World Cafe and PLCing

This is the time of the school year that two works tend to enter the mind of educators everywhere: testing and reflecting. Of course, educators are giving assessments throughout the year, and they are reflecting on instruction moves, assessment results, student interactions, and so forth. I often am told that in the whirlwind of the end of the school year, teachers have limited time to take a breath, breathe out and reflect. Part of reflection involves being able to process what has happened.

In recent Professional Development sessions I have facilitated, I have led teachers through a reflection process utilizing the World Cafe Protocol. My version of the protocol is as follows:

Step one: Cover tables (for groups of 4-5) using large strips of butcher paper (or poster paper).

Step two: Engage in some sort of shared learning experience such as a shared reading or lesson. For example, in my PD session prior to this activity, I had participants read an article, mark the text, and then generate a series of questions using the Question Formulation Technique ( This set a reading foundation and a session culture of asking questions.

Step three: Divide participants into groups of 4-5 and assign groups to a table. Participants will engage in a discussion using the shared experience as a foundation to reflect on student learning throughout the year. Questions for the discussions come from a PLC format. The first question groups will discuss is, “What do we expect our students to learn?” As they discuss, members will jot down notes or sketch notes capturing their conversation on the butcher paper covering their tables. Discussion time will vary, but groups should have about 5-10 minutes to discuss.

Step four: Groups will choose a “table host” to remain at the table. The remain group members will move to a different table. Once participants are settled, the host will provide a one-minute summary of the first question. Groups will then discuss the second question, “How will we know students are learning?” Discussion notes and/or sketch notes will be added to the butcher paper of the “new” table. Groups will discuss the new question for about 5-10 minutes.

Step five: The table host will remain and the groups will move to a new table. The host will review the first two questions for two minutes. The group will then discuss the third question, “How will we respond when students do not learn what is expected?” Discussion highlights will be recorded.

Step six: Groups will rotate a final time. The table host will review the first three questions before the group discusses the final question, “How will we respond when some students already know what is expected?”

Step seven: Participants will return to their original spots and review the documented conversations at their table. They will then reflect individually on the process before engaging in a large group reflection.

While this is time-consuming protocol, is provide opportunities for movement, small group discussions, multiple ways to process, and a focus on questions. Educators that have participated in this protocol have appreciated the time they are allowed to reflect on the year in an organized and focused manner. I challenge you to use all of it or part of it with your students and/or colleagues you work with.

For more information on the world cafe protocol, click here:


Moving Through Writer’s Block


Next week I travel to Chicago to present a session at the ASCD Empower19 Conference. The session I present focuses on overcoming writer’s block. Overcoming writer’s block challenges teachers and students. As a result, many secondary student writers struggle to produce multiple types of writing for various purposes required to meet Common Core State Standards and new state standards. Explicit writing strategies can alleviate barriers and help students grow academically through purposeful and personalized activities. Physical movement paired with instructional strategies helps engage the brain, reduce stress and anxiety, build social and emotional skills, and motivate those who struggle with writer’s block.

The session I present will be fast and interactive.  Participants will engage in physical movement activities paired with explicit writing strategies they can use to motivate students to become proficient writers.

Provocations Continuum Strategy

One of the strategies that I am going to introduce was highlighted during a WAETAG (Washington Association of Educators of the Talented and Gifted) Conference workshop I attended in October. Kimberly Mitchell led a session on inquiry. A simple strategy she introduced was the Provocations Continuum. I have adapted the strategy as a way to brainstorm ideas for writing. In my version of the strategy, a provocative statement is displayed on the projector screen such as, “Tackle football should be banned for students under the age of 15.” Students will be given 1 minute to process the information and decide on a scale of 1-10 how much they support/agree with the statement (1-little or no agreement, 10-100% agreement) before they will be directed to stand. At my signal, usually some sort of music playing, students will find a partner and decide who is A and who is B. When the music stops, person A will share his or her position without interruption for one minute. After a minute, person B will share. When the music plays, a new statement will be shown, participants will have a minute to process before finding a new partner to share.

After 3-5 statements, participants will be directed to find their seats and write down thoughts on one of the statements. These thoughts may be of their own thinking or one of their partners. The idea is to provide participants with the opportunity process, discuss, and move within a safe environment. These actions help reduce anxiety with movement and processing time, offer choices for individuals, and provide early content for writing. This activity can vary. Instead of statements, short video clips could be shown or images can be projected. If the activity is used multiple times, variety will increase the novelty.

A few years ago I wrote an article for the AMLE Magazine titled, “Addressing Writer’s Block Through Physical Movement.” A link to the article can be found here.


Blue Tape Wonder


Teaching writing to middle school students can be a “sticky” process.  There a variety of philosophies regarding structure and flow as well as purpose and state testing preparation.  Many students have anxiety around writing.  Some struggle with coming up with ideas.  Some fear being right. Some are perfectionists. Others have trouble with analysis and higher-order thinking processes. Forcing students to remain seated throughout the entire writing process can further strengthen these responses.  Getting students moving during the writing instruction and production can help alleviate these barriers.

This activity requires mild preparation and has room for numerous variations.  I like to call this activity Blue Wonder.

Prior to class, the teacher places a large strip of blue painter’s tape on each student desk. Each student is provided with a sharpie (or pen).  Students may vary how they proceed based on the writing focus for the lesson.  For the purpose of explaining the activity, let’s assume the teacher provided students with a claim statement.  Working in groups of four, students work on supporting the claim statement. One student may write down a topic sentence for a paragraph.  Another student might write a piece of evidence.  A third student might compose an analysis statement. The fourth student may work on a commentary statement.  The goal is for the group to work together to discuss the composition of a paragraph (or partial paragraph) to support the claim. Once the students are completed, they find an area on the wall and tape their paragraph together. They are reminded throughout the activity that a goal is to make their ideas “stick” (or memorable).

To add more movement to this activity, a body movement can be developed to remind students of the function of the sentences they are writing. These may be teacher created, class created, or group created. For example, for the topic sentence, students might connect arms followed by pointing to their heads to symbolize the importance of connecting the topic sentence of a body paragraph to the claim sentence reminding students to stay on topic while they are writing. These gestures can be depicted in a small sketch included prior to the writing of the topic sentence on the blue tape.  During the class discussion of the various paragraphs, group members (and/or class members) can perform the movements as each sentence is read or discussed.  The point is to not only add more movement but also to make a mind-body link to the writing process.

Adding movement and small group work to the writing process can help reduce anxiety and can help stimulate the thinking process. This activity can be modified for different writing forms. For example, when writing a narrative, various sentences may represent the importance of dialogue or descriptive language regarding the setting. When writing poetry, the blue strips may represent sensory imagery or figurative language.

Blue tape allows for students to reveal their ideas by unrolling it, or it can help remind them of the “stickiness” needed in their writing. It also can be a space saver; however, sentence strips or other materials can be used.  

While this activity has middle schoolers in mind, it can be adapted for any grade level.

Writing Connections With K’NEX


Everyone has experienced some type of writer’s block. For some students, this occurs more frequently than others.  There ar many causes of writer’s block which may include: structure, classroom environment, brainstorming of ideas, topic, class, focus, time, health, boredom, interest, and so on.  This list can be endless.

There are multiple ways to address writer’s block. In order to combat issues related to stress, anxiety, focus, and lack of ideas, physical movement and tactile manipulation can help calm inhibitors and stimulate the mind allowing writing to occur more freely, or naturally.

Struggling students often need structure to give them stability and guide them through the writing steps they need to produce an effective writing piece. The delivery of the structure can vary from class to class (and year to year), but providing students with options and clear connections between a topic and the writing process is often critical to success.

For this activity, K’NEX ( are used to help inspire creativity and to help illustrate connections in the writing process. K’NEX are building toys consisting of colorful rods and connectors.  The various K’NEX building sets range from simple parts and machines to elaborate systems utilizing pulleys and levers. K’NEX are utilized in some schools to accent STEM activities, but they can also be used in a more simplified manner to help teach students the writing process.

One way to utilize K’NEX is through teaching a basic writing structure. For example, a paragraph may consist of a topic sentence, a detail sentence, an explanation of the detail sentence, followed by a second detail and explanation sentence, and ending with a connecting or concluding sentence. Of course, there are many variations of this and the type of writing and age level will influence this structure. This can be stretched to an essay including an introduction paragraph, body paragraphs, and a conclusion paragraph.  The elaboration of the structure varies from text to text. After an introduction to the writing structure, student groups (or teams) are given a pile of K’NEX. As a group, they create a visual representation of a paragraph, essay, or other writing text. Since K’NEX are color-coded and have the ability to connect in multiple ways, as well as bend, these visual representations can be quite powerful. As an alternative, the instructor can assign elements of a paragraph a color, so students may have to figure out how to connect pieces based on their role.  Since the rods are different sizes and shapes, teachers can use this as a formative assessment to determine the understanding of paragraph/essay structure.

A second way to use K’NEX with writing, is to have students use building sets in relation to an assigned topic. Students can work in teams, or individually, to construct a representation of their topic. The physical manipulation, and the creative outlet, helps students move beyond initial writer’s block allowing them to proceed with the writing process.

Adding more movement to the activity could include a gallery walk or a human representation of the K’NEX creations. The hands-on activity, followed by the physical movement, provides needed mind-body connections that further enhance the academic progress with writing.

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.

Activate the Adolescent Writer


This week I have the opportunity of presenting at the 2015 AMLE Conference in Columbus, Ohio.  I will be presenting a concurrent session and a workshop.  My current session is titled:  Activate the Adolescent Writer.  In this session, I will present ways to use movement activities to help students with the writing process.  Many of the movement strategies can be used in areas beyond writing instruction; however, I have aligned movement with specific writing strategies to help students activate the mind prior to and during the writing process.

One of the activities I will be modeling is titled: Think-Time-Share.  This activity is aligned to a narrative writing prompt that can be used at the beginning of the class period.  Students are shown one or more photos (although it can be any media).  As students study the pictures, they think of sensory language that can be applied to each picture.  After a minute of observation, all students stand.  The instructor asks students to think about a specific picture and a specific sense.  The instructor then tells students to perform an action (running in place) for 30 seconds.  During these 30 seconds, students think about all of the words they related to the identified sense of the picture.  Once the 30 seconds have commenced, students share with a partner, and then volunteers are solicited.  The teacher then picks a different sense and a different action.  Once the students have had a chance to work through each sense, they write a narrative paragraph about the picture.

Finding the Words


Taking notes can be a bore.  Students will often groan when mentioning part of the class period will be used to take notes, but taking notes can be exhilarating.  It is hard to imagine using the words notes and exhilarating in the same sentence.  Another word that can create a buzz…in a negative way… is vocabulary.  Taking notes on academic vocabulary can be energizing! In fact, some students in my classroom actually get excited when I mention we are going to take notes on academic vocabulary.

One activity that I like to use is called the Hot and Cold Vocabulary. In this activity,  I begin by hiding the first vocabulary word around the room before students enter. Usually, I attach it to a student desk or chair.  I tell students to begin the activity by trying to locate the first word.  Students search their close proximity to find the word.  This begins to excite them.  After the word is found, we add it the note section of their vocabulary section.

For the second phase, I ask a student to leave the classroom with a watcher (who watches the student).  Working together, the rest of the class hides the next term in the room.  When the student returns, the class performs an action.  For example, we might start clapping.  As the student moves closer to the object, we clap faster/louder.  As the student moves away, we slow the clapping down or stop clapping altogether.  Once the student finds the word, we add it to the vocabulary section.

Depending on time, this process might be repeated multiple times. Following this activity, we explain the words in more depth, or we begin reading a text.  Since the students are engaged mentally due to the physical movement, they following activity is usually quiet and met with deep concentration.