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Classroom Management Strategies: The last minutes of class

Classroom management strategies - use the last few minutes of class wisely

Classroom management can be a struggle, especially if you have a talkative or energetic class. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got a from a teaching mentor was to teach bell to bell. If I want a well-managed class of active learners, I need to grab my students' attention at the beginning of class, and hold it until the very end, so they can get into a habit of learning when they are in my classroom. If we're slow to start, or there's a bunch of time at the end of class, that free time is open for all kinds of distracted behaviour. And it can be hard to reign them back in once that happens.

Classroom management strategies - use the last few minutes of class wisely
We all know that the first few minutes of your lesson are very important. You need to grab the students’ attention right away so they are right there with you, ready to learn. But those last minutes are equally significant for student learning and engagement.

Why is that? 

If a class activity just fades off with no closure, a number of problems can occur. First of all, a block of empty time at the end of class is an invitation for distraction and misbehavior. Secondly, if you don't close the lesson, students may lose the thread of what you wanted them to learn. Just like a good book or a movie, you want your students to leave satisfied that things wrapped up as they should.

You want to end with their attention on the learning, so plan activities that remind them of the purpose of your lesson: what is it that they need to remember? What skill do they need to master? How will they use it in the short and long term? What are their next steps?

Classroom management strategies - use the last few minutes of class wisely

You can also use the last few minutes of class to collect information about your students' learning: Did they get it? Can you move on or will they need more instruction? There are quick and easy ways that you can assess this, and they will provide you will the info you need to plan for your next classes.

I've got a page of strategies for you to download, including the exit ticket pictured above. Click here, and they will be delivered to your mailbox right away.

Do you have any go-to strategies for closing your class? Please share in the comments!

Real Life Assignments: Writing Reviews

Students will buy into the writing assignment when they see the relevance to their lives.
This semester, I've been adding more real life writing assignments to my writing workshop. I'm loving them because the kids are engaged, and because I can easily answer the inevitable question: when will we ever use this?

Real life writing assignments for middle and high school English classes.

The first new assignment I added was a review. Reviews are everywhere in our world: sites such as Yelp, Amazon, Goodreads, and Rotten Tomatoes have become part of our daily lives, as we search to find out where to eat, what to read, and what to watch.

Real life writing assignments for middle and high school English classes.
Reviews also focus on things we love to do, so it's easier to come up with details and examples to support our ideas; it makes for the perfect way to let kids hone their persuasive and descriptive writing skills.

Real life writing assignments for middle and high school English classes.
In my class, we began with a group activity that got the kids collaborating as they brainstormed the details they would need to describe a favourite meal. I took them through the process of choosing best words, sensory imagery, and figurative language, so they could show this delicious meal to a reader. 

Next we looked at a series of mentor texts - reviews for a restaurant, a book, and a TV series. I asked the kids to note the "ingredients" of a good review and we started making a list. We also took the time to look at the writers' language choices in each review, so the kids can see how they used diction, imagery and figurative language to show, rather than tell.
Real life writing assignments for middle and high school English classes.

Finally, the kids worked through the process of writing their own reviews. They were so engaged, and the end results were so fun to read! This is a new must-do in my classroom. You can check out the whole lesson here.

Real life writing assignments for middle and high school English classes.
Another real life writing assignment that we tried was not as uplifting, but effective, nonetheless. Tired of reading literary analysis, I decided to do something different this year, and had my seniors write an obituary for either Macbeth or his wife. It's sad to think about, but some day, our kids may be called on to write an obituary for a loved one, a piece of writing that has to capture the essence of just who that person was. 

I gave them a link to some obituaries at Maclean's Magazine and also at Time Magazine. After they read a few, we discussed the elements of a well written tribute. Then we discussed how we could use these as exemplars to write an obituary for either Macbeth or Lady Macbeth.  

You can grab the slideshow and assessment checklist for this assignment here.

These real life writing assignments have been fun to write for the kids, and fun for me to read. It's a win-win, for sure! Do you have any favourite real life assignments? Let us know in the comments.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week, 2019

I love teacher appreciation week because I get to spread some appreciation to my followers. I know that you all work so hard - often without much appreciation - so it's fun to give away some things that will save you time and help you get some time for yourself.

All weekend, I'll be giving away some assignments that can help you teach different aspects of writing. On Monday evening, I'll give away a grand prize to one person who enters the giveaway: my Writing Worksop Bundle, a $20 gift card to TpT, and a $25 shopping spree in my store. You will have to head on over to my Instagram and watch for my giveaway posts. Winners of the mini-bundles will be included in the grand prize draw too!

Saturday Giveaway:
On Saturday, I'll be giving away four products. This mini-bundle will include my best-selling Revision Stations. This is definitely one of my favourite activities because it helps the kids focus on the writing process - and it produces much better essays on their part too! Because of that it's become a staple in my classroom.

This giveaway bundle will include my Word Choice Lessons, a pile of mini-lessons that you can use to help your students improve their diction and to experiment with imagery and figurative language.

Saturday's winner will also receive my Writing a Personal Narrative Lesson. This is an assignment that has quickly become a favourite for me because the kids get so engaged, resulting is very pleasurable reading/grading for me (you can read about how I use this in my classroom below). I'm adding my Narrative Writing Task Cards as a bonus here too, as they are perfect for prompting kids who have trouble getting started.

Sunday Giveaway:
The Sunday bundle will focus on informational text. It will include Expository Writing: Lessons & Activities, a great bundle of lessons designed to engage your students.

This bundle will also include my new Exploring Issues and Informational Text lessons.

I'll round out this bundle with another favourite of mine: Teaching the Process of Literary Analysis.These lessons have been a game changer in my classroom, as my students now have a much better understanding of how to analyze lit. 

Here are some blog posts that will show you how I use these products with my own students:

Narrative Writing Blog Post

Exploring Issues and Informational Text

Teaching the Process of Literary Analysis

Terrific Tools for Teaching Writing

Revision Learning Stations

So, stay tuned on Instagram - and good luck!

End of the Year Activities for English Classes

The end of the school year is getting oh-so-close - exciting, isn't it?  But we're also feeling pretty tired, drained from the work of the year. And it can be such a challenge to keep our students motivated through those last few weeks of class. It's not an impossible task, though, especially if you use a few of these end of the year activities:

End of the Year Activities for English Classes:

End of the year activities for middle and high school English classes.1. Get Them Moving
One of the best ways from keeping your kids from melting into their chairs is to get them out of them. Literally. If you can add some movement to the class your engagement level will go way up. One of my favourite ways to make this happen is with "stand-up stations." These are different from my usual learning stations in that they don't take as much time.  To create "stand-up stations", put a series of tasks on a sheet of paper (I like to use ledger size) and adhere each one on the walls of your classroom. Use tasks that are relatively quick, so the kids can easily circulate around your room to visit each station. It could be as simple as individual questions you want to ask them about a section of text, or short writing prompts that you want them to respond to.

End of the year activities for middle and high school English classes.

My favourite way to use these stations is to put a passage from a text on each sheet - I've used them to have kids respond to the ideas presented in the passages, or to do an analysis of the author's purpose and techniques. (Sign up here to get my latest version of these delivered to your inbox).

You can read about some of my other tried and true methods for getting kids out of their seats by clicking here.  

2. Use Review Games and Writing Challenges
Games and challenges are the perfect way to keep your kids engaged and learning at this time of year. Anytime you turn something into a game, even the most reluctant learner is all in. I've got a whole pile of activities that you could choose from, like my figurative language challenges. You can read how the metaphor challenge works here.

End of the year activities for middle and high school English classes.
Students can stretch their writing muscle and review important skills using these writing challenges too.

3. Reflection and Review
End of the year activities for middle and high school English classes.

The end of the year usually requires review for final assessments. This doesn't have to be a dry, boring activity, though. Find interesting ways to get students to review or reflect on their year, like these learning stations. They provide multiple ways for kids to look back at their year and the things that they learned. 

My favourite parts of this activity are the creative tasks that the students do, like the six word memoirs or the poems that they use to capture important moments in the class. They can also leave some wisdom for future classes or book recommendations that you can use to create a display in your classroom.

End of the year activities for middle and high school English classes.

Another fabulous end of the year activity for English students is The Best Quotation Challenge. Sign up here, and I'll send that to your inbox, along with the Stand Up Stations.

4. Take it outside
When the days get hot and the classroom is a sauna, try moving everyone outside. Give students a task where they can walk and talk or a poetry scavenger hunt like the one I explain here. I always take my kids for a walk in the park too. This blog post refers to our autumn excursion, but I do the same thing in the spring.

Well, there you go. I hope there are some end of the year activities in the post that can help you get you and your students over the finish line!

Grading Student Work: A Tip for More Learning

Feedback and grading strategies for English essays

Would you like a grading strategy that puts the responsibility for learning in your students' hands? You can do that by leaving feedback in the form of a question, rather than a statement.

Let me show you what I mean.

I tried something new while I was grading my tenth grader's persuasive research essays last week. It was not a pre-planned strategy; instead, it was one that was born out of frustration. In the end, though, I'm liking it because it put more responsibility in the students' hands - right where it should be.

Why was I frustrated? One of the skills I focused on for this assignment was embedding and citing quotations. We did quite a lot of work on it before the final copy was due. The kids had access to handouts and a slideshow that showed them how to do it properly. They just had to take the time to review it when they did their final revisions.

So, when I discovered a quotation that was just plopped into the essay without an introduction or citation, I highlighted it and wrote "What's missing?" If the punctuation was incorrect, I asked, "Where does the period/comma go?"

The next thing I noticed was a great number of fused sentences and fragments, so my questions changed to: "Why is this a comma splice?" and "Why is this a fragment?"

A fast and effective strategy for giving student feedback
Now this would just be a complete waste of time, if I didn't plan a "next step." After the kids got their essays back, they were required to choose one component of the rubric to redo, something I do with each major assignment. However, this time, they had to respond to my questions as well. I reminded them of the handouts they had in their binders, and told them to go find the answers - and then fix the error on their essay. Of course, if they still didn't know what to do, they had to ask me during work time in class.

They resubmitted their essays on Google Classroom, and had to highlight the areas where the changes were made - and respond to my questions in the comments. 

Now this might seem like I'm just adding too much work to my already sky-high pile. However, I really believe that it's worth it because I'm holding the kids responsible for using the feedback I give. Also, the highlighting makes it easy for me to see the revisions, so it's actually a pretty quick process. The other reality is that when I started allowing for redos, I had to drop some other assignments - and that's OK, because now my students are learning more in the long run!

Do you have any feedback strategies that really work? Let us know in the comments!

Writing Lessons: Expanding Sentences to add variety

Sentence expanding

Some students struggle to write strong, effective sentences. They get the job done, but the results are often pretty basic because their ideas are underdeveloped and the writing lacks flow. So how do we show our students how to be more fluent writers? Sentence expanding is an activity that pushes students to create longer, more detailed sentences. And, like anything we teach them, I believe it's so much more effective if we show them how to do this, rather than tell them. 

Let me show you how I do it.

sentence expanding activities

First, I project this paragraph from a persuasive essay and tell my kids that I want them to listen carefully as I read it out loud to them. I say that I want them to assess its effectiveness and to jot down any comments or advice they would give to the writer to help improve the writing. 

(You can grab this introductory lesson by signing up here).

When they hear it read aloud, the kids are pretty quick to point out that it sounds choppy. I ask for reasons why that is so, and we discuss the fact that all of the sentences are short. Then, if they haven't said so already, I'll ask if there are any underdeveloped ideas, sentences that need to provide more detail.

sentence expanding lessons

My next step is to launch into some lessons on sentence expanding. One issue I often have with this process is that the kids don't always know the vocabulary they need to discuss sentence construction. In my district, students don't have to parse sentences, so they usually don't get lessons on the parts of speech and sentences. This means that when I start talking about phrases and clauses and modifiers, I can get some blank stares.

sentence expansion lessons

So, I created a lesson that gives them an overview of the vocabulary they need, as well as some group exercises that help them become familiar with both the language and the process of expanding sentences. 

For example, one activity requires that each person in the group write a simple sentence on the top of a piece of paper. Then, they pass the sheet to the person on their right. The next person has to add another part of speech or a phrase to expand the sentence. With yet another activity, I use stand up stations to get them moving and expanding.

If you'd like to try my sentence expanding lessons and activities, you can check them out hereAnd, if you have other tips and tricks for helping students write strong, effective sentences, let us know in the comments!

Strategies for Dealing with a Talkative Class

Strategies for dealing with a talkative class

Strategies for Dealing with a Talkative Class:

What to do with a talkative class? Excessive talking can derail your lesson. Use these strategies to get students to talk when you want them to and to work work quietly when you don't.

We've all had them: talkative classes that can be hard to control. They are full of too many students who think that school is a social centre, not a place of learning. They talk over you, and they yell at friends across the room. What they do best of all is make you crazy.

This energy could be seen as a positive thing because classes that don't speak aren't that great either. The dream scenario is a class full of eager students who love to engage in debate and discussion, but will put their heads down and work quietly when it's time to get things done.

We live in reality, however, and those perfect classes only come along once in a while, right? In the meantime, though, while you're waiting, there are things you can do to harness the energy of a talkative class. 

1. Have a Vision
Before I look at strategies for dealing with too much talk, I need to think about the structure of my classes and my vision for what it looks like. And I'm going to be very honest here: I don't think it's realistic - or pedagogically sound - to want a class that is completely quiet at all times. Yes...there are many times that I want and need quiet in my classes. But, I firmly believe that kids need to talk to learn. They need to be active and engaged learners who collaborate with each other, sharing ideas and feedback. At the same time, I don't want chaos. 

What I want is balance.

So, I plan classes with a lot of variety. There are times when the kids are talking to each other. Sometimes they are up and moving around the class and things can be quite noisy. We also have a lot of heated class discussions. However, when it's time to read, or when they are doing something that requires concentration, I expect absolute silence. And I'm quite firm on that. 

The thing is, before I can teach my kids what I want, I need to be really clear in my own head what that looks like. So I spend time thinking about the different activities that will happen in a typical class - bell ringers, silent reading, lesson time, independent and group work. What do I want them to look and sound like? How will I communicate that to my students? What will I do when things aren't working out as they should? I know that it's important to think about these things before I address them with my students, so I can be clear and consistent - and not dealing with issues in the heat of the moment. Instead, I can be confident in the way that I will handle the different scenarios that may pop up - because I've thought about them ahead of time.

2. Work together
It would be lovely if we could just tell the kids what we expect and then they would do it. Unfortunately, that's not the way it works most of the time. However, I have had great success working with the kids to create the climate in our room. Teens love to be heard and to be given some control and responsibility. So, at the beginning of the year - or at any point when things are not going well - I have a discussion about the noise level in the class. I let my kids know that I am there to help everyone, and that I want to work with all of them to create a place that allows everybody to learn. 

I start by asking my students why we need quiet time and why we sometimes need to talk. I make it clear that we require time for both in the class, but I let them come up with the reasons why. They write their reasons on sticky notes and then we use them to create an anchor chart. This does a couple of things - it lets the students feel like they are part of the process and that it's not a top-down situation where the teacher is in total control of what's going to happen. It also requires them to actually stop and think about why and when we need quiet and talk - and how it will help them.

Strategies for dealing with a talkative class

The next step is to create another anchor chart that states the expectations for quiet time, productive talk, and discussion/debate - or whichever situations you want your kids to look at. Believe it or not, sometimes kids really don't know what some of these classroom scenarios should actually look like - or they need to be reminded after building up some bad habits over the years.

When we create these anchor charts, I'll ask questions like: What will quiet time look and sound like? What about with group work or class discussions? What about when I'm teaching a lesson? Then, I ask them to come up with "We will statements" that describe the expectations for each scenario. The kids almost always come up with the answers you'd like to hear, and when you write them on a chart that you can refer to later on, it's far more effective because they feel like they were part of creating the expectations for the class. 

After our discussion, I always create a poster that can hang permanently in my room. There's nothing wrong with just using the chart, but you know me - I like to pretty it up a bit!

Strategies for dealing with a talkative class
This poster is one I can hang at the front of the room for easy reference while the kids are working. It's different from the anchor chart with the "We will statements" in that it's only a reference to the levels of noise for different activities. So, if it's independent work time, I'll remind them about why we decided - together - that it was time for "sweet silence." Or, I can remind them that "productive talk" is quiet and focused on the task at hand. The anchor chart with the "We will statements" starts out on the front board but migrates to a side wall once we become used to the routines.

* You may have seen the concept of "Starbucks Time" floating around your social media. It's not my original idea, but it's something you might like to introduce. Basically, kids can sit where they want, listen to music, and eat/drink - just like they would in Starbucks. The catch is that they have to be productive during that time. It's basically just independent work with a fancy, cooler sounding name. But whatever works, right?

3. Model and Train
Strategies for dealing with a talkative class
After your discussion about expectations about talk in the classroom, you need a training period. During quiet time, if chatter is starting, ask the kids if they are following the expectations on the chart. Redirect often. You may have to do it several times, but if you do, they will soon get the idea that you expect them to be quiet.

When it comes to small and large group discussions, I always model, at the beginning of the year, what these should look like. Again, kids don't always know how to have a good discussion, so I show them. I carefully choose some volunteers to help me with this -- a few keeners and a few quieter students. I put them in a circle in front of the room, and I lead them in a discussion. If students aren't contributing, I'll ask them what they think. When someone gives an incomplete answer, I'll ask for elaboration. And, if I disagree with one of them, I will do so politely and tell them why. After a few rounds of this, I'll ask the class what they noticed: how did I act as an effective group member? They are always able to point out everything I tried to model.

You can read more about the strategies I use to train my kids on my expectations for group work here.

4. Have Consistent Consequences:
If you want kids to meet your expectations, you have to follow the old adage: say what you mean and mean what you say. If you don't follow through with appropriate consequences for excessive talking, then they will keep talking. It takes time and effort, but it will usually pay off. Know what the red line is and what will happen when a kid crosses it - will they need to stay in at break? Will you call home? Change their seat? Whatever the consequence is, it needs to happen clearly and consistently, so they know that you mean it. You really do want them to be quiet at this time, or you really don't accept interruptions when you, or someone else is speaking. 

When I don't carry through, and let students do what I've just told them not to do, problems build until they get to the point where they are out of control - and it takes a lot longer to get things back on track. Often, all it takes is a quick comment or a look to redirect. If I need more than that, I squat down beside them so we can have a quiet conversation about behavior and expectations.

Sometimes the quick redirection doesn't work. In those cases, it's always best to speak to repeat offenders outside of the classroom. When you confront them in front of their peers, they are likely to perform for them. I find that when you speak one-on-one to a kids outside your classroom door, they are much more likely to be compliant - even repentant. It's also important to give them a choice - word your conversation so they feel like they have a little control: Katie, I really want you to be successful in the class -- and I want the kids around you to be as well. How can we work together to make sure you can get your work done? 

4. Be a Coach, Not a Crank
I say this with love, folks, not criticism. Believe me, I've been the crank many, many times, and while it may work in the short term, it's got no long term teeth. When kids know that you want what's best for them, that you are in their corner, they are far more likely to crawl in there with you. As hard as it may be, stay positive and work as a team player, there to guide and redirect, not punish.

Use your positive presence to reinforce your expectations. Work the room by moving around - not just when the kids are working - but when you are speaking. Stand beside or behind your most talkative students - they'll be less likely to talk when you're right there, and because you are close, you can redirect them without calling too much attention to them - or interrupting your lesson.

5. Give Them Time to Talk
As I said above, I think talking is a key component in the learning process. Kids need to talk things out sometimes. They get a lot out of collaborating with others and by sharing ideas. Not only that, it's hard to sit still and not chat for a whole period - I know I can't do it!

I build in lots of opportunity to chat in class. We do turn-and-talks. There are multiple small group and class discussions. When they are finished of their work, they know they can chat quietly with others who are finished. And, if it's a class with a lot of concentration time for reading or writing, I will offer a chat/stretch break for a few minutes, halfway through class. 

I will use these things as a way to focus students when it is quiet time. You will often hear me say things like: 

Listen, guys, you get lots of opportunity to talk in this class. Right now, it's quiet time. Let's settle in and read -- in about fifteen minutes you'll be doing some group work. 

OR: After we finish reading I'll give you a chat break, so let's focus right now, please.

The chat break is a great strategy. It gives the kids something to look forward to, it breaks up the class, an it can be used as leverage to get them to work quietly!

So that's what I do in Room 213 to try to harness the energy of a talkative class. I sure hope I've given you something that can help you in yours. Don't forget to grab your tips and strategies pdf - in it I give you a lesson plan for creating your own code of conduct. 

If you have further questions or concerns, please drop them in the comments and I'll get to them as quickly as I can!