6 Routines You Need For Inquiry

6 Routines You Need For Inquiry

As we think ahead to back to school we begin to plan out the rules, routines that are essential to set us all up for success.

But what routines are essential to teach at the beginning of the year that will set you up for success if you plan to use inquiry in your classroom.

Calls For Action

Throughout our day we need to get the attention of our class. These type of routines are signals. Some of the signals I need to establish include

  • Signal for attention
  • Transition signal
  • Gathering space
  • End of day signal
  • Signal for Attention

  • These are words, sounds or phrases that signal to my class with little input from me what to do next.
  • For years I have used the call and response routine of CLASS-YES. When I need the attention of my whole class and I need them to stop, look, and listen I use this call out.
  • When I say CLASS CLASS my student s respond with YES YES. Now however I say class class is how they respond yes yes so to keep it interesting I say it in a variety of ways….like underwater.
  • There are so many phrases that can be used. So use what works for you and your personality. What matters is that you are consistent that when you call out students stop, look and listen quietly. This routine is practiced very often in my first weeks of school.
  • Honestly it is a routine that is constantly reviewed.
  • Transition Signal

  • Sometimes this one is overlooked and the previous call and response is used for both.
  • What I have found is that having separate signals for these events is important.
  • Think of the main transitions that you may have in a day. If you have daily tasks that require a series of steps to complete using a separate transition signal will help with this often chaotic time.
    Get to work quickly
    Join me on the carpet
    Move between centres
    Line up at the door
    Home time

All of these transitions happen daily in my classroom so to have a plan on how we transition and what I expect makes these times more structured.

To get my students to get to work quickly I will often use a key phrase that is recognizable with my students. We discuss this signal and practice this over and over. This phrase is never the same year to year.

  • Minds on? Go on
  • And go…
  • 5…4…3…2…1…go!
  • Whatever you use it really doesn’t matter. Just practice and consistency.
  • To get my students to gather I love setting a timer for their work period. At the end of the timer I love to play an alarm that is usually meant to help people wake up. A sound that starts softly and builds is a great way to ease people into this transition.
  • When the sound is done all students should be on the carpet or gathering space. Because we have knowledge building circles frequently having a gathering place routine is essential.
  • Plus it save me a lot of instructional time not having to explain what I want done every single time.
  • Sometimes we are working in centres or different learning tasks. When I want student to move from one to another it is helpful to have another sound for this too. A quick beep signal works great here.
  • Finally home time is another routine that we need to have a routine to make sure we get it all done.
  • Come up with a little saying for your students that reminds them of what to do. Or even try an acronym. What are the tasks they need to do.

Well that spells out FACT so try to come up with a cute saying. “It’s home time that’s a FACT” when they hear this they know what to do.

Another phrase that could work is “Tidy, Tools, Table, Chairs”

They practice it, you review it, you rehearse it, you time it, you do it again.

These routines are tedious but so worth your sanity in the end.

Teachers Busy Routine

Other routines you can practice involve planning with your students what to do when the teacher is busy.

You could use cups to signal that help is needed.

You could use a clip system that students sign up for help and you will get to them.

Or you could implement an ask 3 before me system with student leaders helping out.

I personally use the ask three before me. I want them first to solve their own problems followed by asking me for help.

Many teachers signal to students that they are off limits with a light or sign. This is a great idea if you have a class that regularity lines up wherever you are.

Make sure however that you talk to students about this and explain that you want them to build their own problem solving skills. Explain to them why you are unavailable and be aware of certain personalities that will struggle with this. Being too black and white or rigid with this rule can be quite problematic.


Movement is chaos! Students need to be still and quiet….

Well we are all recovering control freaks so let’s work together to let this one go a bit.

Movement is okay

But let’s teach them how.

When should you move, why should you move, and how you should move.

These are all important questions to ask students when planning out this routine.

I like to start by playing the what-if game. You know the “but what if I have to…?

Well work through these questions. Lay it all out there.

  • Think about how students enter the classroom
  • Where do they sharpen pencils
  • Where do they grab and plug in their tech
  • How do the get from one place to another.
  • All major traffic areas should have 2-3 feet in between them for a walkway. Try to avoid the bottle neck that happens in classroom where you have placed things in inconvenient places.
  • Also try to avoid placing high traffic areas in the centre of your classroom.
  • In the first month of school you want to start with a plan but also assess along the way of your placement of things gets in the way.
  • If so move it.
  • If you want a more detailed walk through and plan to help you plan through your routines grab this freebie here.
Flexible Seating

Flexible Seating

Have you heard if it?

Well unless you have been under a rock how could you not see this as a wave that is slowly taking over Pinterest.

Everywhere teachers are proclaiming they are using flexible seating.

But without repurchasing brand new furniture for your classroom how can you dip your toe into this idea. Or how can you jump right in?

I have been slowly moving towards flexible seating.

It all started with a girl named… well let’s call her ‘Ava.’

Ava was a great student one of my best. But Ava always stood when she worked. In fact, Ava did her best work while standing at her desk.

Now I could have told her to sit down, the line I had told countless other students throughout my career.

But I didn’t.

And that changed the game for me.

It was that realization that some kids, even our good kids want flexibility and choice in how they work.

Not every student works best sitting in a chair in front of a desk.

Well after this experience with Ava it grew.

I began to let more students sit or stand at their desk while working. I let some stand at the back counter. I let others sit or lie down on the carpet. I let one student sit under my desk.

With every new “can I work here??” question that I was asked I kept saying she’s to most of them.

Always with the response “will you work best there?”

And for the most part, they did.

It didn’t take new tables, yoga balls, fancy chairs…

all it took was my ability to say yes to alternative workspaces within my classroom.

Now jump ahead, and I now have a few alternate spaces for students. A few new chairs and options for seating.

I add a few more each year (and take some away if they don’t fit)

So let me walk you through what flexible seating looks like in my classroom.


I wanted more alternative spaces for student work. I didn’t need or have extra room for desks. So I swapped the desks for tables.

Tables seat 6 per table group and each person in my room does have a home base. A place to call their own.

I am also not concerned about “seeing the board” from these tables. This means they can be placed anywhere. All of my whole group instruction is done from the carpet in my room, so the layout of tables is less of a concern.

My students eat in my classroom for lunch so since I find it grow to have food on my carpet or other soft furniture. Food is only consumed at tables.

All my tables are the same height.

I am lucky that I have a back counter that is standing height, so I do not need any standing height tables.


I teach 10 – 11-year-olds

Some think that they are too old for the carpet.

But they are not.

If I don’t baby then when they are on the carpet then they are okay with it. I also am not concerned if they don’t like it. It is expected you join us there for whole group instruction.

It’s non-negotiable.

The carpet also serves as the main location for flexible seating. Students sit together, share ideas, work and read in comfort.

It does become the hub of the classroom.


For some students, they like to work in isolation.

For these students providing locations for them to hide is essential. Hiding under a table covered in a tablecloth. Hiding under the teacher’s desk, or making a fort out of finding objects.

All of these easy makeshift ways are options in my room. Options that don’t cost me more than a few dollars for tablecloths and picnic clips.

For these students, you do need to check in on their work completion more than others, and if they take advantage then they lose the privilege (and return to their desk)


Over the years I have collected a few chairs for my room.

I have two ottomans that I picked up at the second-hand store value village. I also picked up some shower curtains and sewed two covers for them. The ottomans don’t match in colour, but they are the same size. When covered the ottoman looks the same. I also threw in a bed bug cover in between the layers and the sheets themselves are removable and washable. I am not great a sewing, but I figured it out.

I also picked up two Muskoka chairs at Value Village. I guess someone messed up when trying to put them together because


there were pre-drilled holes in the wrong spots.

But that didn’t matter to me. I grabbed them for $12, and my friend Sarah put them together with me one August. They have stood up well to all of the wear and tear kids can put them through.

Finally, I picked up some kids white plastic outdoor chairs from IKEA.

These chairs are stackable and easy to move around the room.

They wipe easily and are the perfect size for a junior student.


To start flexible seating you need to have rules.

And routines

To start, I never start the year with flexible seating open and available. This is something we work our way up to.

We start by talking about the rules

#1 Wherever you sit. You need to work.

We review what this looks like

  • Stay in one place
  • Avoid distractions
  • Work the whole time

We then look at the four different areas in our classroom for flexible seating. We discuss the benefits and negative attributes of each step.

We look at what needs each student has as a learner.

  • Is it a quiet workspace
  • Are they easily distracted
  • Do they work better sitting or standing
  • We then choose two spots for each student to try out. They then try each place and rotate through the list we made. We evaluate what works and what didn’t.
  • We review the list and make a final one that we use.
  • However, this isn’t the only way we have organized this.
  • Other years I have numbered the table groups and simply rotated each group through the flexible areas.
  • Both ways worked for each group of students. Sometimes some rules work better than others.
  • Flexible seating doesn’t have to be fancy. But it is worth it.
  • Give it a try, dip your toe in.
  • Let Ava remind you that some students work better with a bit more choice and flexibility. It might even make management in your classroom easier.
Planning your Time Table

Planning your Time Table

Well that is another year in the books. As I close the door on my 11th year teaching I look forward

First to enjoying my summer

Second to planning for next year!

So recently I was asked what do I do to get ready for next year. I thought that this was a great question to answer in a blog post.

So this month I will talk about organization here on the blog and in my Facebook live show.

First up is creating my time table.

It is one of the first things I do and often is the foundation for establishing routines and other systems I will have in my classroom.

I am lucky in that I get my timetable quite early One of the first things I do is plan out what my schedule looks like.

Things like french, library, phys. ed, music. Etc are all pre determined for me so I need to be able to work around this.

I also have guidelines for timing

  • Language – 500 min/week
  • Math – 300 min/week
  • Science/Social Studies – 150 – 200 min/week
  • Arts – 150 – 200 min/week
  • Physical education – 150 min / week (prep)
  • DPA 40 min/ week
  • French 200 min/week (prep)
  • Library 50min/week

If you are quick with math you will see that I am over my weekly min of 1500 instructional minutes.

So some of this gets integrated and I teach multiple subjects during the same period.

Math is integrated with science and social studies especially when looking at data management, measurement, location and movement, number sense.

Dance is integrated with physical education, drama and art are also integrated.

I do stick to my 100 min of uninterrupted language per day and 60min of math.

So does it really matter what you do when??


Here is my own methodology for how I create my weekly time table.

Language Arts

I start with language arts. I look for blocks of time where I can put 100 minutes of uninterrupted time for literacy instruction. (We are on a balanced day so it is generally easy to do)

I like consistency more than time period. I look for the most consistent time in the day where I have these.

I have no preference for morning or afternoon for language. My language program is pretty laid back and independent so I can get away with putting this anywhere in my schedule.


Next I schedule math. I make sure to put this in the first half of the day and always right after a break or transition period. For example it is great after they have Physical Education.

I try to never schedule math where it is the second subject I teach them in a block of time. I find it easier to transition into math this way without losing time.

Visual Arts

Next is visual arts. I look for two periods of this together preferably at the end of the day.

This year I couldn’t find them together so instead I had one art scheduled for period 6 one day followed by period one the next day. This actually worked out amazingly well. Since my instruction could be period 6 and their working period right away the next day period one.

However I still prefer art to be at the end of the day. I also integrate this with drama and throw that in there throughout the year every third or fourth art period or so.

Physical Education / DPA

My students have physical education three times a week so this means that on those off days I find time to do Daily Physical Activity (DPA). Normally I will put this in a period that I do not have a tonne of reporting. This is great for a prep coverage teacher that isn’t reporting like during library, or computers (if you still have that)

I never take DPA time out of language, math, or social studies time.

I teach a split so things take longer.

I cannot afford to steal from these areas. So this is an important consideration when creating your time table.

Science and Social Studies

For these subject areas I teach them in blocks of time.

I will teach science for a month then social studies for two months.

Because I teach a split I need more time to cover the material. So while using a flip flop method between the two grades I focus on one subject state and at a time each week.

I terms of my time table I am running out of room so these subjects need to fit in wherever I have room.

I look for 3-4 periods a week that these fit into my schedule.

If I had lots of space I would try these for close to a math or language period.

Most often though these get pushed to the end of the day and 10 min is relegated to math to make up our full 60 min math requirement.

Notes and Considerations

Many times we are given a prep period where our classes are covered by a teacher that has lots of time but not a lot of reporting.

If you teach a split I highly recommend you try to negotiate your way out of this predicament.

You need as much time as possible to teach your core subjects so moving things off your plate will be important.

  • Ask your Phys. Ed teachers to also teach dance and health
  • Ask your librarian to cover media, oral communication, drama or DPA
  • Ask your drama teacher to also do dance or DPA.
  • Ask your computers teacher to cover a math strand, science, media or drama.

Grated some of these asks can be refused by the teacher. But if you have a supportive admin perhaps they can help. If not this year then next.

Most admins want all time to be instructional time so don’t be embarrassed to leverage that when you advocate for your time table.

However it is always better to approach admin with solutions that you have solved. Then you are simply asking if they can approve them. This is always a better approach then going to them with a problem you are putting on their shoulders to solve for you.

Want to know more about what I do now to get ready for September.

Stay tuned for the next post coming soon.

How to Track Student Assessment

How to Track Student Assessment

There are so many ways to track student learning.

But the goal here is that you have to do it.

That is true my the hardest part. To get it out of my head and on to paper (even digital paper) where I can manipulate the data and make it make sense to me.

If we are using an inquiry approach, we may have moved beyond the pencil and paper assessment as the final culminating task. But we still need a definitive way to track learning.

So here are a few tips that help me to keep on top of assessment.

Old School Paper

Yep it’s true I know that many of you know that I have a love-hate relationship with paper but it is often still my go to …. quick grab that to jot down some info at the moment… type assessment paper.

I have many different ways that I layout my assessment pages depending on what I need.

  • Checklist
  • Checklist with note space
  • Anecdotal Note box
  • Seating plan notes
  • Conferenceforms

Except for this year (since I returned mid-year)  I am always behind the eight ball. I usually have these copied and ready to go easily accessible whenever I need them.

I also have one of those compartment clipboards that has storage, and this is great for tossing assessment pages into so that I can eventually import them into digital when I’m ready.

Want to take a look at my tracking pages?   Here —> Inquiry Assessment Notes

Or see my class list examples here —>  BLANK Classroom assessment pages

Keeping It Digital

I lose everything…because I am forgetful and in 10 years cannot for the life of me find a system that keeps all my paper organized in a way that doesn’t overwhelm me. So I keep it all digital.

  • I take photos
  • I do quick exit checks
  • I have students self-assess. I snap a class picture with their fingers up.
  • I jot notes
  • Writing reflections
  • I take photos of conference forms (because sometimes my students lose them)


Feedback is an integral form of assessment.

With all assessment, it must go together with feedback. Assessment without it is pointless.

It also has to be feedback that allows students to respond to it so that they can make improvements.

For this, I go back to paper.

Conference Forms – students fill out conference forms with me after they are done writing a draft. I have done this both digitally and in written form. Students self-reflect on what they need to work on before they begin to talk with me. Feedback is the one crucial thing that has the most significant impact on student growth. It is the feedback loop at the end of an assessment.

Digital Student Self Evaluation Writing Survey

Get a copy of my digital student writing self-evaluation form here ->

Labels: if you find and order the large Avery labels of 6-10 labels on a page you can use Microsoft word to make labels with rubrics on them. Just a single point checkbric that allows you to give a quick assessment.

I mark all the work right there on the label page fill them out, photocopy the label page with the marks recorded then peel them out and attach them in each book. (I also take a photo of this page for when I lose it)

Home School Communication

So this is a big one

Parents seem to like knowing how their child is doing.

Feedback conference forms and the labels are helpful to keep parents in the loop

So I use a classroom blog. Now I don’t blog every day,but I do try to keep it updated most of the time.

One of the key ways I do this is to use an email service provider like mail chimp or MailerLite to automatically send all of my blog posts directly to the email of my parents. It is set up to use it like remind. All of my posts are pushed out to parents at 4 pm on school days.

I know that this is t technically assessment but keeping parents informed of the assessment you are doing help to keep them better prepared and informed if they choose to be.

A Flipped Classroom: Strategies To Use With Elementary Students

A Flipped Classroom: Strategies To Use With Elementary Students

Have you ever tried to flip your classroom.

Normally you follow the pattern of teach-practice – assess but what if you flipped that?

I’ve been experimenting with this in math. I’ve been using some math centres recently. It all started with the daunting task of teaching students how to use a protractor. If you have ever done it before then you would know that this can be a truly painful experience.

I though this was a great time to start some math centres so that I could do this in a more guided format.

When I talk about flipped classroom I am talking about the strategy that has students watching a video or learning a skill prior to you meeting with them.

This means that when they meet with you they work through a problem with you and you help them to implement what they have learned.

Here’s how I have flipped my classroom.

In math, two of my centres are All On Tech and Time With Teacher.

My tech time incorporates a google form quiz and a tutorial video I found on line or created myself.

My meet with teacher often includes a key lesson, math talk, word problem, and/or reflection.

To get started

First we talk about what our learning goal is then they are off to their centres.

I preplan and drop the quiz in their google classroom prior to the week beginning.

I use google forms to set up a quiz that has questions and videos embedded. It asks students questions about what they learned from the video.

In math it is all about leveraging the amazing content that is already available on you tube to go over the content prior to them meeting with you.

In Science:

There are so many opportunities to flip the learning g and move it away from the lecture. Teaching doesn’t need to happen first. You don’t always if ever have to front load the learning.

Let them go then backfill as needed. For instance we went on a field trip first to learn about how to conserve energy. They didn’t know how different sources of energy worked specifically but they could label the different sources from their trip experience. We made a list of them as well as some key questions that would guide our research then they began to utilize their research skills to learn about 1-2 sources and know it well enough to teach their content to others. Not a formal presentations but an opportunity for them to be the teachers. Call it what you want but flipping your instruction is the beginning step to using Inquiry.

Flip where you do the ‘teaching’ it’s time to move it to the back and after the learning. Use your time to build knowledge with your students in a collaborative way.


Technology Hardware In Your Classroom and How To Use It

I love tech…I am not sure that I can remember a period of time in my life where technology didn’t exist despite the fact that I am not really a millennial.

This was the benefit of growing up with a dad who ran a small computer company.

I still remember the day he go a computer with a CD drive.

So as a teacher using tech isn’t an option. You could say I am a tech junkie.

I am not technical in my knowledge but simply I can troubleshoot and solve a lot of daily use problems that I encounter.

So today I wanted to break it down and talk about the tech I have in my classroom and how I use it.

Most of the tech I have either adopted, repurposed and believe it or not found it around the school.

The SmartBoard

Yes I have one…and a few years ago they were just about the best thing since sliced bread. I used it everyday.

  • Today…not so much. It is there and I want to use it but with new technology and less support provided on keeping the software updated it becomes a clunky overly complicated piece of tech (additionally you need a projector, a computer, and specific software that needs annual license renewals for a fee)

I still really like it and do appreciate having one but don’t believe that it is an essential piece of tech for the classroom like it once was. I do use this most during math. I have a dual write board which allows for some great interactive number talks during math. However throughout the rest of the day I am not “teaching” or “lecturing” each day so I don’t always use it to its full potential. Although I am excited to experiment with how smart ink integrates with my new document camera. Verdict: helpful but not necessary

Mounted Projector

This is an easy one!Yes this makes a huge difference. If it is in the middle of the room you have to keep unplugging it or readjusting it when it gets bumped. It is so helpful and handy to have it there and mounted. You do want to make sure that your projector is positioned properly and the correct distance. Get the professionals to do this if you can. Verdict: Get it up there now!

Apple TV

You might not be able to see this in the picture but this is a well lived and frequently used piece of tech.

It is one of the reasons my smart board is used less. We have IPads in our school and with this Apple TV allows you to airplay from them or even my Mac to share our screens. This is great for students sharing information or even presentations.

For the low cost of entry it is a very handy tool when combined with the projector.

If you don’t have a projector head on over to you second hand store to pick up an old large monitor and a vga to HDMI adaptor and you can airplay onto the screen this way.

Verdict: Essential if you have Mac products already.

IPEVO Document Camera

A few weeks ago IPEVO offered to send me their document camera to review. I agreed to test it out and share how I was using it.

I have always had a document camera in my classroom and it is probably the most used teaching tool I use.

Prior to the IPEVO document camera I had a Smart document camera.

Both are great products.

After playing with my new camera there are a few things I really like about it. First I love how much room it takes up….virtually no room at all. It is such a compact unit.

It is easy to set up with one cord that powers the camera from either your projector or computer.

You can write on the same paper that you have for your students, model and project your use of manipulatives. Share the text of a story with the whole class etc.

There are also a whole host of features that I have yet to test out. Like Skype calls and screen capture. Imagine making a tutorial video if you walking students through a concept that you filmed and put up for them to access later.

Ipads and Laptops

We use tech all day long for all the things.

I do not have 1:1…I don’t even have 2:1

I do allow students to bring their own device with parental permission. It is helpful to make sure that kids who need tech get tech. And others just simply benefit from it.

I have paired students up in groups of two or three and they share an iPad. I specifically try to pair students who prefer not to use it often with others that need or prefer to use them.

I also try to pair a grade 4 with a grade 5 for easier pairing during science or social studies.

We borrow iPads from other classes or use the shared laptops when others are not.

Tech are tools we use to enhance learning. They are not toys. We don’t play games unless it is part of learning like Kahoot or other curriculum related games during some math centres.

Do I worry that the tools will be mishandled…no

Kids will be kids. If they don’t use them how we specifically need to use them then they lose them. (Like those pretty laptops are gone tomorrow because they were not stored properly today)

Two things happen

  • Kids will waste time watching/doing what they shouldn’t but they still get work done.
  • Kids will get distracted and no work gets done.

I am only concerned about the later (unless it violates privacy, breaks an agreed upon rule, or is inappropriate) I use guided access on iPads when necessary to lock them into apps. I also hold them accountable for not getting work done.

I have rarely needed to intervene with this issue.

Overall I love tech in the classroom and believe that it is necessary for teaching in this the 21st century. I don’t think I could teach without it.

Go on a tech hunt I bet you could find some unused or under used tech in you school.

Do you have a piece of tech in your room that you love. Tell me about it!