Increase curiosity and engagement with The Secret Answer Strategy. Announce near the beginning of class that you need a volunteer to “hold” onto the secret answer. If you are teaching in-person, place it into an envelope and seal it shut. If you are teaching remotely, create a Google slide, similar to what you see here, and share the link with a student.
At an appropriate place in the lesson, ask students an intriguing, close-ended question and have them share their thinking. After everyone has shared, direct the volunteer to open the envelope (manually or digitally) to reveal The Secret Answer. Adding this little bit of novelty can increase attention without distracting from your content or taking time from your pacing.
Here's an awesome idea I found on Twitter and am sharing with Amy's permission. How much more engaged will your students be if they are clicking embedded links rather than traditional urls? This idea is so adaptable to any content or grade level. I just found this on Tuesday but am already working on making a few of my own. Thanks, Amy!
During COVID-19, tic-tac-toe menus and choice boards are an approach to differentiation that is more helpful than ever. Typically, the teacher creates a 3x3 grid and develops nine activities for students to choose from. Usually the choices address a variety of processes and products, including no-tech, low-tech and high-tech. Students can be directed to choose one of the nine activities or aim for three in a row, as in the game of tic-tac-toe.
Menus can be designed to honor the varying circumstances students find themselves in – limited technology access, outdoor opportunities, home alone or with siblings – as well as their various interests. Choice always increases motivation but can be especially effective when the choices are based on student interests.
Depending on the platform you are using to teach, you might be able to load a tic-tac-toe menu to a collaborative document and have students work in small groups to fill all nine spaces. Better yet, have them create their own tic-tac-toe boards that include different processes and products, and still meet your learning target. Here's a Google Slide template.
Here are a few examples of tic-tac-toe boards that you could tweak to fit your content and students. Even if it isn’t your content area, notice how you can keep the first part of the task and just change the second part. For example, if it reads “Create a rap/poem that informs people about healthy nutritional choices,” you can use the words in red so that you are not starting from scratch. No need to be creative on top of all the herculean tasks you are already preforming!
Accessing Text (options for reading comprehension across content)
Nutrition (specific content example)
A collection of various approaches to choice boards with lots of examples
A quick internet search yielded dozens of sites that offer examples. You may find just what you’re looking for, already generously shared by another teacher. Just keep in mind that most were created before remote learning and may require students to have technology or other resources that are unavailable.
Are you a memory champion? If not, you are probably like the rest of us – you have fairly good recall when you are attentive and engaged. However, if your mind wanders or you attempt to multi-task or you are anxious, etc., your ability to recall what you are learning diminishes.
Try the following exercise, without scrolling down the page! Give yourself 30 seconds to attempt to memorize the following display of 15 symbols. After 30 seconds, look away and write down as many, in order, as you can remember. Then check your accuracy.
How well did you do? If you got all 15 correct, you may have the makings of a memory champion! You should be quite pleased with yourself. Most of us, though, don’t do all that well. We need our information to be chunked in order to remember it better. Now try the following exercise, with the same approach – 30 seconds to memorize, look away and write down as many as you can.
I’d bet real money on your improvement. When information is presented and studied in chunks, it is much easier to make sense of and remember. This “chunking” is essential for virtual instruction because so many distractions abound. The refrigerator calls, others in the house are making noise, no one is watching, etc. Most experts suggest that virtual lecture should not last more than 3-5 minutes before providing students with an opportunity to process, discuss, retrieve or in some way interact with the information. This is especially important for students who might have a learning disability or attention deficit disorder.
Here’s a list of some of my favorite, simple ways to add processing time with any content:
Before your next virtual lesson review your plan and check to see if you have chunked the content, allowing processing and interaction every 3-5 minutes. Not only will you increase your student engagement, you will increase student outcomes!
My colleague, Sonya Kunkel, and I have created a tip sheet for co-teaching in the virtual world. Please feel free to share it liberally with co-teachers everywhere.
While it is common for many old IEPs to have "alternate testing location" listed as an accommodation, research and practice suggest that for *most students this becomes a disadvantage. Listen to this 3 minute interview with two middle school co-teachers as they share their journey into inclusive testing.
*This should always be a decision based on individual needs in varying circumstances. Just as all don't need alternative locations, all may not do well in classroom settings for testing.
Are your students SPLUMPERS? Derek Cabrera, in Thinking at Every Desk, suggests that students need to combine the skills of SPLITTERS and LUMPERS in order to be successful thinkers. Here is how that played out in one of my lessons this week.
The lesson learning target was “I can identify the structure of a text passage to help with my comprehension.” Students have been exploring text structures for several lessons and have been taught the key words that might signal a chronology vs. problem/solution, etc. What we noticed is that some students were getting too caught up in the key words and misidentifying the structure. They were SPLITTERS – looking at the part without looking at the whole.
To help students see the need to look at part and whole, we began by showing them several images – one whole and one a zoomed in part – and had discussion about why it might be important to see both. For example, with a photo of African Stew and a peanut, we were able to talk about peanut allergies as a strong reason to look at parts. With a photo of a chess board, we discussed why the whole picture told a more interesting story than the part. Download images here, if you would like all eight.
Next, we assigned partners, each being either a SPLITTER or a LUMPER. The SPLITTER used wikkistix to circle key workds, while the LUMPER read the whole passage. They then discussed what they noticed and decided which text structure it represented.
We also added gestures and visuals to go along with the thinking process. Download those here.
This concept can be applied to so many things we teach!
"All knowledge has a part-whole structure, and therefore to understand it, we must see the part-whole structure of each and every idea we encounter."
Even the U.S. Army considers this work essential!
We have a solid evidence base for instructional strategies that enhance inferencing skills. After reviewing the conclusions made by this report, I crafted a scaffolded lesson that focused on two of the strategies – Missing Pieces and. Because of the nature of my work, I combined both of these into one lesson, however each piece should be practiced over multiple opportunities.
Our learning target was “I can draw inferences from text.” We practiced a three-part gesture for “infer” that included the left hand over the face, adding the thinking gesture at the chin and then an “I got it!” gesture at the end. This emphasizes that when making an inference, you can’t see an entire picture so you have to think before making an educated guess. (See photos.)
Scaffolded instruction came next. Students were guided in making inferences about
Student Generated Inference Questions
Then we moved to short paragraphs and asked students to read, generate inferences and then turn them into questions. For example, in this paragraph, inference questions might include:
When I got to school this morning, all of the teachers were hurrying around to get us ready to leave. “Did you all put your lunches in the cooler? If you brought sunscreen, please bring it to me.” The teachers are checking their lists and making sure we have everything we need.
To boost engagement, we broke into two teams. Each team generated inference questions and placed them in an envelope. We then swapped the envelopes and had to answer the other team’s questions.
To practice these techniques, you will want to use passages that are complex enough to have inferences at your students’ readiness level, while keeping the vocabulary simple enough to not impede fluency and comprehension.
This hierarchy of practice worked very well for us and we will continue to embed these strategies into other lessons. Knowing that we have an evidence base for this approach makes us confident that we will see student growth with our inference standards.
Like teachers everywhere, my co-teachers and I have been working on trying to develop students’ ability to find text evidence that supports a claim. The more we work with this, the more we recognize that there are some underlying reasoning and thinking skills that are missing.
Thinking at Every Desk by Derek Cabrera and Laura Colosi is an excellent, quick read that explains the four basic thinking skills that students need – Distinctions, Relationships, Systems and Patterns. The authors use the Yin Yang symbol to capture the interrelatedness of these four categories.
Today’s lesson plan focused on Making Distinctions. I created Distinction Pockets for students so that they could practice sorting a variety of items, discussing their reasoning.
You will see from the lesson plan, that we also added a challenge component. After explaining what the YinYang symbol represented, we gave a few students the challenge of developing an alternate symbol. In this photo, Ethan created some word art that represents the whole, with the parts as being distinct (I was so impressed with his thinking that I chose to ignore the fact that he left out a letter.)
How many times have you asked students to find text evidence to support their answer? It can become a dry, repetitive, boring task for students and teachers. Today we shook things up a bit by using a simple strategy I called Prove It Bags. As you can see from the photo, all you need to do is grab a brown paper lunch bag (or a few) and label them “Prove It!”
We then looked at the questions provided with the text and decided that they were too boring – mostly “right there” types of questions, such as
We replaced these with higher level thinking questions for which students would need to find multiple pieces of evidence and use some reasoning skills, such as
Print these on colored paper for a bit of extra pop!
Last step was to have students pull questions out of the bag and read them aloud to their group. The novelty and mystery of this type of strategy always grabs and maintains interest over just handing the students a worksheet.
Consider how you might use a Prove It! Bag for your next lesson.
P.S. I also came up with a really corny chant for the students. Depending on the age of your students, and your own style, you might want to give it a try.
Don't be a goof
Find some proof!
One piece is okay
But more gets "hurray!"
Anne M. Beninghof
Anne's mission is to improve instruction through collaboration and the sharing of creative, practical ideas for educators.