Thursday, October 20, 2016

Writing in Science

Why do we have to learn this? I just love when my students ask this.  No seriously!  It shows that they are making valid connections between their learning and how they might apply it.  Adults ask this all the time, but it is often a frustrating question for teachers address when they are working to cover content under time constraints. On more than one occasion this has come up when I work on writing skills in science, probably because we do A LOT of writing in science. So here is how I answer it...

Communication is inherent in the science process.  Here are some reasons that scientists need strong writing skills.  Share them with your students! 

There are just a few ways that writing skills relate to careers in science!
Would you like to display these signs in your classroom? 

Explicit writing instruction has a valuable place in every science classroom.  
Do you teach these writing skills in science class?

If you are looking for materials for teaching writing in science class, check out:

Writing is a core skill that relates to all subject areas! Collaborate with your team of teachers to incorporate writing skills work in every class.  Check out these other writing skills resources for ELA, MATH and SOCIAL STUDIES.

Writing Skills in ELA - Writing Responses with Text-Based Evidence 
Math Writing Skills - How to Write in Math 
Social Studies Writing Skills - How to Avoid Plagiarism 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Active Study Strategies

Your first major unit test is approaching. They already know HOW to study for a test right? Teachers assume that kids come equipped with subject area study skills, but do they?

Students Need Explicit Instruction on HOW To Study in Each Subject Area

A vast majority of Tweens have two strategies for studying.  They include looking at their notes or  making flashcards, but for so many kids these are not enough.  Have you ever seen the look on a child's face when they get a poor test grade back that they genuinely THINK they studied for?

The problem is, many students spend time "studying" but they are not activating and connecting their knowledge which can lead to poor recall and application come test time.  Parents have contacted me numerous times with the same story "My child studied for 3 hours! How could they have failed the test?" So what gives?

We Assume They Know How to Study

I'm guilty of this.  "They should know how to study by now." "I don't have time to teach this too." "They should ask for help if they need it." We can't assume that other teachers and/or parents are providing study skills instruction.  As subject area teachers, we owe our students explicit instruction on how to study our content.  Effective studying for a math test should look very different than studying for a history test and so on.  After years in the classroom, countless hours of private tutoring and working in our school's learning assistance center I can tell you that many students lack these skills!


When we study, we work to move information from our short term to our long term memory.  Sometimes it stays there and other times it dissolves because it is ignored and left unused for too long a period of time.  (If you don't use lose it.)  The key to moving information to our long term files is rehearsal.  Rehearsal is the act or process of PRACTICE.  So, when our students stare at their notes for hours then haphazardly make a few flash cards they often fail to do meaningful and memorable PRACTICE!


Great students have an arsenal of active study strategies that allow their minds to PRACTICE content.  Some of these strategies are universal (such as the vocabulary one described below) while others are content specific.  Here is an active strategy that is a different spin on traditional flashcards:

How this easy to make tool helps to ACTIVATE memory:

Chunking:  Students ask themselves "Which vocabulary words relate to the concept of _______?"

Writing:  Students copy information for the key concepts from their notes, books and other resources.

Drawing:  There is plenty of room inside each tab for students to draw and label pictures relating to each concept.

Quizzing:  The foldable tabs allow for self-testing of the material.

And...NO lost or missing flash cards!

For middle school students, explicitly learning how to study in each content area is important.  If you are looking to try some study skills instruction in your class, check out this study skills pack for science that outlines ways to study SMARTER not HARDER!

Looking for study skills to support other content areas?  Check these out:

ELA Study Skills - Doodle Notes and Learning Stations

Math Study Skills - Doodle Notes and Learning Stations

Social Studies Study Skills - Doodle Notes and Learning Stations

Happy Studying!

Join Up for more from Kate's Classroom Cafe
* indicates required

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Visual Learning, Doodle Notes and Memory

Engaging students with science models has long been at the cornerstone of good science instruction, but could we be doing even more to improve visual literacy in our science classes?

Visual Learning 

Visual literacy is no doubt a valuable 21st Century Skill where students are expected to “interpret, recognize, appreciate, and understand information presented through visible actions, objects and symbols.” Student memory of science content is accomplished primarily through practice, imagery and patterns.  So, we plan lessons using interactive notebook templates, card sorts, task cards, video clips and visual games (to name a few) that target these memory tools and work to keep students engaged along the way.  But what about using a more visual approach to make meaning and promote memory of science content?

Many people rely heavily on visuals while learning new content. How many times have you skimmed an online article or textbook chapter reading only the headings and scanning the pictures, all along obtaining most of the content without ACTUALLY reading it?  All the time! This “less is more” study  showed that pictures and short descriptions proved more effective in reaching students than a full-text approach to teaching science.  

You are probably aware of the recent trend in coloring for improved memory, learning and even for stress relief.  So it likely comes as no surprise that recent research is backing the idea that doodling can help our students better connect with the content we are teaching.  

Consider this study, where a test group was asked to doodle while listening to a prerecorded message about a party.  The experimental group was asked to doodle while listening and were then tested on their ability to recall the names mentioned. The “doodlers” recalled 29% more information than the control group.  

Sunni Brown, author of Doodle Revolution strives to redefine doodling as "spontaneous marks to help you think." Her TED Talk is well worth a watch and will really get you thinking about how our negative perceptions of doodling could be hindering student learning. 

Ok, so most of what I've read about doodling supports academic doodling, mindless doodling and everything in between...but I'm not sure how I feel about opening the doors of the classroom to a bunch of unstructured scribbling while I'm teaching. 

From a classroom management standpoint, it is important to consider academic doodling vs. everyday doodling.  Not all “doodle supporters” will consider this a valid distinction.  However, for my own sanity in managing a class of 27 teenage doodlers I think it makes sense to encourage the former.  Doodling has long been associated with inattention, and let's face it- despite all the latest middle school... sometimes doodling is just that!  

This chart is intended to help students better understand the expectations for in-class doodles:

Something to consider: I recently noticed a student making pretty silly science comic characters in the margin of his notebook.  At first glance I thought they were primarily distracting, but after looking closely I noticed that the characters were accomplishing many of the items on the academic side of my doodle guidelines chart.  That being said, this chart is not intended to limit or restrict student doodles but to try to guide them toward the most productive doodling they can do to support their learning.  Like everything in the classroom, it is a judgement call with each kid- AND...warning, sometimes it can be very challenging to interpret a child's doodles!

Ready to Get Started?
Here are some ways to use doodling in your classroom:

Activate prior knowledge with a quick doodle task.
Have students doodle a picture on a post-it note that represents their background knowledge on a topic (for example phase change).  Remind them that it will not be collected for a grade!  Keep in mind that drawing can be intimidating for some kids. 

Make doodling and coloring a regular part of traditional note-taking.
A small picture and a little color can enhance science notes and make them more memorable for students.  Try keeping text concise by adding more visuals when modeling notes for the class. Think out loud about your drawing or how you use color to emphasize key ideas.  Here are some everyday examples of how this looks:

Use whiteboard doodle breaks.
This strategy works great for reluctant doodlers!  There is something about being able to erase that gets students more willing to take risks.  Build in some DOODLE BREAKS into any lesson where you ask all students to do a 30-second quick draw of a concept being taught.  This is a non-threatening and valuable formative assessment!

Use Printable Visual Notes. 
These are becoming increasingly popular so you can make your own or find many versions to download at very reasonable prices. Here are two types of visual notes that I create that can be printed and handed out to students.  Both involve students using doodles, shading, coloring and answering questions to interact with the content. 

Science Sketch Notes- These are full page doodle drawings that summarize a key scientific concept.  Students color them and then answer questions and do short experiments while referencing the notes.  This is similar to textbook learning but it emphasizes CONCISE and very VISUAL notes over a lengthy text.  A majority of the class time is spent interacting with the content through writing, discussion and short experiments.

Doodle Notes (Sometimes called POSTER notes)- These are Q and A style poster style note sheet.   They are a modern take on a graphic organizer. When I create these, I leave more room for students to answer questions and draw pictures, as they fill in content during the lesson.  They are usually 1-2 pages and include graphics that are designed to make the content memorable.  These can be used to teach the content, but they also make a great review tool or topic assessment.

Here are some things to consider about why doodling might be a good fit for your science classroom: 

Want to read more about DOODLING? Here are a few nifty articles to check out...

If you are interested in a print and go option, here are some visual notes that are ready to use!


Other Visual Notes:

Clipart and Font Credits to:

Can't find a pre-made doodle note sheet for a topic you teach?  I take requests! Email me at for more information.

Join up to find out what's brewing at Kate's Classroom Cafe

* indicates required

Monday, August 15, 2016

Is Your Classroom Management Headed in the Right Direction?

All Signs Point to YES! This is such an easy, SIMPLE and effective strategy to try.  It works for both elementary and secondary students!  There are SO many uses for these little paper arrows and mine got used so much that I needed to make new ones mid-year! (Middle school kids are not the most gentle creatures.)

So what is it? Paper arrows glued to magnets.  Yup!  That. Is. It. 

Step 1:  Print them, glue magnets on the back.

Step 2:  Post them on your board in an easy to access place and then assign every student a number.  (Have them write it on their notebook just in case.)
Step 3:  Start using them! No, seriously once they are up you will be using them all the time.  There are so many possibilities!  

Here are some ways that I have used them in 6th grade:

Best Practice Use: Tracking learning progress of a current learning goal.

I used this target during an unannounced observation and it was a home run.  I had done it a number of times with kids before and it was a stream-line way to have kids come full circle at the end of the lesson and reconnect with the learning goal.  Take that Marzano! (Deep breath...I get a little crazy about all this teacher eval &#%@)

I don't have a ton of whiteboard space so I make charts and then put them up depending on my needs for that lesson.

Anyone else struggle with writing learning scales that don't sound lame to middle school kids?

Realistic, every-day classroom uses:
Homework Check 

Student Choice Groups

Teacher-Assigned Groups

NO more popsicle sticks for random participation! I started using my arrows by mixing them up and randomly grabbing one.  

Group Rotations- Where is each group starting today's science stations?  This can help keep track of each group because kids move their arrows when they move to the next station.

Other ideas!
  • "Please see the teacher"  I often forget to touch base with a student who was absent and this could be a reminder to the student if their number is posted.
  • "Behavior Warning" See a student off task?  Move their number as a visual warning during a lesson!
Think this might work for you? Here is the basic file for you to print arrows for your classroom.  Nothing Fancy Folks....just a time saver not to make it yourself :) 

Thanks for visiting Kate's Classroom Cafe!  Join our email list for (very occasional, not everyday annoying) messages about upper-grades lesson and strategy ideas! 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Setting up your Secondary Classroom

Name Tags

Yes, you need them and no they aren't "so elementary school." I have around 130 kids to get to know so  I create bookmarks that double as name tags. Kids use them to mark the page they are on in their science journal and them prop them up on their desk during class so that I can see their name during the first weeks of school.   Click my post here for more details. 

Objective Board

I'm a firm believer that my students benefit from seeing the learning goal displayed Every. Single. Day.  This is backed by some solid research, so it's worth taking the time and making a dedicated space in your classroom.  When students know what the goal of class is, they are more likely to focus on achieving the it.

I post the homework right in the same area.  Kids then have one place to look for information when they walk in the room!  There are many creative ways to do this, but I ordered these large magnets online at Vista Print (using a Groupon) a few years ago and I LOVE how well they have held up!

Exit Ticket Board

Post-it exit tickets require zero prep and can provide you with meaningful information.  In my class, each student gets a number and then sticks their post-it on the numbered square as they leave the room.  (I picked a huge blackboard in my classroom that was otherwise wasted space.) and drew the squares using chalk markers.

A System for Returning and Collecting Papers

There are lots of ways to do this, but I like to keep this process as easy to maintain as possible.  I keep a laminated folder for each class of papers that need to be returned.  I assign a few students in each class to be in charge of checking the folder daily and returning any items inside.  If students are absent their work stays in the folder and they can check for it when they return.

Classroom Motto

Doesn't this apply to pretty much everything?  I found myself saying it so often with my students that I created a giant bulletin board that I could refer to regularly!  We have specific school rules which are included in each student planner, so instead of adding a list of classroom rules I stick with this simple phrase...

An Organized Teacher Work Station

The first week of school is chaotic and there are lots of items to remember.  Have a plan for making your "Notes to Self" and keeping them organized! If my desk is a mess I feel scatter-brained and less efficient during my planning time.  I use sticky notes and then place them all on one page for easy reference. Here are some free printable calendar sheets that I made to store my reminders and notes each month.  Click the image to download for free.  (There is one for each month of the year.)

Student Resource Center

An organized location for extra copies, options for extra support and a class sign out for music lessons or lavatory use is a must!  Here is what it looks like in my classroom:
- Extra classwork copies
- Extra homework copies
- Lav sign out binder
- Options for extra help (Learning center hours, my extra help times, Schoology info, Remind alert info...etc)

Long Term Bulletin Boards

I have had good intentions of changing my displays with every unit, but I've come to the conclusion that my planning time is best spent doing just that...planning.  Now I try to create displays that work ALL year and can relate to all the topics that we are studying!

This display emphasizes thinking with a positive science mindset! (more details here)

Here is another LONG TERM bulletin board.  This display is a great way to house student questions relating to the unit you are studying! (more details here).

Student Reminders

I've used similar icons on my objective board for a few years now so that kids know what to have out when class starts.  This year, I created a set to post in the hall on my door frame so that kids can see from the hallway what supplies are needed for class.  Click for more info about my reminder icons.

Sub Folder

I'm pretty sure that if my sub folder isn't ready to go from day one, I'm bound to get the flu the first week! This is a simple task that will be helpful when you are feeling at your worst, so be sure to get this done before the year starts.


Daily Teaching Schedule
Class lists 
(Note emergency medical information about students)
(Consider including the names of a few student leaders who can assist the sub.)
Fire Evacuation and other Emergency Procedures (Simplify as much as possible for easy reading.)
Seating Charts
Note sheet for sub (see below).  
Thank you note to the sub for working with your students in your absence

Here is a sheet that you can leave in your sub folder so that you can get details about how things went while you were out!  Click the image to grab a free copy to use in your sub folder.

Classroom set-up is a lot of work, but I just love the optimism and excitement I have when I get things ready for a new group of students!  I hope these 10 tips are helpful as you enter a new year of successful teaching and learning.  Be sure to sign up below to get more freebies and tips for teaching in the upper grades.

Join Up for more Upper Grades Classroom Ideas and Materials!

* indicates required


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


This policy is valid from 10 October 2013
This blog is a personal blog written and edited by me. For questions about this blog, please contact
This blog does not accept any form of cash advertising, sponsorship, or paid topic insertions. However, we will and do accept and keep free products, services, travel, event tickets, and other forms of compensation from companies and organizations. The compensation received will never influence the content, topics or posts made in this blog. All advertising is in the form of advertisements generated by a third party ad network. Those advertisements will be identified as paid advertisements. The owner(s) of this blog is not compensated to provide opinion on products, services, websites and various other topics. The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the blog owners. If we claim or appear to be experts on a certain topic or product or service area, we will only endorse products or services that we believe, based on our expertise, are worthy of such endorsement. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.

To get your own policy, go to