At the start of each year, I like to brainstorm a list of engaging new strategies I want to try in my classroom. Once I have a few, I make it a goal to pencil in at least one a month, and by the end of the year, I am always proud of my progress. To help you do the same, I compiled a list of strategies that have made it onto my yearly strategy resolutions. Since 20 strategies might stress you out, I encourage you to read through this list and choose just a few to add to your planner for the rest of this new semester!
1. LEARNING STATIONS
Are you surprised stations are at the top of my list? If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you’ve probably read all about them. Even if you’re someone who already uses learning stations, I challenge you to use MORE of them in 2020. Find creative ways to transform your existing PowerPoints or packets into engaging learning stations. For tons of ideas, check out this blog post. For print-ready ELA stations, you can check out my collection of everything from vocabulary to pre- & post-reading stations here.
2. VISUAL NOTES
Visual notes are an engaging twist on traditional notes because they allow students to creatively represent their knowledge, doodle, and color. Visual notes increase retention AND activate both sides of the brain. To implement visual notes in your classroom, I would recommend creating or showing examples of visual notes. Once students have seen examples, simply ask them to visually represent their knowledge for an assignment. To scaffold the process of visual note-taking, you can also create templates with images and space, so that students can do the writing, connecting, and coloring without the added step of drawing. I like to do a mix of both, always providing options for my students. For example, if a student feels that a template will limit their creativity, I let them run with their own design. For examples of visual notes, search “visual notes” or “sketchnotes” for ideas on Pinterest. If you’re interested in my visual notes, you can check out my template for determining theme here or determining literary tone here.
3. LITERATURE CIRCLES
Literature circles offer the perfect chance to make your reading instruction more student-centered. You can think of lit circles as student-led book clubs, usually with different roles to ensure all students collaborate well. The degree of choice, structure, and freedom lit circle groups have is up to you, but the more ownership students have, the more engaged they will be. If you’ve never tried lit circles, consider switching your next whole-class novel to this approach, and watch how it transforms the culture in your classroom. For resources to help your organize your own literature circles, check out my bundle here.
4. QUESTION TRAILS
A question trail is an engaging, kinesthetic activity that gets students up and moving around the room on a “trail” of multiple choice questions. At each station on the trail, students answer a multiple-choice question that sends them to the next station on the trail. If students answer each question correctly, they travel to all stations and complete a full circuit with the correct sequence of stations. If students answer a question incorrectly, they will eventually end up at a station they’ve already completed, which signals that they need to backtrack to determine their mistake. If you’re ready to create your own question trail, check out this blog post, my create-your-own template here, or my collection of ready-to-print question trails here.
Gimkit is a live learning game that’s perfect for practicing vocabulary, literary devices, or other terms. It’s similar to Quizlet Live, Kahoot, Quizziz, and other live learning platforms, but students earn (fake) money that they can use to upgrade and power up during the game. The coolest part about the game is that it was created by a high school student who set out to design a game he would have loved back in school! For more engaging vocabulary strategies, take a look at this post of my favorite low-prep ideas.
6. GALLERY WALKS
Gallery walks are similar to stations, but with a little less structure and more freedom for students. Basically, a gallery walk involves students walking around to different artifacts– images, questions, mentor texts, or examples that are posted around the room. It could be ANYTHING. At each artifact posted around the room, students discuss and/or write a response, often synthesizing their thoughts at the end of the activity. The next time you are tempted to go through a slideshow, think about how you can flip your content into a more engaging, student-centered gallery walk.
7. SILENT DISCUSSIONS
Silent discussions are essentially silent gallery walks where students respond in writing to essential questions or artifacts posted around the room. During a silent discussion, you can encourage students to respond to their peers by drawing lines to their comments. This is a great strategy that gives every student a voice, especially those who are reluctant to speak up in the whole-group setting. The best part about a silent discussion (besides the calming silence…LOL) is the rich whole-class debriefing discussion you’ll have after it.
8. ESCAPE ROOMS
An escape room is an incredibly engaging and challenging activity comprised of clues that lead students to different tasks or activities. Once completed, each task generates a code that allows students to advance to the next challenge. Escape rooms can be paper and pencil, entirely digital, or blended. I prefer a blended escape room that is automated by a Google form that sends students to physical locations around the room for “clues.” This way, it’s the best of both worlds: Students still get the kinesthetic challenge of searching the room for clues, but the Google form is doing most of the work/reducing my prep by streamlining the breakout. If you want to check out my escape rooms on everything from poetry to persuasion, you can find them here.
9. LETTERS TO LEGISLATORS
The next time you are teaching persuasion, consider swapping out the ancient 5-paragraph essay with a letter to legislator assignment. This is a great way to make writing relevant, help your students make a difference, and “publish” their writing in a meaningful way. I’ve even had senators respond to my students! I like to offer a letter as an option in a multimedia persuasive project I assign as a final assessment for my juniors. You can help students find their legislators with this website and write their letters with these tips.
10. SPEED DATING
Speed-dating is a student-centered lesson structure that engages every single student at the same time. The speed dating model looks different depending on the lesson, but essentially, it’s a discussion strategy in which students have mini “speed” discussions with peers. Each round, students rotate to a different peer and discuss a different topic on their discussion “dates.” Shy or reluctant students will come alive, struggling students will gain confidence, and “too cool for school” students will have fun! To learn more about creating a speed dating lesson, you can check out this blog post. For my speed dating template, popular “speed debating” lesson, and more, you can check out my resources here.
A hyperdoc is a doc of organized hyperlinks to other websites, resources, videos, docs, etc. It’s accessible for students and efficient for you! You can dress hyperdocs up or down, using them as a digital portal for self-paced lessons or units, or you can simply use them as resource hubs. I typically do the latter, using hyperdocs to curate minilessons for writing workshop or organize articles for synthesis essays.To learn more about how to use hyperdocs in your classroom, check out my blog post here.
12. MOCK TRIALS
A mock trial is an engaging, authentic way to practice close reading, citing evidence, interpreting evidence, writing, speaking and listening, and persuasion/debate/argument skills. It is more than a lesson; a mock trial is a genuine learning experience that will trick your students into doing lots of work! EVERY learner is involved and engaged! The best part is that this activity works for so many texts. I’ve facilitated mock trials to debate the sanity of the narrator in Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Black Cat,” but I’ve also done one in journalism with the landmark Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeier case. For more information on mock trials in the ELA classroom, check out this blog post or my resource for any text here.
13. FILM ANALYSIS
Film analysis is an engaging way to scaffold the challenging task of literary analysis. I’ve found success using movies to teach the following standards: citing “strong and thorough textual evidence” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.1), analyzing the impact of author’s choices (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.3), and analyzing the impact of structural choices (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.5). I usually do film analysis in conjunction with reading units (like The Great Gatsby or “The Crucible”), but I’ve also used movie trailers, Pixar shorts, and other clips. You can read all about why I believe in film analysis in my ELA classroom here.
14. BELL-RINGERS & QUICK-WRITES
If you’re looking to improve your beginning-of-class routines in 2020, then the one thing you NEED to do is implement daily bell-ringers and/or quick-writes. Bell-ringers are relatively quick tasks done at the beginning of class, in order to activate students’ minds and prepare them for learning. (A quick-write is essentially a writing bell-ringer). Ideally, a bell-ringer or quick-write should be connected to the lesson ahead. Bell-ringers are best practice, but they’re also a life-saver because they build in a few minutes for you to take attendance, check in with students, or just breathe at the start of class. If you’re in need of journalism bell-ringers/quick-writes, you can check out mine here.
15. COLLABORATIVE SLIDESHOW JIGSAW
This one goes out to all of my fellow Google Classroom teachers, but I’m sure you can do it with other platforms. A “collaborative slideshow” is my go-to strategy when I’m struggling to think of an engaging activity. It’s super simple: just a traditional jigsaw elevated with technology. To create a collaborative jigsaw, simply create a slideshow with a slide for each section of content, and assign a slide to each group. Share the slideshow so that it is editable by all students, and make sure you give them a quick digital etiquette speech. (Every once in a while, something gets accidentally added or deleted, but it’s easy to go back to Version History and restore it). When students are finished and groups present, the final slideshow will become an easily accessible resource for all students.
16. POLITICAL CARTOON ANALYSIS
Similar to film analysis, cartoon analysis is yet another way to scaffold literary analysis skills in a visual format. I incorporate cartoon analysis in thematic units, like my American dream mini-unit, but I also pull cartoons in other units when applicable. For example, sometimes I ask students to analyze cartoons during our rhetorical analysis unit. After all, in the “real world,” students will be analyzing more than just literature and informational text. They’ll be analyzing advertisements, political campaigns, cartoons, films, and more!
17. SOCRATIC SEMINARS
A Socratic seminar is a student-led discussion over a text or big idea. Instead of you facilitating the discussion by asking questions, students take charge of their own learning in this activity by creating and asking the questions. A Socratic Seminar is truly a student-centered and social approach to learning. For you, this means it is less prep work. It’s one of those lessons that teaches itself. You literally can sit back, relax, and watch the magic happen. (Well, that’s not entirely true–you may want to assess them during the seminar, but it’s still just as magical). To learn how to facilitate your own Socratic seminar, check out this blog post or take a look at my bundle of resources.
18. SLIDESHOW PROJECTS
Let’s face it. You already have enough essays to grade, so don’t assign another one when you’re not even finished with those piles of papers on your desk! Instead, challenge your students with organizing and presenting their information in a slideshow. This meets writing and media literacy standards, and you can get your grading done in class while students present…so it’s a win-win! I’ve even taught a whole “Slideshows That Don’t Suck” mini-unit to my students, because I’ve realized they need explicit instruction in designing and delivering effective, informative presentations.
19. PERSONALITY “QUIZZES” AS HOOKS
One of my favorite ways to introduce a literary movement is through a fun magazine-style personality “quiz” that introduces students to key information. I’ve created a “How Puritan Are You?” quiz as pre-reading for “The Crucible,” a “Are You a Transcendentalist?” one to introduce Transcendentalism, and a “Romanticism: Dark Side or Light Side” quiz to teach students about the two branches of Romanticism. These quizzes are so fun to create, and students also get a kick out them!
20. WRITER-FIRST RUBRICS
One simple but powerful practice you can adopt in 2020 is using writer-first language in your rubrics. Inspired by “people-first language,” writer-first language is an attempt to value the human beings who are writing, learning, and growing in my classroom…not the numbers or the grades on their papers. Writer-first language is an effort to recognize the writer first and the writing second. If it sounds simple, that’s because it is! To learn how to quickly transform your rubrics, check out this post. For editable writer-first rubrics, you can find my bundle here.
In the comments, let me know how many of these ideas you currently implement and the ones you are most excited to try in 2020! When you try out one of these strategies, be sure to tag me on Instagram so I can see all of the cool things you are doing in your classroom! 🙂