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With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

Response: Underused Teaching and Learning Strategies

By Larry Ferlazzo — January 27, 2018 18 min read
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(This is the first post in a four-part series)

The new question-of-the-week is:

What is an instructional strategy and/or teaching concept that you think is under-used/under-appreciated in the classroom that you think should be practiced more widely?

There are tons of different teaching and learning strategies out there. As the saying goes, there are more than you can shake a sick at!

This series will look at—out of all of them—which might be superior ones that are under-used by educators.

Today, Kathy Glass, Amber Chandler, Carol Salva, Jennifer Davis Bowman, and Janet Allen propose their “nominees.” You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Kathy, Amber, Carol and Jennifer on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

My choice for an under-used and effective instructional strategy is inductive teaching.

In the inductive process, students seek patterns and use them to identify their broader meanings and significance. In the deductive process, meanings or rules are given, and students have to then apply them.

I’ve used this kind of “assisted-discover” or “guided discovery” method countless times with both English Language Learner and English-proficient students. And I’ve written about many of these lessons. You can find those resources and more at The Best Resources About Inductive Teaching And Learning.

In fact, Kathy Glass talks about one example of inductive teaching—called Concept Attainment—in the first guest response in today’s column. Here are two posts where you can learn even more about that strategy:

Two Quick Examples Of Concept Attainment

Examples Of Using Concept Attainment In Writing Instruction

Response From Kathy Glass

Kathy T. Glass, a former teacher, is a national consultant for K-12 audiences and an author of several books related to curriculum and instruction. She is invested in increasing educators’ capacity to hone their craft so they translate what she teaches to effective classroom practice. Check out her website: www.kathyglassconsulting.com:

Concept attainment is an effective strategy that supports self-discovery. It envisions a situation in which students productively struggle to learn a skill or concept, rather than one in which teachers directly furnish a definition or example. It is versatile and applicable for teaching innumerable skills in all content areas across grade levels, such as recognizing and using parallel structure, distinguishing formal from informal style, determining distinctive traits of a leader, defining features of an ecosystem, distinguishing pictures of parents and their offspring, and so forth.

To implement this strategy, use these steps as a guide:

  1. Examine and group a set of items according to their commonalities. Teachers can set up a sorting exercise in either of these ways.

  • Option A: Students sort all items into a definite category, such as various words categorized by parts of speech, pictures indicating an artistic style, sentences according to their structures, or paragraphs or essays organized by their purposes. Pose this prompt: How can you group these words (sentences, paragraphs, or pictures)? See these sentence strip examples for teaching dialogue punctuation and the different ways speakers tags are positioned.
  • Option B: Students sort by a yes or no construct, identifying those items that belong together (examples) and those that do not (nonexamples). The nonexamples are a combination of random items. Directions to students: “Group together those items that share common elements. Put the others to the side.” Here’s an example of sentences students can sort when using this strategy to teach building a thesis for an argumentation. The first eight reflect the preferred structure of a thesis statement for this kind of writing in which the subordinate (dependent) clause sets up the argument.

  1. Identify the specific attributes of this grouped set: Ask students to state the name of the like items, if known (similes, narrative elements, subordinating conjunctions); otherwise, teachers can provide it. Instruct students to make a list of the common attributes—or distinguishing characteristics—and get verification as a class as to what they are. Tell students that the targeted group with similar attributes becomes the focus going forward. If they grouped all items into separate categories, then identify which one will receive attention first. Later, you can focus on another group of like items.

  2. Provide a definition. Together with a partner or small group, teachers ask students to define the term that is the focus for this activity and represents examples from the grouped set. Students share the definition to arrive at a class consensus. Teachers can direct students’ attention to a definition in a textbook or electronic resource for comparison. Once there is agreement on a strong definition, students record it along with the attributes and definition in their academic notebooks or journal.

  3. Create another example. Students review the items in the grouped set, the list of attributes of these items, and the definition to help them construct new examples. For instance, if the grouped set has similes, students write their own similes. If the set includes complex sentences that begin with dependent clauses, students construct similar sentences.

  4. Find and critique examples. Direct students to a source, such as a textbook, print or digital article, website, video, or picture (if applicable) to find examples of this skill that published authors, artists, or professionals in the field use. Instruct them to discuss and analyze these examples with others then share interpretations or observations with the class.

  5. Apply the skill. Students practice the skill independently by applying it to a piece of writing, artwork, dance performance, or science experiment.

Although this strategy is used to check for understanding, it can also serve as a pre-assessment to gauge students’ level of proficiency, so use it diagnostically or as a formative assessment.

(Blog article adapted from an excerpt in (Re)Designing Narrative Writing Units by Kathy Glass, © Solution Tree, 2018)

Response From Amber Chandler

Amber Chandler is a National Board Certified Middle school teacher, adjunct professor, and author of The Flexible ELA Classroom. Follow her on Twitter @MsAmberChandler:

A few years ago, an administrator gave me a “3" on a part of my observation “walk-through,” chastising me for too much direct instruction. Guess how long he was there? Ten minutes. Guess what he witnessed? A mini-lesson on how to use semicolons to add pizzaz to writing using a mentor text. To say that I was irritated is an understatement. I know that some teachers write off observations as irrelevant, but that isn’t in my nature. However, I was most upset that he thought direct instruction doesn’t have a place in the classroom.

Here’s what I wanted to say: I’m all about constructivism, project-based learning, discovery, and authentic experiences, so if you have a method for teaching semicolons that doesn’t involve me actually being the “sage on the stage” for 10 minutes, please let me know. You’d be right if you guessed that I didn’t actually say that. As observations go, this one really made me think. If administrators are being trained that direct instruction is not an effective teaching method sometimes, if teachers are staging gallery walks and collaborative learning for the sake of showmanship, what are we all doing!?

Direct instruction has its place in even the most progressive classrooms. I’ve spent the last several years writing about what I call the “flexible classroom,” a new twist on differentiation that not only focuses on how we teach students, but also differentiates how we communicate with students and families, and individualizes social and emotional learning as well. My classroom is all about choice, authenticity, and student engagement, yet it is important that students understand that my role as teacher is to move every obstacle out of their way, and sometimes that obstacle is their lack of knowledge on a specific subject or idea. For example, grammar, vocabulary (specifically domain specific vocabulary), and complex ideas need to be addressed by the expert in the room&madsh;YOU! Just as the majority of my students could not spontaneously discover how to use a semicolon, every class has content that is best delivered by the teacher.

Direct instruction is best when the teacher models his or her thought process. Showing students how we think, what we do when we encounter a problem, and how we communicate our ideas is our opportunity to provide students with a vision of what a leader can do. How we answer their questions, anticipate their mistakes, and celebrate their successes can be added to their own inner monologue. When we show students how to be good teachers, we show them how to relate to one another in collaborative situations when they have the knowledge to impart. For example, one of the “tricks” I teach students about teaching is that just because you say something doesn’t mean that you were understood, so it is important to check for understanding. I love it when I hear a group chatting and a student says, “Can you say that back to me? I want to make sure you understand what I mean.” Direct instruction is an underutilized teaching method that can provide the building blocks for our students’ independent learning.

Response From Carol Salva

Carol Salva is a High School ESL teacher in Houston, Texas, and an educational consultant for Seidlitz Education. She shares her research based strategies in her book, Boosting Achievement, Reaching Students with Interrupted or Minimal Education, and on her blog:

I believe the most under-used practice in today’s classrooms is choral reading. By choral reading, I mean that the teacher reads aloud first to model pronunciation and then the class reads aloud in unison. What I have seen to be effective is when a content teacher routinely choses a specific sentence or set of vocabulary words to read aloud with the class in preparation for the learning activities.

As educators, we know that academic conversations are key to fostering critical thinking by our students (Zwiers & Crawford, 2009). So is choral reading an authentic use of the language? No, it’s not. But doesn’t it stand to reason that you’ll have much more success with authentic talk if you allow every student to practice your key terms in a safe way first? Words like “homologous pairs of chromosomes” don’t just roll off anyone’s tongue, do they?

For extra impact, I suggest reading those content objectives we post on the board. We have them up there because there is a correlation between achievement and clearly communicating the learning targets to our learners (Chappuis, 2015). Reading objectives aloud offers an opportunity to discuss them which is another pay off for all of your students. My suggestion to content teachers is that they mix up how and what they chorally read in class. Sometimes they can simply read objectives with vocabulary. Other times, they might ask students to consider what will be learned and only chorally read key sentence frames or even just the new vocabulary that will be used. The point is, we can take a minute to practice key terms and also use this activity to help students understand where they are going with the learning. Both are good practice for every learner.

Now, in my ESL classroom, we are doing more choral reading than I recommend in the content classrooms. My Newcomer English Language Development (NELD) class is designed to accelerate the language acquisition of my high school newcomers. My goal is for the learners to use their new language in authentic ways as much as possible. To prepare for this, we read objectives, sentence frames and quick write essays that we co-create in class.

I have seen tremendous benefits for my newcomers when I make this a daily norm. No one can hear their practice and so they engage in choral reading very soon, sometimes immediately. They also engage in structured conversations with frames sooner. We get very comfortable with so much language output that they are more receptive to comprehensible input. This is supported by Stephen Krashen’s Affective Filter Hypothesis which deals with the degree to which the student is “open” to receiving input from the teacher (Higgs & Krashen, 1983). I have also noticed that my students begin to recognize high frequency words and also start to build phonemic awareness because they are tracking print as we read. (I point to the words as we read them aloud.) As we read together, I am exposing them to grammatical structures of their new language and allowing them to practice those in a safe way. Reading is comprehensible for even my students with low native language literacy because much of what we chorally read is co-created in shared reading activities. To ensure high levels of participation, I explain metacognitive strategies, I share research and I also show videos of students having success because of choral reading. These are the videos I use to show examples of choral reading in the content and ESL classroom.

Content Classes: Bit.ly/MathLanguage

ESL/SIFE in ESL Classroom: Bit.ly/ChoralReading and Bit.ly/NabilUpdate

I sincerely believe that choral reading can have a big impact in every classroom. For our mainstream students, it can help boost their engagement in academic talk. For our ELs, it is a critical practice that can bring them into their new language much sooner than you might think.


Zwiers, J. & Crawford M. (2011) Academic Conversations: Classroom talk that fosters critical thinking and content understandings. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers

Chappuis, J. (2015). Seven strategies of assessment for learning. Boston: Pearson Publishing

Higgs, T.V., & Krashen, S. D. (1983). Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. The Modern Language Journal, 67(2), 168. Doi: 10.2307/328293

Response From Jennifer Davis Bowman

Jennifer envisions classrooms filled with thinking caps-because uniforms are uninspiring as well as students with plastic utensils-because every student deserves a seat at the learning table. As an educator with a terminal degree in Special Education and a License in School Counseling, she’s written about her classroom and higher education experiences in Teaching Tolerance, ASCD, and Teach Thought. For education research and resources follow her on Twitter @DrJDavisBowman:

When Student-Centered Classrooms Require Teacher-Centered Evaluation

We are nosy. Everyone wants to know something. Doctors want to know what patients think. Lawyers want to know what jurors think. Corporations want to know what consumers think.

And educators? We want to know what students, parents, and administrators think.

The good news: Teachers get feedback via annual testing (value-added measurement of pupil achievement), classroom observations, and course surveys.

The bad news: As author Tara Mohr reveals, “Feedback doesn’t tell you about yourself. It tells you about the person giving the feedback.”

So, how can we secure genuine teacher-centered feedback?

Ask. The. Teacher.

Yes, school districts may use self-evaluation, but, let’s be honest. It’s used disproportionately less than other evaluative measures. And sadly, its viewed less valuable. Why? Maybe because the definition for self-evaluation varies. Or, maybe we struggle with what it requires. Lastly, maybe we don’t know what meaningful self-evaluation looks like.

After reviewing a few articles, for me, here’s what teacher-centered self-evaluation looks like:


Atkinson, B. M. (2012). Rethinking reflection: Teachers Critiques. The Teacher Educator, 47, 3, 175-194.

Breiseth, L. (2017) Reflection questions for teachers and students: A school year like no other. Colorin Colorado.

Clements, M. 30 Questions for teacher reflection. Edunators.

Peterson, K. D. (2000). The myths (and truths) of teacher evaluation.

Jung, J. (2012). The focus, role, and meaning of experienced teachers’ reflection in physical education. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 17, 2, 157-175.

Wiggins, G. (2013). 11 Teaching strategies for spotting the blind spots in your classroom. Teach Thought.

Response From Janet Allen

Janet Allen is an international literacy consultant and author of numerous professional books, including Riveting Read-Alouds: 35 Selections to Spark Deep Thinking, Meaningful Discussion, and Powerful Writing from Scholastic. She was a senior program consultant for Holt McDougal Literature 6-12. In addition, she has authored a comprehensive audio-assisted literacy program: Plugged-in to Reading (Triumph Learning). Janet taught high school reading and English in northern Maine from 1972 until 1992, when she relocated to Florida to teach English and reading education courses at the University of Central Florida. Dr. Allen has received several teaching awards including the Milken Foundation’s National Educator Award:

In classrooms today, educators face incredible pressure to focus on standards, pacing, and rigor. As a result, many teachers feel guilty spending the time to read aloud with their students. It can be challenging to make the case for reading aloud, especially with older students. As a new high school teacher in the early 1970s, I started reading aloud to my class to reach students who couldn’t or wouldn’t read. After many weeks of reading aloud, I began to see its incredible impact on my students’ literacy achievement: they talked about the text without my prompting, they started reading more during our independent reading time, and their vocabulary became richer and more academic. Many students—who had in the past just tolerated reading—started regularly asking questions and thinking critically about the text and the author.

Below are a few arguments in favor of returning to reading aloud, even with older students who are already proficient independent readers.

  • To Spark Interest in Reading

    It is not uncommon for some older students to have decided they simply don’t want to read. Although there can be many reasons for this reluctance, the bottom line is that when students experience well-chosen read alouds, they likely will want to read more. Reading aloud every day provides students with world knowledge, familiarizes them with diverse books and authors, and allows them to make personal connections to texts. And it helps build a reading community in your classroom.

  • To Extend the Opportunity for Multiple Readings

    Many years ago I read advice from a literacy expert suggesting that students do a “cold reading” as a first encounter with texts. This instructional strategy allows students to think about and respond to their reading based on their own ideas and connections. However, after students have read the text independently, you can read it aloud to them. Hearing the way you read aloud can trigger additional thoughts about the text. This can lead to deeper discussion around and exploration of a text.

  • To Increase Vocabulary Students’ vocabularies can be very limited in terms of academic conversations. During one particular read aloud in my classroom, I paused after reading the phrase “a canopy of trees.” I asked students to imagine why the author might have chosen the word canopy. In journal writing later that week, some students decided to use the word to describe their broken-down trucks and snowmobiles resting under a canopy of trees. This interaction with a new vocabulary word allowed my students to learn its meaning together in our reading community—and then experiment with the word in their own writing later on.

There are many reasons why reading aloud is still an important instructional time. My favorite reminder comes from Maya Angelou: “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning.” For many older readers, your voice is critical to their literacy and development as thoughtful people.

Thanks to Kathy, Amber, Carol, Jennifer, and Janet for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

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This Year’s Most Popular Q&A Posts

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