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Curriculum Q and A Blog, Question 33

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    Katie Shenk

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

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Question: How do I proactively plan a lesson with active classroom management practices in mind?

In this post, we continue our focus on active, collaborative classroom management strategies. In our three previous posts, we introduced the concept of self-management, discussed the importance of giving students autonomy in order to help them develop self control and highlighted a few specific strategies for developing self-management skills.

Here, we’re going to drill down a bit more into “planning with a MAC mindset” at the lesson level. MAC, or Management in the Active Classroom, is the term we use to describe the tools and strategies that foster a classroom that is respectful, active, collaborative, and growth-oriented.   In other words, what micro moves can you proactively plan to set your students up for success for a particular lesson?

Jennifer Polito, Kindergarten teacher at P.S. 306 New York City Academy for Discovery, is in her first year of implementing the EL Education K-5 Language Arts curriculum. We invited her to annotate the first lesson in Kindergarten Module 2, Unit 1 to give us insights into how she anticipates and plans for tricky spots in lessons, makes slight modifications based on the needs of her active students, and uses materials to support student engagement and focus. Throughout this post, you’ll see images of Jennifer’s annotated teacher guide—we’ve also added some additional commentary to help you get a sense of Jennifer’s thinking as she planned for this first lesson of the module.  

Because we believe in students doing the heavy lifting of learning, we design lessons that are student-centered. In this particular lesson, like many that launch a module, we invite students to uncover the topic of the module and begin to build background knowledge in a fun, engaging, and active way. As with many of our lessons, we invite students to read, think, talk, and write all in one lesson, which means that teachers and students must manage multiple transitions, materials, and pacing.

Anticipate Tricky Spots

As noted in one of our previous blog posts, protocols are an important feature of our curriculum because they are one of the best ways we know to engage students in discussion, inquiry, critical thinking, and sophisticated communication. The key to the success of any protocol is practice. It will take time, especially for students who have never been a part of a classroom protocol, to get used to their structure and “rules” for participation. Once students get the hang of protocols (and there’s lots of repetition, so this doesn’t take much time) they are able to show greater levels of independence and ownership. When a new protocol is introduced, this is likely a place where it’s wise to pause and consider what additional modeling students might need to be successful. 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. This is exactly what Jennifer did when she noticed a new protocol in the agenda for this lesson.

In this particular lesson, Jennifer anticipated that the Picture Tea Party protocol might be tricky for her students (also noted in the “Areas in Which Students Might Need Extra Support” section of the teaching notes.)  As you can see in her annotations above, she decided to: 

  • Model the protocol with a pair of students
  • Pre-determine groups of 4 students (ensuring a heterogeneous mix of students in  each group)
  • Review and display the sentence frames on an interactive whiteboard
  • Set up the materials for the protocol at tables for an easier transition
  • Rotate pictures for students so they could focus on the thinking, not the logistics of rotation
  • Offer Talking Sticks (more about those in the materials section below)

In making these intentional adjustments, Jennifer set her students up for success in their first experience with the Picture Tea Party Protocol. She reports that her modeling added a bit of time up front, but that the time was well spent as it kept students on track when they engaged in the protocol independently.

Adjust the Lesson to Meet Students’ Needs

Teachers are the experts when it comes to knowing what their students need to be successful. We encourage you to use your knowledge of your students to modify lessons to set them up for success, but we caution against removing any load-bearing walls of the lesson—be sure to review the “Purpose and Alignment to Standards” section of the teaching notes to better understand the big rocks of the lesson and how it fits into the bigger picture of the unit. It’s also helpful to know how the lesson scaffolds towards the unit assessment—check out this blog post, Question 25 if you’re curious to know more about test driving assessments)

Here are some examples of changes Jennifer made to this lesson to best meet the needs of her students (while still maintaining the integrity of the lesson):

  • As you can see in the annotation below, Jennifer added some opportunities for purposeful movement and echo reading of important words to the read aloud of “Curious Sofia.” She knows that her five- and six-year-olds need to get wiggles out and also like to practice reading (young students thrive on learning through their bodies, and crave mastery). Also, they have practiced acting out stories and echo reading, so this was an easy addition that wouldn’t add too much time to the Opening of the lesson, but would engage students in active and joyful learning to set a tone for the lesson.
  • In Work Time, the teacher guide suggests students engage in three rounds of the Back-to-Back, Face-to-Face Protocol. Jennifer was concerned with pacing, so she trimmed it to two rounds. In doing so, she still honored the purpose of the protocol (to get students talking about meteorologists with their peers) but knew that timing might be affected if she added another round.
  • In the closing and assessment of this lesson, the teacher guide suggests Interactive writing (a whole class experience where students work collaboratively to contribute to a class chart). However, Jennifer offered the option for students to write independently in their own weather journals before because they were ready for the challenge. In doing so, Jennifer honored the purpose of this experience (introducing students to their weather journals and tracking the day’s weather using pictures and words) while also honoring the needs of some of her students.

    Manage and Modify Materials

    Jennifer made a few small, but high-leverage changes to the materials in this lesson. As we mentioned above, Jennifer utilized talking sticks during the Picture Tea Party protocol. This is a familiar tool that sets her students up for success in collaborative conversations, which is especially important when students are practicing a protocol for the first time.

    As evidenced in the annotation and image below, Jennifer co-created the visuals for the Weather Word Wall with students. As a result, students had more ownership of the pictures and were able to access the content vocabulary more independently because they had generated the image to match the word. Throughout the module, students use these words as readers, writers, and speakers so this minor change will have a big impact on their future learning. 

    Jennifer co-creates the visuals for classroom word walls to support student ownership and independence. 

    Proactive Planning: A Few Tips

    • Review the key protocols and instructional practices in the lesson. Ask yourself where students might get tripped up, and make necessary adjustments. The “Areas in Which Students May Need Additional Support” section of the teacher guide might also help you anticipate these tricky spots.
    • Modeling: use time during the morning meeting or crew to model a new practice or protocol. (Check out last week’s  blog post for more guidance on modeling!)
    • Notice where students will need to transition and make a plan for how to do so efficiently (and joyfully!)
    • Skim the materials--are there any adjustments you might make to set your students up for success?
    • Don’t hesitate to adjust in the moment! Despite our best efforts to proactively plan, unexpected tricky spots surface.

    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: