Alliteration– create a connection to the student and their likes by making an alliteration of their name (I love the idea of students creating these for you!) like “Chelsea chatty.”
  • Interviews– Partner students up for 2-3 minutes to find out something about the other person that is hard to forget. Each partner takes turns introducing the other to the class.
  • “Me” Bags– students fill a lunch sack with items that tell about them and their interests. Teachers create one, too. Share a few each day. Could be done with tech instead of using actual objects, as well!

Icebreaker Questions– Also check out this post on for a month of icebreaker questions to use with your students. The calendar is cute and has some great questions to help you get to know your kiddos!  

A Month of Icebreaker Questions for Kids

Cooperative Learning Groups– Another part of building relationships early in the year involves students working together. There are many structures out there for cooperative learning and reciprocal teaching. Give students the tools for a positive experience with a few of Jensen’s tips–

  • Allow groups to create team names, slogans, cheers, or logos for their group
  • Provide students with unique and valued roles
  • Create class norms for group behavior
  • Allow for some occasional down time

Showing Empathy– This passage from Poor Students, Rich Teaching really was a powerful one for me to read. Take a look and see what you think. I can imagine how this would “change the game” for some of our students.

“If a student is late for class, remember the first of Stephen R. Covey’s (2013) seven habits: seek first to understand. Listen more, and talk less. Before anything else (like a reprimand for tardiness), check for safety. “Are you OK?” Ask what happened without judging. Instead of reprimanding the student, talk privately when you have a chance. Say, “We missed you. Are you OK? Can you talk about what happened?” A lecture about tardiness is unnecessary; make sure students know you miss them and want them in your awesome class. This is what gets students to show up: when someone cares!”

For me, this really struck a cord. What would have happened all of the times that I reprimanded a student for doing something they shouldn’t have if I had approached the situation like this? He goes on to explain that many of the behaviors and reactions we see from students are a result of them not knowing how to respond. Modeling calm, appropriate responses and then talking students through the correct behavior not only keeps the situation from escalating, but teaches the student a life skill.


Posted in Uncategorized

Brain Break Ideas– Minefield, Positive Notes, & More

I had the pleasure of leading some brain break activities at our Staff Council Retreat yesterday. Though I lead adults through these activities, each of them could easily be adapted to fit  your grade level and content area for student participation.

  • Minefield– This challenge is SO much fun! The object of the challenge is to get each team member or student across the “minefield” without getting buzzed out and without speaking. First, place thirty, 8.5 x 11 pieces of paper on the floor in 6 rows. Line up participants and have them step on the pieces of paper to make their way across the minefield. Only 1 square per row is “safe”. If participants step on any of the other papers in the row “buzz” them out– I used a free buzzer app on my phone. Participants get back in line until all make it across by stepping on the correct pieces of paper. Remember that NO TALKING is the only rule. Feel free to allow them to communicate non-verbally. You will need–
    • Paper–  placed in rows
    • Pre-planned “safe squares”– I drew a little diagram & made “Xs” on the correct squares
    • Buzzer app
  • Best Smile/Legs Contest– The name of this one is a little misleading. It is much more of a guessing game. Take a few pictures of teachers’ smiles or legs (I kept all leg pics below the knee & all had long pants on) that are cropped enough that you cannot tell who they belong to. During a quick break, have participants try to guess who is the owner of that leg or smile. It is just that simple! Have participants trade & grade or grade themselves. I could see this being done with celebrity smiles or cartoon legs, too! Supplies needed:
    • Images of smiles or legs labelled with numbers
    • Paper for participants to write their guesses on
  • This is Better Than That–  For this challenge, participants work in groups to rank objects in their usefulness in a provided scenario. The goal is to be as creative as possible. Here is the prompt that I used–

You started from a tropic port aboard a tiny ship. You and 5 other passengers set sail that day for a 3 hour tour.
The weather started getting rough and the tiny ship was tossed. If not for the courage of the fearless crew the ship would be lost.
The ship set aground on the shore of this uncharted desert isle.
Now you’re here for a long, long time and have to make due. Rank and explain the items from most to least important to you. Be as creative as you can!

After reading the prompt aloud, show the group 6 items to rank–  I used a plastic cup, 2 sets of chopsticks, a ball of yarn, a golden rubber duck, a plush Pokeball, and a bag of decorative marbles. Groups then split up and work together to rank the items and provide their reason for choosing that item. The responses will range from logical to creative and downright silly. Have group share their responses. You will need–

    • A number of random items
    • Prompt or scenario
    • Paper/handout for ranking & responses– 1 per group
  • Positive Posts– This activity was a great way to wrap up the day. I think it would be wonderful to use maybe within the first few weeks of school when students have just gotten to know each other. Pass out a piece of construction paper to each participant. Have them write their name in any way they wish in the middle of the paper (some will use decorative lettering, draw pictures, etc. while others will simply sign or write their names). Collect their papers and line them up around the room. Have participants then move around the room and write a positive note to each person whose name is in the middle of the paper. Once everyone has commented on every paper, collect, laminate and then pass back. It is great for participants to see the positive thoughts people have of them! Supplies needed–
    • Colored paper for each participant
    • Markers, pens, etc. for writing on paper