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


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?

Teaching Tip Tuesday: Grudgeball!


As we wind down to the end of the year, I know a lot of teachers are looking for highly engaging activities and fun, new ideas for review.  I came across a middle school teacher’s blog, which has lots of great technology and engagement activities for the classroom.  If you get a chance, look around her blog and I’m sure you’ll find some great ideas.  One of her posts is about a review game she calls “Grudgeball.”  As soon as I read the directions, I knew our competitive students would LOVE it.  Click on the link below:

To Engage Them All: Grudgeball…A Review Game Where Kids Attack!

What other review games do you think keep the kids engaged at the end of the year?


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.