Category Archives: Teaching

The Power of Storytelling

Do you sometimes think your stories don’t make a difference? Think again.

Storytelling has power. As teachers and writers, we can harness that power and use our storytelling for the good of all our listeners.

In an engaging TED talk, Princeton neuroscientist Uri  Hasson shows us what actually happens inside our brains when we are engaged in a story. That story might be a video, a book, or a memory your grandmother is sharing with you. It’s amazing to see how, across a wide spectrum, people’s brain patterns synced when presented with the same story. Even more amazing to me was how one small sentence could change the entire message and brain patterns of the listeners.


This has two implications for me:

  1. As a writer, I want to convey meaning to my readers/listeners that will improve their lives in some way. Perhaps it will help them to reach understanding of something in themselves, or open up a window into a new facet of their lives. Or perhaps they just need some downtime to relax. Words and communication have the power to connect us.
  2. As a teacher, one tiny sentence can change the entire meaning of a lesson I am giving. I’m always aware that what I say can have a deep impact on my little learners. This TED talk reemphasized that for me, and reminded me to always be careful of what I say to my students. I want them to love learning. I want them to be happy in my classroom. I want them to think they are geniuses.

This TED talk has been viewed over 1.5 million times in just under a year. It’s a message for our times, especially in our current political climate. Uri Hasson calls this neural entrainment. You can click the link and read the research, if you’re so inclined.

I hope you enjoy the presentation and hopefully take something away from it. I know I did.



Building A+ Better Teacher

Building a Better Teacher

I began this book with high hopes. After reading the reviews on Amazon, I thought I was going to be treated to new, cutting edge information related to Common Core teaching. Since we’ve had a tectonic shift in the way we teach, I expected as much from this book.

It didn’t meet my expectations, but that’s my own fault. I didn’t realize how much research and investigation into teaching I have read over the past few years. Building A+ Better Teacher is a summary of metadata from many different sources about what works and what doesn’t.

If you’re new to education, or you’ve just begun reading the research, this book is a concise way to catch up on what has been happening in the education field. If you are up-to-date on your professional reading, this book will be an extra reinforcement of what you already know.

The author, Elizabeth Green covers a good deal of educational history, and focuses a few specific teachers who have made groundbreaking changes, such as Doug Lemov. It’s a valuable book, but again, it’s a review of the metadata from educational practices and research.


Author Suzanne Lilly’s blog

Suzanne Lilly2013_THThanks for stopping by my blog, Suzanne Lilly blogging as the TeacherWriter.  I’m a teacher, an author, and an avid reader. I mostly blog about books I’ve read or teaching and writing, but occasionally something else sneaks onto the screen.

On social media, you’ll find me as Suzanne Lilly. So if you’re looking for the TeacherWriter, on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads, here are the places I spend the most time:

Oh, and the person blogging as Suzanne Lilly on a blogspot? Yeah, that’s not me. I’m just letting you know.

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Doing #NaNoWrimo #YWP with Thirty Tweens

The world famous noveling month has arrived, and with it, the bubbling enthusiasm of my 5th grade students. These ten year old writers are scribbling about unicorns, runway models, mystery-solving orphans, giant superheroes in tight pants, and most anything a kid can imagine.

In honor of their fortitude and creativity, I’m posting this video by Kid President. He says, “Don’t be boring. You’re gooder than that. You’re awesome.

“If you can watch this without smiling and feeling inspired, then I’m not sure if we can be friends. Go ahead. Enjoy!

TeacherWriter Free Common Core Worksheets

In honor of back to school and new standards for teaching, I finally joined TeachersPayTeachers!

I spent this morning developing a Common Core Report Card in Excel. When I finished, I thought, “Why don’t I share this with other teachers?” You can download my report card with the anchor standards and additional standards now at my TeachersPayTeachers store. It’s available for trimester grading and quarter grading calendars.


I also posted my Common Core Math Problem of the Week worksheet for FREE download. It’s adaptable to all grade levels. You type in your own problem, the Common Core standard, and let the students work it out in the thinking bubbles.

It’s the beginning of the year, and I’m giving away my Student Information Survey in English and Spanish. It’s a great way to get to know personal details about your students, from their parents. The questions ask about food allergies, family members, pets, reading habits, extracurricular activities, and other topics. I’ve used this for years, and parents have told me they love being able to tell me about their children’s strengths and their concerns.

The last file I added today is my Math Quick Reference Sheet. It’s great for homework folders and putting inside binders. It has songs, charts, and mnemonics for remembering things like prime numbers, order of operations, double digit multiplication, and the mean.

How to Get Students into Groups

So you want to put your students into groups for a quick activity, and everyone seems to have a different idea of how to do it. Well, good news for you! There are many different ways to group students, depending on the activity. Grouping can be as simple as 1-2-3-4 or blue-red-green-yellow. Here are a few ideas. Try one, try them all, and use them as much or as little as you like.

Using Cards to Group Students

This is a great one to use on the first day back to school. As students enter the room, each one is given a playing card. Once the students are in the room, there are several ways to group them.

  • Students with hearts stand in one corner, clubs in another corner, diamonds in another, and spades in the fourth corner.
  • Students gather in groups of four, with each person having a different suit in his hand.
  • Students with red cards move to one side of the room, and students with black cards stand on the other side of the room.
  • Students find a partner with a card that comes just before or just after their card. For example, a person with a 9 will look for a partner holding an 8 or a 10.

Using Colors to Form Groups

Students are given a colored dot on their hands or on their desks. Packs of colored dots in red, green, yellow, and blue may be purchased at office supply stores.

  • Four students may group together if each person has a different color dot.
  • All the students of the same color may form a group.
  • Students with two colors form one team, students with the other two colors form another team. For a game it could be reds and yellows against the blues and greens.

Group Students by Numbers

I always assign student numbers and I use them to set up groups.

  • Odd numbered students make one group and even numbered students make another.
  • Three groups can be formed by having all students with a number that is a multiple of 3 move to one area of the room. (See the hidden math lesson here?) The remaining students divide into two groups of odd numbers and even numbers.
  • Any number of groups may be created by counting off. Five groups may be organized by having students line up. Move down the line, having the students call out 1, 2, 3, 4 ,5, then starting over. All the ones form a group, twos form another group, and so on.

Group by Position

In this activity, students position themselves and then form groups.

  • Students find a partner. Once everyone has a partner, one person sits down. All seated people form one team, all standing people form another. This is a great way to divide into teams outside for sports.
  • Students form a triad. Once all students are in groups of three, one person sits down, one person places her hands on her head, and the other person remains standing. Students are placed in groups according to what position they held. Again, this is great for P.E.
  • Students form two lines and face each other. The persons across from each other become partners.

I’ve also used stickers with themes, colored popsicle sticks, favorite fruits, and so on. You can be as creative as you want in getting students into groups for activities.

Have fun!

Your turn: What’s your favorite way to group your students? Do tell in the comments!

Organize your classroom with these tips!

Classroom Seating Arrangements That Work

How you organize the seating arrangement of the classroom has an effect on the rest of the school year. But sometimes it’s hard to decide on the best layout for the desks in your room. However it’s so important, I put it at the top of my Back to School organizing plan.

There are many ways of arranging the desks in a classroom, and many teachers and parents wax philosophic about why one arrangement is better than another. I’ve tried just about everything I could imagine at one time or another. The bottom line is this: the best arrangement is the one that fits the teacher’s style, fits the classroom dimensions, and feels comfortable to the students. Here are a few to consider.

Five Common Seating Arrangements

  1. Desks in rows, facing forward. Proponents of this arrangement say that when all the students are facing forward, there is less talking and all students are able to see the whiteboard.
  2. Desks in groups. The groups can be in two, four or six, with six usually the high number. When a group is larger than six, it interferes with the group dynamics and students splinter off into smaller informal groups of two or three. If grouping for cooperative work is the goal, then the number of students in the group should equal the number of tasks or jobs for cooperative work.
  3. Horsheshoe shape. In this arrangement, two rows of desks are facing each other from opposite sides of the room, and one row faces forward toward the whiteboard. This allows for communication between all members in the class, and works best in class sizes of 20 or fewer students.
  4. L shape arrangements. Two desks are placed at a right angle to two other desks. This desk configuration creates groups of four students that can work together cooperatively. In a small space, the L shape may be tessellated through the room with no space between the groups. This allows for a wide center aisle in an otherwise crowded room. This is one of my favorites.
  5. U shape arrangement. The desks are arranged in a U across the room, allowing all the students to see each other. This is similar to the horseshoe shape and is an excellent choice for classes that have class meetings for social development.

Things to Consider in a Classroom Seating Arrangement

  • When planning your classroom setup, keep these questions in mind.
  • Will every student be able to see the board and bulletin boards with learning tools?
  • Can you see every student clearly?
  • Is there plenty of room for lining up and exiting the room?
  • Is there sufficient space between desks for backpacks, lunches, and coats? It’s frustrating when students trip over each other’s belongings on their way to the pencil sharpener or computer station.
  • Is there sufficient aisle space for wheelchair access or for a student on crutches?

I personally don’t like to have a seating arrangement where any student has her back to the whiteboard, as sometimes is seen in group arrangements. The student has to turn around to see the front of the room, and it seems to lead to problems with paying attention. But some classrooms have round tables, and in that case, someone will have to turn around.

Do you have other ideas for seating arrangements? If you do, please tell about it in the comments.

Set up your classroom fast with this quick set-up plan!