Teaching Strategies That Go Beyond Think-Pair-Share

Teaching Strategies That Go Beyond Think-Pair-Share

Add these 10 teaching strategies to your teaching toolkit to help you plan amazing inquiry-based learning lessons.

Every teacher needs a teaching tool kit.  A bunch of go to teaching strategies that they can use to carry out their amazing lessons. If you are beginning with inquiry you may need to refill your teacher bag of tricks with some new ideas.

Because sometimes we get stuck in a rut and forget that there is more than the think-pair-share strategy that will help us teach.

Remember back to a time when you were a fresh-faced university student just entering teachers college with hopes, dreams, a mountain of debt and this naive notion that you could change the world one read aloud at a time?

Then you start teacher’s college and you are suddenly hit with ‘NO FREE TIME’ the work overload, and you are hit with all of these ideas for teaching strategies but with no real idea how or why they would be used.

but the only one you do remember is that easy think-pair-share activity.

So you take that and for the last few years have relied on that one strategy more than any others.

or all of that could just be me ?!?!

There are so many great teaching strategies that help support inquiry-based learning in the classroom.

This is what we talked about during EP31 on Teaching with Inquiry Live

Watch It – Listen To It – Read the Transcript here

Here are some strategies that you may want to incorporate into your daily instruction.


This is a three stage questioning activity.  First, you pose a question to your classYou give them time to process and think in silence.  Then you have them share and work out their ideas with a partner.  Finally, students share their thinking with the whole group


A great idea from Visible Thinking is think-puzzle-explore.  This is an activity to help students identify background knowledge, begin to question, then make a plan to find answers.  It is perfect to use as a provocation during the engage stage of inquiry.


This is a teaching strategy that I use with my students to help them dig deeper and ask more meaningful questions, arrive at deeper conclusions, make connections with what they are learning.  After students share you ask them to explain their thinking with phrases like ‘why might it be that way’ ‘why do you think that’.  Asking them to share-clarify-share-clarify 3-5 times helps students to come to much more meaningful conclusions and go beyond the surface.

Question Sort Matrix

If you are looking for a ‘now what’ after you have finished your wonder wall.  This strategy will help you and your students to sort through those questions and evaluate which ones are worth exploring.  In a graph you first evaluate the type of question on a horizontal line then you evaluate the questions on how interesting and appropriate they are to dig deeper with.

Connect – Extend – Challenge

When students are in the midst of learning sometimes you need them to focus on what it all means.  Using this teaching strategy will help your students to connect new ideas to old ideas.  Students connect what they are learning to previous learning, identify how their understanding has changed and explore ideas they still have questions about.

2 Stars and a Wish

Providing students with feedback is important but keeping it focused and manageable is important.  Using this teaching strategy has helped me to frame how I provide either oral or written feedback for students.  Presented in a compliment sandwich students can learn what they did well and what one next step they need to focus on next.


This is a strategy that I talked about in EP26 of Teaching with inquiry live (Watch It – Listen To It – Read The Transcript).  Students need to be explicitly taught how to contribute to a discussion and IDEAS is a strategy that you can use to help them remember the ways they can contribute.

Add these 10 teaching strategies to your teaching toolkit to help you plan amazing inquiry based learning lessons.

Graffiti Write

Sometimes you just don’t want to see another sticky note.  I get it!! So sometimes I use a graffiti write instead.  Students write their ideas all over the paper to answer a question, share their thoughts, or engage in a new concept.  When students are done you have a paper that is full of student ideas going any direction possible.


This is one of those popular teaching strategies from teachers college.  It is a great way to cover a lot of information in a shorter amount of time.  This is especially important when you want students exposed to lots of different ideas but perhaps they don’t need expert knowledge in all areas.  I often use this strategy when looking at habitats, energy sources, or physical regions.  This activity requires a high degree of accountability on all students.  Sometimes this isn’t always possible and some students need more support.  Hear about how I handle this issue in ep31 of Teaching With Inquiry Live.

Learning Journals

This is a great teaching strategy tool that was popularized by this great resource and amazing teacher Jennifer Runde.  She uses learning journals in her interactive math journal resource on TPT.  This idea of getting students to reflect on their learning is an important task that I include in my student conferences as well as my science and social studies units.  Students identify the learning goal, and what they know about it before learning.  After some new knowledge has been gained students reflect on what they have learned and show that they have learned it through this journal.

Do you want more details on the teaching strategies listed here? These slides and more are in my inquiry teaching library.

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Build Online Student Research Skills

Build Online Student Research Skills

These key ideas are important for research skills! Get a skim and scan anchor chart as a free bonus upgrade to help with online research too

Research is one of the many tasks that students need to develop especially in today’s classroom with many inquiry projects, google and student led activities. Building student research skills is so important, and how to sort through too much research to find what they need, especially at their reading level is important.

By grade 4 students are finally ready to conduct some simple independent research.  However, up until this point, they often have very little experience with doing this.  This is one of the many tasks that needs to be explicitly taught.

Here are some tips to help your students research

Teach Them How to Skim and Scan

This skill will help them to determine if the text they are reading is a good fit for what they are looking for.

Skimming is a skill that involved students determining if the article is appropriate for what they need so that they don’t waste time reading a whole article that isn’t relevant.  They will skim through the not fiction text features to find out if they need to read more or skip it.

This skill is best modeled for students by the teacher.  Show them exactly what you want them to do and talk through your process to doing it.  This can be repeated as necessary for students in guided sessions if they need additional support.

Scanning goes a little deeper to determine if what they read answers their question.

Once they have skimmed the text to determine that it is a good fit then they need to skim the sections of the text for the facts that answer their questions.

This is also easily modeled to students and this skill can be practiced.  Use this anchor chart to help your students to follow along with key steps to help them skim and scan.

Skimming and Scanning are best taught in conjunction with summarizing.  This skill is essential to help students to get the GIST of the article that they are reading to make sure that they pulling out key details.  Summarizing and research are two skills that work very well together.

Get your skimming and scanning anchor chart here now.

Teach them How to Google

When I was in school I was taught how to use the Dewey Decimal System.  Today as teachers it is important to teach them how to Google. (is it just me or do you hear the song “Teach them how to Dougie”)

I use the analogy with my students that they wouldn’t walk into a library and yell “How many years does a bear live?” and expect a book to fly off the shelf and hit them in the head.  They would also not expect to see a book titled “How long  a Bear Lives”

They would look simply for a book on bears.

Google works the same way.

They cannot ask Google a  question and automatically get the information they are looking for.  We need to teach them how to google.  Here is a helpful page to use to help you learn how to google more effectively. 

Learning how to Google is an important skill and this lesson can also touch on many cross-curricular expectations to make these lessons a good bang for your buck.

Assessing Websites

Once your students know how to skim and scan a text. They understand how to summarize a text and they can google effectively it is now important that they learn to sort the good, the bad, and the ugly (fake news)

To build student research skills there are things that students can look for to help them determine if a website is a good quality site that may be reliable.

Recognizable Brand

Sites like National Geographic, Scholastic, Encyclopedias, PBS, BBC and other news agencies are reliable and recognizable websites that are good places to start with student research.

Look at the URL

The URL gives many clues about how credible the source.  Web sites that have the domain of .edu, and .gov are restricted and can only be used by certain institutions.  These are generally considered reliable.  If you are looking for information from specific regions the country domains such as .ca will let students know what country the website is from.

If you are looking for information from specific regions the country domains such as .ca will let students know what country the website is from.  This will support student research when they are looking for content that is region specific.

Complicated URL sources with long unrecognizable names or blogs that are not simple .coms may be someone’s personal site and the information should be validated on multiple sites.

About Me and Bias

Web sites for student research should be clear about who the author is and who is producing the content.  The author should be identified on the article themselves with a bio.  If this is not present there should be a detailed about me page that identifies who wrote the information.

Authors should be experts on the subject area.  Are they credible?  Sometimes many popular research sites are not curated by experts and some are even student created websites.  This is fine to use as a source but again the information should be validated in multiple places.

Another factor is bias.  On the web, anyone can post their opinion.  It is important for students to understand bias and how to recognize this in what they are reading.


Whenever you talk about student research skills you inevitably talk about plagiarism. This is a great time to introduce your students to the concept of plagiarism.  Today it is easy for students to simply just copy and paste what they read online into their notes then copy their notes into their own writing.

For me, this is a very simple concept.  The original author owns the sentence.  They have put the words together into a sentence.  This is something that you cannot copy.  However, at this age, they are not doing research into topics that may be unique or based on original research.

So this means that they can use the fact from the sentence but they cannot use the whole sentence.

student research skills with skimming and scanning

Help your students to skim and scan a text to help them build their student research skills.

Again this is where the ability to teach your students how to do a GIST summary will help.  Extracting the keywords from what they read.  They assembling them into a summary is a very specific strategy that is similar to making research notes.  They have to focus on the key ideas and ignore the fluff to write a summary.  This is the same skill that students use when extracting information for researching too.

More information about the GIST strategy with summarizing can be found here.

Don’t forget to grab the Skim and Scan Anchor chart page that goes with this blog post.

Researching by using the web,  is an important skill for student to master

inquiry, research, Madly Learning

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Did you know that this post originally started off as a Facebook Live Video? This and many other things are talked about every week in my Teaching With Inquiry Facebook group.  If you aren’t already a member click here to join us and learn more about how to start using inquiry in your classroom.


Classroom Tech Tools That Support Inquiry

Classroom Tech Tools That Support Inquiry

classroom tech toolsTechnology in the classroom constantly changes and so are the classroom tech tools that we use every day with our students.

Sometimes it is just hard to stay with it when everything is changing right?

Classroom Tech Tools, Tech Tool tip sheet FreebiePutting these classroom tech tools to work in your classroom goes hand in hand with building a 21st-century learning environment.   

So what tech do you need to use in your classroom today?

I compiled my top five classroom tech tools you need to try right now in your classroom.  These are tools for my students and help me to streamline my teaching with digital resources.

I talked about these five tips and added 6 more just for you in this freebie that you can get by signing up here.  This link will give you access to my Tech Tips for Inquiry freebie and access to many more free resources too from both my TPT store and my FB live session freebies.

So without further ado…here are my top five classroom tech tools to use in your classroom now.

Classroom Tech Tool #1: Google Classroom

This tech tool is number one for a reason.  If you are doing anything digital you need a digital learning management system.  (a term that really just means digital hand in bin).  Google Classroom is my tool of choice. I have blogged about it here on my site here.  This tool supports your ability to manage students digital work and helps to keep the work out of your inbox and in a highly organized system right in your google drive.

Google Classroom also helps you to manage and provide timely feedback which helps to support you through the cycle of assessment and learning (more about that here).  I love being able to leave feedback that is easily accessible to both the student and I all the time.

Classroom Tech Tool #2

Ok this one is an oldie but a goodie and maybe a bit surprising.  It is on my list because if you are going digital you need a way to create templates for students.  Graphic organizers, templates, worksheets etc can all be created on…

Powerpoint or Keynote

If you like these pages to look familiar (and pretty) then this is your go to tool.

Make a page that you would normally make to print.  Then export the slides as an image file.  Once you have these saved as an image file they can be used as templates and backgrounds in other apps like google drive, google classroom, pic collage, and explain everything.

Classroom Tech Tool #3

If you are looking for an app that helps students do just about everything, then Explain Everything is your app.  This app is like having an interactive smart board on every iPad.  You can draw, annotate, record, write, film, and take photos all within the app.

To capture thinking students can take a picture or video of their work. Then they can record themselves telling you what they see and what they did.  Their work can be easily exported into a variety places making it easy to share with you.

Classroom Tech Tool #4

QR code readers make accessing tech simple and easy for students.  With the snap of a picture, students can quickly access a web resource that you want to send them too without the need for copying a complex URL into their browser.

Another tool that helps students access web resources quickly is “bit.ly“.  If students are working with a desktop computer, a qr code isn’t your best option.  So, shortening the complex URL to a short easy to use one is.  Bit.ly is an easy way to shorten these links into easy to remember custom short links.

Use both of these tools in conjunction and you have a winning strategy for students to access web resources quickly and easily.

Classroom Tech Tool #5

Use a camera and take photos and videos of everything.  You should be taking photos and so should your students.

There is no better way, in my opinion, to capture learning, save ideas, gather assessment data, record observations, save lessons, etc.  Then a simple portable device with a camera (and backed up using google photos to save your storage space)

I have used the camera to share with parents what is happening in our classroom.

Students have used the camera to record what is happening in our classroom on Instagram as a student reporter. (here’s how)

I have recorded observations of student learning, filmed presentations, recorded lessons, share our learning with others, stored lesson ideas,and saved memories through the use of the camera.

It is simple and we may take it for granted but in our busy classrooms, we barely get a chance to pee in a day if a photo is worth 1000 words that photo sure saves me precious minutes of writing down that observation.

Don’t miss out on 6 more tools that I use in my classroom by getting access to my Tech Tools Resource in my Free Resource Library. 


technology | classroom | inquiry | elementary

If you missed me talking about this live, then you need to join our private FB group “Teaching with Inquiry”.  Join like minded people to talk teaching strategies and share your journey with others and get inspired to do more with inquiry in your classroom.

Ready, Set, Go  Get Started with Differentiated Instruction

Ready, Set, Go Get Started with Differentiated Instruction

Understand why differentiation is important, but not sure where to start? Click through to learn how to get started with differentiated instruction! differentiation | elementary | ontario | teachers | student

So if you understand the concept and benefits of differentiated instruction for the students in your classroom but are not sure where to start then hopefully this post will help you to set the stage and get started with differentiation.

My biggest motivation for differentiated instruction is my students with different learning needs.  This started with teaching ELL students and continues within my classroom walls.  In my time as an ELL teacher going into others classrooms there were many times that the DRA assessment would level the ELL student and then all other materials would be given to the student at that level.  This was always a problem for me as a teacher.  These students were not cognitively working at a grade one level and many of them were at grade level in their home language just not in English.

They knew what time it was but couldn’t communicate that understanding to you in English.  That didn’t mean that they needed to learn how to tell time.

I watched too many students disengage with work or pretend or hide that they didn’t know what to do in a classroom because they didn’t want to look stupid in front of their peers.

For me as a teach this is my main motivation for differentiation.  To allow the students who need the modifications or accommodations to get them without making them feel dumb or stupid or lose face in front of their peers.

If we really want differentiation to work we need to understand that in some way we need to set up routines, and a culture in our classroom where students understand that everyone is working on a different level and that there is more than one way to meet a goal.

Set the tone

In your classroom you need to model that there are many pathways to success.  Showing students multiple ways to do things is critical.

Don’t Judge a Kid by His Reading Level

There are many many times where a student may struggle with reading but have amazing potential and cognitive abilities.  Learning to access these is a key component to differentiation.  We need to stop associating a students ability to read with their ability to think.  By building on the strengths of the student we can help them access far more material. Reading is a complex task involving many skills, understanding which part of reading will help you to better differentiate.  But if your task assesses other subject areas how can you accommodate for the weakness in reading?



If you have multiple students doing multiple tasks at once in your classroom then you need to have solid routines set in place that describe how students function and work within your classroom.  It makes in much more difficult to just make it up as you go if you don’t have a structure or a framework to rely on.  At the beginning of each year or again later in the year when I feel that some of my routines may be slipping I revisit this list I made.  I use this every year to remind myself of how I want my classroom to run.  Check out my free routines pack here 

Classroom Management

This is another important skill that needs to be firmly established before you begin to differentiate your instruction.  There is no way that I could have 30+ kids all doing different types of tasks without good classroom management strategies.  Incorporating ideas from growth mindset, whole brain teaching, brag tags and many more classroom management tools I began using this past year.  Many different strategies will work but whatever strategy you use for classroom management you need to be confident, consistant and firm.  I may be open to a variety of learning opportunities.

Build Independence

This is another area that may take some time to establish.  It is the number one excuse for why teachers cannot embrace inquiry and cannot do centers and therefore cannot differentiate.  All most all students can gain some independence skills.  I set the expectation that students should be able to work independently we work together to establish the routines and the expectations that will allow them to be successful.  For example, in a writing conference, I ask students to identify when they feel their writing will be done.  We negotiate a reasonable time line for completion.  Then they are trusted to complete their work.  But guess what some of them don’t do anything and complete nothing.  Well, building this skill often requires that student experience safe failure.

Create opportunities for Safe Failure.

Safe failure is an important feature for my students.  I set reasonable expectations for my students and prepare an environment for them to work independently.  However, then I need to trust them to do what I have asked them to do.  However, some of them need to learn that when they do not use their time wisely they will fail to meet the deadlines.
This is a failure.
Yes, they fail, acknowledge they fail but make them reflect on this failure and identify why they failed and make a plan to not fail again.  Students don’t learn from failure they learn when they are helped to bounce back after failure
Tweet: Students don’t learn from failure they learn when they are helped to bounce back after failureFor some students this may take a few times and you may need to reset and realign their goals.  For these students it is baby steps but when they experience success after this failure then they will see that success feels better and is achievable.  When you trust that your students are capable of learning, being independent and letting them fail safely then you have a recipe for great differentiated instruction.
Remember this is a hard one for parents to swallow it is probably a good idea to let parents in on this shift in your approach that you are setting expectations and that together your job is allowing them to fail safely and to coach them through it.  Knowing that failure at the beginning will help prevent failure at the end because failure is a part of learning that should be embraced.
This one is a little tricky. You need to trust that your students want to be good.  For this to work you need to




12 Reasons Why I Differentiate

12 Reasons Why I Differentiate

 Why should we differentiate?
Beyond the obvious that is we have kids in our room that
would not be successful if we did not differentiate then there are many other
reason why we should do it too.
Every student is different
Engagement leads to success
Helps our most vulnerable students
Sets students up for the  21st learning environment
Flexiblity is more valuable than rigidity

Here is why I differentiate

Well in all reality I have to.  In the past five years I have yet to have a
classroom where the majoirity of my students were working at the same
level.  Differentiation does not mean
that I only do this for regular stream vs special education stream students. It
mean to do it for all students.
In a combined great classroom that has more than 50% of boys
spanning over to grades.   With an
average of one third requiring special education needs  not including a variety of mental health
issues, differentiation becomes very important.

Why I differentiate

I differentiate
because it makes my life easier.
When I differentiate I have less classroom management issues,  more work is completed,  student like learning,  and I can reach more students easily without
planning multiple activities for the same learning task.
I differentiate because it lets me watch a student who is completely
disengaged with writing who refuses to write become one of my most creative
I differentiate because it allows me to see the student
hiding in the corner for who she really is a fun creative and engaging kid who
has a lot of value to add but in her own way.
I differentiate because boys learn differently than girls
and to not understand this means alienating more than 50% of my class.
I differentiate because I teach two grades at once so I need to understand that all of the students in my class are starting from a different starting point.  Not doing this would mean pulling my hair out.  I don’t have time to plan 2-6 different seperate lesson for each period to meet the needs of all my students so instead I plan one and make it open ended with multiple entry points so that it is accessible for all of my students.  Plan once, flexible delivery, multiple entry and exit points, everyone learning.
I differentiate because when kids are bored they act out. They’re smart, why would they want to do something if it doesn’t somehow connect
with what they’re supposed be learning.
They can see through busywork and they need a purpose for learning.
I differentiate because in the world that we are living in
collaboration, communication, creativity, problem solving, critical thinking and
more are essential skills the students need to develop in order to be
successful in their future world
I differentiate because the parents of my lowest achieving
students just want what’s best for their kids and they cry when their kids are
labeled with special education needs.
By differentiating I can show them the special-education diagnosis is
not a life sentence
.   Their children can
and will achieve when given the correct supports in the classroom.
I differentiate because I like to see students become
in their ability. And accept that they may learn differently but can
still learn.  
It is a powerful door that is opened for their potential.  Recognizing that all students can achieve is a core belief that is essential when working
with students.  Although I may not be
able to breakthrough all barriers that inhibit student success,  and I may not be the person to do this for
every student, I try. And with some success I am able to make a difference for
those that are ready.
I differentiate because I want to show students how they can
differentiate  for themselves to advocate
for their own learning.   When a student
understands how they learn, you make it possible to advocate for themselves.  They can then better access what is
being presented to them independently.  This makes the student’s life the life of their future
teachers easier.
I differentiate because being flexible and accommodating is
actually much easier than being rigid and inflexible. The simple act of being flexible
in the classroom, although difficult at first to shift to this mindset in the
classroom, in practice makes teaching, planning and learning easier.  Inquiry is an amazing approach to teaching
and learning and I would encourage you to walk through the fire and see what
amazing things can happen when you give it a try.
I differentiate because it makes a difference.  I make a difference.  It helps my students make a difference.  And this is essentially why I became a
teacher.  Differentiation makes me a
better teacher. 

Join the Conversation

Why do you differentiate.
Hop on over to my Facebook page and join in on the conversation by
finishing this sentence.


I differentiate because…



What is Differentiated Instruction?

What is Differentiated Instruction?

What is differentiated instruction? You've heard the term, but does it mean? Click through to find out what it is, and how it's like bowling!

If you teach in a classroom today than you are familiar with the term Differentiation.  And if you are like me you may have a love hate relationship with this term.

Classrooms today are complex and trying to teach to the individual instead of the group feels overwhelming. One of my of the realities of my teaching job depends on my ability to differentiated instruction.

What is differentiated instruction? You've heard the term, but does it mean? Click through to find out what it is, and how it's like bowling!

For the month of March I invite you to join me as I dig deeper into

  1. What differentiation means in the classroom
  2. How to do it effectively without pulling your hair out.


A bit about why

As a classroom teacher of a combined grade class with often a high proportion of students with special education needs I am no stranger to a difficult class that comes to me at all different levels.  Being that it is just me in the classroom with all of my students I have learned some tips and tricks to differentiate and hone my skills in order to survive.

As a result I have become one of those crazy teachers that actually enjoys teaching splits and this is primarily because it helps to support differentiated instruction.

What is differentiated instruction? You've heard the term, but does it mean? Click through to find out what it is, and how it's like bowling!

Differentiation and bowling?

In my research into digging deeper into differentiation I discovered a lot of connections between teaching and bowling.  I think when most people go out for a fun night of bowling they try to throw the ball right down the middle.

“Try to roll the ball down the middle and get most of the students.”

But if we bowl or teach like this then we are missing the point of differentiation.  Shelley Moore has looked into this further and when talking to pro bowlers she found that they don’t aim for the middle but aim for the pins that are hardest to knock down.  She has helped me to instead look at this comparison to bowling differently.

“Teaching is like bowling because in order to knock down all the pins you need try to knock down the hardest to hit pins first.”  – Adapted from Shelley Moore

So what does it mean?

Differentiation is good for all but necessary for some and this is why when planning you should plan with the hardest to reach students first and understand that some of the things you might do to teach these hard to reach students will work for all kids even the ones in the middle.

Ways to differentiate

According to Carol Ann Tomlinson. There are four ways that you can differentiate a learning task for your students.  You can differentiate
o the product
o the process
o the content
o the environment

Learn more

In my first video in my differentiated instruction series I outline what differentiation is and what key values are important for teacher to begin to differentiate.  We dig deeper into ways lessons or projects can be differentiated and factors that are important to consider when differentiation.  Also in this video series I have included a complimentary companion guide which gives a page overview of the four components to differentiate and a differentiated weekly planning page to help you keep your differentiation strategies in the front and center when you plan.


If you like this video please like it and share it with others via facebook, twitter, or pinterest.

Sign Up for More

Stay tuned for more differentiated instruction videos and blog posts all month here on my blog.  If you want to subscribe to get these great ideas delivered right to your email inbox please fill out your info below so I can send it to you.

What is differentiated instruction? You've heard the term, but does it mean? Click through to find out what it is, and how it's like bowling!


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