5 Practical Ways to Promote an Interactive Classroom

By on December 10, 2014

Effective teaching is more than simply delivering content.  Finding practical ways to engage and manage our students is key in helping kids develop skill.  I like to compare teaching to a tool belt.  Considering the challenge I'm faced with, I can reach into my toolbelt and use the most appropriate tool to help me accomplish my goal.  My personal teaching toolbelt is constantly evolving.  I make some of my own tools, some are borrowed, and some have modified from other teachers.  Here are some quick, fun, practical tools I have picked up over the years to help me promote an interactive classroom.

Bullseye: Random Grouping

  • Depending on the size of groups I want, I assign each student a number. I usually have students work in groups of four, so I will evenly assign each student in the classroom a number 1-4.
  • Once they’ve all been assigned a number, I have them write it on a sheet of paper.  I usually have one student donate a sheet, and tear into fourths.
  • After writing their number on the paper, I have students crumple it up and stand up at their seats.
  • At this point I project a huge bullseye on the projection screen.
  • When directed, students will throw their paper across the room in hopes of trying to hit the bullseye.  I sometimes give a small prize to those who do.
  • After their throw, they come up to the front of the room, and pick up a random paper.
  • Depending on what they choose, they must find their missing group members. For example if the chose a 3, they must find a 1,2, and 4.
  • The only rule is that they cannot group with someone at their same table or row.
  • I usually use this grouping strategy when I feel my kids are low on energy, or need a change of environment.  If you use this strategy, come in with mind set that kids will get a little energized, but that's a good thing!

Fist to Five: Informal Assessment

  • While students are engaged in an activity and I’m trying to assess how much more time they need, I will either hold up a fist or a certain number of fingers.
  • I will direct them with “From fist to five, fist meaning 0 minutes, and five fingers meaning 5 minutes, how much more time do you need?”.
  • I always get a variety of responses, but by simply scanning the room I get an average of what the class need, and I communicate that to the group.
  • Students who indicate five tend to pick up the pace, and those who always finished early are eased knowing exactly how much more time they need to wait.
  • I usually use this strategy when I know kids will finish at different times, and mostly during a quieter activity like independent reading or writing.

Elevator Speech: Speaking and Listening

  • After reading or writing about a particular text, at their tables or groups students will direct students to “turn on the elevator and stand up”.
  • Once they are all standing, they will individually and randomly share something they discovered or learned.
  • Once they have shared, that is their cue they can “turn their elevator off”, and return down to the “bottom floor”, their seat.
  • Many times kids do not want be the “last man standing”, therefore they are very motivated to share out in their small group.
  • The only rule is that they must not cut someone off and must find that “perfect” opportunity to share what they discovered.
  • I use this strategy when I want kids to share finding, and I can tell they need to get up and out of their seat for a bit.

"Sole" mates: Random Grouping

  • I have some fun with this one.  I start with communicating a very dramatic story that “everyone in this room has a solemate. We have all been put on this earth to find that perfect person to connect, share, and team with.” I lay it on pretty thick!  At this point some kids are getting very nervous, shy, or excited because I am affirming something that they have always dreaded, wanted, or dreamed of.
  • At this point I point to my shoes and tell them they are going to find their “sole” mate or partner by someone who is wearing the same type or brand of shoes.  For example, boots with boots, sandals with sandals, or Vans with Vans, Converse with Converse etc.
  • I communicate that if they are so unique that finding a “sole”-mate is difficult they can meet me at the front of the room and I will find one for them.
  • I use this strategy as an alternate to think pair share, or elbow partners.  Sometimes they just need a state change, and this a quick, fun one to help with that.

Hand Up, Voices Down: Classroom Management

  • Early on in the school year I communicate to students that I strive to treat them with the utmost respect. I communicate to them that one way I plan to do that, is to never yell across the classroom.
  • While students are engaged in a collaborative activity and I want to bring them back to whole group discussion, I will simply raise my hand.  My “hand up”, signifies that I would like their “voices down”, and to return their attention to me.
  • Sometimes students are so deep in a conversation or an activity that they never look up. In this case, I instruct other groups members to notify them that we are coming back to whole group discussion.
  • I use this strategy to respectfully and efficiently manage my classroom without having to yell once.

All of these have become staples in my classroom.  As I grow as a professional, I am continuously adding to my “toolbelt”.  Every year I am better able to assess a situation,  determine what tool I should apply, and a result able to provide and promote a more engaging interactive classroom.

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Literacy Standards In Action

We've mapped our literacy lessons and reading, speaking, and writing skills to state standards, Common Core, and NGSS. The standards are "the what" to teach. Our lessons are "the how" to meet the expectations defined by the standards. Click on the links below to view our quick reference table that maps standards to literacy lessons.

SL1
Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
SL6
Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.
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