Hook Your Students! Post #2: Consensus Placemat

Consensus Placemat: How I use the consensus placemat to motivate and prepare my students for learning

Welcome to post #2 in the series: Hook Your Students! How to capture (and keep!) their attention.  To read post #1 about Anticipation-Reaction Guides, click here.

This week I will share how I use the Consensus Placemat to motivate and prepare my students for learning.  The Consensus Placemat is a cooperative learning tool designed to increase student engagement and individual accountability.  

To complete the placemat, the teacher poses a question about an important idea, concept, or skill.  Each student then takes time to think independently about the question and write their response in their own space on the edge of the placemat.  

When every member of the group is finished writing, the team shares ideas.  I like to use Round Robin to be sure that each student has an opportunity to share their ideas and hear the reasoning of their peers.

Once every idea has been shared, the team works together to create one answer with which every member agrees.  The team then writes this consensus statement or summary in the center of the placemat.

Consensus Placemat - How I use it to motivate and prepare my students for learning

Why Use a Consensus Placemat?
The consensus placemat is an easy, low-prep tool that offers many benefits.
  • It is a great way to activate students' prior knowledge and to see what students already know.
  • It encourages participation from every student.  Students who may be reluctant to raise their hand or share ideas are able to actively contribute to the discussion in a relaxed setting.
  • Because each member must construct their own response first, it increases equitable participation and individual student accountability.
  • Students must think critically to support their ideas and evaluate the reasoning of others.
I typically use the consensus placemat as an opening hook to build student interest and readiness. Students are excited to learn from their peers and they are eager to verify their individual ideas and team summary.  I have also used it  as a closing exercise to reinforce key concepts and check for understanding.

Are you ready to give it a go?  Here is a blank template and some prompts to get you started:
  • Is a rectangle a square? How do you know?
  • What are the steps of the water cycle? Show what you know using words or pictures.
  • What is alliteration? Provide an example.
  • Describe our rules for recess.
  • Are all odd numbers prime?  Explain how you know.
I hope this tool is of value to you and your students. What questions do you have?  How do you use the consensus placemat with your class?  Let me know; I'd love to learn with you!


Hook Your Students! Post #1: Anticipation Guides

This post is the first in the series of Hook Your Students!  How to capture (and keep!) their attention.  Before I share one of my favorite teaching "hooks," let's briefly discuss what a "hook" is. 

What is a “hook?
A hook is a short instructional activity used at the beginning of the lesson to capture students’ attention and to build interest and motivation for learning.  Hooks are also known as anticipatory sets, set induction, and advance organizers.  I like to use the term “hook” because that is what these activities do – they “hook” students and actively draw them into learning.

Why Use a Hook?
A hook is not only fun and engaging, but it prepares and motivates students for learning.  Using a hook helps to:
   Focus student attention on the lesson
   Set a purpose for learning
   Activate prior knowledge
   Check for student understanding
   Build curiosity, anticipation, and interest

Let’s look at an example: 

An Anticipation-Reaction Guide (AR Guide) contains a series of short statements about the topic or concept you plan to teach.  Some of the statements are true and some are false.  Before interacting with the content, students read the statements and decide if they agree or disagree with the statement.  Students record their prediction, an “A” for agree or “D” for disagree, in the left hand column. Students can answer the statements on their own or collaborate in pairs or small groups.  Oftentimes, discussion can help students to activate prior knowledge and make connections with past experiences.

Once predictions have been made, it is time to present the content. This can be the text you are about to read, a video, a series of photographs – whatever tool you plan to use for instruction.  Once students have had an opportunity to engage with the content, they revisit the anticipation-reaction guide to verify their predictions.  Students record their final answers in the right column.

The focus is not about whether the student’s prediction is right or wrong.  The goal is to revisit the statements with a critical eye to build understanding of the concept or skill.  The discussion surrounding why statements are true or false helps to reinforce key concepts and build lasting comprehension.

Here is an example from my classroom.  (You can download this, and the other printables shown in this post, for free here.)  In 3rd grade, our first ELA unit is about Fables.  In order to develop a solid understanding of what a fable is, I present my students with the anticipation-reaction guide shown below.  I encourage students to work in pairs to discuss the statements and use their prior knowledge to make predictions.
Hook your students: how to capture and keep their attention

I then show students a short video, such as The Tortoise and the Hare or The Dog and His Reflection.  Once the video is complete, students revisit the A-R guide to verify their original ideas and we pause for discussion.  What did we learn about the characteristics of a fable?  What statements do we still need to answer?  If needed, we can watch another short video to explore unanswered questions.  We can also record remaining questions on an anchor chart and search for the answers as we read throughout the unit.

Using the AR guide, students are actively engaged in learning.  Instead of passively receiving information, students are empowered to build meaningful, long-term understanding. 

While the Anticipation-Reaction Guide is traditionally used in ELA, I’ve found that it can be easily used and adapted to other content areas as well.  Here is an example from my 4th grade math class.  When we began our exploration into polygons, I began with the AR guide below.

Hook your students: how to capture and keep their attention

 After completing the left hand column, I introduced the content, using examples and non-examples.  I've included a copy of the activity for your reference.
Hook your students: how to capture and keep their attention

With the AR statements in mind, we explored the examples and non-examples.  Students were so excited to use the images to confirm, clarify, and update their first predictions.  We revisited the AR guide throughout the lesson as we gained new insights and information.  Again, the emphasis was not on whether we were right or wrong, but the content and quality of our discussion.  Students had to think critically to justify their ideas, support them with evidence, communicate their reasoning to peers, and critique the rationale of others.  

Using the AR guide and the visual examples, students were able to craft a clear and accurate definition: “A polygon is a plane shape that has 3 or more straight sides and angles.”  The definition was much more meaningful and had a longer-lasting impact because my students were invested in creating it themselves.

Are you ready to create your own Anticipation Guide?  Let's Do It! Here is a blank, editable template to help you get started:

1.    Identify the key concepts or skills you want students to learn.  What do students really need to know in order to understand this concept or skill?
2.   Write 4-6 declarative statements about the concept, making some statements true and others false

Hook your students: how to capture and keep their attention

Options for Differentiation:

   Present it orally.  Read the statements out loud. This can be a great option for younger students and less proficient readers.
   Add a "WHY" column to the chart.  Students can use this area to justify their conclusions.
   In lieu of 4-6 statements, offer one open-ended question.  (ex: what is a polygon?)  This strategy will help to activate prior knowledge and provide you with insight into what the students already know.

What else do you need to make Anticipation Guides work well for you and your students?  What other "hooks" would you like to learn more about?  Let me know; I'd love to help!


Hundred Board Number Puzzles

Fun Enrichment Activities for math!

Hi Friends! I am dropping in quickly to share some freebies with you from one of my FAVORITE enrichment activities!  I hope it is of help to you and your little geniuses! 

I use Hundred Board Enrichment Puzzles to challenge my 2nd and 3rd grade students.  I am in love with these puzzles because they are both FUN and MEANINGFUL.   Each puzzle offers an interesting, non-routine way to develop important math concepts and critical thinking skills.

So, how do they work?  Each Hundred Board puzzle provides a series of 4-6 mathematical clues. Students use the clues to determine the value of the mystery number. While the focus of each activity is numeracy, each puzzle includes a variety of upper elementary math skills, concepts, and vocabulary.

Here's an example from the 2nd grade pack:

Puzzle #8:

• It is greater than the number of years in a decade.
• It does not contain the digit that equals the number of sides on a rhombus.
• It is not between the value of 4 nickels and 4 dimes.
• The digit in the ones place = the number of inches in ½ a foot.
• The sum of the digits is < 11.

As you can see, the focus is on numbers and operations, yet students also need to apply geometry, measurement, time, and academic math vocabulary in order to solve this puzzle.

Here's an example from the 3rd grade version:

Puzzle #5:
• The number is greater than the number of sides on a trapezoid.
• The mystery number is less than the perimeter of a 6 by 6 array.
• None of the digits are even.
• The sum of the digits equals 8.

Again, the focus is on numbers and operations, but students also need to apply geometry, measurement, and perimeter in order to solve this puzzle. Fun, right!

There are 20 puzzles in each pack and the level of complexity increases as the puzzle number gets higher.

The puzzles come in color and black and white, so I can use them in a variety of ways.  Some of my favorite uses include:
  • math centers and stations
  • a printable packet for early finishers
  • anchor activities
  • learning contracts
  • choice board activities
You can download both of the activities shown above for free by clicking on the link below the image.  hope you are your students enjoy them as much as mine!


Let's Interact - Halloween Style!

halloween october bulletin board

I am super excited about my latest Interactive Bulletin Board!  Check out my October-themed board  and grab a few freebies below.

interactive bulletin board activities

First up on the board is "Brainstorming 4-Ever!"  This was originally a printable activity I used as an anchor activity with my little Einsteins.  This year, I decided to make the activity larger than life to "hook" and motivate my students in a new way.  

Using the word "Jack-o-lantern" as inspiration, this Halloween-themed activity challenges students to think of as many different 4-syllable words as they can. Avocado, comprehension, impossible, articulate . . . the possibilities are endless, but it is delightfully difficult! 

To add a level of difficulty, eliminate proper nouns.  OR, make it a game!  After brainstorming a list of words, students compare answers with other players.  Students earn one point for each unique response that no other player has.  The player with the most points wins.  This can be timed or un-timed.

When students arrive to class early, finish assignments early, are in need of enrichment, or just want to be inspired, they grab a brainstorming sheet from the envelope. I've included a printable copy of the activity below in case you'd like to try it out with your kiddos. :-)  
creative thinking - brainstorming
You can find the whole pack of activities here.

Next up, is Halloween math:

bulletin board ideas for october

This too was a printable activity that I enlarged for a new twist. Each Halloween symbol represents a number.  Students can "Guess and Check" or use algebra to reach the correct answer.  There is something about a larger than life math problem that kids love!  I'm not sure if it's the novelty of the presentation or the seasonal images, but they are in love.  You can find the printable version of this activity (along with the answer :-) here.

And last, but not least, is 24 - an all-time student favorite.

interactive bulletin board

In the game of 24, students use the four numbers given once and only once along with a combination of operations to reach 24.  Students record their answer on the recording sheet below.  You can find a free copy here. (It's nothing fancy, but it's one less thing to make :-) 
interactive bulletin board for halloween

24 is so easy to prep and offers meaningful, fun, differentiated math practice.  If you'd like to learn more, you can check out my earlier post here.

Thanks for checking in!  If you have any thoughts or questions, let me know; I'd love to hear from you!


A Twist on Task Cards!

different ways to use task cards in the classroom

I am a HUGE fan of task cards!  I use them in my classroom for everything - reading, math, beginning of the year routines, enrichment, remediation - you name it! In order to keep this classroom staple interesting, I like to switch up the ways in which we use them.  Below are some of the ways I put a "twist" on task cards to keep them interesting and engaging for my students.

1. Get Moving! Instead of using task cards as seat work, I post them around the room.  My students love the opportunity to get up and get moving.  They travel with an answer sheet and record their work along the way.

adding and subtracting fractions different ways to use task cards in the classroom

Not only is this fun, but the novelty and movement provided are brain-friendly teaching tools that promote successful comprehension.  I've also found that this movement leads to positive collaboration among my kiddos.  They are eager to share strategies and ask questions sparking terrific discussion and learning.

Are you wondering about the pom pom balls on her head?  I'll explain later in the post - promise! :-)

2. Make Your Own!  Once my students have demonstrated mastery solving the cards, I often ask them to create their own.  Below you'll see one of my students writing a word problem for multiplying and dividing fractions.  In order to write and solve her own task card, she needed to thoroughly clarify the content and analyze the language of word problems.  This helped her to understand the content in a deeper, more meaningful way.  

different ways to use task cards in the classroom multiplying and dividing fractions

Once student cards are created, we use them in centers, as anchor activities, and/or enrichment.  My students love solving the problems their friends create – almost as much as they like watching their friends tackle the card they designed!  This twist has been so successful in my room that I've started including blank task cards in all of my new resources to facilitate this process.  You can see an example of that here.

3.  Use task cards in Journals and Interactive Notebooks: I like to print out the cards in black and white or gray-scale to save ink.  Students glue the task card into their journal or interactive notebook and solve on the paper below.  This is a great way to create a "yearbook" of student learning.

learning fractions with pattern blocks different ways to use task cards in the classroom

decimal detectives

4. Make it a Game! Like I promised, here's the description of the pom pom headband!  My 5th graders invented this super fun idea! Using a sentence strip, each student made a hat/headband to wear. (And yes, my "too-cool-for-school" 5th graders actually wore them - in my classroom AND the main hallway where some of the task cards were posted!! LOVE IT.)

multiplying and dividing fractions different ways to use task cards in the classroom

Each time they completed a task card correctly, they earned a pom pom ball, which they affixed to their "hat."  This game was low prep and low budget, but my students loved it!  They were highly motivated by this learning activity because it was a game they invented.


The pom-pom hats then spun off into other games, like scavenger hunts, I Spy, and task card "snowball fights."  One of the best parts for me was that my students LOVED choosing and preparing for the game.  I almost felt guilty at times that they were organizing our classroom activities! (almost :-)  

Those are some of my favorite task card alternatives. What are some of the ways you use task cards with your students?  I'm always looking for new ideas and I'd love to hear from you!