Friday, August 29, 2014

Teaching Kids How to Have REAL Discussions

Do you remember the last time you and your friends had a great discussion? I’ll bet you didn’t take turns around the table with each person speaking for 30 seconds or a minute! Instead, it was probably a lively conversation with everyone listening to each other and responding to everyone's ideas. Although you didn't speak for the same amount of time, everyone was involved and participated actively. If group members disagreed with each other, they were polite and supported their own views with facts and relevant details. Everyone was energized by the discussion and came away with some new perspectives.

Now think about what happens in team discussions at school. One student dominates the discussion while others are too shy to share their own views. To prevent this from happening, we ask them to take turns around the team ... but those discussions don’t feel like real conversations. It’s obvious that team members aren't really listening to each other because they don’t link their ideas to what anyone else has said. Instead, it’s almost as if they’re simply waiting for their turn to talk. Because most kids don’t know how to disagree politely, either they all agree with each other or when they do disagree, someone's feelings are sure to be hurt. Watching these "discussions" is almost painful!

Learning to Link Ideas
As you know from your own discussions, a great conversationalist is someone who really listens to others and who demonstrates this by linking his or her ideas to those of others in the group.

This skill is so important that it's now stated in the Common Core Speaking and Listening Standards for collaborative discussion at almost every grade level. But how do we teach that skill?

One way to link your response to someone else's idea is to use these steps:
  1. Name the person who shared the idea to which you are connecting.
  2. Mention a key idea, fact, or opinion the other person shared.
  3. Clearly state your own question, opinion, or idea.
For example, "Julie, I can see why you might say that Cindy is outgoing, but I thought she was shy because ...." or "Tom, I agree with you about ________, and another detail that supports your point is..."

Introducing the Strategies

When you begin teaching students to have real discussions in which they link their ideas to others, it's best to start with baby steps. Introduce the concept in a whole group setting by posing a question and asking volunteers to come forward and link arms to show how they are connecting their ideas to others. Model the three parts of a linked response described above.

Next, students can create paper chain links to model how speakers often have multiple discussion threads going at the same time. Finally, you can introduce older students to team "discussion webs" where their ideas are interconnected in complex ways.

During last week's Active Engagement Strategies for Success Webinar (Part Two), I explained how to implement several discussion strategies for linking ideas and why we need to teach these skills. To watch the entire webinar, visit the Active Engagement Strategies page on Teaching Resources. Click the play button below to watch the segment about how to foster great discussions.

Discussion Connections Mini Pack

You don't need to purchase anything to start teaching your students how to have real discussions, but the Discussion Connections Mini Pack offers some time-saving resources to make your job a little easier. It's a step-by-step guide for introducing discussion skills in the elementary classroom, and the basic concepts can be applied in middle school and high school classrooms, too. You'll find all the directions and printables needed, including discussion prompts to help students link their ideas. The pages below let you peek inside, or you can click here to preview the entire Discussion Connections Mini Pack.

Just to clarify, there's nothing wrong with having students take turns sharing ideas around the table, especially when they first work in cooperative learning teams. It's a great place to start! The problem comes in when we don't take our students to the next level and teach them how to have REAL discussions.

In order to have meaningful interactions in cooperative learning teams, literatures circles, and even in the lunchroom, kids need to understand that discussion involves LISTENING as well as talking. When we take time to connect our ideas, we show that we are listening to others and considering their viewpoints, rather than waiting for our turn to talk. Taking time to teach discussion strategies at the beginning of the year will reap dividends later, and those benefits will reach far beyond the classroom!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Celebrating 500,000 Facebook Likes!

500,000 Likes = $50 TpT Giveaway!

Holy moly! I noticed a few days ago that my Teaching Resources Facebook page was about to hit 500,000 likes! Sound like a good reason to celebrate, doesn't it?

Facebook is a terrific way for educators to connect and collaborate, and I love all the sharing that takes place on my page! The Wednesday Question Connection feature has really taken off, with dozens of people posting questions each week, and hundreds of teachers responding to them and offering advice when I share the questions on Facebook.

Because the success of my page is a result of the amazing teachers who take time to like, comment on, and share my posts, I decided to celebrate this accomplishment with a $50 TpT giveaway. To enter, fill out the Rafflecopter form before Monday, September 1st, at 10 pm.

Teaching Resources -
Here, There, and Everywhere!

I realized those who follow me on Facebook might not be aware of my resources in other locations like my free virtual file cabinet on Teaching Resources, this blog, my TpT store, and on Pinterest. I have hundreds of freebies, teacher books, and ebooks and they are in a number of different places online. I set up the giveaway to encourage you to visit those other locations where you can find resources to help you get started this year.

How to Enter to Win the Gift Card
You can earn up to 8 entries by taking each action in the Rafflecopter, but the only mandatory entry is to like my Teaching Resources Facebook page - of course! By the way, you don't have to complete all the entries now. If you get sidetracked in my TpT store or on my website, you can always come back later to finish!

The contest for the $50 TpT gift card started when my page hit 500,000 likes at 9 pm on Monday, August 25th and it will end a week from that time at 9 pm EDT, Monday, September 1st.

If you enjoy the Teaching Resources Facebook page and my resources, please take a moment to share this contest with others. Thanks! Have a great school year!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Halting Back Talkers in Their Tracks!

Guest post by Chris Biffle
Director, Whole Brain Teaching

Note: This is the final post in the WBT's Classroom Transforming Rules series. To find all of the posts in the series, click here. To see Whole Brain Teaching in action, watch the videos on the WBT website.

Need a rule that stops back-talking students in their tracks?  Discover the golden signpost on the road to Teaching Heaven.

When my teaching colleagues and I developed Whole Brain Teaching’s classroom rules in 1999, our goal was to cover every classroom problem.
We wanted a couple of rules that were as specific as possible and one or two others that covered all varieties disruptive behavior. Thus, we have three rules that target specific classroom problems. As described in this series,
  • Rule 1:  “Follow directions quickly” addresses slow transitions.
  • Rule 2:  “Raise your hand for permission to speak,” targets kids who are spontaneously chatty.
  • Rule 3:  “Raise your hand for permission to leave your seat,” keeps classrooms from turning into playgrounds.
Unfortunately, these three rules don’t cover every classroom misbehavior. Rule 4 “Make smart choices” is marvelously general, addressing every decision a child (or adult!) can make. Rule 4 can be applied to any issue not covered by the first three rules.

So, why do we need Rule 5, “Keep your dear teacher happy?” Rule 5 addresses your most challenging students … the ones who will quarrel with you about Rules 1-4! (Click here to download all the free rule posters.)
  • Children who dawdle along, can claim they are following directions quickly.  
  • Chatty students can claim they weren’t speaking to anyone.  
  • Your most challenging kids can even deny they are out of their seat … when they are standing in the middle of the classroom!  “I’m not out of my seat.  I’m just getting my pencil sharpened.”  
Of course, your most resistant spirits can argue that all their choices are smart, no matter how obviously foolish.

So, what’s a beleaguered teacher to do? You need one rule that can’t be disputed. In 15 years in thousands of classrooms, we’ve never had a child convince their instructor that their disruptive behavior made the teacher happy! Rule 5 is the argument stopper, the backtalk squelcher, the golden signpost to Teaching Heaven.

If a parent or administrator is troubled by the rule, explain, “I know Rule 5, ‘Keep your dear teacher happy’ sounds like it is about me, but that’s not the case. My only happiness is seeing my students learn.”

Here’s a two-step procedure to establish Rule 5, "Keep your dear teacher happy."

Step One
For a minute or so, five times a day, rehearse the five classroom rules. You call out the rule number; your students rapidly reply with the rule and the matching gesture. After several weeks, place special emphasis on Rule 5. During rehearsals and at random times during the day, call out “Rule 5!” Students respond, “Keep your dear teacher happy!” while framing their smiling faces with their fingers.

As an explanation of the rule, say something like the following to your kids, “It doesn't take presents, or anything material, to keep me happy. I only want one thing, one thing in all the universe, and that’s seeing you learn. Your growth as students fills my heart with happiness.”

Step Two
Once students can instantly respond with the rule and gesture, when you call out “Rule 5,” you’re ready for implementation.

Pick a lively student, Sarah, and say, “I’m going to pretend like I’m teaching and then I’ll say to you, Sarah please pay attention.  I want you to say back, with real attitude in your tone of voice “I am paying attention!”

This will be wonderfully shocking to your class … a student gets to backtalk you!  And so, the little skit is played.  When Sarah backtalks, you exclaim, “Great job Sarah!  That was a wonderful example of breaking Rule 5! Class, give her a 10 finger woo!!”  Your kids extend their wiggling fingers toward Sarah and exclaim, “Woo!”  (More fun than applause.)

Then say, “This time when Sarah backtalks, I'll call out Rule 5. I want you to respond using our gesture and quickly say, ‘Keep your dear teacher happy!”

Follow this routine once or twice until the class instantly implements the Rule 5 callback.

For several days, and whenever necessary thereafter, practice the routine just described. We've found that the key to stopping challenging behavior is to practice the class response … before disruption occurs!

The only problem we've discovered with implementing Rule 5 is that students implement it too eagerly! Kids will start calling out “Rule 5!” whenever they hear the slightest amount of guff. When this occurs say, with a broad, honest grin, “I appreciate how quickly you are using Rule 5 … but believe me, I will let you know when I think it’s necessary.”  Oh happy day … your kids have your back at the faintest whisper of ornery behavior!!!

If you don’t have challenging kids, then Rules 1-4 will be all you’ll need. Of course, if your classroom has no disruptions, then you’re already in Teaching Heaven!

 To download the free classroom rule posters described in this article, click here or on the Rule 4 poster image above.

For more information on Rule 5 and WBT’s other classroom rules, look at Chapter 7 in “Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids” on

Chris Biffle
Director, Whole Brain Teachers of America
Facebook | Twitter | Youtube | WBT Bookclub | Webcast Archive

Chris Biffle, a college philosophy professor for 40 years, is the author of seven books (McGraw-Hill, HarperCollins) on critical thinking, reading and writing. He has received grants from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In the last 15 years, Chris has been lead presenter at over 100 Whole Brain Teaching conferences, attended by 20,000+ educators. Thousands of instructors across the United States and around the world base their teaching methods on his free ebooks available at

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Different Kind of Sale - 28% Off and 10% to Share!

TeachersPayTeachers is doing something they've never done before... they're having a second big Back to School sale! It's a one-day event taking place tomorrow, August 20th, and it's designed to give you a boost and help you find the resources needed to get your school year off to a great start.

As usual, TpT is giving 10% off everything on the site. Of course I have to do my part, as usual, by taking an additional 20% off everything in MY TpT store! To receive the full discount, be sure to add the code BOOST to your shopping cart when you check out.

Giving Back 10% to Caring Classrooms
Here's the part that's NOT so usual. I've decided to give back 10% of my earnings from the sale to classroom teachers, because teachers are the ones who support me and enable me to continue doing what I love! If you follow my blog, you'll know that I am one of the founders of the Caring Classrooms Community on DonorsChoose. So it's easy to guess where I'll be donating that money! It's going to go right into the Caring Classrooms account to be used to help fund projects throughout the year. If you aren't a member of our community, it's easy to join us! Visit the Caring Classrooms page to learn more.

When I shared my idea for a "Giving Back Sale" with Neil Raphel and Janis Raye of Compass Publishing, they decided to join me and donate 10% of the earnings on the books we have published together! So whether you purchase the digital versions or the print/digital combos of the books below, you'll be helping teachers in the Caring Classroom Community as well as enriching your own teaching experience with new resources!

Browse More Teaching Resources Here
If you see an ebook that interests you in the sidebar of my blog, just click the cover to go straight to that item in my TpT store. I've also created two linkups of some of my other popular resources. The first one includes popular combo deals, and the one below it includes individual products. Click each image to find it in my TpT store where you can preview it online. You can add your selections to your wishlist or shopping cart now, and return tomorrow to purchase them at a 28% discount. Don't forget to add discount code BOOST and update your cart when you checkout!

After the sale is over, I'll donate 10% of my total earnings from August 20th to Caring Classrooms on DonorsChoose where the money can be used to help fund teacher projects. Thanks for helping to support me and the teachers in the Caring Classrooms Community!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Family Science Night: Hands-on, Minds-on Fun!

Guest post by Carol Wooten

As one walks the hallway on the evening of Family Science Night, the echoes of excited young scientists fill the school building. From extracting strawberry DNA to investigating a car that runs on alternative fuel to constructing a Rube Goldberg machine from everyday materials, the students are actively engaged in learning that will impact them for a lifetime.

According to the well-known quotation from Benjamin Franklin, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” This ideology was taken into account with the design of Family Science Night. Our focus was to involve all participants through stimulating hands-on investigations. As with science investigations during class, the emphasis was not on simply telling or teaching, but making science come to life for families.

As a member of the planning committee for Family Science night and eventual chairperson for over a decade, I had the opportunity to directly observe the evolution of the evening and its amazing positive impact on both parents and students. Ten years ago, Family Science Night included five presentations from parents who were scientists and several university professors. The next year, students also became involved and conducted hands-on presentations for various sessions such as basic physics, landforms, and ecosystems. We included make-and-take stations where students (and parents) were able to construct and work on various challenges such as using science concepts to design and build the tallest straw tower.

Within the past five years, the popularity of Family Science Night has grown to over thirty presentations and make-and-take stations. Hence, the attendance has increased from under one hundred participants to over 500. The development of Family Science Night has flourished each year. As schools begin holding these exciting evenings of science, those organizing the event should remember to start small and then grow during consecutive years. Having parents and community involved in any aspect with the evening is vital to a successful event.

The key element of Family Science Night is that the evening is hands-on and minds-on. When university professors and scientists in the community agree to present at Family Science Night, this agreement includes a hands-on and often inquiry-based session where participants are able to explore the concept rather than receive a lecture.

In addition to outstanding speakers who incorporate hands-on learning for participants to explore a wealth of science concepts, schools may also integrate a science project into the Family Science Night. The cafeteria could be utilized to display these family science projects. Due to the end of year testing in science for fifth graders, the fifth grade students’ projects envelop one of the main concepts that will be assessed.

Family Science Nights may also progress into various formats.  For instance, students may share what they have learned from science class in stations using hands-on and inquiry based models, volunteers implement a variety of make-and-take stations, local scientists incorporate presentations that encompass hands-on and minds-on learning, or a combination of all of the above idea formats.

How to Plan and Host a Family Science Night

If schools are initiating a thrilling Family Science Night for the first time or for the hundredth time, the guidelines below will help to create an outstanding event that not only promotes science, but also involves the family and community in an astounding learning experience.

The list below is a starting point for a Family Science Night. Since each school is unique, organizers should feel free to modify the list and event planning to meet the needs of the school. A more detailed general planning list is found at; however, remember that the list is not cookie-cutter. It can be adapted to meet the needs of various schools.
  1. Develop a school team of interested members and delegate a chairperson. The committee can include staff members and parents—anyone who is motivated in enhancing children’s love of science. Establish meeting dates and begin to assign roles.
  2. Decide on the size of the event. Will you have five presentations or are you expanding to over thirty? Your size may also depend on your budget. Our budget was $400 for 30 stations, which mainly provides materials for the make-and-take stations. However, the event has been run with less than a $100 budget—you simply have to minimize the materials for make-and-takes or depend on a variety of donations to facilitate these stations.
  3. Develop a theme for the event. For example, “Connecting with Super Scientists” was last year’s theme that emphasized the integration of technology. 
  4. Brainstorm a list of possible presenters and session topics. Conduct research of excellent presenters by first determining parents skilled in the area and then contacting other universities and/or companies to present. What types of content for presentations would yield high interest?
  5. Determine the number of make-and take stations and the content for each station. Examples of make-and-take stations include straw towers, bird feeders, UV bead bracelets, Rube Goldberg machines that are designed using scrap materials, Oreo moon phases, and silly putty.
  6. Create a “to do” list in preparation for this sensational evening.
  7. Distribute speaker invitation letters.
  8. Organize the presenters/speakers based on their attendance replies. Which presenters noted they were able to attend? Which presenters were unable to attend but showed an interest for next year’s event?
  9. Assign classrooms to the presenters and stations.
  10. Create a program for the event. A sample program can be found on the aforementioned website.
  11. Purchase and organize make-and-take materials. Organizing and labeling each station’s materials in a separate box is very beneficial. Include precise directions for the station in the box.
  12. Ask for additional help and decide what roles need to be completed the day of the event. An efficient method of structuring and assigning your helpers is to use a program such as Sign Up Genius.
  13. Confirm speakers/presenters again (a week prior to the event). It is also beneficial to confirm what types of technology the speaker needs for the presentation.
  14. Prepare packets/envelopes for the presenters. It could include a map of the school, a student-created thank you note, and/or a voucher for free food (if food is being served at the event). The thank you notes are always greatly appreciated.
  15. On the day of the event, greet speakers and monitor to make sure all technology needs are met. 
  16. Following Family Science Night, evaluate the evening. What went well? What areas would you improve? Then, celebrate and set the date for the next year’s event.

Passport System Encourages Participation

During our first several years implementing a Family Science Night, we realized that attendees were definitely drawn to the make-and-take stations such as the pine cone bird feeders or straw towers. But how could we ensure that all presenters were visited equitably? This question led to the design of a passport system. With this system, attendees received a passport handout with their program upon arrival at the Family Science Night. After attending each session, they would earn a sticker from the presenter or volunteer to place on this form. Click the page of passport sticker image on the right to download our passport packet.

Once all stickers were earned, the participants returned the form to the main table to receive a prize. These prizes have included anything from science related washable tattoos to neon “Family Science Night” pencils. Participants also completed the form with their name and contact information to place into the bin for a grand prize drawing—a $25 gift card that is given away at the conclusion of Family Science Night.

Furthermore, Family Science Night provides an excellent opportunity to create leadership roles for students, especially fourth and fifth graders. Student ambassadors work to assist with sign design, greeting presenters, distributing programs, and creating thank you notes for all presenters. Schools may have students apply for this position, or the role can be teacher selected.  Students take pride in their roles and work diligently to ensure they fulfill their assigned ambassador duties.

With each year, we embark on Family Science Night as a new and exciting experience. As a science committee, we learn from each event and strive to make the next year’s Family Science Night even more electrifying.

Carol Wooten is a fifth grade math and science teacher at Hunter GT/AIG Magnet Elementary in Raleigh, NC where she is entering her seventeenth year of teaching. Wooten is a former Kenan Fellow whose project was entitled “Science Inquiry and Assessment.” She is a past recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching. Wooten serves on the NCAEE board as the Teacher Director at Large. Carol is also a member of the NC Association of Elementary Educators Board of Directors.
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