Ten Additional Strategies

ABC Brainstorm–a pre-writing or pre-discussion strategy. Students are either provided with or create a list of each letter of the alphabet, and then they are provided with a topic. They must come up with words and ideas related to that topic, and they must correspond to each letter of the alphabet. Students can work individually or in groups. *The teacher will want to make sure that the topic provided is broad enough that students can list many possible terms.*

ABC Brainstorm

Carousel Brainstorm–a pre-writing or pre-discussion strategy. Students are put into groups of three or four and given a piece of chart paper and a topic. Each group is equipped with a marker of a different color, and they are given a short amount of time (maybe thirty seconds) to brainstorm words and ideas related to the topic on their page. When time is up, they must pass along their paper to the group on their left so that that group can add ideas to the paper. Each group’s paper should make a full rotation to each group before returning to its original group. At the end, ideas will be scattered all over the paper in different colors like graffiti. As an extension to this strategy, the teacher can have the students in each group circle the three most central ideas to their topic, and perhaps create a definition using those three terms. *The teacher will want to make sure to add additional time for each rotation while students are still adding ideas to the charts. Once all of the obvious choices are taken, students may need to think a little longer to come up with ideas to write on the paper.*

Carousel Brainstorm

Carousel Brainstorm

Concept of Definition Map–a vocabulary strategy. This strategy helps students move beyond one-dimensional defintions to gain a more robust understanding of the meaning of a term. It asks students to define its category (“What is it?”), its properties (“What is it like?”), and illustrations (“What are some examples?”).


History Frame–a social studies comprehension tool. This strategy is a modern-day take on the story map commonly used in English class. When students study historical events, they’re asked to explain many of the same elements that they would look for in a story, such as:

  • When and where did this event take place?
  • Who was involved?
  • What were the problems or goals that set this event into motion?
  • What were the key events?
  • How was it resolved?
  • What’s the reason that this event matters?


This type of framing or mapping can also be used in science class to complete an experiment or lab report: Story Mapping Across the Content Areas

Inquiry Chart–a research tool. This chart offers a planned framework for examining critical questions by combining a student’s background knowledge with information found in several sources. On any given topic, a student will have to answer a few key questions (found in the header of each column) and record answers to those questions based on background knowledge and information pulled from different sources. There is also a space at the bottom for students to record a summary of their findings. This would not only make a great planning tool for a research paper, but it would also help students with internal citations and the works cited page at the end.


Opinion-Proof–a pre-writing or pre-discussion activity. This chart is a variation of Cornell notes. Students are great at putting forth opinions, but the idea here is to get them to back up their opinions with facts, concepts, or research. Teachers can either assign students an opinion that they must prove, or allow them to form their own opinion. Those opinions are written in the left-hand column. In the right-hand column, students must support that opinion using citations from a text, video, newspaper, story, or other source. This is great tool to prepare students for a debate or a persuasive essay. It is very easy to design, but a graphic organizer (as well as a partially completed example) has still been provided.


Opinion-Proof example

Power Thinking–a note-taking strategy. This is a familiar, traditional format for outlining notes in a hierarchical nature. All of the information that the students write down from the lecture or the text they are reading is categorized into main ideas, subtopics, and then supporting details. This method of note-taking really challenges students to classify which concepts are most important, and which concepts are secondary.

Power Thinking example

QAR–a question/answer strategy. This is a format for teaching students to strategically answer questions by identifying the type of question that was asked. There are four basic question/answer relationships:

  • Right there: The student can physically point to a single sentence or phrase in the text to find the answer word-for-word.
  • Think and search: The answer is in the text, but it is scattered around among different sentences. The student must grasp ideas that extend across multiple paragraphs.
  • Author and you: The answer is not in the text, but you still need information that the author has given you, combined with what you already know, to answer this type of question.
  • On my own: The answer is not in the text, and in fact, you don’t even need to read the text to form an answer to the question.


QAR example

Questioning the Author–a critical thinking strategy. This strategy offers a series of questions that the reader can ask the author to evaluate the author’s intent and success in communicating it. This is not merely an invitation for a student to “challenge” or “critique” the author. If a passage is difficult to read, it may very well be because the author has done a poor job of writing it. However, if a student points out the fact that a passage is poorly written, he or she should be required to improve it and re-write it. Questions for the author include:

  • What is the author trying to tell you?
  • Why is the author telling you that?
  • Does the author say it clearly?
  • How could the author have phrased it more clearly?
  • What would you write instead?

Questioning the Author

3-2-1–a comprehension strategy. This strategy gives students a chance to summarize key ideas after reading a text, focusing on the ideas that are most important to them, and pose a question about ideas that are still confusing. This is a a great alternative to assigning the questions at the end of the chapter, and a good way to informally assess students’ understanding of what they’re reading. Using this strategy, students identify: 3 things they found out, 2 interesting things, and 1 question they still have. Of course, this is a simple, general version that can be used across content areas. Subject area teachers can modify this strategy to use with more specific content. For example, a history teacher could modify 3-2-1 by asking for 3 difference between feudalism and nation-states, 2 similarities, and 1 question they still have.


Reading Across the Content Areas

Reading is not an activity that should be limited to English class. Rather, it should be embedded in content area curriculum in a way that sharpens students’ literacy skills and their subject-area knowledge simultaneously. Some content-area teachers may feel that it is counter-productive to focus on literacy in their classrooms; however, studies have shown that students who learn specific reading skills for content-area materials (i.e.–strategies for reading historical documents, science texts and lab studies, and/or convoluted word problems in math) will not just become better readers. They will improve in each of those subjects as well! Their sharpened reading skills will help them become better overall learners, and help them to better read their textbooks and improve their grades across the board. Here are some materials that may be useful for integrating reading into the content areas:


Marvelous Math by Lee Bennett Hopkins–Poetry that links to different mathematical concepts (lower level).

 marvelous math

Math Talk: Mathematical Ideas in Poems for Two Voices by Theoni Pappas–A great way to integrate math curriculum with reading fluency.

math talk

The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure by Hans Magnus Enzensberger–The narrative of a young boy’s Alice-and-Wonderland-esque adventure through a numerical, mathematical landscape.

The Number Devil


We the People by Bobbi Katz–Poetry about American history, spanning from “The First Americans” to “Imagine,” a poem about the future ahead of us in the twenty-first century.

we the people

Lives: Poems About Famous Americans by Lee Bennett Hopkins–Great for giving a more intimate, personal perspective to biographical history lessons.


The Brother’s War: Civil War Voices in Verse by J. Patrick Lewis–A good accompaniment to a study on the Civil War; helps students to see the perspective of both sides.

the brothers war

War and the Pity of War edited by Neil Philip–An anthology of poetry written about the horror and heroism of war, spanning in time from 11th century B.C. to present day.

war and the pity of war

Remember the Bridge: Poems of a People edited by Carole Boston Weatherford–A striking collection of poems and photos that cover over 400 years of African Americans struggling for freedom.

remember the bridge

I Never Saw Another Butterfly edited by Hana Volavkova –A collection of poems and drawings created by children in the Terezin concentration camp from 1942 to 1944. This is the legacy of an estimated 15,000 children who passed through this camp on their way to Auschwitz.

I never saw another butterfly

Eyes of the Emperor by Graham Salisbury–A piece of historical fiction detailing a young Japanese American’s account of the Pearl Harbor attack, and the prejudice that he endured from his fellow Americans during the aftermath.

eyes of the emperor

Hiroshima No Pika by Toshi Maruki–A piece of historical fiction detailing a Japanese woman’s account of how she survived the bombing on Hiroshima.

hiroshima no pika

The Man From the Other Side by Uri Orlev–A novel based on the true story of a Polish boy living in the 1940’s named Marek who hated the Jews, until he ends up befriending a Jewish boy his own age and helping him hide from the Nazis.

Man from the other side

Red Moon at Sharpsburg by Rosemary Wells–A piece of historical fiction detailing the life of a young Southern girl named India and her perspective on the Civil War that threatens to destroy her family and her Virginia home.

red moon at sharpsburg


My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States by Lee Bennett Hopkins–A collection of 51 poems written by 40 different poets. A literary exploration of geography, climate, and people across America.

My America

Got Geography! by Lee Bennett Hopkins–A collection of poetry written by a variety of well-known authors who are enamored with the idea of travelling the globe. These poems are great for pulling out to introduce a unit on a particular geographic region.

got geography

A World of Wonders: Geographic Travels in Verse and Rhyme by Patrick J. Lewis–A book of fun, quirky poems about exotic destinations and fun geography trivia.

world of wonders


Redwoods by Jason Chin–A picture book may seem juvenile; however, this book is packed full of facts and trivia about Redwood trees that can be appreciated by all ages.


Ubiquitous: Poetry and Science About Nature’s Survivors by Joyce Sidman–This book pairs well-researched scientific facts with poetry to celebrate the micro-organisms and other “underdogs” of evolution who have managed to thrive throughout time. Sidman is the author of several scientific poetry/picture books that are suitable as introductions and/or supplements to science units.

Ubiquitous  Celebrating Nature's Survivors


Heart to Heart and Side by Side edited by Sandra Jordan–Two compilations of poetry written about seeing and reacting to famous works of art.

heart to heart  side by side

Talking to the Sun by Kenneth Koch and Kate Farrell–Another poetry anthology in which poems are matched to corresponding paintings.

 talking to the sun


Vocab Rock! Musical Preparation for the SAT and ACT (with CD) by Keith London and Rebecca Osleeb–The audio CD that accompanies this book is full of hip hop and alternative music that makes use of difficult vocabulary words in its lyrics. Activities and worksheets to guide the students’ understanding of the new words and their contexts is provided in the book. What a great way to study for a standardized test!

vocab rock

Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss–A witty argument for the continued use of proper punctuation, and the hilarious consequences and shifts in meaning that occur with punctuation is neglected.

eats shoots and leaves

Research-Based Group Activities

Reciprocal TeachingA reading comprehension activity. Reciprocal Teaching requires students to become the teachers within small group reading sessions. Each student is given a role/strategy: summarizing, generating questions, clarifying, and predicting. After reading through a text, they discuss what they’ve read in small groups using these very roles to stay on task. Warning: This activity requires a lot of extra scaffolding before students can be expected to successfully and independently carry out these roles in small groups without assistance.

Reciprocal Teaching Resources:

PALSA reading comprehension activity. PALS (Peer Assisted Learning Strategies) is a cooperative learning strategy in which two students work together to read an assigned text. Partners are strategically paired to ensure that they are on different skill levels, so that one higher level partner can “tutor” the lower level partner. The students take turn reading a particular text and provide each other with feedback as a way to monitor comprehension.

CSRA reading comprehension activity. CSR (Collaborative Strategic Reading) is another shared reading activity in which four or five students are grouped together according to skill level. Students are trained in four different reading strategies (Preview, Click and Clunk, Get the Gist, and Wrap Up). After reading the text and coming together as a group, each student is given a role to define their focus during group discussion (Leader, Clunk Expert, Gist Expert, Announcer, Encourager, and/or Time Keeper). Warning: Both teachers and students will need to undergo training before implementing this activity in the classroom.

CSR Resources:

Strategies for Content Area Teachers

SRSDA model for training in writing strategies. SRSD (Self-Regulated Strategy Development) is a support system for teachers who want to train their students to use a new writing strategy effectively and independently. It involves 1. Developing background knowledge, 2. Discussion, 3. Modeling, 4. Support, 5. Memorization, and 6. Independent performance. Taking students through each of these steps systematically will ensure maximum retention and successful independent use.

CBMA progress monitoring tool. CBM (Curriculum based measurement) is an assessment program in reading, writing, spelling, and math. They are easy to construct (and previously developed tools are easy to download and print), quick to administer and score, and provide reliable results that can be used for developing effective future curriculum. Visit www.easycbm.com to browse materials.

Resources: Graphic Organizers

Frayer Model—A vocabulary development tool. This model helps students develop a more complex understanding of a concept by having them define not just what it is, but what it is not. The center of the diagram shows the concept being defined, and the quadrants around the concept provide definitions, examples, and context.

Here’s a completed example: Frayer Model example

And here’s a blank template: Frayer Model

Venn DiagramA compare and contrast tool. Venn Diagrams are commonly used to compare story elements in English class; however, they can easily be used in other content area classes. For example, a Venn Diagram could be used in math class to compare two formulas or equations, in history to compare World War I with World War II, or science to compare the way fish and amphibians reproduce. Differences are listed in the outer portions, and similarities are listed where the two circles overlap.

Here’s a blank template: Venn Diagram

Story Grammar ChartA literary analysis tool. A story grammar chart is mainly used by students in a literature class to help them visually dissect a story and outline the themes, setting, conflict, climax, resolution, and other elements of plot.

Here’s a blank template: Story Grammar Chart

KWLAn anticipatory activity. A KWL chart is used before, during, and after a lesson or unit. It helps students track what they know (K), what they want to know (W), and what they learned (L).

Here’s a blank template: KWL

SQ3RA reading comprehension activity. This model is a tangible way to record what good readers already to in their minds as they read. This chart can be used in any subject, with a textbook chapter, article, or any other supplementary text. It requires the student to survey the document first, looking specifically for titles and subtitles. Then the student writes down any questions about the text before reading. As they read, they record answers for the questions they had prior to reading. Finally, they review the article and/or what they’ve written, emphasizing key points to aid retention.

Here’s a blank template: SQ3R

Cornell Notes—A note-taking strategy. Providing your students with this note-taking strategy may be the key to helping them understand and retain information learned during your lessons. In this format, notes from the lecture are written in a large column on the right side of the page, and questions or keywords are written in a smaller column on the left side of the page. Five to seven lines are left blank at the bottom of the page for the student to use after class as he/she reviews the notes and summarizes what he/she learned.

Here’s a blank template: Cornell Notes

Matrix NotesA note-taking strategy. This strategy allows students to visualize complex thinking across different subjects or ideas, comparing many categories or characteristics all on the same page.

Here’s a semi-completed example: Matrix Notes

RAFT PromptA writing strategy. This prompt can be used across content areas. This strategy helps students better understand their role as a writer (which can change with writing assignments in different subject areas). RAFT also helps students focus on the audience they will address, the various formats for writing, and the topic they’ll be writing about.

Here’s a blank template: RAFT Writing Prompt

POWA writing planning strategy. This strategy can be used with students before a writing activity. “P” stands for “pick a topic,” “O” stands for “organize my notes,” and “W” stands for “write and say more.”

Here’s a blank template: POW

WWW, What=2, How =2A creative writing strategy. This strategy is great to pair with “POW.” This will help students organize their thoughts and jot down notes before beginning to write a fictional piece. “WWW” stands for “Who is the main character?” “When does the story take place?” and “Where does the story take place?” “What=2” stands for “What does the main character do or want to do?” and “What happens then? What happens with the other characters?” Finally, “How=2” stands for “How does the story end? How does the main character feel? How do the other characters feel?”