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Curriculum Q & A Blog, Question 32

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    EL Education

Do you have questions about teaching the EL Education K–5 Language Arts Curriculum? We've got answers!

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Question: What practices can help my students develop self-management skills?

Our last couple of posts have been focused on classroom management. Two weeks ago, we introduced the concept of self-management. Self-management doesn’t mean that classrooms will run themselves, but rather that students can develop the self-knowledge and self-control necessary to determine the “right” way to behave—they don’t always need authority figures to guide their behavior. And last week, we focused on how to provide students with opportunities for autonomy so that they can practice self-control within supportive boundaries. If you have been teaching our curriculum you know that it is most successful when students can be autonomous and self-managing while they are engaged in protocols, labs, the ALL block, and myriad other active and collaborative moments during lessons. 

In this week’s post, we highlight a few more practices that will support self-management in your students. 

Arranging Teaching and Learning Spaces in Your Classroom

The physical classroom space sends a potent message to students about how to behave and learn. The wall space, seating, work areas, and materials not only support instruction, but also support strong habits of scholarship, independence, and responsibility central to the curriculum. If the physical classroom works against these principles (e.g., desks in rows), much time and energy will be spent “fighting” the space rather than teaching and learning.

By contrast, if the space is organized to encourage collaboration, to showcase student work, to meet the physical and learning needs of all students, with resources easily accessible, the form of it will fit the function of the classroom and enhance the learning and teaching that takes place there.


  • Create a respectful, personalized space where students feel welcomed, peaceful, and at home.
  • Set up a collaborative space that has enough room and flexibility for various configurations: independent work, group work, and whole class work. Our curriculum uses all of these configurations daily.
  • Organize the space so that students can easily access and care for materials. Provide enough room for students to store both their work and their personal belongings. Find manageable ways for students to help in the arrangement of the classroom by creating labels, sorting books, making charts, or arranging classroom tools.
  • Create a growth-oriented space that prioritizes effort and promotes goal-setting and reflection. Make space for charts of classroom norms, academic anchor charts, module guiding questions, and documentation panels that show both students’ finished work and their growth through multiple drafts.
  • Display student work. Expand the definition of high-quality work to include work that shows high growth (e.g., work that a struggling student may have completed that is concrete evidence she achieved more than she thought possible).
  • Involve students in discussions about the care of the classroom and create classroom jobs around that care.
  • Set up and use anchor charts, learning targets, and other strategies for setting and reflecting on goals. These are used throughout the curriculum to focus students’ attention and engage them in learning. Anchor charts often stay on display throughout a unit or module, so you will need to find a place where they can stay up for the long haul.


Establishing Routines through Modeling and Think-aloud

Inviting students to feel welcome in and responsible for the classroom requires taking time to teach and practice daily routines. This is best done through modeling, think-alouds, and guided practice, just as with all new academic routines that are introduced in the curriculum.

Modeling is a way to scaffold learning. It is a participatory strategy that goes beyond just telling students what you expect; it shows students what is expected, invites them to reflect, and allows them to practice, leading them to ever more independence. Students who are learning to self-manage require a growth mindset so that they view routines and transitions as skills to practice and improve upon. Modeling is effective to teach start-of-the-year routines (e.g., lining up for lunch, responding to teacher signals for attention, handwashing, transitions). These routines need to be efficient, practiced, and purposeful, and, as every teacher knows, they also need to be revisited from time to time. Mid-winter may be the perfect time for you to go back to modeling routines that have begun to fray around the edges. Combine modeling with think-alouds, which show students the internal and external language that supports decision-making and thinking processes.


Model routines just as you would model academic work. Begin with an exemplar or ideal behavior, deconstruct the parts so students understand, and finally put it back together to practice. Suggested steps for modeling routines:

  • Model the routine, including thinking aloud if appropriate.
    • Ask the students what they noticed about what you did (e.g., “When you raised your hand, other students did too”).
    • Summarize the routine and have students repeat the steps.
    • Call on one or two students to demonstrate.
    • Ask again what students notice.
    • Have everyone practice until it is 100 percent correct for all students. Don’t settle for less.
  • When practicing, consider aspects of teacher presence, such as body language and voice, to convey the message that you know students can succeed.

This video shows primary students using the Back-to-Back and Face-to-Face protocol as a simple and fun way for all students to get a chance to move, think, talk, and learn from others. The teacher first has students model: stand back-to-back with a partner, listen to the question and think, turn face-to-face, taking turns speaking and listening, then turning back-to-back. The class next practices with an easy question from personal experience, then with one that is text-based. This video is narrated by students, and can be shown to students to help them learn this simple routine for productive conversations.

This video shows primary students learning and using the Think-Pair-Share protocol as a simple way for all students to get a chance to think, talk, and learn from others. Students first practice with an easier question from personal experience, and then with one that is text-based. This video is narrated by students, and can be shown to students to help them learn this simple routine for productive conversations.

Setting the Stage for Shared Learning and Discussion

Sharing is a way for students to get to know one another and learn how to work together. If you don’t already have a structure for sharing in your classroom, such as morning meeting, Crew, or advisory, now is a great time to put one in place. The focus on sharing about oneself in a clear and concise way and on active listening and supportive responses sets the stage for collaborative learning. Sharing of this nature, which on the surface may look like traditional “show and tell,” is the underpinning for building working relationships that are positive and participatory. Sharing things that are important to the sharer engenders feelings of belonging and, for the listener, connection and empathy.

Sharing provides a format for respectful interaction that will later be built upon as students begin to critique each other’s work, and it is the basis for using the many protocols throughout the curriculum. Protocols are rooted in the culture of respect and participation that is built initially in learning how to share and listen to each other.


  • Use the same steps to model sharing as you do to model routines (see previous).
  • Teacher sharing should feel routine, not sensational, showing students that everyone has something to share.
  • As with any routine, establish transparency. Invite students to ask questions and explain why sharing is important in your classroom and to learning.
  • Set a routine that includes ways for the “audience” to respond. For example, the student who is sharing is the one to signal that he or she is ready for questions and comments.
  • Keep the interactions positive and safe by tightly controlling the experience in the beginning. Then, slowly give over more control to students. For instance, on day one you might cue the student who is sharing to signal the audience that he is ready to begin; on day 15 he should be able to do so independently, and the rest of the class should respond to him without cues from you.
  • Uphold the norms by setting firm expectations for the care with which students interact. Be willing to stop any situation that is not friendly for everyone.
  • Once a sharing routine is established, introduce other protocols. For the start of the year, consider these: Back-to-Back and Face-to-Face, Think-Pair-Share, and Turn and Talk (see videos above). These protocols require students to work with various classmates rather than just a best friend.
  • Take time to explicitly teach, practice, and reflect on how well students are using the protocols. “Go slow to go fast” in terms of establishing routines that will show up frequently.
  • Plan the introduction of sharing and protocols to accommodate individual students’ specific needs. For instance, Back-to-Back and Face-to-Face might be intimidating to a student on the autism spectrum, so you might have to change it to Back-to-Back and Side-to-Side so that the student isn’t required to look anyone straight in the eye.
  • Build your own expertise with Conversation Cues and sentence frames that promote productive and equitable conversations (e.g., “Can you say more about that?”).

Additional Resources

Our Collaborative Culture PD Pack provides resources to help educators build classrooms that are respectful, active, collaborative, and growth-oriented. The practices highlighted in the PD Pack are drawn from EL Education’s book, Management in the Active Classroom. PD Packs are guided experiences for individual or group learning

Our library of Management in the Active Classroom videos includes 30 videos. You can access the full collection here.

For more general information about our curriculum, check out our website or our book Your Curriculum Companion: The Essential Guide to Teaching the EL Education K–5 Language Arts Curriculum. If you have questions related to this blog, please email us at: