Taming Classroom Turkeys – Strategies for Working with Challenging Students


Taming Turkeys Strategies for Challenging Students.pngevery-child-deserves-a-champion-rita-pierson-quote

We all face classroom challenges. And with the holidays coming up, of course  I could not resist the adorable Thanksgiving Turkey reference. Classroom Turkeys are a common staple in each and every class. You are going to have them, but how you handle them will set the tone for their success, your sanity, and the overall atmosphere of the classroom.

I have a few strategies that help me regain patience when I struggle with frustration. Hopefully you can find something to help your sanity, too!

#1 Love that Child

Love is the single most important part of a teacher’s job. Love learning, love what you do, love who you teach, love yourself, love your job. Get down to their level and make a connection with them. Show them that you care. Make sure they can tell that you genuinely want to see them succeed. Make it about the child, not the battle. Sometimes, this looks like a step back from the battle. Take a minute to reset the situation. Allow for a moment to love that child, then guide them back into the classroom activity.

I know we have all heard this verse before, especially in wedding movies! But, it really speaks to how love acts…

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That kind of love can change a classroom.

#2 Keep Check of Your Attitude

My mom might tell you this was always a tough one for me. Sometimes my facial expressions respond before I have a chance to think the situation through. I am working on that. 🙂 Attitude will change the course of any conversation. A child can read your attitude through tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, and your words. If any of those cues read “I’m over it.” or “There’s no use trying.”, kids can read that frustration and shut down. This is where we will lose them. It is important for us to have good coping strategies for frustration in the classroom. Even the most patient of us has moments of frustration. If you can calm your emotions and look at the situation through more loving and understanding eyes, the outcome will be better for you and your students. Thinking about my main goal and asking myself “what’s the point of being frustrated here?” usually calms me down. Ask yourself how you would feel walking in on a frustrated teacher in your own kid’s class. Simple thought redirections can help you reset your attitude in these situations.

Its all in your head. If you can change your perspective, you will change your attitude. Here are some simple Mindset Redirections that help me regain a positive and loving perspective.


#3 Search for a Source of Their Difficulty

There are many unseen causes of students acting out in the classroom. Whether it be shutting down and not following directions or disruptive attention-seeking behaviors, there is a root that needs to be pulled up. Unfortunately, you may never know what is going on with that child that is causing them to not follow the flow of the classroom.

This one pulls at my heart deeply. Many years ago, I had a student who never had homework completed, never had a parent signature in their planner, and struggled to keep up with the achievement level of our class. When asked about anything, the attitude was “I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. I’m too cool for this.” You can imagine my frustration with this attitude. I spent hours looking over data and graded assignments trying to figure out how to help them be successful in the classroom. Nothing seemed to motivate them. Through further investigation, we discovered this child had no support or attention at home. Parents worked multiple jobs and left before the kids even got up in the morning. The kiddos got themselves up, ready, and walked to school on their own. Parents rarely made it home before bedtime. No one was there to sign planners. No one was there to help make sure homework got home. No one was there to make sure they got fed. This is elementary school, and sadly way too young for these responsibilities to be expected of them. It was amazing that they accomplished what they had. We decided as a teaching team to take turns spending time in our class after school doing what we could to get homework done, planners signed by us, reading with them, and studying for tests. It did not even take a week before we saw a happy kid, catching up, and actually getting good grades. When I think about that year of teaching, it breaks my heart again. How many students have an unsupportive home life, or a condition, or a learning difference that stays under the radar, masked by a bad attitude and bad behavior?

It makes me think of that quote I constantly see floating around social media:


#4 Set up to Survive Ambiguity

A classroom is a smorgasbord of ability levels, personalities, attention levels, cultural backgrounds, and home life situations. As teachers, we must be able to deal with this ambiguity to provide each individual in our classrooms with the learning environment that will allow them to be successful. Ambiguity in the classroom can lead to confusion and frustration for kids trying to figure out how to act and react in classroom situations. How they handle emotions and challenges at home, may not be the best way to handle these situations at school. This will inevitably cause disruptions, distractions, and misbehavior. Classroom Turkeys usually can’t handle this very well. 🙂

This is where your classroom structure can help. If you have consistent, clear, concise classroom expectations, students will always know what you expect from them. Classroom procedures that are modeled and practiced and used consistently will create a classroom environment that flows smoothly regardless of the daily challenges. Do students know what to do when they walk in the room, when they are confused, when they are struggling, when they are finished with their work, when they have a question, when they need help, when they have energy bursts to burn off? If you provide structure in how these things are handled regularly, you will be training your students how to follow the classroom flow and eliminate some of the ambiguity of the classroom.

#5 Redirection Strategies

Redirection is simple and silent. Using redirection can help students stay on task and get back on task easily without major distractions. Try these before behavior warnings and consequences to keep a positive atmosphere for that student.


#6 Give Students Coping Strategies for Dealing with Their Own Emotions

Kids act out because they are not equipped with good coping strategies and they are not mature enough to handle emotions like a grown up. I know its easy for me to forget that kids are kids and they don’t always know a better way to respond to their own feelings. When a student makes a choice that could have been a better decision, have a heart to heart with them. Discuss what they did and what they could have done differently. Ask for their input when coming up with better choices for next time. School counselors are a great resource when you have a student struggling to cope with their emotions in an appropriate way for the classroom. Here is a list of options for kids struggling with an emotion during class. These strategies can cross over into their lives at home and after school, too!

Coping Strategies for Student Emotions.png


I hope that you were able to find something helpful so you don’t feel like you’re going to lose your cool with Classroom Turkeys. Our own stress levels go up and down depending on the smallest things going on in our lives. Take care of yourself first, so you can take care of your classroom.

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Science Experiments for Engaging Classrooms

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Engaging Science Experiments

Science is exciting! Science experiments have always been my number one secret to classroom behavior management. Start each lesson with a really cool demonstration, and you have them hooked. Finish each lesson with a great experiment that tests an interesting problem, and you have made it memorable.

I am building a collection of experiments to share with all of my science teacher friends out there! Keep checking my EXPERIMENTS AND LABS FOR ELEMENTARY KIDS page for a growing science resource! Here are a couple experiments to get you started.

Glowing Foam Explosion


4Tbs (barely) warm water

2tsp yeast

1 cup hydrogen peroxide (The higher the percent

Hydrogen Peroxide, the thicker the foam. 3% was

used in this picture.)

5-10 drops food coloring

Glow Sticks ( at least 3)

3 drops of dish soap

Soda bottle



1.Place the empty soda bottle on a large tray.

2.Mix yeast and warm water together in a small bowl or beaker.

3.Pour the hydrogen peroxide into the soda bottle.

4.Add food coloring, dish soap, and glow stick liquid to the soda bottle. (Cut both ends of the glow stick to pour it into the bottle.)

5.Turn most/all of the lights off. It even looks neat in the light.

6.Add the yeast mixture to the soda bottle.

7.Watch the excitement!

**Don’t worry this does not explode all that big. A cookie tray is sufficient for catching the foam.

This experiment is the attention grabber for my back to school Nature of Science Complete Lesson Set! If you want a ready to go lesson that starts with this exciting demonstration, check it out and make a week of planning easy peasy!


Earth Blobs Recipe:

Water Blob

6oz bottle glitter glue

3-5 pea sized drops liquid watercolor (blue)

2-3 drops liquid watercolor (green)

Blue glitter (as much as your heart desires)

1/3 cup liquid starch from the laundry aisle

Mix the glue, watercolors, and glitter in a bowl.

Add the starch in slowly, kneading with your hands. (It is sticky at first, but I promise it gets better.)

Land Blob

4oz bottle white glue

3-4 drops liquid watercolor (green)

1 drop liquid watercolor (yellow)

Blue glitter (as much as your heart desires)

1/3 cup liquid starch from the laundry aisle

Mix the glue, watercolors, and glitter in a bowl.

Add the starch in slowly, kneading with your hands. (It is sticky at first, but I promise it gets better.)

Once the two are done you can break them up into small sections so each student gets one. If you have a little blue and a little green for each student, they can roll them together to make a ball that looks like Earth!

***Do not put the blobs on paper! They absorb the paper, and you will never get it back…

***Save an extra blob for a lesson on gravity! They spread out and roll off a table ledge showing off the force of gravity.

Two Ingredient Glitter Blobimg_9615

6 oz bottle of any glitter glue

1/3 cup liquid starch (add a little more if it is still too sticky)

Mix the glue and starch in a bowl. Add the starch in slowly, kneading with your hands. (It is sticky at first, but I promise it gets better.)


Enjoy your science class!!

4th Grade Science

Hi, friends! I have some exciting news!!! Due to an overwhelming request for an Everything 4th Grade Science Bundle, I am now working on a full year of 4th grade curriculum. For any teachers out there who value their time and energy, and wish high quality lesson planning was way easier, I am making this for you. I will be posting each week’s lesson as they are completed so that you can start planning your year and seeing resources soon. I have come up with a sample Year at a Glance Plan which will be the base of these weekly lessons. (Once the lessons are complete, I will make a Year at a Glance with clickable links to the all inclusive lesson sets!)

Year at a Glance thumb

My new structure for lesson sets (which I started this summer for some middle school teachers needing a curriculum) will be all inclusive. All you need to add are the lab materials which I keep as simple and inexpensive as possible.

The activities in these lesson sets are created to incorporate reading and writing into the Science curriculum. Each lesson is designed to last about a week (depending on your timing and students), and encourage student participation.
Lessons are aligned with the Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards and the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (STAAR).
These lessons also use Interactive Notebooks, Claims, Evidence, and Reasoning, Critical Thinking, and Project Based Learning to enrich the learning experience.

Take a look at the lesson set up for new lesson sets:

Included in each lesson set:

  • Lesson Planning Guide
  • Pre-learning Activity
  • Word Wall Builder Chart
  • Informational Text with Key Terms
  • Graphic Organizer
  • Summary Writing
  • Word Wall Cards/ Vocabulary Matching (3 Key Words)
  • Vocabulary Activity Pages
  • Anchor Chart
  • Interactive Science Notebook
  • Lab
  • Critical Thinking Activity: Analyzing Data
  • Project
  • Daily Science Starters
  • Formative Assessment with Rubric

The lesson planning guides are written in the order I use them without a timeframe, so that you can determine the timing for each activity based on your classroom needs.

I may add summative assessments later on down the road, once the entire curriculum is complete with resources.

Keep a watch out for these lessons to be posted each week!

If you want to be alerted as each lesson set is posted, click the green star next to my picture in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store.

I hope you all have an amazingly wonderful school year!! I can’t wait to help you plan so you can have more free time for yourself and your family!

Elementary Ali

Teacher’s Workstation

Why Use Poetry in Your Science Classroom?


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I am a really big fan of using read alouds in the science classroom. I love books, and that means I have to share my love of reading with my science kiddos! Reading in the science classroom has so many cross-curricular benefits for kids. Gail Gibbons and Basher Science are by far my favorite authors for science read alouds. They are interesting and provide great information.

Since it is National Poetry Month in April, I thought it would be a great time to talk about adding some poetry into science!

Poetry is a great tool for a science teacher. Poetry can have catchy rhythms, humor, and paint vivid pictures about a topic. Kids commit things to memory easily when they hear a rhyme. That is why nursery rhymes are so great for kids learning to read. Writing poetry can be a great formative assessment tool. Grab these Poetry Templates for Science!

Here are the reasons why I love poetry for science classrooms:

(And how to add it to your science classroom)

1.Poetry can be used to spark interest, excitement, curiosity, and get their attention.

Use a poem to introduce a new topic or unit. Read the poem to your class to get them interested in the topic. Poems are usually short and fun to listen to, so I will read them a couple times to my class.

2. Poetry can activate prior knowledge.

Ask your students questions about the poem’s title to help them activate their prior knowledge. Ask what they think the poem might be about, or specific details they might expect to hear in the poem. After reading the poem, you can lead a discussion with students asking them if they agree with the information in the poem, or if they were surprised by anything in the poem. Use a K-W-L chart to record your discussion points in the reading process.

3. Poetry can introduce a topic or unit.

Read a science poem at the start of a lesson. Have students talk about the theme or the topic of the poem with their neighbors. See if they can connect the poem to the learning goal, or the I Can statement, for the lesson.

4. Poetry can introduce and reinforce vocabulary.

Poems are usually shorter, simpler texts which  makes it easier for students to notice new vocabulary and understand the vocabulary. You can write the word on the board so students will know which words to listen for when you read. Discuss the possible meaning of the word based on context clues in the poem.

5. Poetry can teach facts. 

Poems are a fun way for students to learn and collect new facts. You can give students a bubble map or other graphic organizer to collect facts they hear in the poem.

6. Poetry can inspire nonfiction writing.

Use fun, informative poems as a mentor text for your students. When we think about informational texts, we usually think about a research paper, a biography, or an expository writing. Poems are another great way to write nonfiction! They are more creative and feel more fun to write. Have students mimic the style of the mentor text to get a feel for writing nonfiction poetry. Acrostic poems work, too! Grab these Poetry Templates for Science!

7. Poetry can give a new perspective on the same information students get from other methods.

Reading about the steps of the life cycle of an animal can be really informative. But reading about the steps of the grasshopper life cycle using the poem “Grasshoppers” by Douglass Florian, can paint a picture that a beautiful life cycle graphic can’t even accomplish!

Grab some poetry!

Here are the science poetry books I have been using for years, and I love them! (with links and ideas for using them)

Beast Feast by Douglas Florian

  • Read the short poems in this book, and have students listen for special structures each animal has that help it survive in its environment.
  • Students can fill in a T-chart categorizing the inherited traits and learned behaviors from the poems.
  • Use these poems for a mentor text, and have students write their own informational poems.

animal structures poems

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two by Paul Fleischman

  • Reading through these two person poems have a really neat sound and its fun for kids to read along and hear it read. Break up the class into two groups. Have group one read the left side and group two read the right side. It will be fun for everyone! To change it up, pick group members at random rather than by side of the room. Its interesting to hear synchronized voices all around the room.
  • The poems in this book can add imagery to your units on life cycles. My favorite poems for life cycles are: Grasshoppers, The Digger Wasp, Honey Bees, and Chrysalis Diary.
  •  You can read these poems with your class to introduce the life cycle unit. These poems can also be great for students to read and then write their own summary or story about an animal going through their life cycle.
  • Use these poems for a mentor text, and have students write their own informational two person poem.

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Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars: Space Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian

  • The poems in this book are great to use for a unit on the planets in our Solar System. They also are perfect for units on the Sun, the Earth, and Moon Phases. They would be perfect for introducing the unit, or individual objects. Poems I like to use from this book are: The Solar System to introduce and discuss the Earth’s orbit around the Sun; The Sun to introduce and learn some facts about the Sun; The Earth to introduce and learn some facts about the Earth; The Moon to introduce the phases of the Moon.
  • Students can use a graphic organizer to collect facts from the poems about each object.
  • Use these poems for a mentor text, and have students write their own informational poem about objects in our Solar System.

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Spectacular Science by Lee Bennett Hopkins

  • I love these short poems for introducing units and topics. The poems are not as informational as the others I have mentioned in this post, but are nice for introducing a topic and getting your students’ attention. Here are my favorites for the book and their topics:  What is Science? (Nature of Science), The Seed (Life Cycle of a Plant), Crystal Vision (Light), Dinosaur Bones (Sedimentary Rocks and Fossils), How? (Animal Instincts).

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Now, you can use poetry to enrich your science classroom!

Writing poetry is a perfect opportunity for your students to show you what they know! I love using poetry writing in science for students to get creative and process new information. And, poems make a great display product for a bulletin board or around your classroom.
These templates make it painless and simple to add poetry writing in your science classroom!

Grab these Poetry Templates for Science!

poetry 1

How to Create Lapbooks for the Interactive Science Notebook

mini lapbooks

Lapbooks had been showing up in my Pinterest feed more and more, and I wanted to find the best way to use them in a science classroom. All the lapbooks I come across look fun and interactive, and I know students would enjoy creating and using them.

Thinking over the many uses of a lapbook in a science classroom, I decided that they would be a great addition to an interactive science notebook. Essentially, lapbooks and interactive notebooks both give students an interactive place to collect and store new information for future practice and reference.

One thing bothered me about lapbooks. Where would I keep these lapbooks in my classroom? I have always organized and stored student notebooks in my classroom. Each table with its own crate to hold the notebooks. Students can take their notebooks home for review or homework help as needed, but having a dedicated place of storage in the classroom cuts down on students losing and destroying them. A lapbook for each student, for each topic, would really add clutter to my already filled classroom. **Idea** Make the lapbooks IN the notebooks!

mini lapbook image.pngI have a system for creating lapbooks for each topic in your science lessons, and how to get a whole lapbook onto a page in the student notebook.

  1. Create a lapbook using printer paper and glue it into the notebook on the input side.
  2. Use the materials that you already have in your lesson files to fill the lapbook with valuable information and learning tools.
  3. Create these lapbooks during the time you already use for interactive notebook input.

Students can always look back and review the interactive learning tool you have provided for them! This is great for test prep and review.

Easy to create, easy to store, and easy for students to use!

Grab this FREE mini lapbook guide with set up and printables!

Lapbook Template


Here is my Complete List of What to Include in your Lapbooks for the Interactive Science Notebook:

  1. Topic/ I Can Statement or Standard
  2. Guiding Question to Answer
  3. K-W-L or Schema Building Activity
  4. Vocabulary Matching (Cards and Definitions can be found in these review stations.)
  5. Anchor Chart
  6. Lab or Activity Sheet
  7. Interactive Science Notebook Input Activity

**Print on the setting “4 per page” to get the printables small enough for your mini lapbook.

You can always take this lapbook idea and use it for a file folder sized lapbook if that is the format you like best!

This whole system could be easily modified to work in a math or history/ social studies classroom, too!! The possibilities are endless 🙂

Have fun making Interactive Science Notebooks even more interactive!!!

Observing Animal Cells

Cheek cell

When looking at onion cells under a microscope, I thought how helpful it would be for students to have an animal cell to compare and observe. This lab is a perfect addition to the Cell Structure and Function Science and Literacy Lesson!

This lab is really simple. All you need is a microscope, cotton swab, a slide, and your cheek.

Here is how it works:

Rub a cotton swab across your cheek. Smear the cotton swab on a slide (You won’t see much without the microscope, but it is probably there.) and place a slide cover over that area. Place your slide under the microscope and make the adjustments to see the individual cheek cells. You can see what it might look like in the image above. The dark circle in the middle of the cell is the nucleus. You will notice the cell shape is more organic (unstructured) than the plant cell. Observing the two types of cells will help students make the connection to the clip art versions of cells they will see on paper.

Here is a free printable Venn Diagram to help record your observations and comparisons:

Comparing Plant and Animal Cells Diagram

Comparing Cells Venn

Enjoy the fun lab with your students! Connect with me on Instagram and tag me in photos of your science fun so I can see your class enjoying science!

Observing Plant Cells

Onion Cell

Kids have curious minds and love to observe the world around them. When students walk into their science classroom and see microscopes out, they get really excited. They get to play with real science equipment and observe the tiniest parts of the world around them.

Learning about cells is the perfect opportunity to let your students use microscopes. Depending on the age and ability of your students, you may want to modify how your students use the microscopes. In fifth grade, I like to give each table a microscope set up with a prepared slide. I give step by step instructions for how to adjust make adjustments and focus. In addition to the verbal instructions, I have a digital microscope set up to show my students on the projector screen what they should be able to see in their microscope.  This also gives me their interest and attention when I explain the parts of the plant cell we are observing.

Check out the slide show below to see what the onion cells look like under the microscope.



Using the microscope to see what a plant or animal cell looks like is a great hands on experience for your kids. Its a good idea to provide your students with a variety of ways to learn about cells. The Cell Structure and Function Science and Literacy Lesson Set has a variety of learning activities for your students including an informational text with graphic organizer and summary writing. It also has an observation sheet for the onion cell lab and instructions for lab prep.

Have fun and explore the world around you!

Measuring Mass: Popcorn Lab

Here is a fun, simple, and yummy lab to help your students practice measuring mass.

Problem: Does the mass of a bag full of popcorn change after it is popped?

Hypothesis: Have students make a prediction. Example: “I think the bag of popcorn will have more mass after it is popped because the popcorn gets bigger when it pops.”

Complete the experiment.

popcorn lab long pic

Don’t forget to record the data and results!

Write a conclusion for the lab.

My bag of popcorn started at 101.5 grams, and went down to 98.6 grams after it was popped!

You could also tweak this experiment to observe the change in volume when popcorn is popped.

If you need materials for teaching matter, check out these resources.


Kindergarten Science Interactive Notebook with Word Wall S2nd Grade Interactive Science Notebook: Matter & Energy (STAAR)2nd Grade Science and Literacy: Matter and Energy (STAAR & NGSS)


Matter and Energy Anchor Charts with Student Pages (STAAR)States of Matter Science and Literacy Lesson Set (STAAR & Interactive Science Notebook: Force, Motion, Matter, and EClassifying Matter Lab Stations and Scavenger Hunt




(5-PS1-3) Measurements of a variety of properties can be used to identify materials. (Boundary: At this grade level, mass and weight are not distinguished, and no attempt is made to define the unseen particles or explain the atomic-scale mechanism of evaporation and condensation.)
Texas TEKS
(5)  Matter and energy. The student knows that objects have properties and patterns. The student is expected to: (A)  observe and record properties of objects, including relative size and mass, such as bigger or smaller and heavier or lighter, shape, color, and texture; and

12 Reasons Why You Are An Amazing Teacher

Halfway through the year really tests our teaching endurance. We have the holidays, finishing up a semester, and the planning and stressing begins for the end of year testing. It is so easy to get down about your ability and life calling as a teacher when you are so exhausted. I am sure you have seen the memes.

Teacher Memes Decemeber and End of Year Humor

If you want more memes, or to save these for yourself, I made a teacher humor Pinterest board. I like to scroll humor boards when i need a little pick-me-up.

And now for my 12 reasons you are still a good teacher, even when you can relate oh too well to memes like the ones above.

lost mind

Number 1. You have a sense of humor. You have to be able to find the humor in the little things as a teacher. Kids say funny things. You are so exhausted that you are losing your mind and put the milk in the cabinet. Just laugh at the silliness of stressful times. Maybe make your own memes! Please, share them with me if you do!! 🙂

Number 2. You believe in yourself. All teachers, including anyone in their careers outside of teaching, have setbacks and experience not-so-kind students, parents, and staff. You just have to realize that accidents happen and the attitudes and actions of others are out of your control. This is where your great sense of humor comes in. Laugh it off and try again.

Number 3. You believe in your students. Set high expectations for your students’ learning goals, and believe that with the individualized care you give, they can achieve it. You believe in them no matter what seems to be holding them back, and you can celebrate with them in their successes.

Number 4. Your ability to see different ways for students to experience the learning standard in their own best way. You are creative and innovative to think of different ways to teach the same thing to each of your students each year.

Number 5. You build a sense of community in your classroom. Your students feel like they have a safe place to learn and make mistakes. Your classroom community makes students feel accepted and they can embrace their individuality.

Number 6. You are not afraid to try new things. Being flexible is what keeps teaching new and exciting. You accept the new learning methods and try them out with your students. This is how you keep progressing to your best teacher self.

Number 7. You have patience (most of the time). Understanding that misbehavior, getting distracted, and not getting it are all just part of being a kid. You can understand where they are coming from, and help them work through it, while you work through the challenges with them. Take a deep breath and keep going.

Number 8. You love your students. Teachers have the biggest hearts of all. You care about those kids like they are your own. You are concerned about their health. How many times have you felt a kids forehead to check for fever, or monitored their lunch to make sure they are eating enough healthy food? You are interested in their personal life and hobbies. You can share in their victories with them.

Number 9. You collaborate with other professionals. You work with other teachers and leaders in your school to make sure you are providing the best learning environment for your students. You connect with teachers around the world through social media (I love Instagram) to see what new ideas you can “steal”.

Number 10. You are prepared and organized (at least half of the time- hehe). You at least scroll through Pinterest or TeachersPayTeachers to plan your lessons for the week!

Number 11. You have a passion for what you teach and share it with your students. You love to read, and it shows when you read to your students. You love experiments, and it shows when you set up a lab for your students. You love to solve problems and it shows when you walk your students through a problem. Your love for nap time shows when you fall asleep at your desk… Just kidding! You would never do that! Hahaha 🙂

Number 12. You have a love for learning. Reading up on new teaching methods. Reading books and articles about the subject you teach. Watching TED Talks about teaching, leading, or your content area. Taking classes and sessions to be a better educator. Participating in meetings and workshops at school. Scrolling blogs and websites for new ideas. However you gain new knowledge, you have a love for learning.


And if you really want to feel good about yourself, watch the movie Bad Teacher. It is so inappropriate, but so funny. If you are in better shape than Cameron Diaz’s character, then you’re probably going to make it. 😉

Hang in there teachers! The end of the year draws near and you have the endurance to make it!! I believe in you! You are a great teacher!!

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Teach So They Get It with 30 Interactive Ways to Check for Understanding

Teach so they get itWe teachers know that if we teach a lesson and then test without formative assessments, we have very few indicators of student understanding and if they can pass the test.

It takes an interactive method of asking those higher level questions throughout a unit, to identify the level of student understanding and assess the need for a reteach.

I like to think of teaching and checking for understanding as a 4 step process.

Step 1

Teach to your best ability. Put it all out there. Teach your heart out. Okay, you get the point. Cover every base on each topic by doing research. Know what the curriculum standards are for your students now, as well as how these standards will advance as they get older. If you understand where they are going with the standard, you will better understand why they need the information now. A vertical alignment of your standards will be a huge help in thinking ahead for your students’ learning. Ask your lead teacher or curriculum specialist if they have a vertical alignment prepared. I have found them through online searching as well. You can even make your own, if you have the time and energy.

Know what the common misconceptions are for the topic. Chances are someone in your class shares that same misconception. Have students complete some sort of pre-learning assessment. This can be as simple as the first two collumns in a KWL chart. A pre-learning assessment can tell you who has some misconceptions going into the lesson. You may even find out that your students already know quite a bit about the topic, and you can adjust your teaching to meet their challenge level of learning.

Teach using a variety of inputs and outputs for your students to see and understand the topic. Here is a planning page I like to use when planning my science lessons. The experience block is where you want action learning. Labs, Interactive Science Notebooks, Stations, and activities that get the students up and around the room.

lesson brainstorming img

Step 2

Never sit down. Sorry, I know its an unfortunate job description of teaching. But, during class time there is never a good time to sit at your desk. While students work, walk around and assess your students’ learning. Visit each desk or table for a moment and listen. Hear their progress first hand. Lead a discussion with the table and ask questions. These are easy ways to start the “check for understanding” process.

When I was very pregnant and could not stand for long periods of time, I would sit in my rolling chair and roll from table to table. There’s a trick to get around the “no sitting during class time” rule. * wink wink*

Here are some ideas of what to look for that might help you be more effective as you observe students as they work.

  • How involved/ engaged is the student in the task?
  • Are they using the correct process to complete the task?
  • Are they achieving the correct answers, solutions, or outcomes from their task?

If more in depth observation is needed:

  • Ask students to think out loud for you as they work.
  • Question the student on the topic/ content.
  • Have students explain what they have done so far.


Step 3

Formative Assessment

Here is where you can get creative and turn an assessment into a fun and memorable activity. When done properly, the formative assessment can even be a second chance at learning the topic, a reteach in itself.

I know it can be challenging to come up with ideas for a formative assessment and be creative about it. Especially halfway through the school year. You’re tired, and the kids are tired. We are all ready for a holiday break. Let me help your tired brain think for a bit here. 🙂 I have come up with a big list of 30 interactive ways to check for understanding for you! Print the list and randomly pick an idea for a formative assessment when you need it. Almost all of these ideas can be student creations on a blank piece of paper! No prep needed. Most of the time, I will write the learning goal on the board as a question, and use that question each day in one of these formative assessments to assess their learning.

  1. Exit Slip. Have students write a reflection statement or question on a slip of paper to hand you on their way out the door.
  2. Thumbs Up. Hand signals for students to share their understanding about a topic. Thumbs up = I understand this and can explain it. Thumbs sideways = I am not sure I understand all of it. Thumbs down = I don’t get it. For added learning and assessment, have some of the thumbs up students explain their understanding to the class.
  3. Write a lab to test and explain the topic. Use the scientific method or a lab write up sheet to cover all the steps needed.
  4. Comic Strip. Students can explain the order of events from the topic through illustrations and text.
  5. Classroom Response System. Use sample questions that mimic the format of the summative assessment and have students answer using a clicker system. The clicker system can usually grade the students’ responses for you!
  6. Act It Out! Write a play or dramatic reading for the topic. Students can read their scripts and present to the class.
  7. “Got it!” Slips. On a note card or slip of paper have students write a summary of the lesson topic on the front. On the back, have them write any questions they have from the lesson.
  8. Teach It! Have students write an explanation to a new student about the topic. Technology bonus: they can record themselves making a podcast with an audio recording device or video with an ipad.
  9. Analogies. Have students write [The topic or key term] is like _____________, because ________________________.
  10. KWL. Students can start the KWL before the lesson and complete the “L” after the lesson.
  11. Doodle Notes. Students can write notes for the topic using creative fonts and illustrations that help explain the topic better.
  12. Summary with Key Words. Give students the key words that go with the lesson or topic, and have them write a summary using the key words. For an extra creative challenge, they can write their summary as a poem.
  13. Concept Mapping / Graphic Organizers. Have students complete a graphic organizer to organize the facts or processes of the topic. (Venn Diagram, Web, Timeline, Flow Chart)
  14. Misconception Mystery. Give the students a statement that is a common misconception about the topic. Have students decide whether they agree or disagree with the statement and explain their decision in a paragraph.
  15. Making Connections. Students can make connections between the topic and something else they know about. [Topic] reminds me of _____________, because _____________________.
  16. Write the Test. Have students write higher level test questions for a test over the topic and provide the correct answers.
  17. Theories T-Chart. Have students write new ideas and opinions on the left side, and reasoning and explanation on the right side. They can use facts from their lesson to support their ideas.
  18. White Boards. Ask a question and have students answer on personal white boards.
  19. Why? Ask students to explain why the topic is important for us to study. This will help students connect to real world applications.
  20. Quick Write. Give students a short amount of time to write a paragraph about everything they know, or have learned, about the topic. I usually do three minute quick writes.
  21. Travel Guide. Students can create a pamphlet to demonstrate and show off the facts about a place or process. Think habitats and parts of a cycle such as clouds or oceans in the water.
  22. Passport. Students can write the “places” something travels to in a cycle or process. Similar to number 21 above.
  23. Solve a Problem. Present a problem or issue associated with the topic and have students write or diagram a solution to the problem.
  24. Social Media Posts. Students can create a Twitter post or Instagram post to highlight or describe the topic.
  25. Hashtag It! Students can think of hashtags for the topic that would describe it.
  26. Talk It Out. Have groups act out a talk show scene and share thoughts about the topic with each other. They can write down the thoughts that are shared. Technology bonus: they can record their talk show with an audio recording device or video with an ipad.
  27. Advertise. Students can create an advertisement for the topic. Use illustrations and text to describe it.
  28. Collage or Poster. Students can create a poster illustrating and describing the topic. Tell them to show you what they know. (This is one of my favorites. It is also a great review before a test.)
  29. Interview the Expert. In partners, students can play the role of interviewer and expert. One can ask questions related to the topic and the other can answer and explain. Technology bonus: they can record their interview with an audio recording device or video with an ipad.
  30. Diagram It! Using a white board or dry erase markers on their desk, have students draw a diagram for a process or cycle you call out. Walk around and check. You can take pictures with a camera or phone so you can look back over it later, or share on classroom social media.

Step 4

Summative Assessment. Test their skills. I test at the end of each unit. If you have followed the first three steps in depth, your kiddos should be ready for the big test day! This is when you know how well your teaching, assessing, and reteaching went. Make sure your tests are thorough and challenging enough to meet the rigor of your state testing or standardized testing at the end of the year.