study skillsScience in the City: study skills
Showing posts with label study skills. Show all posts
Showing posts with label study skills. Show all posts

May 6, 2019

Five Evidence-Based Study Strategies Your Students Should Be Using

Five Evidence-Based Study Strategies Your Students Should Be Using

Spring and early summer brings tests and exams for many students and teachers. If you’ve managed to cajole your kids into putting in some time outside of lessons, congratulations!

The bad news, though, is that left to their own devices, most students will be using ineffective study methods, meaning they will fall short of the marks and grades they could otherwise have hit.

The good news is that there are some simple evidence-based strategies that can transform how effectively your students study, and the grades they are therefore able to achieve. Read on to find out how.
Five Evidence-Based Study Strategies Your Students Should Be Using

  1. Retrieval practice: memory training

After almost a century of research, the results are in: there is now broad consensus among learning science researchers that the best study techniques are based on “retrieval practice” (see here or here for reviews). Most students study by pushing information into their brains – re-reading, highlighting, summarising, making notes – retrieval practice flips that on its head, and says they should be spending as much time as possible trying to pull information out of memory, trying to remember it.

There are plenty of options for using retrieval practice to study for tests:
  • Training with flashcards
  • Answering “quiz” questions
  • Writing down all you can remember about a topic on a blank sheet
  • Having a friend / family member test you
The key is to move on from the “pushing information in” stage sooner than feels comfortable, and spend as much time as possible studying by trying to remember what you know. It feels like harder work, but it’s far more effective.

Formative assessment is also a great discipline to use in your classroom as starter or exit activities: Science In The City has plenty of assessment resources available to life a bit easier.

      2. Spaced learning: conquer “forgetting”

Over time, we all forget what we once knew – even if we used retrieval practice to learn it! Spaced learning is the solution: for every new occasion on which your students revisit a fact or concept, their memory of it gets stronger and more permanent.

Try and get your students in a “little and often” habit: rather than cramming all the day before a test, far better to spread that same amount of study time out (or even do slightly less!) over a longer time, e.g. 10 minutes a day for a couple of weeks, rather than two hours the night before.

They will not only perform better on that test, but their knowledge will be much more secure, helping them build on it in future, rather than having to start seemingly from scratch in each new school year.

     3. Chunking: data compression for memory

“Chunking” is the act of grouping a larger number of units of information – letters, words, phrases, numbers – together in meaningful ways to create a smaller number of units, making the information easier to remember. It’s your brain’s version of data compression algorithms that make files smaller for storage in computer memory.

Here’s an example of chunking in action: 18 random letters are very hard to remember, but re-order and add some grouping, and it becomes much easier.

An example of chunking content to remember it more quickly and easily

You probably remember your own phone number by “chunking” the digits into groups. When someone else groups the digits differently, it can be hard to recognise even your own number!

Chunking is at the root of a many mnemonic techniques, such as:

Acronyms: making a new word from the first letters of the words you’re trying to remember, e.g. “HOMES” for the five Great Lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior)

Acrostics: making a memorable phrase from the first letters of words you’re trying to remember, e.g. “My Very Excellent Mother Just Made Us Nine Pizzas” for planets

Chunking numbers with patterns: look for arithmetic relationships to make digits more memorable. Thulium was discovered in 1879: you can derive the “7” and “9” by subtracting and adding the “1” to the “8”, respectively.

You could spend a moment in lessons working with your students to come up with a novel chunking strategy, which not only helps them learn the content, but trains them in how to use chunking for themselves. See here for an in-depth guide to using a number of useful chunking strategies, with more inspiration on how to apply the technique to a range of information types.

     4. Dual coding: we are all visual learners

Have you heard of “learning styles” – visual, auditory, kinaesthetic? You may also have heard that there is very little scientific evidence that teaching in each individual’s preferred style helps them learn.

However, it seems while we all have our preferences, we all have a bit of every “learning style” in us, and that appealing to multiple styles at once can help us to learn.
The idea of dual coding is that by taking in information as both words AND a diagram / picture, you’re more likely to remember it – perhaps because you’ve got two different ways to remember that information when you get into the test.

If your students are making summaries ahead of an upcoming test, they might like to use a picture AND a description in words for key concepts, to help solidify their understanding and memory.

     5. How to read (no, really…)

OK, so this is more about test-taking than studying: but how many times have you seen students throw away marks by not reading the question accurately?

When we read, our eyes move in jumps called “saccades”, with a focus point every few words. The brain fills in the words in peripheral vision based on word shape and context. That makes it very easy to miss things, especially under the pressure of a test!

Example of how to read most effectively for studying. Can you spot the error?

If you know what you’re looking for, it’s painfully obvious, but if you don’t, a lot of people won’t spot the two “As” before “single step”.

In one example where students were taking test questions, researchers found that emphasising a key command word in a question by switching to a bold typeface increased the proportion of correct answers from 8% to 31%. That’s huge!

You may not be able to change the test papers, but there’s a simple solution: train your students in the disciple of reading questions slowly, deliberately and methodically, using their pen to underline key words in the question to add emphasis for themselves – to make sure they pick up every mark they deserve.

Wishing you and your students every success in any upcoming tests and exams!

Guest Post Exclusive: Five Evidence-Based Study Strategies Your Students Should Be Using
This is a guest post for Science In The City by William Wadsworth, a Cambridge-trained psychologist and full-time study skills researcher, writer, coach and author. He hosts the weekly Exam Study Expert podcast and blogs at, both packed with tips to help students score the best possible grades, by unleashing the new science of truly effective independent study techniques.

Jan 19, 2019

IGIST Aim Far!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for writing this review

I want to share a book with you that is particularly relevant and engaging to middle school readers.  The book, IGIST, is available here, is recently published.  It is geared more towards girls, but I gave it to my twelve-year-old son to read first. 

The book can be read like a traditional book, or through an app!  The app still contains the content, but also additional interactive features.  It is called an ‘immersive novel.’ This is sure to engage more reluctant readers, by allowing them to be part of the story and interact with the story in a new and different way.   You can check it out at 

So, why was this book created??   The author mentioned that in the past science fiction writing has inspired inventors and scientists. However, many of these famous pieces of literature focus on men and are somewhat outdated now.  

This book is part of a series where “there is a strong, smart female version of Tom Swift in order to inspire my daughters but hopefully more young women (and everyone) that they can be a great inventor and a scientist.” -- LS Larson, Author of IGIST

My Son’s Review

As I mentioned, I first gave it to my son to read:  He loved it!  He actually likes to read but is a pretty picky reader. He texted me from school during the day to tell me how much he loved the book! 

He says his favorite part was when the main character got into IGIST and was so happy about it.  He recommends this book for teens and older tweens, as well as anyone who likes Science,  Science Fiction, or Fantasy.  He thinks that while it would be appropriate for younger kids, they would not as much out of it. 

He gives this book an overall score of 8/10 because the story was good and exciting to follow, and it also showed character traits such as determination and problem-solving, as well as confidence, in the main character.  

My Thoughts: 

As a female science educator, I love the idea of a novel with a strong female teen character. When possible, I love to try to bring different gender, age and racial role models for students. The idea of being able to do this through a book is fantastic.  Then on top of that, the creation of an app really makes it unique! Kids are used to interacting with the world around them in such different ways now that an app is a perfect way to engage young people and draw them into a story even if they might not traditionally be a reader.   I hope this book can encourage many more kids to be interested in science.

May 26, 2017

3 Fail-Proof Strategies for Students with Low Literacy Skills

3 Fail-Proof Strategies for Students with Low Literacy Skills

A few years ago our evaluation scores were based on test scores, and we had to predict early in the year how students would do on those tests, and set goals, with our administrators.

This led to a lot of looking at data in order to set realistic, but reasonable goals for students. Because I am science teacher, there weren’t as many benchmarks as there are for reading or math. There is a lack of previous scores, and earlier science classes aren’t always indicative of how the students will perform in later classes. After looking at a lot of data, I found that the best predictor for my students’ science test scores was actually their reading level.

This is so frustrating for us as teachers because the content we teach them is only part of the picture. It is also frustrating for students because they can’t really demonstrate what they know. As teachers we do have obligation to help fill some of these literacy gaps, but we also want to teach content, and not have the content get lost in the reading difficulties.

A description of strategies that content teachers can use when faced with struggling readers

Where I teach there are so many students in my classroom who struggle with low literacy skills, and this is problematic for them in school, particularly in the upper grades where reading is no longer taught. Students who have lower literacy skills struggle and become disengaged with school, but as content teachers, or teachers of higher grades, we are not always equipped to teach reading skills. So what do we do? How do we help them in class?
  • Find other ways to get them the information
  • Find other ways for them to express their knowledge
  • Use scaffolding tools such as text to speech, word walls, integrated instruction of vocabulary and more to allow them to build on their strengths, instead of focusing on weaknesses. 

Find other ways to help them get the content

Especially now, not all content has to be taught through reading and writing. We can, of course, lecture, but this may not hold students’ attention. Whether you want students to work independently, or in stations, another great way for students to learn new content is through videos, often with some type of guided notes, graphic organizer, or reflection tool.

Some of my favorite science YouTube channels are:
Comment below with your favorite source for science videos

Let them demonstrate their knowledge in other ways

The options here are countless. You can still require students to use key vocabulary terms, but some students may struggle with the organizational/spelling/writing aspects. Instead, they could show their knowledge in other ways. Here are just a few options. If you have other ideas, please feel free to comment below, I’d love to hear!
  • Draw (create a comic strip to show a process, or a poster) 
  • Create a PowerPoint (or Google Slide presentation)
  • Record a podcast or video (easy with iPads or Chrome extensions like Screencastify)
  • Create a brochure
  • Create a commercial or skit
  • Create a concept map (discussed here)
  • Use graphic organizers or foldable organizers

Scaffold their reading skills

Some students cannot read content very well because they struggle with the vocabulary (either content vocabulary or tier 2 vocabulary). I have already written quite a bit about how I tackle vocabulary in my classroom in this post, here, and here and even for homework.

In addition to vocabulary other reading skills can be taught. Students can practice making their own test questions, with answers to get used to the structure and language of test questions. They can also be taught to read and understand diagrams better. Particularly in science class there are often questions that involve diagrams. Even students who struggle with reading long passages of text can often understand a diagram and answer questions correctly.

Next time you are working with a student whose reading levels are way below grade level don’t give up! And don’t let the student give up! Remember your goals: teaching content, assisting with reading, and teaching strategies. Both you and the student might be very surprised at how much he or she really understands when given the chance to express himself in other ways. When a student is more successful and confident in your class, they are more likely to continue to try harder and achieve greater success as well.

If you try out any of these strategies, I’d love to hear how they go. Please leave a comment below, or send me an email If you would like to see any of the resources that I use with my classes, please feel free to check out my Teachers Pay Teachers Literacy Items.

A description of strategies that content teachers can use when faced with struggling readers

May 11, 2017

Tips for a Successful Year End Review

Tips for a Successful End of the Year Review

Reviewing for regents exams, or other state exams can be overwhelming. There is so much content: labs, diagrams, vocabulary, and just facts to know. Students want to do well, but they are tired, and they often don’t know how to study on their own. They don’t want to listen to you lecture, and you don’t want to lecture, but they need direction.

Tips to use for end of year review, especially in high school biology class (Regents)

When reviewing for state exams, in particular, it is critical to look back at past state tests and to see what has often been asked. For New York State those exams are available here. However, students quickly get bored and frustrated with simply doing past questions. This doesn’t give them a study tool, it often just shows them what they already know, or what they don’t know. Many students are not able to take this to the next level and use it as a study tool.

We as teachers want to help them succeed, and want to feel like we have done everything we can, but many teachers struggle with ‘what to do for review?’ or ‘how to structure the review to cover the right content?’

Tweet: However, students quickly get bored and frustrated with simply doing past questions. This doesn’t give them a study tool, it often just shows them what they already know, or what they don’t know.

This is How I Structure My Year End Review


For my year end review I like to assign something fairly open-ended, with choice for homework. This is something that students can make progress on their own, and won’t be studying ‘wrong’ but will be learning some study skills. One choice would be this free Review Assignment (applicable to any subject). This also eliminates the problem of cheating on practice test questions assigned at home.

Break it up

This is also a good time to utilize games and puzzles to break up review after students get bored of lecture and/or practice questions. A very popular way to do this is the use of Tarsia Puzzles (also called Magic Squares).

The ‘Meat’ of the Review

The bulk of my review, however comes from this resource, which I have created. It is organized by main topics within the New State Living Environment Course (Biology). Each topic has one or two pages. It is in guided notes format, with key diagrams that need to be labelled, or bullet points that need to be filled in. It can be used in several ways.

Depending upon the group of students that I have that year, I may use this resource in several ways:
  • Hand out the entire packet at once, or I may hand it out one topic at a time, or only use some sections and review other sections in other ways.
  • I will often put students in partners (or on their own) to complete a short section, then regroup and go over it.
  • I have also had them complete a short section, check with a partner, and then check their answers against the key.
  • A teacher answer key is included, so it is a very easy option if you want to copy the answer key for students (or a portion of it).
  • I have also had students lead, up at the board, going over the answers with the answer key.
Here is a free sample of one topic if you'd like to give it a try!

It is open-ended enough that it keeps students actively thinking and engaged, but complete enough that it gives them a great study resource when they are finished.

This includes sections for the New York State Required Labs (Beaks of Finches: Evolution, Relationships and Biodiversity: Evidence for Evolutionary Relationships, Making Connections: Experimental Design and Homeostasis, Diffusion through a Membrane) as well as the following units of study:
  • scientific inquiry
  • classification of living things
  • microscope, cells 
  • macromolecules
  • enzymes
  • cell membrane
  • photosynthesis and respiration
  • nucleic acids
  • mitosis and meiosis
  • genes and heredity
  • modern genetics
  • evolution
  • human body systems
  • reproduction
  • homeostasis
  • ecology
  • and human impact on the environment. 
The main points that are reviewed in each section are based on questions and topics that are most commonly asked on state testing.

What Else do I do In Class to Prepare them for the Test?

I usually review a topic or two using one of the above discussed methods and then do some practice past state test questions that draw specifically on that topic. This allows them to see the relevance and value of the review, and to have more success with the questions by being active participants in the review.

I know the end of the year can be chaotic, but end of the year testing is still important to both you and the students and we all want them to do their best. This can even ben a time to try some changes to routines in preparation for next year, and to keep things fresh at the end of this year.

I find this review structure (with some use of games or stations periodically to break it up depending upon your group and your time schedule) to be successful because students know what to expect, and they can see the purpose behind it. It is important that students buy-in to the review strategy, and understand what that the plan is, and the reasoning behind what you are asking them to do. Sometimes I even kick-off review with a contract that I have the students create and sign regarding which actions they plan to take to ensure that they do well (study each night, stay after school for extra help, participate in review, etc). This makes it clear where they are going. They can feel success as they complete it, and they also have a study resource when they are finished. Instead of being bored, students actually look forward to the structure, knowing what’s coming next, and seeing some progress in their learning and their scores.

I hope you will head over here, check out the previews, and try it out for yourself if you teach Biology. Please let me know what you think!!

Tips to a successful year end review in Regents Living Environment or other Biology Courses

Apr 5, 2017

3 Simple Strategies For Improving Comprehension

Three easy strategies to implement when your students struggle with tier 2 vocabulary and reading comprehension
Background Image Attribution “seventy; words” flickr photo by RCabanilla shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Welcome! I am a secondary science teacher in an urban district in upstate NY. I am taught Earth Science, Biology, Environmental Science, AP Environmental Science, as well as middle school integrated science. I am excited to share some strategies with you to help your students be more successful. You can see more of my teaching ideas and resources at my website.

Many times I teach students content, and I do believe that they know the content. However, when given test questions, they cannot demonstrate their knowledge. So frustrating! I have tried a lot of different strategies to be help them be more successful with mixed results.

To read the rest of this post, click over to Performing in Education. This was a special guest post but I wanted to make sure to share it with you.

Apr 12, 2016

Test Taking Strategy You Need to Know

When my students take a test, I want them to reason through the answers, read carefully, support their thinking, and make connections to what they know. Don't you? 

I don't know about you, but this is not often the case. When it is the case ,it is usually for my stronger students, but my weaker students (who most need to utilize these strategies) often don't do so.  Instead my weaker students are more likely to just pick answers, sometimes randomly, or even to leave questions blank.  

Like many of you, I have tried many other strategies to help students develop their test taking abilities and strategies, but with limited success.

When my students take a test, I want them to reason through the answers, read carefully, support their thinking, and make connections to what they know. Don't you?

My favorite is to allow students to work with a partner.  However, I don't tell them this right away.  I let them work on the test for the first half the period or so.  Then I will allow them to choose a partner.  They have to finish the test with a partner, or use their partner to check any that they aren't sure of.  Sometimes I tell them they need to turn in only one answer sheet.  Sometimes I allow them to turn in two answer sheets.

The results are amazing!  Students are already quiet, and for the most part engaged, but may be struggling. They are in a good spot to collaborate. All of a sudden I walk around the room and hear students saying things like,

"I think it has to be B because...."
"Well it asks us to compare, that means we have to talk about how they are alike and different"
"Did you look at the diagram?"

They suddenly have a reason to explain their thinking. They are encouraged to go back and look more closely at the question, the diagram, the vocabulary.

This works better than open notes, in my opinion because my weaker students often don't have good notes from which to pull information.  Here they have a crutch, but they have to convince another person of what they know, or work together with another person to agree upon an answer.

This has been an amazing strategy in my classroom to encourage even the weaker students to work through the questions, just the way that we want them to!  As they do, they learn from talking through the questions, using vocabulary, and also they gain confidence when they see what they know.

This is one of my favorite strategies. It can't be used all the time, but used sporadically it has great results.  One time my kids were taking a test this way and the director of science for my district walked in. He was very impressed with the conversations that he heard taking place!

What are your best strategies to build confidence and help students learn to think through difficult questions?

Sep 27, 2015

Google Forms: Revolutionary Technology in the Science Classroom

There are so many kinds of technology that I use on an almost daily basis in my science class to improve life and education for my students.  Today's post is going to focus on a tool that I use almost everyday -- Google Forms.

If you have never used google forms before, here are some tutorials. They are VERY easy to use.

All you need is a google account (personal or professional, the students will never see your email address). You can go to Google Drive and create a new form, or go to  You create a form just like you create any other document, and you can choose what type of questions you want (multiple choice, short answers, scale, checkboxes, include a picture or video....).  Your answers will automatically come to a Google Sheet (like excel), and you can also get a summary of responses.  This means google will aggregate the data for you, and show, immediately, for every question, the number of people who chose each multiple choice answer, or a list of the responses.  The responses will show up on real time, so you can immediately see your students' responses.

Here is an example of the summary of results that you can get immediately after students respond.

Before I get into ways that I used google forms in the classroom, a couple of other tips that I wanted to share with you.

  1. The snipping tool in windows is a great way to include any images that you want to add in.
  2. There is an add-on called flubaroo (there are lots of great tutorials online) that will automatically grade multiple choice for you.
  3. If you only want the form available at a certain time, or to end at a certain time, you can toggle on and off the 'accepting responses,' as shown below

Ok, so on to how I use google forms in the classroom.  

I had three main uses for google forms that I want to share, although there are many others.

  1. I used it for myself to track parent contacts.  I made a quick form with boxes for student name, method of contact, and what was discussed (time and date are stored automatically).  I put a bookmark to this form on my toolbar and could quickly enter any parent contact.  Then I ended up with a spreadsheet that I could sort or search of all my parent contacts.
  2. I used google forms at the end of each unit, or topic, to do a quick survey with the kids around the learning objectives.  I could immediately get a pulse on how they were feeling about the various objectives, and know where to focus my review.  I could pull the summary up on the board and work of off that to review.  I found it much more effective that asking them to ask questions, or openly self-report. We could all be on the same page.  I had them take notes as we were reviewing. 
For example...

3. I used google forms on an almost daily basis for warm ups.  We were a 1:1 chromebook school last year, so this might not be feasible otherwise, but it is certainly something to consider for those days you have device access, or even if you want students to access on any type of device.  I would usually give them a shortened link (from or post the link on google classroom.  Then my form would show 2 or 3 warm up or ticket out questions.  I could even include a video on picture. I could turn the form off when the time was up, and pull up the responses on the board so we could see where we are as a class, and if we are ready to move on.  

Have you used google forms in your classroom?  If so, where do you see it being most useful?  What other technology do you use? 

May 26, 2014

Get Results With This Free Review Strategy

Here is a review activity that I have done with my classes. I find many students want a study guide, but don't know how to use it.  In many cases it gets left on the table at the end of class, or best case read through once or twice, which doesn't really give many benefits. Students needs to active learners, but here is one strategy to get them to be active learners. Hope it helps you in your end of the year review.

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Apr 18, 2014

The Complete Guide to Introducing a New Topic

When I start a new unit, I like to have some consistency, and I like activate prior knowledge, as well as let students know what is coming up and what the objectives will be.  I have done this for the past two years by setting up a new title page in their notebooks. This title page has two sides (for the two pages of their notebook).

On one side is the objectives listed.  I usually type these and give them a copy to attach.  I like to give them a spot next to each to rate how well they know it, and to make notes as we go through the unit.  I use a certain format for these, and I call them "Keeping Track of Learning."  

On the other side I have the students divide the page into four.  In the center they write the title of the unit (which I give them).  Then in each box they must draw a picture, with a caption, that is related to that topic.  Depending upon the topic of the unit, sometimes I think that they may have some prior knowledge, and I leave it open-ended, except that I usually point them toward the chapter or section in the book where they can find additional pictures and inspiration.  If I think it is a topic for which they won't have much prior knowledge, then I give them a list of maybe 4-8 main idea terms to choose from, and direct them to some resources. 

I like this system because it gets them thinking about what they already know, and previewing the chapter (or other resources), without specifically being directed to do so.  I provides a platform for them to discuss what they already know or what they think the upcoming topics will be about. 

I usually take about 15-20 minutes in class, and I think its time well spent.  Students get a chance to get their heads into what we are learning, and connect to it, and I get a chance to informally assess what they already know.

Here is an example photo:

I have also seen a teacher do a similar activity by creating a word cloud (such as from wordle) to include common vocabulary from the upcoming topic, and use that as a focus point or COVER image for the unit.  
Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Apr 13, 2014

Making Student's Thinking Visible

Sometimes when students are learning a lot of new information, it is difficult for them to organize it, or keep the parts together that go together. They know the terms, and have some of the links, but don't quite have it all straightened out in their heads. 

Also, as a teacher, it can be difficult to sort out where they have misconceptions. Here is one tool that I used to do just that. Concept maps. 

I gave the students a list of 20 terms (with definitions) related to weathering and erosion. I told them they need to use 15. I showed some examples of concept maps on the board and the linking terms.   I had them write the words they chose on post-it notes.  I had them organize the terms on the large paper, then add linking words to explain how they were connected, and then add at least 5 pictures (I had many pictures available for them to choose from).  

For my higher students, this was really an opportunity for them to tie together their knowledge, and organize it.  They felt like they benefited, and caught many of their own misconceptions as they were trying to connect the terms.  

For the lower students, I was able to see their errors or confusion when they laid out the terms, and help correct those, or talk through with them how the concepts could connect, and which didn't make sense.

I think it was a beneficial exercise to wrap up a unit, and they love seeing them on display in the hallway.

If you are looking for complete vocabulary lists, and concept lists for Earth Science, a good place to look is in this product, or your district curriculum.

Mar 12, 2014

Use Socrative For Colorful and Innovative Analysis and Test Prep

I don't  know if you are in a state that has Regents exams, or if you are in a state that has other state exams instead.

Here in NY, we have Regents exams.  They are exams given at the end of the course, in most high school courses, and passing a certain number of them in each content area is a graduation requirement.

I teach in an urban district, where the passing rates are fairly low.  I am always looking for ways to help students be successful on those tests.  I have tried many other things (which I may write about in other posts).

A colleague and I are trying a new strategy now.  Here is our plan (really, it was my colleague's plan first, and then I have adpated to my class):

 - Analyze the past few years Regents exams, correlate them to the NYS standards, to determine which topics are the most heavily tests, and what those test questions look like.  In other words, which standards are emphasized on the exams, and how are those standards translated into test questions. 
- Starting about now, give students weekly 10 question quizzes.  The quizzes will be made out of the most commonly tested standards.  

- As students get questions right, the quizzes will adapt to include the next most commonly asked questions.
- The quizzes are being done on  This allows me to add an explanation to the questions.  Students can take the quiz, know immediately how they did, and as they see their answer, see an explanation of why the correct answer is correct.  I am encouraging them to take  notes, and study those notes.  If they are getting questions wrong, there is a good chance that they will see the same questions next week.

- As I see a question that the class as a whole is not progressing on, I can go back and target that for a quick 'intervention.' 

So far, students are enthusiastic.  One of my top students even said "So we are starting review now?!"  
Me: "Yes, a little bit of review"
Student: "That's a good idea, then when we get to June it won't be so overwhelming!"

That's the idea.  Those students who advance faster through, will get more review, but those who advance slower will still review and hopefully "get" the most commonly tested concepts.

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Jun 2, 2013

Earth Science Review Strategy Freebie For You

Here is a way that I like to review.  Click on the link to access the freebie.

This link goes to a document that I have created that walks students through using several different websites to review Earth Science.

It is specifically geared towards reviewing in the computer lab for Regents Earth Science (New York State), but could definitely be used in other Earth Science classes.

I like to use this on a fairly early day in the 'review' section of the course. It then allows students a chance to get familiar with the websites in a guided setting, and then take the directions home to study on their own, or earn extra credit (obviously the teacher's choice).  Students seem to like it because it allows them some control, and they can work at their own pace.

This could also be a great option for kids to use when they have extra time in library, tech, or other classes where they have computer access.

Hope it is helpful!

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Mar 22, 2013

Here's Something You Can Do To Create Additional Review Time

When is your state testing? Our ELA is April 15-18 and math the following week. Then science has two parts: a performance test at the end of May, and written test June 4th.

Here's the catch, here in NY we are in school until late June. After the big push for state testing is done, we still have two months of school. This year, with spring break early, that is a long stretch without a break. Kids are likely to shut down and lose interest after testing, and when the weather turns.

I will address how I change class after state testing in a couple weeks. For now, one last post on test prep, in a non-traditional sense.

How can you get a little extra time before your state test? Here's a strategy you may or may not be using. ASK!!!

What I mean by this is ask other teachers. Of course, you can't take over their class time, but there may be ways to either integrate, or have them help. Our librarian and tech teacher sometimes have downtime and time on the computers, when I don't always have computer access. Turns out they don't have much curriculum, especially in library, and in tech are very wiling to integrate other subjects to teach tech skills. I was able to give the librarian and tech teachers lists of websites and ways the kids could earn extra credit by doing science review and extra science work. I used quizlet, brainpop (activity and quizzes), and even some sites with review questions.

Wow! Just created individualized additional science review time!

Mar 12, 2013

5 Simple Steps to Alleviate Student Stress and Increase Confidence

Hmmmmm. We are now approaching state testing time. It's not here yet, but its coming. That leads me to several thoughts. I'm not going to get into the politics of testing....I think we all know where we stand on that and are sick of discussing it. I'm going to focus, instead, on how to prepare kids, and how much of our preparation is not about content.

Kids get stressed about so many aspects of testing. It is so important to take away their anxiety! For this reason, it's important to practice and coach them, make them familiar with all aspects of it. These include things you may not think of. Here are some ideas:

- room arrangement. If you will be moving furniture, or seats, do it at least a week ahead of time so that's not scary.
- what will the test look like? If possible, make your unit tests and tickets out out of past state tests. Not from a test bank, but actually from the test. This way they look the same.
- what will the format of the answer sheet be. Make sure they are familiar with this and how to fill it out well ahead of time.
- let them use class time to study, with structure. For example, I took 15 minutes of class this week to have them get into partners and quiz each other in vocabulary words. They could either read the definition and have their partner guess the word, or give clues and guess the word. They got really into it, and started competing and cheering each other on! A the end we talked about ways they could study vocabulary at home. Many realized they could do this with other family members, or even on the bus.

So simple, but they need to be explicitly taught these skills and made to feel comfortable and confident.

Feb 18, 2013

This is What Happens When You Focus on Tier 2 Vocabulary

I posted earlier about my action research on Tier 2 vocabulary words for bellwork.  Some of my results are in, and I wanted to share....

I conducted a "pre-quiz" on a set of 5 words, worked with the words for 5 class days and then a "post-quiz" on the same five words.  It was matching words and definitions.  Don't forget....the post-quiz was the day before February break!  The 7A, 7B, 8A, and 8B  designations indicate the groups.  7A and B are 7th grade, 8A and B are 8th grade.  8A and 7B both have significant ELL students.  7B also has some IEP students.

Not bad...I was actually hoping for even a little better, but some of the words were similar, and they got confused.

The words were: property, component, factor, consecutive, and formation.

I also conducted a survey where I asked them if they were aware of the focus on vocabulary in bellwork, if it was helping them in science, in other classes, not helping them at all, etc. I also asked them what methods worked best for them.

Interesting results!

Feb 13, 2013

8 Important Reasons to Use Foldables With Your Students

Why do foldables work?

My high school students sometimes used foldables, and they seemed somewhat helpful, but for some reason when I got to middle school foldables were great!  Give the kids a chart or some other kind of graphic organizer and they are bored and don't seem to get as much out of it.  Give them a foldable and  they like it.  I wanted to find out why.

I like foldables because....

- They are a little bit kinesthetic.
- They get to be more creative
- They are creating a study tool
- They get to create something that they are proud of at the end.
- They seem to do better at pulling out information, not just copying from the text.
- They really help students organize information.
- Kids like to look back to them to study! They seem to remember where to find their information and find it more meaningful than other notes.

I also wanted to find some other information about foldables and why they work.  I found a lot of opinions, but not a lot of really backed up data.  However, here are some great resources that I found: (discussion of using foldables) (great information on foldables and the common core) (great examples of middle school math and science foldables):
And of course, the creator of foldables  with lots of examples

Here are my products that are in my TpT store that are foldables.  All have been used in my classroom.  These include:
 - circulatory system, excretory and digestive system, heat transfer, sexual and asexual reproduction, plant and animal cells, and more will be coming.  (Can you tell we've been doing human body??!)

If there is a particular topic you want to see, let me know!

Feb 11, 2013

5 Steps to Change Testing And Get Amazing Results

How do we making testing (even unit tests) a growth and learning experience, instead of just an exercise that frustrates kids and takes up time? Here is one thing that I do. I saw it from my amazing mentor when I was student teaching, and have since modified it for my own use, but I think you will be amazed at the results.  Here is what I do.  I don't do it too early in the year, as kids have to learn procedures and expectations/testing behavior, etc.  I also don't do it all the time.
  • On the day of a chapter test or unit test, treat it just like a regular test.  Make them put everything away and work quietly on their own to take the test. 
  • After some time (anywhere from 10-15 minutes, or as the first 1-2 people finish). Usually I like to shoot for when most kids are maybe 2/3 of the way through.
  • Have them work with a partner (either they pick or I pick - depends on the class). 
  • They need to go through their test, with a partner, and agree on their answers.  No copying.  As you walk around they must be discussing their answers if they have different answers, and why they think that's the best answer.  
  • Sometimes I leave it at that.  Sometimes I have a group where I really give them a new answer sheet, and that's what they turn in. 
Why do I do it?  Because as you walk around, you will hear kids having those valuable conversations that don't happen as well under other conditions. They take it very seriously because its for a test grade, and they listen to each other.  You hear kids saying "But it says NOT"  "what does this word mean?  Oh...."  "remember when we did this in class...."  "I think its this because I remember"  

Also, its cuts down the number of kids who just randomly guess, quickly pick answers, or leave blanks down almost to zero.  Maybe you don't have those kids.  I always have.  They get an extra scaffold as they really work through the test questions, and they look closely at the language and choices in a way they don't usually. It also gives them a lot more confidence to work with a partner.  

Try it. If you do, please let me know how it goes :) 

Jan 31, 2013

6 Ways School is Like Working Out

I had surgery on my shoulder last May.  At the time, I couldn't work out for 4 months afterward.  In an effort to save money, I cancelled my gym membership.  Then, I rode my bike some at the end of the summertime, and did some hiking.  Once it got cold, and school started back up, I did almost no exercise. I know I should, but between being busy, tired, not having the didn't happen.  I tried a few times, and didn't stick with it, even though it felt good when I was doing it.

Last weekend I bought a new workout video, on a great sale.  Then I got sick.  I first used it today.  Afterwards, I had a thought.  My working out (or lack of), is very similar to my students work habits.  They haven't yet established the habits to be successful in school.  They want to, and are proud of themselves when they turn in homework, or do well on an assignment, but can't sustain it.

So what can we do to help them sustain these behaviors long enough to become habits??

What other things help people develop new habits:

  • We have to motivate them to want that change-- engaging lessons, connections to real life, goals, etc
  • We have to provide lots of positive reinforcement
  • Make it an enjoyable experience
  • Provide support for them to succeed (help with homework, flexibility)
  • Make these efforts sustained - it takes a long time to develop new habits.
  • Keep this analogy in mind. I think its easy for us, as teachers, to think that once we've told kids something, or by the time they are a certain age, they should have school habits well established....maybe not.  Remember how hard it is to learn something new.  
What if they don't?  What if they haven't been successful in learning these habits?  Or what if its not something that is reinforced at home?

Nov 5, 2012

Simple But Successful Test Taking Strategies

Tests!!! (And how to make them better)

If, like my classes, you have been inundated with tests lately, it may be the last thing you want to discuss or read more about. However, I'm not talking about APPR and pre-assessments or post-assessments. I'm talking about strategies you and your students can use to help them before, or during the tests that you care about (chapter tests, or end of the year tests in your subject area).

Strategies to use with your students before and during testing to help them be more successful
Test image from
"Long Before the Third Grade Test" (CC BY 2.0) by wecometolearn 

My students struggle with reading and understanding the questions, and often get frustrated and just guess, or give up during a test. This is a habit that I work very hard to help them overcome during the course of the year.

Strategies Before the Test:

Build up their confidence. Not to over inflate it, but to make them comfortable with their own knowledge and to make them comfortable with test question formats and the types of questions that are asked. Some of the ways that I do this are:

  • Review games based on test questions,
  • Review questions in partners, and/or stations, and check their answers, that are very similar to the test questions. Then when the see the test questions they look familiar. This can also be a good place to use task cards. See here for 5 ways to engage and assess using task cards
  • Build up other vocabulary, besides content vocabulary, that they are likely to see on the test (words like compare, abundant, etc). I do this through various vocabulary strategies
  • Have them work to create test questions and quiz a partner (a great closure or ticket out activity) -- predict what will be on a test from today's work.

Strategies During the Test:

There are all the common strategies (cross out wrong answers, do the ones you know first, underline key words, but here are a few others that I have found to be helpful to my students.

Cover up the answer choices and predict the correct answer. This is something that good students do instinctively but weaker students don't seem to do. I teach this strategy, we practice it, and then go around and give bonus points (I stamp their test) if I see them using this strategy. I give them scrap paper and have the cover the choices, and then write down what they think the answer will be, before looking at the choices. It really helps them not get thrown off by the distractors.

Split the test into two parts and one part they can work with a partner. You, or they, can choose partners. Sometimes I literally make this into a two part test. Sometimes I let them work for most of the period, then use the last 10 -20 min or so to check with a partner on the ones they are having trouble with, or to compare their answers and decide on final answers to turn in. I don't do it right away in the beginning of the year, but once routines are established this is a great way to help students really think through the questions, explain their thinking, and choose the best answer. You might be very impressed at the conversations that you hear!!

What other strategies do you use to help students work through tests that are difficult? Please leave your strategies in the comments.

So often tests don't truly test the content, but test their reading!

Strategies to use before and during testing to help your students be more successful
Test image from

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