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.


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.

 Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 8.39.14 AM

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!

Teaching Tip Tuesday: Reverse the Roles!

“The greatest enemy to student learning is the talking teacher.” (John Holt)

We all know that we need to decrease “teacher talk” and increase “student talk” time.  Teachers at MSB are working harder than their students, and we hear teachers talking throughout most of the lesson while most students passively listen. All research shows that we learn by doing, by processing the information and making our own sense out of it.  We may ask ourselves how we can change our daily practice to include more active learning. Active strategies are easier to apply when students are applying what they learn or when they are reviewing content.  But teachers need to increase student talk time ALL the time. As a teacher, this seems difficult when we are presenting new information and material to our students.  How can you reverse the roles in your classroom and encourage students to do all the talking?  Let go of your control, and let the students discover what you want them to learn. Listed below are 10 ideas for using active presenting strategies.

  1. Teaching by Asking: Rather than “teaching by telling,” start the topic by asking students a question which leads to what you want to teach. Students can work in groups or pairs to answer questions. Then have them share out and record their answers on the board. Encourage class discussion based on their responses or have students find textual support for their answers.
  2. Rounds: In a small group, each student has a minute to explain what they know about a topic and express their point of view while others listen. They can explain to each other how they did something (like solve a problem) or they can explain what they learned or know about a topic.
  3. Learning Teams: Students are given handouts, textbooks, or resources. They are asked to use the texts to answer questions prepared by the teacher. The questions should be thought-provoking and high level DOK.  The answers to the questions should not be simply stated in one place in the text, but they must read and understand and reformulate the text the answer the question. Students could be given multiple resources, and different groups or students could teach to the rest of the class what they learned. Give students roles within the group, so everyone is actively participating.
  4. Key Points: Students are given an unfamiliar text or section from their textbook. Students are asked to read the text alone for a few minutes with an eye on the next task. With a group, students must identify five key points made by the text. Then each group gives one key point (that has not already been mentioned by another group) with a full explanation and justification.
  5. Interrogating the text: Students are given an unfamiliar text or section from their textbook. With a group, students will formulate important questions that the text should be able to answer. Then they will read the text and highlight key points. Then they will provide the answers to their original questions and share with the class.
  6. Transformation: Students are given text in one format and are asked to present it in another. For example, they could turn text into a skit, a newspaper report, a brochure, a timeline…
  7. Peer explaining: Students in pairs are given two related texts about topics that have not been explained to them. They each study alone for five minutes. Then each student will explain their topic to the other until they understand. Then they will state what is the same and different about their topics, or they can answer a question that requires them to work together using information from both of their texts.
  8. Flowcharts/diagrams/drawings: Students are given a text on an unfamiliar topic. They are asked to study the text in pairs and then produce a visual that summarizes the key processes described in the text.
  9. Summarizing: Students must summarize key points in the text or information, expressing them as briefly and clearly as possible.
  10. Student Presentation: While learning about one main topic, each group will prepare a presentation on a subtopic to the class. Don’t tell the groups about what their subtopic is until after they have studied the topic as a whole.

All of the activities above are best done in pairs, or small groups, but could be adapted for individuals.  It will help to give students specific roles and expectations to maximize participation. These roles could be teacher, reader, checker, scribe, questioner, vocabulary chief, or leader. You could create role cards, so students know about the specifics for their jobs.  Another useful tip for reversing the roles in your classroom is to carefully design the task to scaffold learning and support the students to successfully meet your expectations. Check/review prior learning, organize all materials carefully before class, and frequently check students’ progress and understanding.

Update: A music teacher in my school shared how she reversed the roles. This is what she had to say:

We’re using No. 5 today. Peer Explaining. There is a website,www.musictheory.netthat uses note recognition on a timer.This is our Do Now activity on most days. Students working together, one who’s more advanced with one who’s not helped the  other one understand a lot more of how  they improve their score each time. A progress report is shown. Next, I allowed them to use their Piano lesson book to play for each other, and give tips on how they were able to play at better levels of advancement  They were able to ask each other questions as well. The period was great and the students got a lot out of it.


Teaching Tip Tuesday: Summary Jar

Even though we are nearing the end of our second “Strategy of the Month,” Marzano’s high-yield strategy of summarizing and note-taking is a very beneficial strategy to continue in your classroom throughout the entire year.  To help you to continue using summarizing strategies, create a “Summary Jar” for your classroom.  Inside the jar, put strips of paper with descriptions of different types of summarizing activities.  At the end of each class, the teacher nominates a student to draw/pick a strip of paper out of the jar.  That student may reject the choice, but then the teacher decides the summary activity for students to work on.  After the summarizing activity has been chosen, students must summarize the day’s work and learnings.

Inside the jar, you can include a variety of different ways for students to bring closure to a lesson from a “Singing Summary” to the “One Word Summary Chain,” where students compose a collaborative summary, one word at a time.

This is a fun formative assessment strategy that you could use with your students on a regular basis. 

***Emailer #3 can win his or her own summary jar!!  The third teacher (from MSB) to email me and ask for a summary jar will receive their own summary jar that is ready to go!  The jar will contain 16 fun summarizing activities.  Email me for a chance to win!

(If you aren’t a winner but want to make your own summarizing jar, click on this link for a list of activities you could use: Summary Jar Activities)

Teaching Tip Tuesday–Observations & Evaluations

How to Get a “Highly Effective” rating during an Evaluation or Observation…

Next Monday (September 10th) will be the first scheduled classroom observations from our MOSIG visitors.  The district and building administrators will also be more visible in our classrooms on a more regular basis each week. We want to show our best and show that we are proud to be a part of MSB!  How can you receive high marks as a highly effective teacher?

Here is a checklist of things to consider as you prepare for SIG & Administrative observations:

  1.  Blackboard configuration—All of the following items need to be visibly posted: objectives, essential questions & skills (with DOK), Tier 2 Vocabulary, Do Now, Agenda, Exit Slip.  See my blog post from a couple of weeks ago for more information and examples.
  2.  Do Now & Exit Slip/Wrap up:  Begin class with an anticipatory set or a formative assessment & end class with a short formative assessment.  Watch your time at the end of class and wrap up the learning.  (Other ideas: A-Z summary, parking lot, thumbs up/down, Shaping up review, TILT journal, 3-2-1…)
  3.  High Yield Instructional Strategies—Marzano’s Strategies.  This month we are focusing on identifying similarities & differences, so that would be a great focus.  Think beyond the Venn and find ways for students to compare what they know with what they learned.  Use the cheat sheet I gave you during the PD day last Friday–> Cheat Sheet for Similarities & Differences Activities
  4.  Active Engagement—Stay away from worksheets & long lectures.  Chunk your lesson. Use a variety of instructional and assessment strategies throughout the lesson.  Use dry erase boards, cooperative learning, anticipation guides (& Get Off the Fence,) smarboards/projectors, INSERT, Chalk Talk, Tea Party, Probable Passage, Give One Get One, graphic organizers, speeches, skits….Use new methods to get the students excited about and engaged in their learning.
  5. Rigor—Move beyond recall (DOK 1) questions.  Require your students to apply what they learn and make inferences.  Students should be thinking critically about the material you are teaching.  DOK levels need to be 3 or 4.  See my old blog post about effective questioning strategies.
  6. Data & Rubrics—Post meaningful data & rubrics with student work in your room.

 If you have any questions about any of the items on the checklist, do not hesitate to ask.  I will be happy to collaborate or give feedback on your lessons for Monday or any day.  I can model instruction/strategies.  If I mentioned any instructional activities you aren’t familiar with, check my blog (  I have information and directions for most of the instructional activities there.   Be proud to be a part of MSB and show off your best!  We can prove that MSB is a great school!

Top 3 for MSB

*created with Dr. Muhammad’s suggested infograph website:

As we start the year at MSB with a clear focus, I wanted to share some documents that might help with your implementation of these goals.

First, we want to clearly demonstrate to students and evaluators that we are daily implementing the components of our instructional plan at MSB.  When you hear administrators talking about your “blackboard configuration,” they want to see the following elements of your lesson clearly displayed or posted in your room (preferably on your white board):  Objectives, Essential Questions with DOK, Tier 2 Vocab Words, Do Now, and Agenda.  If you click on the link below the picture (“Blackboard Configuration”) I have further examples and photos of what this can look like in your classroom.

click here for more info: Blackboard Configuration

Secondly, we want to start using research-based, high-yield instructional strategies with literacy and vocabulary and with general instruction.  Referencing the publications and the research from Marzano and Isabel Beck, I created two menus with instructional strategies.  One is for general instruction and the other is for vocabulary.  As a building, we will focus on one of Marzano’s strategies each month.  Please use the menu (link below,) which includes activity ideas with each strategy.

click here to save a pdf of the menu: Instructional Strategies Menu

For vocabulary, we need to focus on Tier 2, cross-curricular words with our students to make an impact on their reading comprehension.  To do this, I created a Vocabulary Instructional Menu (link below,) using Isabel Beck’s Bringing Words to Life.  For more vocabulary ideas and instructional strategies, you can also use my vocabulary instruction packet (link below.)

click here to save a pdf of the menu: Menu of Vocab strats


We will also be trying to incorporate more reading and writing activities in all of our clases.  I have many reading resources on my blog, but I will also continue to be a resource and help to you throughout the year.  When you have students write in your classes, we will be using the 6 Trait rubric.  Please see the two links below with rubrics you can use.

click here for the pdf: 6traitrubric

click here for the pdf: 6plus1traits

PHEW!!! That’s a lot we need to focus on this year.  As always, let me know how I can assist you or if you have any other questions or ideas!


Teaching Tip Tuesday–Shaping Up Review

Today’s Teaching Tip is an adaption of a formative assessment strategy that Dr. Mills often uses with her students.

Shaping Up Review

Purpose: To engage students in synthesizing major concepts in this summary strategy

Description: Using the Shaping Up Review, students will synthesize major concepts from the lesson using four different shapes. By varying the manner in which students visually summarize their learning, retention of the information learned is increased.


• Pass out the Shaping Up Review worksheet. 

Click here for the Shaping Up review worksheet

• In the upper left-hand corner, “The Heart,” have students write one thing that they loved learning about in the lesson being reviewed.

• In the upper right-hand corner, “The Square,” have students write four things that they feel are important concepts from the lesson being reviewed. One concept should be placed in each corner.

• In the lower left-hand corner, “The Triangle,” have students write the three most important facts they learned from lesson being reviewed. One fact should go in each corner.

• In the lower right-hand corner, “The Circle,” have students write one, all-encompassing (global- like the circle) statement that summarizes all of the important concepts and facts learned in the lesson being reviewed.

Teaching Tip Tuesday: 3-2-1


This activity helps structure students’ responses to an activity, a reading or a film.  It requires students to summarize key ideas, rethink these ideas in order to focus on information they found interesting or difficult to understand, and then ask questions about what they still want to know.  It provides an easy way for teachers to check for understanding and to gauge students’ interest in a topic. Sharing 3-2-1 responses can also be an effective way to prompt a class discussion or to review material from the previous lesson. 

3-2-1 chart

1) Step one: Answering 3-2-1 prompt
After students engage with a text or a lesson, ask them to answer the following questions in their journal, on a separate piece of paper, or on a graphic organizer:

• 3 things that I learned from this lesson/from this text.
• 2 questions that I still have.
• 1 aspect of class/the text that I enjoyed.


• 3 key ideas I found out from the reading.
• 2 things that were interesting or hard to understand.
• 1 question I still have.


• 3 differences between ____________and ______________.
• 2 similarities between them.
• 1 question I still have.

2) Step two:  Responding to these prompts
Use students’ responses to guide teaching decisions.  3-2-1 responses can help you identify areas of the curriculum that you may need to review again or concepts or activities that hold special interest for students.

• Content-specific 3-2-1: You can modify the elements of the 3-2-1 to focus on particular content questions. For example, if the class has just been studying the International Criminal Court, a teacher might have students write down 3 differences between the ICC and tribunals such as Nuremberg, 2 similarities between the ICC and tribunals, and 1 question you still have.
•  Identifying main ideas 3-2-1: You could also use the 3-2-1 structure to help students identify main ideas from supporting information. For example, you could ask students to record 3 of the most important ideas from the lesson or text, 2 supporting details for each of these ideas and 1 question they have about each of these ideas.

Teaching Tip Tuesday–Get Off the Fence!!


Today’s teaching tip is an active engagement activity called “Get Off the Fence!”

Ms. Buchanan is always doing a great job of keeping her students actively engaged, and I wanted to share one of her activities that other teachers could adapt.  She gave the students an anticipation guide with statements relating to their reading, and students had to decide whether they agreed or disagreed with each statement. As they went over each statement as a class, Ms. Buchanan had the students physically move from one side of the room to the other to show whether they agreed or disagreed.  This was an excellent activity to help students connect and respond to literature.

Here are the step-by-step directions for Get Off the Fence:
1. Offer your class a controversial statement about a text or topic by reading the statement aloud or writing it on the board.
2. Ask those who agree with the statement to move to one side of the room and those who disagree to move to the opposite side of the room.
3. Any student who is undecided may remain in the middle of the room, but those in the middle cannot speak. At any time a student may move from the middle to one side, from one side to the middle, or to the other side.
4. Ask for comments from students about the statement, alternating from side to side
5. The unexpected ending: Ask the students in the middle of the room to “get off the fence” by choosing one side or another, then explaining why they chose that side.
6. Repeat the process with another statement.

Teaching Tip Tuesday–Chalk Talk!

Our teaching strategy for the week is Chalk Talk!!

Mrs. Monahan had a great instructional activity she used in her classroom with her Psychology students.  After a unit on gender roles, her students wrote advice for males and females on the board.  To compile the information, they created one male figure and one female life-size figure out of butcher paper and wrote the corresponding information in each figure.  This was an excellent way to assess student learning and to help students connect with the material and make real-world applications.  Students were actively engaged and enjoyed the activity.  What a great idea!

Chalk Talk is a very similar strategy with a couple of twists.  It is a silent way to reflect, generate ideas, check on learning, or solve problems. Because it is done completely in silence, it gives groups a change of pace and encourages thoughtful contemplation. It can be an unforgettable experience.

1. The teacher explains VERY BRIEFLY that Chalk Talk is a silent activity. (No one may talk at all. Anyone may add to the chalk talk as they please.) You can comment on other people’s ideas simply by drawing a connecting line to the comment. It can also be very effective to say nothing at all except to put finger to lips in a gesture of silence and simply begin with #2.

2. The teacher writes a relevant question in a circle on the board. Sample questions:
· What did you learn today?
· So what? Or now what?
· Why does this matter to you?
· How can we keep the noise level down in this room?
· How can you apply this concept to your life?
· What advice would you give….
· How does this concept connect with…
· What do you know about…

3. The facilitator either hands a marker to everyone or places many markers at the board and hands several to people at random.

4. People write as they feel moved. There are likely to be long silences—that is natural, so allow plenty of wait time before deciding it is over.

5. How the facilitator chooses to interact with the Chalk Talk influences its outcome. The facilitator can stand back and let it unfold or expand thinking by:
· circling other interesting ideas, thereby inviting comments to broaden
· writing questions about a participant comment adding his/her own reflections or ideas
· adding his/her own reflections or ideas
· connecting two interesting ideas/comments together with a line and adding a question mark
**Being an active participant encourages students to do the same kinds of expansions.

Practical Uses for Chalk Talk
Assessing prior knowledge
Before starting a unit, assess what the students already know about the topic so you can plan instruction accordingly.  Begin by writing in the center of the chart paper, “What do we know about (the presidential election process, sharks, the circulatory system, families, the moon, etc.)?” and let your students write all they know on the page. Leave the chart up for the entire unit, using it as a resource. As you progress through the unit ask your students to correct any misconceptions that they may have had at the outset.

Assessing what was learned
At the end of a unit, ask, “What did we learn about (the Industrial Revolution, spiders, the Brooklyn Bridge, exploding manhole covers, etc.)” Then compare what the students say they’ve learned with your goals or expected outcomes for the unit. Not only will you assess your students’ learning, you will be able to assess your own teaching and determine whether your goals were appropriate to begin with.

Discussing difficult issues
Sometimes it’s hard to get kids to talk about certain issues, especially when it involves their own behavior in a group. Chalk Talk can be a way to overcome this problem. On your chart write the question, “How did we work in our groups to complete this project?” Tell your students that no individual names may be used. Stand back and watch them go, they might be writing till next week. Next, write the more important question, “What can we, as a group and as individuals, do next time to make sure that the group works better?” The students may really begin to take responsibility for their own behavior.

Solving problems
When there is a problem in the classroom (interpersonal or related to an academic issue) that is likely to cause arguments, denials, or defensiveness, Chalk Talk once again proves useful. “What can we do about our class’ behavior with …?” can generate great ideas, as can, “How can we make sure that we all do the homework that is necessary for our class work to progress?” All the suggestions can be compiled and a course of action decided upon by the class.

Recording what was discussed
When a Chalk Talk discussion is over, you will have a written record, if done on chart paper. You can categorize them, look for commonalities, count how many people said what, etc. I give the compilations back to participants to expand upon even more.

Communicating to others
Chalk Talk communicates a large body of knowledge to an outside group or individual. Students in one hour or grade level could do a Chalk Talk to communicate to another hour or grade level what they can expect to do and learn.  The benefits of using a conversation in writing are enormous. To start, quiet students have as much opportunity as outgoing ones to offer their thoughts. Your class clown cannot as easily disrupt this conversation, nor can your most articulate students dominate. Given the reflective nature of Chalk Talk, you’ll also find that dissenting viewpoints can be more easily “heard” and responded to in a thoughtful fashion.

If you have an instructional strategy or activity to share, invite me into your room!  I love to see and share our successes and strengths.