Archive for the ‘*SY 2014-2015’ Category

Reuse, Recycle: Word Clouds in the Classroom

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Author: Dana Ellis, Educational Specialist: Instructional Coach

Teachers are naturally resourceful. With limited budgets, they have to be. A search engine query for educational projects using recycled materials will produce an abundance of links and images from preschool art projects to high school physics contraptions. Teacher ingenuity is not restricted to paper towel rolls and plastic water bottles. In the face of tightened technology budgets, teachers are wrestling with ways to repurpose free technology-based applications in order to maximize hands-on learning while reducing district expenditures and time spent learning implementation.  It is no surprise, therefore, that talented, imaginative educators have transformed digital word cloud generators into tools for use in highly engaging content lessons. What is astonishing, however, is just how diverse educational applications of this simple tool can be. Below are just a few of the ways educators are using this easy-to-learn technology in cross content classrooms.

  1. Revising Student Essays. Students copy and paste their essays into one of the word cloud generators, turning off the common words feature. Since the word cloud will enlarge words based on frequency, students can then analyze the larger words against their essays. Students revise essays to include more precision and variety in word usage, and to reduce undesirable redundancy. As a follow-up assessment, students repeat the exercise and compare the revised essay word clouds with the originals.
  1. Content Main Ideas. The teacher groups students and assigns a textbook section or content based mentor text for reading. Within the groups, students jigsaw the material into smaller portions of text. For each sub-section, individual students read and decide on the 5 most important words or concepts of that section. When the individual students come back together to discuss the entire text, student groups pare down the individual lists created to one compiled set of 3 main idea words that represent the entire text selection. After class discussion of the text, students select one final word from the list of three to represent the main idea of the material. Student groups enter all the words from each round into a word cloud generator. As culmination for a unit, students can use the word clouds to review unit themes and ideas or write a unit reflection of main ideas.
  1. Self-Assessment. As an anticipation guide, the teacher creates a word cloud of major lesson or unit concepts. At the conclusion of a lesson or unit, students write an explanation of the concepts covered in a paragraph or two. This writing is then copied and pasted into a word cloud generator, excluding common words in the advanced features. Students examine the resulting images while comparing and contrasting their word clouds to the anticipation visual.
  1. Plot Prediction. The teacher copies and pastes a literary text (or synopsis for longer works) into a word cloud generator to create a story cloud. Either prior to reading the piece or at a strategic point in the reading, students analyze the story cloud and make predictions about the story plot and/or characters. The teacher has students discuss their ideas in small groups, providing justification based on the visual provided.
  1. Vocabulary Review. In partners, students take turns reviewing content based vocabulary from a list of academic words or flashcards. If a student knows the word and can provide a correct definition, the student types the word into a word cloud generator once and sets the card aside (or places a checkmark beside it on a list). If the student is unable to provide correct information, the word is typed twice and the card is left in the pile (or word left unchecked). Students continue through the list back and forth until all words have been addressed for both students. Students may either generate the word cloud at this point, or continue in a second round, using the same format. The larger words in the word cloud will remind students which words or concepts require more review.
  1. Utilize Shapes to Reinforce Learning. Using one of the word cloud generators which allows the user to select the shape of the resulting image, create geometric anchor charts. The teacher assigns each group a geometric shape. Students create word lists explaining the characteristics of their assigned shape, associated formulas, and real-life examples of the shape. After the lists are complete, students select the corresponding shape for the image. The teacher can then print large versions of student work for the classroom and/or smaller versions for student notebooks.

These are just a few of hundreds of classroom applications for this tool. To see more, check the resources in the  reference section of this article. To experiment with some of the more popular generators and discover even more educational uses, visit the following websites:







Happy recycling!



Dunn, Jeff. “45 Interesting Ways To Use Wordle In The Classroom.” 45 Interesting Ways To Use Wordle In The Classroom. N.p., 15 July 2010. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.

Gorman, Michael. “Word Clouds: 125 Ways… And Counting… To Use Wordle In The Classroom.” 21 St Century Educational Technology and Learning. N.p., 06 Mar. 2013. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.

Lepi, Katie. “5 Ways To Use Word Cloud Generators In The Classroom.” 5 Ways To Use Word Cloud Generators In The Classroom. Edudemic, 25 June 2014. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.

Tafazoli, Dara. “Wordling: Using Word Clouds in Teaching English Language.” Wordling: Using Word Clouds in Teaching English Language. Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, Aug. 2013. Web. 30 Mar. 2015. p 53-58.

Their World, Their Classroom: Innovating to Reach Digital Natives

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Author: Leslie Barrett, Education Specialist: Technology & Library Media Services

In Issue 15 of Insight, Cynthia Holcomb reflected on an article from the Washington Post in which a teacher spent two lethargic and inactive days experiencing school from a student’s perspective. Both articles present a simple but powerful idea that could have a significant impact on the effectiveness of our classroom practices: consider the student’s perspective. Marc Prensky did just that for his book Teaching Digital Natives. Prensky (2010) suggests we can impact the level of student engagement and attention span by delivering “what students need in the ways they need it” (p. 2). To help us out, he interviewed students from various backgrounds around the globe with the goal of finding out what today’s students want from their classroom learning environments. Surprisingly, or maybe not, he found students want the same things regardless of their socioeconomic status or global location.

Consider the list below of the nine things Prenksy (2010) found that today’s digital natives want from their learning environments. Our challenge as educators is to listen to what our students are asking from us and think about new ways we might approach our classroom practices in response.


They do not want to be lectured to.

Can we reframe student learning objectives in the form of rich questions and allow students to use their digital devices or other resources to discover the answers (with varying levels of support depending on age and ability levels)? Can we pre-curate appropriate resources that will help students independently explore the content with a higher likelihood that they will encounter reliable answers to our guiding questions?


They want to be respected, to be trusted, and to have their opinions valued and count.

Granted, respect and trust have to be earned, but are we giving them enough opportunities to earn it? How often do we allow students to weigh in and offer their opinions on classroom discussion and decisions? Tech tools like Tricider, Today’s Meet, Padlet, Edmodo, and Google Classroom allow each student to have a voice, and, along the way, pave the road for formative assessment as well as teaching digital citizenship and quality commenting.


They want to follow their own interests and passions.

How can we uncover students’ interests and incorporate those interests into instructional activities? This practice not only helps teachers build strong relationships with students, but also helps make learning relevant to them. Could we explore the power of social media to learn more about our students? Can we help them see the natural connections between the topics that interest them and standards we are teaching?


They want to create using the tools of their time.

Technology is a significant part of students’ personal lives and it is showing up more frequently in our classrooms as well. This can be intimidating to teachers who are not yet confident in their own technology skills. The good news is you don’t have to be the technology expert! Could you occasionally allow students to showcase their own tech knowledge by giving them some freedom of choice in how they demonstrate mastery of academic objectives? You provide the academic guidelines, they provide the tool; they feel respected and valued, you learn something new. Everyone wins!


They want to work with their peers on group work and projects (and prevent slackers from getting a free ride).

Let’s face it: students like to learn with each other and from each other. How can we create more opportunities for group work but still monitor students for understanding and provide academic support? How do we set guidelines for group work to help all students do their fair share? Consider asking students what THEY think is the best method of achieving this goal and how they suggest “slacking” should be handled. This is another way to give students a voice and show that you respect their ideas and input.


They want to make decisions and share control.

When we allow students to make decisions and share control we are demonstrating that we respect them, trust them, and value their opinions. This sets the stage for students to take control of their own learning. Can we find more opportunities in our instructional day to give students choices in how they learn new material and demonstrate mastery of knowledge and skills?


They want to connect with their peers and share their opinions, in class and around the world.

Allowing students to share their work with a public audience is a powerful motivator for driving quality. How can we harness the power of technology to make a wider audience possible? Could we facilitate the digital distribution of student work through a classroom blog, website, or Twitter account in order to model appropriate digital citizenship? Could we set up a Skype session or Google Hangout with an author or an expert in a particular field and have students pose questions or showcase final projects?


They want to cooperate and compete with each other.

Some students like to learn cooperatively. Some students prefer competition. Some like both. Some like neither. How can we get to know our students’ preferences and make sure we are creating a balanced variety of learning activities? Or, even better, can we create more opportunities for students to choose activities that support the same learning goal but utilize different methods?


They want an education this is not just relevant, but real.

“When are we ever going to use this?” It’s a question students have been asking for generations, and, frankly, it’s a valid one. In an age where students are developing pancreatic cancer screeners, publishing novels, and creating apps to help fellow students, are we creating enough opportunities for students to see how their classroom learning connects to their real world? Are we staying current ourselves with the knowledge and skills students need to be successful in today’s world? Where do we even start with that?


We start by asking our students and genuinely considering their perspectives.



Holcomb, C. (2015). Instruction from the student point of view. Insight: A newsletter for curriculum, instruction and assessment. Retrieved from

Prensky, M. (2010). Teaching digital natives: Partnering for real learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Strauss, V. (2014). Teacher spends two days as a student and is shocked at what she learns. The Washington Post. Retrieved from

In This Issue (15)

Friday, February 20th, 2015

insight logo 14-15

In This Issue

The “E” in STEM

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Author: German Ramos, Project Coordinator: Transformation Central T-STEM Center

Nowadays, the trend in best practice education is to teach students the process of problem solving rather than the teacher explaining step-by-step how to solve a given problem.  The overall education system faces the monumental challenge of finding practical methods in which problem solving skills and subject content can be combined without neglecting the state mandated objectives.  With the big push in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), it seems that implementing the “E” in STEM is the hardest part of this equation.

The ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) definition of Engineering is: “The profession in which a knowledge of the mathematical and natural sciences gained by study, experience, and practice is applied with judgment to develop ways to utilize, economically, the materials and forces of nature for the benefit of mankind.”

According to this definition, the knowledge of science and mathematics applied with technology is, in fact, considered engineering.  Educators find themselves confronted with the challenge of being able to provide experiences and allow for practice in addition to delivering the science and mathematics content currently required by the state throughout the school year.  The reality for many is that achieving this ideal balance is time consuming and often resources are scarce.  However, we must keep in mind that engineering provides the opportunity to expose students to science, mathematics, and technology all in one context, even if engineering-based courses are not required by the state.

There are certainly many initiatives for having Engineering in the classroom.  The addition of a few more engineering-based courses is proof of this.  There is still much work that needs to be done in order to more effectively implement these practices into the education system.  The bridge between schools, higher education institutions, and industry is essential to create a vertical alignment of knowledge, skills, and experiences needed by students to be able to succeed in this problem-solving based real world.

To explore how teaching engineering in the classroom may benefit skills future engineers may need, please visit:

To explore engineering resources for the classroom please visit:


List of Various TEA courses that meet/or incorporate engineering standards.

Electricity and Magnetism – Electricity and Magnetism is designed to provide an in-depth introduction to the concepts of electricity and electronics for the student who plans to major in an engineering discipline at the university level. With a concentrated and extended study of electricity and magnetism, the student will be aptly prepared to enter the highly competitive university environment. *

Introduction to Renewable Energy – This course provides the foundation for a deeper understanding of the problems, issues, perspectives, and developments in the areas of bio-fuels, solar and wind energy. A significant focus of the course will be on critical and creative thinking, problem solving, and communication of ideas relating to renewable energy. *

Science and Technology – Science and Technology (SciTech) is a high-level, hands-on science and engineering course. Through self and peer evaluation, SciTech requires students to interact verbally, in writing, and through improving the performance of devices. *

Concepts of Engineering and Technology – Concepts of Engineering and Technology provides an overview of the various fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and their interrelationships. Students will use a variety of computer hardware and software applications to complete assignments and projects. Upon completing this course, students will have an understanding of the various fields and will be able to make informed decisions regarding a coherent sequence of subsequent courses. Further, students will have worked on a design team to develop a product or system. Students will use multiple software applications to prepare and present course assignments. **

Engineering Design and Presentation – Students enrolled in this course will demonstrate knowledge and skills of the process of design as it applies to engineering fields using multiple software applications and tools necessary to produce and present working drawings, solid model renderings, and prototypes. Students will use a variety of computer hardware and software applications to complete assignments and projects. Through implementation of the design process, students will transfer advanced academic skills to component designs. Additionally, students explore career opportunities in engineering, technology, and drafting and what is required to gain and maintain employment in these areas. **


* Currently Approved Innovative Courses- Foundation and Enrichment

** Chapter 130 Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Career and Technical Education

Ensuring Students Become Bi-literate:  What Administrators Must Do

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Author: Trish Flores, Project Coordinator:  Bilingual/ESL Programs

Dual language programs are taking the world by storm.  These school enrichment programs meet Texas requirements for bilingual education and can be structured in a variety of ways depending on student population, community input, and staff availability.  While the program models may vary, they are almost all guaranteed to ensure that students achieve bi-literacy and maintain this skill throughout their school careers.

Leading researchers and educators, Virginia P. Collier and Wayne P. Thomas, recently authored a book on designing dual language schools and the crucial role administrators play in the development of these dynamic programs.  The book is a valuable resource for anyone thinking about starting a program or strengthening their existing program.  The resource is user friendly and outlines the core programmatic features of quality dual language education.

Core Programmatic Features of Quality Dual Language Education:

  • Enriched and affirming learning environments
  • Empowering pedagogy
  • Challenging and relevant curriculum
  • High-quality instructional resources
  • Valid and comprehensive assessments
  • High-quality professional development
  • Powerful family and community engagement
  • Advocacy-oriented administrative and leadership systems

These core programmatic features serve as guidelines for the development and reform of any dual language program.   Each of these items is fully explained along with rich, realistic examples in various sections of the book.

In addition to outlining the framework necessary for program development and enhancement, the book also provides perspectives from successful dual language administrators on the necessary leadership skills needed for optimal program development. When administrators are aware of factors for success and provide full support for dual language programs, the world is transformed.


Collier, V., & Thomas, W. (2014). Creating Dual Language Schools for a Transformed World: Administrators Speak. Albuquerque: Fuente.

Growing Healthy Texans

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Author: Beverly Shaw, Education Specialist, Child Nutrition

Powering up with lots of fruits, healthy greens, low-fat milk, and healthy breads makes the school day a lot healthier.  Texas school students spend so much of their day at school, it’s up to us to help them  to make healthy food choices by offering  fruits and vegetables at meals and snacks. Fruits and veggies give them energy to help them  be champions when they learn, run, and play.  We encourage them to think outside of the box and try something new!  Texas agriculture has so much to offer right here at home, why not give it a try?

According to the Texas Department of Agriculture, in 2013 Texas alone served on average over 3 million lunches daily,” so you can see why it is so important to make them healthy.  USDA’s Myplate has several resources to help schools and students build a healthy meal.  According to Myplate there are 10 tips for building healthy meals. (Go to for English and for Spanish.)  Nationwide, nearly 32 million children receive meals throughout the school day. These meals are based on nutrition standards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. New nutrition standards for schools increase access to healthy food and encourage kids to make smart choices.

Studies have shown that children benefit from healthier meals that include more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lower sodium foods, and less saturated fat.  School meals offer more fruits and vegetables as part of the school meal every day and a variety of vegetables is served throughout the week including red, orange, and dark-green vegetables.

Growing 1

A familiar childhood memory for many of us during school lunch was the famous paper milk carton.  Well, milk still holds its place in a healthy school lunch with both low-fat milk (1%) and fat-free milk varieties now offered.  Children get the same calcium and other nutrients, but with fewer calories and less saturated fat by drinking low-fat (1%) or fat-free milk. For children who can’t drink milk due to allergies or lactose intolerance, schools can offer milk substitutes, such as a calcium-fortified soy beverage.

A variety of foods is offered to reduce the salt and saturated fat in school meals. By thinking outside of the proverbial school lunch tray, school food service professionals are being creative masters in the kitchen. Main dishes are not your typical square pizza anymore.  You  may see items such as hummus and frittatas as well as beans, peas, nuts, tofu, seafood,and foods contain less salt (sodium).  Portion sizes play a huge role in healthy choices.  New portion sizes in school meals meet children’s calorie needs, based on their age. While some portions may be smaller, kids still get the nutrition they need to keep them growing and active.

Schools are stepping up and taking an active role in helping students make healthy choices that hopefully they will take outside of the school cafeteria.  Through stronger local wellness programs school administrators set new policies that offer opportunities for parents and communities to create wellness programs that address local needs. Principals, teachers, school boards, parent-teacher associations, and others are helping to create a strong wellness programs in their communities.

Teachers and other school staff can play an important role in helping to ensure the standards are implemented successfully, and that children are willing to try new options. Here are some ways you can help support healthy school meals:

  • Always speak positively about the school meal program, and encourage your students to try the new meals even if they’re unfamiliar.
  • Talk to your students about the new school lunches. Find out what they like/dislike, and report back to the cafeteria staff.
  • Serve as a role model by occasionally eating school lunch with your students.
  • Incorporate nutrition education into your curriculum, and help students understand the importance of healthy eating.
  • Support the overall message of healthy eating.
  • Help keep parents informed by including information about improvements to school meals in class newsletters, letters, back‐to‐school nights, school websites, etc.

It is up to all of us to grow healthy Texans.



Build a healthy meal. Retrieved February 2, 2015 from

NSLP statistics. Retrieved Retrieved February 2, 2015 from

The Importance of Family in Early Childhood Education: Now is the Time to Reengage

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Author: Lori Reemts, Project Coordinator for Curriculum & Instruction

Early childhood educators are a unique brand of teacher. Much like each level of a child’s school career, the earliest exposure brings dynamic challenges and high rewards. There is much to be said for these educators who really start it all. As the end of the academic year approaches, a mixture of emotions surges for these dedicated educators.

I am proud of my students, but have my little ones grown enough to be ready for the challenges of kindergarten and beyond? 

I am proud of myself, but have I done all I can do to help foster their academic growth as well as their physical, emotional, and social growth? 

Yes! We conquered the separation issue and there is no more crying!

What about that lingering behavior challenge? I still need to address that in a more proactive and supportive way. Do I have time? There is still 3 months of school left – but I need some help. 

I started the year off with great parent involvement and communication but it seems to have slowed. How do I keep parents informed and working with me as partners for their children’s growth? Will the support needed to sustain their growth occur in the summer? Maybe parents don’t know what to do.

I love and adore my kids but – oh my – how long is it until summer again?

At this time of year it may be worthwhile to spend a little time revisiting and reflecting on progress made so far. It may be easy to slip into the daily routine and perhaps miss opportunities to renew, reignite, or reinvigorate potential partners in our students’ learning, specifically the students’ family members.

It takes a village, a simple take on the Nigerian proverb regarding raising children, seems to be an idea of increasing importance as our society grows and changes. This idea can be loosely translated in support of the importance of the teacher/parent relationship. Research has consistently shown that meaningful family engagement in children’s early learning supports school readiness and later academic success. This really isn’t arguable. Parents understand this. Parents, like teachers, wish nothing but the best for their children. Parents, unlike most teachers, sometimes feel they are ill-equipped, lacking in resources, or that they simply do not understand early learning. It is important that we continue including and sharing with our families of preschoolers so that they are more confident in their abilities to productively support their child’s learning.

The National Institute for Early Education Research released a study in 2012 which looked at changes in parental expectations for their children’s school readiness and at in-home practices.  The study found that (for the time between 1993 and 2007) parent expectations for their children to be school ready increased. At the same time, the study found a significant decrease in the time families were engaging in activities that support children’s growth in skills such as self-regulation and higher order thinking, both of which contribute significantly to children’s school readiness (Snow, 2013). In an effort to provide the best for our young ones we often overlook the simple things that are directly in front of us. Rather than assume ill-will or apathy, let’s assume a lack of knowledge and practice.  After all, parents are not required to be certified; they do not have a specialization in early childhood.

It is in our best interest to not only partner with parents and family members, to support them as we all support the student, and to reinvigorate the family efforts and involvements but to work to keep that relationship mutually beneficial, just as we would any relationship.

Perhaps your classroom once had what seemed to be high parent interest and involvement, but as the year progresses that partnership seems to have waned. Where did they go? Perhaps your classroom has never really seen family engagement at all. Again, it is important to refrain from any temptation to pass judgment, and to seek to understand the “why” so that we can be the supportive resource our students need us to be. There are some simple ways to re-engage the families, thereby reinvigorating the partnership in learning. This, in turn, supports the village that supports the child not only in a pre-kindergarten setting, but throughout their learning career.

Ideas to Begin, or Refresh and Reinvigorate!

  • Reflect on your classroom environment and climate—is it still welcoming?
  • Create opportunities for authentic and useful parent involvement (i.e., within classroom supporting students, outside of the classroom prepping supplies or materials, etc.).
  • Hold “parent academies” either in person or online prepping families for the transition from PreK to Kindergarten. Build their understanding of resources that foster student growth in self-regulation and pretend play, learning about literacy and math development, and sustained growth over summer.
  • Encourage/model purposeful play, including open-ended questioning during play.
  • Create a “reference” sheet pulling together helpful hints to help parents as they work on open-ended play; interactive reading and questioning; authentic and meaningful praise; making connections; building on small challenges to gently push toward something new or a bit more complex; repeating and extending what a child says; using interesting vocabulary; modeling expected and appropriate behaviors; and encouraging investigation in self-selected areas, etc.
  • Share websites such as
  • Use regularly scheduled opportunities, such as conferences and materials (i.e., class newsletter) to share information, hints, and celebrations.
  • Create/display/share concrete collections of student experiences (i.e., student products, in-class photos, class memory books).
  • and more!

It could be argued that families are the most influential resource that early educators have whether it is the beginning of the year or the end. Make use of this resource! Renew and keep the partnership strong through the end of the year and beyond.


Snow, K. (2013, January 1). Research News You Can Use: Family Engagement and Early Childhood Education. Retrieved January 29, 2015, from

Increasing Written Literacy 

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Author: Joseph Kanke, Instructional Coach

Education, as a system, is constantly undergoing changes and adapting to the needs of students.  One such need is to improve writing.  The response has been a campus-based push for increased writing opportunities referred to as Write to Learn, Writing Across the Curriculum or Writing in the Discipline.  While each term may not be used completely interchangeably, there is significant overlap.  For the purpose of this article, I will refer to this process of written literacy as Write to Learn.  Basically, Write to Learn means writing is occurring across disciplines and subjects.

Recent data shows students are not graduating high school with writing tools they need to be successful.  According to the Writing Next Report, 70% of students in grades 4-12 are considered low achieving writers and college instructors estimate that only 50% of high school graduates are prepared for college-level writing.

Everyone agrees that the more you read, the better reader you will become.  The results for writing are the same.  When students are given consistent and frequent writing practice, they will begin to see themselves as writers.  As they become better writers, they will have a platform to authentically engage with content and critical thinking skills will increase.  All of these skills will ensure that students are ready for academic and work related writing.

If you are on a campus that is considering the implementation of Write to Learn, there are two essential components you will want to address to make the program effective.  The first is that some teachers will feel unsure of their own writing abilities and thus—understandably—feel apprehensive about writing instruction.  They need to be assured that while providing immediate and specific feedback will be essential to writing growth, it does not necessarily need to focus on grammar.  The second key element is providing teachers with ample professional development.  Just as students need to develop a writer’s toolkit, teachers need access to a variety of authentic writing activities so they can choose what works best with their content.

Students need to be engaged in writing frequently and across subjects, content, and format to ensure adequate practice and exposure so that they are ready for college, careers, and life.

Here are two examples of writing strategies that could be implemented under the Write to Learn model.


Activity Implementation When to Use Grouping
Magnet Summaries
  1. After reading an article or finishing class notes, help students pick out the key word (concept being taught).  This will be their magnet word.
  2. Ask students to copy the magnet word in the center of a note card or page of their notebook.
  3. Tell students the magnet word acts like a magnet and pulls other key information that is important to the topic.
  4. Students should then pull key words from the article or notes and arrange them around the magnet word.
  5. Tell students to write a summary which includes the magnet word and some/all of the keywords.
  6. Since students will be so focused on including the keywords, their first summary may not flow smoothly.  Encourage students to edit a minimum of one time.

After reading an article.


After finishing class notes on a topic.



Individual to Pairs

Write 3, Draw 2
  1. Place no less than 8 papers with headings of your choice around the room. *
  2. Explain to students that you have posted key (vocabulary, dates, historical figures, equations, etc.) around the room that they should be familiar with.
  3. Tell them to move around the room and choose 3 of the pages and write, using complete sentences, something they know about that concept.
  4. Tell them to choose two additional concepts and draw a visual representation of something they know about it.

* Students are required to interact with 5 concepts, and by providing a minimum of 8, students will be given the element of choice.

  • Vocabulary
  • Equations
  • Historical Figures
  • Dates
  • Places
  • Parts of Whole (cells, plot, triangles)





Daniels, Harvey, Zemelman,S., & Steineke. N. (2007). Content-area writing:  Every teacher’s guide.  Portsmouth, NH:  Heinemann.

Graham, Steven & Perin, D. (2007). Writing next:  Effective strategies to improve writing of adolescents in middle and high schools.  New York, NY:  Carnegie.

Keifer, K., Lecourt, D., Reid, S., & Wyric, J. (2014, November 25). What is Writing to Learn? Retrieved February 4, 2015, from

Instruction from the Student Point of View

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Author: Cynthia Holcomb, Education Specialist: Elementary Science

In October of 2014 I read an article published online by the Washington Post. The title grabbed my attention: “Teacher spends two days as a student and is shocked at what she learns.”  The author, Valerie Strauss, reported how passive her role had been in the learning process and how lethargic she felt throughout the day. She concluded three key ideas to consider for effective instructional design. Upon reflection, I think there are some quick but powerful ways to make instruction more meaningful and engaging for students.

The Author’s Key Takeaway #1: Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting.

The author reported students literally sit down the entire school day, except for the brief walk to change classes. Teachers, though, are standing in front of the room, passing out materials, and collecting papers. It gives the illusion of an active classroom.

The author discovered it took a conscious effort not to fidget or daydream. She longed for activity, realizing it sacrifices teaching time to do so; but if students are lethargic and not absorbing most of the content anyway, lectures are probably not very effective.

What does that tell us as educators? Should there be a hands-on or movement-driven activity in each class? In the classroom, we can keep our student active by using the Think-Meet-Share-Create technique. In this activity, the teacher poses a question to the class. Each student thinks of his response to the question and jots down his answer. Next, students get up to meet with a partner. They take turns sharing their responses.  Before returning to their seats, partners create a new answer that is superior to their individual answers. Students get a chance to get up and move, they get a chance to talk, and content is still the primary focus.

The Author’s Key Takeaway #2: High school students sit passively during approximately 90 percent of their classes.

The author discovered that students rarely speak in class. The teacher lectures, or there is a test or an individual assignment, or one student is presenting information or called to the board to solve a problem. The typical student’s day is spent passively absorbing information.

Sitting in itself was tiring, but it’s compounded by trying to absorb information without discussing or interacting with it.  We can use the Rule of Ten and Two to take students out of the passive role. For every ten minutes of lecture or exposure to new content, students need at least two minutes to talk to each other about the information. It’s like a stick of gum. You have to chew it to get something out of it. Provide two-minute breaks for students to clarify, restate, or quiz each other over content. When students have a chance to process information in different ways, they are more apt to make connections.

The Author’s Key Takeaway #3: Students feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long.

Teachers know that they have a set amount of time to teach and need to use it wisely, and as an offshoot, students are told frequently be quiet and pay attention. In addition, every educator has experienced several students in a row asking the same question about as assignment. It is annoying to explain the same thing repeatedly, but students often ask questions as a way to seek reassurance.  When teachers reply with sarcasm, impatience, or annoyance it sabotages the learning and reinforces disappointment; that’s not a good feeling to have as a learner. Ask yourself these questions to evaluate the climate of your classroom:

  • Do I speak hastily, calmly, clearly? Do I nag?
  • Do I spend more time disciplining or encouraging my students?
  • Do I respect students even if I’m annoyed? Am I consistent in my responses?
  • How would my students describe me most of the time?

My Key Takeaway

It is a given that teachers work hard, but it’s often hard to be a student as well. A few changes in lesson design can improve the student experience so that that there are more engaged, alert, and balanced learners sitting (or standing) in our classes.

View the original article at: