My Favorite Tools in the Classroom — What are yours?

I'm always on the lookout for new tools to use with teaching. It is important to engage all of a student's senses and if you involve their funny bone and/or their stomach it helps to.

#1 Funny Intros to Topics Using Internet Video
Nothing is better than the funny intro. When I begin talking about the power of the Internet and e-commerce I love to use the trunk monkey advertisements. I talk about how through these commercials and the Internet that a local car dealership has expanded its reach nationwide.

I found a new one that I'm going to use when I begin covering MLA papers. Thank you, Nick for introducing me to the hilarious way some papers get written. It is a great intro to academic honesty.

I'm always looking for new videos to use. I've found that it is important that I preview things just before class. I have had a video change on me before and sometimes they “disappear.” Be careful you don't get caught without the video or showing something inappropriate.

I hope to find more on the Internet and as folks comment. I'll be sure to keep you updated.

#2 Mega Sized Post It Notes
I love these things! This is poster paper that is post it note size. I love it. If I'm teaching a process or have a chart that is large that I want to use for several days, I draw it on the post it note (poster size) and stick it somewhere in my room.

These are great review tools. When we cover a topic, such as planning, or my recent SAT review, I split the kids into teams and have them summarize.

  • SAT Review – I had them each come up with a mnemonic device that would help them remember the 9 tips we discussed for mastering the SAT math section. The students put their mnemonic on the poster. As they present to the class, I video tape it for our “review” reward. (See below.) I also ask questions as appropriate to have extra review material. (I do take a grade on the presentation.)

  • Planning Review – I gave each a topic that would be on the test. Each team created a post it poster to review their section. As they review I let them stick their poster any where in the room they would like to. I leave them up on the wall. The students then created their wikis on planning. The posters served as a reminder and as a tool for the other students. I left them on the wall until time for the test to begin the next day! (Students from my other classes also looked at them and recalled what we learned about the Franklin Covey planning system.) I love to use the post its for mnemonics that the students create themselves.

#3 A Video Camera

These are great. Any time we have a review or a short project, I video tape it. For example, while teaching a section of the computer science book I split the students into teams. They “taught” the class the topic. Then, they had to do a 1 minute “rap” to review their topics for the class. I video taped them. (See #4 for how this works.)

I use them for review for other classes that come in subsequent years. (i.e. For interviewing skills, we introduce it by critiquing previous student interviews. It makes students more cognizant of how they will look when they interview.)

#4 “Review” Rewards
The Review Reward parties are a big deal for my students. We don't do them all of the time. If a topic is unusually difficult, unpleasant, or lengthy I will always use this tool. Each class probably ends up with about two review reward parties in a year. It is a reward. They must have good behavior in the classroom to earn these.

Review Reward – Using a video review.
If I have a video, I arrange for us to go in the auditorium. I set up the TV and chairs. We bring food and drinks and we serve our plates and sit in front of the TV and watch the review video. The review video consists of taped classroom review material. (See above.) We always do this the day before the SAT. (It cuts the tension.) After the video runs through I discuss salient topics. I have some of my best “teachable moments” when my students are relaxed, full, and 100% listening to me.

It also gives me a chance to discuss the importance of hard work and rewards.

Review Reward – Using their inner acting abilities.
Another way I conduct these “review rewards” is to have the food (we like to eat in south Georgia!) and I split them into teams. I give each team a topic to portray in a skit. This is great because it engages all of the senses and it involves the students in discussing the topic at hand.

  • Planning Review. I split the students into two groups. One group had to portray a student who didn't follow planning techniques and what happened to them. Then, that same team had to portray another student who was an effective planner and the results. The second team had to portray a person post-college who planned ineffectively. Then they acted out the same person who did plan and the outcome.

The amazing thing about this activity is that this does more to change the behavior of my students than anything else. I think the students see themselves in some of the characters and realize that the outcome is determined by their actions. After we do this activity, I see a marked difference in my student GPA's across the board. Teachers often comment and wonder why students have begun carrying their planners. I wish I could take credit but most students just need a little advice. They are the one's who turn it into action.

  • Vocabulary and Root Words. An English teacher and I came up with this to help students learn some difficult roots in a fun way. We gave each team 10 words and had 4-5 students per team. Each team had to come up with a reality show. In this reality show each person had to use two of the words in the proper context. They had 15 minutes to prepare. The resulting skits were not only hilarious but served to firmly implant the words into the mind of the students. One year later, these students still remember the vocabulary we taught! We've discussed videoing these and replaying them in class and building on them each year. We plan on starting this year.

I always take a grade and clearly spell out what I expect. This prevents some students from sitting back and not participating. You don't have to have food, but I find it relaxes the students. It also makes them more willing to listen when we're done.

I never conclude one of these activities without Mrs. Vicki's “talking to” on whatever the topic is at hand.

Review Reward – The Great Steak Out
The “most famous” review reward is for what could be my most mundane class – Keyboarding. Using this and a few other tools, keyboarding has become a class students love and look forward to.

After the students learn all of the alphabetic keys on their keyboard we have a “steak out.” I actually take one class period that is adjacent to lunch. (We rotate so I plan ahead.) I enlist the help of several parents. The parents come and grill steaks. The students bring whatever fixings that they decide. (I always let the students plan the food.) I bring homemade bread or a homemade dessert. I invite the principal and AD also. We set up chairs and tables outside near the grill. I also let someone be in charge of music. (Mrs. Vicki approved music and they know what that is. More about that in another post.) The parents start the grill before class and have the steaks just about ready before we come out.

Before we eat, I talk to them about why we are getting this reward. I discuss how throughout life they will meet with difficult and seemingly impossible tasks. They will have to do difficult things. They must persist and work hard and then they will reap rewards. I tell them that I want them to remember for the rest of their lives how they persisted in a difficult and sometimes boring task and the reward they received.

I like to give students visuals that they can remember. Sometimes concepts elude me. I never forget word pictures. That is how I learn. That is how I teach. Each steak out, the older students reminisce about the fun they had at the steak out and how they learned to stick out tough things.

This one reward has turned my eighth grade keyboarding class into the envy of the school. No other class is allowed to do this. After doing this, the alphabetic keys have gone from taking two months to one month to teach. Tomorrow I will teach the letter Z. We will have learned all of the alphabetic characters since school began January 4th. This has allowed me to add portfolios, MLA papers, PowerPoint, and many information literacy projects to the one semester curriculum.

In Conclusion.

My favorite management professor always told me that there are two ways to motivate — sticks and carrots. Carrots work better if they are honestly earned and NOT overused!

My keyboarding class knows that they will give me 45 minutes of good typing out of a fifty minute class period…every day. They also know that the sooner they complete their work, the sooner they get the reward that they have been waiting for since they were sixth graders!

I know this is a motley bunch of ideas. I've seen some of these from other teachers I admire like Mr. K who celebrates Pi day with his math kids.

On wiki note, I keep finding teachers and college professors who are using wikis in great ways. Check out Jean-Claude Bradley's Organic Chemistry wiki. Bradley teaches at Drexel University. I am planning to model my computer science wiki after this.

I hope some of you will share your cool ideas. I need more ideas!

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Jean-Claude Bradley February 3, 2006 - 9:43 am

Vicki – thanks for mentioning my wiki and that you might use it as a template for your class. Please blog about it when you do so I can see how all these tools work out in different environments. It would also be great to have you join us over Skype at our weekly RSS club meetings at Drexel. Just let me know and we’ll set it up.

Hassan February 9, 2006 - 5:49 pm

Please visit my weblog . and leave yor comments . let’s help each other in teaching English .
waiting for your articles and comments.

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