Category Archives: Resources

4 Video Clips to Engage and Inspire Students

Technology permeates every area of students’ lives, and they are accustomed to watching videos for entertainment. As more teachers gain access to YouTube, FLat Classroom Skype by superkimboTeacherTube, and other online sites for use in their classrooms, they frequently use videos to introduce, enhance, and extend their lessons. But, teachers often do not have the time to search the web for classroom-appropriate videos. Other teachers are unsure of how to relate the videos to their course content in a meaningful way. These four video clips are a good place to start when incorporating video clips into your lessons; though these are geared toward engaging and inspiring students, they most likely are best suited to English/language arts and social studies classes. Please note: these videos are most appropriate for the secondary level.

Ashton Kutcher’s Advice for Teens

At the beginning of last school year, a colleague and I collaborated on our first week of lesson plans. Our goal was to engage students, inspire them to begin the year with enthusiasm, and to encourage them to explore their academic goals for the year. We decided to use Ashton Kutcher’s Teen Choice Awards speech to launch our beginning day lesson.

Kutcher gives students three pieces of advice for being successful: find your opportunities, change your definition of sexiness, and build your own life. After sharing the video with students, we asked them to explain which of Kutcher’s pieces of advice were most meaningful for them. We then asked students to write their own pieces of advice for themselves, but the advice would be for themselves as students a year prior. These processes helped students reflect on their previous experiences and decide how to approach the upcoming school year.

Kerry Washington Reciting “Ain’t I A Woman”

As an English teacher, I sought out ways to encourage students to practice reading aloud and to embrace the tone and inflection of poems and speeches. I modeled as much as I could, and my students who had a dramatic flair or a love of performing (or both) also read aloud in class. I constantly searched the web for truly great models of reading performances, and Kerry Washington’s “Ain’t I A Woman” is one of the best.

This video has several classroom applications. Use it to begin a discussion of feminism or women’s studies, to launch into a study of racism or stereotyping, or to teach tone and inflection. You may find that it inspires you to practice reading aloud before your next lesson, too.

My Daughter, Malala

Sometimes, inspiring students to work hard in the classroom is a lesson best served by someone who understands what it is like not to have access to education. In this TED Talk, Ziauddin Yousafzai, a Pakistani educator, explains how education gives girls in developing countries an identity. He also equates education to emancipation. And, Ziauddin just so happens to be the father of Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman for advocating for girls’ education in Pakistan and recently became the youngest Nobel Prize recipient.

This video is an appropriate springboard into a discussion of feminism and women’s studies. Similarly, it lends itself to lessons on human rights, civil disobedience, international studies, and diversity.

The Danger of Silence

In his TED Talk, poet and teacher Clint Smith describes what it was like to give up his own voice during Lent. In a poetry-slam style, Smith extends his message to encompass his classroom principle, tell your truth, which he based on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Use this video clip to show students that silence is detrimental to others and themselves, and that their voices and their opinions have value. I envision using this video prior to a lesson on the Holocaust, the Civil Rights Movement, or any other lesson that illuminates the power of words and the importance of speaking up against ignorance and injustice.

Videos that directly relate to your course content are beneficial, but sometimes videos that veer from the norm are more engaging and inspiring for students. Don’t forget: asking students to relate the video to the day’s lesson at the end of class as an exit slip exercise is just as effective as using the videos to introduce lessons.

Have you used any videos that you’d like to share? Add your ideas in the comments below. Or, if you have questions about these videos or how to use others, email Bailey at

Image via Flickr by superkimbo

Modeling Is a Must For Creating a Culture of Learning

I don’t often wear my mom hat and teacher hat at the same time anymore, but I did last night. My five year old is not yet in kindergarten; between his summer birthday, his anxiety in preschool, and a speech delay, we decided to delay his start and sent him to preschool for a second year. He now attends preK and, for the most part, is thriving. It was the best decision we ever have made.

But, he doesn’t always thrive at home with his mother who just so happens to be a teacher. There are a few reasons for this: we both are perfectionists, we both are stubborn, we both are Type A personalities, we both interrupt one another, and we both think the other one is wrong much of the time. While this is far from a recipe for success, we make it work. We make plans before attempting to work together on arts and crafts or learning letters and numbers or writing. We decide who is going to do which job, and we often take turns. And, we know how to tell each other when we need a short break.

Honestly, I think our problems when working together on tasks that require his focus and concentration and my patience and understanding actually stemmed from my role as a secondary teacher. I know a lot more about older minds than younger minds, and I certainly don’t know what to do frustration by horizontal.integrationwith a kid who barely grasps sight words. I fall into that old secondary teacher assumption that the kid already should know how to do this stuff. So, we often end up more frustrated than anything when completing our shared tasks.

Or, we used to end up more frustrated than anything, until I remembered the number one rule for teachers: model first. I don’t know if I forgot this rule because I considered the tasks to be simple enough for him to do without any modeling from me, or if I really do separate my teacher self from my mom self, and thus allowed all of my classroom know-how to sit on the back burner when working with my own child. In any event, we had a breakthrough last night when making Grandparents Day cards because I used the modeling strategy.

Modeling is so simple. Yet, there are scores of teachers who don’t do it often enough because they think they shouldn’t have to. I can attest to this from my year as an instructional coach, and in my experience, secondary teachers were the most hesitant to model. In fact, many secondary teachers seem to believe what I did: they already should know that, so I can teach them this. While that may be true, and we wish students would have learned the concepts and skills prior to entering our rooms to learn our content and curriculum, that’s not always the case. Often, it’s far from it. We need to meet the kids where they are, and that means we have to understand that they may not be defying us or being lazy: they truly may not know where to begin.

After eleven years in a secondary classroom, I cannot think of a better instructional strategy than modeling. Instead of telling kids what we want them to do, as I had been doing with my son, we must show them what to do. As the stakes get higher for our students and ourselves, modeling is going to be a necessity.

The Common Core Standards have shifted skills and concepts and vocabulary from upper grades into lower grades at lightning-fast speed. That’s just one of the issues with the Common Core. Another issue, especially pertinent to English and social studies classes, is the complexity of the texts students are reading as a result of the Common Core. Kids’ reading levels don’t magically increase just because we put higher-level texts in front of them. As a result, these kids may not know enough reading strategies to get through the texts; we need to show them. (You may want to read “Common Core: Will it hurt struggling readers?” for more on this issue.) Math teachers face a similar challenge, as higher-level Algebra II and Geometry concepts and skills make their way into Algebra I.

If you’re unfamiliar with modeling, it is a teaching strategy in which the teacher does most of the work first. The goal is to use modeling in a scaffolded manner: move from the teacher does, to the teacher and students do, to the students do (often referred to as I Do, We Do, You Do). I paired modeling with thinking aloud, so that students could hear my thoughts while I First grade reading by woodleywonderworksworked through the concept or skill; this explicit teaching was most effective. My monologue was just as important for the auditory learners as my actions were for the visual learners.

I also incorporated a component for the kinesthetic learners so the kids could put my instruction to the test; this signaled the beginning of We Do, and the students knew that they could begin working with partners, or in small groups, and that I was nearby to help them. I also firmly believe in “teachable moments,” so if I saw students completing a task in a unique way, I’d direct the class’s attention to that group, which would take a turn at being the “sage on the stage” and explain what they were doing to the entire class; this provided another We Do moment, but this time, it came from the students’ perspectives. On the other hand, I also could stop everyone and go back to I Do if I saw that they weren’t ready for the We Do yet.

Does modeling take more time? Yes. Do you need to prepare to spend a day or two on We Do before giving students independent work or practice time? More than likely. But, the benefits far outweigh the time spent because you’ll find students collaborating more and relying less on you. You will be able to front load your instruction with an I-Do format for all students first. Then, you will have the opportunity to interact even more with students while you work your way through the We Do; formative assessment is key here, as you move about the room to see where the partners/groups are in their work and which skills/concepts require a little more time. Finally, when the majority of the students are ready, you can set them loose on their You Do tasks and assignments, and you will be able to spend more time with the kids who need more support in the We Do phase.

Modeling resources from around the web:

Now, for the bad news about modeling. Your administrators may ask what’s taking you so long to get through your curriculum and the standards. But, if you’re in front of those students to help them learn, rather than to show them how to pass a test, you have a great reason: you’re modeling and meeting the students where they are, and you are providing support for the students who need it while allowing other students to work more independently.

The Common Core and Pearson may want you to focus on test prep, but if you are in the “business” of teaching to teach, and you want to inspire learners instead of create test takers, modeling is a strategy you need to adopt, if you haven’t already. Don’t frustrate your students as I frustrated my son: show them what to do and then support them as needed until they are able to do it on their own.

Frustrated child image via Flickr by horizon.integration
Classroom image via Flickr by woodleywonderworks

8 Proven Ice Breakers, Team Builders, and Group Activities for the Start of the Year

Ice Breakers Team Builders and Group ActivitiesWe’ve already talked about the importance of – and encouraged you to – take time during the first critical few weeks of school to foster a positive learning environment. So this year, instead of boring students with policy changes, rules and regulations, and parent signature forms, try changing things up with some fun activities that just might get your students excited about walking into your room on the second day of school and every day thereafter.

Not only will using these ice breakers and other activities help you learn all your students’ names more quickly, but they model the behavior you expect of your students, lessening the need to put all those rules and consequences into play.

I’ve put every one of these ideas into practice at some point during my eleven years in one of three different secondary Language Arts/English classrooms, but every idea and activity is easily adapted to suit elementary or other secondary content settings.

1. Find Someone Who…

I learned this activity by participating in it as a student in a Penn Literacy Network (PLN) graduate class, and it required little adaptation to put it to use in my own classroom. The purpose of the activity was immediately clear when our facilitator handed us sheets of paper with “Find Someone Who…” written across the top, along with several statements with blank lines at the end.

Working their way around the room, students find classmates to swap papers with, reading the statements to find one that suits and entering their names on the applicable lines. The process is repeated until all students have all their statements completed with student names, with no student signing anyone else’s paper more than once.

Here are a few statements I’ve used for this activity with my students:

  • Find someone who has no siblings.
  • Find someone who went to a Little League World Series game.
  • Find someone who likes Math more than English.
  • Find someone who loves cafeteria chicken nuggets.

Rules of the activity:

  • Students must move around the room and exchange papers with others face-to-face. No passing sheets around the room.
  • Use a timer to let students know they’ll be “on the clock” in your classroom.
  • Students may not return to their seats until the paper is filled out in full.
  • No student may sign another student’s sheet more than once.

When all students have returned to their seats, choose a volunteer to read their first statement out loud and name the student who signed. That student then, in turn, stands up, and reads the second statement on her sheet, and so on.

2. Gift Bag Book Guess

This is another activity I learned in a PLN class, and one that I put to use in the last few years in my classroom with freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. For this activity, choose enough books so that when students are divided into groups of four, you will have one book per group. Record four quotations from each book onto index cards, one quotation per card, and place them in gift bags.Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts by Pete

Ask students to separate themselves into groups of four people, and give each group a gift bag, telling them to wait for further instructions. When all groups have received a bag, tell the class that you’ll be giving short talks on the books, which are displayed on a table at the front of the room. Students should be able to review the books while they work, if needed.

After discussing each book, ask students to pull the quotations from the gift bags, one quotation per student, and take turns reading them out loud to the group. Then, they should work together to guess from which book the quotation has been taken. Students write their guess on a slip of paper next to the gift bag’s corresponding number, and pass their gift bag to another group. Repeat the process until each group works with every bag.

A few tips for this activity:

  • Number the gift bags.
  • Number the quotations with corresponding numbers so they don’t get mixed up.
  • Choose books students will have the opportunity to read throughout the year.
  • Choose common quotations that aren’t too obscure.
  • For primary teachers, try using pictures to match settings with characters or plot events with books.

3. Matching

This activity is one of my favorite ways to get students up and moving during the first few days of school. I’ve seen it in so many graduate classes, it’s tough to attribute it to just one. The idea is to match students up in unconventional ways.

For this simple activity, think of two things to match:

  • quotations to people
  • quotations to books
  • art to artists
  • historical figures to eras
  • songs to musicians

Split your class into two halves and have each group stand on one side of the room. In one group, each student receives a card or paper representing one side of your matching scenario; students in the other group receive the other side of the pair. Students are then asked to mingle with the other group and find the student with the card that matches theirs.

4. Draw a Conclusion/Mystery

The premise of this activity is to create a mystery surrounding one aspect of your curriculum. As an English teacher, I always chose a plot from a story or parts of a particularly intriguing author’s life (Poe, anyone?), but you could easily choose a figure from your discipline to use for your purposes. Math teachers easily can do this with a creative word problem and science teachers can use a scientific question or hypothesis, for example.

Create stations placed around the classroom, each with a clue about the mystery. Students work in groups, either of their own choosing, your assignment, or by using one of the grouping activities from this list. Each student has a job: recorder, clue reader, discussion director, or connector. Students rotate jobs as they work around the room and investigate the clues, enabling you to observe how they perform in different roles.

At the final station, give each student a conclusion form (simple Word document with a space for the independent conclusion at the top and a space for the group’s final conclusion at the bottom), to illustrate the idea that you cannot draw a conclusion without first gathering all the evidence. Once filled out, students read and discuss their conclusions with their group members. Groups then create a group conclusion based on their discussions, with one volunteer from each group presenting the group conclusion to the class.

A full-class discussion is held on each group’s conclusion, with the class voting each conclusion as most creative, most logical, etc.

5. Speed Interviewing

This activity helps students develop summarization and note-taking skills. Give students four index cards and ask them to label the cards with their number (corresponding to their numbers in your grade book). Shuffle and redistribute the cards, ensuring no student receives his own number, and have students randomly call out one of their card numbers to pair students.

Set a digital timer for 90 seconds. One student asks a couple questions and takes notes while the other responds. This is followed by a group discussion in which you’ll receive some anticipated complaints: there isn’t enough time to think about and write their answers, partners talked too quickly and didn’t give them enough time to take adequate notes, and so on.

This becomes a teachable moment, in which you can discuss the importance of listening and developing good note-taking skills so that it’s not necessary to write word-for-word, etc. Link this idea to the concept of summarizing, and ask students to write a one- to two-sentence summary of their partners based on their notes. Students will find that even though they didn’t write word-for-word what their partners said, they’re able to write a brief summary based on the notes they took down.

6. iMovie Trailers

If your district uses Apple products, you can have students create their own iMovie trailers. If not, find out if enough students have iPhones that you can pair students with devices with those who don’t have an iPhone to complete this activity.

Have each student or pair of students download the free iMovie app. In one class period, have students create an iMovie trailer to introduce one another to the class. This activity can also be used as a follow-up to the speed interviewing activity described above.

By limiting trailers to 30 seconds in length, you’re asking students to summarize information about their classmates. In my classroom, students interviewed, created, edited, and presented in just two class periods, but this is an activity that’s easily adjusted to suit your time constraints.

7. Candy Colors

Purchase a few bags of foil-wrapped candy in bright fall colors. Give each student a piece of candy upon entering the room, but ask them not to unwrap or eat it until further instructions are provided. Use the various colors to group students in different areas of the classroom, then allow them to eat their candy to sweeten the deal before you hit them with the real work: inventing a new candy to market to kids in their age group.

Tasks include:

  • Make an ingredient list
  • Name the candy
  • Design the wrapper
  • Write a commercial
  • Record it as a radio or TV ad

Students get to choose whether to create a persuasive or descriptive ad and are provided with a scoring guide based on creativity and participation (knowing that grades will not be entered into the grade book).

This activity introduces students to the grading rubrics and project styles that will take place in the class during the year, gets them used to collaborating with peers, and allows you to model expectations and procedures. There are endless ways to modify and customize this activity for your subject matter and grade level. And, it gives you some valuable insights into your students’ personalities based on the inventions and marketing materials they produce.

8. Describe and Draw

For this activity, you’ll need some unusual objects gathered from around your home or elsewhere. The more unusual, the better. I’ve used things like quarters wrapped in a paper towel, then placed inside a Ziploc bag, rubber balls cut in half, and other oddities.

Place each object in a box and label the bottom of the box with what’s inside. Cut a hole in the top, large enough to put a hand and an arm through to feel the object inside, and tape a piece of paper over the opening. I use diaper boxes for this activity, for two reasons: one, because I happened to have ample diaper boxes on-hand, and two, because it adds to the intrigue. Place the boxes strategically in different areas of your classroom.

Group students into teams of three to four, and use whatever method (earliest birthday, etc.) to choose who gets to reach inside the box. Other group members need paper and a writing utensil. While the “feeler” reaches inside the opening and describes what he feels, the other group members attempt to draw the object based on his description.

After this activity is complete, the groups discuss their drawings and decide which they’d like to present to the class. Each group of students shares their results with the rest of the class, while you stand next to the box in question. When they’ve finished sharing their box, reach inside and reveal the object.

Stop Being Boring by Adam BindslevNot only is this activity an excellent ice breaker, it’s a good way to demonstrate that students will have fun in your class, in a structured way with learning. (And, that you’re going to be an unusual teacher.)

Getting kids interested in you, your class, and each other is the best way to kick off a new school year on a positive note. Not to mention, setting the stage for your procedures and expectations will be a way to save time and your sanity throughout the year.

If you have any questions about the activities, feel free to email Bailey at If you have a comment or suggestion, feel free to reply below. Better yet, if you have some tried and true activities of your own, we’d love it if you would share those below, too. Teach on!

Stop Being Boring image via Flickr by Adam Bindslev
Gift bag image via Flickr by Pete

Solve 4 Everyday Classroom Problems With Simple Solutions

When I started teaching, I knew that I had very high expectations for all of my students. I believed they should all put forth as much effort as possible, participate regularly, come to class prepared on a daily basis, and challenge themselves for the duration of the school year. If I wanted them to do that, then I needed to let them know from Day 1 that those were my expectations. And, I did. My expectations were spelled out in my parent and student letters, addressed by my classroom rules, and modeled and enforced in my classroom.

For the most part, I didn’t have any major issues with student discipline. I attributed that to the fact that I worked so hard to develop a rapport with my students and to balance the work with fun and engaging activities. I also espoused my belief that respect is a two-way street and if they wanted me to respect them, they would have to respect me. Administrators and colleagues were very positive about my classroom management techniques and praised me for handling students as well as I did in my very first year of teaching. I’ll never forget a substitute teacher asking me in shock if it really were just my first year because she thought I had years of experience since I handled my classroom so well.

The problem, though, was that I was utterly exhausted. I was, very foolishly, grading each student’s participation on a daily basis. And, I was keeping track of every time a kid forgot a writing utensil or a folder. And, I was logging visits to the nurse and the restroom Paperwork by luxomediaand absent work that never was completed. In class, I told kids who were falling asleep to stand up and do their work standing until they felt more awake. Then, I filled in a discipline form for my file. If a kid put her head down on her desk during class, I would tell her to sit up and then I filled in my discipline log.  The paperwork was getting out of control, as I was doing all of the “discipline” work plus all of the other duties of a teacher: writing lesson plans, designing activities, grading essays and tests, making bulletin boards, making copies, logging student remediation and reteaching and data, analyzing tests to discover student strengths and weaknesses, and on and on. By Christmas of my first year, I thought I was going to go crazy with all of the paperwork and calls home and entries in my discipline log.

That’s right: I had no major discipline issues, but my discipline log was being filled with students who forgot a pencil, who forgot a folder, who forgot to return a signed assessment, etc. It dawned on me that I didn’t necessarily have a discipline problem but a kid problem. These were 7th graders. I should have been happy they found my room some days, let alone actually remembered to bring all of their materials with them. But, what of those high expectations that I had made so clear to the students, their parents, and my administrators?

Well, I realized that I still could have those high expectations, but that I could go about enforcing them in a different way.  I had to learn how to pick my battles, if you will. I wanted to hold kids accountable but stop bringing the learning process to a halt just because a kid was being a kid and forgot to bring something to class. I solved those everyday problems with simple solutions and gave myself a break so I could focus on the more important things in my classroom.

Problem #1: Pencils – Students often forgot a writing utensil, and I would get so angry because I had no idea how they expected to “do” English class without one.

  • Former Fix: Log the infraction in the discipline log, ask student what happened to his pencil, and allow student to borrow one for that class period only. Reduce number ofPencil tips by Dvortygirl participation points for that day. Get frustrated two hours later when I realized the student had left class with MY pencil.
  • Current Fix: Allow student to borrow one from the black turnstile on my desk and leave something for collateral on my desk. Get the student into the beginning of class activity more quickly. Spend time reading his “Do Now” instead of writing in the discipline log. Smile when student returns pencil to turnstile and remembers to take his belonging from my desk at the end of class. Warn student at the door not to make a habit of forgetting his pencil.

Problem #2: Kids who, for the life of them, cannot remember their folders/binders – This infraction bothered me even more than the pencil problem. On the one hand, I at least had some hope that the kid didn’t have his class materials because he had taken them home to review and practice. On the other hand, I knew that he had tossed it somewhere with the rest of his school work and never opened it.

  • Former Fix: Log the infraction in the discipline log, ask student where he left his class materials, and gather extra copies and paper for him. Reduce number of participation points for that day. Get frustrated when I see the extras shoved under his desk in a crumpled mess at the end of class.
  • Current Fix: Option 1: If it’s a chronic problem, and I know the kid truly is not doing anything with his class materials outside of class, make a classroom folder for him and tell him that it will remain in the classroom so that he can learn every day. Remove his excuse for attempting to not do anything in class since he doesn’t have his materials. Option 2: If it’s a first-time occurrence, remind the kid that coming to class prepared is crucial to his success and show him where to find extra copies. Tell him to return the extra copies tomorrow, after he updates his own folder at home that evening.

Problem #3: Missed classwork/notes due to an absence – It’s inevitable: kids miss school for a million different reasons. Even though I stressed that it was their responsibility to inform me ahead of time about a planned absence, especially for athletics, kids forgot. And, the kids who missed school due to illness were supposed to come to me the next morning and get their materials so they could be ready for class; more often than not, they forgot, too.

  • Former Fix: Take attendance and make a sticky note of absent kids. At the end of the day, gather all missed work and write names of absent students at top. Sort work by class period and put into an absentee folder on the front table. Remind kids the next day to Notes by English106get their absent work. Reduce number of participation points for kids who don’t pick up the work or show me complete work by the deadline. Log the problems in the discipline log.
  • Current Fix: Assign students class partners. If they are absent, they borrow the notes from the partner and see which papers they missed. Students get copies of missed work from front table and see me with questions or problems. Remind them they may attend a reteaching session. If chronic absences become an issue, assign them a reteaching session.

Problem #4: Late work because of computer and printer “issues” at home – As an English teacher, I assigned various projects and essays to be completed by a certain due date. I advertised the due date the day that I assigned the work, gave students options for turning it in, including emailing it to me, printing it out and handing it to me, or sending it in Google Drive or putting it in Dropbox. And yet, kids still showed up on due dates with nothing to give to me because their printers had run out of ink. Every. Single. Time.

  • Former Fix: Mark the assignment as late, reduce points in the grade book, and call home. Log the problem in the discipline log. Ask the kid for the assignment the next day and repeat the process every day for a week. Threaten the kid with detention if the assignment isn’t turned in TOMORROW. Get a very poorly completed assignment at the very last second.
  • Current Fix: Reduce the assignment grade by 2%, as per the district’s grading guidelines. Remind the student he has five days to turn it in and that he will lose no more than a total of 10% of his points, as per the grading guidelines. Hand the kid a flash drive and tell him to save the assignment to it and return the flash drive tomorrow. Remove the possibility for excuses and show the kid I mean business about receiving a quality product, even if it is a little late.

These solutions worked for me in my freshmen and sophomore classes. I enjoyed the break I gave myself by refusing to let paperwork and frustration take over my school days. It also seemed to help with some of the kids who realized that I still was holding them accountable but doling out more reasonable consequences when they didn’t live up to my expectations. At the end of the day, I had to keep in mind that they were just kids. It was hard to let go of some of my original “fixes,” but eventually I realized I was doing myself a favor by letting go of some of the issues that weren’t so important in the big picture.

Which everyday problems are most irksome for you? Which solutions have you implemented? Leave a reply to get the discussion going.

Paperwork image via Flickr by luxomedia
Pencil tips image via Flickr by Dvortygirl
Notes image via Flickr by English106