MAT Blog

A Simple and Effective Student Engagement Strategy: Praise, Prompt, and Leave

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Aug 20, 2014 9:54:09 AM


All teachers strive to empower students and push them to take ownership of their learning experience, but achieving this can be a challenge, especially when it comes to “needier” students. Fred Jones, author of Tools for Teaching, refers to these kinds of students as “helpless handraisers.” I think this is a fairly accurate description, but the question is, how do we wean these students off their neediness? And more specifically, how do we help them quickly and effectively without reinforcing helplessness and losing control of the rest of the class?

Jones’s Praise, Prompt, and Leave strategy is one that is particularly useful in these situations. Here’s how it works:

Let’s say that the class is working independently on a math problem. After only a few seconds, you see a hand go up. It’s Jessie. Again. “How could he possibly need help already?” you think. Rather than ignoring Jessie, or becoming frustrated with him, give Jones’s three-part strategy a shot.

Praise the Student
When you look at Jessie’s math problem, you will see two things: what he did right, and where he went wrong. Whether you want to or not, chances are that you’ll see the part that is wrong first. Rather than beginning with what Jessie didn’t do,

  • First, take a breath. Give yourself a second to refocus not on the mistakes, but on what Jessie did right.
  • Second, praise what Jessie has done well.

Keep in mind that praise is not necessarily synonymous with “nice.” Just comment on one or two aspects of the student’s performance in simple, declarative sentences.

Prompt the Student
Before prompting the student, think about what you are going to say and how you are going to say it. You want to avoid beginning your prompt with “But,” “However,” or “Instead of.” Language like this actually undermines your praise, turning it into a “back-handed” compliment!

Beginning your prompt with something like, “The next thing you might want to do is…” will work much better.

Leave the Student
After you’ve given a prompt, your instinct may tell you to check for understanding before you leave. Whether or not you do this is up to you, but as Jones suggests, “‘helpless handraisers’ constantly exploit corrective feedback for attention rather than learning.” For these kinds of students, you may do better to leave before you see the student carry out the prompt.

A Note About Corrective Feedback
Beware of beginning corrective feedback with a question. Why?

  • They produce verbosity: The best way to guarantee that you talk for three minutes is to talk for one minute! Meanwhile, the rest of your class is going off the rails.
  • They enable helpless handraising: While some dialogue with struggling students may produce a rich dialogue, you run the danger of further enabling your needy students.

Rather than begin your prompt with a question, you might do better to initiate a request: “John I’d like to see you do such and such right here.” “Kelly, take a look at step number four.” Why? Requests are “emotionally safe” because they do not imply judgment.

Tags: classroom management, classroom procedures, student engagement, Challenging Students,

Better Classroom Communication: Honing Your Non-Verbal Communication Skills

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Aug 19, 2014 2:46:00 PM

I spend a lot of time reading articles and books about classroom management and have noticed something: Very little of it mentions non-verbal classroom communication. This is interesting, especially when we take into account what Albert Mehrabian, an Emeritus Professor of Psychology at UCLA, reported after years of studying how humans communicate: In his studies, he found that when a listener is “unsure about what is being said,” or there is “incongruence” in conversation, s/he will “default” to reading body language or voice tones.

Let’s be more specific. Mehrabian argues that 55 percent of the messages we transmit to each other come from body movements, 38 percent from the voice—inflection, intonation, volume—and 7 percent from words.

55 percent of the messages we transmit to one another come not from what we say, but how we use our bodies! That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?

With the help of Richard Churches’ book, Effective Classroom Communication Pocketbook, I’d like to delve into this topic and share a few tips to help teachers hone their non-verbal communication skills.

Classroom_communication_1The Blaming Posture looks exactly like the picture you see to the left. It’s accusatory, hierarchical, intimidating, and does little to build rapport with students. Of course, teachers aren’t the only ones who resort the Blaming Posture. In fact, many of us only use it in response to a student who is pointing or accusing us!

Should you find yourself in a situation where a student is using this posture, Churches suggests that we use Placater Posture instead.




classroom_communication_2In the Placating Posture, your palms face upwards while you calmly, yet assertively tell the student what you want. This is not a form of posture you want to overuse, but it is a useful on rare occasions with students who are aggressive, angry, or making accusations. You may also find it useful if you are giving feedback or transmitting complicated information.

If you’ve used the Placater to make a difficult point to someone, end the sentence with the Leveller (the next, more assertive pattern).





classroom_communication_3When using the Leveller Posture, stand in a centered way with your palms down and hands slightly in front of you. This posture is ideal for when you want to be assertive or explain rules. It’s a non-threatening gesture that suggests to the listener that what you are saying is sincere and on his or her level. This position is very effective when you want to hold people’s attention.

As with all of these postures, you don’t need to exaggerate your body movement. Even slight posture adjustments will send a clear message.



Classroom_Communication_4Whenever I think about the Computing Posture, I’m reminded of a teacher I had in graduate school. The class was seminar-style, which meant that it was, for the most part, discussion-based and student-led. The professor would only chime in to maintain order or facilitate when we got stuck. When this happened, she would sit back in her chair, put her fist under her chin and her other arm below her elbow; then she would either look down at the floor, or stare off into the distance without saying anything.

This sent a very clear message to us: that we needed to stop talking for a minute and think. This posture was also an effective way to spark our curiosity. We wanted to know what our professor was thinking and what she might say after she had successfully computed her idea.


Classroom CommunicationThe Distracter is a posture that we should really avoid—unless we are joking around with students or presenting an aside.

When people use the Distracter, they move between different postures, appearing inconsistent. Distracting often occurs with new teachers when they start to feel nervous. In these situations, train yourself to adopt the Leveller more often and you will come across as more assertive and in control.





classroom_communication_6Sequencing is useful when you are teaching a lesson that includes stages in a process or steps in a journey. As you speak, allow your hand to move sideways, back and forth across your body. You can also do the same gesture moving away from you and towards the other person.

Another way to use the gesture is to start with your hand out in front and move it back towards you. This says, “Let’s back track from where we currently are”; it is also useful to reinforce points.








Tags: classroom management, classroom procedures, classroom communication

Words of Wisdom: Advice from Veteran Teachers

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Aug 16, 2014 4:03:00 AM

veteran_teachersLast week, I wrote a blog about five things I wish I would have known before setting foot into my first classroom. This is a conversation I’d like to continue, but instead of doling out my own advice, I decided to reach out to all of the teachers who regularly post on Edmodo. Here was my question: If you could give a new teacher one piece of advice, something you wish you'd have known when you started, what would it be?

Below are their responses:

Be flexible, always have a Plan B, be able to immediately recognize when your lesson plan is failing, and be willing to toss it, then and there.
-Ms. Butchikas

Establish a silent signal to get your students' attention. Yelling is not necessary in typical circumstances.
-Mr. Swaney

Bring a lot of laughter to your classroom lessons; it will make it easier for you and the students to learn and time will fly! I use YouTube videos in my class daily. They are a great resource for both educational videos and mental breaks.
-Ms. Montoya

Establish, build, and nurture relationships with students, teachers, staff, parents, everyone you can think of. Don't hesitate to give or ask for help—but remember, there is no one "magic" way of doing things. Figure out what kind of teacher you will be and work toward becoming that teacher.
-Mr. Gibson

Know that the perfect plans usually end up not so perfect...and that is ok! Capture the hearts of your kids and they will do amazing things for you.
-Mr. Topliff

Keep your focus and curriculum consistent; students will follow the rules if they are established and followed through to the end. Change is good, but setting the tone from the beginning goes a long way!
-Mr. Solorzano

Mark one day every week to leave at the end of your contracted hours and take NOTHING home. It takes some pre-planning, but a weekday break sure makes things easier!
-Mrs. Fizer

I have two. First of all, it is ok to say "I don't know" to a student's question and turn a search for the answer into a class activity. Second, be fair and consistent in your classroom policies.
-Ms. Pilkington

Don't see your inexperience as a weakness, see it as a strength. You are coming in with new perspectives, new insight, fresh enthusiasm, and you’re full of energy—have confidence in yourself and never apologize for being a new teacher!
-Mrs. Hals

Be flexible and go backwards or forwards depending on where the students are at that moment. 
-Ms. Craft

Remember if it is not fun for you, it is not fun for the students.
-Mrs. Foreman

Ask your students what's working for them and why. Adjust what's not working for them. Continue to shape and polish curriculum perennially and don't force what's not working.
-Mr. McLearan

Photo credit: Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Tags: classroom management, classroom procedures, student engagement, first year teacher, veteran teacher

Begin with a Bang: 6 Ways to Make Students Go “Huh?”

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Aug 15, 2014 1:55:10 PM

teachersTeachers can learn a lot from a well-written headline. Let me give you an example: When I logged onto Facebook this morning, the first post I saw was a link to a Buzzfeed article entitled, “20 Adorable Animal Couples…the Last One Astounded Me!” Did I click on it? You bet I did.

Regardless of what you teach, try beginning each lesson like Buzzfeed would—with some sort of provocative, attention-getting statement or activity that will make your students scratch their heads and go, “huh?”  Here are a few ways to do just that.

Begin with a Bang: 6 Ways to Make Students Go “Huh?”

  • Use a prop from a story you are going to read and discus. In my high school literature class, we were assigned John Steinbeck’s short story, “The Chrysanthemums.” On the day of our discussion, the teacher didn’t greet us at the door like usual. Instead, she sat cross-legged on top of her desk, staring at a plant (which, of course, turned out to be a chrysanthemum).

    This was strange behavior and certainly uncharacteristic of our teacher, but it did grab our attention. Rather than beginning our discussion with the text, we spent the first fifteen minutes of class talking about the plant on her desk, which ultimately led to a deeper discussion about Steinbeck’s story.

  • Go on a gallery walk. Set up several stations around the room and place a different image or object on each one. To give students a clear sense of purpose, provide them with a series of questions or tasks that they must complete at each station. When they are done, gather as a class and have each group share its conclusions.
  • Hand out a survey: Survey your students by asking questions and having them step to a side or corner of the room that represents their response. This gets students up and moving and out of their seats!
  • Begin with a relevant YouTube clip. Every semester, I ask my students to choose an advertisement and write a rhetorical analysis of it. I want them to not only describe their advertisement in detail, but analyze it and explain how the advertisement works, and how it delivers its message to consumers.

    Before beginning our unit on advertising, I always begin with Lucky Strike Ad Pitch,a clip from the popular AMC drama, Madmen. It goes perfectly with the unit and always sparks an interesting discussion that we might not have had otherwise.
  • Showcase a student’s work. This is another trick I picked up from a former teacher. Before my teacher would return our essays, he would select a couple from the stack and read a short section to the class. After he finished, he would talk briefly about what he liked in the essay and why he selected it. Every week, he selected essays by different students, read them aloud, and highlighted something that the student did exceptionally well. This was empowering for both the strong and weaker writers.
  • Pretend to be confused: Start class by describing a conundrum you’re experiencing and don’t know how to get out of. The only way you can get out of it is with your students’ help.


Tags: icebreakers for teachers, student engagement

Discipline with Decency: 5 Classroom Management Do’s and Don’ts

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Aug 14, 2014 12:20:18 PM


Don’t make idle threats
When students are disruptive, it’s tempting to say things like, “Unless you quiet down, I am going to give the entire class a zero on the test.” But this is neither fair, nor is it something you could ever follow through with in good conscience.

Fairness and consistency are both critical to your success as a new teacher. Never make idle and arbitrary threats, or issue blanket forms of discipline.

Do get your rules straight
I’ve heard many teachers proudly proclaim that they only have one rule in their classrooms: “Always be respectful.” This sounds nice, but what in the world does “always be respectful mean?” And how can you enforce something so general? You can’t.

Definitions of what it means to be “respectful” often vary from one person to the next. Students might disagree that texting during class is disrespectful; teachers, on the other hand, would argue the exact opposite. Rather than debate the nature of “respect,” circumvent the issue altogether by creating rules that are specific and enforceable.

Don’t take things personally
It irks us when students fail to turn assignments in on time, when they talk through our lecture, when they goof off during an in-class exercise, and so on. But most of us are bothered by these things for the wrong reasons: because we take it personally, because a missing assignment is something else for us to keep track of, because we spent a lot of time putting together our lecture, because these things are important to us.

Taking things personally will only burn you out. Take yourself completely out of the situation and first understand why your students didn’t make the investment you asked for.

Do create a late-work policy
I have enforced no-late-work policies with college students, but in hindsight, I can see that this was a mistake.

Like any teacher, I want my students to take responsibility for their learning experience. In my opinion, taking responsibility means submitting work on time. On the other hand, I know that in the professional world, deadlines are often negotiated. The freelance writer and the client, for example, often negotiate a deadline that is conducive to both parties. That is not to say that the writer will not suffer the consequences when she misses her deadline. I’m simply suggesting that the “real world” often gives us an opportunity to negotiate, make good, and receive extensions—especially when we have a reputation for upholding our end of the bargain, consistently making deadlines, and turning in excellent work.

As someone who has tried (and failed) with the no-late-work policy, I would suggest setting a policy that maximizes student learning while emphasizing timely work completion. To illustrate what I mean, checkout Reed Gillespie’s approach by clicking here.

Don’t worry about your students liking you
You’ve probably heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and even if you haven’t, you know from experience that love and intimacy are basic human needs. We all want to love and be loved—but look, you’re going to do a lot of damage when you try to earn your students’affection by letting your classroom management slip.

It can feel unnatural, especially for young teachers, to be “uptight” or “nerdy,” but keep in mind that freedom is easier to give than take away.Your students already have friends—and let’s be frank, you’ll never be as cool as they are. You are an authority figure and a leader. Act like one.

Tags: classroom management, classroom procedures, Classroom Climate, student engagement

Open Library: A Collection of Over 1 Million Free e-Books

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Aug 13, 2014 10:09:49 AM

Open_LibraryWe love books, especially when they are free! Thanks to Open Library, our students now have access to over one million free ebook titles.

Open Library is “open” for a couple reasons: First, it doesn’t adhere to normal business hours like your neighborhood library does, so you can check out a book any time, day or night. Second, it is an open community, which means that users are encouraged to add books, write widgets and, if they are so inclined, make improvements to the site.

Currently, over one thousand libraries are contributing selections to the site, so expect the number of titles to grow. We hesitate to call it a downside, but if there is a downside, it is that books can only be borrowed by one patron at a time. The upside is that you can read your books in a web browser or in Adobe Digital Editions as a PDF or ePub, so e-readers aren’t necessary.

Although much of the collection is made up of books from the 20th century, you will find contemporary books and a nice collection of young adult fiction and books for educators.




Tags: Free e-Books

Better Engagement: 5 Classroom Management Tips for Teachers

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Aug 12, 2014 12:09:05 PM


As much as we may care about our challenging students, sometimes caring alone is not enough to reach them. Below you will find a few classroom management strategies to help you connect with students and better negotiate their behavior.

Better Engagement: 5 Classroom Management Tips for Teachers

The 2 X 10
Think of a student you clash with or find challenging. Now make a commitment to devote two minutes of uninterrupted, undivided attention to that student for 10 consecutive days. During this allotted time, you will avoid doing or saying anything related to that student’s behavior or “misconduct.” Focus instead on relationship-building.

You may find that the student is skeptical of your intentions, so don’t expect smooth sailing right away. Just be patient and chances are that you’ll notice a change in the student’s behavior and attitude.

The 4H method
Start by jotting down the names of the students you know the least. After compiling your list, commit to greeting these students with one of the four welcoming “H’s”:

  • Handshake
  • High five
  • “How are you?”
  • Hello

You can take this strategy a step further by personalizing your greeting. Say one of your students was absent for a few days. Greet this student and say, “Hi, Joe. I’m glad to have you back in class. We missed having you last week!” If you attend after-school events, you might take this as an opportunity to congratulate a student on his or her performance on the baseball field, or on the stage of the school theatre.

Understand why certain behavior irks you
When students act out or disrupt, many of us react to this behavior without really understanding why it bothers us so much. To better understand why these students test your patience, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How often do I think about this challenging student? What does s/he do, or not do, that bothers me so much?
  • Who does this student remind me of? Someone that I had trouble with in the past?
  • How am I reacting to this student? What is the result?
  • How would I like to have students react when I approach them? What might I do to reach this goal?

Allow students to lead conferences
Research continues to find that students with engaged parents not only score higher on tests and miss less school, but that they also have better social skills, improved behavior, and adapt well to school. There are myriad ways we can engage parents, but we’d like to focus specifically on conducting student-led conferences. These are beneficial for a couple reasons: First, when students lead conferences, parents are more likely to come. Second, student-led conferences give students the opportunity to share portfolio highlights, identify what they do well, set new goals, and outline the ways in which they will achieve these goals.

Reinvent your “exit ticket” assignment
An exit ticket is the students’ response to a question or series of questions. Their “ticket” is their way to leave the classroom at the end of the day. You can do this as often as you like, but we usually save this writing activity for Fridays. Here are some of the questions you might like to include in the assignment:

  • How can I help you be more successful in class?
  • What did you like most/least about this week in class?
  • What could I do to make this class more interesting next week?
  • What are your goals for next week? How will you achieve them?

The success of this assignment is contingent upon the teacher taking the responses seriously. In other words, don’t elicit feedback if you aren’t willing to change your own behavior and take your students’ suggestions into consideration.

These tips have been adapted from Allen Mendler’s book, Connecting with Students.

Tags: classroom management, student engagement

Burn. Don’t Burn Out: 5 Things I Wish I knew as a First-Year Teacher

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Aug 8, 2014 9:51:00 AM

first year teacher

I’ve told this story before, so I’ll give the abbreviated version for those of you who haven’t heard it: The first time I formally stood in front of a classroom was also the day I stepped off an eighteen-hour flight from Detroit to Taoyuan, Taiwan. Jet-lagged and armed with exactly two words of Mandarin in my back pocket, I rolled out of my airport cab and into “orientation” where I signed some paperwork and underwent a “training session” that concluded just in time for me to unlock my classroom for the twenty-four students I was responsible for teaching. I doubt this is the norm for most first-year teachers, but it was indeed my first experience as a teacher.

I learned a million things that year, but let me tell you, few of them came out of the textbooks I read as a student. Here are five things I wish I would have known before stepping foot into a classroom.

Burn. Don’t Burn Out: 5 Things I Wish I knew as a First-Year Teacher

Don’t fake it until you make it
Like many first-year teachers, I was proud. I didn’t want my colleagues to know that underneath my cool façade, I was green and trembling. Rather than asking for ideas and swapping lesson plans with the veterans, I spent hours inventing my own. This was not only exhausting, it was impractical.

Veteran teachers have been in the trenches for years. They have excellent lesson plans and activities; most of these teachers were more than happy to give them away. Ask and you shall receive. Stop trying to reinvent the wheel. Stop trying to fake it until you make it.

Get out of your own head and into a colleague’s classroom
I learned more in five minutes of observing my colleagues in action than I did in five years of school. OK, I might be exaggerating a little, but not much. Again, pride is the first-year teacher’s enemy. Get out of your head and into your colleagues’ classrooms as often as you can. You may only be able to spare five or ten minutes a day, but I promise you, a lot can be learned in that time.

Stay away from “the group”
The teacher’s lounge can be a haven, but it can also be a sponge for negativity and discontentment. As a new teacher, I wanted to assimilate; I wanted to be accepted by my colleagues, so I took lunch in the lounge. The only problem was that I chose to assimilate with “the group”—that is, a gang of teachers who did nothing but complain about their colleagues, students and administrators. They were a black hole and boy, did I get sucked into it.

Whatever you do, stay away from these groups at all cost.  

Never use negative language to describe challenging behavior

This point pairs nicely with the preceding one. “The group” that befriended me in the lounge exerted a lot of energy talking about “badly behaved” students. I have a problem with this for a few reasons, but at the top of the list is the fact that language shapes the way we see the world. So when we use negative language to describe challenging behavior, we start to see students in a negative way.

The paperwork will burn you out—if you let it
My mentors and professors always cautioned me against trying to do “too much” when responding to student work. “Focus on two main things in the first draft,” one mentor told me. I didn’t listen—and I certainly paid for it.

You’re not going to believe how much of your job is tied up in paperwork and grading, especially if you are a composition teacher. One of the best things you can do for yourself is create a realistic grading schedule, stick to it, and for goodness’ sake, stop working harder than your students! If you know you can only grade 10-15 papers in a night, don’t bring home a stack of 50; this will stress you out and lead to exhaustion. 

Photo credit: Adrian Kingsley-Hughes / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


Tags: first year teacher

Teach Like You’re Conducting a Symphony: 8 Student Engagement Tips

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Aug 7, 2014 1:52:40 PM


Although many of us don’t realize it until we step foot into our own classrooms, we quickly learn that facilitating a lively, but controlled classroom environment is truly an art form.We would even go so far as to liken masterful teaching to conducting a symphony. Like a conductor, master teachers know how to orchestrate tension and create anticipation; they understand rhythm and pace, and they know when to drop out and reenter the composition. Below we’ve pulled a few key elements that we believe should be part of every teacher’s conducting repertoire.

  • Create anticipation: If you need a quick lesson in creating anticipation, tune into your local evening news. You’re sure to hear newscasters throw out a teaser like, say, “Up next, we’ll be talking about a popular household cleaning item…what’s in it and why it might kill you.”

    Teasers like this pique our curiosity. So how do you put the anticipation strategy into play? First, make sure that your teaser is related to the subject. Second, always deliver on your teaser. In other words, you can’t say, “Today we’re going to talk about why Lady Gaga is only half as controversial as the 15th Century poet John Wilmot” and never actually talk about it.
  • Don’t be afraid of the silence: Silence is one of the hardest things for new teachers to endure. When we pose questions and don’t get a response, it’s tempting to answer them ourselves. Don’t fear the silence. Give students adequate time to mull over your questions and avoid giving the answer at all costs!

  • Be persistent: Persistence is another teaching essential. When we call on students who are disengaged, sleeping or not paying attention, many of them respond with “I don’t know” or “I don’t really care.” At first, we don’t want to let these students off the hook so easy, but after a while, it is tempting to give up and move on to another student. Remain persistent. Don’t allow these students to wear you down.

  • Give feedback: Are you offering positive feedback at the moment when students do something well? If not, this is something to strive for. Whispering “that’s right” “uhuh” or “yes!” is all it takes to get the message across. Be careful, though, not to interrupt the flow of your students’ progress—and don’t overdo it!

  • Be mindful of your voice: The way you speak is almost as important as the words you use. Be mindful of the timber and pitch of your voice. Is it too slow and soft? Is it abrasive? Do you sound enthusiastic or frustrated?

  • Be mindful of your body language: You may be familiar with the classic Dr. Albert Mehabrian study that suggests humans can intuitively read—with nearly 100 percent accuracy—each other’s underlying emotions and motives simply by observing body language.

    We’re not always conscious of the emotions we convey, but you can guarantee that the receivers are. Our students watch us; they know when we are frustrated, discouraged, and defensive; they feel it—and it can quickly become contagious. Similarly, when we’re excited, motivated and energetic, our students can’t help but feel it and want to be around it.
  • No speeding: There is a lot to cover during the day, but there’s no value in “covering” material if students are either confused, or have reached their learning threshold. Master teachers know when it’s time to speed up, slow down, or stop completely.

  • Flexibility: Our reading lessons may be dynamic (to us, at least), yet they might fail to resonate with students. Sure, our students may go through the motions, but it’s obvious that the activity or lesson isn’t working out. What would a master teacher do in this situation? She would be flexible; she would go to plan b, c, d, e, f, and so on. Never push through or force something that isn’t working.

Tags: classroom management, student engagement

Opening Day: 5 Ways to Rock the First Day of School

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Aug 5, 2014 9:34:18 AM


There’s only one opening day, so like most teachers, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to welcome my students and start building a positive classroom culture right away. While my checklist is by no means exhaustive, it will ensure that I walk into the classroom fresh, organized, and ready to kick start a brand new school year with enthusiasm.

No more last-minute preparations
This year, I’m making it a point to have everything prepared for the first day of school a week in advance. I’ve been guilty of making final tweaks to the syllabus or my introductory lesson the night before the first class—which meant that I had to get to school early to print and make photocopies for my students. It always got done, but it was an unneeded distraction, another to-do that kept me from being relaxed and fully present.

This year, I am making a vow to skip all last-minute preparations.

Introduce the course syllabus in a new way
The syllabus is a critical document, but let’s be honest, reading it is about as exciting as reading the dictionary. While I need to know that students are familiar with my classroom policies and procedures, I’ve also seen how it zaps students’ enthusiasm.

There are all kinds of creative ways to introduce the syllabus, but here’s one I like:

Set up two rows of chairs that face each other. Students will sit across from each other, each with a copy of the syllabus that they’ve briefly reviewed. Now ask your students two questions: one about something in the syllabus and one that’s personal and just for fun. The pair has a short period of time to answer both questions. Once the allotted time is up, check to make sure the syllabus question has been answered correctly.

Now the students in one row move down one seat, sort of like you might do in “speed dating.” Repeat the process until you have covered the essentials of the syllabus. Not only will students learn about the classroom policies and procedures, they’ll also learn a lot about each other.

Set the tone; start the conversation
This year, I want to start a conversation that will continue throughout the rest of the school year. In addition to a few other activities, I plan on reading Dr. Suess’s book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go. This book is perfect for younger students, but the message is ageless. In typical Dr. Suess fashion, students will rhyme their way through a series of playful, yet empowering pages reminding them that they are the masters of their ship; they have the “brains, the shoes and the feet” to take them where they want to go this year. This book is not only a great conversation starter, it’s also a way to set the tone for the rest of the school year.

Never be sabotaged by faulty equipment
Nothing stresses me out like having to fix a piece of cranky technology in front of a group. You know what I’m talking about: the video plays, but there’s no sound; the sound plays, but there’s no video. This is the worst, especially when the success of my lesson is contingent upon working technology.

If you are using technology on the first day of class, save yourself a headache: Get there at least an hour early to make sure it works!

Learn students’ names immediately
I’ve tried everything in the book to learn my students’ names as quickly as possible: sticker name tags, index cards that students fold in half and write their names on, name games, and so on. Eventually, I get them all, but I like to know every student’s name by the second class meeting.

How do I do it? I use a little app called Attendance2. This app was originally intended for teachers as a way to streamline the attendance-keeping process. But I use it for the built-in flashcard function, which allows me to snap a photo of my students, add their name and any other necessary details and file it away so I can quiz myself later on.

Please feel to share your favorite activities for the first day of school!

Tags: first day of school, icebreakers for teachers

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