Category Archives: Lessons

Open House

I’m not sure what purpose Open House serves besides having a short PR session. Parents want to talk about their kids, and they aren’t learning much about their kids’ classes or progress. Maybe it’s different for elementary or middle school teachers, but I don’t see much point in high school Open House nights. I’d rather have an extra day of conferences.

My classes are off to a great start. I’m actually surprised how excited they are to learn something new each day. 🙂

I had a fun lesson today where I showed the Blues Traveler video for “Runaround” and had the kids count and list the allusions to The Wizard of Oz. It was a fun way to teach allusions, and nothing gets the students’ attention like cartoons or music videos.

They’re Still Kids

Last night while I worked the booth at our football game and we played against an inferior team, a parent said to me “how can they be playing so badly?”

I replied, “They’re kids.”


Yes, our team is more athletic, better coached (I’d argue), and more practiced, but a high school football team is made up of 14-18 year-old kids. If you’ve ever worked with teens, you know that even the most intelligent students can be emotional, rash, and mistake-prone. They are not perfect. They err. If they were perfect, they wouldn’t need to be in school.

If you’ve ever coached high school football, you also know that anything can happen in a high school game, especially the first game of the season when the kids get their first taste of hitting an opponent instead of their teammates. The kids can be overly driven by emotion, feel overconfident, revert to bad habits that you’ve worked on in practice, and more.

This is just like the classroom. I have taught my students how to use advanced skills when writing their essays, provided feedback, sat one-on-one with kids, and given multiple practices and then watched my students ignore all of that teaching, coaching, and practicing when writing the very next essay. We then have to go back to those previous skills–the ones they already showed me they could perform–and remind, re-teach, and review.

Sometimes kids are just kids.


What Do Students Expect of Teachers?

Teachers love to tell students what is expected of the students in and out of the classroom; however, the kids very often have expectations of their teachers too. I tend to enjoy student input regarding assignments, due dates, and more, but I most appreciate their ideas regarding how I should conduct class and they are surprisingly honest and realistic when they do it.

Thus, I have an activity that allows students to provide me input; includes individual, small group, and whole class lesson segments; and concludes with a set of student expectations for me. Here are the steps:

  1. Allow the students 90-120 seconds to jot down what they expect of me as their teacher. I ask them to consider what they liked and disliked about prior teachers as a guide if they are unsure.
  2. Number off the students to form groups of 3-4. I like to have the students vocalize their numbers as I point to them (“1…2…3…” etc.); plus, I like mixing them up at the beginning of the year since they always start with those they know. This takes about a minute.
  3. Once the students are grouped by their numbers and facing one another, I have the students–when I say “go” and not before–point to the person they wish to be the recorder. Whoever has the most fingers pointed at them then stands, and I inform the student standing that he/she can then pick the recorder for the group. This gets laughs and I tell them that they should volunteer rather than choose others in the future. This takes about 1-2 minutes.
  4. Now, the students compile their lists into a single one without repeats. This typically requires 3-6 minutes.
  5. Next, I have a word processing document projected on the front board, and I ask a group to tell me one expectation on its list. I type it on the document for display and then allow the first to group to decide if we move clockwise or counterclockwise (students love choices, and it builds trust). I then take one expectation from the next group, and continue to go from group to group until all of the expectations are displayed on the document. This takes 4-10 minutes.
  6. Once all of the expectations are displayed, I ask the students to silently choose the three from the list that are most important to them as individuals. I provide 60-90 seconds for this.
  7. After this, I instruct the students to agree on a top three as a group. They have to determine the process for doing this, and they only get 3-5 minutes to agree. I like this part because I can watch to see who dominates, who goes submissive, which students work well together, and those who don’t.
  8. I then repeat the process I used in step 5 above to compile this condensed list. Generally, I have a list of 8-15 items at this point. This takes 2-4 minutes.
  9. Lastly, I give every student three votes, and we vote by show of hands which expectations should be adopted as a class. The top three vote-getters are the expectations of me from this class. This takes 3-5 minutes.
  10. However, I surprise the students the next day by showing them a compiled list of all five of my classes’ expectations, and they vote again for three. At the end of the day I take the top five vote-getters as the expectations of my students for me, and I do my best to live up to their expectations. This takes 3-5 minutes.

At the end of the day I make a poster of these expectations and post them in my room. Last year the expectations were “Doc will…”:

  • respect all students and their ideas,
  • be consistent and fair when grading assignments,
  • remain organized and structured,
  • maintain control of the students and classroom, and
  • keep grades updated regularly.

I thought they did a great job, and I’m curious what tomorrow’s results will be.

The First Day of School is in the Books!

Today was a great day! The kids entered my room and were enthusiastic, excited, and energized. Each class accomplished the goals of the day, and I left the school feeling invigorated to do it again tomorrow.

I polled my classes anonymously to find out why they chose the particular class in which they enrolled with me, and I was happy with the answers. Since each class I teach is a choice for students, I’m always curious to see the kids’ reasons for being there. For my advanced students the top three reasons for taking upper level work are:

  1. Teacher preference,
  2. For the challenge, and
  3. Interest in the subject.

For my non-accelerated students, the top responses were:

  1. Counselor placed me here,
  2. Sounded easy, and
  3. Interest in the subject.

I was pleased to see that students in both levels had a few responses indicating subject interest, although these responses were very few in comparison to the top two answers. I also appreciated seeing the challenge response being so prominent in the advanced courses. The students seem to be understanding that challenges are not to be avoided but embraced.

We also completed the activity I posted two days ago, and it was a hit. One class went a bit long because of so many questions, but they were very curious about the class and me. Fun times and the kids got to dictate the conversation while also staying on-task!

Let’s hope tomorrow is as good of a day. 🙂

Another First Day of School Activity

Yesterday I posted about a video I would show after my students and I discuss “why we read?”

I plan to follow this activity with this one (which has been a great starter the last 4-5 years):

On the first day we have lots of comings and goings because of schedule changes, so I start with an easy activity and a game. I have the students take the first ten minutes to write down any questions they have about me or the class on 2″ by 2″ pieces of paper. They can ask anything they want and do not put their names on the slips of paper. I don’t have to answer a question, but it’s rare to get an inappropriate question. The kids drop their slips of paper into my cap and away we go.

I answer every appropriate question, even if it’s a silly one because this is how we get to know one another. I always hated the list of rules (I don’t have any rules in my classroom–never needed them) and the reading of the syllabus on the first day, and this allows me to answer their questions, making their interests the focus from day one. It’s their class after all.

This takes about 30 minutes, and then I give them some word puzzles to complete in groups for the ever-requested extra credit. It’s only five points, but they think it’s a billion and will do anything for the points. This ends the period.

Today I spent about four hours finishing my room and making copies as well as creating a project for my students to open the year. I really enjoy getting in early and not having to go into the school the day before classes because it’s a madhouse. Teachers, in my experience, are no better than their students when it comes to procrastination, and the copy room the day before school starts is where you want to go if watching frustration and stress is your cup of tea.

I’m finished and taking tomorrow off. 🙂