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Ideas and Features For New Teachers 
and Veterans with Class

Volume 2, Issue 2

January 2006




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Randomizing Class Choices:
Changing Up the Monotony


Much has been said and written lately about providing students with choices. I'm all about any methods which will improve student involvement in class, giving them ownership in their learning. There are many ways to give students choices, options, or just to provide random results and change up the monotony. This article will discuss how to use random results in typical class situations.

One technique I use is drawing from a hat (or mug, box, basket, or other container). You can choose anything to put in the hat, and decide if you or the students will do the drawing. You can draw, or let your students pick. I try to keep the 'hat' above the chooser's head so there is no possible way to cheat on the draw.

In the hat I like to use different colored poker chips: white, red, and blue. We will use these for many applications, or at least any that involve three different outcomes. When grading freewrites, for example, drawing a blue chip means I take an immediate grade on the assignment (click here to see the article on freewrites from our Back to School  2005 issue.) 

A white chip means "thank you for writing today", but we aren't going to grade it, just file the writing into your folder. A red chip indicates I'll collect the papers, read over them, grade them, and select a few to write comments upon. By drawing a chip, the students don't know if the assignment will be graded or not, so they must do their best. However, for the teacher, the students are writing more but you don't have to grade every paper!

We will also use the chips for minor homework assignments. Same idea - white is a no grade, blue goes immediately to the grade book. But on red chips, I'll allow a minute or two to fix mistakes before I collect them. It depends on the situation. It's that simple. And the students never know if the assignment will be graded or not, so they have to do their best just in case.

Another technique is to use strips of paper in a coffee mug for completely random choices. This is great for games like charades where students draw random words, topics, or choices. This could be used to randomly discuss class topics or answer questions. "There are many ways to give students choices, options, or just to provide random results and change up the monotony."

I like to use this for choosing project topics. Put slips of paper numbered 1 through however many students are in the class. Fold the slips and then have students draw their own place in the waiting line. Whoever has the slip #1 gets first choice of topics, #2 chooses second, and so forth. No one can claim a biased order of selection! This is great for research paper topics, where you don't want students choosing the same topics.

We will also use small slips of colored paper to form random groups of students. If I want four different groups, figure how many students you want in each group and tear that many small slips of colored construction paper. Do this for each group, using different colors. I find this is a good use for scraps of paper left over after an art project (the thick paper holds up better). Then go around the room and let the students 'choose' their group. Collect the slips back after recording the groups & names so you can re-use the slips again.

You could use all sorts of everyday items to get random choices. Flip a coin in a two-choice situation. A die or pair of dice can give you even more choices. You could even use a deck of playing cards.

To randomly call upon students, we utilize note cards filled out with student names and personal information. At the beginning of the year, students write their name, parents' contact info, text book numbers, hobbies/interests, and other information on a regular 3 x 5 index card. I then collect these and pull them out, shuffle, and select a random card (with the student's name on it.) Voila! Random selection of students. 

"You could use all sorts of everyday items to get random choices. Flip a coin in a two-choice situation. A die or pair of dice can give you even more choices. You could even use a deck of playing cards." And if you want to ensure you call upon everyone equally, just don't shuffle the cards, and place the used card at the back of he deck. You can cycle through the card deck over and over, ensuring you're calling upon every student equally.

Cards, dice, coins, poker chips and simple slips of paper can be easily used to make random selections in class. We'd love to hear any other 'random acts' ideas and techniques you may have. We'll add them to this article and post them on our website with credit to you!


A Happy New Year to you all from the staff at StarTeaching.  

Remember to bookmark this page and to visit our website for more great articles, tips, and techniques!

Also, feel free to email this newsletter to a friend or colleague!  



Ideas for Setting Up Your Classroom – 
Part 1: Classroom Arrangements

By Marian Holes
Indian River, MI

I use a very traditional method in the beginning of the school year for my 8th grade classes. Most 13 and 14 year olds are bigger and taller than I am, so I rely on teaching routines and procedures as well as a close proximity to set my management style. Kids need and want to know what is expected of them and how they are to do and behave as the class progresses through the hour. That’s all part of MY preparation beginning with those days in August. 

I start with my tentative class list. Desks are arranged in rows and have a teacher’s work station up front. It’s very traditional, gives the most control, and sets a business-like view to the room. This is my No Nonsense - We’re Here to Work, first impression for 8th graders. Students are alphabetically assigned seats beginning in the back corner. The names progress up that outside row to the front, then down the next row, then up the third row, down the next row, up the next, until everyone has a place. This gives a little variety to always sitting by the next alphabetical person in your class; at least they are in front or behind you. 

Then every Monday I rotate the students so they move ahead alphabetically one seat. The A name student sits where the Z student was ,the B student follows into A’s old desk, C into B, etc. This way kids change seats each week sitting beside different people yet the line-up A to Z stays the same. Kids move forward and backward through the rows like a long snake. 

It’s great for memorizing names and faces the first few days and for taking hourly attendance, yet gives kids variety each week. Hopefully by the end of week 1 the drop and add will be over and seating arrangements can become somewhat permanent. New kids throughout the year go to the end of the line after Z.  "Kids need and want to know what is expected of them and how they are to do and behave as the class progresses through the hour. That’s all part of MY preparation beginning with those days in August"

When I want to do partner or group projects, students are more than happy to rearrange the furniture yet all know how to put the room back in order at the end of the hour. I like to put a drawing on the overhead of my group activity arrangement and give them 90 seconds to get it set up. Including physical movement for 8th graders is important too. That comes every day at a mid-point in the lesson when we do our break (more about the break later when we talk about procedures). 

Besides desk arrangement, now is the time to decide on assignment procedures. Kids like to know what they are doing each day. I put tomorrow’s daily objective and assignment up before I leave each day. It can be written on the board – on a weekly planner poster – on an overhead transparency – or on the computer screen. It can be daily, weekly, monthly, or by the unit. First thing into the room each day,  students copy the day’s objective into their agenda, then they begin on the “get set” assignment. There are all kinds of “get set to learn” activities that access prior learning and review yesterday’s lesson. This gets them focused on class time and away from the social time of classes passing. It also gives the “absent yesterday” student a chance to look at yesterday’s assignment and get any worksheets missed from the Absence Folder. 

The extra copies of everything always go into the Absence Folder at the end of each day. With students engaged in the assignment board and the ”get set” activity, the teacher can choose to talk individually to students who need extra attention without losing the whole class to a chit-chat session. When those first few needs are met I like to throw out hints and questions that prompt the “get set” activity along. 

Then we discuss the day’s objective and assignment tying it into yesterday’s and prior learning. It is really important to finish reading the daily assignment with a statement of relevance. Kids want to know why we are doing this lesson and what good this information will be to them. That might be the most important explanation you will make the entire class period. If kids understand how the lesson impacts them and their world then they are ready and willing to learn about it.  "It’s always easier to start structured, focused on objectives, no-nonsense and then ease up if you want than to have no plan and no control and then try to be strict."

One last thought about classroom arrangement. Allowing for a teaching station in the front of the room is great for facing the kids and explaining the lessons. When you sit down at your desk and refer to your own seatwork the kid can see you NOT looking at them. I keep my desk at the back of the room. Students supposedly working independently have no idea if I’m working or watching or even moving among students in the back row. Monitoring and proximity are great techniques for 8th graders that keep students working without verbal intrusion. Remember at this age verbal reprimands draw attention to the “showboat” or embarrass the “wall flower” and disrupt everyone else. That may not give you the result you want. Moving forward in the rows, unexpectedly tapping a desktop to refocus attention, being available for a quietly spoken question or answer all reinforce the student’s responsibility to be working when work time is available. 

It’s always easier to start no-nonsense, structured, focused on objectives, and then ease up if you want rather than to have no plan and no control and then try to be strict. 

Stay tuned for my next article – Classroom Rules!




Book of the Month Club

Getting To Yes,
Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In

 by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton

“Like it or not, you are a negotiator. Negotiation is a fact of life…everyone negotiates something every day.” (Getting To Yes, Introduction, xvii)

In the school environment, you are negotiating constantly. You negotiate with other teachers over the use of facilities such as the gym, music room, art room. You negotiate with your administrator over materials, supplies, and programs. You negotiate with your students over hallway passes. Our lives at work and at home are in a constant state of bargaining with others. Where do we go out to eat? Who gets the remote? What time does your teenager have to be home on Saturday night? 

In many cases, the traditional method of positional bargaining, negotiating over each side’s positions, leads to bitter feelings, exhaustion, and a win/loss situation that never seems to adequately benefit both sides. 

The book, Getting To Yes, describes a new method of bargaining, called principled negotiation. Developed by the Harvard Negotiation Project, this is an easy to learn, four step process that is useful whether you’re deciding where to go on vacation or agreeing on the selling price of your car. 

1. separate the people from the problem. 
2. focus on interests, not positions. 
3. work together to create options satisfying both parties and invent options for mutual gain. 
4. insist on using objective criteria. 

This four step procedure has been important to me in redesigning some of my class rules and discipline steps. I’ve also used it in negotiating mutually advantageous agreements with staff and administration. Outside of school, I also used it when negotiating renter complaints in our rental units. 

 “Every negotiation is different, but the basic elements do not change…the method applies whether the other side is more experienced or less, a hard bargainer or a friendly one. Principled negotiation is an all-purpose strategy.” (Getting To Yes, Introduction, xix) 

You can order a copy of Getting To Yes by clicking the link to our affiliate, Amazon.com 

Have you read Getting to Yes?  Do you have comments you’d like to share with our readers about this book? Email your responses to editor@starteaching.com. Please type in BOOK CLUB READER RESPONSE in the subject line. Responses will be posted on our website with the StarTeaching Book of the Month Club.  All responses will be proofread, and may be edited for content and space before publication.




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"The House of 1000 Mirrors"
Author Unknown

Themes on Life

All the faces in the world are mirrors. What kind of reflections do you see in the faces of the people you meet?

Long ago in a small, far away village, there was place known as the House of 1000 Mirrors. A small, happy little dog learned of this place and decided to visit. When he arrived, he bounced happily up the stairs to the doorway of the house. He looked through the doorway with his ears lifted high and his tail wagging as fast as it could. 

To his great surprise, he found himself staring at 1000 other happy little dogs with their tails wagging just as fast as his. He smiled a great smile, and was answered with 1000 great smiles just as warm and friendly. 

As he left the House, he thought to himself, "This is a wonderful place. I will come back and visit it often."

In this same village, another little dog, who was not quite as happy as the first one, decided to visit the house. He slowly climbed the stairs and hung his head low as he looked into the door. 

When he saw the 1000 unfriendly looking dogs staring back at him, he growled at them and was horrified to see 1000 little dogs growling back at him. 

As he left, he thought to himself, "That is a horrible place, and I will never go back there again."

All the faces in the world are mirrors. What kind of reflections do you see in the faces of the people you meet?

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In This Week's Issue 

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Randomizing Class Choices

Setting Up Your Class, Part 1

Book of the Month

Themes on Life:  
"House of 1000 Mirrors"

10 Days of Writing Prompts

Holiday Book Sale for Teachers

Website of the Month


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What is a 'wish'?  What are THREE things you would wish for?  


Describe how a wish could positively impact or help others..


Create a FIVE question TRUE/FALSE quiz covering today's class information.


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Why do people want to have wishes?  Why do people always 'wish' for more in life?


10 days of writing prompts


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January 2006:
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Coming Soon:

Opening Activities for Class

Technology & Teaching: Setting up for Handhelds

Classroom Rules & Procedures

Creating Web Pages & PowerPoints 
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