Category Archives: classroom tips

Don’t Say Stratford upon Avon!

An Engaging Activity for Introducing Any Shakespearean Play

A lot of textbooks that introduce Shakespeare start with something like “William Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564 in Stratford upon Avon, England.”  Um, okay.  The problem is how does that help students?  The one thing they probably know about Shakespeare is that he lived a long time ago.  They probably don’t know much of anything about the 16th century, so adding the date doesn’t help.

And where the hell is Stratford upon Avon?  For that matter, what the hell is Stratford upon Avon and why does it have that weird (at least to Americans) name?  That one simple sentence about Shakespeare’s birth hasn’t done much to build student knowledge or motivation to read. At worst, it might have reinforced their beliefs that Shakespeare will be difficult, foreign, and have nothing to do with them.

At this point you might feel tempted to break into a song and dance routine to liven up Stratford upon Avon.  But I want to suggest a more engaging way of introducing any Shakespearean play.   Continue reading

Gods and Goddesses in Homer’s Odyssey

Should You Teach All of Them?

gods in the Odyssey

It may be tempting to start teaching Homer’s Odyssey by having students do background research on the Greek gods and goddesses.  With twelve Olympians, it seems like a nice group project to split kids up and have them research domains, symbols, Roman names, etc.  And then they present to the class, everyone takes notes, and on Friday there’s a quiz.

Please don’t.  I’ve done it that way, and I think it’s confusing to the kids.  There are better ways of starting The Odyssey and helping kids have a powerful experience with a very different culture and a very unusual text (at least in their experience). Continue reading

How to Not Freak Out on the First Day of School

finding focus on the first dayAugust may be a wonderful month.  I’ve heard that in many European countries it means relaxing in a lake cabin with friends.  But as a teacher, August has always meant one thing: freaking out about the start of school.  Freaking out that you haven’t finished all of the summer to-do’s, freaking out that you haven’t thought through all of the connections in the curriculum, and freaking out about the first day itself.  Let’s talk about how not to freak out on the first day. Continue reading

Everything that Could Go Wrong with Your Fishbowl Discussions

And why you should do them anyway

One of the reasons I started Next Time Teaching was to share what I’ve learned–both about what works and what doesn’t–from 19 years of teaching and to try to help other teachers not have to reinvent wheels.  Believe me, I’ve made thousands of mistakes.  Every day, in every lesson.  If I can save you from making any of the same mistakes, I’m happy.  So let’s focus today on problems with fishbowl discussions.  Whether you’ve never heard of them, want to try one, or have done them a bunch of times, hopefully thinking through some of the potential things that can go wrong ahead of time will help your next fishbowls go more smoothly. Continue reading

How to Create a More Positive Classroom

. . . Even If You’re Not a Cheerleader

not a cheerleader

image credit: Sanderlin

If you’re always super positive and love teaching your kids to shine their halos and kiss their brains, you don’t need this post.  You can share your ideas for class cheers here.

But some of us–myself included–just aren’t natural cheerleaders.  It’s not that I mean to be critical, because I do enjoy being a teacher and a mom and I do like listening to kids.  It’s more that I’m insanely detail-oriented and there are just so many things that need to be corrected. With a 3 year-old, those things include “don’t ride the cat like a pony,” “don’t use the waffle as a stethoscope” and “please take your finger out of my ear.”  Those are non-negotiable, right? Continue reading