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We want to motivate students, encourage active learning in the classroom while we develop critical-thinking, communication, and decision-making skills. Group work can be an effective method to do all of these things. When looking more specifically at the 21st Century Skills, (12 abilities that we want to instill in our students to prepare for careers in the Information Age) group work enables us to build critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication, flexibility, leadership, initiative, productivity, and social skills. Wow! Nine of the 12 21st Century Skills can be addressed by simply using group work in the classroom! What does productive group work look like in the classroom? What does productive group work sound like in the classroom? We will be diving into student group work! 

The Best Skills for Cooperative Learning Groups 

It is imperative that in the first weeks of school that you intentionally plan and spend time working on how to work well in groups with your students. We cannot assume that our students come into our classroom with the appropriate social skills needed for productive cooperative groups. 

You want your students to be able to:

✅ listen to each other
✅ respect each other
✅ build on each others’ ideas

Things you might see when students work well in groups:

πŸ”Ž leaning in and working in the middle of the table
πŸ”Ž sticking together
πŸ”Ž following team roles

Things you might hear when students work well in groups:

πŸ‘‚ equal air time
πŸ‘‚ silence when speaker is talking
πŸ‘‚ asking each other a lot of questions

Model and practice

When first starting out using groups, you must have students model the correct behaviors (listed above). Have students practice working in groups. When finished, have the classroom gathered together and label specific behaviors that were aligned to the classroom expectations. 

If you requested that all of the group members lean in, praise a group specifically for leaning in and working in the middle of the table. 

By specifically labeling the correct behaviors, you are reinforcing the specific expectations for productive group work.

How can you provide support with building on each others' ideas? 

  • Begin to ask more open-ended questions that may have more than one solution.
  • Give students question stems and encourage them to ask questions within their groups.
  • Practice questioning between partners and groups.

Students love using these sentence stems in the classroom. 

Using Accountable Talk in the Math Classroom

Supporting language and vocabulary development is crucial in the math classroom. Educators need to explicitly teach and pay attention to the quality of talk in the classroom. English Language Learners will be supported, as well as ALL learners. This resource will help you keep mathematicians engaged in math conversations as they become proficient in "speaking math."

I hope this post inspires you to incorporate group work in your classroom. If you are interested in using my math sentence starters for questioning in group work, you can find them in my TpT shop!

What would you add to this list? What do you find the most difficult part to practice? 

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Kindergarten math and first grade math homework can be confusing and frustration to parents and teachers at times. My favorite messages come from these adults regarding questions on homework pages. Come 4:00 p.m., my cellphone starts blowing up with pictures of homework pages! These parents and teachers know that my love of math runs deep, but my love for helping others understand, especially the students who are depending on them to answers runs deeper! Most recently, I received one of these after-school text messages with a question from first grade geometry. The question read: "I am not a rectangle. I am not a triangle. What shape am I?" Four answer choices were given including a circle, square, rectangle, and triangle. How can you answer this question? More importantly, how you can you explain this answer to your child at home or in your classroom? Read more to learn about why a square is considered a special rectangle.

Math 101: Why is a Square a Special Rectangle?

If you haven't read between the lines yet, the answer to the question is a square.

I am not a rectangle. I am not a triangle. What shape am I?

The child on the other end of the text message instantly crossed out a rectangle and triangle.

I was especially excited to see this because it is evident that the child's parent and/or teacher had taught them the importance of eliminating answer choices!

The circle and square were remaining. The father instantly thought:

 It must be the circle.

Why is that? Why did the parent deduce the circle from those two choices?

The human brain is constantly looking for patterns. The child just eliminated two prominent shapes that have characteristics similar to the square. The rectangle and the triangle have vertices and edges. The brain sends the message that the square fits into a similar pattern; therefore, it must be the circle. 

Right and wrong.

There's more to this question that meets the eye, as with many word problems.

Though "circle" is in fact the correct answer, the justification needs a little work.

This question is testing the knowledge of a first grader, in this instance, if they know that a square is considered a special type of rectangle.

The father instantly proclaimed:

When I was in school, a square was a square and a rectangle was a rectangle!
Though I can't discount this statement {we do know a lot more mathematical explanation in education these days}, this is a common frustration point with many teachers and parents alike.

To learn more about this mysterious "special rectangle," we need to revisit the attributes or properties of shapes, particularly quadrilaterals.

Attributes or Properties of a Quadrilateral 

It's really easy to get lost within all of the academic vocabulary of kindergarten, first grade, and second grade geometry.

Here's the basics:


A quadrilateral has four sides, is 2-dimensional (a flat shape), closed (the lines join up), and has straight sides.

Both rectangles and squares are quadrilaterals. Both shapes are two-dimensional four-sided closed figures with straight sides.

Rectangles, squares, trapezoids, rhombuses, and parallelograms are all part of the quadrilateral family.

What makes rectangles and squares unique within this family?


A rectangle is a quadrilateral. It's sides intersect at 90 degree angles. A rectangle has opposite sides which are congruent, or have the exact same length. . The diagonals, are mutually bisecting, or cut each other in half.


A square is a quadrilateral. It's sides also intersect at 90 degree angle. Similar to a rectangle, its opposite sides are congruent, but ALL of its sides are congruent, or have the exact same length. The diagonals, are mutually bisecting, or cut each other in half. The square also has perpendicular bisecting diagonals.

A rectangle is also classified as a square when both pairs of opposite sides are the same length; thus, a square is a special rectangle. 

Hierarchy of Quadrilaterals

In this illustration above, the rectangle has the properties identified within the red quadrilateral.

The square contains ALL of the properties of the rectangle AND the properties listed solely within the square figure. 

This further depicts that a square is a special type of rectangle.

If you are still following this, you know have passed kindergarten math in Texas! Yeehaw! This just so happens to be first grade math in pretty much the rest of the country.

Content Standards Addressed: TEKS K.6A
The student applies mathematical process standards to analyze attributes of two-dimensional shapes and three-dimensional solids to develop generalizations about their properties. The student is expected to: identify two-dimensional shapes, including circles, triangles, rectangles, and squares as special rectangles

I hope this post inspires you to dust off your college textbook and learn more math lingo, or gives me the privilege to be a bookmarked site for future mathematical assistance.

What is the most confusing homework problem you've seen?

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Comparing numbers can be difficult. Young mathematicians, especially in kindergarten, just become proficient in learning the quantity of numbers before diving into comparing those numbers. For decades, teachers have relied on the 'ole alligator analogy for teaching students to compare numbers and draw comparison symbols. You will find numerous blog posts and printables with this cute alligator, even suggesting to use him with decimals and percentages. Have you or your students become dependent on drawing teeth on comparison symbols? Students think, "Is the bigger value eating the smaller one?" or "Is it the value it already chopped on?" This becomes confusing, especially for younger students. While this can be a cute anchor chart, students are not internalizing the meaning of the comparison symbols. This misnomer is confusing children and frustrating their future teachers. I know what you are thinking, if the alligator analogy isn't the best for students to learn, what can I teach my students so they can retain the correct meaning for these symbols? Read more to find a strategy for teaching comparing numbers and correctly explaining comparison symbols. 

Why You Need to Ditch the Alligator When Comparing Numbers Blog Post by Down River Resources

There's A Better Way To Compare Numbers

Thinking about how a child learns vocabulary, it's easy to roll back time and reflect on how a young child learns their name. How does a child learn their name? Parents have identified the child by their name. The parents and others around the child use their name in context. With repeated exposure to their name, the young child memorizes it. Soon they are able to repeat their name and identify themselves as such.

Children are innately logical and literal. If we say "alligator," children think of the lizard-like swamp animal, not a mathematical symbol. 

If adults call a comparison symbol an "alligator," we are mislabeling a content-specific word for students.

I truly believe this is what happened in my early education. I learned tricks in school, not actual mathematics. Eventually, there comes a point when tricks no longer suffice for students and can lead to failure in advanced mathematics, which is the WHY behind everything I do with Down River Resources.

There is a big movement, especially in upper elementary, middle, and high schools to break students away from these misrepresentations.

Trust me, I know it is not ANYONE'S intention to teach incorrectly, often times, we are victims of our own education. Educators teach the way they were taught unless they have since learned differently.

How Do I Teach Comparisons?

Use a word problem to introduce two sets of numbers. If you are comparing numbers 9 and 7, it may sound like this:

Kaila and Marco were born on the same day. Kaila has 9 birthday candles on her cake. Marco has 7 candles on her birthday cake. Use a comparsion symbol (>, <, or =) to compare 9 and 7.

Ideally, with exposure to symbols, such as in the word problem above, students memorize the meaning. Just as students hear comparative language, such as "equal to," "greater than," and "less than," they need to see the symbols that represent these phrases too.

After modeling this language and its corresponding symbols, the students should practice saying and writing them too!

If you are still stuck on the alligator so the students have a scaffold for learning the comparison symbol, I have a strategy to help. 

Sometimes before students can internalize the meaning of the symbol, it helps to actually analyze the shape of the comparison symbol.

Why You Need to Ditch the Alligator When Comparing Numbers and Strategy Support
Think about an equal symbol. 

The line segments are parallel; the bars are the same distance apart on both sides. (See the "equal to" image.)

Now, let's take a closer look at the symbols that represent inequalities. 

The segments, or bars, are tilted when using the inequalities. There is a smaller side and a larger sides.

The GREATER number is next to the wider end, while the LESSER number is next to the narrower end. 

Please note the language used in that statement above. Use GREATER instead of 'bigger,' and LESS rather than 'smaller.'

Why You Need to Ditch the Alligator When Comparing Numbers and Strategy Support As students move into advanced mathematics, students will need to apply this skill to integers. Calling -6 'bigger' than -16 creates confusion for students.

As you can see below, EVERY grade level focuses on comparisons to some degree. 

Let's commit to focus on teaching mathematics, not just the tricks!

Math Content Standards Addressed: 

Why You Need to Ditch the Alligator When Comparing Numbers and Strategy Support - TEKS K.2G Compare sets of objects up to at least 20 in each set using comparative language.
- TEKS K.2H Use comparative language to describe two numbers up to 20 presented as written numerals.

First Grade
- TEKS 1.2D Generate a number that is greater than or less than a given whole number up to 120.
- TEKS 1.2E Use place value to compare whole numbers up to 120 using comparative language.
- TEKS 1.2F Order whole numbers up to 120 using place value and open number lines.
- TEKS 1.2G Represent the comparison of two numbers to 100 using the symbols >, <, or =.

Second Grade
- TEKS 2.2C Generate a number that is greater than or less than a given whole number up to 1,200.
- TEKS 2.2D Use place value to compare and order whole numbers up to 1,200 using comparative language, numbers, and symbols (>, <, or =).

Third Grade
- TEKS 3.2D Compare and order whole numbers up to 100,000 and represent comparisons using the symbols >, <, or =.

Fourth Grade
TEKS 4.2 Compare and order whole numbers to 1,000,000,000 and represent comparisons using the symbols >, <, or =.
- TEKS 4.3D Compare two fractions with different numerators and different denominators and represent the comparison using the symbols >, =, or <.

Fifth Grade
TEKS 5.2B Compare and order two decimals to thousandths and represent comparisons using the symbols >, <, or =.

I hope this post inspires you to use math language when teaching students how to compare numbers, if you want to download some free mats to use when comparing numbers, you can find them here.

Were you taught the alligator analogy?

Get FREE Comparing Numbers Mats Delivered Straight to Your Inbox! Join Down River Resources as a Valued Partner!

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Why You Need to Ditch the Alligator When Comparing Numbers Strategy

One of the best things about teaching history during Women's History Month is the accessibility of quality children's literature or picture books! Students are much more likely to learn about the important events, people, and places which make our world unique through an accessible text. Throughout our history women have made valuable contributions. No matter what their role, women's experiences remain an important and sometimes overlooked aspect of our history. I've included some historical texts and a few inspirations book for young girls. These picture books value the diverse experience of women and provide inspiration for the young girl sitting in our classroom or being raised within our home.

Finding the Best Picture Books for Women's History Month

This post contains affiliate links for Amazon. I only recommend items that I own and use to my Valued Partners. By purchasing an item on the Amazon site using these links, I will receive a very small commission on your purchase that allows me to maintain this website. Thank you for your continued support!

Girls come in all different colors and sizes. They delight and amaze us. They're full of surprises. Girls can do anything they want to do. And if YOU are a girl . . . You can do these things too! 
- Girls Can Do Anything

Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World

Shaking Things Up introduces fourteen revolutionary young women—each paired with a noteworthy female artist—to the next generation of activists, trail-blazers, and rabble-rousers. This book has beautiful illustrations and is sure to inspire your budding artists too!

In this book of poems, you will find Mary Anning, who was just thirteen when she unearthed a prehistoric fossil. You’ll meet Ruby Bridges, the brave six year old who helped end segregation in the South. And Maya Lin, who at twenty-one won a competition to create a war memorial, and then had to appear before Congress to defend her right to create.

And those are just a few of the young women included in this book. Readers will also hear about Molly Williams, Annette Kellerman, Nellie Bly, Pura BelprΓ¨, Frida Kahlo, Jacqueline and Eileen Nearne, Frances Moore LappΓ©, Mae Jemison, Angela Zhang, and Malala Yousafzai—all whose stories will enthrall and inspire. This poetry collection was written, illustrated, edited, and designed by women and includes an author’s note, a timeline, and additional resources.

With artwork by notable artists including Selina Alko, Sophie Blackall, Lisa Brown, Hadley Hooper, Emily Winfield Martin, Oge Mora, Julie Morstad, Sara Palacios, LeUyen Pham, Erin Robinson, Isabel Roxas, Shadra Strickland, and Melissa Sweet.

This book is best suited for upper elementary students.

She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World

Chelsea Clinton introduces eager students who are ready to take on the world to thirteen inspirational women who never took no for an answer, and who always, inevitably and without fail, persisted.

Throughout American history, there have always been women who have spoken out for what's right, even when they have to fight to be heard. In She Persisted, Chelsea Clinton celebrates thirteen American women who helped shape our country through their tenacity, sometimes through speaking out, sometimes by staying seated, sometimes by captivating an audience. They all certainly persisted.

This book features: Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, Clara Lemlich, Nellie Bly, Virginia Apgar, Maria Tallchief, Claudette Colvin, Ruby Bridges, Margaret Chase Smith, Sally Ride, Florence Griffith Joyner, Oprah Winfrey, Sonia Sotomayor—and one special cameo.

Dear Girl, 

Dear Girl, is a remarkable love letter written for the special girl in your life; a gentle reminder that she’s powerful, strong, and holds a valuable place in the world.

Through this charming text and stunning illustrations, any girl reading this book will feel that she's great just the way she is—whether she enjoys jumping in a muddy puddle, has a face full of freckles, or dances on table tops.

Dear Girl, encourages girls to always be themselves and to love who they are—inside and out.

I love text letter written inside of  book jacket. This surely gives you the sentiment that is beautifully captured within the pages of this text:

Dear Girl,
This book is for you.
Wonderful, smart, beautiful you.
If you ever need a reminder, just turn to any page in this book and know that you are special and you are loved.
—Amy and Paris

If you are a mother, aunt, grandmother, or someone special to a lucky girl, this book is the perfect gift!

Girls Can Do Anything

This enchanting book is all about the things girls can do. Whether she dreams of being a vet that heals people's pets, a firefighter that braves the flames, an astronaut floating in deep, dark space, or a fearless jungle explorer, there's nothing that a girl can't do. Girls Can Do Anything!

One size definitely does not fit all in this book: charming depictions of girls being scruffy or fancy, neat or messy, and everything in between are explored and celebrated, because each girl is unique and unlike all others. 

Empower young girls everywhere and let them know that being told "you're such a girl" is the greatest compliment of all!

One of my favorite things about this book is that girls of every walk of life are represented. There's a girl in a wheelchair and girls of color in this text. If representation matters to you when selecting a text this book surely fits the bill. 

Girl, You're Amazing!

An upbeat, rhyming tribute to girls offers readers encouragement to build confidence and self-esteem while whimsical paintings celebrate the many things that girls of every age can do.

Girl, You're Amazing! has you chanting that beautiful sentence to your favorite girl all day long!

This book also celebrates diversity. If you are looking for a book that celebrates the uniqueness of all girls, this book is for you! The illustrator aims for inclusion in her hip gouaches, which feature girls of all races and appearances. Asymmetrical faces, fashionably mismatched patterns, and a quirky palette of colors adorn each unique page.

Another great thing about this text is that it has a companion, Boy, You're Amazing! With all this girl talk, we need to remember that EACH child is unique and special no matter their gender!

I hope this post inspires you to find the perfect picture book to celebrate girls and women this March and beyond! I look forward to adding to this list as I find more books that celebrate girls.

What is your favorite female picture book?

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STAAR testing season is right around the corner! The best STAAR test prep strategy is high-quality instruction throughout the school year, but many teachers like to add a test prep session to their schedule for good measure! {Whatever helps, right?!} Whether you test prep throughout the school year or in the final weeks before the STAAR test, or other standards-based assessment, you can gamify your test prep materials to improve student motivation and engagement! Do your students want to learn? Are your students making the effort to learn? Are they enjoying the process and doing well? Are your students motivated to learn or are they dragging their heels? Gamifying test prep might be just what your students need, especially if you are reading this right around Spring Break?! Continuing reading to find a simple way to increase motivation and engagement during test prep!

How To Increase Motivation and Engagement During Test Prep

Test Prep Games are Good for the Brain

This post contains affiliate links for Amazon. I only recommend items that I own and use to my Valued Partners. By purchasing an item on the Amazon site using these links, I will receive a very small commission on your purchase that allows me to maintain this website. Thank you for your continued support!

The social component of working on a game in a group leads to LOADS of benefits on brain function including:

- Activate neurotransmission
- Increase brain plasticity
- Rewires
- Mitigates brain inflammation
- Mitigates deleterious effects of oxidative stress

These are just the benefits of the social components of gamifying educational content.

Adding learning games in your classroom will boost intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, engagement, and learning outcomes for learner!

With so many benefits, what are you waiting for friend?

My favorite way of gamifying the classroom is by simply adding a popular game to test prep sessions.  

Want to do it too?

Here's How To Test Prep with Ease:

Collect a game or gameboard. Goodwill and Savers are the best cost-savings options. I often find games on clearance too!

Use word problems or sample test questions as the educational basis of the game. You can use questions from worksheets, released test questions, or specific game cards to practice heavily-tested standards. (In Texas, we call these the readiness standards.)

Rigorous game cards

The class can be divided into two teams. The team can work together to solve the problem.

If the team gets the problem correct, the team has a turn to play the game. Students within each team can take turns being the “player” for their team by following the game’s instructions.

If the team does not get the problem correct, they forfeit their turn. {You can also create a “Steal” option. The other team can generate a solution for an extra turn. You can give teams a couple extra chances to use through the game, three strikes, etc.}

Connect Four Shots

Are you ready to try this strategy, but need test-like questions to minimize your prep time?

I'll keep you afloat with my math test prep bundles that are just waiting for you to print. These will surely add some challenge into your math test prep sessions. They can be used during testing season or throughout the year for a spiral review. The bundles come with printable game boards OR you can add your own physical game too. 

I hope this post inspires you to gamify your test prep sessions, if you need Connect Four Shots,
you can find it here.

The rigorous test prep bundles can be found in my TpT shop:

What are some other ways you have motivated and engaged your students during test prep sessions?

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One of my favorite things to do is walk into a bookstore. It doesn't matter if it is a big box bookstore or the Friends of the Library resell shop in town. I love books... especially children's picture books. Before I started teaching, I would buy any and all books. I have had to be more strategic as the years have passed and the space to shelve these books shrinks. My focus has been building a collection of diverse and rigorous books which I can use to teach mathematics. I buy math picture books now! I have four favorites that I use for teaching place value! I hope this list helps you as you grow your math picture book library!

Place Value Picture Books

The Best Picture Books for Place Value

Picture books provide an opportunity to open mathematical discussions with children. This list will help you find the best picture books to use with your classroom to facilitate their learning of place value. Each of these titles specifically teach mathematical concepts about place value and were written to inform the reader about them. This is not an exhaustive list of books that can be used to teach this skill, but a solid start of titles that I actually own and use!

This post contains affiliate links for Amazon. I only recommend items that I own and use to my Valued Partners. By purchasing an item on the Amazon site using these links, I will receive a very small commission on your purchase that allows me to maintain this website. Thank you for your continued support!

Count to a Million by Jerry Pallotta - Place Value Picture Books
Count to a Million

Count to a Million

Popular children's author, Jerry Pallotta, hits it out of the ballpark again with this title, Count to a Million! If you can count to ten, you can count to one million! That's a pretty bold statement! Although some may have their doubts, readers will find themselves counting higher than they ever thought possible, inspiring even the most reluctant math student, as they build confidence and have fun.

Earth Day- Hooray! Place Value Picture Books
Earth Day-Hooray!

Earth Day-Hooray!

I can't get enough of the MathStart books by Stuart J. Murphy! Earth Day–Hooray! is one of his most popular children’s books too!  Earth Day-Hooray! is a story about Ryan, Luke, and Carly.  These friends need to collect and recycle 5,000 cans if they want to make enough money to plant flowers in the park.  This story is a two-for-one lesson about recycling and the math skill of place value.  Your students will be counting by groups of hundreds, tens, and ones as you read this title to them!

How Much is a Million? Place Value Picture Books
How Much is a Million?

How Much is a Million?

How Much is a Million? by David M. Schwartz is a great story about large numbers.  Ever wonder just what a million of something actually means? How about a billion? Or a trillion? Marvelosissimo, the mathematical magician, can teach you! Say that two times fast! How Much is a Million? breaks down complex numbers down to size in a fun and humorous way that helps children conceptualize a difficult mathematical concept.

Math Fables: Lessons That Count Place Value Books
Math Fables: Lessons That Count

Math Fables:  Lessons That Count

Math Fables: Lessons That Count by Greg Tang is an amazing resource for teaching children their math skills, in particular place value!  Through these “fables” about concepts that are relevant to the very youngest math learners, including sharing, teamwork, etc., Tang encourages children to see the basics of addition and subtraction in entirely new ways. Fresh, fun, and most of all, inspiring, this title is perfect for launching young readers on the road to math success!

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Don't Judge a Book by Its Cover!

Other Place Value Titles on my Personal Wish List

Place Value by David A. Adler (Popular Author)- This is a newly released book!

You had better not monkey around when it comes to place value. The monkeys in this book can tell you why! As they bake the biggest banana cupcake ever, they need to get the amounts in the recipe correct. There’s a big difference between 216 eggs and 621 eggs. Place value is the key to keeping the numbers straight. Using humorous art, easy-to-follow charts and clear explanations, this book presents the basic facts about place value while inserting some amusing monkey business.

Join Sir Cumference and the gang for more wordplay, puns, and problem solving in the clever math adventure about place-value and counting by tens. Sir Cumference and Lady Di planned a surprise birthday party for King Arthur, but they didn’t expect so many guests to show up. How many lunches will they need? And with more guests arriving by the minute, what about dinner? Sir Cumference and Lady Di count guests by tens, hundreds, and even thousands to help young readers learn place-value. Fans will love this new installment of the Sir Cumference series that makes math fun and accessible for all.

A Million Dots by Andrew Clements

It's a long way to 
a million, right?
Of course it is.
But do you really know 
what a million looks like? 

If you'd like to see -- actually see, right now, with your own eyes -- what a million looks like, just open this book. 

Be prepared to learn some interesting things along the way. Like how many shoe boxes it would take to make a stack to Mount Everest. And be prepared to do some number wondering of your own. But, most of all, be prepared to be amazed. Because a million is a LOT of dots.

I hope this post inspires you to use picture books as you teach place value.

What are some of the math picture books you use in your classroom?

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The Best Books for Teaching Place Value by Down River Resources

Have you ever had the privilege of making a home visit and seeing one of your students interact with their family? It's quite a fascinating experience! As a lifelong learner and constant observer, I often find ways that help me understand the "whole child" of which I am responsible for teaching. Teaching social skills is one of many skill sets that should be taught to our students, but is often overlooked due to time constraints and the growing demand of teaching content standards. I have found that you can incorporate social skills into your regular classroom day by using a quick and effective method. This method can be used to teach one of the most essential social skills in the classroom, using the appropriate voice tone.

Three Steps to Using the Appropriate Voice Tone

Teaching How to Use the Appropriate Voice Tone Now

Think about your home growing up. I came from a home where the voice tone got a little loud, especially on Friday nights when the entire family would gather around the large round table to enjoy a fiesta of tacos and burritos. It might be an amusing sight, especially since I am of Eastern European decent, but surely a product of growing up along the United States-Mexican border! 'Ole! 

Students usually bring the voice tone that they are accustomed to into the classroom. While I had to learn how to adjust my voice tone when speaking with a small group, some students live in a soft-spoken home. Students that come from this type of environment have to learn to use their speaker voice when addressing the class. These types of adjustments are necessary and teaching this social skill explicitly can save you a lot of time throughout the school year.

The Importance of Social Skills 

Social skills are sets of behaviors that help individuals interact with one another in ways that are socially acceptable and beneficial. Teaching children that there are new ways of thinking, new ways to feeling good, and new ways of behaving are reasons we teach social skills.

Social skills can be broken down in a step-by-step manner. By breaking down these skills, we identify the behaviors that need to be included to get the desired result. Making sure that each step is observable, we can instantly know if students are meeting the expectations. 

Three Masterful Steps to Using Appropriate Voice Tone

1. Listen to the level of the voices around you.

2. Change your voice tone to match.

3. Watch and listen for visual or verbal cues and adjust your voice as needed.

Three Masterful Steps to Using Appropriate Voice Tone

Supporting Students Visually with a Voice Level Chart

Standardizing a few simple volume levels for your classroom can prove helpful, especially as we encourage learning in a variety of settings.

We can use these volume levels as we directly teach using appropriate voice tone. Model these volumes before having small groups practice these voice tones. 

Once you have these voice levels established in your classroom, you can clarify for each activity which level is most appropriate. 

For example, before releasing your students to work with their small group on a math problem, you might say simply, “We are working at a voice level two.”

Once using this system, students become accustomed to the appropriate voice tone. When it becomes a regular routine, you do not need to spend any time on noting the voice tone for the activity unless needed.

This classroom voice level chart can be used to display the appropriate voice tone in the classroom during a specific activity.

Supporting Students Who Struggling Using Appropriate Voice Tone

Visual Cue

You can simply point to the voice level chart displayed in the room or hold up the corresponding voice level using your fingers.

Create a personal voice levels chart that students can keep on their desks. Add a colorful or seasonal clothespin that students can adjust based on the activity they are working on. Having this support on their desk helps students remember that they are to work using a certain voice tone.

Students can keep a personal voice level chart at their desk. This can be used as an additional visual support for students. Add a colorful clothespin to keep students focused on a particular voice level for a specified activity.

Corrective Prompt

You can quickly refer to the visual voice level chart along with a corrective prompt. 

As you smile, and in a positive voice, say: "Hey Josh, where's level 3?"

Coupling Statement

You can also use a coupling statement where you briefly describe the inappropriate behavior while offering the more appropriate alternative behavior. Say: "Josh, you walked into class using a Level 3 voice. Try coming in again using a Level 0."

Teachers Need to Explicitly Teach Social Skills

After reflecting on my own teaching practice, I was curious how other teachers handle social skills. I reached out to my audience on Instagram and inquired:

Do you explicitly teach using the appropriate voice tone to your class?

Sixty percent of respondents stated that they had not taught this social skill. 

If you want your students to use the appropriate voice tone in your classroom, you can to teach the process step-by step. 

I hope this post inspires you to teach this essential skill and if you'd like to use my voice level charts to help you along this process, you can find them in my TpT shop.

What are some of the other social skills you are thinking about teaching explicitly to your classroom this school year?

Make sure to pin and save this post for future reference.

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