Tips to Tame 'Em: Week 5: Whole Group Engagement

It's Week 5 of my first ever linky and golly gee it's making the summer fly by! We're over the half-way mark of summer and it's about to get serious about heading back to school! Today is another post about:

This week's focus is:

Can I just say that I think I'm a little jealous of all of you who have a lot of control over your curriculum and such. I say "think" because I also know that the grass isn't always greener on the other side. I can image how time consuming it is pulling everything together, however, I'm a little jelly of some of the freedom you have. In our school, we still have parts of our day where we are doing whole group instruction. This happens in our mini-lessons for reading and writing as well as during our math block (not for the whole time, but a good chunk of it). That being said, I've got to get creative to keep 25+ kids engaged in our whole group learning when it's so easy for them to check out.

I'm here this week to just share a couple quick and easy ways to keep students engaged and accountable for their learning and I hope to hear from you as well so I can keep building up my toolbox of tricks!
Student Personal Whiteboards
I use these all. the. time. Seriously. They are great! Yes, we go through a lot of whiteboard markers that cost a lil' $$, but the students jump at the chance to use them! Of course we discuss, model, and practice using them appropriately, and yes, I do take them away from students when they don't follow (who wants to use plain paper and pencil??) and they need to come up at another time and discuss how they will use it correctly in order to get it back. 

I give them a task to finish on their boards and then what?? How do I make sure they are attempting the task? Well there's a couple different ways:

"Chin it & Spin it"
I heard my amazing EL co-teacher use this phrase once and I had to take it. I give students a task and then when they are done they "chin" their board. This shows me they are done. Then, once everyone or close to everyone is done, I say "spin it" and they spin their boards to show me. I can take a quick glance then and jot student numbers down discreetly on students who I need to check in with. They know they'll need to show me, so you can bet they always attempt their work.

"Walk and Talk"
This is a favorite of mine and the kids. It gets students up and moving, sharing with one another, and allows me the chance to check in with certain students. Pretend I ask students to solve a word problem and here are some of the ways students solve the problem (these are actual examples from my class last year):

Notice they are all very different and I want students to see different ways students tackled the problem. So I simply say, "Walk" and students get up and start walking around the room. That isn't fun enough though. What else do I do? Well I play a banjo with my mouth of course! Meaning, I literally sing a lil' made up song that sounds like a banjo and the kids bop around the room with their whiteboard. When I stop, I say, "Stop and Talk" and they find the closest person and begin to discuss how they solved the problem. We practice what to do if we don't have a partner and solutions and they are all eager to share so they want to get with a person or two and share. I may repeat this 1 or 2 more times to allow students to see a few different people's work and then we return to the carpet and review what we saw. 

"Gallery Walk"
For this one, students show their thinking on their board and then display it in a circle or at their desks. We then walk around viewing each others work. Students can bring a post it note with them and jot notes for after. If there was one that really helped them understand the problem, they can jot it down and share it out at our reflection. If one confused them and they wanted more information, they could jot it down and ask at reflection. 

Incorporating Actions
I'm big into adding as much movement as possible. There were a few times my first year when students were just dragging and it was painful to get through a lesson. I was frustrated, they were frustrated, something had to change. Then my instructional coach came in to model a lesson and she started adding actions to our objective for the day and instantly, the students were engaged. At the end of the lesson, she asked students what they learned today and they ALL were able to name the objective by acting out the actions again. I was sold. I need to do this more often.

"Objectives/Teaching Points"
I read the objective for the lesson. Sometimes I come up with an action; other times, I let the kids come up with one. We don't act out every word, just the important key words. They really get into when I ask them to think of an action for a certain word. We use the same action throughout the year (for example, we had the same action for the word "character" all year long). I saw students were able to retain our teaching point for the day and it helped them get engaged right away.

This one is HUGE! It really helps kids remember the meaning of words simply by adding an action. I use this one all the time in math especially. Again, I try to let the kids come up with the actions when possible so they have ownership over it. If you use Go Noodle (I have the more "deluxe" version I guess because Go Noodle is partnered with our Health curriculum), they have an activity called Word Jams which was a favorite of my group this year. It was a great brain break transition from Word Work to Writer's Workshop. The words were at a 5th grade level (for my 3rd graders) but each one had fun music to convey the mood of the word and an action. Kids were actually retaining and USING the words which was so cool to see!

I had a few other tips, but this post is long enough! Let's hear from you!

You have 2 options

1) Respond to the question in the comments section
2) Grab the buttons and link up with a longer post!

No need to link up on Tuesday! You can do it any day of the week until the next Tips to Tame 'Em comes out!

Here's this week's question:

We have a few more weeks left in the linky! I'd love for you to join in and share your expertise! :)



  1. I love white boards, too! I am going to remember the "chin it and spin it" command! I would love to see the Word Jams in action, too! That sounds so cool!!

  2. I have white boards in my lab, but did not use them much last year! This year I have an full hour with each class so I really plan to use a math problem of the day or a brainteaser and the white boards will be a great thing to try! I love the Chin It idea, too. Another thing I am stressing this year is using the vocabulary of science. I want students to say and understand words like variable and control. Your ideas about vocabulary will help me, too! Thanks so much Kelli!

    Teachers Are Terrific!


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