Sage Advice: Strategies for Success

What's your secret weapon in the classroom?

What's your secret weapon in the classroom?

Getting kids focused and paying attention in class goes a long way, and we all have our little tricks for pulling it off. Our readers sent in several hundred responses to last month's question; we had a great time reading them. Our favorites are below.

I give problem students extra responsibility -- they have a chance to get some positive attention, show leadership abilities, or otherwise succeed in the classroom. The trick is to set them up to succeed without rewarding poor behavior. It's amazing how many problem kids can turn into leaders if they're given the opportunity to taste success.

Noah Kravitz

Assistant director of technology
St. Paul's Episcopal School
Oakland, California

I like to catch them doing something right or good and then call home to talk with their parents about it. A phone call from the school should not always be a bad thing. It also opens a door for you when you need chaperones or classroom volunteers.

Chris Force

Career academy director/teacher
Wolfson High School
Jacksonville, Florida

Secret weapon? One uses a secret weapon and perhaps a plan of attack against enemy combatants and criminal extremist organizations. The need for a secret weapon would seem to imply a war, or at least an insurgency. This attitude goes a long way toward explaining our current failure to win the peace in our schools. Perhaps we need a better metaphor.

Matt Berman

Fourth-grade teacher
The Nueva School
Hillsborough, California

Calm, humor, and "Plan B." Plan B is because machines break, lamps explode, calls are dropped, printers run out of toner, and power outages occur. When the inevitable technical glitch happens, I have a backup plan: a game, a puzzle, a discussion topic, an alternate path to the same learning goal.

Michael McVey

Clinical associate professor
University of Arizona
Tucson, Arizona

Students who fall asleep in my class get a shot of silly string. It wakes them up -- and it's a strong deterrent to future naps.

Jenipher Sutherland

Walnut Creek Campus Alternative High School
West Des Moines, Iowa

I arrange my room so that I'm at the back. When I use PowerPoint and audio enhancement, I can monitor students' note taking and attentiveness, and if I have to refocus someone back to their work, I can do it discreetly and efficiently.

Tammy Demps

Eighth-grade social studies teacher
Carver Middle School
Leesbur, Florida

Hole punch all handouts!

Liza Bearman

Professional-development adviser
Columbia University
New York, New York

Sign language. It's beautiful, kids love it, it beats yelling, it works across the playground, and it has many benefits for growing and developing brain.

Ria Valdez

Merritt Island, Florida

If a student is being disruptive, just move closer. The student can cease the behavior and save face.

Maria Fontaine

Art teacher
Haverhill, Massachusetts


Craig Howat

Teacher facilitator of technology
Luling Elementary School
St. Charles Parish, Louisiana
extra search terms: 
tools for the classroom, teaching tricks, successful teaching strategies
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Feb 2005: No Teacher Left Behind
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Comments (4)

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4/5 combo class

direct instruction

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My secret weapon in class is something very simple, at our district we have a big direct instruction focus. We have began to look for learning opbjectives that come directly from our state standards. We then look at the objective and identify what prerequisite knowledge is needed and a step by step way for students to be successful. It has helped tremendously in math (my strength) and has been a work in progress for reading comprehension (my weakness).

Movement Allowed

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I teach junior high. Many of our students cannot, should not be seated all the time. So, get them moving. One strategy I employ is with vocabulary. Each student gets one vocabulary term to define. Then, when I say go, they have to get up and find other students who have the other vocabulary terms. Students are to VERBALLY TELL their classmates their vocab. term and its definition, not exchange notebooks and copy each others respective vocab. terms and definitions. The listeners must copy down the word and its definition, which usually required the student to repeat their word and definition several times. My students like it and are learning their vocabulary terms.

Dr. Ronald Paige (not verified)

For over 20 years, my best

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For over 20 years, my best "secret weapon" in the "war" on wasted instruction time has been overtly modeling for students how to think through a task or problem. Students like to "see" how someone they respect (maybe even perceive to be an expert) "attacks" a problem, explaining his or her thinking process out loud.

Rachelle Briggs (not verified)

I love to do a lot of team

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I love to do a lot of team building in my classroom. This helps them get to know each other and feel comfortable with their peers.

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