Sunday, October 20, 2013

Strategies for Managing Overcrowded Classes

My classes are overcrowded. Just like thousands of other educators, I teach in a school district struggling with tough choices when it comes to budget matters. The result? There are lots of student names on my rosters...lots and lots of names.
Too many students packed into a room designed for a much smaller class presents some serious challenges. Like other teachers, I struggle with managing the paperwork load. I work hard to figure out ways to return graded papers with meaningful comments in a timely fashion. I work hard to figure out ways to manage the traffic flow so that my students can work with their classmates and I don't have to leap over book bags in the aisles. I work hard at classroom management so no one gets lost in the crowd. I work hard to make sure that an overcrowded classroom is just a challenge and not a detriment. If you are in the same situation, here are some tips for managing an overcrowded class that I have found useful in my own practice.
An Excerpt from Discipline Survival Guide for the Secondary Teacher
“In the recent past, many teachers have had to cope with classes that were just slightly above the recommended size for the grade and subject. However, today’s widespread and severe budget cuts have made critically overcrowded classrooms that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. As inevitable as overcrowded classes may be, the discipline problems associated with them are not. Overcrowded classes can be managed successfully by those teachers who meet the unique challenges they present.
Even though we know that smaller classes are the preferred option for our students, a positive discipline climate and a pleasant learning environment are possible in overcrowded classes. The following strategies can start you on the way to successfully managing the problems of overcrowded classes.

·  Even if you are not easily intimidated, confronting a large group of students who have been crammed into a classroom designed for a much smaller group can be more than a little discouraging. Unless you immediately assume a strong leadership role, you will be so outnumbered by your students that they will be in charge of the class, not you.

·         The room arrangement is very important in overcrowded classes. Make sure you have enough desks. Move all equipment that you don’t need to use right away to storage and do whatever else you can to further reduce the claustrophobic effects of clutter in the room.

·   Pay careful attention to traffic patterns and student movement. Try to reduce this as much as possible. Teach your students to dispose of trash at the end of class and to sharpen pencils only at the start of class.

·         An overcrowded class requires more monitoring than a smaller one. Teach your students that they are to place their book bags under their desks rather than in the aisle to make movement easier.

·   A seating chart is an absolute must in an overcrowded class if you want to reduce the amount of off-task behavior. A structured environment will reduce the number of problems you will face.

·         Prepare yourself for the noise level. A large class can be a noisy class if you don’t establish some guidelines early in the year with your students to help them control the noise level.

·   Be extremely organized and a model of efficiency for your students who could be tempted to use overcrowding as an excuse not to do their best. Keep your personal space in good order and insist that your students leave their area tidy at the end of class. Encourage them to check to make sure their classmates don’t leave personal belongings behind when class is over.

·  It is important for you to avoid confusion and the discipline problems caused by failure to return papers promptly. Although it takes longer to grade papers for a large class, your students may feel lost in the crowd if you allow papers to pile up before you give them the feedback that all students need in order to stay focused on learning during class.

·    Routines are very important in a large class. Establish and teach them early in the term. Students should be able to predict what they are supposed to do in your class even though there are many students in the room.

·  Allow no horseplay. Even though you may be inclined to allow students some leeway in playing around, this is not a good idea when there are too many students in the room. Horseplay in a crowd is wasted time as well as dangerous. Stop it at the first sign it is about to begin.

·         Be especially careful in a crowded class to prevent the cheating that can happen because students have to sit close together. Provide a cover sheet and monitor carefully to prevent problems.

·  Enlist your students in a sense of togetherness and encourage a spirit of cooperation in solving the problems caused by an overcrowded class. A sense of humor and a positive attitude on your part will set a pleasant tone for your students to model.

·  It is important for you to speak with every student each day. Greeting them at the door is a good beginning to solving the problems of having to keep in touch with many students. Make a point to let your students know that you are aware of them as people, not just as faces in a crowd.

·         Creating permanent teams of study buddies is a good way to give students a sense of togetherness and connectedness in the midst of the larger group. When students have a few partners to turn to for help and support, they will feel like a part of the class instead of being just one of many.

·  Courtesy to each other and to you is especially important in a large class. Teach the importance of courtesy to the students in a large class and insist that they treat everyone with politeness. A large courteous class is much better and easier to deal with than a small rude one.

·  Your attitude is the most important factor in coping successfully with the demands of a large class. It’s not the number of students occupying seats in the room, but the careful planning, interesting lessons, and sincere effort to connect with each student each day that will determine the success or failure of the discipline climate in a class.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


I am always looking for better ways to design and deliver lessons. Here is a quick bit of information from First-Year Teacher's Survival Guide with some of the sites that I have found most useful.

Although there are dozens of online sites devoted to lesson plans, the sites in the list below offer a comprehensive assortment of free lesson plans and lesson plan resources for K-12 educators. These sites are not limited in the topics that they cover, but allow teachers to access lesson plans that cover a wide variety of content areas. At some sites, teachers may need to register to be able to fully use all of the resources at the site, but at the time of publication, all of these sites were free resources for educators.

A to Z Teacher Stuff ( A to Z Teacher Stuff is a teacher-created site designed to help teachers find lesson plans, thematic units, teacher tips, discussion forums, printable worksheets as well as many more online resources.

Discovery Education ( Discovery Education offers an enormous wealth of resources for teachers—digital media, hundreds of easily adaptable lesson plans, worksheets, clip art, and much more.

Explore ( Sponsored by the Annenberg foundation, Explore’s library consists of hundreds of brief, original films and more than30,000 photographs from around the world on a  wide range of topics such as animal rights, health, poverty , the environment, education, and spirituality.

Federal Resources for Educational Excellence ( At Free, teachers can access more than 1,500 federally supported teaching and learning resources submitted from dozens of federal agencies. While these are not actual lesson plans in themselves, these resources  can be invaluable tools in designing instruction.

ForLessonPlans ( ForLessonPlans is an online directory of free lesson plans for K-12 teachers. Created by teachers, this site offers lesson plans that cover many different subjects as well as links to other resources.

 HotChalk ( At HotChalk’s lesson plans page, teachers can access over 3,500 lesson plan. The extensive selection of lesson plans at this helpful resource site were first developed by students and faculty at the University of Missouri in 1996 and later expanded to Website users.
The Independent Television Service ( The Independent Television Service (ITVS) presents award-winning documentaries and dramas as well as  innovative new media projects on the Web. Teachers can find interactive games and lessons plans that accompany the media presentations.

Lesson Planet ( Founded in 1999, Lesson Planet enables teachers to search more than 400,000 teacher-reviewed lesson plans, worksheets, and other resources in an online, professional community. A free trial is available. ( Maintained by the Educators Network, offers thousands of teacher-created lessons plans in an easy-to-search format organized by topic as well as by grade level.

National Education Association ( The National Education Association Website offers thousands of lesson plans in an easily searchable format. Teachers can also find a variety of lesson planning resources as well as practical tips for classroom use.

Scholastic ( Scholastic offers thousands of free lesson plans, unit plans, discussion guides, and extension activities for all grade levels and content areas.

Share My Lesson ( Share My Lesson is maintained by the American Federation of Teachers and TES Connect. Developed by teachers for teachers, this free platform provides over 250,000 teaching resources and provides an online collaborative community. Share My Lesson also has a significant resource bank for Common Core State Standards.

Teachers Network ( Teachers Network, a New York City nonprofit organization for educators, offers thousands of lesson plans and lesson plan resources covering a wide assortment of topics in a variety of formats for teachers at all grade levels.

Teaching Channel ( Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Teaching Channel is a video showcase of innovative and effective teaching practices schools. Instead of traditional lesson plans, teachers can watch brief videos of effective teaching ideas that they may want to implement in their own classrooms.

Thinkfinity ( Thinkfinity is the Verizon Foundation’s online professional learning community, providing free access to over 50,000 educators, thousands of  digital resources aligned to state standards and the common core, as well as blogs and discussion groups."

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Seventy-Five Quick Tips for Motivating Students

This post first appeared as an article written for a great tutoring organization:
Although it’s only common sense that motivating students is a complex activity that needs plenty of time, thought, and effort to succeed, this list can serve as a quick reminder of some of the most important aspects of motivation. While many of these brief tips may only be common sense, when used with care and deliberation, they can make it easier for us to encourage our students to want to work hard and succeed at the tasks we set before them.

1.      All learning must have a purpose. Teachers and students should work together to establish long-term goals so that the work is relevant to students’ lives and driven by a purpose.

2.      Students need the skills and knowledge necessary to complete their work and achieve their goals. Help students achieve short-term goals to develop the competencies they need to be successful.

3.      Specific directions empower students. When students know exactly what they must do to complete assignments, they will approach their work with confidence and interest.

4.      Students want to have fun while they work. Teachers who offer enjoyable learning activities find that students are less likely to be off task.

5.      Offer activities that involve higher-order thinking skills. Students find open-ended questions and critical thinking more engaging than activities involving just recall of facts.

6.      Curiosity is an important component of motivation. When students want to learn more about a topic, they will tackle challenging assignments in order to satisfy their curiosity.

7.      A blend of praise and encouragement is effective in building self-reliance. Teachers who offer sincere praise and encouragement establish a positive, nurturing classroom atmosphere.

8.      A combination of extrinsic and intrinsic rewards increases student focus and time on task behavior. When used separately, both types of rewards motivate students. However, when teachers combine them, the effect is much greater.

9.      Involve students in collaborative activities. When students work together, motivation and achievement both soar.

10.   Start with assignments that your students can achieve with ease. Success builds upon itself. When students see that they can accomplish what you ask of them, they will want to continue that success.

11.   Celebrate often with your students. After all, their successes are your successes. You do not have to dedicate lots of time to formal celebrations. A simple posting or display of good news, a class signal that allows classmates to acknowledge each other in positive way, or a quiet word with individual students will all establish a positive tone.

12.   Be as consistent and as fair as you possibly can. Students of all ages are quick to react negatively when they detect even a small hint of suspected unfairness. They will shut down quickly when this happens.

13.   Post motivational signs, mottoes, and other messages to encourage students to give their best effort.

14.   Reward effort as well as achievement. It is important to make sure your students see the link between success and effort.

15.   Create a risk-free environment in which students can risk trying new things without fear of failure or ridicule.

16.   Tell your students about your confidence in their ability to succeed. Tell them this over and over.

17.   Teach your students how to set measurable goals and how to achieve them. Model this for students. Set goals as a class and have students set small daily or weekly goals until it is a habit and part of the culture of your classroom.

18.   At the end of class, ask students to share what they have learned. Often, they are not aware of how much they have really actually achieved until they have the opportunity to reflect.

19.   We all know that open-ended questions and assignments can serve as sparks to deepen critical thinking skills. They can also serve to motivate students to work hard because of their intrinsic interest and risk-free nature. Open-ended questions and assignments are a respectful way to demonstrate your faith in your students’ ability to tackle tough work.

20.   Teach your students how to handle the failures that everyone experiences from time to time. Help them understand that they can learn from their mistakes as well as from their successes.

21.   Formative assessments can be helpful tools for those teachers who want to empower their students to believe in themselves. Use a variety of assessments to help students evaluate their progress and determine what they need to accomplish to finish assignments.

22.   Offer the entire class a reward when they meet an agreed-on goal.

23.   Use tangible rewards such as stickers or new pencils.

24.   Write positive comments on papers.

25.   Change an onerous chore into a pleasant one by allowing them to work on it together.

26.   Hold a weekly contest.

27.   Ask your students their opinions by surveying them from time to time.

28.   Provide an authentic audience for your students’ work.

29.   Display their work.

30.   Have students work on solving a real-life problem.

31.   Incorporate their interests as often as possible.

32.   Chart small successes so that students can see that small successes create large ones.

33.   Encourage students to compliment their classmates.

34.   End class with an intriguing riddle, poem, or question.

35.   Take photos of your students working.

36.   Have students teach the material to each other.

37.   Bring in interesting objects for students to use as part of a lesson.

38.   Play games.

39.   Arrange for students to mentor younger students

40.   Provide opportunities for peer tutoring.

41.   Teach a different study skill each day so that students will find it easier to do their work well.

42.   Use visual demonstrations such as graphic organizers or illustrations to make the work easier to understand.

43.   Time students as they think for thirty seconds before responding to a question.

44.   Give them puzzles to solve.

45.   Slowly give clues to the answer to a question one clue at a time.

46.   Have students wear fictional name tags related to the lesson.

47.   Have students sort items into categories. Take the time to get to know your students as people.

48.   Use a kind voice when speaking with them.

49.   Set up your classroom where you can walk around to every desk.

50.   When a student speaks to you, stop what you are doing and listen.

51.   Be clear about your role as a teacher who will enable students to achieve their dreams.

52.   Use humor. Laugh when funny things happen in your class.

53.   Show your appreciation for the good things your students do.

54.   Stress that you won’t give up on your students.

55.   Allow your students to get to know you. Often our students are convinced that we sleep in the teachers’ lounge all night and eat only lunchroom food. They need to see your human side.

56.   Agree with your students as often as you can.

57.   Move your desk to the back of the classroom if you can. This small action signals a student-centered attitude on your part.

58.   Call parents or guardians when good things happen.

59.   Share your feelings with your students and allow them to share theirs.

60.   Use positive language with them. Be careful not to appear overly negative or critical.

61.   Take notice of the special things that make each student unique.

62.   Stop and chat with pupils anytime: when you are monitoring their progress, in the hall or cafeteria, or even when you are away from school.

63.   Create opportunities for success every day.

64.   Speak to every student each day. Include everyone in class discussions.

65.   Make pens, paper, and extra books available when students need a loan.

66.   Set aside an afternoon or morning for “office hours” when you can provide extra help for those students who need it.

67.   Offer small perks whenever you can.

68.   Be sincere, generous, and tactful in your praise.

69.   Keep students busily involved in interesting work.

70.   Talk with students when you notice a change in their behavior or attitude. If a normally cheerful student, for example, seems distracted or upset, there’s a good reason for the change.

71.   When students confide in you, follow up on it. Ask about how they did on the history test that was troubling them or check to see if their grades have improved in math class.

72.   Be concerned enough for their futures to help them set long-term goals.

73.   Involve pupils in projects that will improve the school or community.

74.   Stress that you and they have much in common: goals, dreams, and beliefs.

75.   Focus on students’ strong points, not on their weaknesses.



Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Thirty-two Activies to Get Class Off to a Great Start

In the list below excerpted from The First-Year Teacher's Survival Guide, you will find some ideas that you can adapt to meet the needs of your students to make the first few minutes of class a positive experience. "Use your creativity to design activities that your students will enjoy as they look forward to the day’s lesson. For example, ask students to do one of the following activities or modify one to suit your students’ needs.

  1. Complete a story board of a process or series of events. A good source for this is Education World ( On the home page, use “story board” as a search term to be directed to story board templates.
  2. Work with classmates to combine puzzle pieces containing information about the material being studied
  3. Complete a word sorting activity. There are thousands of online sites for various levels of vocabulary words to sort. Just use “Word Sorts” as a search term on your browser.
  4. Survey classmates to gather reactions to a quotation related to the unit of study
  5. Read and teach a set of directions to classmates
  6. Create graphic organizers. A site with many easy-to-use organizers is maintained by Education Oasis. (
  7. Participate in energizers such as a ball toss game or racing the clock
  8. Display their homework for classmates to evaluate with colored dots (See Section 14 for more ideas on how to use colored dots.)
  9. Work with classmates to skim the day’s reading and make group predictions
  10. Relate a photo or series of photos to their current lesson
  11. Listen to lively music associated with the lesson. A good site to explore the various types of music you can use for this purpose is Free Play Music (
  12. Create electronic flashcards of key facts
  13. Work with a partner to solve a problem related to the lesson
  14. Respond to an intriguing, open-ended question
  15. Make a one-minute presentation on a topic that interests the entire class
  16. Complete an activity offered on a choice board
  17. Work with classmates to share ideas about their homework or previous learning.
  18. Use Screen Beans to illustrate a concept or event. These free computer stick figures can be found by using “screen bean” at Microsoft’s site for its Office products. (
  19. Select two or three objects from a box containing many items and then predict how they will relate to the lesson
  20. Have students open class with a review game of their own devising
  21. Play a timed Power Point game. An excellent source for a variety of free games is a site maintained by Jefferson County Schools in Dandridge, Tennessee (
  22. Write a rhyme to help recall information
  23. List what they already know about the day’s lesson
  24. Skim the day’s reading material and predict what they will learn.
  25. Create or study flash cards with a partner
  26. Solve a brainteaser. Brain Bashers ( is an excellent site to search for brainteasers. Managed by a British mathematician, Kevin Stone, it features thousands of games, riddles, puzzles, and illusions.
  27. List three reasons to study the day’s topic
  28. Read a news article and summarize the information in it. To find articles in eighty languages from all over the world, try searching the leader in online news: World News (
  29. Combine information from their notes with another student.
  30. Watch a video clip and write about it. You can find thousands of short audio or video versions of historical events as well as clips from movies and television broadcasts at American Rhetoric (
  31. Brainstorm ideas with a partner about an assignment
  32. Label or draw a map. A helpful Internet source for free maps of all types and interactive activities to go along with them is Magellan Geographix at

            As you can see, there are countless ways to open class with a predictable routine that your students will enjoy. Use the teacher form below as a template to make interesting and beneficial plans for the start of each class.





Handouts to be distributed



Routine procedures posted

O   Homework placed on desk

O   Students in seats

O   Materials ready

O   New homework assignment posted for students to copy

Day’s agenda for students





Activity to open class


Materials needed_______________________________________________________________

Time needed___________________________________________________________________

Activity procedures ______________________________________________________________________________