Thursday, December 14, 2017

Graffiti Challenge

Ok, team! The countdown to Winter Break is down to single-digits! Wahoo!!! After today, there are seven school days left -- and several of those are exam days!  So let’s do one last review game -- one that requires VERY LITTLE PREP!!! (almost none)

Here is our last Review Strategy for December...

Higher Order Review: Graffiti Challenge
  1. Use it before an assessment or project to review key concepts, words, or HOT questions.
  2. What you need:
    1. Key concepts (1 for each poster)
    2. Chart paper
    3. Markers
  3.  Write each of the chosen key concepts or HOT questions in the middle of the poster and spread the posters around the room.
4. Put students into groups, each one with a poster.
  1. Hint: Keep groups small (no more than 3-4 a group) and let the kids name their groups if they want.
  2. Give students the markers or let them choose (you can have them next to the posters).
  3. Describe to them the process and the intervals. They are to write as many words, phrases, sentences, or draw pictures that relate to the concept or HOT questions within the allotted time interval.
  4. Hint: Don’t make it a long time interval. 3-5 minutes max.
  5. You call SWITCH and they rotate to the next poster.
  6. Follow this procedure until students return to their original poster.
  7. Collect the posters and display them; or have the students choose where to display them.
  8. As a class, go through the posters. Correct any mistakes if necessary and add any important information where necessary. This can also be student-led.
  9. As you go through the posters, ask additional higher-order thinking questions!

Pro tips:
  • Explain the rules, expectations, and concept of the game prior to beginning it.
  • Have the students lead the discussion at the end.
  • Have the students tally up points at the end.
  • Keep a strict and consistent time interval. It creates a sense of urgency.
  • Give each team their own color to help you keep track of who said what on the chart paper.

Benefits of Graffiti Challenge Game:
  • Because the kids will love it! Especially having a choice between writing a word, phrase, sentence, and drawing.
  • It forces the students to pull from their own knowledge and collaborate with each other.
  • It gives the students an opportunity to move about the room while you still maintain control.

Watch Out For:
Students get a little “crazy” because they don’t know what to do. That can be solved by thoroughly and explicitly discussing your rules, expectations, and the reasons for the review game. It can also be solved by maintaining a consistent time interval during the rotations.

All you need is a little chart paper, some markers, and some open-ended questions! Can you use it? Will it help your kids review content? And ... can you make it these last few days before Winter Break? I’m a little antsy myself.

As always, email me and let me know how it goes!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

True False Fix

When was the last time you gave a True/False activity? Most of us have moved away from  these. They give kids a 50/50 shot at guessing. They actually take time to craft carefully --- and if we don’t take time, they end up being ridiculously easy for kids to answer. That makes them low level.

But recently, we have found a new life for true/false statements! *Full disclosure! We still have to spend some time on them so they aren’t  super easy!

But the amount of thinking that goes into True/False/Fix might be worth it. You tell me what you think...

Higher Order Review: True, False, Fix
  1. What you need:
    1. 10-20 statements that are cut out and that are true and false. (Pro tip: use different colors and Ziploc bags to keep each group’s stacks from getting mixed with another’s)
    2. Blank paper (1 per group)
    3. Writing utensils
  2. Choose several statements that are higher order and true and false about the materials you are reviewing. (not “right there” statements)
    1. These need to be separated into separate slips (cut outs) of paper so they can be moved around.
    2.  Choose 10-20 statements, depending on the length of your class and your students.
  3. Divide the students into pairs and separate throughout the room.
  4. Allow them to create their own team names
  5. Describe the expectations, rules, and processes of the review game.
  1. Phase 1: Set a timer and begin! If the statement is correct, they move it to the left side. If the statement is incorrect, they move it to the right side.
    1. They must have done this before moving onto the next step.
    2. 10 minutes is enough time for them to read through it and separate.
  2. Phase 2: Set a timer and have the students correct the false statements.
  3. Phase 3: Go over the false statements with the class – this can be done by group, individually, or whole class. Don’t forget! Have the students correct the false statements.
  4. 8.      Phase 4: Have the students write their own! 2 true and 2 false statements, share with a neighboring group, and teach their classmates!
Pro tips:
  • Keep students on a timer and monitor the room.
  • Explain the goal and expectations ahead of time.
  • Work with the students in their groups.
  • Allow them to use lesson materials, but remind them of the time limit.
  • Idea: You can have the students earn points for correcting the false statements.
Benefits of True, False, Fix
  • You can review larger topics and single quotes.
  • The students can practice quickly correcting mistakes and form the correct answers.
  • The students can write their own true-false statements and have a different group sort and correct, teaching the others.
Watch out for:
  • Students might not understand your rules and expectations, so make sure they know this in advance!
  • What if they don’t write a corrected phrase? Walk through it with them! It’s super beneficial to do one as a whole class so they see it! (MODEL IT)
  • They could get off-task…monitor them and interact with them during the game!

What do you think? Can your students try True/False/Fix? Will they review what you want them to review? Will it help? As always, I love to hear about it! Email me at

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Crumple and Shoot

My first year of teaching, I had a 6th grader named Lamar. Lamar was the wiggliest, squirmiest, most energetic little guy I had seen yet. He literally rolled around on the floor almost every day.

And I, a 24 year old “newbie” was supposed to keep him in his seat? And focused? And LEARNING? Uhhh... they didn’t teach that part in college.


I had no idea how to do that. When I told him toget in his seat, he would usually do so -- only to “fall out” two minutes later. When I turned my back, he had dance moves ready. Sometimes seated, sometimes not. He would accidently-I-mean-on-purpose mess up his paper so he could throw it out -- and make points for the basketball shot into the trash can.

Well, Lamar, here is the game I wish I had for you.

It’s called “Crumple and Shoot” and it’s a review game. But it’s BEST use is as a review game for higher order questions. Here’s how it works:

Prep the game. :
1.      Create/compile a stack of higher order questions that would help students with the upcoming assessment. Don’t forget the answer key!
2.   Chop some scrap paper in quarters. Old worksheets or messed up copies are perfect! You need a lot – one per team, per question.
3.   Make sure your trash can is clean-ish and useable. Or, use a box or another basket. Place it in a clear area. Place a piece of masking tape at a reasonable spot a few feet away, and then another behind that one.
4.   Create a scoreboard on the board at the front of the room.
Play the game:
5.      Arrange students in teams of three or four.
6. Go over rules with the students:
  • Stay in your seats at all times
  • No heckling
  • Both feet must be behind the line until the ball leaves your hand. Otherwise, your shot doesn’t count.
  • One piece of paper per shot.

7. Teacher reads the higher-order question aloud – or display it on the board on power point.
8. Group members discuss and agree on an answer then write it LEGIBLY on one piece of paper. Not too loudly – don’t want other groups to hear!
9. After the teacher says “Answers Up”, one group member holds up the paper.
10. If your answer is wrong, the teacher will take the paper.
11. If your answer is right, the teams will send up one person to crumple the paper and shoot it in the basket (or box or basket).
12.  If the shooter makes it, the team gets a point. The group with the highest points wins.
13.  Consider having winning team get an extra credit point or two on the assessment.
Pro Tips:
  • Create a “one point” line and a “two point” line a little further from the trash can.
  • Create a bulls-eye, like in darts, around the trash can.
  • Give points for good behavior, so kids don’t get squirrely.
Benefits of Crumple and Shoot Game:
·         Student engagement and teamwork
·         Way to make higher order questions more fun.
·         Engages students who prefer physical movement
Watch Out For:
  • Kids struggling to know answers. Consider making this open book/open note/open brain.
  • Kids getting rowdy.  Remind students that they are not to get out of their seats or to heckle. Award points for good behavior.
  • One team is winning and others are giving up.  Award a second place prize to keep the rest engaged.

What do you think? Do you have a version of Lamar in your class? Some kid who can’t stop moving? Do you think he would be successful at this game? Will you try it? As always, I love to hear! Email me!


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Skim and Scan

My house if full of “talkers”. I know. You’re all soooo surprised.  

But in our house full of talkers, we all, on occasion, start talking without giving any context. I don’t know if my kids do it because my husband and I accidently model that? I don’t know if their little brains just start at the “good part” and forget to give us background?

But anyway, sometimes it’s hard to understand the story without the context.

And it’s easy for us-the-teachers to jump in and TELL the kids the context.

But if we believe that “the person doing the talking is doing the thinking”, then we know that the kids will think about it better and it will “stick” better (in their brains), if we let them come up with the context.

“But Tracy”, you ask, “if they don’t have any context, how are they supposed to make their own context? I mean, if they have never heard of the Haitian Revolution, then they have never heard of the Haitian Revolution. How can they have context if they have never even heard of it?”

Good question.

This is one of the best uses for your textbook (or related article).

This is when you use  ......  Skimming and Scanning!

No, really! I know we talk a lot about document analysis and close reading, but sometimes -- we just need to skim and scan.

You and I do this all the time in adult world. We skim and scan our email. Maybe you are skimming and scanning THIS email (Hey. I don’t judge.). You skim and scan student work sometimes. You skim and scan articles in the news and on social media.

You-the-educated-adult don’t do a close read on EVERYTHING that comes your way.

Neither do I.
Let’s get into the nuts and bolts of skimming and scanning.

How do I do skimming and scanning with my students?
  1. Project the text on a Smartboard or ELMO
  2. Model how skimming and scanning can build background knowledge by:
    1. Using titles and captions to activate/build background knowledge
    2. Look at images, people, maps, timelines, charts, graphs
    3. Look  at bolded or highlighted information or words
    4. Read sidebars or fact boxes
    5. Read first and last paragraphs
    6. Record “first impressions” and “fast facts”  
    7. Have students summarize and put those impressions in a summary statement or “final thoughts”.
     C. Ask students to practice skimming and scanning a short (chunked) piece of text with a partner, using steps i-vii above.
2. How do I keep my kids on task?
a.  Keep the text short.  
B. Use gradual release.
C. Correct misconceptions when kids think every word is equally important.
3. Why should I try this one?
  1. Because not all text was created equal. Some text is created for close reads – and some is just for background info. Kids need to know the difference and they need to know what to do with less-important (but background building) text. Students need context to be able to appropriately tackle a more complex text.
4. What can go wrong?
  1. If not well monitored and corrected, students can get confused and mistake essential  info for non-essential. That’s why gradual release is essential with skimming and scanning. Also, kids can struggle to stay engaged. That’s why timers and modelling and chunking text are so helpful.
  2. Also – your adolescent students are not as well educated as you-the-college-educated-teacher. Don’t expect them to get as much out of their reading as you do. And that’s ok.
Give them a chart like this to jot down their answers...
First Impressions
Fast Facts
Final Thoughts

Do you see how having your students do a quick 5 minute skim and scan can help them build background knowledge? Instead of having the kids read the textbook section before getting into the deeper content, have them skim and scan before getting to the document or the higher-order thinking activity. It teaches them to get an overview and it builds background knowledge.

AND -- it saves time!

Everybody wants more time!

Image result for stay strong thanksgiving break  memeChoose text to build background knowledge and have kids skim and scan. Don’t choose the really- important document that you need to dig into.
Choose the one you just need to use to build background knowledge.
Will you try it, judiciously?As always, I love to hear from you! Email me at

Have an AWESOME Thanksgiving. I am thankful for all the awesome colleagues I work with! Have a great -- and well-deserved- break!