Use Marketing to Engage Students

Companies spend billions of dollars on packaging and marketing for their products.  Why?  Because it works.  And, a similar approach to marketing can also work in the classroom to hook students.

I could go off on “kids these days,” but what it boils down to is that we need to teach the students in our classroom.  And they are part of a media and marketing filled world.  They are inundated with advertisements, clever packaging (like the eyes on cereal boxes that are actually designed to make eye contact with small children), and other marketing assaults.

And, because this is a language they are immersed in, as teachers, we can actually use that language to our advantage.  Market our courses, our lessons, even the novel we’ve selected (or had selected for us) to a classroom fluent– and generally receptive– to marketing messages.

Consider the names of units.  Can you spice it up?  Instead of “Asteroids and Comets” start the lesson off with “Ways to Die Sent from Space!”  Or instead of just teaching “A Christmas Carol” name the unit “Bah Humbug: Scrooge was Right.”   Make a unit called “Killer English” with mystery or crime related readings and writings.  Rename the “Roaring 20s” unit to “Criminals and Scandals of the 20s.”

Sell the lesson or novel.  My students are, at best, reluctant readers (okay, so really, they stab me in my little English teacher heart as they brag about not reading…)  But I still have to soldier on.  One novel I use, in a rare opportunity when we had some money for novels, was “The Big Sleep” by Raymond Chandler (one of my favorite authors.)  It’s usually one of the first books we read and students are skeptical based on title and cover… so I sell the book and by the time I’m done with my spiel, they’re already reading.

My spiel:  Okay, so, I have an alternative book if anyone has a problem reading a story that includes several murders, alcohol, smoking, nudity and drug use, please let me know… 

(Note: the book is from the 1940s, so the references to inappropriate subjects are actually very tame.  And it fit my students interests, once they were “sold” on the naughty parts.)

I had the fun, actually, of building my courses including an enticing name.  My pride-and-joy was Movies vs. Books.  I had parents and staff members who wanted to take my class, on title alone.  Set the tone right from the start.  And with this premise, I made my reluctant readers slog through Frankenstein so they could compare it to the movie and the cultural image.  And they did slog all the way through it.  The power of appeal.

What fun units or classes would you enjoy?  How could you tweak your approach to have more marketing appeal?
CDickson Profile PicClair Dickson, high school English teacher, likes free eTexts and Project Based Learning to stretch her meager budget.  Visit her store High School English on a Shoestring Budget to stretch your budget.
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Sunday Panel: Differentiating Instruction

Sunday Panel StickyWhat are some specific ways that you are able to differentiate for the various learners in your classroom or subject area?

EllenBrain7 (1)

 Ellen Weber:
I encourage students to use their full range of stronger intelligences in class. I suggest tasks they can do to meet rubric criteria we set together.

To understand a new concept for instance, they might play with words, do crosswords, compete in scrabble, debate, search for new ideas on the internet, write a blog, tell their best idea in 140 letters, or offer to speak at a local club.

The choice to differentiate is the choice to grow brainpower and it takes less effort when students come to the table with their strengths as tools.

AlgebraSimplifiedIconDawn, Algebra Simplified:
A carefully crafted activity that has work geared for more than one ability level makes meeting the needs of all students at the same time much easier. Normally with these type of activities, the differentiation is so seamless that the students don’t even realize that it is happening. On the other hand, when differentiation is just obviously … well…different, student buy-in is key. I start with a class reminder of the benefits, a vote on who would like to experience the benefits, and an ardent request for student cooperation so that all can benefit.

LanguageArtsClassroomLauralee,The Language Arts Classroom:
1. Task cards. Students all have assignments, and only I know which cards are more difficult. If I distribute them with partners, this also helps.

2. Choices/ Goals. If I allow students to have personal choices or make specific goals, they are tailored to their own needs. I must approve of the goals, but as long as a student is working toward improvement, that counts. (This especially works well in public speaking. Students can personalize what will make them better speakers).

3. Specifics to world. Right now is election season. Discussing the class’ interests in advertising techniques, word choice, and picture choice for campaign mailers and other commercials allows students to bring their personal stories to the class. Students have different perspectives, and encouraging explanation empowers students to understand different points of view. Specifically, bringing the world to the classroom empowers students who may not normally contribute.

OC_BEACH_TEACHER_revised_finalKimberly, OC Beach Teacher:
In earlier posts this month, I mentioned using literature circles and choices to differentiate instruction. Besides those strategies, I have a few additional tools. For instance, with students who may need additional support in my class, I make simple adjustments to assignments: providing a word bank on a vocabulary worksheet, reducing the number of exercises on a grammar handout, or shortening the page requirement for an essay.

On the other hand, to provide additional challenges for students, I offer enrichment opportunities. For example, I recently offered extra points to students who took advantage of a vocabulary video contest at The New York Times Learning Network. Furthermore, I always share writing contest information for local and national competitions. Not only do my students benefit from the enrichment, but sometimes they even find themselves winning a contest!

How do YOU differentiate instruction?  Please share your ideas in the comments sections.

Feature Fridays: Inequalities Hangman

Do you struggle to reach all students when it comes to independent practice of algebra skills? Adding the twist of HANGMAN to math work has enabled me to engage more learners in my classroom. Sure it spices up humdrum math drills, but I really love that I can reach all ability levels with this style of practice. Check out the preview for this Linear Inequalities Hangman.

inequalities hangman thumbnail

Two levels of the same worksheet is just the starting point for differentiation. A variation of messages on worksheets allows students to collaborate yet discourages cheating. Encourage those students who finish well ahead of all the others to create new messages to use on future students. A blank template is provided. Narrow down letter choices for students who just need a little extra help. Finally, for that student who really is much lower than all the rest, pull out that blank template again. Let them choose a message and correctly solve only those 6 letters. Then, let them experience a moment of pride (or sadistic pleasure) as you publish (as quickly as possible) that worksheet for other students to use.

AlgebraSimplifiedIconDawn is a secondary Algebra teacher in Maryland with a B.S. in Secondary Mathematics Education and a Masters in Information Science and Learning Technologies.
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Giving Choices to Engage Students

Whenever possible, I provide my students with choices in their learning. It often gives them a sense of freedom and autonomy. Not only does giving choices engage them, but it is also a great strategy for differentiating instruction. Here are two ways that I incorporate choice into my instruction:

1. I offer a variety of topics on writing assignments. For instance, students select from a list of 20 – 30 issues for research and then use their research to write a formal argument essay. With this many topics, my students usually find a subject that is interesting and relevant to them. However, by also providing some limits on the choices, it saves me from reading 50 cliché essays on the legalization of marijuana or school uniforms.
Lately I’ve been selecting the topics from an excellent feature in The New York Times Learning Network called “Room for Debate.” The newspaper invites columnists to provide commentary on current news events. For instance, recent topics include the following:

• corporations that pay female employees to delay motherhood by freezing their eggs,
• the United States’ desire for the Turkish government to help fight the terrorist group ISIS,
• right to die standards and physician assisted suicide (once again in the news because of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard’s decision to end her life as a result of her brain cancer)

There are hundreds of issues for teachers and students to choose from as the feature began in January of 2009.

2. Of course I am required by my school district to assign a certain number of essays and prepare my students for their upcoming PARCC assessments, but I can usually find one or two assignments in which students choose from a Menu of assessment projects. For example, after my students read excerpts from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond, they can choose from nine assignments. Because I link the reading to learning about The Tiny House Movement, some of the selections extend their learning about it. Here are a few choices:

• Take a walk outside (woods, beach, park, etc.) and jot down your observations. Afterwards, write a short reflective essay incorporating your ideas about nature and life. How are they connected? How are you affected by nature? Do you find comfort in it? Do you reflect the moods of nature? Explain.
• Create a three-dimensional model for a “Tiny House” that you would want to live in. Be sure to include furniture and other possessions that you would need. Write a short reflection explaining how you think living in this house would change your life.
• Find a song with lyrics that echo some of the ideas in the Walden excerpts. Write an explication of the song and compare it to the ideas from the text. Use specific examples from both the song and the excerpts.

Furthermore, by giving students the Menu, I am able to provide them with opportunities to demonstrate other intelligences and talents. It’s a great way for me to discover more about them, also!

OC_BEACH_TEACHER_revised_finalKim, the OCBeach Teacher,  is a National Board Certified English teacher who is currently teaching American Literature and AP English Literature and Composition.  She shares classroom ideas and tips on her OCBeachTeacher Facebook Page.
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Using Stations to Keep Students Engaged

It can be a struggle to hold students attention for a class period, particularly when the task is practice or review on a topic that already been touched upon. Many times students need that practice, but do not have the persistence to work through a longer series of practice questions, or review. Also, students can easily get frustrated with sets of practice questions. One tool that I use frequently in my classroom to keep students engaged is the use of stations.


Many tasks can be broken up into smaller sets of practice (for example sets of 5 test questions that get checked by a teacher, mixed with stations on reviewing vocabulary, labeling a diagram, and another set of 5 questions. Students can get more immediate feedback, and don’t get frustrated when working on a shorter set of questions. These stations can easily be completed in, perhaps 10 minutes and students can move to the next station.

Additionally, stations can be a great way to build in more time for support or individualized help with the teacher. For example, when working with learning to use microscopes, one station can be a station with teacher direction on using the microscope and pointing out specifics, one station on parts of the microscope, one on a virtual microscope on the computer, and one where students can look at slides on their own.

Another example of station work can be a way to build in different learning styles. I often do stations on the same topic, but in different ways. These could be a set of stations where students do a short creative writing, watch a video, again could label a diagram, work with vocabulary, do a reading, etc. Often students need to see a particular topic frequently, but in different ways. This can be a valuable tool to help your students work though a topic. When using this type of stations, it is often helpful to have a wrap up of some type (discussion, writing, questions, etc) for students to pull together what they have learned.

Lastly, even a larger task can often be broken up into chunks and re-written as stations. Station work tends to keep students moving, on a schedule, and focused on the task. They can sustain their focus for 10 minutes (anywhere from 5-20 depending on the task), and then they get to move and start a new task. They also have built in incentive to stay ‘on time’ as they will be moving, and need to get that piece done before the time expires.

I find station work a useful tool at many different points in a unit in my classroom and hope that I have been able to give you some useful ideas as well. I would love to hear your tips for keeping students engaged in your classroom!

profile pic2Tara is a science teacher from upstate NY. She has taught General Science, Biology, Environmental Science, and Earth Science.
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Using YouTube to Engage your Students!

As I was considering what to write about this month regarding engaging students I remembered this post I’d written for my own personal teaching blog.  Reprinted with my permission here:

I love YouTube in the classroom.  Several of my college students actually just told me that like how I use videos to enhance my lessons because it makes it more fun!  (I just use the same videos I do in high school.)  It does mix things up and presents information in a new way.

Here’s my list of my top choices for YouTube videos.


Crash Course by Hank and John Green is absolutely one of my favorites.  On this channel, “John Green teaches you US History and Hank Green teaches you Chemistry. Check out the playlists for past courses in World History, Biology, Literature, and Ecology.”  They are SO SMART and super engaging.  I love how fast moving they go and the quirky nature of it all.  Here’s one of my favorites:

Thug Notes examines classic literature with an urban flair.  I will caution that sometimes the language is a little rough- but I’d be comfortable in most areas using it in high school.  Definitely in college. From their channel: “Yo, what’s good? Thug Notes is yo main hookup for classical literature summary and analysis. Maybe you’ve read the Cliffs Notes. Maybe you even read the book. But you ain’t know sh*t until you watched the Thug Notes, homie.”  What I really appreciate about these videos is the quality analysis at the end!  He really does look at themes and motifs which is really important!  Here’s my favorite:

Flocabulary  has videos about lots of different topics.  To get the whole library you have to have a paid subscription to their website, but they do offer quite a bit for free on YouTube.  They describe their website as being, “an online library of songs, videos and activities for grades K-12. Hundreds of thousands of teachers use Flocabulary to supplement their instruction and engage students. Our team of artists and educators is not only committed to raising test scores, but also to fostering a love of learning in every child.”  I enjoyed this one:

Individual Videos

Here are some individual videos that I have used with success in the classroom, or plan on using soon!

I like how this covers many devices with real world examples.  I wish there was a slightly different one for Personification though.

This is the History of English in 10 minutes.  It’s awesome, but definitely high school or college level.  VERY informative though.

Cute video that discusses some of my pet peeve grammar issues!

And, last but certainly not least, Kid President’s Pep Talk for teachers and students!  I love this kid, and all his videos are great but this one is extra special.

Thanks for reading!

TPT ProfileSara Fuller is a 5 year veteran English teacher with an MA in literature who has experience teaching students ranging from the middle school to college level. She blogs about her teaching adventures at Ms. F’s Teaching Adventures and young adult books at YA Lit, the Good, the Bad, the Ugly!
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Sunday Panel: Addressing the needs of students

Sunday Panel StickyHow do you address the needs of of students from poverty, minority students, or other obstacles to achievement in your classroom?

profile pic2Tara, Science in the City:My students are mostly from poverty, minority, etc. I have a few strategies that I utilize to try to help them achieve.

1) I try to make the curriculum as relevant to them as possible. In many cases, it does not appear relevant to them at first, but I see part of my job as to help make those connections for them.

2) I try to show them other success stories, or examples of their own success so that they feel that achievement is possible.

3) I try to be flexible with deadlines, and timelines, but still uphold the standard (they have to do the work, but some flexibility may be required in how/when they do the work). For example, homework may not happen if they are homeless, but a motivated student may still find time to come in during a lunch period or after school and complete the work in the next week.

OC_BEACH_TEACHER_revised_finalKimberly, OC Beach Teacher:I try to be culturally aware and promote a respectful, courteous classroom. However, I have definitely made mistakes at times. When I was a younger teacher, I expected my African American students to look at me directly in the eye when I spoke with them individually. I learned that it was a cultural norm for many of them, especially males, to avoid eye contact with me in these situations.

In our English class I have also used the PBS feature, “Do You Speak American?”, to teach students about language. This series is excellent for helping students understand linguistic differences and respect for various dialects. We have had discussions to better understand audience and purpose in communication and the use of code-switching in academic or professional environments.

AlgebraSimplifiedIconDawn, Algebra Simplified:At the end of the year when a majority of students are looking for the nearest trashcan to throw out their class notebook, I ask for old notebook, folder, and paper donations. (Truthfully, I’d take anything they would give me.) You can find all these used school supplies hoarded in my cabinets. The beginning of school year sales get a little of my business as well. (Maybe I just can’t resist that spiral notebook for 17 cents!) This allows me to freely share with students throughout the year. Students have to have paper and a pencil on their desk when the bell rings. If you didn’t bring any, no sweat; just get what you need from my cabinets and be ready to learn at the bell. While this doesn’t solve all obstacles, a student doesn’t have to be hindered by not bringing supplies.

EllenBrain7 (1)Ellen Weber:
My own teenage encounter with poverty shaped my unique approach to help teens equip their brains to leapfrog past personal disadvantages. Caught on the street alone at 14, after my mother died of cancer, I found on-going inspiration to move past poverty from teachers who welcomed, engaged and included all capabilities that appeared at their tables.
By helping disadvantaged students develop all eight intelligences they literally learn from inside poverty to do what the best teachers helped me to do when I found myself homeless. This method was tested in inner city schools where I saw teens become the change they sought, and developed.


CDickson Profile PicClair, High School English on a Shoestring Budget: Our school always provided basic supplies, and I always made sure my students had paper, pencils, and a place for their work.  I also bought my own pens and pencils as well as recycled old folders and spiral notebooks.  I even picked up pencils in the hall or parking lot to put in my cup for the next day.

Work that went home wouldn’t come back, so I didn’t set them up for failure– everyone got a folder where they could store their work between classes.  I kept the folders in my file cabinet (and recycled the manilla folders without drawings the next year)  We did work in class and included a lot of projects, to allow them choice and flexibility.

Attendance was one of the barriers to success– we didn’t even have bus service to our program, so students relied on their not-always-reliable friends and classmates or their not-always-reliable parents to get to class.  So if they actually did the work, then I generally did not penalize them  (There were a few classes that, as a whole, were so bad about submitting work, that I implemented deadlines and small penalties to motivate them, and it helped.)  Using free e-texts for most of my readings meant that if a student wanted to work at home, I could send home a printed etext without worrying about if it came back.  My goal, always, was on helping them successfully complete their work– if they don’t do the work, they’re not going to learn.

TPT ProfileSara, Ms. Fuller’s Teaching Adventures:I have taught almost exclusively in Title I schools with extremely high levels of poverty. One thing I did was take advantage of any and all super sales on school supplies. I was the queen of Staples penny deals (though I didn’t see them this year). Between myself and my family, I’d buy 100 notebooks for $10 and pass them out throughout the year to students who needed them. I still haven’t exhausted my pencil supply two years later- though I was stingier with those.

With regards to race- I once worked in a school with some students who decided to be very vocal with their racist comments. I always shut it down immediately but it made me very uncomfortable. I just always make it clear that everyone is welcome and safe in my classroom- any race, any religion, any sexual orientation. I have banned “trigger” words (n-word, retard, and gay) and have it explicitly spelled out in my college syllabus. But in my teaching methods? I change nothing. Good teaching is good teaching.

LanguageArtsClassroomLauralee,The Language Arts Classroom:My students are often hungry. I attempt to keep grapes or other perishable, non-messy items on my desk. That way students can grab a handful as they walk by. They are normally excited to get fruit!