Monday, September 9, 2013


Yes, I admit I am a terrible excuse for a  blogger, but just from today’s experiences I could probably write about 10 posts... so please excuse the long length!  Today was SO exciting.  I have to say it took some mental adjusting to teach 6th grade, although I was excited to teach many of my old students.  I have taught about 75% of the students in a prior grade, but only a third of the 6th graders have had me while using WBT.  This year is very different for me because it is my first year not being self- contained!  I teach Science and Geography to a little over 90 students within 3 classes that are grouped as Below Level, Basic, and Advanced.  Everyone may have their own opinion on homogenous grouping, but I must say that within each group there are still many different levels, and I get to teach one lesson in three different ways that work most directly to each student’s  level! 

Today I didn’t even teach any subject matter, I was simply guided by my WBT First Day Agenda.  Even though I used the same Agenda posted on the board with each class, it was carried out very differently with each group.  In every class there were at least 5-10 people who were my students last year, so I was able to move along a lot more smoothly because there was pressure to get up to their levels.  Here was my “Playlist” for the day, and how I taught each technique in my classes.


1.     Class-Yes
Students were taught to fold their hands as soon as they had the  “YES” response down packed.  I attempted many different variations with difference voices and sound levels.  I didn’t introduce this with the Scoreboard, but encouraged with "That was pretty good!” or “We can get more crisp than that 6th grade!”

2.     Complete Sentence
I began asking random students what they did this summer, after explaining that ALL things must be stated in a complete sentence.  I tried to trick some of them by changing the questions slightly, so they really tried their best to focus and answer in a complete sentence each time!

I taught Rule #1 with a “Repeat after me:” since Mirrors weren’t introduced yet. . We practiced, “Get in Line”, “Get in your seats”, “Backs straight up” and “Papers In”.  I created a “PR” section on the board with each class listed.  Each class I had got faster simply because they knew the time to beat and they were SUPER competitive! My last class got in line in 14 seconds, the second class was right in the middle, and the first class got in line in 17 seconds.

4.     Scoreboard
 I remember when I first started WBT I was always so conscious of keeping the points within 3.  With the art of ping ponging in my pocket, today I was always within 3 with every class, without being mindful of it!  I averaged 8-10 on each side with each class that as about 75 minutes long.  I created a “Bragging Box” on the board to display who had beat, tied or lost against the teacher!  They were told the only reward was bragging rights but were teased with possible future rewards, but only if they got really good!  Having my classes compete against each other seems to be totally working!

 Students from other classes who had seen last year’s videos wanted to say, “SWAG!” or “BALLIN!” when they got a point but I told them they have to build up their WBT swag first J We stuck with the usual, “OH YEAH!” with the clap but we did keep “OH NO!” with the Home Alone slap on the face for a teacher point!

5.     Mirrors
“When I say ‘mirrors’, you say ‘mirrors’ and put your hands out in front of you and follow all of my movements exactly as if you were a mirror!”  To be fun I did some of my signature (bad) dance moves to warm them up each time! I was really animated and had them repeat some pretty silly things to get them laughing.

6.     Mirrors with 5 Rules CALL OUT
Next, I had them mirror me and repeat each rule. I said, “Mirrors away” after adding in one more rule at a time and then had students stop and practice breaking the rule. I then taught students how to “Call each other out” when students were breaking rules.  I’d have a student get out of their seat without asking and then I’d say, “Rule number 3!” and everyone would respond, “ Raise your hand for permission to leave your seat!” and the student would go back and raise his/her hand. I called on my most disruptive and/or popular students to demonstrate for this!  I always find that the best way to get everyone to Buy-In.  Remember, our most difficult students just want attention in the first place!

7.     Teach- Okay
I asked students if they thought they all knew their rules and then told them it was time for them to become the teacher and teach each other the rules.  At this point I had energy levels so high from using the Scoreboard and rule practice, they were ready to try and outdo me!  We first practiced the routine Clap Clap “Teach!” while they responded with 2 claps and an “Okay!” Next I told them to face their neighbor and then face me.  I did this a few times, quickly stating, “FACE YOUR NEIGHBOR! FACE ME! FACE YOUR NEIGHBOR! FACE ME!”  They found this to be pretty amusing but they started laughing hysterically when I showed them they looked like they had chicken necks when they didn’t fully turn their bodies when facing their neighbor.  I then had them face their neighbor lightening fast with a full turn and their hands ready in the air to gesture.  Once this was super crisp, I had them teach each rule to each other without stopping until I called them back.  During this time I could have FAINTED!  The energy was so ridiculously high, I didn’t even have to tell them to use big gestures!  In one class I told them they had to “Give a Smilie in order to get a Smilie.”  This encouraged them to look like they were having even more oodles of fun in order to get a point.  Remember, FUN is the key to student learning!  (I did not do Teach-Okay with my lowest group because I made sure to keep a slower pace and use repitition a lot more than my other groups.  I will teach it tomorrow.

8.     Hands and Eyes
I told them that when I have a REALLY important point, I use Hands and Eyes to wake them up out of La La Land.  I teased them saying that when something is super important I might just have to take my hat or sunglasses off! 

9.     Oral Writing with Names
 With my lowest group, I started with a very simple sentence frame using oral punctuation, “My name is ________.”  I modeled it using the gesture for a capital letter and a period. I had a handful of students who could not speak English or understand a word of what I was saying in the beginning of class, and by the end of class were able to proudly say, (while using oral punctuation!) “My name is ____.”  I was so excited by their enthusiasm used while capitalizing the first word of the sentence and their name and also the “EERRRRT” for the period!  I had EVERY single student stand up and say this to introduce their names, so my ELL speakers were very focused to make sure they knew what they had to say!  The entire class of 30 is almost entirely made up of students with IEPS or ELLs, so this was quite an accomplishment.  I have to be honest and say I thought this class would be my largest challenge, but I only had to redirect a few of them! The ones who usually have a reputation for not staying focused seemed so overjoyed that they were actually encouraged to move around and actually speak during class!  I honestly saw the benefit of homogenous grouping when I noticed that the usually shy students were visibly more confident in front of students they often had seen in their Resource or ELL classes.

In my Advanced class, I had everyone stand up and give a Triple Whammy sentence about themselves!  “My name is ________ and I enjoy __________, ____________, and _____________.  I explained Clinkers, and even had them provide a few of their own after I modeled some.   I have some real characters in this class so they had everyone keeling over with their sentences about liking fuzzy penguins, and singing in the shower. Again, I had no resistance with standing up and stating their Whammy to the class because they felt the pressure from peers they have probably always felt in competition with.

At the very end of the day I had my middle group.  Ah, and I thought I’d end my day rebel- free.  This class had the most trouble makers- mostly boys! Buying them in was actually easy after using them to practice breaking rules.  Once I showed them my Bragging Box on the board, the most notoriousely difficult student raised his hand and said, “Ms. Cruz, excuse me  I need to speak to this class, cuz I am their leader.  I am competitive so we need to be the best class!”  Then he simply sat down and folded his hands. Gasp. Only one student in the class refused to participate at all.  What did I do, you ask?  I ignored the student.  I have something new in my back pocket that I will use on that special someone starting tomorrow.   I needed to give my time and energy to the students who WERE participating and not focus on the ONE who wouldn’t.  I KNOW this is hard, especially when you throw in eye rolling which is my ULTIMATE trigger, but I am not concerned in the least bit! Did you happen to notice the increase in my shouting words?! J If you’d like to hear more about it STAY TUNED !!!

Overall it was an amazing day filled with moments of Teacher Heaven.  Many might think I did too much on the first day, or not enough, but my students really responded to it in a positive way.  Tomorrow I will actually jump into teaching World Cultures/Geography with some WBT Pizzazz!  I can’t wait !

Monday, July 1, 2013

Do you want a WBT Conference in YOUR area?

I am now the conference director for the Southeast! If you live in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Tennessee and want a WBT half day Conference on a Saturday in your area, READ ON!

I am looking for schools to host conferences this school year that we can also promote on this website! If you believe you can organize a group of at least 50 teachers to attend a Saturday conference, and your principal is willing to attend the conference for the entire duration, the only cost would be traveling expenses for me to get there.

Imagine if your entire school or district was trained to use Whole Brain Teaching! YOU can make it happen and change the face of education in your area. We are working actively across the country to improve the quality of education for ALL of our students! If you are interested in organizing a conference, please comment below with your contact information and I will send you the detailed information as soon as possible!  LET'S GET THIS WBT PARTY STARTED!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

WBT Year One: Student Reflections

This year was phenomenal!  I started the year using WBT in full force and I never looked back.  Whole Brain Teaching has forever changed the way I teach and it really left an imprint on my students.  I asked  them their views on WBT and what they felt they improved on this year and here is the special video of their responses:

My next blog post will review my own Year One Reflection and my personal goals for next school year.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

PDF In Review: WBT Contrasting

The handy dandy PDFs Coach B. created to teach our classrooms while we sip on a foamy latte, are PERFECT for end of year lesson fillers.  To my surprise, it got the best response of any other PDF we have done thus far!  When I say even the most loafing students were out of their chairs begging to share the examples they created with their partners, I mean it!  EVERY single student was eagerly participating, yearning for the opportunity to detect what was DIFFERENT in each example.  The pictures are what really made the lesson enticing for students.

I particularly liked how the examples increased in difficulty, such as with Name That Box where students had to pick the contrast and use the Because Clapper to explain why they were right.   Eventually both boxes had contrasts or sometimes none at all!  Students enjoyed trying to dodge the trickery Coach B. had so carefully created.  As usual, the already made QT test gave me an excellent indicator of students understanding of the material, before heading into  critical thinking sentence frames.  

The lesson culminated with this final writing assignment:

We are on the second book, Reptile Room, of the Unfortunate Events series that my students LOVE!  I read a chapter aloud a day and give them very detailed writing prompts to answer.  This assignment fit in perfectly with the multitude of multi dimensional characters that we have come across. I gave them 15 minutes to write this 5 paragraph essay...What would have taken an hour or more to complete in the beginning of the year, now was completed in 15 minutes!!!  Ahh, I love Whole Brain Teaching.  You can view a few students sharing their essays with the class right here:

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Memorial Day Micro Essays

We all know the feeling...We come in after a long holiday weekend and our students eyes are glazed over, some are lying with their heads down, and we are left wondering, "How am I supposed to wake up this class?"  Enter Whole Brain Teaching and the beauty of Oral Writing.  The only way I was going to get them to use their verbal skills today was by getting them to share about something they were interested in- what they did over the weekend!

I wrote this essay guideline on the board:

Memorial Day Micro Essay

1.  Topic Sentence :  
     Three things I did during Memorial Weekend were __________, _________ and ________.
2.  1st example with a simile
3.  Adder
4.  2nd example with a simile
5.  Adder
6.  3rd example with a simile
7.  Adder
8.  Concluder

Personal essays are a wonderful way to have students willingly participate and remain engaged while doing something educationally beneficial!

Here is a video of my students producing micro essays first thing this morning :)

Friday, May 10, 2013

Oral Writing: Speaking Essays

Once your students are fluently speaking in paragraphs, they can begin to speak ESSAYS!  This is where  the wonderful Triple Whammy Sentence comes into play, previously known as the Triple Gold Sentence.  You can read more about this, and the very important CLINKERS, HERE in one of my old blog posts. 

The Triple Whammy is a topic sentence frame that can fit any subject or material you are currently working on, and its purpose is to guide the format of the entire essay.  Start with practicing micro-essays orally with your students, and then it will be an easier transition into a 5 paragraph essay.  For those that think, "My students can't even WRITE an essay properly, there's no way I can get them to SPEAK them!" let me share with you the reality that our students don't write well because we do not give them enough PRACTICE!  We all know that our students speak how they write, so if we teach them to speak essays, and give them daily opportunities to practice them through Oral Writing, our students actual writing will  substantially improve!

Micro- Essay Format: 

  • Triple Whammy Topic Sentence  ________, ________ and ________.
  • Two Adders about first part
  • Two Adders about second part
  • Two adders about third part
  • Concluder
5 Paragraph Essay Format: 
  • Introduction with Triple Whammy Topic Sentence ________________ and ________.
  • Paragraph about first part
  • Paragraph about second part 
  • Paragraph about third part
  • Conclusion

*Remember that a paragraph should have at least 3 sentences!

The color coding helps students organize their essay even more.  I use the Triple Whammy with a baseball theme, the Phillies of course, to help students keep track of where they are in their essay as they speak it.  I put matching color coded bases (square papers glued unto magnets) on the board in the shape of a diamond under the Triple Whammy Sentence.  I found a picture of our team's mascot, the Phillies Phanatic, and glued him to a magnet as well.  As students speak their paragraphs, a chosen student leader moves the Phanatic to the base that corresponds to the part a particular student is on in their essay.  This baseball theme is where the whole "Let's Go ____! Let's Go!" originated.  Every Friday we have a  Phillies Phanatic Triple Whammy Review segment where we review material from the week, using different topic sentence frames.

For many students, talking about personal subject matter will make it easier to string adders together to create essays.  Here are some personal essay Triple Whammy starters:

Recess is _____ because _____, ______, ______.

My favorite sport is ________ because ________, _______, and ______.

Our class is the best because ________, _______ and ________.

I love my family because ________, ________, ________.

Three qualities that describe me are ________, ________, ______.

Three things I am good at are _______, _______, _______.

My favorite subject in school is _______ because _______, ______ and ______.

Here are some other open ended sample topic sentence frames, or essay frames that you start with for school subject matter.  Notice the magic rule of three:

The three most important points in Chapter ____ were _____, _______, and ______.

Three things I can interpret from the diagram  are _______, ________, ________.

Three things I learned today are ________, _______ and ________.

Three things that cause _______ are ______, _______ and _______.

Three details from the poem that show ________ are ________, ________, and _____.

The author thinks _______because ______, ______, and ______.

I like to use Triple Whammies for review orally, but now I also use them heavily for typical writing assignments.  We do a written 5 paragraph essay at least once a week.  After reading a chapter a day, this week I finished reading aloud The Bad Beginning, the first book in A Series of Unfortunate Events.  For their writing assignment, I wrote this Triple Whammy sentence on the board:

 The Bad Beginning, written by Lemony Snicket, was _____________ because ________, ________ and ________.

The students took out their slates and began to write similes or metaphors to use in their Triple Whammy Essays.  Once I approved theirs, they went on to complete their Triple Whammy sentences, being sure to have a partner check that they didn't have any CLINKERS. This is ALL we did on the first day.  Since the Triple Whammy guides the entire essay, I give them the time to make sure they are properly constructed.

Here is a sample Triple Whammy written by a Mid-level student:

The Bad Beginning, written by Lemony Snicket, was as dreadful as a nightmare because the Baudelaire's parents died, the children had to live with an evil man, and Sunny was trapped in a high tower.


These are just some ideas to get you started, but you will find that it will be very easy to create Triple Whammy sentences that relate to the material you are working on in class.  Remember that the key is to PRACTICE!  Oral Writing should be integrated into EVERY part of your day.  If you have any open ended Triple Whammy sentence  frames you would like to share, please leave them in a comment!  The next post in this series will discuss citing evidence and using quotes in paragraphs.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Encouraging Classroom Confidence

I am not getting sidetracked from the Oral Writing Series, in fact I am addressing an issue that goes hand in hand with implementing Oral Writing in the classroom.  Whole Brain Teaching forces students to be vocal and animated, which for many shy students is intimidating.  Students do not like to participate because they do not like to fail.  If you create a supportive classroom environment where students  aren't able to fail,  then students will automatically gain more confidence.


Imagine a classroom where making a mistake means you hear a positive affirmation about yourself.  In a WBT classroom this is a regular occurrence.  Anytime I need to correct a student, I first give the gesture (like an "it's okay, no problem" wave) and the students exclaim enthusiastically, "You're still cool!"  After hearing that, many  times students realize the mistake and self correct on their own, but it really prevents the students from feeling bad about themselves.  Many of my students tend to forget they have this helpful rule, so while reading the Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids manual, I took note of the reminder to cue the class for the student by saying "Help him/her!"" I remember when I used to be in school and someone gave the wrong answer, you would hear snickers, smirks or "I can't believe she didn't know that"!  A WBT classroom is a place where it is okay to make mistakes or be given direction.   Heck, even I hear "Your still cool," several times a day, and it makes me feel SO cool :)


Just like you get stuck sometimes while writing, it is natural for students to also find themselves stuck when giving oral answers!  A student might raise their hand and completely lose their train of thought, or you may call on a student and they are completely lost!  Instead of sitting there awkwardly in front of the class, teach them to simply say "Help me!" and throw their arms up.  That is the cue for the class to start throwing out suggestions aloud to answer the question.  The student will then find themselves with a multitude of hints to help them get "unstuck" and answer the question. In general, students will have more confidence participating and answering questions because they know they've got the support of their peers.


 Some students get nervous when called upon, and ramble on and on about things unrelated to the question.  Other students like the spotlight and simply enjoy hearing themselves speak!  Regardless, students need to learn to stay ON topic  and answer questions confidently while keeping their answers focused.  All sentences in a paragraph must relate to the topic, and so the same rules apply with Oral Writing.  When students are answering a question, walk your fingers down your arm for each adder that stays on topic.  As soon as a sentence seems to veer off into left field, exclaim "AIIEE" and have your fingers bungee jump off your arm and return.  Students will repeat the gesture and say "Oh no! You fell off topic!" This is also great practice for students to decipher as a listener when a sentence is not directly related to the sentence before it.  If you train your students to fine tune their ears to  spot out when something in incorrect, it will be easier for them to prevent those same mistakes!  Part of being confident, is believing that you know what you are talking about, and having additional practice in this area will only help with student confidence!

"LET'S GO ____!  LET'S GO!

 This idea isn't a WBT thing, but it was something my class came up with for our Phillies Fridays and it became a staple due to popular demand.  When students stand, it is now suggested that we use  "All eyes on ____ " to get all students to focus their attention on one particular person. Students then respond with "All eyes on _____".   However,  immediately after we now  go into the sports chant, "Let's go _____.  Let's Go! Let's go _____. Let's Go!"  It instantly amps students up, and gives them that extra boost of belief in themselves to answer the question.  

Many times shy students feel safer in a partner setting such as in "Teach- Okay".  When rotating around to listen in on student answers and gauge their understanding, zero in on those "shy" students who try and be invisible when it comes time to share out to the class.  Whisper to that student that you may have them share their great answer to the class, so that they begin to prepare themselves.  Once they hear their classmates cheering them on, you see their enthusiasm and confidence instantly appear!  Wouldn't you have wanted  your own cheer squad back when you were in school?


These techniques can help students participate more and help them become more sure of themselves and their answers.  Make your room failure free, encourage peer support, and give as many opportunities for your students to hear positive affirmations about themselves.  This will give ALL your students the ability to soar.  

What techniques do you use  to encourage classroom confidence?  Please share!