Classroom Strategies: Effective Teaching Habits & Approaches

Language Matters

Patricia Bentolila, MSc.


Communication is the process through which we connect with people, share information, disclose our concerns and negotiate solutions to our problems. Communication is involved in all we do and takes account for most of our successes or failures. Good communication help get our needs met most of the time. Both Teachers and Parents may fall in the category of misusing good communication skills.

Good communication involves saying what we think, feel or want in a way that increases mutual understanding and reduces the perception of threat and the likelihood of conflict. For teachers and parents it’s essential to learn to express themselves in ways that will not interfere with the accomplishment of their instruction. When it comes to children and specially in the case of teenagers it’s helpful to have this skills sharpened.


1.Avoid labels. Give the instruction in a clear and with friendly guideline.

Instead of using titles/labels like: “Now we are going to do some exercise, take out a blank page….” “You have to clean up your room….”

You can say something like:” Now we will start doing the following. In a blank page…”

“The things spread around here must be put away in their place. Now is a good time to start…”

2.Avoid commands. Instead be assertive.

Instead of: “ You have to do this practice”. ”Go shower”

You can say something like: “ I want to check your understanding on what we explained. Practice #…. will help us check for ……….” “I need you to take a shower before 7, will you shower now or in 15 minutes?”

3. Instead of orders or controlling words, use language that empowers.

Instead of: “You have to finish in…..” : “ Do your homework before you…..”

Say: “ Most people finish this in……., you may try to also finish in…..”: “ You may want to do your homework before you….. so you can….”


Edelman Sarah, PHd. “Change your thingking”
Feinstein Sheryl, EdD “Secrets of the Teeange Brain”
Eric Jensen,”Brain Compatible Strategies”


Knowing Thy Impact – the key to maximizing student and teacher learning”
(K- Adult)

Dani Odri

WHAT? The quality of teaching is now seen to be the main driver of successful learning outcomes. John Hattie, a leader in the field of measuring the effects on student achievement, has an overarching theme that states achievement in schools is maximized when teachers see learning through the eyes of students, and when students see learning through the eyes of themselves as teachers.

Hattie identifies the major aspects of school life that lead to maximizing learning is the mind frames of the school leaders, teachers, and paraprofessionals with particular emphasis on a mindset of Knowing thy impact’. That is, when teachers focus on their impact it puts in place a set of operating questions that are regularly asked throughout the learning cycle: Fundamental guiding questions like:

  • What happened to…?
  • What are we doing?
  • How are we going?
  • And where to next?

Allows teachers to explore what is working and what is not, and to adjust teaching and learning practices accordingly, on a regular basis, along the way, enabling a stronger and deeper effect on student learning and improved achievement.


  • Teachers need to be critical planners, using learning intentions and success criteria, aiming for both surface and deep outcomes, and ensuring they communicate these notions of success to the students clearly and regularly, with explicit instruction.
  • Both teachers and students need to share in the learning task, moving from where they are towards where they want to be.
  • Teachers, act as adaptive learning experts, creating a trusting and safe environment between them and the students and between the student’s themselves.
  • Teaching and using multiple strategies, to develop skills in deliberate practicing, to know when and how to concentrate, to develop confidence in learning, to have multiple learning strategies, and to give and receive feedback about learning.
  • Teachers and students need to know the learning intentions and the criteria for student success. The need to know how well they are attaining these criteria, and know where to go next in light of the ‘gap’ between students’ current knowledge and understanding and the success criteria of: “Where are you going?”  “How are you going?” and “Where to next?

Hattie, J, (2012). Visible Learning for Teachers Maximizing impact on Learning, Routledge Oxon
Hattie, J, Yates, G, (2014). Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn, Routledge  Oxon p.x



Patricia Bentolila, MSc.

WHAT: Working with adolescents is not always easy. As a matter of fact it can be very challenging. One of many discussions is if they should be given the opportunity to choose in their learning process or in general. Since one of the major issues in dealing with teens is about accepting limits and adults authority, some teachers, or for the same purpose parents, believe that adolescents should follow guidelines from grownups in order for them to understand that they are not in charge. In fact the opposite holds true. As we all know, the adolescent years is a time when the person begins to desire emotional autonomy and is in search for their independency. They want to proof they can be self sufficient. On top of that, teenagers are prone to exploring anad pushing limits. Taking advantage of this natural process in their brains may be benefitial for teachers.  Offering choices to students is a wonderful way to develop ownership and responsibility.

HOW: You can incorporate choice in almost every learning activity. For instance your middleschool students could get to choose the topic for a Project, yet be given the guidelines on how the Project should be presented. Or, they could be given the topic but have choice on the presentation format: Oral, visual, kinesthetic (through a scaled model), etc.

You can add choice in an exam by having different sections and giving them opportunity to choose between some of them, or between  a number of Essay questions.

Make up your own choice options!!!

Use this general recommendations to make sure your choices are the type that engage students:

  • A sense of control. Effective choices help individuals feel in control .
  • A sense of purpose. For a person to engage in any activity it should be meaningful.
  • A sense of competence. Effective choices also encourage students to feel competent, particularly on challenging tasks. People who believe they will succeed during challenging activities tend to be more motivated .

It is advisable to use the 4WH framework to decide what kinds of choices to provide students  developed by Kevin Perks. That is: who, what, when, where, and how questions in relation to choice.


Feinstein Sheryl.”Secrets of the teenage brain”. 2004.
Student Science a Resource  of the society for science and the public. The teenage brain.
Crafting Effective Choices to Motivate Students   by Kevin Perks . Adolescent Literacy In Perspective  March/April 2010 .


Graduated Difficulty – A strategy to help develop self regulation
(Middle Primary – Adult)

Dani Odri

WHAT? Graduated Difficulty involves students directly in the differentiation process as they

  • Analyse a variety of tasks at different levels of difficulty.
  • Select the task that is most appropriate for them.
  • Complete and evaluate their chosen task.
  • Chart and set goals for future improvement and achievement at higher levels of difficulty.


  1. Develop a set of tasks around the selected content or skill at three (or more) levels of difficulty.
  2. Students need to understand the role they are expected to play in the Graduated Difficulty strategy. That is they must complete one of the set tasks.
  3. All of the tasks are analysed; with students determining what skills and knowledge are necessary to succeed at each level of difficulty before deciding which task they wish to complete.
  4. Students are free to work at whatever level feels right and can switch levels at any time. It is important for students to feel they are trusted to make these decisions for themselves.
  5. The self- assessment process is facilitated by ensuring that students have easy access to an answer key (for tasks with right or wrong answers) or an assessment rubric (for more open-ended tasks).
  6. Reflection time is provided to allow students to share their thoughts and feelings on what they have learned and achieved.
  7. Students work with guidance, to help establish personal goals for improvement; that are challenging but achievable.

Silver, H.F., Strong, R.W., Perini, M.J., (2007) The Strategic Teacher Selecting the Right Research Strategy for Every Lesson ASCD


FQR- Preparing for Great Literature Discussions
(Upper Elementary)

Cid Schumpert

What? Fact, Question, Response or FQR is a great way for students to consolidate their learning, make emotional connections, and get ready to discuss a literary selection.

How?  After reading a literary selection, ask students to divide a page into three columns labeled fact, question,  response.  Students write facts or for fiction events in the fact column.  In the question column, students write questions they have or what they are wondering about the selection.  The response column allows students to express their personal reaction to the reading.

Next: The next day in class ask students to share their FQR’s.  The students enjoy answering their classmates’ questions and commenting on their responses.  The strategy also helps build a culture of respectful consideration of others’ thoughts and ideas.

Evidence:  Harvey, S. & Goudvis, A. (2007). Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.


Using Powerful Images to Focus Student Conversations
Grades: PK-college and adult

Bryan Harris, Ed.D.

What: A Powerful Image is a picture that evokes an emotional response.  Powerful Images differ from typical pictures because they evoke an immediate, sometimes strong reaction.  Sometimes the response is “wow”, sometimes its “I can’t believe that” and sometimes students quietly reflect on the content of the image.  Powerful Images help to focus student conversations by providing them with something external on which to focus their conversations.   This is preferable, particularly for many struggling students, because it takes the stress away from the interpersonal interactions of a conversation and places the focus on something external.  During conversations, students are asked to reference what they see in the image.

How: When planning a lesson, do a web image search using key terms from the objective.  For example, if you are teaching about ideas related to the impact of Nazi occupation of Eastern Europe during WWII, do a web search for some key terms.  You’ll be amazed at some of the images you’ll find.  Be cautious, of course, because not all images (although they may be historically accurate) are appropriate for students.   Then, using the images you find plan specific questions to ask of students related to the images and the objective.

Evidence: John Medina, in his book Brain Rules, outlines how powerful the brain’s visual processing system is.  He explains the power of something researchers have known for years – the pictorial superiority effect (PSE).   This research explains the old adage that a picture is worth 1000 words.


The 3-Sentence Wrap-Up
(Middle Primary to Adult)

Dani Odri

WHAT? In this activity, students are required to go through a lesson’s content and repackage it in a very brief form. Teachers add approximate word limits (no more than 20 words, for example) and students are forced to be selective in their choices, directly addressing the question and not straying from the topic at hand.

By asking for 3-Sentence Wrap-Ups, students have to determine what is most important, and then succinctly sum up the information they have heard or read. Summarizing something lengthy in three sentences or less can be challenging. But it requires that students sift out what is important and sum up their understandings in a concise way.


  1. At the end of a presentation, students summarize it in three sentences or less.
  2. Students get into small groups and compare their 3-Sentence Wrap- Ups.
  3. They share and refine their summaries by asking the following:
  • Is there a way to make the summary have even fewer sentences and fewer words?
  • What parts are essential?

Students further analyze what they have selected and determine what is most important. (Cue-ing with the 5 W’s and 1H for extra scaffolding may be required for some)

  1. Finish off with a Chalkboard Splash where each group writes up their final wrap-up sentence or sentences on the board.

Adding a fourth sentence that might begin with

“This is important because . . . .”  focuses on the topic’s relevance to life and helps students make connections.

Himmele, P & W., (2011) Total Participation Techniques Making Every Student an Active Learner ASCD


Writing-to-Learn Prompts – in Checking for Understanding
(Primary – Adult)

Dani Odri

WHAT? Writing-to-learn prompts provide students with an opportunity to clarify their thinking and allow the teacher to peek inside their heads and check for understanding.


Common writing-to-learn prompts include the following:

Admit Slips: Upon entering the classroom, students write on a given topic. Examples: “Who was _________and why should we care?” or “Describe the way sound waves travel.”
Crystal Ball: Students describe what they think the lesson will be about, what might happen next in the novel they’re reading, or the next step in a science experiment. Example: “How will the characters resolve their conflict?”
Awards: Students recommend someone or something for an award that the teacher has created. Examples: “Most helpful molecule” or “Most insidious leader.”
Yesterday’s News: Students summarize the information presented the day before in a video, lecture, discussion, or reading. Example: “Summarize our discussion of the Great Migration.”
Take a Stand: Students discuss their opinions about a controversial topic. Example: “What’s worth fighting for?”
Letters: Students write letters to others, including elected officials, family members, friends, or people who have made a difference. Example: Students may respond to the prompt, “Write to _______ asking him to explain his position today.”
Exit Slips: As a closing activity, students write on a given prompt. Example: “The three best things I learned today are. . . .”

Fisher, D., Frey, N., (2014) Checking for Understanding Formative Assessment Techniques for Your Classroom 2nd Edition ASCD


Got Brain Breaks?

Erik B. Smith

What? Knowing that the mind, body, and brain all influence each other, it is advantageous for all educators to incorporate purposeful exercise to positively modulate learning states, elevate moods, and solidify learning by enhancing the body’s ability to produce impactful learning chemicals. For instance, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is considered to be Miracle-Gro for the brain and has been found to be present in the hippocampus, which is a vital area associated with memory and learning. Moreover, neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, can be elevated through aerobic exercise, which, in turn, can influence a student’s self-self efficacy.

How? Begin by creating a set list of physical movements for students to choose from, such as sprints, jumping jacks, sequenced runs involving touching different objects or stopping to perform a specific exercise. I have created names for different activities, such as the Triple G (walk, sprint, skip), Yellow Brick Road, or Jokers Wild. Incorporating novelty, predictability/routines, and variety, into daily brain-breaks is crucial for enhancing student buy in. Be prepared to model various activities to ensure that all movements support the desired effects. Look to use a timer (Start/End time goal is 15 minutes), give positive feedback/encouragement, and conclude activity with a fun game, such as freeze tag or war.

Jensen, E. (2008) Brain Based Learning. (2nd ed.) Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Kagan, S. (2014) Brain-Friendly Teaching. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing
Ratey, J. (2008) Spark. New York: Hachette Book Group USA.


Connecting Learning & ELLs
Upper Elementary to Adult

Lezley Lewis, Ph.D.

WHAT:  Connecting learning to students’ lives and interests draws students into the learning experience.  Knowing a student’s interests and life story can be a daunting task for a teacher but a critical one for building the teacher-student relationship.  For the English language learner, understanding their culture, roots and idiosyncrasies creates the space for the teacher to build relevant and connected learning.

HOW:  Connecting curriculum units with current events and culturally relevant topics from a student’s country of origin opens dialogue and scaffolds cognitive learning. Example: As the United States celebrates national leaders through national holidays recognizing their work and contributions (i.e., Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez), examination of the work and contributions of leaders from the student’s country of origin becomes an opportunity to deepen learning.  Examining the work and contributions of the leaders from the student’s country of origin as it relates to the concepts being taught connects the student to the classroom instruction and makes learning relevant.

EVIDENCE: Zacarian, D. (2011) Transforming Schools for English Learners: A Comprehensive Framework for School Leaders. Thousand Oaks, CA, Corwin Press.


Language Skills Integration & ELLs

Lezley Lewis, Ph.D.

WHAT:  The language skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening are complex and interrelated.  Opportunity to practice each skill in an integrated and meaningful way is imperative for the cognitive and language development of English language learners.

HOW:  Teachers ensure that each language skill is given time and opportunity for practice through answering three instructional questions:

  1. Are hands-on materials or manipulatives provided for students to practice language and new content knowledge?

Example: The teacher incorporates visuals, models, labeling, drawing, authentic realia to demonstrate the concept being taught.

  1. Do the activities provided in class provide opportunity for students to apply content and language knowledge in the classroom?

Example: The teacher incorporates class discussion, peer sharing, and cooperative learning structures to promote language skills practice around the concept.

  1. Are language skills integrated in the classroom activities?

Example: The teacher integrates activities for reading, writing, listening and speaking. Students listen to text, read text, write about the new content learning and then discuss or share the new vocabulary associated with the content learning.

When new content learning is presented, time to make application and connections with previous learning is critical for English language learners.  To ensure mastery of the new content learning, full integration of all the language skills is best practice.

EVIDENCE: Echevarria, J., Vogt, M., & Short, D. (2004) Making Content Comprehensible for English Language Learners, The SIOP Model. Boston, MA, Allyn and Bacon


SOLO TAXONOMY – not only for assessment, but in designing the curriculum for constructive alignment
(K – Adult)

Dani Odri

SOLO, which stands for the Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome, describes levels of progressively complex understanding, through five general stages that are intended to be relevant to all subjects in all disciplines. Understanding is obtained as students make progress from incompetence to expertise, with each level encompassing and transcending the previous level.

Professor John Hattie described SOLO as “the most powerful model for understanding these levels and integrating them into learning intentions and success criteria”. In developing SOLO, many factors that affect student learning, such as: students’ prior knowledge and misconceptions, motives and intentions regarding education, and their learning strategies were taken into account. The result is a construct that has both quantitative and qualitative dimensions.


Initially learners pick up only one or few aspects of a task (unistructural), then several aspects that are unrelated (multistructural), followed by learning how to integrate them into a whole (relational), and finally, learners are able to generalise that whole to as yet untaught applications (extended abstract).

SOLO supports students in developing metacognition, self-regulation, self-efficacy, engagement and resilience when learning. SOLO levels help teachers and students to talk about:

  • What they are doing (level of the task)
  • How well it is going (level of students’ achievement of the task)
  • What students should do next (next steps for learning).

Students and teachers can also give and discuss feedback more effectively. It enables the assessment of students’ work in terms of its quality not of how many things they got right. It helps students see that their learning outcomes are due to their efforts and strategies rather than luck or fixed ability.

SOLO was first published by:
Collis, K., Biggs, J., Evaluating the Quality of Learning: The SOLO Taxonomy (1982) New York: Academic Press
Potter, M.K., Kustra, E., Course Design for Constructive Alignment (Winter 2012) 
Centre for Teaching and Learning, University of Windsor
photocopy of : Essential Resources SOLO Flyer 3


Eric Jensen is a former teacher with a real love of learning. He grew up in San Diego and attended public schools. While his academic background is in English and human development, he has a real love of educational neuroscience. For over 20 years, he has been connecting the research with practical classroom applications.