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: Pause, Star, Rank

Effective note taking is a learned skill.  When using direct instruction or lecturing, you need to give students a chance to summarize and process what you presented.  Note-taking can be difficult for students, as they try to quickly determine what is most important and how to put it in their own words. Some students try to write everything down verbatim, and other students don’t write anything, unless the teacher tells them to write it down.

Research tells us that when students process and repackage what they hear using notes that are in the form of a summary or a visual, they perform better than when they take notes verbatim.  Effective note-taking is a learned skill, so we need to take the time to support students as they develop this skill.

Pause, Star, Rank is a “Total Participation Technique” (Himmele) strategy that will support students as they summarize new material.

Pause Star Rank

This activity lends itself to analysis and higher-order thinking. When students read over their notes and determine the importance of what they have read, students are analyzing the concepts on which they took notes.

This is a great wrap-up activity that is perfect for when you have a few minutes left of class.  This could also work at the end of a unit.  Students could review what they learned over the last few days and rank the most important concepts.

Can you think of other ways to encourage students to pause and reflect on what they learned?

Teaching tip Tuesday: Technology to Flip Your Classroom

I am by no means a technology expert, but I am trying to learn more as I discover new ways to increase student learning. Recently, I have been playing around with various ways to flip classrooms using technology.  A few teachers have asked me about websites or apps to capture screen shots or create videos.  Although there are a lot of different resources, websites, and apps out there, I have found a few that I think work well.  I’ll share a few starting points for you, but I will also provide more resources that you can explore yourself.

What is a flipped classroom?

A flipped classroom is a reversed teaching model that delivers instruction at home through interactive, teacher-created videos and moves “homework” to the classroom. Moving lectures and low-rigor and engagement activities outside of the classroom allows teachers to maximize class time with more rigorous tasks that will extend student learning.

Here are some resources I have used:



You can record the screen of your computer, along with your voice, for up to 15 minutes per video. This website allows you to decide how much of your screen you want to record, and you can also use your computer’s webcam to have a small video of yourself in the corner as you teach the lesson. You can download and install a program for your computer, or you can start recording from the website. You can publish to their website or to YouTube.



Screener is a very simple & easy-to-use tool for creating up to five minutes for each screencast video. You can select how much of the screen is shown in the video. You don’t need to register, but if you want to save your videos you need a Twitter account. After you create your video, you can publish to twitter, YouTube, or download.



ScreenCastle is a web-based screencast creation tool.  Go to their website, click the start button, and you can start recording.  You can record your voice and the screen. Then your video will be saved through their website.

Some apps that allow you to create a lesson or video from your ipad or smart device:

Explain Everything (2.99)

ShowMe (free)

Educreations (free)

By using a free trial, the two websites below will allow you to create your own professional-looking videos or lessons:

Camtasia(free trial)

Active Presenter (free trial)

Video Apps


Explain everything

Green screen

Story robe

Coach my video/coaches eye

Art with animation

Sock puppets

Imovie trailer


Movie FX

Funny Movie Maker

Tube Box

Animation HD



Book Creator

Action Movie

If you want to learn more, here are a couple of links to some teachers’ blogs who know WAY more about this than me. They have ideas for excellent technology resources that you can use in your classroom.

17 Free Tools for Creating Screen Capture Images and Videos


20 Ways to Use ONE iPad in Your K-12 Classroom


Do you have other resources that you find helpful for a flipped classroom?

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: Fake Texts

Here is a quick & fun way to engage your students.  You can create screenshots of fake texts using ifaketext.com!  You could get creative and have fun with this!

shakespeare text

You could use this fun format in various ways: 1)  You could present new information to students 2)  You could pose discussion questions or essential questions to students  3) You could grab their attention at the beginning of a lesson 4) Students could present their understanding of a topic 5) Students could answer questions that you have posed to them

How to create a fake text:

1.Go to : http://ifaketext.com/

2.Enter your name.

3.Choose a carrier.

4.Enter the conversation (Be sure to use the format they show you.)

5. Click “Create your screenshot.”

I am not a very funny person, but I know many of you fabulous teachers could make some funny stuff. I also know that our kids are very creative, and they could create some awesome fake texts.

If you wanted your students to show their understanding of vocabulary words, you could create texts like the following examples:

function text

lil wayne function

Other classroom activity ideas:

Students could write dialogue between…

•Two characters from a scene in a story or novel

•Two concepts (including some facts about them)

•Two historic figures

•Two friends discussing a book, movie, event, or concept.

And here is a pdf of a “TableTexting” file, which does not require any technology.

What other ideas do you have? How can you use fake texts in your classes?

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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4g1FV_bhTo  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 https://msbinstructionalcoach.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/round-robin-reading-dont-do-it/.


Teaching Tip Tuesday: TodaysMeet

TodaysMeet is an excellent online tool that that allows you to create a digital discussion board that you can project to your class.  If you use this free, easy-to-use technology tool, you will increase your engagement and rigor very simply.  TodaysMeet helps you embrace the backchannel. Encourage your students to use the live stream to make comments, ask questions, and give you feedback.  TodaysMeet is an excellent tool to encourage students to chat about what they are learning.

todaysmeet home


What is backchanneling? A backchannel is a space in which secondary conversations happen during a presentation or delivery of content such as lectures, videos, or panel discussions. You can turn passive listening into active discussion. Rather than students whispering comments or texting each other during a presentation, you can give them a space to place information, make connections, ask questions and extend learning.


How it works

1)      Go to http://todaysmeet.com

2)      Name your room & give your room a shelf life & click “create your room.”

3)      Your page is ready to use.  You and your students can post questions or comments from smartphones, ipads, or computers.  No usernames or passwords are needed. You can project your page on the screen or smartboard for the class to see.

To see how easy it is for students to post comments or questions, visit the room I created.  Try posting comments or questions there!


msb todaysmeet

 How TodaysMeet can be used

1)      For frequent formative assessments to gauge student understanding, pose a question to the class. Every student can post their answer on the discussion board.

2)      While you are lecturing or teaching a concept, students can post their questions or comments to the page.

3)      Use it as a do now, exit slip, or homework activity.

4)      Have a virtual discussion or debate.  Students can discuss a topic in your virtual room, and even the shy students can be involved and voice their opinions.

5)      Show students an educational video, and students can respond to your prompts online as they watch.

6)      While reading a text, students can make connections, ask questions, or write their reactions.

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: 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.