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Going Digital with Exit Slips

It is likely that our new principal rued the day last September that he told us we would soon be getting a few carts of Chromebooks. 

Okay, so he most likely rued the day he told ME we would be getting Chromebooks.

Because I went gung-ho, cuckoo bananas, Google gaga. Meaning I signed up for every training course offered in 16 states, give or take 15.9. 

And I created some jazzy, pizzazzy DigELA resources like Argument Writing DigELA and Theme DigELA

Digital ELA resources from DigELA are fun, organized, and easy to use!

I may have asked him a few thousand times when the Chromebooks would be in.

Well...wouldn't you?

They were scheduled for a November arrival. In actual real-time, that means June.

Yep. We got them in time to spend two days with them.

Which in real-time is...two days.

This year, we will be going 1:1 and I am so excited!

Exit Slips

I am expecting to use my DigELA Digital Exit/Entrance Slips almost every single day. Watch the video and you might see why I'm gung-ho, cuckoo bananas, Google gaga over them.

I admit there was a time when my only exit question was "What!? Is that the bell already?"

Not anymore. The Chromebooks will mean that I can easily and quickly assign the perfect exit question for any lesson.

How can we use exit and entrance slips to benefit instruction? 

♦ Use them as a quick way to assess students’ learning.
♦ Collect exit slips as part of an assessment portfolio for each student.
♦ Use them to inform instruction by providing you with valuable information about students’ understanding.
♦ Exit and entrance slips can also be used to promote mindful learning and self-reflection.

This set has the following types of exit/entrance ticket prompts:

~~ prompts that document learning
~~ prompts that support goal-setting
~~ prompts that generate wonder
~~ prompts that promote self-reflection
~~ prompts that encourage connections
~~ blank prompts for you to use for specific questions/tasks/problems

In order to really "dig" into digital classroom learning, I'll rely on digital classroom experts. This blogpost, by Study All Knight's Danielle Knight, is very helpful: Key Questions and Answers for Going Digital in Your Classroom . I will also rely on all of the digital teacher/bloggers in the links below. They really know their stuff!

As for me, I'll continue to chronicle my digital classroom escapades. I'm also looking forward to trying out some new apps. There's Kaizena, which allows voice commenting on writing pieces, and Wordie, which evaluates the level of vocabulary in a passage. I'll be posting more on these as I use them.

I'm sure we will have a combination of successes and failures, but I'm looking forward to this digital journey. :)

10 Ways to Use a Word Wall for Vocabulary Aquisition

Why do we teach vocabulary? 

Because studies prove that a student's vocabulary is the best predictor of academic success.

Find out how middle and high school teachers can create a literacy-rich environment and accelerate vocabulary acquisition.

I have grown to LOVE using word walls in my middle school classroom, and they are quite effective in enhancing vocabulary acquisition. 
(I must admit that my words almost got me in trouble last year when the new fire marshal issued me a "ticket" because I had words displayed within three feet of the ceiling and two feet of the door. Hmph...Isn't that a bit much? The old fire marshal never had a problem with them; I guess he was pro-word. This one must be pro-pantomime.) 

Read about 10 easy ways to use word walls to create a literacy-rich environment and accelerate vocabulary growth.

Word walls are no longer just for elementary school. More and more middle and high school teachers are using word walls as awesome content area tools to engage our friends and create a literacy-rich environment.

Word Walls: Make Them Interactive & Give Them Purpose

We want kids to engage with the word wall. It shouldn’t just be decorative. Giving kids a reason to engage with word walls gives them purpose for being in the room. Word walls aren’t just posters. They are learning tools and we have to USE them.

Here are 10 great ideas for using word walls in a middle school classroom.

1. Personal Word Wall

Here are 10 great ideas for using word walls in a middle school classroom.

Begin by giving students an organizational handout that they can use to make their own personal word wall. I like to tell kids that once they use a new word it’s theirs to keep. A mini word wall is a wonderful source of reference for students to use when reading and writing. It is also perfect if wall space is an issue, because you can change the words without the risk that students will forget them.

It’s great to watch students reference their personal word wall. I like to use foldable notes, like the one at the right. Folding notes make the word visible, but not the definition. Kids can then use the notes to quiz themselves. If you don’t use foldables, a worksheet with boxes is fine. Make the boxes large enough so students can add visuals if they learn better this way.

I call our word notes the “mini wo-wa.” The kids like when I make words up, and they are much more likely to use it if it has a silly name. It’s pretty common for me to hear a student suggest a classmate add a word to his “mini wo-wa.”

2. Include Definitions

Word walls work best when definitions are included. They become a huge dictionary that students can refer to when reading and writing. Many teachers think that the definitions don't have to be included, but experts say they do.

Imagine this. You are eager to learn Greek, so you enroll in a beginner Geek class. In the classroom, Greek words are hanging on a bulletin board. Just the words. There aren't any illustrations or familiar text to accompany them. The teacher is speaking Greek and expects you to participate, using those Greek words on the board.

The teacher asks for someone to share the name of their skýlos. You think you remember what a skylos is, but you're not totally sure. Is it your dog? You think so, but you're not positive. Is it your town? Street? Now you start to sweat, wondering if the teacher will call on you. Luckily, someone else remembers that a  skýlos is a dog.

You would have been much more confident participating if you had been able to look over at your life-sized dictionary. And eventually, those definitions will sink in.

3. Refer to the Words

During instruction, use your best Vanna White arm-sweep and refer to the words frequently, so students begin to understand their relevance. Our friends will learn that the words aren’t chosen arbitrarily. Referring to the words also allows kids to make a visual connection between the word and its use.

4. Add Visuals

Assign kids to find or draw pictures that illustrate the word for homework and then add them to the word wall. This ensures that the kids are thinking about the words outside of class. The pictures also add an important visual quality.

5. Use a Concept Wheel

A vocabulary concept wheel is a great graphic organizer you can use to promote vocabulary acquisition.It allows students to build meaning for themselves.
Click to Download this Vocabulary Concept Wheel

A "concept wheel" is another popular graphic organizer you can use to allow students to build meaning for themselves. Draw a circle on a piece of paper. Divide the circle into four parts. In the first part, "Biff" writes a word he would like to understand better. In the second part, Biff brainstorms a list of words he thinks of when he hears the word in the first box. In the third is the denotation, or formal definition of the word. In the fourth section, Biff paraphrases the definition. On the bottom, Biff writes a sentence in which the word is used correctly. Students learn best when they "construct" meaning of words on their own.

6. Become an Expert

Place students in groups of three or four and assign each student one or two words to become an expert on. You can Jigsaw the activity by allowing the experts to work with experts from other groups, if you’d like. Experts have to determine the best way to teach the rest of the group about the word. They can employ visuals, act it out, provide examples, or play a game. When the experts go back to their original group, they will teach their group all about the word.

7. Create Word Art

Create Word Art for Vocabulary Acquisition:  Encourage each student to choose a word and then create a visual representation of the meaning of the word. They might even create it using the letters of the word. 
For our visual artists, encourage each student to choose a word and then create a visual representation of the meaning of the word. They might even create it using the letters of word. For example, in the image above, the word "conflict" looks like it's fighting, the word "impact" is crashing into a wall.

I have found this to be an excellent hands-on way to teach new words to older students. It gives them the spelling and the meaning of the word all at once and helps quicken the transition of the new words into long-term memory. The kids love doing the hands-on art work and seeing what others have created. Each word is created on a half sheet of regular copy paper and by the end of the school year we have some cool art to add to our word wall.

8. Matchmaking (or as I call it, Wo-Wa Speed Dating)

Each student is given a word and an index card. They write everything they know about their word on the card, definitions, examples, everything. They then rotate, sharing the word card with a partner. Together, the two decided on a commonality or relationship between their words.

Impose a predetermined time limit, so students can move on, but before they do, randomly ask one group to share their findings with the class. If your friends are like mine, they are much more likely to stay on task if there is a chance they will have to be accountable for sharing their findings.

9. Write a Poem

Ask students to write a poem using as many word wall words as possible. Alternatively, task students with creating an extended metaphor poem about one of the words.

10. Word Ad

In this variation of Become an Expert, a group is assigned a word or two to teach the rest of the class. They should begin by brainstorming all possible uses of the word. Then they create a skit in which they “sell” the word to the class.

One of the best word ad skits I’ve seen took place during our study of nonfiction terminology. One group was tasked with creating a sales pitch for the word graphics. To start their presentation, the group read some instructions for assembling a swing set, and when they got to the part about requiring nails, brought out manicure supplies. The class quickly caught on the importance of including visual representations, especially when writing informational text, such as Feature Articles.

How to Get Started Using Word Walls

First, let's go over the three tiers of vocabulary words.

Find out how word walls can help you teach Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary words!

As an ELA teacher, I begin the year by hanging Tier 2 testing "power" words. These command verbs are the KEY to successful test-taking, as students will come across them on virtually every test they will ever take every subject.

Middle school teachers can use word walls to enhance vocabulary acquisition.
Middle school teachers can use word walls to enhance vocabulary acquisition. I also hang Tier 3 literary terms, because we begin the year by studying fiction and narrative writing. I recommend beginning the year by displaying high-frequency words used across content areas, and words that are commonly used in your first unit of study.

By the time we are ready to move on to nonfiction, the kids are familiar enough with the literary terms, so I take them down and add our nonfiction words.

Middle school teachers can use word walls to enhance vocabulary acquisition.

Recommendations for Displaying Word Walls

Do laminate the words, if you intend to have students manipulate them.

Don't make the same mistake that I did last year when I decided to become Mrs. Glossy vonBlindyou. Our laminated words were so shiny that there was a bad glare at certain times of the day. I'm pretty sure I temporarily blinded at least one kid. Lesson learned: I should have made them matte.

As for display, the words don't have to be displayed on a bulletin board. If space is an issue, hang them in various places around the room. If space is not an issue, good for you! I won't let my...sniff... jealousy get in the way of our blossoming friendship. ;)

If you have other ideas for using word walls, please share! I'm always looking for new ways for my students to interact with vocabulary words.

Smart Pinterest Strategies for Teachers

A few years ago, I went to set up my classroom before school started, and I noticed a shiny new teacher hanging posters in the room across the hall. As I walked over to introduce myself, I had to negotiate my way past several big black garbage bags- stuffed to maximum capacity. I was pretty impressed with shiny new teacher's drive and ambition.

We chatted. I welcomed her. Offered to help. Yada yada. 

And then I noticed. The huge filing cabinet, drawers wide open and totally empty. Emptied by shiny new teacher to make room for her own shiny new teachery things. And my name. In Sharpie. Written down the side.

It was mine. My file cabinet. Empty.

The garbage bags? All of my files. All of my plans. All of my everything. 

After waxing the floors, the custodial staff had placed my file cabinet in the wrong room. Shiny new teacher couldn't have known, so I tried to cry in private. I didn't want to tarnish the shine. 

Times have changed. These days I use that very same file cabinet to hold an extra pair of sneakers and an extension cord. Why? Because of my computer. And because of Pinterest. 

Pinterest isn't just for sharing recipes and cute outfits. It can be a classroom teacher's best friend. Here's how I recommend using it.
Find out how I use Pinterest as an online filing cabinet. I use it to catalog teaching tips, book titles, lessons, and organizational tips for my middle school class.

Create Unit of Study Boards

This must-see Pinterest board is my go-to place to find awesome nonfiction titles and teaching tips!Create a board for each unit of study that you teach, and pin photos, videos, books, and lessons pertaining to that lesson. With everything in one place, I can easily locate the anchor chart or mentor text I had in mind for a lesson. When I pin a YouTube video, I often remove the annoying sidebar first, so I'm never scrambling to hide the inappropriate images that sometimes appear. 

On my Middle School Nonfiction board, I keep track of books I'd like to purchase for class. When I'm in a bookstore or at the library, I can easily whip out my phone and open the board using the Pinterest app. Before Pinterest I would have everything in my notes app. Or worse yet, I would text myself titles. Try scrolling through that mess to find something quickly. Sheesh.

Share Ideas with Teammates

Make a teammate a co-pinner on the board so that you can collaborate and share ideas and resources.You'll avoid sending a lengthy list of emails links that get lost in the email abyss. The board will be easy to find, and the information on it can be accessed whenever it is needed.

I teach a short advisory class and often team up with a coworker to raise money for a local children's charity. We buy supplies, and spend the 10 minute period making crafts, which the kids then sell to other kids and teachers in the school. It's difficult to find a quick, easy, and cost-effective project that can be started and completed in a timely manner, so when I come across something in my Pinterest "travels," I pin it to my Creative Ideas board. I love that board and also use it to pin classroom "hacks."
Check out the Clever Classroom Ideas Pinterest board for classroom hacks, organizational tips, and more!

Use Pinterest as a Muse

Pinterest's search function provides a wonderful way to find educational sites, helpful blog posts, and all kinds of teaching ideas. You can be as specific as you would like. Just type in a variety of search words and terms and see what comes up. You can modify your search to look for pins or boards, which is extremely helpful. For instance, let's say you are interested in finding writing ideas to use in a middle school classroom. Search "writing, middle school students" and then click "boards." You will have a chance to look through the boards of someone who has already pinned useful information, saving you a lot of precious time.   

Don't forget to follow pinners who have similar interests as you. Often, they will follow you back, and you can be online "collaborators" of sorts, sharing information with ease. 

While you are exploring the wonders of Pinterest, you might want to check out our Secondary Smorgasbord board. It's the place to go to find pins related to our wonderful and informative monthly blog hops.
 Ideas for Secondary Teachers

Close Reading Strategy: Three Rounds

I get a lot of emails from teachers who want strategies for close reading in the content areas. 

These teachers are NOT trained to teach reading. And now they are being told that we are ALL teachers of reading, and they need practical close reading strategies that do NOT detract from the content they have to teach.

So over the next few weeks, I'm going to share some close reading strategies that can be used by teachers of any subject. I'll also answer some questions I get about the strategies.
Close Reading Strategy: Three Rounds gives students a purpose for re-reading a text. They will learn a strategy for finding the central idea of ANY piece.

What is Close Reading?

Let's start here: 
Close reading of a text involves careful, purposeful reading and rereading of a text. 

Sounds simple enough, right?  

In an ideal world, we hand out a complex text with complex questions, and we say, "Read this complex text. Then reread this complex text. Then, before you answer the complex questions about the complex text...rereread it.

If only it were that easy.  In fact, if it is easy for you to get your students to reread several times without involving bribery,  please come and teach mine. (And then make your way over to my house and convince my personal children to make their beds.) Because no matter how many times we tell our students to reread, most of them don’t do it.

How Can We Get Students to Reread?

We  have to convince our students that rereading will result in deeper comprehension by giving them a purpose for rereading.
Close Reading Strategy: Three Rounds gives students a purpose for re-reading a text. They will learn a strategy for finding the central idea of ANY piece.
This time we are going to try one of my favorite strategies: the three-round technique. It is a combination of a couple of other techniques, and it encourages rereading because it requires rereading.

What is the Three-Round Method and Why Does it Work?

The three-round method forces readers to slow down and approach a text in a deep and thoughtful manner. There is built-in scaffolding, so all students will benefit. In fact, if you are using this in professional development, I recommend that you have teachers try it themselves, with one of the provided texts or with another short text.

Here we go!

Close Reading Strategy: Three Rounds gives students a purpose for re-reading a text. They will learn a strategy for finding the central idea of ANY piece.

Three Rounds for Close Reading

Begin by assigning kids to work with a partner.

Round 1
  • Have students read a short passage. Then ask them to independently  find one significant word from the passage, and write down why the word is significant.
  • Give partners about a minute to discuss the word they chose and whey they chose it.
Round 2
  • Now ask students to find a significant phrase and explain why it’s significant.
  • Give partners 2 minutes to discuss the phrases they’ve chosen.
Round 3
  • Direct students to find a significant sentence from the passage and explain.
  • Give partners 3 minutes to discuss the sentences they’ve chosen.
Wrap Up
  • Have students independently determine the central idea of the passage.
  • Give students several minutes to discuss the central idea and share evidence.
  • Come together as a class to share ideas.
What Now?
Students have now read the text at least three times. They’ve shared evidence, discussed it, and they’ve carefully examined the text. 

Use the same procedure with other texts. Just be sure to start with short passages or text excerpts. Short passages are less daunting to students, so they are much more likely to focus. Also, in real-life reading or in a test situation, students will rarely have to reread an entire text. Instead, they will reread sections or chunks of texts, so it’s best to practice with short passages.

Eventually, you can ask students to find something other than central idea. You can ask specific, content-based questions.

You can also use the strategy with a longer passage and jigsaw. Break the kids up into small groups and assign each group a different part of the text. The entire class can come together to share their findings.

If you doubt the effectiveness of this strategy, (or if you are like me- mischievous) assign a complex text, go straight to the central idea question, and then discuss it as a class. If the text is truly challenging, the chances are good that your kids will be way off the mark. Then you can try doing the three-round method with the same text. When the kids see how much easier it is to comprehend the text after rereading, you have a complete buy-in to rereading. 

It's a double win. They think you are brilliant for teaching this, and you have them convinced that rereading is worthwhile. 

Wait. It's a triple win. Your supervisor will see that you are a content area teacher...AND a teacher of reading. ;)
Close Reading Strategy: Three Rounds gives students a purpose for re-reading a text. They will learn a strategy for finding the central idea of ANY piece.

If you know about any other great close reading strategies, please comment here or on my Darlene Anne's ELA Buffet on FaceBook page.

Let's help each other, so we can all help our students. 

Everything we teach our students will make the world a better place.

Get Ready for Back-to-School

Our summer vacay is almost here, and I am bone-weary, brain-tired, and ready for a well-deserved break. 

However, being the proud teaching nerd that I am, I'm already thinking of ways I can be more effective and efficient next year. Yes, relaxing and unwinding are in order, but…during the leisurely days of summer, why not use some of that mindless vacation time to be just a little bit mind-full, too?  Summer is the perfect time to marinate on these ideas that are sure make your ‘classroom life’ better when school starts in the fall.

If you’re also ready to use a few slices of your summer to make your fall easier, check out these helpful (and fun!) ways to get ready for fall when it arrives. Which isn't for a long, long time, right? ;)
You can be beach-bound AND getting ready for a new school year at the same time. My favorite tip is #2!

Box It Up! 
I have to pack every single book, poster, bin, and paper clip into boxes before I leave for summer because the floors are getting redone. To make things easier on myself for next year, I'm forcing myself to discard tons of stuff and labeling everything else with the month I need the items inside. I also have a few boxes labeled "I'm not sure I'll care if this box gets lost." I did this partially to get a chuckle out of the custodians and partially because I'm trying hard not to be a packrat. Chances are good that those boxes will not get unpacked. Instead, I'll decide later what I want to toss or keep. 

If you were also told to pack up your classroom, take the opportunity to get rid of things and make it easy on yourself for next year by packing everything in boxes by the month that you’ll use them.  Unpacking in August will be so much easier if you're only unpacking a few boxes. 

Listen Up!  
Along with some fun & frivolous reading this summer, try listening to a few engaging education podcasts too. Listening to them during the summer months can help to reignite your teaching fire for the fall. This one is high on my list, having been recommended by a few teacher friends: 

Always A Lesson’s Empowering Educators Podcast
Always a Lesson's Empowering Educators Podcast is like inspiration in a... pod. I'm tuning in to learn best practices from teacher leaders while I walk Sunny. He's excellent company. But not much of a conversationalist, so our walks provide the perfect time for a podcast. 

Change It Up!
I'm taking advantage of my new floors to come up with a total 21st century classroom redesign (pics and posts to follow!). Summer will be a great time to peruse Pinterest for cool images and ideas. 

If you feel the need to change the theme or décor in your classroom here’s an idea to find a new one…rather than try to brainstorm and force yourself to come up with an idea, just keep an eye out for appealing images and scenes over the summer. Then start shopping! It’s much more fun to wait for an idea to ‘speak to you’ rather than to force yourself into something at the last minute. 

Listen Up x 2!
Do you have some new & unfamiliar books that you’re required to teach next year? If so, why not listen to the audio version and jot down any relevant questions that come to mind as you’re listening? Often, those complex ‘higher order thinking skills’ questions are easiest to come up with when you’re just listening for fun, rather than hyper-focusing on what questions to ask as you read while planning.

Soak It Up!
Along with some rays, soak up some new info this summer! If you have to teach a new class in the fall--something you’ve never taught before-- another way to make it easy on yourself is to start now by reviewing the curriculum in little chunks. Don’t wait until the last minute ‘planning-panic’ time comes in August.  

Also, if you know any teachers who have already taught the class, don't be shy about asking what works and what doesn’t.  People are almost always eager to share what works well for them. Especially if the sharing is accompanied by a fruity drink.

Talk It Up!
Think about how communication with parents went for you this past year.  Decide over the summer if you’d like to make any changes. Do you want to start a parent newsletter or online group?  Maybe there’s some other (time-saving) way of communicating with parents that might work better. Perhaps a personal classroom drone can hand-deliver messages. :) During summer, we have the time to explore all of the possible ways to make our lives easier next year.

Amp It Up!
Summer is a great time to amp up your classroom’s online presence through social media. "Branding" your classroom by showcasing your ideas and hard work is another way to create a favorable impression of your teaching skills and all the work that goes on in your class. This could be mighty helpful to have in your corner during evaluation time! 

Engaging with other classes in your school, your district, or even around the world is always impressive to parents and administrators. Setting accounts up over the summer will allow you the time to explore what will work best for you and your class, whether it’s Instagram, Twitter, Edmodo or some other educational online platform.

Rest Up!
After patting yourself on the back for another academic year completed, please take lots of time to rest and recharge your batteries. 

And when you feel the time is right, be sure to give some thought to the ideas that I’ve shared here. They are offered to help you have an incredibly successful teaching experience next year!

Do you have any suggestions about the little things we can do to make back-to-school a little easier?

Using Sketchnotes to Generate Ideas for Writing

I was just about to take the photograph of a lifetime. Think National Geographic (if Nat. Geo. were interested in a pic of my dog in my backyard). ;)

But my camera's storage was full. I frantically hit delete, delete, delete. But it was too late.   

Some good did come out of it, because while hitting that little trashcan, I came across some photos of a writer's notebook activity that we did earlier in the year. I always have my friends keep lists and templates to generate ideas that we can draw on later. This is one we used to store ideas for personal narratives and memoirs

Sketchnote Fun!

Pinterest is full of awesome sketchnote ideas, and I thought my friends would like trying out an idea page that was a combination of doodles, sketches, words, phrases, and anecdotes. The only sketch that was necessary was the foot outline, so the non-artist types (like me) didn't feel pressure to include drawings. They just had to have some fun sharing the summer travels they went on. With their feet!

Sketchnotes are an awesome way to generate writing ideas! An added bonus? You'll learn lots of fun details about your students! Learn how I use them, and pick up a free template!

The foot above is the one I created to demo what it might look like. As I stated, I'm no da Vinci, so my sketches had to be pretty basic and drawn with a pencil first. I "cheated" on the dog by hand-copying a sketch of a dog that looks like mine, which I did because I couldn't bear to leave him out. 

The foot below is one that another non-artist did. Although it seems like he didn't write much, he actually planted some seed ideas for what could be some pretty cool writing pieces. He included anecdotes about a personally satisfying hike up a mountain with some friends that can translate into a memoir. And he wrote a little bit about a fun night in an amusement park that resulted in getting kicked off the Ferris wheel line, which would make an interesting narrative. 

Do you smell a story in there? I do! Better than a smell emanating from that sneaker!

Sketchnotes are an awesome way to generate writing ideas! An added bonus? You'll learn lots of fun details about your students! Learn how I use them, and pick up a free template!

The next foot also has a lot of potential. This girl wrote about her fun experiences at summer camp. It appears that she fell in love with Harry Potter and roller coasters, her friend fell out of a boat, and there's a camp ghost named Callie. My favorite? During a basketball game, my friend scored. But the shot she sank was in her opponent's basket! This later became an impressive personal narrative. She took that tiny idea and dug deeper to tell the story of that moment. It was awesome!
Sketchnotes are an awesome way to generate writing ideas! An added bonus? You'll learn lots of fun details about your students! Learn how I use them, and pick up a free template!
Free Personal Narrative Prewriting Template

Click on the template below to download a free template to use with your friends if you don't want them taking off shoes to trace their feet. It will not only serve as an idea generator; it will also serve as a great way to get to know your friends better. And their feet.
Use this free template for sketchnotes that will generate ideas for writer's workshop memoirs and personal narratives.

10 Effective Tips for Successful Questioning

Learning how to ask questions effectively has made a HUGE difference in my classroom! Read this blogpost to find out how to design questions, promote inquiry, and improve teacher/student relationships in your classroom. Very helpful!Word got around quickly that our new principal was a stickler for assessing our questioning techniques. At the beginning of every observation, he would make a chart, which he used to graph and record every single question we asked. 

His chart included these aspects of questioning and more:

  • Were we picking on students who did not volunteer, as well as those who raised their hands?
  • Did we accept "I don't know" as an answer?
  • What language did we use in our questioning technique?
  • How much wait time did we provide before expecting a response?
  • Did we question an equal ratio of boys to girls?
  • Did we hum She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain after each question?

Okay, so the last one wasn't part of his chart. But he might as well have thrown it in. New and experienced teachers panicked. We'd never had anyone hold our feet to the flames before. So we held an impromptu meeting after school to come up with some effective questioning strategies.

It ended up being a pivotal meeting, and not just because the emergency chocolate stash made an appearance. That meeting was when I learned best practices related to the power of effective questioning.

Here are ten questioning strategies that will enhance teacher-student relations and keep inquiry alive.
 Learning how to ask questions effectively has made a HUGE difference in my class! Read this blogpost to find out how to design questions, promote inquiry, and improve teacher/student relationships in your classroom. Very helpful!

1.  Pose the question, scan the room, and then ask a student to respond

Asking the question first and then looking around the room, sends the message that everyone should be prepared to answer. Students are more attentive when they know they could be held accountable at any moment. It also allows students the think time they need to process the question and formulate an answer. 

2.  Allow "think time"  before expecting a response.

Most teachers wait about 1.5 seconds before answering the question themselves or moving on to another respondent. That's understandable, as we feel pressure to cover a great deal of content in a limited amount of time. And that silence? It can feel mighty awkward in a class with 20 other kids chomping at the bit to participate.

"Think time" allows students time to  process complex information and construct more complex answers. I like to call it what it is by telling students that I'm giving them "think time." It's important for them to know that the person with the fastest response doesn't go home with a shiny silver trophy. Thoughtful and thorough responses are more valuable than speedy ones. How much time is enough? Studies show that a three-second pause is appropriate for a lower cognitive question, and a think time of up to nine seconds should be used for higher cognitive questions. 

3. Dignify incorrect responses

•     *One of our primary classroom goals should be to create a safe atmosphere for risk taking so our students feel comfortable and confident when answering questions, as well as when asking questions. There several ways to establish such an atmosphere when a student gives a wrong response.

*Resist the impulse to say "Moe, that's wrong." Instead, indicate which question the answer does answer correctly. For example, if you ask students to correctly identify a metaphor and Larry's answer is "simile," you can say, "That would be correct if the author had used the words like or as...“
*Allow a student to save face by "phoning a friend" to give another response. This is a positive way to have the student participate in finding an answer or idea. They succeed in helping the search along, despite being unable to answer.
If a student gives an incorrect answer, dignify their attempt by saying something like, "Curly Sue, I know what you're thinking," and then move on. This dignifies the student, because it gives the impression that a response does follow some line of reasoning. An alternative might be, "Oh, that's close, just tweak the idea a little," but this should only be used if the answer is indeed close. Kids can see right through us when we try to mislead them with sugar-coating and we do want students to learn the correct information.
*Break the question down, so the student can be successful with a more manageable bite.
4. Ask for an idea instead of an answer.

Most of us are in the habit of positively reinforcing a valid response by saying it is "good" or "correct." The problem is that this shuts down the other students. They automatically assume other answers are wrong. This is especially problematic if a question is interpretive, as there are many possible responses, and students have to supply supporting evidence to validate their response.

The solution to this is to develop the habit of asking for ideas instead of answers. We can then commend the proof that a student supplies, instead of the "answer" itself. It also encourages kids to formulate strong evidence in support of their responses.

5.  Design questions that require students to build on classmates' responses. 

 Read this blogpost to find out how to design effective questions, promote inquiry, and improve teacher/student relationships in your classroom. Very helpful!
Encourage students to listen to one another and make connections by asking them to build on what others have said. You might say, "Moe, how does your idea connect with Larry's?" This encourages interaction, and your classroom will become less teacher-centered and more peer-directed. 

6. Prepare your questions in advance.

Plan a series of clear and specific questions that are logically connected. During class discussions, rather than beginning with a question that is multifaceted and complex, use a sequence of questions to build depth and complexity. 

These are some of the questions I had ready when my students were preparing to write mini-argumentative papers on trophy hunting:

What is trophy hunting?
How has hunting changed over time?
Can a society benefit from trophy hunting?
What are the short-term effects of allowing trophy hunting?
What are the long-term effects of trophy hunting?
What ethical dilemmas does trophy hunting present?
What factors have to be considered when creating laws regarding trophy hunting?

As much as we think we will remember the questions we intend to ask a class, unless we have a superhuman memory, most of us will forget. Planning questions in advance allows us to build on knowledge and is one of the keys to effective questioning.  

7. Utilize partner sharing techniques to increase student engagement.

Think-Pair-Share and Turn & Talk are great collaboration strategies to encourage participation and practice effective speaking and listening skills.

Turn & Talk
Pose a question or prompt for students to discuss. 
Allow students to turn toward a predetermined partner and talk about the question for one to two minutes.
When the time is up, the class can come together to share their answers.
My students love when I call out "turn & talk" after posing a question. Their partner is a built-in captive audience, and who doesn't seize the chance to spout off to a captive audience? 

Think: Pose a question and have students independently write a response.
Pair: Have students share their response with a partner.
Share: Come together as a class to share responses.
Asking students to write and chat about their ideas with a partner before sharing with a large group has many benefits. In addition to strengthening listening skills, it builds confidence, encourages participation, and results in deeper class discussions.

8. Use mini whiteboards, so students can all respond at the same time.

Mini whiteboards cast a spell over my friends. Kids who balk at every line they have to write on paper will write a three stanza poem on a whiteboard. (I'm not kidding. I can't tell you how many kids have to whip out their phones to take a picture of their whiteboard masterpiece.) 

Those miniature dry erase boards provide an awesome way for ALL students to answer questions simultaneously.

Mini whiteboards are awesome! They allow ALL students to participate in answering questions simultaneously! Read this blogpost to find out more tips for effortless classroom questioning!

9. Take advantage of free random name generators.

Download an app like Randomly that will randomly generate students to call on. Or Transom offers a free random name generator here.

For a good old fashioned no-tech version, the popsicle stick name generator is a great alternative. Just have the kids write their own name on a stick, put them in a jar or basket, and then randomly select.

10. Self-evaluate after class. 

Make notes on the more or less successful questions from the day's lesson. 

Which questions resulted in spirited discussions and which ones led to more inquiry? 

Which questions and questioning fell flat? Why?

I always laugh when I remember writing lesson plans with a friend and looking at his planbook from the previous year. One page included a neatly typed list of discussion questions, with a handwritten note scrawled over them that said, "You idiot."

That note says it all. According to The Guardian, teachers ask 300-400 questions a day. We're not going to get all 300 questions right the first time, but with a little practice, we can keep improving. 

What are your favorite question techniques?
 Learning how to ask questions effectively has made a HUGE difference in my class! Read this blogpost to find out how to design questions, promote inquiry, and improve teacher/student relationships in your classroom. Very helpful!