Generating Questions to Spark Action


Spring is one of my favorite times of the year.  I love when trees and flowers start to show their colors brightening the days and moods of people abound. Spring is a time of rejuvenation.  It is also the perfect time to bring some element of novelty to the classroom and to teacher training sessions.

In searching for a way to bring novelty into a recent teacher team meeting, I modified the Color Question Brainstorming described in Groups at Work: Strategies and Structures for Professional Learning by Laura Lipton and Bruce Wellman. In my version of the activity, I started off by asking the team a thought-provoking question or them to reflect on by completing a think-write-pair-share activity.  The purpose is for the participants thinking about a topic in a way that reduces judgment and opens thinking. Rather than ending the conversation at this point, the team is divided into teams of 2-4 with each team given a color: Green, Red, or Blue.

In three locations in the meeting space, a poster is hung where participants will generate questions.

  • Green Questions: Imagination, Ingenuity, Possibility
  • Red Questions: Facts, Figures, Data
  • Blue Questions: Judgments, Opinions, Values, Needs

Using the initial question in addition to any other parameters needed to focus thinking, teams generate a list of questions based on the word headings of their assigned color. For example, if team members were assigned to discuss adopting a new novel to use at a specific grade level, the following questions might be developed:

  • Green:  What might happen if the team adopted several titles for literature circles instead of large volumes of a single novel title?
  • Red: What is the data that supports instruction for whole-class novels vs. literature circles?
  • Blue:  What is the best way to meet the needs of students to experience an additional novel title at _____ grade?

After a specified amount of time, team members move clockwise to a different color. They spend time reviewing questions created by other team members and mark what they feel are the most important, vital, or interesting questions. They then add to existing questions for clarification, or they add additional questions.

After a specified amount of time, they rotate to the third set of questions and complete the same actions as they did with the second set.

The final rotation involves participants returning to their original posters to review marked questions, comments, and added questions. Teams discuss and then return to their seats.

Once teams have had the opportunity to rotate and discuss, a large group discussion occurs highlighting topics/questions that stood out. The team uses this information as a way to help direct action items for future meetings and discussions.

This activity stretches thinking and opens up the possibilities that may have been hindered with a simple brainstorming procedure.


Reflect, Move, & Shuffle

office-155137_960_720I recently presented a professional development session for high school teachers. Part of the presentation required time to reflect on previous work the teachers had completed.  Knowing there the participants ranged in years of service on the work team and comfort level with the topic, I devised a plan to reflect, move, and shuffle.

For this activity:

  1.  Each participant is given a notecard.  Depending on the number of participants, and depending on the desired size of discussion groups, at least four different colors of notecards are distributed around the room.
  2. Participants are given three minutes to write (or brainstorm a list) about previous work (since the last meeting, the beginning of the year, or some other timeline).
  3. Three areas of the rooms are marked with a number (1, 2, or 3). When the writing time has expired, participants are directed to move to a number. Each number can be prescribed, or participants can be given the direction to separate themselves according to their own, individual, criteria. This is completed without talking.
  4. In their newly formed groups, participants share with a partner, or with their entire group, why they placed themselves in the group and highlights from their notecards.
  5. After 3-5 minutes, participants are told to reorganize themselves according to notecard color. The newly formed pairs or groups discuss their reflection, as well as any other insights. When prompted, the groups discuss further work that needs to be completed.
  6. After another 3-5 minutes, participants are directed to return to their seats and a priority list of future work is developed.

This activity allows multiple voices to be heard. Movement activities help energize the reflection process and allow for purposeful processing time to be planned. Processing time is built in during silent writing, multiple times to share, and reflection time prior to devising a priority list.

Although this activity was used during a professional development session, it could easily be adapted for a classroom.  The activity could focus on prior learning, background knowledge, discussion questions, and so forth. Mixing up groups, guiding students to evaluate their learning based on their own criteria, and utilizing movement helps energize the classroom and build the foundation for deep discussions.

Moving Staff Meetings


School is starting!  For some, this is the time they have been waiting for.  For others, what they have been dreading has finally become a reality.

August is prime time for teachers to get their classrooms ready and start to attend district required professional development trainings and staff meetings. These trainings and meetings contain valuable information and necessities to start the school year and keep progressing throughout the year as a staff, a content specialist, grade level expert, and so on.

While teachers may be generally excited to start a new year, the set-up of staff meeting can be dreadful. Long periods of sitting and watching slide after slide of a monotone lecture is an ironic set-up to how the school year should start in classrooms at every level. If students and teachers are to be energized, then they need to be given a chance to feel energized, or they need the opportunity to have their energy fed.

It is easy to spoon feed information via lecture.  It is also relatively risk-free as a presenter.  Most people are able to stand and read or speak.  It can take little effort, but the rewards are limited.  By investing in a few brain breaks, or movement activities involving collegial interactions, staff meetings and trainings can be viewed as more valuable. Plus the information shared has a higher chance of being retained and embraced.

As administrative teams, and teacher leaders, prepare for the back-to-school meetings, I challenge them to thinking of ways to add movement. Below are some simple ways to add a movement or more to a meeting.

  • Instead of sitting and discussing, have teacher find a colleague to share comments with via a standing discussion.
  • Break teachers up into groups in different areas of the room to have them move to a new location for a discussion. This discussion can be a standing or sitting discussion.
  • Rather than showing data via a power point, post the data around the room and have teachers analyze it, or react to it, via a gallery walk.
  • When reviewing information, or formulating an opinion base, teachers can participate in a stand-sit response.  All teachers stand.  As teachers share, they sit (see earlier posts to modify the student version).
  • To break up discussion groups, teacher can participate in a rotating conversation gathering multiple perspectives. See the video on the Teaching Channel (
  • Take the discussion outside.  In many parts of the country, the weather is gorgeous during the summer months.  Teachers can walk and talk while being outdoors.

The options can be endless, and the rewards can be limitless. Plus, modeling ways to get teachers moving can provide teachers with the inspiration to add more movement to their classrooms.




Catching Cooties to Discuss



This weekend I was sitting with my family at a restaurant as we were celebrating the Saturday basketball games.  My daughter started tearing pieces off the children’s menu. As we started to reprimand her, she informed us she was creating a cootie catcher, also know as an origami fortune teller.  I helped her fold the corners, and she eagerly wrote down the messages inside. We then took turns giving playing with the cootie catcher to hear our fortunes or specified descriptions of ourselves.  Through lots of laughter, my daughter felt a sense of pride, and we were entertained.

The cootie catcher is a simple gimmick that enthralls people of all ages. It is a tool that can be used in elementary, middle, and secondary schools, and it can also be used at conferences. Last week, I attended the AcceleratED and IntegratED Conferences in Portland. During one of the sessions facilitated by Carolyn Kirschmann, the cootie catcher was used as a warm-up to get adults talking to one another. It reminded me of a time I used cootie catchers as a way to introduce an ELA activity in class.  Regardless of how it is used,

Regardless of how it is used, movement can be applied to get students, and adults, talking to one another.  During the workshop I attended last week, half of the attendees received a cootie catcher and the other half did not. Attendees were instructed to stand up and find someone with a cootie catcher. Pairs went through the motions and answered questions to help them get to know each other.  We continued for a couple of minutes switching partners multiple times. Not only did attendees get to move, but the also were able to use a manipulative to engage.

This can be used the same way in the classroom, or different categories and discussion questions can be printed on the cootie catcher to either review or spark larger inquiry. This can be used in any classroom, and once it has been introduced, students can be in charge of creating their own questions for future uses.


17 Quick Cootie Catcher Printables and Lesson Plan Ideas