Friday, August 31, 2012

Using the Olympics to teach procedures

Around the first week of school is that time when you will be practicing procedures.

Here are some ideas on how to make practicing procedures FUN!

  • Olympic Visualization! Since the Olympics have just finished up, you can let students know that most great athletes practice or visualize their routines in their mind. And they sometimes go through their motions with gestures to help them visualize. So, instead of asking students to take out their pencils and put them away, chance it up and visualize and gesture doing to activity. Why? Beyond the fun factor, it will be faster and help the actual procedure move faster. 
  •  Olympic Commentary! As the students walk through the procedure, give corrective feedback on what they are doing correctly and what they can improve. Table 3 has the chairs pushed in and are walking to the line. Oh no, table 1 is forgetting to push in their chairs. I wonder if they will remember. . .
  •  Olympic clock competition! This is a favorite activity that you can use throughout the year. Get out your timer and, once the students know how to do the procedure correctly and slowly, have them work on beating their time. You can even keep a score board on your whiteboard for their best times. Make it a game to improve.
  • Olympic Judging! Students love this one. You choose one student who has two award slips (whatever your school uses). As the class does the procedure they look for a boy and a girl that did a good job to give a compliment. Make sure to talk about not giving a compliment to your friend.

Remember, practice the procedures now so you can have fun for the rest of the year.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Lesson plans for Preparing Students for Testing

Why would I give you lesson plans from the beginning of the year to prepare students for testing? Because when you know what you want students to learn by the end of the year, it helps you plan to get there! These techniques are applicable for students in grades 3 and higher.

I actually started doing more test preparation earlier in the year after watching a video on Standardized Testing at Whole Brain Teaching.

The video talks about having visible strategies for teaching students to answer both math questions and reading questions. Additionally, it shared that we should start doing 10 minutes of teaching strategies for reading and math questions starting at the beginning of the school year.

Here are some of the lesson plans I use in the beginning of the year that were collaboratively created at my school. Thanks again for everyone who helped in creating this document!

Lesson plans and rationale for teaching reading comprehension strategies

PS: All of the teachers who used these lessons at our school and the Teaching Comprehension Lessons had 1.5 years to 2 years gain in reading this last year!

PPS: Feel free to share the lessons with anyone who might find them helpful. In return, please let 4 other teachers know about this website if you choose to use these lessons in your classroom.

Lesson plans 

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Friday, August 17, 2012

Homework rubric

Instead of grading homework, I am planning on using a rubric this year. Clearly, I'll look to see how students are doing with the homework, but grading it doesn't make than much sense. Some students do the homework with their parents, others don't get assistance at home.

Here is a copy of the rubric that I am thinking of starting the year with:

Homework rubric

ExceedsMeetsClose to meetDoes not meet
CompletionCompletes all required HW, plus does 3 sessions on and writes a 3 paragraph story.Completes all required HW to the best of your ability.Does not complete 1 page.Does not complete more than 1 page.
HeadingIncludes name, number and date page was finished.Includes name, number.Includes only name.Missing
NeatnessWriting is done to the best of your ability, is neat and paper is not wrinkled. Writing is mostly neat.Writing is a bit messy. Some words are hard to read.Writing is very messy. The papers are torn or all wrinkled.

I was going to print a copy of the rubric to the front page of the packet each week and so I can circle off how the student is doing. I think this is a nice balance between grading everything and just having it be credit/no credit.

On top of that, the students should be able to circle in pencil what they think their grade should be, and I can go over with with a highlighter. This gives students a chance to reflect on their grade and take more ownership over the process! 

Online classes I offer for teachers through

FIRST DAYS OF SCHOOL: From Stress to Success
SAVE TIME: Time Management for Your Teaching & Your Life  

Friday, August 10, 2012

Back to school jitters

You would think that after 11 years of teaching I would be calm at the beginning of the school year. Not so. Even after 11 years in the classroom, I still get nervous. Maybe you do to?

Here is what works for me to calm the beginning of the year jitters:

1) Plan, plan and plan some more.

I really like to plan out my first hour to the minute and the first day in 30 minute increments. Yes, even after 11 years, I still write out a minute by minute plan for the first hour.  If you haven't seen it, WBT has a great video on what to teach the first hour of school. It is program 532 in the videos (and completely free at

I always have some back-up plans as well. In the past, I have had a crossword search with the name of each child in the class. This is a backup activity in case something comes up and I need to keep the students busy. I recommend having some backup activities ready to go in case a new student suddenly arrives 30 minutes into the day or you are told at 1:50 that you need to make the bus tags for your students before 3 pm (happened last year) or an activity just goes much faster than you expect.

2) Positive self-talk

I can work myself into a state with negative self-talk. . .  I know that I am going into negative self talk when I hear myself saying SHOULD. "You should have your classroom set up by now." "You should have all of the copies for the first week." "The bulletin boards should look nice for the first day."

Talk back to the negative self-talk.

Yes, it would be nice if the classroom were already organized, but I can handle this.
It would be preferable to have all of the copies done, but I am just going to focus on the first day right now.

3) Relax and continue to rejuvenate

The first day will be here soon enough! So, continue to enjoy the summer while you still can. Get out and pick some flowers from your garden. Go to a you-pick and enjoy some fresh fruit. There is still plenty of summer to enjoy!

Friday, August 3, 2012

R2L: Perfect HW Template video 1

Here is a short video that I created that demonstrates writing sentence summaries as part of the R2L reading process.

I hope you enjoy this video:

As a review from my previous post on homework:

The research is actually pretty clear. Students gain very little when they do homework. Actually, according to a meta study by Hattie (1992) that reviewed 110 experiments on homework, it only raised achievement by 1%.  So, there are better ways for you to be spending your time.

How much time do you spend making and grading homework? I suggest that you create a simple template that you can use over and over.

What does raise achievement?

  • Teaching students summarizing strategies and having them write summaries also raises achievement by 35%. 
  • Reinforcing effort raises achievement by 20%. 
  • (All of the statistics were taken from Classroom Instruction that Works.)
You will see that my template uses these results and focuses on what will make the biggest difference. Feel free to save a copy and edit it any way you want. If you use this template for your classroom, please share this website with 3 other teachers. Perfect Homework Template

For my readings, I recommend short non-fiction passages. There are many great books out there. One I really like are the Teacher Created Resources Daily Warm-Ups. Of course, you can use any resource you want. What I like about these books?
  1.  There is one reading for each day of the year.
  2. There is both a non-fiction and mixed non-fiction/fiction book.
  3. They have a reading level index at the back.
  4. The topics are all interesting! (according to me and my students that is)
  5. It is very little prep time for me, but gives high returns for my students.

Online classes I offer for teachers through

FIRST DAYS OF SCHOOL: From Stress to Success
SAVE TIME: Time Management for Your Teaching & Your Life  

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Rewards and Timing of super improver wall stars

This last year I implemented the super improver wall with great success. As students showed improvement, they received a star next to their name on the super improver wall. Here is a picture and more information about the wall:

Some activities were automatic stars. For example, my weakest readers knew that they could get a star for beating their scores in super speed 1000 and that they would have a chance to practice with me or a volunteer a few times a week. We would work till they earned a star. This was incredibly motivating.

Students could also earn stars for improving their test scores on their weekly math and vocabulary tests. I would have to say that this did not motivate students quite like the super speed 1000, and I now understand why.


An interesting article on the timing of rewards from shows that students actually do better when the reward is linked very closely in time to the action. Actually, if you give the reward first, and then have the student earn the reward, students will work even harder. They don't want to "loose" the reward that you have already given them.

With super speed 1000, I was able to put their name on the board to show that they were going to earn a reward immediately. While it might not have been posted on their chart till later, they still received the immediate gratification of seeing their name go up.

With the vocabulary and math tests, it took me longer to see if they had improved, graded them, and then eventually put up their stars. Sometimes I might not put them up for 2-5 days. And because I gave the tests on Fridays, the weekend would add a few more days to the wait.

I'm not sure what the solution to this would be. I was almost wondering if I could put on the board - Your star this week - with the student's name and their score that would have them earn a star. Then, if they didn't make it I would erase the star. What do you think?