Stir Up the World

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 23 2012

what works for me

These are just things that happen to work for me; I’m not sure if they work for everyone or if it’s just my school and my kids, but here they are nonetheless:

  • giving the kids a break. I have 90-minute blocks. 90 minutes is a long time. About halfway through class and/or when their eyes are starting to get glazed over, I read to them for 5 minutes and then give them a minute and a half to get up, stretch, walk around, etc., after which we resume class.


  • giving the kids time to get their lives together at the beginning of class. I was finding that expecting ALL students to come in and be able to start their bellwork within seconds of entering class was a little unrealistic for me. Some of them had to borrow pencils, get their notebooks, etc. So what I do now is put 1 1/2 minutes up on the timer on the smartboard (the bellwork is written on my whiteboard) and I tell them when the bell rings that they have 1 1/2 minutes to “get their lives together” and when the timer is up, I expect them to be working silently on their bellwork. This gives me 1 1/2 minutes to get MY life together too, which helps :). This sets a much more finite expectation in terms of time. After that 1 1/2 minutes, I look around and check to make sure everyone has their materials. If so, I award class points.


  • giving the kids a choice. I read this in Teaching with Love and Logic, and it’s worked beautifully for my 7th graders this year. Whenever possible, I give them a choice. We vote (quickly) on almost everything, from what music we listen to to whether we do something as a whole class or in groups. Anything I can afford to give them a choice for, I give them a choice for. The condition here, though, is that both choices have to be equally desirable for ME; I can’t say “Okay kids, do we want to do work today or not?”.


  • read to the kids. My dad, who taught 7th grade 20 years ago, gave me the idea for this. As mentioned before, I have my kids put their heads down about halfway through class and I read to them for 5-10 minutes. I understand that since I have block schedule I have that extra time to spare and can afford it. It’s a nice little mental break and lets the kids switch into their right brains for awhile. Plus, literacy is always a good thing, right? I have one class that’s almost all boys, and they generally come into class really rowdy and it was getting really difficult to start class smoothly and peacefully. So I changed things a little for them. After they finish their bellwork, I have them put their heads down and I read to them right then and there for about 5 minutes at the beginning of class. It really calms them down and helps them to mentally transition to math class. This has made a really big difference in the attitude/mood of my classes.


  • have a class routine. I know that all of you are sitting there thinking “You’ve been teaching for more than a year and you JUST now figured this out?!”. Well, yes. Last year I didn’t really have a consistent class routine. Now I do. It works well.


  • use interactive notebooks. They’re AWESOME. Just imagine: no loose paper!! It takes a little bit more organization/planning on my part, but it’s well worth it.


  • write positive notes home. I don’t feel like calling parents when I get home, so I’ve been writing notes instead. Notes are perfect for me because I can work on them while watching a movie or in the back of a really boring meeting! It requires much less effort, and it’s something tangible that that kid can keep on the refridgerator.

I’ll add more things as I think of them. Parent-teacher conferences await!

One Response

  1. Katie

    Great ideas! Thank you! I’m going to try some of these. :)

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"If one desires to 'stir up the world,' it is easy to be impatient with work for the sake of work. Yet no story's end can forsake its beginning and its middle." -Joshua Wolf Shank on Abraham Lincoln