End of the Semester Expectations

I originally posted this in December of 2011.  I read it now and ask... 
Has it gotten better?  Or worse?

It's the END of the semester! Time for in-depth reviews, developed discussions on the content of the semester, thoroughly researched and well-written papers to be turned in, and those long, comprehensive, final exams. Isn't it great to see such PROGRESS AND SUCCESS that comes from your hard work and dedication throughout the semester?

Ha! Do you really see this? I do remember those days... but, my days at the end of the semester are quite different now.
A blog post on keeping high expectations in the secondary classroom at the end of the school semester.

I see:
  • Students skipping school on the final days because: "They can't pass the class anyway, so why does it matter?"
  • Students coming in all hours of the school day asking for bonus or extra credit.
  • Students asking when I will be "fixing" their grades in the computer so it shows they are now passing.
  • Students rejoicing that they just passed their Algebra exam because "the teacher made it so easy;" otherwise everyone would fail the course and she would be in trouble. "The questions were like, 'What is 1+1?' I totally passed it with like a 100!"
  • Emails from parents asking, "What can we do to get my child's grade to passing?"
  • Emails from parents asking what I have done to help their child pass my class this semester.
  • No replies from parents to whom I respond that I offered before and after school assistance, study sessions before tests, a writing session before and after school, bonus assignments posted online for each unit, and weekly email reminders to parents and students about upcoming assignments, tests, and other due dates.
In the early years of my teaching career, I remember hearing the words "high expectations" so often, I wanted to vomit each time it was uttered. I was teaching with high expectations. I was pushing my students. I was preparing them for college. I was seeing success. But now I long to hear those words come from an administrator. I think I would grab them and hug them with great vigor if they told me to hold my classroom expectations high and
just to make everyone feel good and appear as though they are earning the credit. And then, I would probably pass out from all of the excitement.

But as testing accountability became more oppressing, I no longer heard the words "high expectations." It was a thing of the past. The new words were "closing the gap" and "passing rates" and "no retention" and "accept all work, late or not" and so many more. These can all be combined into one simple phrase in my book: Dumb down the education.

We are no longer called to the principal's office because little Sally's mommy is concerned that she will not be college ready. We don't hear that Johnny needs to work more on developing his research paper so his college essays will be well-written. We aren't told that we need to step up our standards to compete with the other local high schools in our academics. Instead, we are asked questions like: Why are so many of your students failing? What can you do to improve your students' grades? What can you do to fix the grades problem for your classes? What can you change so that more of your students are successful in passing the course?

What can I do? NO! It's what SHOULD my STUDENTS DO? I can answer that question.

It is no longer a question about meeting the standards. It is no longer a conversation about creating college-ready students that will make us proud in their futures. It is no longer about producing students who know our content and can retain what they have learned in their high school classes as they move on into adulthood. It is no longer preparing students with good work habits and strong ethics. Those ideals are becoming novelties of the past.

So, as this semester comes to an end, I have a decision to make. Do I conform or do I teach?

The lesson that I teach in these years may not be about history or geography. It may not be about the mistakes of the past or the heroes who have changed our world. Instead, it may be that if you do not work, you fail. If you do not study, your GPA will not be good enough to get you into college. If you do not write your own papers, you will receive a zero for your work and learn about a little thing called plagiarism. And the biggest lesson of all: If you do not put forth the effort in high school to do your best, you will live a more challenged life in adulthood. Life does not come easy to those who ONLY wait.

But then again, that is in my ideal world. The truth is that other questions around this whole situation come to my mind now. Do I want to keep my job? Do I want to constantly be harassed by the administration? Do I want to be identified as the ONE who will not pass her students? Should I just dumb it down like the rest?

Is there anyone else out there that wants to keep their high expectations?

Holding high expectations for our middle and high school students at the end of the semester can be done. Read these ideas and thoughts on keeping your classroom going to the very last day. #teacher #teaching

Where have all the TEACHERS gone?

Is there HOPE?
Michele Luck

Effective End of Semester Review for the Secondary Classroom: PLAY GAMES!

It's almost the end of the semester, and the kids are ready for break!  How can you keep them focused and attentive for your end of semester review?


Play Games!

While there are many game formats available, I've come to rely on my Human Game Boards.  Students are able to get up out of their seats, work collaboratively in teams, and get to compete for valuable prizes (usually my praise and over-the top worship)!

I have game boards ready for you in my TpT Store.  Just pick a color to coordinate with your classroom, print, laminate, and lay them out for play.  I recommend using packing tape, and leave them down all year.  Other that for big review games at the end of a unit of semester, you can also use the setup for quick time-filling reviews anytime!

Available in my store:
Color variations on Standard Human Game Boards: Blues, Red, Yellow, Brown
Scrabble/Word Wall Game Board Set
Colors & Shapes Game Board Set

And hang on; that holiday break is coming soon!

Happy Teaching!
Michele Luck

Giving Students Identity

Just recently, I met my biological father's daughter - my half-sister.  I am 46 years old, yet my lack of identity still haunts me to this day.  I desperately want to know my heritage, how I came about, and what expectations were set for me once I was a realization in the minds of those who created me.  I want to know who I am or who I was supposed to be, based on my own unique genetics.  Unfortunately for me, this meeting only muddied waters.  My sister called to tell me she spoke with "our" dad afterwards, and he would like (another) DNA test to prove that I am NOT his daughter, stating the one done in the 1970s was unreliable.  I cried.

Even though I am a fully grown, middle-aged woman with multiple degrees, a successful career, and a life I would never give up, this specific request by the man I have never known, yet never questioned, sent me into a depth of anguish indescribable.  I felt, once again, alone.

Without identity.

Giving students identity and helping them find self-worth in the secondary classroom.

What does this have to do with teaching?  I was rare.  In 1974, I was the only kindergartner in my class from a "broken" home.  Not only were my parents divorced, but neither held my custody.  I was being raised by my grandparents, and I was reminded often of my uniqueness at every school event frequented by loving, doting parents of all my classmates.

Please understand, my grandparents were incredible.  They loved me, spoiled me, and cared for me beyond explanation.  They created family for me, and as a young child, I felt loved, important, and even worthy.  However, as age came, and the reality of my difference set in, I began to question myself.

Why was I here?  
Was I meant to be here?
What was my role in others' lives?
Who was I?

At age 8, my mother regained custody of me, and many of my questions were partially answered.  Unfortunately, they were not answered in a positive way.  What I learned of my mother was not what I'd hoped for myself, and I would forever be haunted by her words and actions.  Even my own adult relationships and the parenting of my own daughter has been a direct reaction to my experiences with my own mother - usually the complete opposite with intent.  I did not abuse my daughter.  I did not tell her things she was too young to hear.  I did not shirk my responsibilities.  I loved my child.

Our students today are NOT the minority anymore.  Sadly, it is normal to be from a divorced home.  It is even more frequent to experience abuse and neglect.  With that realization, even more of our students are growing up with a true identity crisis.  They do not know who they are, and as a result, they do not know who they should be.

How can you, their teacher, make a difference?

My bright idea on this is simple:

Give them an identity.  

Fortunately for me, my Grandmother and many teachers helped me to find my strengths and improve my weaknesses.  They parented me when my parents were missing.  And many secondary teachers, without ever stating the obvious recognition of abuse in my home, helped to nurture me in ways that fueled goals and dreams for my life that I may not have formed otherwise.

Talk to your students.  Not about what you see or hear.  Not about the bruise or the streaming tears.

Talk about the possibilities.  The opportunities.  The world that is out there that they CAN be a part of if THEY take the initiative to go that direction.  Encourage them to depend on their own will, and to demand others be worthy of their trust and admiration.  Set high expectations for them, and demand that they meet them.

Do NOT pity them.  Do not appear sad or disheartened by their situation.  Instead, create for them the identity (in your eyes) that is so much better than the one they have been born into.  Have hope that they will be successful.  And through your hope, allow them to become...

Giving students identity and helping them find self-worth in the middle and high school classroom can be the teacher's most important job. Read to learn how to make this important different in your classes.

Happy Teaching!
Michele Luck

Teaching About Terrorism in the Secondary Classroom

As acts of terror continue to permeate our news, teachers are faced with the reality that we must address the issues in our secondary classrooms.  Still, the many controversies, the chaos, and the complex fears create great challenges in developing that perfect lesson for our students.

How to teach sensitively about terrorism and addressing the important current issues in the secondary classroom.

Ideally, teachers could turn to ready-made resources to teach about the most recent acts of terrorism, but in my experience, that is NOT what is best for our students.  Each classroom is unique in its personality and in the individual fears, anxieties, and needs of our students, calling for special attention to such personal matters.

That said, we must develop the lessons we know will help our students wrap their heads around the modern concerns and those that can help them identify paths to help remedy the problems of our world in the future.  Here are a few suggestions to help you plan for this very important lesson:
  • Be sure to address the many perspectives on the events involved.  This is most important, and is the element that seems to be left out in many news reports that sensationalize horrific events over reporting the facts.  Please teach without prejudice and allow your students to see the world as it is, and as it has always been:
    • Terrorism is NOT related to religion.  It is an act of extremism and cannot be generalized to include whole groups.  The KKK claim they are Christian, but not all Christians are KKK.  The same is true of those who practice other faiths and the extremist groups who claim those identities.  It is important to remember that extremists and radicals are skilled at warping their chosen religious texts to meet their personal goals and to excuse their horrendous acts.
    • We (speaking in political/national terms) are all guilty of terrorism.  The U.S. has a long history of eliminating or restricting undesirables with injustices such as slavery or our movements to remove and rid our lands of Native American populations.  Historically, most nations or political groups have excluded outsiders and have persecuted chosen populations at one time or another.
    • What we see and "know" is based on where we are and our individual side on each event.  We are very limited in our knowledge of other cultures and of personal feelings related to larger, more impersonal events.  When sitting outside looking in, we cannot see the writing on the walls seen by those inside looking out.  More importantly, we cannot feel the way those personally involved feel, and therefore, cannot comprehend their reactions to such events. 
  • Allow it to be personal.  Students fear terrorism, and rightfully so.  As a child of the Cold War, I was terrified that the president would push that big red button in his office, and the nuclear battle would begin, ending life as we all knew it.  Those same fears are present today.  Let your students voice them, treat them with respect, and be human enough to share your own anxieties.  Then take it a step further.
  • Discuss the future.  Allow your students to brainstorm how they can be instrumental in making the future a different world than what we live in now.  Don't minimize suggestions and value all ideas, emphasizing the importance of every act, large and small.
  • Reinforce the positive and the reality.  The reality is simple - we do live in a world filled with acts of terror, both domestic and international.  HOWEVER... The media makes these acts of terror seem larger and more widespread than they are in relation to the population of our world.  The likelihood of terrorism on our own personal doorstep is slim.  On the other hand, the randomness of (domestic) terror demands a call to action for today's youth to bring the change needed to prevent such in the future.
  • Make comparisons to other historic events.  Watching the Syrian refugees cross borders sadly reminds me of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany or of Japanese being relocated to Internment Camps.  They have given up everything except the things they carry to escape violence and hatred of those living around them.  How did those historic events end?  How could these modern ones evolve?
Teaching about Terrorism is not a choice for us anymore.  It is more relevant to our students' lives now than it has ever been in the past.  More importantly, it is our students who may have a chance at bringing the change needed to shift our world toward a climate of empathy, understanding and acceptance rather than the climate of hatred, anger and exclusion that it is today.

*After your class lessons on current events. make those comparisons to the past with lessons that provide multiple perspectives and always encourage the application of empathy over anger.  For ready made lessons on those historic events, take a look at my full Holocaust Unit or my 9/11 Response Group Activity. 

Learn how to teach students sensitively about terrorism and addressing the important current issues in the middle or high school classroom.

Happy Teaching!

Michele Luck

Understanding Our World to Create A Global Classroom

American students are often taught the Geography of the world, American History, and even World History from a bubble perspective.  We see things through very American eyes with limited understanding of cultural differences and their impact on the world events that eventually affect us all.  Teaching students about these cultural differences, and how to live in a world where we can appreciate difference is a task we must take on in the Social Studies classroom.  We must work toward Creating a Global Classroom.

How to create a global understanding in your secondary Social Studies classroom.

Traveling Europe this summer taught me so much about my own limits in understanding of cultural differences.  I experienced so many new things by being willing to step outside of my own American shell, and I was able to better understand why some Europeans act or react as they do.  More importantly, I was able to see their perspective on Americans.  While we see ourselves as the most advanced, literate, and knowledgeable in the world, others see us quite differently, and that can lead to so many problems for us in the ever-changing global world.

That brings me back to the Social Studies classroom and how we, as Social Studies teachers, can change our students' limited knowledge on the world and what it will be as we move toward the future.
  • Always teach multiple perspectives.  While these lessons may seem time-wasting to some, it is vitally important that students understand there are ALWAYS multiple perspectives for every event.  
  • Encourage students to ATTEMPT to walk in others' shoes.  Stress that this task can never truly be done, but the challenge is the lesson.
  • Allow students to investigate the GOOD and the BAD in our world. Play the devil's advocate in situations, and permit your students the freedom to express their anger and frustration with what they see as wrong in the world.
  • Introduce world news, POSITIVE and NEGATIVE, to students on a regular basis.  Use reliable sources to examine the news in ways that will help students see the impact of the events on local and international levels.
  • Teach EMPATHY.  Our students will never know the poverty of those in other parts of the world.  We can't expect them to understand what it is like to live without clean water or to walk without shoes through the desert, but we can teach them to feel for others who must live in those conditions.  Then it will be easier for them to UNDERSTAND why those others act the ways they do in major world events.
Teaching Social Studies is not about teaching facts and figures.  It's about helping our students become better world citizens.  Start doing that today, because tomorrow is coming very soon!

How to create a global understanding in your secondary Social Studies classroom.

Thank you so much to Pam from Desktop Learning Adventures and Darlene Anne from ELA Buffet for organizing these wonderful Secondary Smorgasbord topics and posts!  Be sure to read all of the others this month to explore more on Creating a Global Classroom! 
Learn how to create a global understanding for your students in your middle or high school Social Studies classroom.

Happy Teaching!
Michele Luck

Teaching Controversy in the Secondary Classroom

Throughout history, teachers have faced controversial topics in their classrooms.  Do they teach these topics or do they adhere to convention and ignore the opportunity to open young minds?  For those of the past, asking students to consider new theories could be career ending, and sometimes dangerous.  But for teachers today, teaching students to think for themselves is expected, and controversy should be a part of every classroom experience!

Tips on teaching controversy in the secondary Social Studies classroom.
Image taken by Brian Sims in Oakland 99% Strike.
Here are some history lessons to consider:

What would the world be like if Socrates did not teach his students to think?

What would the world be like if Martin Luther did not teach his disciples to question?

What would the world be like if Galileo didn't teach his followers to investigate?

What would the world be like if Scopes bowed down to the power of his peers?

What would the world be like if Martin Luther King Jr. allowed the status quo to remain in effect?

What would the world be like if WE did not teach what we know?  If we just passed on the FACTS, and never asked our students to think or question or investigate?  What would our future be if we didn't support our students in standing up against peer pressure and facing off against the status quo? 

So, how do you teach controversy?  Just open the door!
  • Introduce the topics that some fear and avoid.
  • Allow open discussion, and welcome the devil's advocate into the classroom.
  • Encourage investigation and the introduction of new theories.
  • Teach respect for others and an appreciation of difference.
  • Do not ONLY teach the facts, but ask the right questions to allow students to discover their own interests and theories on the topics introduced.
Accept that your students will feel differently than you do about the events and topics you introduce.  Appreciate this fact, and remember that they are the future...

And finally, keep your fingers crossed!  Do not be naive that teaching controversy will not bring conflict and chaos.  Just be prepared to defend your lessons and to defend your obligation to prepare your students to the real world we live in today!

Here are some controversial lessons to get you started!
Who is the real hero?
What really happened?

What should have been done?
It wasn't a war?
Was it worth the costs?
Should we have...?

Tips for middle or high school teachers on teaching controversy in the secondary Social Studies classroom.

Happy Teaching!
Michele Luck

Academic Vocabulary for Secondary Social Studies

Throughout the country, many students are coming into the secondary grades without any prior exposure to Social Studies content, especially the academic vocabulary needed for greater understanding of the concepts we hope to help our students master.  This academic vocabulary is vital for depth of learning in the History and Geography classroom, and can help students be successful in other areas as well.

Tips and tools for teaching academic vocabulary in the secondary Social Studies classroom.

How can you teach this academic vocabulary without taking time from the content vocabulary you need to address with each unit?  You can't!  But the reality is simple: Without the foundation being firmly set, the structure you attempt to build will only crumble in the end.

With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for building academic vocabulary in your classroom:
  1. Teach a term a day. Begin each class with a bellringer tied to an academic term.  Have students define the term, learn its connotations, and investigate it's relevance for your current unit.  
  2. Dedicate a day a week to vocabulary learning.  Pair students for vocabulary scavenger hunts or have students work on word walls to enhance terminology strength.
  3. Take a day a month to practice with academic vocabulary task cards or skills activities.  Set students up in small groups to review terms and apply them to current units of study.
  4. Start each unit with an Academic Vocabulary round up!  As students create their unit cover page for their Interactive Notebooks, have them add the relevant terms and their unit specific definitions.
  5. Allow students to create academic vocabulary posters for room decor.  Hang the posters around the room for reference in every unit and to help students with recall on every assessment!
Finally, practice the use of academic vocabulary every day in your teaching.  Use terminology that is BEYOND your students level to challenge them and to build their term base as they grow and learn.  Words should not be feared, they should be appreciated.  Teach your students this appreciation through your own use every day!
Tips and tools for teaching academic vocabulary in the secondary Social Studies classroom.
Start with Academic Vocabulary Graphic Organizers!  Add to any student notebook!
Visit my TpT Store for great vocabulary tools, including Graphic Organizers, Games, and More!

Practice tips and tools for teaching academic vocabulary in the secondary Social Studies classroom. #teacherhacks

Happy Teaching!
Michele Luck

Tricks and Treats for Teaching Vocabulary in the Secondary Classroom

In our secondary content-based classrooms, we often forget the importance of starting with the fundamentals, including the teaching of vocabulary.  For many, this task is a boring, repetitive task where students define terms in exchange for a grade in the gradebook.  That should not be the case.  Learning vocabulary should be engaging, it should be fun, and it should be memorable.
Tricks for teaching vocabulary in the secondary classroom

So, in honor of our Secondary Smorgasbord theme of All Treats & No Tricks for Teachers this month, I'm going to offer a vocabulary teaching treat, but also a few tricks for implementing the lessons with ease!

First of all, the TREAT!  Yes, I know!  That's the most important part.


With this easy Vocabulary Graphic Organizer, students can record vocabulary at the beginning of each unit, notate it's connotation for the unit, and illustrate the image for a graphic reminder of its use and importance.

And then there are the TRICKS:
  • Assign individual vocabulary to pairs or small groups of students. Have each group become experts on the term and report back to their classmates.  Reporting can be visual, oral, or even a performance!
  • Always have students illustrate vocabulary.  Not only does their hand motion impress on their brain, but the visual will help them recall the term when it is needed at a later time.  Make the visualization fun by creating a complete wall mural with your vocabulary list each unit.  
  • Play games with words.  Create puzzles, matching games, or even crosswords to help students correlate terms with their meanings.  Use a Word Wall Game Board to build up your vocabulary in an interactive manner.
Teaching vocabulary does not have to be a boring routine in your classes.  It can be a fun activity that reinforces the terms while helping your students step into the upcoming unit in a way that will keep them engaged and interested as they learn new words.  In the end, they will be better prepared for your course, but also better prepared for their future academic careers.

Follow my blog in upcoming weeks for an in-depth study of the academic vocabulary all students need at the secondary level.  Additional tools may be offered along the way!

And be sure to link through the Secondary Smorgasbord hosted by Desktop Learning Adventures and The ELA Buffet for other great TREATS, and maybe a few good tricks, too!

Michele Luck

My Favorite Graphic Organizers for the Classroom

Graphic Organizers are incredibly handy for teaching, recording, and reinforcing content in the secondary classroom.  Students often enjoy using graphic organizers, especially if they help them to visualize content and better process the information they are learning in class.

 I love new Ideas for using graphic organizers in the secondary classroom. These are perfect for my middle school students and can help them in their high school classes, too. I love SPRITE, but I like Face-Off for some of my American and World History lessons. And the last one is a great tool for any social studies classroom.

I've used graphic organizers since I first started teaching years ago, and while the organizers have evolved over time, they are still a very powerful tool.  From the simple T-chart to image graphics to acronym-based pages, students have learned to utilize the organizers to help them better grasp the content and as a powerful tool for study.

Graphic organizers can also help students become better organizers.  While I started off having students cut and paste organizers into their notebooks, I eventually switched to drawing out the model on the board to save paper or simply printing whole page organizers to serve as the day's recording tool.  As students add these pages to their notebooks in the order they are assigned, it helps them learn the value of organization!

So, here are a few of my favorites:
 SPRITE is my all time favorite for all of my Social Studies classes.  Here's my Freebie that includes the organizer and a great description page for students.  
Be sure to also take a look at my SPRITE series with complete text readings.

 My BRAGS organizer is a handy tool for all content reading and 
informational text analysis.

Ideas for using graphic organizers in the secondary classroom.
 Face-Off is a super strategy for perspective comparison.
Ideas for using graphic organizers in the secondary classroom.
PERSIA is another great category sorter.

Ideas for using graphic organizers in the secondary classroom.
 Annotated Timelines are incredible for recording information and 
setting up a series of events.

And there are so many more, like Cause and Effect Charts, Voice Bubbles, Webs, and Maps, but these are my favorites for the secondary classroom.

What are your favorite graphic organizers for your students?
 I love new Ideas for using graphic organizers in the secondary classroom. These are perfect for my middle school students and can help them in their high school classes, too. I love SPRITE, but I like Face-Off for some of my American and World History lessons. And the last one is a great tool for any social studies classroom.

Happy Teaching!

Michele Luck

Monday Mapping: Effective Learning & Study Habits for Secondary Students

Secondary students, while physically grown and developed, are still in the process of developing their cognitive abilities.  To help them along, we can provide structure in the secondary classroom that will set them up with effective learning and study habits for the rest of their academic careers.

While each secondary classroom is, and should be, different, the structure for basic learning should be the same.  This will help students to know what to expect and will help them to structure their own study strategies for most effective academic success.

What are the most Effective Learning and Study Habits to practice in the classroom? 

Tips for teaching effective learning and study habits for the secondary classroom

They are utilizing practices based on the following 6 simple principles:
  1. Attention - Getting and keeping students' attention is key.  Make lessons relevant and use engaging bellringers to draw interest at the beginning of each day.  Keep students engaged by involving them in every stage of the learning process and by assessing for comprehension and content understanding on a regular and frequent basis.
  2. Goal Orientation - Setting goals helps everyone to know where they are going, and then to get there faster and with less interference from distraction.  In the classroom, these goals are specific objectives for each day and for each unit.  They should tie together, be understood by students, and be reachable.  HOWEVER - do NOT write "lesson plan objectives" on the board for student goal orientation.  They do not care about the standards or the wordiness required in our lesson plans for the administration.  Just state it simply and be clear on what you expect.
  3. Organization - Organization is KEY!  Knowing where you are going, and transitioning to get there effectively helps reinforce the overall objectives of the lesson.  More importantly, it helps students know what to expect and will help them to stay on task.
  4. Rehearsal - Practice makes perfect!  We grew up with that explanation for every challenge we tackled.  And it's true.  Studies show that we better retain content when we rehearse or practice it multiple times.  Introduce content in varied ways, utilize varied activities, practice skills to reinforce content, rehearse all lessons with whole-class discussion wrap-ups, and always close with a check on the objective and its completion.
  5. Time on Task -Setting aside appropriate time for lessons is the greatest challenge for most teachers.  We know what we want to teach, but knowing how long it will take depends on so many uncontrollable factors.  The key to success in this area is being willing to step off the schedule when it is needed.  More importantly, allow the time needed for activities, and do not push students to stop the learning process just to meet a time restraint.
  6. Depth of Processing - Students need to be engaged with challenging content.  When they are forced to think harder, they will learn to think better, and they will eventually gain processing skills vital for more in-depth learning.  In addition to teaching the process skills, it will also help student retain the content as they continue to process and practice the information.
Setting up this basic structure in your classroom can help students better focus their time and energy to help them learn more effectively and with less stress and frustration.

Need a tool to help students examine their learning and study habits?  Take a look at this Student Study Survey in my TpT Store.

Tips for teaching effective learning and study habits for the middle or high school classroom.

Happy Teaching!
Michele Luck

Why Do We Have to Learn History?

By this time in the semester, students have taken the first unit test and they are starting to ask 
the BIG questions...

Tips for answering the big question about why we teach Social Studies in the secondary classroom
Why do we have to take this class?
Why is history important?
How will I ever use this in my REAL life?

While I have my own answers to these questions, this great Time article, America's Students Need History - But Not for the Reasons You're Hearing, says it all with great research and updates on current reforms and issues circling the History classroom. 

Read it for your own information (and that feeling or reassurance) or, even better, have your students read it for a great lesson!

Happy Teaching!
Michele Luck

Effective Questioning 101 for the Secondary Classroom

Years ago, when I was a student, the basic questions for learning were the the 5 Ws and H.  Some teachers just wrote "5WH" on the board, and we knew what was expected for our assignment.  We compiled our assessments, essays, and even research papers in the basic format.

Who?  What?  When?  Where?  Why?  How?

Effective questioning strategies that work in the secondary classroom

In becoming a teacher, I learned that there are reasons behind each of those questions, and there are also better strategies for questioning students in the secondary classroom to help they learn to question for themselves, the greater goal for a Social Studies course!

Teaching requires the use of effective questioning skills.  If you are only making statements in your classroom, not only are you limiting your students understanding and engagement, but you are stifling their opportunity for true learning.

So, how do you question effectively?

Start with these basic definitions and descriptions.
  • Basic Fact Questions - These information-seeking questions will help students see the layout of the topic of study.  They also set the foundation for the questions to follow.
    • What do you see?
    • Who is involved?
    • What are they doing?
    • Where is this happening?
    • When is this taking place?
  • Explanatory Questions - Answering essential questions and focusing on on the big picture is the goal for most history courses.  These questions guide your students to that level of learning.
    • Why is this taking place?
    • How is the event occurring?
  • Reactive Questions - Teaching empathy and how to see life through multiple perspectives can be the most valuable lesson your students will learn.  Using reactive questions can also be useful in keeping students engaged and helping them find the connections they need to make history or current events relevant to their own lives or futures.
    • How do you think they felt...?
    • How would you feel if...?
  • Imaginative Questions - Helping students think outside of the box is key to their unlocking the tools to the future.  Allowing imagination in the classroom also helps students weigh the relativity of the information and to find greater value in it for themselves.
    • What do you think happened next?
    • How could this problem be solved?
  • Challenge Questions - Encouraging students to take the information they have learned even further through investigation or analysis can help them learn the life lesson of the value of inquiry.  In our modern world of quick technology-based resources, learning to inquire for clarity or validation will be key for student success.  It will also strengthen their confidence as learners, preparing them with the tools they need to justify their positions and points in all walks of life.
    • How can we verify this information?
    • What sources will provide us greater understanding?
And once you have the questions developed for each lesson, deliver them in a spiral method.
  1. Start with the obvious to engage all students.
  2. Build up slowly to develop understanding.
  3. Add depth to push for critical thinking.
  4. Wrap up for all student inclusion.
  5. Review to help foster retention.
While getting into the habit of questioning in your classes can be a challenge at first, it will become second nature to you in no time and it will make you a much more effective teacher.  More importantly, it will make your students much more effective learners!

Go back to school with effective questing strategies, tips and tools to use in your middle or high school classroom. With a little organization and ideas like the challenge questions, you can transform your secondary classes into master thinkers!

Happy Teaching!
Michele Luck

Monday Mapping: Promoted Thinking in the Social Studies Classroom

Students often enter their Social Studies classroom thinking it will be a course based on simple facts and memorization.  They do not see the classes in the Social Sciences as those requiring thought, and definitely not ones that will teach them critical skills useful in their academic careers or in their adult lives.  They are wrong!  Social Studies courses are exactly where they can learn and practice to THINK, the cornerstone for all other critical learning.

Tips for practicing skills for historical thinking in the secondary social studies classroom

As Social Studies teachers, we need to stress those thinking strategies in our classes to help students develop a greater understanding of our content, but also to become stronger overall learners.

Here's just a few strategies to help you introduce critical and historical thinking in your course:
  • Asking Questions - This skill sets the stage for all others.  Through asking questions, students learn to acquire content, to research and investigate, to interpret or analyze information, and to develop greater, more essential questions for deeper understanding and thought.
  • Monitoring Information - As students learn to effectively highlight, annotate, and underline information as they are reading text, they are practicing the vital skill of understanding.  Developing this skill helps them find greater success across the curriculum.
  • Activating Background Knowledge - Students are often unaware that they already know something about our content.  Learning to turn on that background understanding and to apply it to current learning will facilitate deeper comprehension and greater engagement with the content and in learning.
  • Evaluating and Judging - Practicing analysis, viewing information from multiple perspectives, and determining what is important are vital skills for effective citizenship, but also for learning.  While these skills are essential to the study of history, they are also the foundation for many careers in our modern society.
  • Summarizing - Students learn to summarize in grade school, but developing this skill is paramount for higher-order thinking and deepened learning.  At the secondary level, students should practice both concise summary and expanded summary to show comprehension, but also to develop their ability to express themselves and their individual ideas effectively.  
The skill and process of thinking is often something we take for granted.  We assume that it is a natural skill, once everyone can acquire without instruction or practice.  But if you look around us, and listen to conversations among our younger generations, you will see that is not the case.  Students today, especially in their abbreviated world of interactive communication, need explicit instruction in how to think effectively.  Start teaching and practicing that in your Social Studies classroom!

Teaching ideas and tips for practicing skills for historical thinking in the secondary (middle or high school) social studies classroom

Happy Teaching!
Michele Luck

Confidence Building at the Beginning of the School Year

After a few weeks in the school year have been tackled, I often stop to reflect on my year so far.  It's at that point when I question everything, including my own knowledge and skillsWhat do I know?  Am I really prepared to teach the whole year?  Can I do this?

Tips for building teacher confidence at the beginning of the school year
With that in mind and this Bright Ideas Blog Hop on my schedule, I decided to team up the two topics.  So, my Bright Idea is to to build my back up my CONFIDENCE by getting back to the basics. For me, a Social Studies teacher, the basics fall into the subject of Geography.

Geography can be tough.  There is just so much to know, and it is constantly changing.  Still, I play a few games to refresh: Both my knowledge and my ATTITUDE!

So, it's time to test your skills!  Can you find your way through a Geography Scavenger Hunt Quiz?  Can you follow directions?  Do you know the basics?

You and your kids will love navigating through this fun, FREE activity, all the while reviewing the basics of geography!  Try it - start with the following link:



Answers - I'm not giving them to you!  You can figure it out!  I am confident you can.  :)  And then, you can create your own Wix scavenger hunt for your students!

If this is just too easy for you, jump over to one of my favorite practice websites, SheppardSoftware, where you can tackle the basics in every subject area with games and fun activities!  And best of all, you can build up your confidence for FREE!

For other great ideas, please follow my A Lesson Plan for Teachers Blog, my Pinterest Boards, and my TeachersPayTeachers Store!

Happy Teaching!
Michele Luck

Getting Things Started in the Secondary Classroom

One of the greatest challenges for secondary teachers is Getting Class Started on time.  When working with teens, their attention is often on anything but your classroom objectives, so getting them started is key to keeping them on track!

Suggestions for getting started with bellringers in the secondary classroom

I've written many posts on Bellringers and Previews over the years.  These other posts offer suggestions for engaging starters that can enhance your class lessons.  But before you can find success with these ideas, you must have your students trained to look for and complete the class starter without hesitation.

Here's my advice for making bellringers a priority in your classroom:
  1. Start off your school year by defining and describing bellringers for your students.  Explain the significance to your students, and detail how these class starters will work in your individual class.
  2. Be consistent.  Have the bellringer up and ready EVERY DAY.  Always post the bellringer (or the basic assignment prompt) in the same place each day.
  3. Set a specific period of time at the beginning of class for the bellringer to be completed each day.  Do not disturb your students during this time and do not allow them to disturb each other.  I always allowed 5 minutes for standard bellringers each day, which gave me time to complete attendance.
  4. Hold students accountable for bellringer completion.  My students kept a class notebook.  You can see time-saving grading guidelines here.
  5. Use the bellringer to transition to your day's lesson.  Bellringers should not be isolated topics, but should engage students on your topic at hand.
And most importantly... Make your bellringers relevant.  Utilize current events.  Address controversial topics.  Encourage personal connections.  Keep it real!

Now hop along to visit other posts sponsored by Secondary Smorgasbord for great ideas on starting your classes effectively!

Suggestions for getting started with bellringers in the secondary classroomGreat ideas and tips for using bellringers in the secondary classroom. Perfect to start with back to school and to use all through the school year!

An InLinkz Link-up

And special THANKS! to Desktop Learning Adventures and The ELA Buffet for organizing these helpful link-ups for the Secondary classroom!

Happy Teaching!
Michele Luck

Monday Mapping: Centers in the Secondary Classroom

Tips for setting up effective centers in the secondary classroom.

School has started and you are determined to make your middle or high school classroom different than the rest.  What do you do?  Easy!  Transform your classroom from the desk and chair lecture monotony to an interactive walk through history or set up intriguing Centers, archeological digs, response group lessons, or other fun, engaging activities.  

While elementary classrooms have utilized centers activities for years, it has been a foreign concept at the middle and high school levels.  Many classrooms still focus on the instruction gathered through the use of textbooks and lecture notes, while students grow more and more apathetic and disengaged by the minute.   

Change that!

Some may argue that with all of the content secondary teachers are challenged with presenting in their curriculum, it is virtually impossible to create, set up, and assess centers activities without giving up your entire life.  This is a valid consideration, unless you choose to NOT reinvent the wheel.  Find already created centers activities, either from my TpT Store or from other curriculum based programs.  These lessons will not only provide the content standards to your students, but they will make your classroom one that is fun and engaging.

Finally, follow these tips to make setting up and maintaining your centers a snap from year to year:
  • Laminate everything!  Once you find great resources to use in your centers, laminate them to preserve their use from year to year.  Use a strong card stock and print at high quality, and your savings will stack up as the years go by without having to replace your resources. 
  • Set up after school.  Every morning is stressful, and finding that you are missing something for a center can throw your day completely off.  Set up in the afternoon before you leave for the day, allowing yourself time in the morning to relax before you start the lesson.
  • Cluster desks together in the corners of the room for the centers.  Allow students to sit on the floor in the center of the room to start and finish the lesson.  I called this "carpet time" and always had big, high school boys running to get the best spot on my rug!
  • Organize and store center stations individually.  Use file folders or ziplock bags to place all needed materials in individual bags (and then into the master bag or folder).  When setting up, each is already sorted to help with classroom organization.
  • Recruit students to set up the activity.  Offer a few bonus students for students willing to stay after school to set up your activities.  You'll find that they will read and view the materials as they set up (without realizing it) and the real bonus may be with their content retention!
  • Use OnlineStopwatch.comThe website has a number of options for keeping time and calling times up!  Project the stopwatch onto the board to keep students on task and using their time wisely.
And then HAVE FUN!  Walk around as your students work, ask them questions, and share insights with them as they investigate the information at hand.  Also throw in off-topic conversation to help build the rapport and classroom environment where your students will want to come in and learn.

Your classroom will be one that is loved by all!

Try these great Centers or other Interactive Lessons from my TpT Store!

And many more...

Michele Luck