Student Led Discussions- Effective Classroom Participation

I love classrooms filled with student discussions and interactions.  Read below and tell me if this is what you typically see.

The teacher asks students the questions and the students respond.  Yes?

Or is it this way in your school.

The students direct the discussion and the teacher observes.  Yes?

More often in our classrooms we see the teacher leading the discussion and the students responding.  Let me share how we can flip that and have the students leading the discussion.

How does it look:

  • Teams of students (5-8) form discussion groups.  
  • The atmosphere in the classroom is safe.  No fear to express themselves.
  • Students give their own personal insight into the topic.
  • The teacher mentors the students by giving feedback.
  • It is student centered!
  • Students respond to each other instead of responding to just the teacher.  
  • Students are thinking.
I totally agree with the statement above- Lecturing produces the lowest level of student learning.  
I will also add this to it- technology added to your lecture does not change it from a lecture.  

This is a great video that shares Strategies for Student Centered Discussion:

If you have been following me for awhile, I love to read blogs.  I rather read blogs than the newspaper or social media.  I love learning.  One blog I enjoy reading is written by Jennifer Gonzalez.  She is the author of Cult of Pedagogy.

Jennifer shares many classroom discussion strategies on the blog.  She also shares how she helps teachers rewrite their lesson plans to be more student centered.  The best thing ever is that she doesn't just list and explain each strategy.  She also gives a video demo of each.  I'm a visual learner and this works well for me.

Things to think about or plan for when using these strategies:
  1. Classroom culture- create a classroom free of fear to express themselves.
  2. Classroom management and arrangement- Is the classroom arranged to facilitate group discussions?  Is the teacher comfortable moving from less teacher centered to more student centered?
  3. Model this strategy for students so they can understand their role and become comfortable in the classroom discussion.
  4. Principals and instructional coaches should support the teacher as they transition to more student-centered discussions.  Provide feedback and training in order to be successful.  
What another resource to get you started?  


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Secrets to Successful Presentations

I begin by saying I still get butterflies when giving a speech to a large, unfamiliar audience.  Who doesn't?  You may share in these same butterflies too.  You might even say "butterflies"- a total understatement.  Maybe what you feel is more extreme- nervous, palms sweat, stomach in knots, voice shakes and an overall state of fear.  The fear of public speaking is a true problem for hundreds and thousands of people all over the world.  You are not alone.

Even though research has found it is nearly impossible to rid ourselves completely of fear, we can do some simple things to improve upon it.

Many years ago I watched a coworker give a speech.  He was petrified.  His voice shook.  He tried to give the speech without his notes but the words just couldn't come to him.  When he stopped to take out his notes from his pocket, his hands were trembling.  It was painful to watch him suffer.  I just wanted to shout out, "It's going to be okay."  

This happens to the best of us.

Let's talk about ways you can reign that fear in so you can have successful presentations.

Find out what your audience really wants to know.  How can you help them?  Share your experiences and how it has worked for you.  Maybe you want to start a new program on campus or change up the current school schedule- share how it will benefit them.  Everyone wants to know it will make their life easier or better.  I believe that is just human nature.  It doesn't matter if your audience is made up of parents, teachers, administrators or community officials, connect with them.  You can connect through stories, experiences, pictures and videos.  These all help to bring your topic to life.  Humans are wired to listen to stories.  It engages us.  Stories take us on a journey.

I love beginning every presentation with something funny.  It might be a video.  It might be an activity or as simple as a joke.  Laughter has been proven to lighten the mood and soothe tension.  If the topic of discussion is one that might not be taken lightly, start with a bit of humor.  This lightens the mood for you and the audience.  Laughter also strengthens relationships, attracts others, enhances teamwork, helps defuse conflict and promotes group bonding.

Please note:  For some topics, this idea might be inappropriate.

Build your confidence so you can shine through the presentation.  If you have a little bit of nervousness, that is certainly okay.  That might even play in your favor.  However, too much fear makes the audience nervous for you.  Confidence is very underrated.  It isn't something we are born with.  It is something that builds over time.  Even if you don't feel confident...fake it.  You can simply appear to be confident by making eye contact, projecting your voice and displaying a relaxed body posture.

We all have problems.  Our schools and business face problems every day.  Maybe our problem is that we need a dynamic discipline program, a new teacher mentoring program, or we need to revamp our reading program, or integrate writing across the curriculum or we need to learn how to analyze data... the list goes on and on.  These are real problems.  You might just have the solution.  You have the secret sauce to bring about change and make it better.  Share that!  This will set you apart from everyone else.  Some of the best conferences and seminars I have attended were based on this idea.  I leave with a ton of ideas and saying to myself, "why didn't I think of that."

Well practice is no surprise.  A speech not practice will only make you even more nervous.  I'm not saying to memorize it but you know it well enough so you aren't reading your slides.  That's a big NO-NO.  Rehearse enough that the words flow and become second nature.  The idea is to give the speech with meaning and authenticity.

Take a moment and realize everyone wants you to succeed.  They are rooting for you.  You can do it. I promise you the speech will be better than you could ever image.  Most often we are too critical of ourselves and set outlandish expectations.  Just concentrate on your message.  Focus on it and not the anxiety and nervousness.

I attended a presentation by an expert in engagement.  However, the presentation was not engaging.  It was one of those - W.O.T. meetings (pronounced WHAT).  W.O.T. stands for waste of time.  She just read the slides and told us about how to be engaging but wasn't so herself.  The audience wants to interact.  Don't have them Sit and Get.  Have the audience talk, share, ask questions, interact with each other and have a chance to apply what you are discussing.

I hope you found these simple tips helpful.  The next time you prepare a speech or presentation know that I'm rooting for you.  You can do it!

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Lesson Planning Tips and Video

Lesson planning can seem very overwhelming.  It is something we get better at every year.  I wouldn't dare show you my hand-written lesson plans from 20 years ago.  Today's technology has allowed us to create, write and even submit our lesson plans electronically.  Having a template or format that works for you will save you a lot of time.  Let's take a look at the most important components of lesson planning and some helpful tips.

Tip 1:  Lesson Objectives: 

Lesson planning should include the lesson objectives.  This is an essential piece of information.  It is the focus and target of your lesson.  This may seem small.  However, it is one of the most important pieces of planning.  Starting with the objective guarantees you will plan all your resources and activities to the level of rigor of the objective.

Tip 2: Grouping of Students

I'm a big fan of grouping students for small group instruction. Grouping is the best way to align our instruction to our student's needs. My Small Group Reading Template can help teachers group students in 4 different groups and then design instruction based on their learning goals and needs. This template you see below also has a place for grouping and centers.

Tip 3:  Add the Details

Lessons should be readable and detailed just enough that a substitute could teach from them in an emergency.  I do not think teachers should write extensive lesson plans that takes hours and hours to complete.  This is just not necessary.  

Details include: Time, Strategies, Activities, Sequencing and Assessments.  
  1. Time: What time is Reading?  Math?  How much time is given for these subjects?
  2. Strategies: List your strategy or strategies for teaching the objective.  This will help you provide support to all of your students.
  3. Sequencing- Teaching any lesson should have a continuous flow.  It is resembles someone telling a story.  The story must have a flow so the story makes sense.  It needs to capture their attention.
  4. Assessments- How will you know what the students know?  What kind of assessment techniques will you use?

Do you want to see the VIDEO?  Here is a link to my YouTube channel so you can see the contents via video.

Download the Weekly Lesson Plan Templates Here

Small Group Reading Lesson Planner

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Lesson PlanTemplate with Video Tutorial

Over my years in education, I have noticed lesson planning can vary from district to district.  Some districts require extensive lesson planning and some require little to no documentation.  Being the planner that I am, I like some kind of guide to stay on track.  My goal of an administrator is not to make this difficult or time intensive.  I rather a teacher spend her time preparing for instruction than writing long drawn-out, extensive lesson plans.

Take a look at the video tutorial.  I share with you every page of the file.


1.  Keep it simple but detailed enough to see the overall goal.  I don't need to know every question you plan to ask, every resource you plan to use or a step-by-step process or explanation of every subject throughout the day.

 2.  Plan with the end in mind.  That sounds like something you would hear if discussing the 7 Habits.  I think it applies to our lessons too.  What do you want the students to be able to do at the end of the lesson?  When you have that decided, work backwards to plan an effective lesson to reach that goal.

3.  Differentiate always.  I have a passion for Differentiation. In this packet, it is color coordinated so you can focus on each group in your small group.  The groups outlined are approaching, on level, above level and ELL.  Differentiated Instruction is matching instruction to meet the different needs of learners in your groups/class.  You can differentiate in whole group or small group.   This resource allows you to plan effective lessons during guided reading or during skills-focused small grouping.

Small Group Reading Lesson Plan Template is editable.  The text fields are already added for you.  However, if you prefer to write out your lesson plans on paper, you can print the pdf file.   For those who can't resist typing the information, all you will need is the FREE version of Adobe Reader.  

Your computer may already have it installed.  If not, just go to Adobe Reader and download it prior downloading the file.

Download Small Group Reading Lesson Plan Template


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How to Make Your Own Posters

Making your own poster may sound difficult.  It is a lot easier than you think.  You don't even need leave your house to do it either!  All you need is a computer and a printer.  No professional printing costs are needed!  Let me walk you through it.
I started with this 8x11 quote print.  I created it but you can turn any 8x11 quote into a large poster.  If you want this quote, it is your freebie for August!  Download Future Quote here.

As you can see the quote poster is a simple 8x11 sheet of paper.  Nothing fancy.  Just a simple small poster.  I thought it was too cute to stay small.  If you want it in your school hallway or door, it really needs to stand out and be larger.

 Here is a screenshot of the poster in pdf format.  

To print: 

1.  Select POSTER.
 The image display shows it to print 11x17.
2.  If you need to see the cut marks, choose the cut mark button.  This will give you a guide for cutting.
3.  Press PRINT.

The one page printed in 6 pages.  Now we begin arranging the pages and add a few cuts here and there.
As you can see you need to do a few cuts around the edges of each page before you can totally assemble it.

After each page was cut, I laminated it.  Note: This would be easier if you have a large laminator instead of laminating individual pages.  It still works but would have been nice to run the entire poster through a big laminator.

I kept the right side of the pages with a slight border so when I pieced it together it was stronger in the middle.  I only cut the pages on the left.  Whatever you decide to do, will probably work.  I just wanted to reinforce the middle.

And just like that...11x17 poster!


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