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: 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: 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: 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

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: 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–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!

Teaching Tip Tuesday–Review Games

Since we are nearing the end of the semester, a few teachers have asked me for some review activity ideas.  I thought I would share the list I put together with everyone.  If you have another idea to add to the list, please share! 
Review Games/Activities
1. House Party: (from Dr. Muhammad)–Students each receive a strip of paper with a discussion question relating to the concept you are learning or reviewing.  I use it for vocabulary.  I create a discussion question for each vocabulary word.  For example, “Which teacher at MSB do you think is the most stringent? Why?”  After students receive their question, put on some music.  Students will walk around the classroom and ask each other the question.  Set up some rules for how many people they must ask.  (3 or 4?)  And you might want to require they write down the answers other students gave them.  This activity also works best when the teacher participates too. When the music ends, they must return to their seats.  As a whole class, ask the students the discussion questions and ask for their responses they received.
2. Tic-Tic-Boom: (from Ms. McKinney)–The entire class stands in a circle.  It’s like a hot potato game.  The students toss the “potato” (grenade) from student to student.  The teacher can orally say, “Tic Tic Tic….Boom.”  The student who has the potato when the teacher says “boom” has to answer a review question.  I think you could also do it like the traditional hot potato game with music.  when the teacher cuts off the music, the student holding the potato has to answer the question.
3. Vocab Wars: (from Spurgeon)—The class is split into two teams.  One person from each team gets to throw a crumpled up piece of paper at the other team.  If it hits another person, the person who was hit gets asked a question.  If the question is answered correctly, they survive.  If the answer is wrong, they are out.
4.  Walk-Around Bingo— Put review questions in each box on a Bingo card.  Students must walk around the room and get OTHER students to write answers to the questions and put their name or initials by the answer.  The rules should be that they need to have an answer from everyone in the class and every answer on the card needs to be correct.  The first one done is the winner!  Go over the answers at the end. 
5. Basketball review: (from Mr. Schwierjohn)–in groups, students use a dry erase board to answer review questions and hold up their answers.  The first group to hold up the correct answer gets a shot at the hoop/trash can with a basketball/wadded up paper.  The student from the group can choose how far away to stand from the hoop for different points.  (Put tape on the floor to designate where a two point, three point, or four point shot would be.)  The group with the most points wins.
6. Fly Swatter Race: (from Monahan)—each group has a different colored fly swatter.  All of the terms are written on the board.  A representative from each team goes to the board with the fly swatter.  The teacher reads a definition or clue, and the students “swat” the term on the board.  The first student to “swat” the correct term gets the point for their team.

7. Around the World
First student stands beside student 2’s desk. I ask a review question, who ever says the answer first goes to stand by student #3. A player tries to go as far around the room as he/she can before they lose and have to sit down.
8. Graffiti Review. I generally use it before a big test/exam as you need topics/words that are not too specific. You take several words or topics from your unit, eg. galaxy, sun, star, astronomer, satellite. Write each one in the middle of a piece of chart paper. Spread the chart papers around the room (wall, desks or floor). Give each student or group of students a marker (different colors if you can). Each student/group starts at one chart paper. When you say “go” they have to start writing down everything they know/can remember about the word or topic. Use a timer, and call “switch” after whatever interval you decide to use (30 sec., 1 min., 2 min. etc. for me it depends on the topics and the class). At “switch” they must rotate to the next paper. When all students/groups have written on each paper, I collect them. One at a time, I put them up on the board, as a class we read through what has been written, and I correct any inaccurate information or mention any important information that has been missed. It does not lend itself as an end or period or every class activity though. I find I usually need 30 min. to an hour to do it properly.
9. paper ball fights. You have to use half a sheet of paper and write whatever you want on them. If we’re doing element names, I write the symbol on it. Rules are 1-don’t hit the teacher 2-when time is called you stop, if not you’re out 3-no aiming for the face 4-must stay behind the desks (we move the desks to make 2 separate walls that they can’t cross. that way no one is too close when they throw) with this we can do several things 1-quiz-when time is called write your symbol down and answer 2- odd man out – we open the paper and go around the room if you don’t know the answer you’re out. if someone is out they can answer and be allowed back in.
10. Two Corners: Agree/Disagree.
One student comes to the front of the room and turns their back on the class and closes their eyes. You have already as a class decided which corner is agree and which is disagree. Teacher reads a statement.  Then you say go and all the students run to a corner. Then the student at the front says whether they agree or disagree. Anyone at that corner is out and sits back at their desk. Play repeats until there are only 2 players left. Then the rule is they each must pick a different corner. The last one standing wins and can be the caller next game.

11. Hot Seat
This can be used for reviewing vocabulary that was taught in a previous lesson. It is also very useful for pre-teaching vocabulary in a listening or reading text. Get two or three people sitting in ‘hot seats’, with their backs to the board. Write the target words on the board. The rest of the class have to help those in the hot seats to guess what is on the board (without, of course, saying the words!).

12. Tic-Tac-Toe
Students choose a partner.  Each partner has a different color of pen or marker.  Students decide which partner will go first.  The teacher will read the definition, and the first partner will write the correct word in the box of their choice.  After everyone writes the word, the teacher says the correct answer.  If the written answer is correct, the first student receives the square.  If the answer was wrong, the second partner scribbles out the wrong answer, puts the correct word, and the second partner gets the square.  The next definition is read by the teacher, and the second partner writes the word in the box of their choice.  If the answer is correct, the second partner gets the square.  If the answer was wrong, the first partner scribbles out the wrong answer, puts the correct word, and the first partner gets the square.  The first person with three correct answers in a row wins (horizontal, vertical, or diagonal).
13. Vocabulary Match-Up:  Write the definition of a word on one half of an index card and the vocabulary word on the other half of the index card.  Cut cards in half in random ways.  Have students select one or more halves.  Students must walk around the room to find their match.  They then list the word and its definition on the board for the class to copy down.
14. Vocabulary Bingo:  Students fold a piece of paper into 9 (or 16) sections.   They write one vocabulary word in each box.  If you want to allow for a “free space”, you may.  Provide the definition.  Students “X” the box and place the number of the definition in the box.  For example, you define “procrastination” first, and student places an “X” in box along with a “1”; you define “obscure” second, and student places an “X” in box along with a “2”; you define “garrulous” third, and student places an “X” in box along with a “3”; ETC.  This way you can check to make sure that the student X-ed the correct box.
15. Memory challenge
In groups, write down as many of the vocab words and defs as they can remember.  The group with the most wins.  As a review at the end of a unit or semester, you could divide this game into rounds.  Each round could be a topic.  Students would have to list as much information/terms/examples about that topic in the allotted time.  The group with the most information during that round would get the point.
16. Balloon Games
Put vocab words inside the balloons and those are the words that students have to use in sentences or define.  One person from each team chooses a balloon and pops it to find out their word.
Play some sort of vocab or review game, and then if they get it right, they get to come up and pop a balloon.  Their points for their team or the prize they win is inside of the balloon.

17. Pictionary and Charades
18. Go here for a few more ideas that sound fun:  and  a couple here [ ]

Teaching Tip Tuesday–INSERT

INSERT (Interactive Notation System for Effective Reading and Thinking)

Ms. Strong showed me a great strategy she is using with her Literature classes to help actively engage her students in the reading.  She is very excited about it, and she said the kids are responding well to it.  She gives the students strips of paper, and they write their reactions and thoughts for each page of the book as they read.  The students keep the slips of paper inside the book on the corresponding page. To provide students with feedback, Ms. Strong writes them a note back and leaves it tucked inside their book.  What a great reading activity, Ms. Strong!!!

INSERT is a very similar strategy that is even more simplified.

 Purpose: To help students become more involved in their reading and to help them make decisions as they read and clarify their own understanding.

 Procedure: While students read, they will use post-it notes or slips of paper to place alongside the text.  On the paper, students will use a marking code to reflect their thinking. After reading, students will transfer their post-its to a graphic organizer and respond to the text in writing.


1. Give students post-it notes & write the marking codes on the board or on a handout.

2. As they read, students will place post-its alongside the text & label with a code.

3. After reading, students will transfer the post-it notes to a double-entry journal to reflect on the reading in writing.

4. As a whole class or in small groups, students can share their reactions and 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.

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.