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.


99 Ways to Improve Your Students’ Reading Comprehension

Something to think about…

I came across this list I had saved in my files, and I think it is a great reminder of what we need to do in the classroom to improve our students’ reading comprehension.  Every once in a while, I like to sit back and reflect.  Which items on this list are part of my daily practice, and which items do I need to start doing?  I usually pick a handful of items on which I wish to focus.  I thought I would share the list, so you can also read it over and reflect upon how your students read in your classroom.  I hope all of you enjoy your spring break and return to school reinvigorated and refreshed!

  1.  Have word walls; keep them fresh and attractive
  2. Give a preview of the reading material
  3. Call attention to chapter headings and sub-headings
  4. Call attention to end-of-chapter questions
  5. Ask for summaries (gateway skill)
  6. Pronounce new vocabulary
  7. Have students pronounce new vocabulary
  8. Practice skimming
  9. Practice scanning
  10. Practice close reading and re-reading
  11. Use sustained silent reading
  12. Read aloud
  13. Encourage making connections between self and text
  14.  Summon prior knowledge
  15. Use graphic organizers
  16. Encourage students to generate their own graphic organizers
  17. Teach word components
  18. Use annotations
  19. Encourage the habit of noticing text patterns
  20. Use supportive visuals on the Internet
  21. Have a “readable” room, with helpful words and visuals
  22. Use writing to support reading; reading to support writing
  23. Provide study guides
  24. Provide alternate readings and simplified versions to scaffold
  25. Encourage the creation of visuals (“draw what you’ve read”)
  26. Reinforce subject-to-subject connections in vocabulary
  27. Give students opportunities to talk about what they’ve read
  28. Provide various genres
  29. Encourage paraphrase
  30. Encourage integration of text with graphs, charts, tables
  31. Encourage reading in phrases and groups, not single words
  32. Read key parts first
  33. Encourage awareness of strategies
  34. Make students aware of personal reading needs
  35. Develop reading habits
  36. Ritualize the reading process
  37. Build awareness of trouble spots
  38. Teach how the text is organized
  39. Encourage self-monitoring for comprehension
  40. Make the abstract more concrete for students
  41. Encourage readers to anticipate
  42. Encourage note-taking on readings
  43. Set time in class to develop a weekly reading budget
  44. Hold students accountable for reading
  45. Give alternative assessments
  46. Teach that every sentence delivers new information or re-caps
  47. Provide large print and other more reader-friendly presentations
  48. Provide Internet resources to supply background information
  49. Give the necessary background information
  50. Teach vocabulary implicitly and explicitly
  51. Make connections between English and the Latin-based languages (Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese)
  52. Encourage students to keep personal reading journals
  53. Teach that words have multiple meanings, but that their meanings are usually related
  54. Teach that not all text is to be read at the same pace
  55. Assign meaning-making activities following reading
  56. Encourage visualization (mental movies)
  57. Teach students to view reading from the writer’s perspective
  58. Teach students to group information into larger and larger groups
  59. Use the Golden Oldies: SQ3R and KWL
  60. Encourage outlining & Cornell Notes
  61. Build a classroom library consisting of multileveled, diverse reading materials to scaffold the textbook and provide background knowledge
  62. Use your classroom website as an online classroom library
  63. Join your professional organization and keep informed about literacy development & implementing the Common Core
  64. If you teach English, supplement fiction with non-fiction; if you teach a subject other than English, supplement informational text with literature
  65. Familiarize yourself with the reading that your students are doing in other subject areas so that you can make connections
  66. Provide multiple exposures to new vocabulary
  67. Capitalize on the relationship between reading, writing, listening, and speaking
  68. Understand that comprehension is the active process of extracting meaning from text, not just word-calling (decoding)
  69. Reveal your own thinking as a reader
  70. Encourage students to say “This reminds me of…” as they read
  71. Encourage students to look for repetition in text because repetition signals main ideas
  72. Encourage students to think of reading as a before, during, and after process
  73. Build on strengths—your own and that of your students
  74. Consider offering students choices in reading material
  75. Be enthusiastic about school-wide reading initiatives
  76. Set forth a purpose for reading (What am I looking for?)
  77. Increase, support, and value time-on-text in class
  78. Understand that reading comprehension is the result of the integration of prior knowledge with new knowledge offered in text
  79. Offer crossword puzzles or games that use subject area terminology
  80. Set up cooperative learning groups to work through challenging text
  81. Understand that sentence length affects readability
  82. Understand that pre-Twentieth Century language is probably very challenging for most students. Provide scaffolding.
  83. Understand that deficient readers tend to misread the middle of words, resulting in their thinking that words with similar beginnings and endings are the same.
  84. When introducing a new word, use it to teach a cluster of words that would be used along with it
  85. Teach the many different forms (morphology) a new word
  86. Use your library-media specialist as a resource to help you locate various versions of your targeted information
  87. Use your reading specialist and special education teachers to help you understand more about your text and your students’ reading strengths and needs
  88. Help students pinpoint the place in the text in which their comprehension broke down
  89. Understand that improvement in reading comprehension will result from a combination of practice, explicit instruction, and building of background knowledge
  90. Treat reading for what it is: a complex mental, metacognitive, and social activity
  91. Understand that improvement in reading comprehension results from instruction that is embedded in authentic reading tasks, rather than isolated drill and practice in text that is unrelated to what the student needs to know
  92. Understand that the language used in classrooms may differ markedly from a student’s home and street language
  93. Act on the fact that your students’ ability to comprehend text in your subject area is unlikely to improve without your intervention
  94.  If your course ends in a standardized test, familiarize your students with the appearance, structure, phraseology, and vocabulary of that test
  95. Help students connect pronouns to their referents, esp. it, that, which, they
  96. Define what you think may be new words as you speak
  97. Practice “gradual release of responsibility” to make students independent readers
  98. Build awareness that successful readers are problem-solvers who give themselves the environment and support systems that they need to make meaning from text: Reading comprehension results from intentional behaviors, not luck.
  99. Assume that success is possible!!

Teaching Tip Tuesday: Spinners

Spinners are a fun way for students to engage in learning.  I have run across a few ideas of how to use them lately.  Usually, I see them used in elementary classrooms, but with anything, they can be adapted for our high school classrooms.  Add more complex tasks to the spinner and it will fit into your curriculum and will raise engagement and rigor.  These are a fun way to mix things up in your classroom and add a little more excitement and unpredictability to your lesson.

Vocabulary Spinner for Smartboards


Students will uncover hidden vocabulary words from under the shapes. Then students will spin the spinner on the Smartboard.  The space on which the spinner lands is what task the students must complete. There will be a variety of tasks for which students must use and demonstrate understanding of the selected words. This spinner could be adapted to include other tasks: example, non-example, drawing/picture, personal connection to the word…

Check out this page, which shows you how to create your own spinner on Smartboards.  There is also a library of spinner files.

Responding to Reading Spinners

Download and print out the fiction and nonfiction spinners here:

fiction & nonfiction spinners

2 spinners

Students will spin a paperclip under the tip of a pencil. Watch this video to see how it is done:  Where the paperclip lands is how they must respond to the text after reading. Students could use these in small groups.  Students could stop at the end of each section of a text and respond.

spinner with paperclip

Teaching Tip Tuesday: Determining Reading Levels of a Text


“Missouri School Read-In Day” is next Friday, March 8.  It is recommended to the people of the state that the day be appropriately observed through activities that will bring about an increased awareness of the importance and benefits of reading and encourage greater emphasis on reading, both in the school and in the home. Missouri school read-in day recognizes that reading proficiency is a major factor in determining a child’s success in school.

Before you plan a reading lesson for the day, carefully consider the texts that you will have your students read.  The reading level of a text can make or break your lesson, no matter how many best practices and active engagement strategies you use.  I have a few tricks you can use with Microsoft Word to help you determine if a text is at an appropriate reading level for your students.slide1








Also, don’t forget that Popcorn Reading, Jump-In Reading, or Round Robin reading are not the best ways to read during class.  Want to read about why you should stop doing this? Want to learn about some alternatives to this method of whole-class reading? Read my old blog post


Teaching Tip Tuesday: 4-2-1 Freewrite

As we transition to the Common Core Standards, all classrooms and subject areas need to incorporate more reading into your classes. Summarizing is an important skill that we need our students to understand and demonstrate as they read, but we also have the building goal of increasing the rigor in our classrooms.  Today’s teaching strategy is a way to increase the rigor with a summarizing activity.

Watch a video clip explaining the four quadrants of the Rigor-Relevance framework.


In the 4-2-1 Freewrite, students work individually and collaboratively to create and analyze main ideas.  They also must teach their information to the rest of the class and explain the main idea to their peers.

4-2-1 Freewrite

Click here for a 421 free write organizer

Within the Rigor-Relevance framework, you can see in the graphic below that this activity is a more complex task than a typical summarizing activity. Move the students from guessing what they think the teacher thinks is important to evaluating for themselves what they think is important, while creating a summary for an authentic audience.

summarizing high rigor relevance

Can you think of other ways to modify your lessons to increase the rigor and relevance?

Teaching Tip Tuesday: Think Alouds

I have returned from maternity leave, so Teaching Tip Tuesdays have returned.  Hooray!

This week, we will focus on a reading strategy called Think Alouds. This is a reading strategy that is often used by elementary teachers, but should definitely become a practice used by secondary teachers as well.  In this strategy, teachers model for students how to connect what they know to the text they are reading.  This strategy will seem spontaneous to the students, but it needs to be carefully planned ahead of time by the teacher.  For teachers, this might be difficult at first because we often don’t think about how we think.  You will need to make a conscious effort to verbalize the running dialogue in your head and thought-processes that you use while you read. Think alouds are an important part of teaching any comprehension strategy to students. This metacognition is a way of helping students monitor and improve their own comprehension.

Click on the following link to view an excellent example of a teacher using this strategy with a secondary classroom:


  1. The teacher reads aloud from a text
  2. Stop after a short passage and “think aloud.”  Demonstrate how to make connections that lead to better comprehension of the text.
  3. Model strategies for solving problems as they read.  Readers can run into all kinds of comprehension problems in a text, so a teacher simulates a comprehension problem and thinks aloud how the problem can be solved, showing students what to do when something is hard to understand.
  4. Students will read and think aloud.

Here are a few trouble-shooting techniques that are important to model for students:

  • Keep reading to see if the author explains what you don’t understand
  • Reread to see if you missed something
  • Read back to the part you didn’t understand, or, read forward skipping confusing words.
  • Reflect on what you have read and see if there is an alternative explanation that can be inferred based on your prior knowledge.
  • Seek information beyond the text (from a partner or a second source) in order to understand

Teachers need to encourage students to do think alouds themselves when they read.  As students think aloud, the teacher can monitor their understanding as well as observe their reasoning. Think alouds can easily be nested within any instruction, and they tend to make a teacher’s oral reading exercises more engaging and understandable for all students.

In your classroom, students can demonstrate think alouds in several ways:

  • Double entry journal/two-column notes/cornell notes
  • Take turns reading with a partner and stopping frequently to do think alouds as teacher circulates
  • Use sticky notes with codes for their reactions & thoughts
  • Record their voiced thoughts (on ipads, iphones, or electronic devices)
  • Provide question stems to prompt their thinking and responses to the text

Update: Read how a Math teacher in my district used this strategy in his classroom: Read Chuck Baker’s blog to learn more about his lesson plan & reflection piece

One important note Chuck Baker made is a major factor to consider before doing ANY reading activity in your class:

As far as choosing your text, its very important that the reading level is appropriate for your individual learners so they can get into the reading. A great opportunity for differentiation would be to group according to reading level and provide separate, approachable texts. My Stats class has been previously screened to make sure they could handle the reading required for the course, but when I try this with my Applied Math class next week, they willshut down if the reading is over the heads.

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–Sketch to Stretch

Sketch-to-Stretch is an instructional strategy developed by Harste, Short, & Burke, (1988). Students draw quick sketches to stretch their thinking and understanding of concepts. Moving to another communication system, such as art, can lead the learner to generate new insights and meanings.

 Click on the link below for a reproducible graphic organizer:

Sketch to Stretch graphic organizer

How to Use:

During or after reading a selection, students draw sketches that illustrate key ideas and details. Students present their drawings to explain how they made connections with the information revealed in the text.

1. The teacher reads aloud the chosen text to students.

2. After the teacher reads aloud the text, the students are to sketch what the text is about, what the text means to them, the picture they had in their head during the reading, or a major concept they learned from the text.

3. Ask each student to write a short explanation of his/her sketch. Their explanation might include insights into the author’s language that “sparked” certain images, parts of the text that were most clear, etc.

4. In small groups, have readers share sketches and explanations. At the end of the sharing have each group decide on one sketch to share with the whole class.

5. Share and discuss selected sketches with the whole class.


  • As a pre-reading activity, Sketch-to-Stretch is a strategy that helps students connect with prior knowledge. Students sketch ideas that show what they know about a topic featured in an upcoming selection.
  • Invite students to write captions (words, phrases, or sentences) for sketches.
  • When students work in small groups, Sketch-to-Stretch can be used to illustrate a series of events. For example, each person in a group sketches a different phase in the life cycle of a monarch butterfly.
  • Put all the sketches in a booklet or on display so that students can examine all of them for new insights.
  • If a text has few, none, or very poor illustrations, it may not be necessary to tell the readers to put away their texts before sketching. In fact leaving the text open in such cases encourages readers to reread as they devise their sketches.
  • With content materials, give readers copies of a passage minus the pictures, drawings, graphs. Then ask them to sketch. Once again, having the text available will encourage careful rereading. Readers can then compare their sketches with one another and the author. A discussion of the need to read charts and diagrams and how they fit with the running text in a particular book may follow.

Reading Strategies: Activate Prior Knowledge, Build Vocabulary, Make Connections, Visualize Ideas, Identify Main Ideas and Details, Summarize and Synthesize Information

Round-Robin Reading? Don’t do it!!!

One of the most common ways to read text with high school classes is for teachers to pick individual students to read sections of the text aloud to the whole class.  Research shows this is one of the most ineffective reading practices.  Why?

  • Round robin reading focuses on oral performance and decoding accuracy, not comprehension.
  • It lowers the quantity of reading students do. (Research estimates that students actually read between two to six minutes in a typical round robin reading session. That’s not much reading.)
  • It is detrimental to fluency because students are asked to read texts that are too difficult, which leads to choppy models of what reading sounds like.
  • Round robin reading causes anxiety and embarrassment.
  • Students rarely pay attention when they are not the one reading aloud.
  • It is about CONTROL, not about effective reading instruction.
  • It assumes everyone should read the same book, at the same time, at the same rate.


What are your alternatives?

1. Teacher read-aloud—You are the most fluent reader in the room.  You know how to read at a proper level and rate with good expression, emphasizing the appropriate words.  Your students will greatly benefit by hearing fluent reading.  All the research out there proves the benefits of reading aloud to students.  You can build enthusiasm for a text.  You can engage your students and model expert reading for them.

2. Silent reading—If we want our students to engage in the reading, then students need the time to read texts independently. Teachers often worry that students won’t actually read.  If that’s the case, then you need to problem solve.  Is the text too long?  Then you need to chunk the text into more manageable pieces.  Did you provide them with support so they are prepared before they read?  Have they previewed the vocabulary and text features? You also need to provide them with a purpose and a task during reading.  And you need to give them an opportunity to talk or discuss or process the reading afterwards.

3. Partner reading—Although this alternative to Round Robin will take up the most class time, students can definitely benefit by working with a partner to read a text.  This is the best way for students to practice fluent reading and reading out loud. Students will need the same before, during, and after-reading support as you would provide them with independent reading.  You will need to closely monitor the pairs to ensure they remain on task.  Consider having clear expectations established before the activity, and give students a task to complete during reading.  For those kids who aren’t comfortable reading with a partner, students could read out loud (in a quiet voice) to themselves.  You will need to circulate and listen to all of the students reading.  I always walk around with a clipboard with a class list & make stars by their names when I hear them reading to make sure I have listened to everyone.

*For further help with structuring your reading activities, please attend the Wednesday Breakfast Study Groups, visit my blog ( & click on the reading links, or give me a call or send an email.  I’m always willing to give you suggestions or ideas.

Teaching Tip Tuesday–Tea Party!

This week’s teaching tip is a pre-reading activity that you can use as you participate in MSB’s reading challenge.  It is called Tea Party.

• Offers students an opportunity to consider parts of the text before they actually read it.  (It’s an excellent pre-reading strategy to support our struggling readers.)
• Encourages active participation with the text & gives students a chance to get up and move around the room
• Students will become familiar with the text and will practice the reading strategies of making predictions and inferences, using context clues, and comparing and contrasting.
1. Select key words, phrases, or sentences from the text and write them on index cards. Try to select half as many key words, phrases or sentences as you have students. 
2. Duplicate enough cards so that there is one card for each student.
3. Distribute one card per student
4. Have students get up and move from student to student
5. Ask them to read their card to as many classmates as possible
6. Insist that they listen to others as they read their cards
7. Ask them to discuss how these cards may be related
8. Have them speculate what these cards, collectively, might be about.
9. In small groups, have students complete a “We Think” statement. (“We think the reading is going to be about….”)
10. Ask students to share their “We Think” statements with the entire class.
11. Read the text
12. Compare the text with their predictions on the “We Think” statements.
**If you would like to learn about other research-based reading activities that you can use in your classroom, please RSVP for tomorrow’s Breakfast Study Group.  I would love to see you there!  Let me know if you have any questions!