Teach it Tuesday: Genius Hour

Well this has been a post I’ve been meaning to write for a few months now… But it’s appropriate to put it up today as we just started our second round of Genius Hour this morning! It’s going to be our project as students finish up their work for the year they can move onto Genius Hour projects.


Do you like my lightbulb? Ha!

So for starters, in case you haven’t heard of Genius Hour it is based off the Google policy of 20% time, where their employees get to work on their own projects for 20% of their work time. It is also very in line with the philosophy in the book “The Spark” in which children need time to work with their own passions in order to do the things they aren’t as passionate about.

The Introduction

This is a crucial part of your first Genius Hour with any age group! I was working with one of the other grade 7 teachers at my school for this and we planned the introduction together and ran it for both classes at the same time. We used the Kid President video to introduce the topic of passions and then also showed the video from the Genius Hour site to further explain it. After, we each shared an example of a project that we would be working on – Mine was to create an effective half marathon training program that fit with my lifestyle. We also shared a list of project ideas other kids have done but I’m not sure if I would do this again as I ended up having a whole group of students who did the same project and as much as it was a cool idea, I think it would have been better to see what they came up with on their own.

Most of the resources that we used came from Runde’s Room – If you have not seen this blog yet then you must go take a look!

The Research

This is the piece that everyone handles differently… I know a lot of people who go heavy on the research component for the kids Genius Hour projects. I am a bit more relaxed about this with my group. Everyone had to do some research but I also encouraged them to use their time to create something or practice a skill. We spent about 4-5 weeks on the research component as we ran into Spring Break. It was a good amount of time though because I don’t think the kids would have stayed focused that much longer and they are so excited to do another Genius Hour so I know it was a good experience overall.

The Presentation

I kept the presentations very informal for my class which worked well for our group. Each student talked for about a minute and then there were lots of questions. I think it would be cool for the kids to get to try each others skills, etc. next time – But we will see if we have any time!

Have you ever tried Genius Hour or Passion Projects with your class?


Teach it Tuesday: Quote and Note

The “Quote and Note” strategy is a very common one with read alouds, novel studies, and literature circles. We just finished a novel study in class and I felt for the first time that I really had a good system going for the quote and notes that we were doing. We did Quote and Notes about once a week for this novel study.

Note: A lot of these suggestions come from my friend Jess and Faye Brownlie’s Grand Conversations but I have also gathered lots of suggestions from other people and sources over the years, so thank you to everyone that has helped along the way!


Quote and Note Day 1:

Together we brainstormed what makes for a good, strong quote to choose. With this list in mind I read aloud a chapter and they all chose one or two quotes to write down and then they did the same with one more chapter one their own (three quotes total). I gave the instruction that a note needed to give more than just a description of the quote but also needed to tell why it seems important (What does it allude to? What does it make you think of? What connections/predictions can you make?)

When they handed in their Q&N sheets that day I noticed some good quotes chosen but a lack of meaning and depth in their responses. When I marked them I wrote suggestions for how to elaborate their notes and I also highlighted any powerful writing I noticed in student’s work.

Quote and Note Day 2:

I started the class by handing back the first Q&N’s and had any students with highlighted (powerful writing) examples who were comfortable sharing to read theirs aloud. I then did an example Q&N with the class based on one powerful quote from the novel but instead of just doing the one note I did three notes on the same quote: Good, Better, Wow! For the “Good” level I wrote something very similar to what most have them had done – I answered with an “I think this quote is important because…” For the “Better” note we brainstormed things we could add, like predictions or connections. And then for the “Wow!” level we talked about meaning and referred to our “What powerful writers do…” anchor chart. After the class example they had to choose one quote and do their own “Good, Better, Wow!” examples of notes.

The responses were much better this time and I did the same thing – marking, adding suggestions, and highlighting powerful writing.

Quote and Note Day 3:

We started the class with the same process of handing back the last Q&N’s and having students who were comfortable read out their examples of powerful writing. This time students were expected to do three quotes on their own (back like on day 1 except a lot more prepared).

I originally felt like I had failed with the Day 1 flop of not good writing but looking back I realize how much more powerful it was for them to revise their work from their own writing. Also, reading the students’ examples of powerful writing aloud before we moved onto the next Q&N was a great way to solidify their learning. It was also a great way for me to highlight different students – I tried to find powerful writing examples in my less confident students and I could see the surge of confidence they got with reading their work aloud.

Do you do Quote and Notes with your class?

How do you help students become stronger readers/responders during novel study?


Teach it Tuesday: Drawing Circles

A main part of the new curriculum in BC are the core competencies: communication, thinking, and personal/social. I have been trying to be a little more deliberate to incorporate these into my planning. Here is one activity that I tried the day before Spring Break, and considering the timing it went really well!


Each group needs:

  • Large paper
  • String
  • Pencil
  • Compass or geotool
  • Meter stick
  • Instruction sheet

Instructions: I took some of the bonus questions from a different resource that I can’t seem to find again. If anyone knows the source please let me know and I will update to include the link.

Document: Drawing Circles Challenge

Front – On one side of your groups paper you need to draw the following circles:
A. Circle with a diameter of 80 cm.

B. Circle with a radius of 10 cm.

C. Circle with a diameter of 5 cm.

D. Circle with a radius of 0.5 cm.

Back – Try as many of these challenges as you can:
A. How big does a circle need to be to fit two smaller circles with 4 cm diameter inside? Draw it!

B. Draw a quadrilateral (rectangle, square, parallelogram) and see if you can draw a circle inside that touches all four sides of the quadrilateral.

C. Using only circles, can you create a familiar shape (star, heart, etc.)?

How it worked for us:

Hard at work

Hard at work

For my class I gave very minimal instructions for this assignment. We reviewed briefly how to use the geotool to draw circles (slightly more complicated then a compass for some) and then I gave them the materials and sent them on there way. I really wanted this to be a collaborative problem solving activity and it became just that! It was very interesting to see how students worked together and came up with solutions.

Drawing the large circle with the string took longer than I expected but I absolutely LOVED the conversations about radius and diameter that came from the activity. Communication and creative thinking came out in full force for this activity! I also loved that the creative part of it allowed for different students to take leadership roles than normally occurs with math group work.

We used almost a full double block to complete this (two 43 minutes periods) but keep in mind that it was the Friday before Spring Break so focus was not the easiest… If I were to do it again I would definitely keep it in a double block and I would follow up with some meaningful reflection/discussion.

How do you bring the core competencies into the math classroom?

If you use this activity, I would LOVE to hear how it goes!


Teach it Tuesday: Advisory Activities

Long time no chat! Things have been a bit crazy in our lives so blogging seemed to come to a grinding halt. We still have lots of ideas and intend to get back on the blogging train as soon as we can.

IMG_3385Our middle schools have a period called advisory every morning which allows us to handle any messages, attendance, etc. but is also a time to do things like Feel Good Fridays and other class/team building activities. In my class I’ve tried a few things out in the past month, most of them involving little or no prep so that things can get going while I’m dealing with attendance, newsletters, etc. So here are my new “go to” activities for Advisory…

Goal Setting

Every Monday, students write up a new goal on a sticky note and post it on the board. They also do a reflection one their last weeks goal that we keep in folders altogether.

Partner Talks

As mentioned in this post, I have been trying to incorporate more AB Partner talks into my lessons. For advisory, I write a few sentence starters on the board and they are to sit with their AB partner and chat until announcements come on. It is a nice easy way to incorporate some additional time for other subjects as well, e.g. “Tell your partner about your creative writing assignment.”

Math Investigations

I received a book of these at the math conference I went to and then I added a few of my own games as well. These short little math activities make for a great, interactive start to the day.

Thought Block

This one I’ve already talked about back here, it still remains one of my favourites. It really gives more opportunities to explore those pieces that I love about teaching but sometimes get lost in the curriculum. Most recently one of my friends gave me a lesson based on the Pixar short film “For the Birds” that addresses bullying behaviours.

Other Activities

And the self explanatory ones: math facts, silent reading, student choice… these all still have their place! My class really enjoys silent reading and it really does make for a nice start to the day.

What are your favourite lessons these days?


Teach it Tuesday: Class Sneak Peak

So I’m not feeling very inspired and creative at the moment… A LOT going on the past few weeks! I don’t have any creative new lessons for you but here is a sneak peak into our class work for these last few weeks before Winter Break.

Language Arts – We are currently working on a Novel Study for The Giver. This book definitely has its pros and cons for teaching with the full class but it is one of my absolute favourite books and sometimes I feel like that is reason enough to do something (as long as you match it with pedagogically sound activities) because I can bring in the excitement I feel for the story. There are also lots of tie-ins with popular books these days like The Hunger Games and Divergent.

Math – We are working through a unit on Fractions, Decimals, and Percents. My favourite thing so far has been taking the time to conference with (almost!) every student to discuss how they are doing and areas they need help with. I feel like I’m being much more attentive to the individual needs of my students this unit and I’m hoping that it helps!

Social Studies – Our unit right now is about Ancient Egypt and since we are coming close to the end we have been having some fun with different activities. The favourite right now is our “Mummified Potatoes” that are currently going black in the classroom. I do love the hands on learning though!

French – We are continuing with our French Centres but I have adjusted some of the stations to fit a Christmas theme (the game and the vocabulary – I’m waiting on a couple of books to change up the reading station).

PE – I am teaching French to another class so I don’t get to teach PE regularly anymore but I did get to hold onto my Friday morning fitness block. Last week we did some Tabatas for our workout which was pretty fun! I love getting a workout in with my class first thing in the morning.

What is your class up to these days?


Teach it Tuesday: French Centres

IMG_3296Ahhh… I finally started! I’ve been talking about this one for quite a while now it seems. I started planning French centres last year and have been actively gathering ideas and resources ever since until yesterday we finally started them in class. And so far so good! There are a few areas that need some adjustments but that’s all part of trying out something new.

I chose to go with six centres so that all my students are in groups of four. I’ve kept it organized so far by posting the centres on the board with the groups below and then I can just rotate the cards around so students know where to go.


The centres are general ideas for now and I’m hoping to have them more polished by Christmas break but this is what I have for now:

1. DuoLingo

We have all set up DuoLingo accounts so when the students are at this centre they just log onto the iPads and get started. Super easy for me and they LOVE it!

2. Vocab

This station will be one of the stations I will change up frequently. . Right now they are working on finding Mots Amis (words that are almost the same spelling in French and English) and Mots Familiares (common French words we know) in flyers that I have printed off. They cut out the words they recognize and glue them in the right column on a sheet. My plan is eventually to have some vocabulary activity books (similar to the ones on our Teachers pay Teachers store) that students can work through in groups.

3. Conversations

I had planned this station last year but was having so much trouble trying to find time to set it up until… Teachers pay Teachers to the rescue! Someone had already done the work! (Find it here) For this centre I have a box of the questions and then the reference list that says what the question means and how to answer it. Basically students take turns asking the questions to each other and if they know how to answer it right away without help they get 2 points, if they need to ask for help or use the sheets they get 1 point, and if they don’t answer it then no points. At the end of the centre I have them write down their score for the day and they will be competing against their own scores each week to see their improvement. I was worried that the 15-20 minutes would be too much time for this station but once they got the hang of it everything went smoothly!

4. Tellagami

Karley wrote about this app last year here. This app is so much fun for students to use and I am very excited about my plan to use it as a tool throughout the year (when I get my full time, full year contract!) Every student is creating a character on Tellagami and then they are going to make the 30 second video a basic introduction to their character. The plan is that every time I do centres they will make a new video for the same character so first round is introductions but after this it might be a 30 second description of their hobbies, or foods the like, or summer plans… whatever fits in with our French vocab!

5. Reading

This station is pretty straightforward – they read out loud to each other. I left about 5 books and magazines in French on the table and each student read for 3-4 minutes and then they discussed what they thought was happening in the story. Once the centres are going smoothly, this will be the station I will spend the most time at assessing oral language and helping guide comprehension. For now they seemed to have a lot of fun reading children’s books!

6. Activity

This is another centre that will have a lot of changes depending on what we are focusing on. Right now they are making “All About Me” posters in French. I got these posters from a colleague and they are really fun, pretty simple and look really nice when they are done. I like that it has the creative component in designing the poster and the basic introduction language that they will be using in their Tellagami videos.

So those are my six centres for French right now and I will keep you posted as to how everything is working out.

Any suggestions for my centres? Has anyone used a centres based approach before?

What are some good picture books with simple language I should get?





Teach it Tuesday: Research Projects


Oh the research project… Where the most important part of an assignment (the research) is often forgotten in order to attend to one of the lesser parts – like a fancy title page or a brightly coloured poster. So how do you get students to focus on the research when they all seem to want to jump ahead?

Introducing the research project without the product – no poster, no essay, no presentation!

For our unit in Social Studies right now, the students are working on researching one aspect of Mesopotamia without completing a final project. I want to see their thinking, questions, research and sources but that’s it – no frills!

This is the format I have been using to engage the students:

Step 1: What do you already know about the topic? Write a few points to show where you are starting from and what we’ve already talked about in class.

Step 2: What questions do you have on your topic? Write 4-5 questions you have about your topic. Make sure you choose questions that show deeper thinking.

Step 3: Where are you going to gather your sources from? Write down the names of any internet sites or books in which you gathered information.

Step 4: Write down all your notes on your research topic. Make sure you are linking your research back to your topic questions from step 2.

And that’s it! I’m collecting their notes and marking that they completed each step thoroughly. Although there was originally a lot of questions about the assignment, and confusion on why there was no final product, it has been going fairly smoothly.

As always, if you give it a try let us know how it goes!

What other ways do you use to engage students in the research process?




Teach it Tuesday: Get Candy, Get Candy, Get Candy

I think I may have mentioned this story on our blog before, but it’s so good and funny that I decided to dig it out again for this year’s Hallowe’en Teach it Tuesday.


I grew up traveling to gymnastics competitions in overstuffed minivans with volunteer parent drivers.  These were the days of cassette tapes in the minivan’s sound system – we didn’t have iPods, heck, we didn’t even have our own walkmans, so basically anything we listened to was heard by everyone in the vehicle.  We (driver included) had to find something to listen to that we could all enjoy.  Enter Jerry Seinfeld’s stand up comedy.

I was raised on Seinfeld’s stand up comedy.  If you think this indicates that I was raised in an overstuffed minivan driving to Vancouver or Seattle every other weekend to compete, you are absolutely correct.  I know Seinfeld’s “I’m Telling You for the Last Time” word for word and to this day I can still pick it up from anywhere in the show.  Yes, I still think it’s hilarious.

Imagine my excitement last year when I found Seinfeld’s Hallowe’en skit put into a children’s book! Oh glory! I bought two copies and showed it to my class immediately and they loved it.  Keep in mind, last year I taught grade 8 so they kind of got the sense of humour Seinfeld is going for in this skit.  Give it a listen and see if it would work for your class:

Another re-share from last year: Meaghan’s Hallowe’en math lesson on percentages.  You can find it for free on our Teachers Pay Teachers site HERE.





And This Is Why I Teach… (Plus Teach it Tuesday)

Well it was Canadian Thanksgiving on the weekend which means my brain hit holiday mode and I totally forgot to get my post up. So I’ve combined the Teach it Tuesday post this week with my regular post. If you enjoyed our Olympics unit for French last year than you are in luck! We just finished a new unit to start off French this year – L’École. With lots of games and activities along with French vocabulary practice, we would love your feedback on this product if you end up using it in your classroom. Grab a copy of our unit here on our Teachers Pay Teachers site.

This year I am teaching math, language arts, social studies, French, and PE. I absolutely love this teaching schedule and the balance it provides. I have taught language arts and French a lot so I find that I have lots of creative ideas and planning is very straightforward. Math is my focus this year so I have been putting a lot of energy into planning my lessons and assessing the students. PE is a subject that I am very comfortable with, especially after coaching multi-sport kids programs for four years during university and lots of summer camp work too. So then comes social studies… I absolutely LOVE social studies! I love travel and history and politics and social change! But I have never taught social studies and despite the help I’ve been given by friends and colleagues I was feeling uninspired (my best guess is that I was feeling uninspired because deep down I was feeling insecure about how to best teach Socials).

So on Friday I planned an “easy prep” lesson to get going with our short unit on Mesopotamia: a video from Discovery Education and an activity looking at the roles and jobs of citizens in ancient Sumer. It was not well planned or inspired. I wasn’t dreading it but I definitely wasn’t excited for it…

But then it happened. The simple discussion became something so much more. There was thoughtful responses, deep questions, and full class participation. I reminded myself not to lecture but to question students to draw out responses from students thoughts and knowledge. And they had so much to offer! Pure inspiration right from the source…


And this is why I teach.

As much as I often love to lose myself in the planning and prep work, that is not what it’s about.

As much as I want to challenge myself to become a master of the curriculum and different ways to teach it, that is not what it’s about.

As much as I love creative, inspired, well planned projects, that is not what it’s about.

It’s the moments of connection, learning, and growth. It’s the moments I can’t plan. The ones I can’t force. It’s the ones that catch me off guard when I’m feeling uninspired. Those are the moments when I come alive in this teaching job.

And this is why I teach.


Teach it Tuesday: Quick Drama Games

Hey everyone!

We hope you’re getting settled into your fall routines and schedules now that the third week of school is here.  Since we’re now both teaching in part-time contracts we’ve found ourselves digging out those “go to” games and activities to keep students occupied either in our own classes or while TOCing.

Here are a few quick and easy drama games you can play with grades of ANY level/subject if you need to fill a few spare minutes.  *Note: most of these games are gleaned from Karley’s B.Ed first year drama course, taught by the hilarious and brilliant Phil Duchene.  Those who know him adore him, and those who don’t know him should!

Gotcha: Everyone stands in a circle with their left palm open and facing upward, while placing their right pointer finger in the palm of the person to their right. The teacher calls “Gotcha!” and players have to close their left hand over another person’s finger while pulling away their own finger on the right.  This game sounds tricky, but is actually very simple and fun (no materials required). Note: I often reverse the direction of the upward facing palm/pointer finger to switch up the sides of the brain used.  It’s pretty funny to watch students struggle with the change in direction.

Evo: Many students already know this game, but might know different stages/names for the game.  There are four stages of evolution: Egg, Chicken, T-Rex, and Super Human.  The stages look like this:

The chicken stage is supposed to have moving chicken arms, hence the little movement/line marks.

The chicken stage is supposed to have moving chicken arms, hence the little movement/line marks.

Everyone starts out as an egg (making the egg shape with their arms above their heads) and wanders around playing rock/paper/scissors with other eggs (ie. anyone, since it’s the start of the game).  After students play rock/paper/scissors with an egg-friend, the winner moves up to “chicken status” and the loser stays an egg.  As students win rock/paper/scissor games they move up a status and as they lose games they move down a status.  No one can go beyond the super human status or below the egg status.  Note: students may only play rock/paper/scissors with other people who are at their evolutionary stage. 

Find Your Herd: This game is best played in a studio space or a gym where students can walk around with their eyes closed and still be safe.  This game is also hilarious from a teacher’s point of view!  Have students spread out, sit down and close their eyes.  Assign students an animal by walking around and whispering an animal in their ear (I usually use four different animals for this game, e.g. cow, chicken, tiger, fish).  Announce: “Find you herd!” and have students get up and move about (or crawl about) with their eyes closed making their animal sound repetitively.  For example, a fish might crawl or walk around saying “glub, glub, glub”.  Once students find other “animals” in their herd via sense of sound they should stay by their fellow herd mates while continuing to make their sound.  The point of the game is to see if all students (animals) can find one another simply by making the same sound.

The Giving Vein: This game is one of my all time favourites to play with students who are really into drama.  This game has students sitting in a circle on the floor with one chair reserved in the circle for The King (or Queen) and an empty space reserved to the left of The King’s chair for The Minion.  The teacher chooses a student to play The King and that student gets to sit in the chair to receive his/her guests.  The peasants (the rest of the class) thinks of items they could offer The King and raise their hands when they have an idea.  The King chooses which peasant he wants to interact with and that peasant approaches The King and bows deeply (this is a must!) while saying, “Oh – my King! I offer you _________________”.  (The peasant states the offered item, e.g. seasons tickets to the Vancouver Canucks, or any other awesome gift the current King might enjoy).  The King decides whether or not he approves of the offered item.  If The King likes the item, he replies, “Yes! It pleases us!” and the peasant may sit in The Minion’s space on the floor beside The King.  If The King disapproves of the offered item he says, “Bah – it does not please us! Be gone!” and the peasant has to go back to his/her original seat.  I usually let each King/Queen have three or four turns accepting/declining offers from peasants.  If The King accepts an offering from a Minion, he may accept an offering from another Minion, at which time the second Minion replaces the first (the first rejoins the circle of peasants).  This game is all about knowing/getting to know one’s classmates better through ridiculous gift offerings.  It’s also about having fun and laughing together and really embracing the drama of it all.  I constantly played this game with my grade 6s a few years back and they all loved it so much…they couldn’t get enough.  Note: Sometimes the gift offerings can get somewhat out of control, for example: “Oh my King, I offer you a million billion zillion dollars and all the gold in the world!”  Eventually I had to make a rule that monetary offerings were no longer allowed – ha!

Enjoy! Please let us know of any surefire, rock star games you use as “go to” activities with your students, we love adding to our repertoire!