MAT Blog

Press Pause: A Simple and Effective Classroom Management Strategy

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Jul 22, 2014 9:39:32 AM


Whether we’re out on a first date, or interacting with new acquaintances at a party, most of us tend to dread silence and awkward pauses in conversation. While we may not welcome silence in social situations, Rob Barnes, author of The Practical Guide to Primary Classroom Management, would argue that silence, when used deliberately and strategically, can be one of a teacher’s most effective classroom management tools. So what is Barnes’s Dramatic Pause Strategy, and how do we put it into play?

The critical feature of the dramatic pause strategy is to use a deliberately-placed stop immediately following a strong attention signal (this could be a clap, a bell, a sharp rap on your desk top). The idea is to maintain your pause and silently insist by using eye contact until all chatter and fidgeting stops.

If chattering persists, say—and repeat—something like, “I can’t see everyone’s eyes.” Now pause, repeat the phrase with slight surprise in your voice, and insist.

A note about your signal: Let’s say your strong signal is to clap your hands…in this case, always be sure that the pace of your clap is slow and dramatic. Otherwise, your three loud claps will really seem like one. Clap your hands at a pace of one loud sound per second, followed by a one or two-second pause before instructions. If the pause seems uncomfortably long, you’re probably executing the strategy just right!

A common error some beginning teachers make is getting sucked into responding to student questions after they issue their strong signal. The key is to ignore these questions and keep strictly focused. If you want to add a gesture, make a non-verbal “stop” or “pause” signal with your hand so that the student sees it. You’re not being rude, you’re simply saying, “Not now.” The last thing you want to do is encourage students to gain your attention when you’re trying to gain theirs!You need full attention, nothing else.

Remember, if you put up with chatter and speak loudly over your students, they will eventually conclude that you are willing to compete with them. Some teachers actually pause for extra effect once they have got attention. They also stretch a mid-sentence pause as long as they can. This is only acting, but it has a strong controlling effect on a class.

Tags: classroom management

A Simple Classroom Management Strategy: Turn Questions into Statements

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Jul 18, 2014 9:58:12 AM


Although the effect teachers have on student behavior is crystal clear, the way in which teachers elicit the kind of behavior they want from students often appears elusive—especially to those entering the classroom for the first time.

Most teachers strive to be positive and polite, so very often they use subtle, open-ended questions in hopes that students will get the hint and change their behavior. Here are a few examples from Rob Barnes’s book The Practical Guide to Primary Classroom Management to help illustrate what I mean:

  • A beginning teacher who wants a student to take out her books might say, “Julie, would you like to get your books out, please?” to which the student might reply, “Nope. I’d rather read this comic book right now.”
  • A beginning teacher who wants a student to stop standing on his chair might say, “James, are you sitting properly? To which James might reply, “Yes, actually. I am.”

Eliciting the type of behavior we want our students to engage in starts by turning questions into statements. Notice how easy it is for students to skirt or respond sarcastically to open-ended questions:

  • “Would you like to get your books out?” (No, not really!)
  • “Are we all ready?” (No!)
  • “Can you sit properly?” (No! Yes! Probably!)
  • “Would you like to sit somewhere else?” (No!)
  • “Can you make less noise?” (No!)

Turning questions into statements of need is more effective:

  • “Bethany. Sit with both feet on the floor, please”
  • “Be thinking of a question about this when you quietly go back to your seats”
  • “Think of what you need to do to be ready to sit on the carpet”
  • “I’ll be asking questions, so think about what you’ve just heard as you quietly make a start”
  • I’m looking for a quality start, so think about this work with mouths closed”
  • “Maximum concentration on silent footsteps before you move quietly to the carpet”
Whenever you use a statement, you have a much better chance of receiving the desired outcome. As Barnes points out, “Classes quickly realize a rhetorical question because experienced teachers do not use them—or if they do, the class knows better than to shout in chorus.” You also begin to demonstrate that you know what you want.

Tags: classroom management

Literature Circles: A Student-Centered Approach to Literacy

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Jul 17, 2014 3:09:00 PM


Why do our students come to school? Yes, yes, of course because they have to, but why else? Is it because of you? Is it because of the mind-bending lectures we give? If you asked Michael Kahn (see his article, “The Seminar”) these questions, he’d tell you that there’s nothing intrinsically special about us or the textbooks.

No, what makes coming to school “worth it” for Kahn is the collaborative learning experience—or in his words, the “opportunity [for students] to engage in a fantastic dialogue, trialogue, multilogue with a fantastically varied assortment of consciousnesses.”

There are countless ways we can get students working together, talking and learning from one another, but literature circles are certainly one of the most effective. Not only do they encourage open dialogue, creativity and critical thinking, they also push students to take ownership of their own learning experience.

What are literature circles?
When we use literature circles, small groups of students gather for an in-depth discussion of a literary work. To ensure that students have a clear sense of direction and remain focused, each group member is given a specific task. For example, one student may be the designated artist; s/he is responsible for using some form of art to explore a main idea, a theme, or significant scene from the text. Another group member, the wordsmith, might be responsible for documenting important, unusual, or difficult words from the reading. Regardless of each student’s role, each group must collaborate as they read, discuss and critically engage with texts.

The circles meet regularly, and the discussion roles change at each meeting. When the circle finishes a book, the members decide on a way to showcase their literary work for the rest of the class.

To give you a better sense of what literature circles are—and aren’t—take a look at the following chart from Bonnie Campbell Hill’s guide, Literature Circles and Response:


What is the teacher’s role in literature circles?
As Harvey Daniels explains in his book Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups, “the teacher’s main job in literature circles is to not teach.” Instead, teachers use mini-lessons, debriefing sessions and Socratic questioning techniques as they circulate the room, moving from group to group to evaluate student progress. As a facilitator, the teacher is never center-stage. In literature circles, the teacher’s role is supportive, organizational and managerial.

What is the role of each student?
There are a number of approaches you can take, but Daniels believes in introducing literature circles by using predefined roles that students take turns fulfilling. Although the terminology used to name the roles may vary, the descriptions remain similar.

Pam Chandler, a sixth-grade English, reading, and social studies teacher at Sequoia Middle School in Redding, California, defines the roles her students take on in literature circles this way:

  • Artful artist uses some form of artwork to represent a significant scene or idea from the reading.
  • Literary luminary points out interesting or important passages within the reading.
  • Discussion director writes questions that will lead to discussion by the group.
  • Capable connector finds connections between the reading material and something outside the text, such as a personal experience, a topic studied in another class, or a different work of literature.
  • Word wizard discusses words in the text that are unusual, interesting, or difficult to understand.

Teachers will want to begin by modeling the various roles within a small group in front of the whole class before sending students out on their own. However, you may be surprised to find out that once students are comfortable with the group-discussion format, you may be able to discontinue these roles altogether.

How do I evaluate students?
Literature circles are not intended to “cover material”— they are designed to empower students to take control of their learning experiences, to get them excited about literature, and to help them find creative ways to delve into books. Keeping that in mind, teachers who use literature circles do not use traditional methods of evaluation.

Because teachers are not at the center of attention, they are better able to engage in “authentic,” real-time assessment. This can include keeping narrative observational logs, performance assessments, checklists, student conferences, group interviews, one-on-one conferences, and the like.

Keep in mind that evaluation in literature circles is not just the job of the teacher. Just as we require students to take responsibility for their own book selections, topic choices, and reading assignments, we also want them involved in the record-keeping and evaluation activities of literature circles.

For a more comprehensive discussion of literature circles, check out both Bonnie Campbell Hill’s guide Literature Circles and Response, and Harvey Daniels’s book, Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups.

Tags: critical thinking, critical thinking strategies, reading ability, reading teachers, student engagement, collaborative learning, Literature Circles

8 More Classroom Organization Hacks for Teachers

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Jul 15, 2014 12:12:06 PM

We’ve always believed that the way our classrooms look and feel is a reflection of our personalities and teaching styles. Unlike cluttered classrooms, cheerful, well-organized learning spaces inspire us, keep us focused and—we happen to think—make us better teachers. Sprucing up your classroom can be costly, but we’ve found 8 more creative classroom organization hacks to help teachers save money, space, and time!

8 More Classroom Organization Hacks for Teachers

Classroom organization idea: Kelly from the Navy Stripe

Classroom organization idea: RubyChopsticks

Classroom organization idea: Ikea Hackers

Classroom organization idea: Infarrantly Creative


Classroom organization idea: Stark Bargains


Classroom organization idea: Trendy Tales of a Teacher

Tags: classroom organization

Drumming Up Excitement for Books: 10 Tips for Reading Teachers

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Jul 10, 2014 9:26:51 AM

Why don’t our students love to read? Well, use your imagination and pretend you’re a student. You’ve only been reading for seven to twelve years—and most of what you’ve read has been assigned and tested. In addition to this, you’ve been asked to “discuss” and “close read” texts, create book reports, and answer comprehension questions based upon what you read. Sounds like a blast, huh?

These are only a few reasons why our students dislike reading, but rather than fixate on all the reasons our reluctant readers are reluctant, we’d like to suggest 10 simple ways reading teachers can drum up excitement for books!

Drumming Up Excitement for Books: 10 Tips for Reading Teachers

  • Niche book clubs are popular amongst adults, but why not start one (or two, or three) for students? How about a club that only reads scary and disgusting books? Or one that reads only sci-fi books with leading female characters? If each group only meets monthly (or bi-monthly), reading teachers should have plenty of time to keep up.

  • Instead of talking about good books, reading teachers might have more luck if they showed students good books. Stop by Scholastic’s site where you’ll find a nice collection of book trailers for K-8 students.

  • If you are reading a work of historical fiction, contact local re-enactor groups at historical sites in your area and invite them to visit your classroom.

  • The Internet may list every book that was ever written, but how do reading teachers help students sort through the clutter and find books they love? Answer: They teach them how to use book recommendation websites.

  • At our school, students can sign up for a half hour research consultation with a librarian. This is a one-on-one session in which students collaborate with librarians to flesh out their topics and find useful books and articles that relate to their topics.

  • Students and teachers both found this service to be beneficial—which got us thinking: What if we took the “research consultation” model and used it to create a “good book” consultation service where students pair up with a librarian to find books they’ll enjoy? Many students take advantage of this service and continue to be enthusiastic about it.

  • Show foreign films or watch movies with closed-captioning turned on. As many of us know, finding creative ways to focus reluctant readers on books, the very thing that evokes feelings of frustration, inadequacy and failure, is challenging. But films can capture students’ interest and stimulate their imagination in ways that books can’t.

  • One of our favorite things about visiting book stores is stopping by the “recommended reading” station. Every month, the bookstore employees select their favorite books and write up a short paragraph explaining why they made their selections. Try doing this with your students.

  • Invite the librarian to visit the classroom every month to talk about new arrivals and seasonal favorites.

  • Use Skype in the Classroom to connect with a real published author for free! Currently, you can Skype with Nancy Krulik, author of George Brown; Gayle Forman, author of If I Stay and Where She Went; Jane Kohuth, author of Duck Sock Hop!; C. Alexander London, author of An Accidental Adventure!; and many, many more published authors.

  • Subscribe to Children’s Books, a podcast series featured on The Guardian’s website.Every month features a new leading children's book author.

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

Tags: reading teachers, Reading, reluctant readers

Careers for Characters: A Book Report Alternative for Literature Teachers

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Jul 9, 2014 9:50:30 AM

book report alternative
Love ‘em or leave ‘em, it’s safe to say that there are only so manybook reports one teacher can take in a lifetime, and our gut tells us that students would eagerly echo this sentiment! In the past, we’ve shared a couple of book report alternatives for literature teachers—having your students use Animoto to create a book trailer, or having them create a text-inspired Podcast—but we’ve also had a lot of luck with Shelly Mattson Gahn’s assignment, “Careers for Characters.” You can find this and a variety of other lessons in Teaching Literature in Middle School: Fiction

Gahn uses this assignment with her eight-grade students, but simple adaptations could make it appropriate for both older and younger students. Here’s how it works.

Careers for Characters: A Book Report Alternative for Literature Teachers

In this assignment, students will select a character from any novel or short story. Based on what they know about their character’s personality, talents, flaws, hobbies and interests, they must find a job for their character and draft a cover letter to apply for the position.

  • To get things rolling, lead a class brainstorming session. Select a character from a work the entire class is familiar with and compile a list of details to include in a model cover letter. Discuss the character’s talents, flaws, hobbies, interests and personality and jot down your students’ ideas on the board.

    Using the ideas your students generate in the brainstorming session, type up a cover letter and distribute copies to the class to use as an example.

  • Once students choose their own character, have them repeat the brainstorming exercise on their own. This will help them better understand and “get into the role” of their character.

  • Next, send your students to Your Free Career Test, a short online questionnaire that asks students questions that relate to career categories. Remind students that they are to assume the role of their character when they are filling out the questionnaire. Keeping this in mind, they should answer the questions based not on their own personalities, but on those of their character.

    Upon completion, your students will receive an assessment that assigns them to a career category and offers a bulleted list of example careers for their character.

    In addition to visiting Your Free Career Test, ask students to investigate the classified sections of local newspapers and websites like CareerBuilder and Monster to select possible job prospects for their characters.
  • In the next step, each student writes a cover letter from the character to the company offering the job. The letter should follow a business letter format and should be typed.

We like this assignment for a variety of reasons: Not only do students find it entertaining, it gives them the opportunity to explore a variety of resources while honing their creative writing skills. Although the career research in this project applies to a fictional character, students can use the same information to investigate their own career aspirations.

Photo credit: martinak15 / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Tags: book report alternatives, reading motivation, Literature Teachers,

10 of Our Favorite Classroom Organization Hacks for Teachers

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Jul 8, 2014 9:31:49 AM

We’ve always believed that the way our classrooms look and feel is a reflection of our personalities and teaching styles. Unlike cluttered classrooms, cheerful, well-organized learning spaces inspire us, keep us focused and—we happen to think—make us better teachers. Sprucing up your classroom can be costly, but we’ve found 10 creative classroom organization hacks to help teachers save money, space, and time!

10 of Our Favorite Classroom Organization Hacks for Teachers


Classroom organization idea from: Leslie Carter



Classroom organization idea from: Play-Based Classroom


Classroom organization idea: Amy Oelschlager


Classroom organization idea: Lauren from Life in Middle School


Classroom organization idea: Christina


Classroom organization idea: Maureen Wong




Tags: classroom organization

the Best of the Week: Volume 13

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Jul 3, 2014 2:44:51 PM


There’s never enough time to blog and reblog all of the interesting resources we find during the week, so we decided to start a Best of the Week List where we share all of the education-related blogs, articles, apps and resources we come across every week.

Reading and Language Arts
Six Word Stories (A nice collection of stories all written in only six words)
The Top 10 Most Read Books in the World
Vocab Monk (free vocabulary-building app)
Write About This (An iPad app designed to encourage creative writing as well as prompting narrative and opinion pieces)

History and Social Studies-Related Links
Timelines: Sources from History (A collection of timelines from medieval era to the present day)
Vintage Everyday (a neat collection of colorized photos from the first half of the 20th century)
60 Historical Oddities You Probably Don't Know
Chart Showing How 25 American Presidents are Related
99 Incredible YouTube Channels for History Buffs
40 Maps that Explain WWI
100 Legacies from World War I that Continue to Shape Our Lives Today
Smarty Pins (free geography and trivia game that uses Google Maps)
History of the 4th of July: Crash Course US History Special (a new Crash Course video on John Green’s YouTube channel)
Map of the Languages of Europe
Ready, Aim, Fire: Scenes From Early American Dueling
The Decade in Seven Minutes (video)

Classroom Management
Using Dialogue Circles to Support Classroom Management
Give Your Space the Right Design: Feng Shui Principles Transform a Classroom

STEM-Related Links
The Cause Of Mediocre U.S. Math Scores
What If Other Planets Orbited at the Same Distance as The Moon
Try Engineering (a nice collection of science/engineering games for students)

Technology in the Classroom
Edmodo Snapshot (A free tool that lets you mold Common Core to your standards)
The Digital Lives of Teens: "If You Don't Have a Plan for Them, They Will Have a Plan for You"
10 Good Ways to Integrate Mobile Phones in Class

5 Ways to Make the Most of Non-Teaching Time
Big Think (a YouTube channel full of short, thought-provoking videos)
Here’s How You Spend Your Days, America — in 10 Charts
Where Are the Hardest Places to Live in the U.S.? (an interactive map)
Developing Good Credit Habits - A Game for Teaching Students Personal Financial Responsibility

Tags: The Best of the Week

5 Fun and Creative Ways to Stop Summer Slide

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Jul 3, 2014 9:44:00 AM


As anti-boredom fighters and educational advocates, we’d like to offer 5
summer activities for students. Not only will they keep students entertained, they’ll also keep them from taking a ride down the summer slide.

5 Fun and Creative Ways to Stop Summer Slide

summer_slideBecome an abstract expressionist painter
Grab a few empty spray bottles, fill them with non-toxic paint, and add a little water to dilute the paint. Now set up an easel with paper—we recommend doing this outside!—and grab a few brushes for extra fun.

This activity might pair nicely with a lesson on abstract artists like Jackson Pollock. For further reading, check out Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan’s book, Action Jackson.

summer_slide_2Read a book and follow it for the rest of the summer
After you finish reading a book, head over to, register your book and get a unique BookCrossing ID.

Now pass your book on to a friend or find someone in the BookCrossing community who's looking for your book and make their day by sending it to them. Use your BCID number to follow your book wherever it goes. Think of it as a passport enabling your book to travel the world without getting lost!

summer slideBecome a Geocacher
If you’ve never heard of it, geocaching
is a free real-world outdoor treasure hunt. Players try to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, using a smartphone or GPS and can then share their experiences online. To learn more about it, stop by

summer slideUse your math skills to create full-scale sidewalk drawings
Actual Size Books is one of our favorite book recommendations.
Inside, students will find complete, detailed, and accurate blueprints to create massive sidewalk drawings with chalk. Using these blueprints, students will be able to create full-scale drawings of anything from the Santa Maria’s deck and a prairie schooner to a Tyrannosaurus Rex or the Statue of Liberty’s Torch. Each lesson includes a complete lesson plan, vocabulary, and a detailed blueprint. What better way to kiss those summer learning losses goodbye?

glass_jarSelect a new word from the Word Jar every morning
This is an idea we borrowed from Erica over at Blog Her. Here’s how it works:

Write new vocabulary words on slips of paper and toss them into a glass jar. Every morning your child will choose a word. Throughout the day have a “good-sport” contest to see who can use the word in context the most.

Here are a few tips from Erica:

1. Keep it simple. Don’t start with SAT word lists! Flocabulary has a nice collection of vocabulary based on reading level.

2. Include some words with double meanings. A word like signal is both a noun and a verb. A word such as staple is a noun, verb and adjective and has a few completely different meanings.

3. Use words your child knows but may not regularly use.

4. Relax. Don’t make it a test. Some days you may use your word-of-the-day a lot…others you may not use it as much. That’s OK! This activity should be fun. As Erica reminds us, the real goal is simply to demonstrate the benefits and joys of having a large vocabulary, not to get your seven year old to use the word specious appropriately.

5. Use words from previous days.


Tags: summer slide, summer vacation, summer break, summer learning losses

The First Letter: A Simple and Effective Parent Engagement Strategy

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Jul 2, 2014 9:36:00 AM

parent_engagementImagine being a parent and opening your mailbox sometime in early August and finding a letter from your son or daughter’s new teacher. In the letter, the teacher tells you all about herself, who she is, what she likes to do, how long she has been teaching, what she wants for your child and how you can contact her if you have any questions. You’d feel pretty good about this new teacher, wouldn’t you?

Parents want to believe that their child is being left in capable and compassionate hands. Students want to believe that their teachers care about them and are happy to have them in class. A brief (and thoroughly unexpected) letter to each student is one of the easiest ways to welcome and reassure parents and students. Below you’ll find a quick guide to help you draft your own letter to parents and students:

Format for the first letter to parents and students before school starts


  • Personalize the greeting
    Mention the student’s name within the body of the letter


  • Introduce yourself as the student’s grade level teacher
  • Share a little about your background and education
  • Include the essence of your philosophy of teaching
  • Ask parents to complete an attached questionnaire about their child

Contact information

  • School email address
  • School phone and extension
  • Best times to contact you
  • If you have a classroom blog or Twitter account, share this with parents
  • Invite parents to visit you in the classroom before school starts

Letter closing

  • Sign the letter with first and last name

Example of a before-school-starts letter to parents

August 1, 2014
Acme Elementary School
2220 Yellow Brick Road
Detroit, MI 48221

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Smith:

As Jerry’s teacher for the upcoming school year, I am looking forward to getting to know you and working with you.

I started teaching at Acme Elementary in 2006 and have been here ever since! Prior to this, I studied at University of Michigan where I earned my degree in Elementary Education. After completing my B.A. in 2004, I moved to Tokyo, Japan where I taught English Language Learners, while at the same time pursing my Master in the Art of Teaching from Marygrove College’s online program. Living and working abroad was an invaluable experience—not only did it allow me to work with students and hone my craft, it also gave me the opportunity to travel, learn about different cultures, and pursue two of my biggest passions: Japanese art and English Language Learners.

Just to give you a sense of what both you and Jerry can expect from me this year, I’d like to tell you a bit about our classroom and, very briefly, explain my philosophy of teaching.

During the first few weeks of school, I plan on setting aside a significant amount of time so that I can get to know Jerry and his classmates better. Every student is unique and has different interests and learning styles. I want to ensure that I spend an adequate amount of time learning about all of my students and having them learn about me. My goal is for our classroom to be a community of learners based on mutual respect for all individual differences. I want both you and Jerry to know that our (not my) classroom is a safe environment where students are encouraged to share, learn from one another, and learn from me—just as I will learn from them.

If you would, please share information with me about Jerry by completing the enclosed questionnaire so that I may begin to plan to meet his needs and expectations.

I also want to let you know that you are both welcome to visit our classroom before school begins or at any time during the year. To arrange a meeting, all you have to do is contact me and we’ll set something up!

Lastly, please subscribe to our classroom blog and Twitter feed. There you will find information about volunteer opportunities, and different ways you can support our classroom. Even if you do not wish to volunteer in the classroom, I would encourage you to follow our class online. I like to post photos and updates about students and all of our classroom activities!

Enjoy the last few weeks of summer. If you have questions, please contact me in one of the following ways:

  • Phone: 313 555-2555
  • Twitter:
  • Classroom Blog:


Ryan Thomas

Below you’ll find a series of questions to include in your student questionnaire:

  • What are your child’s interests?
  • What would you like me to know about your child?
  • What are your concerns, if any?
  • What is your child’s attitude towards school?
  • What has been helpful for your child in the past?
  • Think of your child’s favorite teacher. What distinguished him or her from some of your child’s other teachers?
  • How does your child learn best?
  • What additional help might your child need this year? How might I best offer this additional support?
  • What is your child passionate about?
  • What are some of his/her favorite things to do outside of school?
  • Would you like to schedule an informal conference to meet and/or discuss your child? If so, please indicate times that are best for you.

Photo credit: gbaku / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)


Tags: parent partnerships, student engagement, Parent Engagement

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