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Creating Classroom Activities Students Will Remember

Around the second week of each semester, I would have students coming into my classroom begging to be transferred into my classes. Their request usually came just after my first big experiential exercise and their suffering weeks of dark lectures and pages of boring notes. Being the soft-heart that I am, I always signed their transfer requests and ended up with classes of 35-44. 

(Yes! I had a class of 44!)

 Finding lessons that will engage students and ones they will remember can be a challenge. These ideas will help you transform your middle or high school classroom. And the WWI step-by step is incredible!

Creating an interactive classroom filled with experiential exercises became my passion. I wanted my students to remember everything I taught, and therefore, they needed to live it! They needed to see, hear, feel, taste, and even smell history!

And based on current research, including current pleas by occupational therapists like this one, we need to have our kids up, moving, and engaged in ways far outside of the textbook or the device. 

Tips for Creating Experiential Exercises
  • Do NOT warn students or explain the exercise before they have the experience. This ruins the effect and the impact of the lesson. While there are a few exceptions to this rule (and I will address one below with the WWI Activity), the elements of surprise and confusion can play a key role is the activity's implementation.
  • Do NOT have students take notes during the activity. Save the "content" for afterward to keep the lesson as real as possible. Make it as real as possible and do not break your character.
  • DO address as many senses as possible with your activity. Make it loud, make it hot, make it smell awful. These elements will make it so much more memorable for your students!
  • DO go all out to make it as authentic as possible. At the same time, make sure that you address the fact that they can never truly walk in the shoes of those they are learning about and that respect should be given with that understanding.
  • DO work to make students uncomfortable. We learn the most in our lives when we are at a place of discomfort. Make that reality for your students.
  • Do NOT ever do an experiential exercise where the activity disrespects or demeans the historic event. While we can experience a generic trench moment from WWI, we cannot begin to experience even a single second of what it was like for those in the Holocaust. Do not even go there! Ever!
  • Do ALWAYS debrief! This is the most important part! You will want to make sure students understand the relevancy of the exercise and the components of the exercise that may have caused confusion.
Suggestions for Bringing in the Lesson
  1. Debrief immediately after the activity. Never wait for the next day to discuss the activity. Debunk student misunderstandings and be sure to bring everyone back to reality.
  2. Add in the content AFTER the activity. I usually did my experiential exercises on the first day of the unit so students had zero background on the topic. This opened them up to learn with a new appreciation of the event.
  3. Refer to the activity in your lessons that follow. Making connections will keep the activity real and relevant for them, and will help them to better process new ideas and content.
  4. Make the connections between then and now OFTEN! Use T-Charts or other graphic organizers to help students categorize information and make the important connections.
  5. Use the activity experience as your assessment prompt starter. Take students back to that moment to help them recall all of the content you have covered since the experience. 
Ideas for Experiential Exercises
  • The Impact of the Printing Press - My students made greeting cards (that we sent to a nursing home afterwards) first by drawing each letter in a calligraphy format and then again with rubber stamps of individual letters.  I was absolutely adamant that there must be perfection and threw many onto the floor when there was the slightest imperfection. I also stressed the time and the number of cards we needed to complete in the short amount of time.
  • Drawing Like Michelangelo - This one has long been a classroom favorite for World History teachers. You can make it as simple as having students lay under their desks to draw, or you can make it more elaborate by placing narrow boards across desks with a second board above to simulate the ceiling to elevate students so they can feel the instability and the challenge of working on their back and attempt to create perfection!
  • Civil Rights Discrimination - This is a very sensitive one to implement and you must know your students well. You can still find video footage of the Oprah Blue Eye/Brown Eye show to use as debriefing, and then you can discuss the difference between then (1990s) and now.  I did this one by giving my students a quiz that I had copied in different formats. Some were very clear and easy to read, while others were torn, missing parts, or blurred. I also distributed pencils with a scantron, but some were very short, had broken led, or had no eraser. I stressed that this assessment would be worth an astronomical amount of points and then demanded absolute silence. When the segregated students attempted to complain, I silenced them (angrily), even making comments about their inability to learn or a lack of expectation for them "anyway" with great great emphasis. Some students would get angry and others would just give up. Be prepared for this (and always prepare your administration for any activity)!  And then break the activity before it comes to the brink. Debrief immediately and be sure your students understand you were only performing a role to make the point of what was experienced in the past (and still today) by some populations.
  • The Assembly Line - Set up your classroom into an assembly line with a "very important task" for students to complete accurately in a "very quick" manner! I changed this up each year, but most often we packed boxes to send to troops or to a natural disaster location. Students had to fold the boxes, tape the bottoms, pack the items in correctly, tape the tops, write the return address, and label the types of items included. I upped the game by turning up the heat (or making it very cold) and turning on machinery noise (I told my students it was the music I liked working with) that was almost deafening. I also yelled for students to work faster and threw unacceptable work to the ground. With a grade attached to their work completion, students were more stressed about completing the goals, and I played the role of demanding factory foreman. A comparison variation on this is to set up two factories: one working like an assembly line, and another where each student must complete all jobs to complete the task.
  • Building the Pyramids - Starting your Egyptian Unit with this activity helps students grasp the challenge faced by those at the time to build the great Pyramids. My students were told I had to clean out our Social Studies Department room so the English Department could take over the space. They had to box up all of the books, move the boxes to the hall, and stack the boxes according to the demands of our custodian (who played a role for me).  We did not praise or coddle the students in any way, and actually rushed them and threatened them with consequences for not working the way we directed. My admins would even participate by coming in and ordering things to be rearranged. Luckily, I had multiple classes, so the next class would do the reverse to put everything back to order!
  • Breakfast for Everyone! - This was usually the first activity I did with my students at the beginning of the year.  All of my U.S. students were invited for a 7AM breakfast in my room. I made or brought all of the breakfast goodies, including eggs, bacon, sausage, donuts, fruits, biscuits and gravy... The entire hallway smelled incredible as students came into the building. One of my student aides would pass out numbers as students arrived. (1s to the first group, 2s to the next [and smallest group]... to 4 or more depending on how you want to sort the groups). Once cooking the breakfast was "finished" and everyone was good and hungry, I ignored Group 1 and called Group 2 to pick all they wanted to eat. I then offered group 3 scraps from my cooking (cut off edges of things, burnt items...), I gave group 4 some options, but told them to hurry and move out of the way so Group 2 could come back for more. When Group 2 told me they were done, I immediately pulled over the trash can and threw away EVERYTHING left! This led to gasps and anger from some who had not eaten yet or only had scraps. Then it was bell time, and students had to go to class (this time without explanation). During each class period, I would debrief and explain. By this time, most students were hungry and feeling those pangs. Where's the history lesson? Group 1 were the Native Americas. Group 2 were the European settlers. Group 3 the slaves. Group 4 were newer immigrants. And then there is the added lesson on poverty and waste. I usually followed this one up with a fundraiser for a poverty or hunger-supporting agency or a can food drive for our local food bank.
  • And then there was the WWI Trench Warfare Activity! - This was my biggest event each year. And while some do this as a video watching activity while students sit in the floor between their desks, that just wasn't enough to make the impact I wanted to make on my students. So... here is the step by step:
Finding lessons that will engage students and ones they will remember can be a challenge. These ideas will help you transform your middle or high school classroom. And the WWI step-by step is incredible!

WWI Trench Warfare EXTREME Experiential Exercise
  1. Go a month ahead of time to Lowes/Home Depot and Walmart to speak with a manager and ask for an activity sponsorship forms. If you do not get these items sponsored, be prepared for up to $400 out of pocket for this single activity! I paid that the first 2 years before I realized I had the option of getting assistance!
  2. Buy enough Black Plastic Sheeting (4-6 Mil) to cover the area you wish to transform. I usually bought 200 Ft. for my classroom.  You may also want to purchase strong clamps to attack and hold the plastic. 
  3. At Sams, Walmart, or your local grocery, buy 25-50 lb. bags of rice and beans, and also the sports bottles of water.
  4. In the days leading up to the activity, tell your students you will be simulating WWI trench warfare. [Play this up!] Tell them to wear old clothes that can be torn, destroyed, or stained. Tell them they may want to have their hair pulled back (military style) for safety. 
  5. Send home a permission to participate letter (unless you have already gained this permission in your class syllabus, which I did). 
  6. Print out dog tags for each students onto card stock, cut out, and laminate. 
  7. Enlist older, mature students (or other faculty) to help with the activity. Meet ahead of time to go over roles and placement. I did a full rehearsal the afternoon before and the same students helped me to set up my room at the same time. {Reward them with pizza!}
  8. Put away everything in your classroom you do not want to be destroyed!  Seal off drawers and cover everything, including all windows with the black plastic.
  9. Move student desks to create a long, winding trench from the door to the furthest corner of your classroom. Cover with the farm plastic, creating a valley with the plastic.  Students will crawl through this valley.  Attach the plastic to hold it in place. 
  10. Place the plastic over your doorway from top to bottom and cut strips at the bottom for students to crawl through when the activity begins. 
  11. Have All Quiet on the Western Front (I like the old version with on cue to start with this battle scene. Turn the volume all the way up. 
  12. Turn up (or down) the temperature in your classroom to an uncomfortable level. I usually turned UP the heat!
  13. Have your helpers inside the room ahead of time,  so their eyes can adjust to the darkness.
  14. Meet with your class in the hallway. Distribute the dog tags and assign battalion commanders to lead their troops.  Explain the importance of remaining alert to dangers and of preventing panic.
  15. Have one helper start the movie sound (NO LIGHT from video) as students begin entering the classroom trench.
  16. As the first students begin feeling their way through, the helpers will blow a whistle and begin the "attack" where they toss (warn not to throw too hard) the rice, beans, and water. 
  17. At designated turns, place a helper under the plastic with a can of hairspray. As students approach, they should yell out "gas attack" as they begin to spray the can. 
  18. Urge students to move into the trench quickly and to keep moving. Guide your commanders to keep moving troops forward.
  19. Continue the attack through the 10 minutes of the battle scene. 
  20. Debrief with students still sitting in the trenches, but pull down the plastic from the door and windows for lighting. 
  21. CLEAN UP! My entire class participated in the clean up (and sometimes helped me reset for the next class). 
  22. Stress the importance of secrecy! My students that participated would help build up the anticipation and anxiety for the activity with my new classes each year. They never shared the secrets of the "mud, bullets, and rain" that poured over them and they always built it up as something everyone HAD TO DO! 
  23. Follow up with the lesson! In my TpT Store, I have a great summary lesson that can also be done as a much tamer version if you aren't up for this classroom destroying adventure!
Less Experience/More "Fun" Activities 
These lessons do not always have to be extreme or on sad topics. Some can be fun!
  • Try a Beatnik Poetry Reading with beads hung from the doors and windows, psychedelic music in the background and incense burning as you (and students) snap and read your favorite literature and poetry of the time. 
  • Take students back to the Roaring 20s by teaching them the Charleston and meeting up at a Speakeasy to talk in 20s lingo as you sip on rootbeers. 
  • Take a Riverboat Tour as you travel along the Nile to investigate the great structures of hte Egyptian Kingdoms. 
  • Hold a Hula Hoop Contest as you learn about the Youth Age of the 1950s and 60s.  Bring in a soda jerk to serve Pepsi floats with rock-n-roll playing in the background.
  • Create an Archeology Dig in your classroom with these simple how-to directions or watch this free video on building a site you can use over and over to dig up history with your students!
In the end, you have to push the boundaries and push their minds to think about controversial or hard topics in your classroom and beyond. Place them in positions where they need to make decisions about speaking out or behaving in an appropriate manner to response to events that involve them (or those around them).

And don't just teach these lessons so that students will remember them, and you, as the fun stuff they did in school. Do them so they remember! So they remember history and the lessons it teaches us about the way we should live here and now.

 Finding lessons that will engage students and ones they will remember can be a challenge. These ideas will help you transform your middle or high school classroom. And the WWI step-by step is incredible!

Happy Teaching!


Seating Charts in the Secondary Classroom

Classroom organization is one of the first things that come to mind at back to school time. Desk or seating chart arrangement, along with ideas and planning for behavior management are priorities. A good seating chart template can be the saving grace for the middle or high school classroom.

Classroom organization is one of the first things that come to mind at back to school time. Desk or seating chart arrangement, along with ideas and planning for behavior management were priorities. A good seating chart template can be the saving grace for the middle or high school classroom.

In the first days of school, as I am setting my classroom expectations and explaining classroom rules, a traditional seating chart is a requirement. If for no other reason, it will help me to learn the names of my 140+ students each day.

After the first few weeks, my seating is absolutely dependent on the activity or teaching strategy I will be using in class. While a seating assignment is common 90% of the time in my classroom, the seating arrangements themselves change often.

So, how can you assign seating in your secondary classroom?  Take a look at these incredible ideas and resources!

1. The TesolClass on Youtube has a quick introduction of the 3 main types of seating and the pros and cons for each. This may help you find your main go-to in the very beginning.

2. Next is this incredible infographic. I love the visual guide and it helps me see all of the options in one easy place!

3. Teach Create Motivate has some incredible ideas for Flexible Seating. I love these ideas and I love that students have options in how they manage their own behavior and academic success.

4. Need more ideas on Flexible Seating? Check out these 15 ideas from Playdoh to Plato.

5. Permanently Primary brings out the zen for learning with her yoga mat idea. I've done yoga for many years, and my mat is one of my favorite places to think! It only makes sense to let it be a seating option for deeper learning.

6. I've also written a few blog posts over the years about seating arrangements and icebreakers on the first day of school. Click over to keep reading and maybe you will find the perfect method for your classroom!
Make Your Move in Classroom Seating
Are You Ready for Back to School?
Easy Collaboration-Building Icebreakers for the First Day of School

And then there's that template I mentioned!  In my Back to School Bundle you will find 9 Seating Chart Templates, Classroom Management Tools, First Day of School Activities, and SO MUCH MORE!

Classroom organization is one of the first things that come to mind at back to school time. Desk or seating chart arrangement, along with ideas and planning for behavior management were priorities. A good seating chart template can be the saving grace for the middle or high school classroom.I hope this gives you some ideas for arranging your classroom and that you have a wonderful start this year!

Happy Teaching!

Easy Collaboration-Building Icebreaker Ideas for the First Day of School

Starting off the school year on the right foot is important for students, but also for teachers. If you begin by teaching collaboration-building skills as soon as students enter the classroom on the first day, you will help to set the foundation for an effective, collaborative classroom climate!

Start off the school year with these easy back to school or first day of school icebreaker ideas for building an effective collaborative classroom climate at the middle or high school level. And they are fun for students, too!  The first one is my favorite!

Try some of these easy icebreakers!

A Meet & Greet
This is my absolute favorite activity for back to school! Not only does a Meet & Greet help your students find each other and begin to break down the walls of isolation, but they can also help you introduce the content or topics you will be covering in your course. And the set up is simple!
  1. Create or purchase bio cards. Either print 2 copies so students can find the matching cards, or separate the name from the bio text. 
  2. Give each student one card or name as they enter the classroom.
  3. Direct students to find their match.
  4. Allow students time to get to know one another and learn a little about their person.
  5. Have each pair introduce their person and themselves!
A Find Someone Who
Much life a Meet & Greet, a Find Someone Who activity lets students find each other through questioning or through the analysis of clues.  Create your own, or use a simple template that gives students plenty of options for finding themselves and others.
  1. Distribute the Find Someone Sheet to students as they enter the classroom.
  2. Allow students time to mix and mingle around the classroom.
  3. Offer a prize or simple reward for the first one to complete the entire worksheet.
A Content-Based Find Someone Who
Take the premise of the basic game described above, but add in content about people from history or give clues on topics of study from the course. As students solve the clues, they can meet up with each other to share their information with the goal of completing the entire task.

Assign an Identity Bag
While this one takes an extra day, you can learn all about your students and allow them to learn all about you through the sharing of Identity Bags.  Bring your own ready to go on the first day of school and then dedicate the second day of school to student bags. 
  1. Find a bag that symbolizes you in some way.
  2. Fill it with small representations of your life or your interests.
  3. Present the bag and the items, explaining the significance of each.
Think-Pair-Share
Since this activity is one you are likely to use in your class throughout the year, start on day 1 by teaching them the Think-Pair-Share strategy. Read this post for variations on this classic strategy!
  1. Have students think of 3 things that most describe who they are or what they like. 
  2. Pair students (usually with neighbors) to have them discuss the 3 things with each other.
  3. Allow pairs to share out as a team, introducing each other.
Do you have another idea that works well in your classes? Please share it in the comments!

Start off the school year with these easy back to school or first day of school icebreaker ideas for building an effective collaborative classroom climate at the middle or high school level. And they are fun for students, too!  The first one is my favorite!














Hope you all have a great first day back to school! And that you have an awesome school year!

Happy Teaching!





New Group for Secondary Social Studies Teachers

I love blogging and sharing all of my ideas for creating an interactive Social Studies classroom, but there are so many other great teachers out there that have super ideas for helping all of our students learn!  Why not collaborate?!
Join The Secondary Social Studies Teachers Collaborative Group on Facebook to have a safe place for sharing ideas, asking questions, and keeping up-to-date on the latest and greatest social studies resources!
Come join the group so we can all share our ideas in a safe, collaborative setting!

So, I created a Facebook group were we can support one another as we share all of our ideas.

Be sure to link over and join the group where I will share my strategies, ideas, and resources and where you can also contribute your own ideas or ask questions and collaborate with others to help make your year one that is filled with great success stories rather than frustration!

Here's the link: The Secondary Social Studies Teachers Collaborative Group

Join The Secondary Social Studies Teachers Collaborative Group on Facebook to have a safe place for sharing ideas, asking questions, and keeping up-to-date on the latest and greatest social studies resources!






Hope to see you there!


43+ Strategies for Meeting Any Educational Standards

Need Strategies to make your classroom more interactive and engaging this school year?  Take a look at these 43+ Strategies for Meeting ANY Educational Standards!
Find great strategies that can be used in any classroom to meet any educational standards. The more you focus on the strategies and the students, the easier it will be to check off those standards boxes!

Keep in mind that standards are written in the hopes that you will meet a specific goal with your students. How you get there is up to you!

43+ Strategies for Meeting the Standards
  • I'm starting with this post with Quick Tips for Teaching Geography. While it is for a Geography course, the strategies suggested can apply to any course and can keep your students engaged from day 1. 
  • This next Quick Tips post introduces strategies for Introducing New Content! It suggests changing things up to keep students excited about learning.
  • Teaching Cause & Effect is a standard across curriculums  and one that is required in every single district. It is a foundational learning tool, and this post gives you a number of great ideas for teaching the skill.
  • Even before the common core standards were introduced, teachers taught Informational Texts. This post gives you tried and true strategies for keeping it real!
  • Teaching with Primary Sources is another task for teachers across all curriculums and through all grades. This post lists off the options so you can check all the boxes on your standard's list.
  • When the Common Core State Standards came out, we all took off trying to wrap our existing standards into the new morph. What we eventually realized was that the old was not that different than the new. This post addresses the standards, but provides Sound Strategies for any classroom and any standard.
  • Another Great List can be found in this attack on the CCSS. See if the ideas will work in your classroom with your standards.
  • Do you Use Texts in your classroom?  The term text took on a whole new meaning with CCSS, but this post sets the record straight on what is and isn't text! Find strategies and tips along with that clarification!
  • We all teach Vocabulary! It's a must in every classroom and students usually dread the boring vocabulary lessons. Change it up with these strategies!
  • Examining Text Structure was a new one for CCSS, but it was really just an old chore with a new name. Take a look at this post for different ways your students can evaluate their resources while addressing the standards and reaching beyond.
  • If we all understood how to interpret Point of View, we would live in a world with much less conflict! Take a look at these strategies to help your students learn this valuable skill!
Find great strategies that can be used in any classroom to meet any educational standards. The more you focus on the strategies and the students, the easier it will be to check off those standards boxes!Want more?  This is an Incredible Listing of Strategies by one of my favorite organizations, Facing History. Their strategies work for all classrooms and subject areas, and they also teach other amazing lessons. 
  
And one other thing to consider... Why are you working toward the standards?  That's an interesting question we all need to answer before we ever step foot into the classroom. What's your answer?

Take a look here for my answer to that very important question!

Happy Teaching!

How I Use Highlighters in the Secondary Classroom

Color is important!  In my classroom, we color coded everything. And to do that, highlighters became a very important tool!  I'm sure your students already use highlighters in your classes, but do they use them in the most effective ways?  Check out these quick tips to see what will work best for your students.
Quick tips and ideas for using highlighters effectively in the secondary classroom.

Categorization & Organization
Almost every post I write talks about the need for categorization and organization. I often encourage the use of graphic organizers and suggest tools to help your students record and recall content. Highlighters can be one of the most those effective tools for your visual learners.  Whether you establish set criteria for each color, or you simply use the highlighters for keeping track of important facts, these versatile tools will keep your students focused and help them to "see" the content on the page.

Primary Source Analysis
The skill of primary source analysis should #1 in the Social Studies classroom. Primary sources help us to identify bias, to ascertain multiple perspectives, and to examine the key features of a particular time period.   Highlighters can be used to identify each of those aspects and to pick through the rhetoric often included in documented sources.

Comparison
One of the most challenging tasks in the Social Studies is that of comparison. While T-Charts and Venn Diagrams can help with larger tasks, highlighters can be the quick go-to for easy alignment for later attention.

Fun!
Why should learning be boring? Sometimes, putting a little color onto our pages helps our brains awaken for better focus.  Have students highlight as they read, highlight around sections of reading, or highlight the borders of the page to brighten the subject matter!

However you choose to use highlighters in your classroom, they should be a tool that is always available for your students. Remember that we each learn in different ways; what works for one may not work for others.  Making highlighters or markers, or even crayons, available to your students simply gives them more visual and kinesthetic ways in which to process your classroom content!

Quick tips and ideas for using highlighters effectively in the middle or high school classroom. The teal tip is my go-to!

Happy Teaching!

The Many Uses for Index Cards

In the old days, Index Cards were one of the most valuable resources for a research-based classroom. But with the introduction of Interactive Notebooks and then technology tools, the index card became a thing of the past. That shouldn't be the case. After all, index cards have many uses, and all of them can help students to learn skills vital for academic development.
 There are many ways to use index cards in the classroom. Here are just a few simple strategies that could have huge impacts on student learning.

Tried and True Uses for Index Cards
If you ever took an advanced or AP course in high school, you most likely learned to gather, record, and organize facts onto practical, white index cards. Think about the skills associated with that task...
  1. Fact Collection - keep in mind that processing information for retention is a multi-step process. Using index cards for basic fact collection helps students learn the skills of analysis and decision-making.
  2. Chronological Thinking - learning before and after or cause and effect can be challenging tasks in the Social Studies classroom. Writing out dates with simple annotations on index cards and allowing students to place the events in chronological order can help them to identify those changes.
  3. Categorization - using varied colors of index cards, or simply adding identification markers (stars, hearts, crosses...) to cards can help students learn to group like terms, facts, or characteristics. As students practice this skill, they will learn to evaluate information at a more in-depth level, increasing their knowledge and analytical skills.
  4. Vocabulary Development - students have long written terms and definitions onto index cards for memorization. Take that a few steps more to have students apply context, unit significance, and appropriate categorization of terms. 
  5. Game Play - practice does make perfect, and playing memory games can not only help to practice the terms or the content of study, but it also stretches the muscles in the brain and sparks activity to help enrich the brains capacity for learning. Use index cards to create a number of different game formats with your content.
  6. Thought Organization - while thinking maps have become all the rage, so can index card maps. Use them to jot down thoughts or opinions and create a web on the board or on the floor, aligning common thoughts or comparing the opposites.
  7. Reading Cards - as students read, index cards can be the easiest way to jot down significant plot events, character developments, and theme concepts. Keep the cards stored in the book pages to help chart reading development and book analysis.
  8. Research - for classes where Genius Hour has become a way of life, index cards can help students from the brainstorming stage to product completion. Start with ideas, eliminate down to common thread, use cards to develop ideas, record facts and additional content through research, and then organize for product development. 
  9. Think-Pair-Share - read through this post for 10 different ways to implement THINK-PAIR-SHARE activities in your classroom and then use the index cards to allow students to record the activity development. 
  10. Assessment - for daily formative assessment, index cards can be the quickest, easiest to handle, and easiest to grade way to go! Give each students a card each week, and have them add their exit response to the card at the end of each class period. Collect the cards as students leave the room. Grade. Repeat!  At the end of the week, hole-punch the cards and give them to students to keep in their notebooks for assessment prompt review (and text preparation)!
There are many ways to use index cards in the classroom. Here are just a few simple strategies that could have huge impacts on student learning.
There are probably hundreds of other ideas for using index cards in the classroom. This is just the tip of the iceberg!  What are your ideas?

 Check out these teaching, study, and organization ideas for using index cards in the middle and high school classroom. Here are just a few simple strategies that could have huge impacts on student learning. The number 10 is a huge time saver!

Happy Teaching!

Easy Recipes for Busy Teachers

Coming up with creative ideas for teacher's school lunches can be a challenge. These quick ideas are great for allowing variation, flavor, and ease!
 School Lunch? Yuck! I hated it as a child and still hate it as an adult. The slop of food onto a tray or even a plate is not my idea of a nice meal meant to refresh me and give me a boost for the rest of my school day!  But I also hate slimy lunch meat and mayo-based salads.  What to do?  Come up with new ideas for creating a school lunch that I could eat and enjoy. Oh, and without the stress and mess of some other meal ideas!

Meal Preparation
For me, lunch must be easy to prepare. If it requires hours in the kitchen or costly ingredients, it's just not for me!  I also love freshness. Who doesn't?  I don't want something that has set out for hours or has turned into slime before it gets to my taste-buds!

Meal Storage
Since I first started teaching, access to comforts has greatly changed. I used to have to tightly pack my meals in saran wrap to place them in the teacher's lounge refrigerator to keep them from being contaminated by the green, furry leftovers of my colleagues. Now, we have thermal lunch boxes, cooling storage trays, and mini-fridges that can really make your day!
 Coming up with creative ideas for school lunches can be a challenge. These quick ideas are great for allowing variation, flavor, and ease!
Recipes
Despite the ease and access now available in preparing and storing our foods, flavor is the most important part of planning for lunchtime.  If the flavor isn't there, what's the point? And also important is the variety! I cannot eat the same thing day after day. I know that generations past lived on potatoes for every meal, but now there is just so much more to choose from out there!
 I know... You want the ideas and recipes now!
Here you go:
 Coming up with creative ideas for school lunches can be a challenge. These quick ideas are great for allowing variation, flavor, and ease! Coming up with creative ideas for school lunches can be a challenge. These quick ideas are great for allowing variation, flavor, and ease!

 Coming up with creative ideas for school lunches can be a challenge. These quick ideas are great for allowing variation, flavor, and ease! Coming up with creative ideas for school lunches can be a challenge. These quick ideas are great for allowing variation, flavor, and ease! Coming up with creative ideas for school lunches can be a challenge. These quick ideas are great for allowing variation, flavor, and ease!

Yum! So many options!  Now, just remember that you need to eat! Teaching is the most important job out there, but we need to take time to keep ourselves healthy! Eat that lunch!

Happy Teaching!


The Power of the Gel Pen

The power of the pen has definitely changed since I started teaching many years ago. Well, actually it is the pen itself that has changed. We've gone from the reliable wooden pencil that required sharpening every so often to the mechanical pencil that kept us working until a needed refill to the erasable pen for even longer use, and now we find ourselves overtaken by the power of the 
many wonderful colors and amazing flow of the gel pen!

It is an amazing tool. It brings our secondary classrooms to life, filling in the grey with sparks of color, some beyond imagination. But, beyond the lively addition of color to our lessons, what other value can be found in the mighty pen?
The power of the pen has changed in the middle and high school classroom, and these suggestions for teaching with gel pens can take your lessons and activities from droll to delightful!

My daughter could give me 1000 reasons to use colored gel pens in the classroom. After all, she is a visual learner. At age 26, she squealed with joy at a recent present I gave her of an adult coloring book and a set of 60 (yes, 60) gel pens, including some with glitter!  Her excitement was even further extended when she got home to try out all of her colors, posting for me her completed picture on Facebook.  However, despite her true joy, I have to see things in a more concrete manner. I need purpose.

Purpose for the Pen
The power of the pen has changed in the classroom, and these suggestions for using gel pens can take your lessons from droll to delightful!The gel pens sold today can be a pleasure to use. They glide along the paper and induce a desire to add to your writing; to expand on ideas, to include details. This purpose is the most valuable!  For secondary teachers, the challenge with many students is not in assessing what they know, but getting them to express it in writing. The gel pen somehow has magic in the ink that brings young writers to life.

Application of the Pen
The power of the pen has changed in the classroom, and these suggestions for using gel pens can take your lessons from droll to delightful!Beyond the basic purpose for using pens in the classroom, there is also content application for the varied colors. In my classroom, SPRITE is an acronym we often use for categorizing anything related to Social Studies. History texts, current events articles, charts, graphs, images.... you name it, SPRITE works wonders to categorize it for future application.  And the gel pens? They help with that categorization. When Social is PURPLE and Intellectual is PINK, you can clearly begin to see the information fall into place in the minds of students. They can quickly retrieve the TEAL religious fact and explain its significance as compared to the GREEN technological components. They can see which colors dominate in a piece of text and can make judgements about categorical significance.

The Value of the Doodle
Finally, there is the value of the doodle.  While some teachers are aggravated by the doodle - Hello Mr. Silas Neslon, my high school Chemistry teacher in 1985! - others understand that this helps our creative juices flow even more. Doodling has been shown to help us brainstorm more effectively, to help us categorize and organize more efficiently, and to help us produce with higher levels of understanding and functioning.
The power of the pen has changed in the classroom, and these suggestions for using gel pens can take your lessons from droll to delightful!
Even though I am no where near as creative as my daughter or many of my students, I still love to use my colored gel pens. They give me a fresh glimpse of life! They take my day from droll to delightful, and what could be better than that?!


The power of the pen has changed in the middle and high school classroom, and these suggestions for teaching with gel pens can take your lessons and activities from droll to delightful!

Happy Teaching!

Quick Tips for Teaching Geography: Introducing Content

Teaching Geography is one of the best Social Studies gigs to get! 
There are so many amazing resources for teaching the course, 
and fun strategies for teaching Geography are also unlimited. 
Follow this Quick Tips for Teaching Geography Series 
to learn those strategies for your classroom!
Quick Tips for Teaching Geography: Easy to implement strategies for introducing content...

Quick Tips #4: Introducing Content
Unlike teaching chronologically in a History course, teaching Geography requires introducing varied content in a more thematic manner which can often be more challenging for students and teachers alike. Finding the right strategies for introducing content in the Geography classroom can make all the difference. Here are a few of my favorites!

 Quick Tips for Teaching Geography: Easy to implement strategies for introducing content...
Walking Tours
When attempting to introduce large amounts of content for comparison or general understanding, the Walking Tour is the greatest strategy to encourage student participation and content retentionWalking Tours can help students view multiple topics (or locations) at the same time and concisely record pertinent data for each for later comparison. Follow the link above for greater detail in creating or implementing a walking tour and take a look at ready-to-go Walking Tour Resources that will benefit both you and your students. For a very comprehensive overview of Asian Nations, take a look at this Walking Tour of Asia!

Case Studies
If your goal is to introduce focused content on a specific topic, Case Studies are the way to go. Whether you use a provided reading, or allow students to search for their own reliable resources, case studies can help students to take an in-depth look for consideration or debate. They can be adapted to any time allotment and can guide students into thorough investigation on content topics of study.

 Quick Tips for Teaching Geography: Easy to implement strategies for introducing content...Response Groups
With so much content in the Geography classroom balancing on controversial topics, one strategy that works very well in the Response Group.  In a Response Group activity, students will thoroughly investigate a subtopic to discuss in a small group before reporting out to the larger class population. These may include debatable topics or simply various categories on a larger topic. See this archived Response Group post for greater detail.

Scavenger Hunts
No matter how you choose to use a scavenger hunt, it will be fun and engaging for students, helping them to better learn and retain the content.  Set them up with the content provided for reading practice or allow students to research online. Either way, reading and analysis skills will be practiced while the content is collected!

Centers and Stations
Similar to a Walking Tour, centers or stations can provide an effective way to disperse large amounts of content in a small period of time. Students can move from location to location, or the materials can be moved from student group to student group. In addition to providing reading material, additional resources, such as music, video, artifacts, primary sources, etc. can be added to help engage students and keep them interested in the learning process. In addition to serving the purpose of introducing content, centers and stations also serve as a wonderful strategy for skills practice and review.

No matter which strategies you choose to use, be sure to mix it up. Change in the classroom is a good thing, and varied strategies, like varied resources are the key to keeping students engaged and excited about learning!

Easy to implement ideas and tips for Teaching Geography in the middle or high school classroom with lesson plan suggestions, websites to use, and activities to make learning more engaging. This part of the series focuses on introducing content.

Happy Teaching!

Quick Tips for Teaching Geography: Mapping Practice

Teaching Geography is one of the best Social Studies gigs to get! 
There are so many amazing resources for teaching the course, 
and fun strategies for teaching Geography are also unlimited. 
Follow this Quick Tips for Teaching Geography Series 
to learn those strategies for your classroom!
Quick Start Ideas for the Geography Classroom - Part of the Quick Tips for Teaching Geography Series

Quick Tips #3: Mapping Practice
Mapping is a vital skill to learn in the Geography classroom, and there are so many great strategies that we can use to make learning and practicing that skill fun and engaging. Here are a few to get your started in your Geography classroom.

Quick Tips for Teaching Geography Mapping Practice in the Geography Classroom

Basic Outline Maps & Competition
One without the other does not quite do it, but when you add the two together, you get a challenging exercise that engages students and fires them up for learning. Start with a blank map of the region you wish to teach, add an atlas, and have your students begin filling in the states, countries... Each day of the unit, begin limiting the atlas use. And then, once your students learn the locations, start to limit the time. You'll be surprised how quickly students can accurately label all of the countries in a region when a stopwatch is ticking and small reward are at stake!

Map Obstacle Course
Quick Tips for Teaching Geography Mapping Practice in the Geography ClassroomWhen students can be up and moving, they are more excited about participating AND learning. Set up a small obstacle course in your classroom. Place students into teams of 5-6. Call out the name of one location for students to find in an atlas or on a wall map at the end of the course. The first team to find all of the locations wins! Make the obstacle course related to cultural games or tasks of the region for added content connections!

Making a Map

There is nothing better for reinforcing skills than using your hands to create a related product. So, for teaching about the states or countries, make a map! But don't just have students label a blank outline, let them build the maps. Create in 3-D format or have students add virtual elements to their displays. And to make it even more enticing, have students add a taste of each location to their maps with local favorites they can make at home!

Mapping History
Mapping locations can be boring, so make your lessons more engaging by adding in the basics of history. Allow students to add pop-up timelines or to color in the characteristics of important events. Follow a specific listing of historic events for a region, or allow students to choose fun events as they research the location on their own. Pop-up maps can bring both the Geography and the History to life.

Topographic Map Making
And saving the best for last... making topographic maps to study regions and their geographic imprint is the most fun you can have in a Geography class. Whether you are in grade 6 or grade 12, your students will love digging their hands into the clay to complete map building projects that will amaze your eyes and brains!

Teaching with maps in the Geography classroom should be an every day event. And when you make that event more engaging, and even fun, you keep them coming back for more!

Be sure to check out my Quick Tips category (on the right side of this blog) for more great ideas for your Geography or History classroom.

Easy to implement ideas and tips for Teaching Geography in the middle or high school classroom with lesson plan suggestions, websites to use, and activities to make learning more engaging. This part of the series focuses on mapping practice.

Happy Teaching!

Quick Tips for Teaching Geography: Name Games

Teaching Geography is one of the best Social Studies gigs to get! 
There are so many amazing resources for teaching the course, 
and fun strategies for teaching Geography are also unlimited. 
Follow this Quick Tips for Teaching Geography Series 
to learn those strategies for your classroom!
Quick Start Ideas for the Geography Classroom - Part of the Quick Tips for Teaching Geography Series

Quick Tips #2: Name Games
Learning the names of places in the US or around the World can be a great challenge, but it can also be fun when it is done with games!
Here are a few Geography Games to get your students closer to mastering those far off locations!

Quick Tips for Teaching Geography: Playing Name Games to learn the states and countries of the world.

Globe Throw
For my students, the appearance of the globe ball meant they could finally throw something in class. But beware - where your thumb hits, you must quickly name the country and provide one fact about the location. While the names are provided on most blow-up globes, you can create a decoupage globe for an added challenge!
Quick Tips for Teaching Geography: Playing Name Games to learn the states and countries of the world.

Topic Tag
This simple game can be played in any class, but for my Geography students, it was a quick call review for continental country names. Each student, when tagged, must name one of the countries being studied in the current unit. Bonus points could be added by the student locating the country on a map or globe!

I See, You See
Using projected state or country shapes, students must identify their shape and then call on a friend for the next one. Reviewing for units can be done in this fun way, and the competition can get real as the locations get more challenging! Make it even more fun with this Spin the States Game and a simple game spinner!

Shape Match
With any blank map or blank state or country card sets, students can play matching games to learn the names with ease.  Practice while playing Go Fish or let the students create their own games for matching names to shapes. For those with online access, Sheppard Software has games for all countries and states to help students practice with varied levels of difficulty.

Sing A Song
For years, elementary students have learned songs to practice naming the states. Continue using music to reinforce the names and their locations. With blank maps, students can label as they sing, or get kids up and moving by having them take turns pointing to the correct location on wall maps as names are called. 

Be sure to click on the Quick Tips category over on the ride side of this blog for more great strategies that can bring more fun and learning into your classroom!

Easy to implement ideas and tips for Teaching Geography in the middle or high school classroom with lesson plan suggestions, websites to use, and activities to make learning more engaging. This part of the series focuses on learning geographic names.

Happy Teaching!

Quick Tips for Teaching Geography: Quick Start Ideas

Teaching Geography is one of the best Social Studies gigs to get! 
There are so many amazing resources for teaching the course, 
and fun strategies for teaching Geography are also unlimited. 
Follow this Quick Tips for Teaching Geography Series 
to learn those strategies for your classroom!
Quick Start Ideas for the Geography Classroom - Part of the Quick Tips for Teaching Geography Series

Quick Tips #1: Quick Start Ideas
Starting class in the right way helps to set the pace and the standard for effective learning throughout the day and throughout the course. Try each of these bellringer strategies to find the one (or many) that work best 
for you and your students.
Quick Start Ideas for the Geography Classroom - Part of the Quick Tips for Teaching Geography Series


Current Events
Why reserve current events for your history classes? Start off each Geography class period with a current event news report. Find reliable online sources from each state, region, or country of study to immerse your students in the happenings from that area. And don't worry about language barriers; just watching the images roll across the screen can be a great discussion starter on what your students think is happening in that part of the world!
Start off your current events trip around the world in Europe with Euronews!

Photo of the Day
Image analysis is one of the most critical skills for students to learn and practice. To emphasize this importance, start off each class period with the Photo of the Day. National Geographic provides these incredible photos for you online, and you can expand the lesson with further research or allow the students to apply prior knowledge to the image at hand.

Where in the World...?
Do you remember the Carmen Sandiego games? Give your students that same fun through a daily Where Are We prompt! List out characteristics of a place, or use these ready-made prompts, for a fun and engaging trip from the classroom to a new location each and every day!

Map Attack
Quick Start Ideas for the Geography Classroom - Part of the Quick Tips for Teaching Geography Series
Start off each class period with a game of darts! With a laminated wall map and a class set of sticky darts, let students enter class, throw their dart, and then quickly research the location of attack.  Use my Free SPRITE handout, allowing students to add each location to each category every day of the week for a 5 location summary each week!

Music Around the World
Studies have long shown that using music in the classroom can help students learn and better retain content. With that in mind, start each day with music from the region of study. The World Music Network has a great selection of music with quick and easy access. Let students listen and then respond to the sounds of the region.

Starting off with an effective bellringer not only gives you time to take attendance and prepare the last minute needs for your lesson, it also helps to get your students in the right frame of mind for learning. And if you use fun and engaging bellringers, your students are more likely to buy into the lesson and into learning in your Geography classroom!

Easy to implement ideas and tips for Teaching Geography in the middle or high school classroom with lesson plan suggestions, websites to use, and activities to make learning more engaging. This part of the series focuses on bellringers to start class.

Happy Teaching!