Category Archives: Tuesday Teaching Tips

Celebrate good times!

As the semester comes to a close, here’s a reminder to celebrate.  Celebrate all the lessons learned. Celebrate the concepts covered.  Celebrate the hard work. And most importantly, celebrate the good that has happened this semester.  This is especially important because at a time that feels like a crunch to get it all in, we need to take a moment to redirect our attention to focus on the good and not be bogged down by what tasks have yet to be finished.  Everyone is working hard and doing such wonderful things, so celebrate those good times. Have a wonderful winter break!  

Snowball effect

As the semester comes to a close, time becomes more precious.  Having students engaged and participatory can take away some scheduled class time, but there is a strategy to that you can implement which provides students an opportunity to share their ideas while an encouraging them to help keep the conversation moving.  This strategy is affectionately known as the “snowball effect.” While attending a pre-conference session at the 2018 POD Network Conference, I learned how this technique can allow all ideas to be shared and keep the group momentum.  Here is a way the “snowball effect” works:

  • In groups, have students work on an assigned task, like generating a list of topics covered over the course of the semester on a giant post-it or whiteboard
  • Once the groups are finished, have students displace their ideas, and have one member from the group share out the ideas
  • While the student is sharing for one group, the other groups must pay attention to see if their idea(s) has (have) been mentioned.  If the idea has already been shared, then they cannot share their idea and should share another idea(s) from the Post-it
  • This process is repeated until all groups have shared

As the ideas get rolling, the latter groups won’t need to take as much time sharing everything and will only spend time on sharing what has not be shared yet.  This could be a great review for an exam or test, or this could be a culminating activity to review and recap the entire semester.  

Reading strategy: What it says vs. what it does

For my graduate school homework, I was assigned several pages from John Bean’s book, Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom (2nd ed.).   One idea that resonated with me was a reading strategy that I believe could be helpful and used as a reading (or writing) strategy in your course.

The purpose of this reading strategy is to use critical thinking skills to identify the paragraph and “What it Says vs. What it Does.”  So how do we encourage students to do that? First, when they are reading an article, chapter, or other form of text, teach the students to focus on the purpose of the paragraph (what is says).  Does the paragraph provide background or new information? Is the paragraph meant to challenge your thinking? After identifying what the paragraph says, think through its role (what is does). Bean (2011) says, does the paragraph “[provide] evidence for the author’s first main reason, [summarize] an opposing view, provide statistical data to support a point, or [use] an analogy to clarify the idea in the previous paragraph” (p. 169).  See the picture for the example from Bean’s book.

This strategy can become cumbersome, so I recommend having the students try it out for a few paragraphs or pages and then have them continue to read as they would normally.  As students practice this strategy, they will find that they begin to analyze their texts, and possibly writing, in a way that demonstrates critical thinking. If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to post them below!  Happy reading!


Bean, J.C. (2011). Engaging ideas: The professor’s guide to integrating writing, critical

            thinking, and active learning in the classroom (2nd ed.).  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-


Reading strategy: Say something reboot

A few weeks ago, I was training my mentors, and I gave them a scholarly article to read about mentoring competencies and programs.  The article had a lot of dense information and needed to be read carefully, so I decided to teach them the “Say Something” strategy.  A strategy they could teach and use with their mentees. I first learned about this strategy in October 2017. To read the original blog post about the strategy, click here.

A quick recap of the strategy is as follows:

  • Group the students in pairs
  • Have the students take turns reading aloud to one another (They can determine the length of the reading (paragraph, column, page, etc.).  More advanced readers are not going to stop as frequently, but they should make sure to stop.)
  • Person A reads. At a predetermined stopping point, the person who was not reading (Person B) says “Say Something,” and Person A should do one of the following:
    • Make a prediction
    • Ask a question
    • Clarify something you had misunderstood
    • Make a comment
    • Make a connection
  • Then the partners switch roles, and Person B reads, and Person A listens and says “Say Something.”  Person B responds in using the same options as above.
  • Repeat until the time runs out or the article/page is completed.

So I put my mentors in pairs and told them to read the article applying the strategy.  Afterwards we came together to debrief the strategy. The mentors recognized that the strategy is a great way to encourage (or coerce) readers to stop and think about the text.  By stopping, the reader is given the opportunity to process the concepts and ideas mentioned in the text. In addition, by stopping and thinking about the reading, students are seeing and recognizing was that their minds should and are working while reading.  This reading strategy reinforces and encourages best practices for critical thinking while reading,

As we continued to debrief, the mentors thought this strategy could be adapted so that readers could annotate their text by writing in the margins instead of Saying Something aloud.  What a great way to turn this into an independent reading (and writing) strategy!

Muddiest Point

“It’s as clear as mud.”  That saying always makes me giggle because I am transported back to high school when a history teacher of mine would say, “Clear as Mud?” and we often had perplexed or confused looks on our faces.  Being a teacher now as made me think a lot about this phrase. There are many times when students are confused or not understanding a concept, and sometimes we forgot to not provide “think time” or “soak time.”  

So, when I was checking my emails and came across a Faculty Focus blog that focused on active learning strategies, I discovered a helpful engaging strategy called the “Muddiest Point.”  The Muddiest Point technique is a great way to gather an informal assessment and get a sense of how the students understand (or don’t) a concept you’re teaching in class.  The technique is also a great way for students to try to find the answers to their Muddiest Points with some collaboration. Here’s one way the lesson could happen:

  1. (10 min) Using a reading assignment, lecture, or class discussion as the material for students to reflect upon, have them write down the Muddiest Point on a notecard. (Another strategy is to have the Muddiest Point be the opening activity for one of your classes to get discussion going.)
  2. (30 min) Once students have written their Muddiest Point, put students in to groups and have them sort the Muddiest Points. (Professor discretion as to how the points are sorted: categories/terms, questions, similar ideas or concerns, etc.) Once the points are sorted, then get these Muddiest Points answered or addressed.  This can happen by you or with them working in groups. A challenge for this activity can be getting the students to locate the answers to these points from the resources for the course.
  3. (15 min) Share out the Muddiest Points. Have the students share out 1 or 2 of their points and the answer to the point(s).  
  4. (5 min) Provide some time for reflection for the students.  Was their Muddiest Point answered? If not, then could it be saved for another day or could the student (or class) do answer it as homework?

There are so many adaptations to this lesson. One faculty member shared how she uses a similar strategy like this in her class as exam review.  How else do you think you could help the students’ understanding not be “clear as mud?” 🙂

Visible Thinking routine: What makes you say that?

During the first week of class, I had my students participate in a Visible Thinking Routine that we have continued to refer back to while discussing our assumptions and biases.  This lesson was a great way to build community with my students, learn more about them, and differentiate the class for my visual learners.   Here is my lesson plan:

Often we see or view objects, people, or ideas with our perspectives, influences, or points of view.  While this is an important part of us, we need to be aware of our biases, whether they stem from our family, background, politics, education, etc.  Sometimes we are not aware of how we understand, see, or view something. For this thinking routine, students will focus on their perspective and how their experiences impact this perspective

For 8-10 mins, have students observe a painting or picture.  In their notebooks or on a piece of paper, have answer these two questions: What’s going on?  What do you see that makes you say that? Give students ample time to write down their observations.

Once the students have had some time to look at the visual representation (see painting below as an example), have them share out their ideas.   If a student says he or she sees something, ask them to tell you what was observed and what makes them say that. By modeling this aloud to the students, you’re reinforcing how to look for claims (the conclusion they’re drawing from the picture) and evidences (specifics from the picture).  Once you feel the students have shared enough, then have them reflect on the activity: How does your perspective or personal experiences impact your observations? What did you notice or observe from this activity? Provide time for students to share their realizations to one another.

When I completed this activity with my students, I discovered this helped my students practice claims and evidences, learn to get to know one another, and help them be aware of their biases or assumptions.  


  • Good to build claims and evidences
  • Helps support or promote community engagement
  • Remember not to use value judgments when students share ideas; lead them back to the questions: What’s going on?  What do you see that makes you say that?
  • You can provide a graphic organizer to help students organize their thoughts:
What’s going on?

What do you see that makes you say that?


Amor A Todas Hodas by Simon Silva

Check in before they check out

Happy week 5!  While chatting with colleagues, an idea occurred to me: this week can be a somewhat tricky time during the semester.  The newness and excitement of the semester, affectionately known as the “honeymoon phase,” starts to wear off. So how do we continue to engage our students?  I find that waiting until midterms to get feedback from my students is too late. So, one suggestion is to have the students write on a notecard, anonymously answering these questions:

  • What is working?
  • What do you wish was different?
  • What do you want me to know?

When I solicit feedback, I communicate that their voice and perspective are an important part of my course design.  By implementing this best practices strategy, I can take their suggestions or insights and make minor improvements to meet their various learning needs.  If I check in with them prior to their checking out, I can embrace all learners and provide an inclusive and supportive learning environment.

If you have questions about how to act on any feedback you receive, then stop by CTL, and we’d be happy to provide suggestions or strategies.  Have a great fall break next week!

Naughty round table

Last Tuesday, the Faculty Learning Community (FLC) learned a new learning strategy to embed into our courses.  The strategy is called “Naughty Round Table.” The premise of the activity is to allow students to share a problem with their peers and solicit feedback.  “Naughty Round Table” works best with groups of three. Here is the basic structure of the activity:

  • Step 1: (2 min) All students write about down a specific problem they are having (could be with the assignment, could be with a roommate, etc.)
  • Step 2: (2 min) The first person shares their problem for 2 mins.  (FLC discovered that 1 minute was long enough, so user discretion advised).
  • Step 3: (2 min) For the next 2 minutes, the other two people in the group provide feedback or  brainstorm possible solutions. The person who shared the problem just listens.
  • Step 4: (2 min) The second person shares their problem for 2 mins. 
  • Step 5: (2 min) For 2 minutes, the other two people in the group provide feedback or  brainstorm possible solutions. The person who shared the problem just listens.
  • Step 6: (2 min) Then repeat one more time for the third person to share a problem.
  • Step 7: (2 min) For the next 2 minutes, the other two people in the group provide feedback or  brainstorm possible solutions. The person who shared the problem just listens.
  • Step 8 (optional): Have all of the students reflect on what they learned, heard, or are thinking about in relation to the problem they presented.

Ways to diversify the activity:  extend the times for more feedback, use this strategy to discuss the readings, or have more rounds of sharing.  

I plan to use this strategy for students to talk about their papers and then be given some feedback or ideas to consider from their peers. How would or could you apply the “Naughty Round Table” learning strategy to your course(s)?