Protocols for Group Work

I am organizing a small PD session for teachers tomorrow night, for which participants will have read an article. I needed a protocol for a small group discussion, so I thought I would share a one of my favorites. When we put kids into small groups, it is always important to remember that we need to make sure every student has a voice.  This protocol is a great way to make that happen.


1. Organize students into groups of 4.

2. Each student silently highlights a passage that addresses what he/she considers to be the most significant idea or something that sparked their thinking.

3. The students number off. Student One reads his or her passage out loud to the group, and then he/she remains silent.

4. The other 3 participants each have 1 minute to respond to the passage, saying what it makes them think about, what questions it raises for them, etc.

5. Student One then has 3 minutes to state why he or she chose that part of the article and to respond or build on what he or she heard from his or her peers.

6. Then the pattern is continued with each member of the group. Each student will have a chance to be the presenter and to have “the last word.”

7. As an option at the end of the activity, the whole class can have an open dialogue about the text and the ideas or questions raised during the protocol.


Encouraging Students to Express Their Voices

As I grapple with how to engage students in reading challenging texts, I find that many students don’t know how to generate their own questions about what they read. At the high school level, many students have become accustomed to a literature classroom in which they are told what to think. The discussion is led by the teacher, and they answer the questions that are posed to them. They no longer explore their own connections, confusions, or curiosities. The following “sentence starters” could be used as tools when students are first being pushed to think for themselves.

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Click here to download: question_stems

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 9.59.32 PMClick here to download: Reading is Thinking Bookmark

Teaching Tip Tuesday: Powtoon!

Powtoon is giving away 50,000 free classroom accounts to teachers!  It is an online tool for creating animated videos.  Although I didn’t know much about Powtoon, I thought it sounded fun and decided to try it out.

I clicked on the link here:

After I registered and entered the promo code, I started playing around.  I created a video to advertise my coaching services in my new school.  Overall, I found this website fairly easy to use, and I think teachers could find some creative ways to incorporate this tool into their instruction.

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Here’s my video! (You can click on either link below.)

This was my first attempt with this online tool, and I look forward to exploring it even further!

ELA Strategies Course for Professional Learning Program

As promised, click on each link below for the presentations for the ELA Strategies for Rigor and Relevance course:





Argument Writing PD

Click on the link below for my presentation on argumentative writing:
Here is a link for 200 argumentative prompts from the NY Times:
Click on the link below for an argument rubric:
Click below for some sample activities from the book Argument Writing, Grades 6-12:


Teaching Tip Tuesday: PREVIEW as pre-reading

When reading non-fiction, it is extremely important to encourage students to preview the text. If students preview a text before reading, they are more likely to make connections to and remember what they read. The following acronym from Dr. Janet Allen encourages students to use the text features to discover facts, make predictions, and generate questions before reading.  Students should make some predictions about the book based on what they see or read for each text feature that they analyze.

P: Predict: Look at the cover.

R: Review the Table of Contents

E: Examine the visuals & their captions

V: Vocabulary

I: Index

E: Establish a Plan: Now that you have previewed this book, what plan do you have for noting and remembering the information?

W: What is Your Response? Draw an image or write a response after previewing the book. You will revisit your illustration and/or response after you read this book to add your new thoughts after reading.

Click on the link below to see an example of Janet Allen’s PREVIEW guide for taking students through the steps in this pre-reading activity:

Now That I Know Previewing

Teaching Tip Tuesday–Six Steps to Teach Vocabulary

Today’s teaching tip isn’t anything new, but it’s a great strategy to keep in mind as you structure your vocabulary lessons this year.  Students need to think about and encounter words in a variety of ways in order for them to understand and use any new words you teach them. Vocabulary is one of the biggest barriers to reading comprehension, so effective vocabulary instruction can make a huge difference for our students as they advance in reading.

An effective strategy for teaching vocabulary is referred to as the six-step process (Marzano, 2004). It involves the following steps:

  1. Provide a description, explanation, or example of the new term.
  2. Ask students to restate the description, explanation, or example in their own words.
  3. Ask students to construct a picture, pictograph, or symbolic representation of the term.
  4. Engage students periodically in activities that help them add to their knowledge of the terms in their vocabulary notebooks.
  5. Periodically ask students to discuss the terms with one another.
  6. Involve students periodically in games that enable them to play with terms.

Click on the following link for a packet with activity ideas and explanations for each step:

Marzano’s Six Step Vocabulary

Here is an excellent article from Educational Leadership (2009) which outlines the procedures and proven benefits of this method for vocabulary instruction.

Happily, the research is also beginning to tell us what does or doesn’t make the strategy work. Here’s what we’ve learned so far:

  • When students copy the teacher’s explanation or description of a term instead of generating their own explanation, the results are not as strong. Ideally, student explanations should come from their own lives.
  • The third step in the process is crucial—having students represent their understanding of a new term by drawing a picture, pictograph, or symbolic representation. When students do this step well, achievement soars.
  • Games seem to engage students at a high level and have a powerful effect on students’ recall of the terms. Games not only add a bit of fun to the teaching and learning process, but also provide an opportunity to review the terms in a nonthreatening way. After the class has played a vocabulary game, the teacher should invite students to identify difficult terms and go over the crucial aspects of those terms in a whole-class discussion.

When you focus on improving the quality of your vocabulary instruction, students will show huge improvements in understanding the important concepts of your class.

FFSD Summer Academy materials

Please click on the links below to access the materials from the Ferguson-Florissant School District Summer Academy workshop, “Reading Across the Content Areas 6-12.”

Please contact me if you have any questions!!

july2013 reading packet

july 2013 powerpoint handout

Now That I Know Previewing

vocab Six_Step_Process

And here is an extra resource that I found for the math people:

math probable passage

So you can easily find them, here are the reading & vocabulary packets that I referenced with tons of activities and graphic organizers for each stage of the reading process:

Before Reading Activities part1

Before Reading Activities Part2

During Reading Activities Part 1

During Reading Activities Part 2

After Reading Activities Part 1

After Reading Activities Part 2


Teaching Tip Tuesday: Cootie Catchers


Maybe I’m feeling a little nostalgic, but do you remember the paper origami fortune-tellers from when you were a kid? Those were so much fun!

Since they were so much fun, I thought maybe we could figure out a way to use them in the classroom. Guess what!!?? Someone has a blog with a blank template and different educational cootie catchers:

vocab cootie

Here are some ideas of how it could be used:
1) foldable with vocabulary words or terms, concepts, definitions, examples, or illustrations of the concept.
2) different tasks for students to compete.
3) discussion questions or writing prompts for students.

Here is a great example of how a high school Biology teacher used cootie catchers as a unit review assignment:

I can see lots of other creative possibilities for this retro foldable.  Since it’s the end of the year, I challenge you to try something wacky and new that you might not normally do! How can you push yourself and your students in our final stretch?