Make the Best Decision: A Free Tool for Teachers and Students

It is an understatement to say that I've learned a lot from my dad. He can fix anything. I have this great memory of coming home from school to my dad sitting on the floor surrounded by the washing machine in about 1,000 pieces and thinking to myself, "There is no way this is ending well." I won't act like I didn't hear any choice words whispered under his breath, but somehow the next day that washing machine was working like new. 
As a Father's Day tribute, this post explains dad's decision-making philosophy with a free tool to help you practice making the best decisions and teach your students to do the same. Apply this concept and tool to the real-world or the classroom!

In terms of his role in my life, he was (and still is) my coach, counselor, financial planner, mechanic, contractor, and for lack of a better term, my hero. Without getting too sentimental, I'd like to share one of the most important life tools that I learned from my dad: the Pro Con List. 

As a Father's Day tribute, this post explains dad's decision-making philosophy with a free tool to help you practice making the best decisions and teach your students to do the same. Apply this concept and tool to the real-world or the classroom!

It seems so simple, but it really has guided my decision making since I was a little girl. I'm not saying that you should make a pro con list for every decision (i.e. it's not really necessary or advised to use it for deciding what to order at a restaurant). However, for important decisions, it has really, really helped me. 

I love it so much that I even created the "pretty" version you see above to use in my classroom (for reading and counselling). You can download it for free here. I print off a bunch and have them in my classroom in case a student comes to me with a difficult decision (e.g. What college should I go to?, Should I take AP next year?, etc.). I also use it as during reading and after reading activities. For example, when after reading part I of Antigone by Sophocles, I ask students to assume the role of Creon, the antagonist in the tragic Greek play. I ask them to complete a Pro Con list for Creon's big decision: should he or shouldn't he punish his niece, Antigone, for disobeying his edict? The students use the Pro Con list to determine what Creon should do. At the conclusion of the story, we revisit their Pro Con list and discuss what Creon should have or could have done differently based on their judgments. Not only are they addressing higher-order thinking skills, but the students are also learning and important life skill: decision making. As you can tell, the Pro Con List is a big time winner in my book.

As a Father's Day tribute, this post explains dad's decision-making philosophy with a free tool to help you practice making the best decisions and teach your students to do the same. Apply this concept and tool to the real-world or the classroom!

Here's why I love it:

  1. It requires higher order thinking. Evaluating a decision and potential outcomes is one of the highest thinking skills on Bloom's Taxonomy. 
  2. A Pro Con list makes the abstract, concrete. Decision making (and thinking in general) are abstract. However, once you put potential outcomes and realities on paper, it becomes concrete, hence helping you make better decisions.
  3. It's universal. If you can write, you can do a Pro Con list. Adults and children alike can benefit from this practice.
  4. You have a record of what you were thinking long after the decision is relevant. I found a Pro Con list that I made years ago when I decided to go to pursue my doctorate in education instead of law school. Not only is it interesting to see how far you've come from that decision, but it is also validating to remember why you made that decision.
  5. It really does help you make the best decision, and even if it doesn't work out perfectly, at least you know you made an informed decision.

Happy Father's Day to one awesome dad! I love you!

As a Father's Day tribute, this post explains dad's decision-making philosophy with a free tool to help you practice making the best decisions and teach your students to do the same. Apply this concept and tool to the real-world or the classroom!

Best of luck with your next decision!

As a Father's Day tribute, this post explains dad's decision-making philosophy with a free tool to help you practice making the best decisions and teach your students to do the same. Apply this concept and tool to the real-world or the classroom!

10 Meaningful Graduation Gifts That Will Make an Impact

Graduation season is upon us, which means you've likely been invited to graduation parties for former students. No matter your philosophy about attending graduation parties, you most likely will find yourself in search of the perfect graduation gift for at least one special graduate. Of course, you can give money or a gift card, but it's unlikely to make a lasting impression and the cost can quickly add up if you're attending several (or many) graduation parties. One meaningful graduation gift that can make a true impact is a book picked specifically for that special student. With a personalized inscription in the front cover, the student will not only remember you when his or she picks up that book, but if you choose wisely, the meaning behind the book selection can become a special treasure. Plus, you're a teacher, so books are kinda your thing!

Check out this post for ten meaningful graduation gifts for every student in your class. These ideas will make an lasting impact (but won't break the bank)!

The following list describes 10 books that are perfect for every student in your class. These books not only match with a particular interest, but they are really meaningful books for any reader (even you!). Most of them are so cost efficient you could even pair the book with another special trinket (as I explain for a few of them).

*Thank you to my husband (a social studies teacher) who helped me compile this book list!

For questioners:

The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True by Richard Dawkins

Written by famous evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, this nonfiction book is the perfect gift for a student who asks insightful questions. I call these students "questioners" because they simply don’t stop questioning. To encourage them to keep asking those tough questions, give this book, which highlights many fascinating and challenging questions and their scientific answers, and rest assured their questions will keep coming.

For organization-fanatics (or students who need to become more organized):

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Mari Kondo

Taken from the title, life changing is just about the only way I can sum up this book! It is perfect for any organization fiend, like myself, or any student who needs a push in the right direction. This book would be perfect for a student who is ready to pack up his or her belongings and head to college. Need proof? Check out this post by B’s Book Love. She talks about how this book inspired her and her husband to downsize, and while you’re there, you can learn about how to apply it’s magic to your classroom.

For leaders:

Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success by John Wooden and Jay Carty

I read this book for the first time in one of my doctoral classes. The basic principles outlined in Coach Wooden’s pyramid can be applied to just about any life situation, which makes it a great gift for a graduate on your list, especially those leaders who may want personal and professional development.

For athletes and/or soon-to-be soldiers:

Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by John Krakauer

Pat Tillman is one of my heroes, and his story, though tragic, is inspiring on so many levels. He was an NFL star who left the game (and millions of dollars) to respond to his personal call to serve his country after 9/11. His story will inspire your graduate to follow Tillman's free spirit, patriotism, and heart.

For poets:

Poetry 180 by Billy Collins

This poetry collection by former American poet laureate, Billy Collins, is a collection of 180 contemporary poems that are accessible and impactful. One of my favorite poems in this collection is “Animals” by Miller Williams. This short poem that relates the lives of our pets to periods in our lives is just one example of the finely selected poems that are likely to engage new graduates.

For nature lovers:

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Your students may have touched upon transcendentalism in their American Literature class, but it’s not until they read Walden in its entirety will they understand the “truth in the quiet of nature.” As a bonus, this classic work is only $5, so you could pair it with a beautiful bouquet of flowers or a small plant.

For adventurers:

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

This classic novel is touted as one of the best adventure stories. As a bonus, it’s really cheap (like $3 cheap), so you could pair it with a compass as both a practical and meaningful gift to symbolize finding your way. Credit goes to my dear friend and colleague, Mrs. Mortimer, for the compass idea! She also makes beautiful t-shirts blankets that make beautiful graduation gifts and would be perfect for keeping warm on a chilly night by the campfire. You can find her on Instagram here.

For class clowns:

Connect Using Humor and Story: How I Got 18 Laughs and 3 Applauses in a 7 Minute Persuasive Speech by Mr Ramakrishna Reddy

This book is a great addition for anyone. It contains practical advice and step-by-step directions for using humor. Though it tops the list in price, it is worth it. Not to mention, you usually only have one class clown!

For future lawyers:

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

I got this idea from one of my former students. She loves this book so much that she asked me to read a chapter of it before I had even heard of it. When she stopped back the next period to talk about it, I had tears running down my face. It’s that good. Civil rights attorney, Bryan Stevenson, will make an impact with this book.

For aspiring educators:

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things by Robert Fulghum

What I like about this book is that it is a great first book to build a classroom library, and it contains important fundamental life advice.

Check out this post for ten meaningful graduation gifts for every student in your class. These ideas will make an lasting impact (but won't break the bank)!

I hope these ideas can help you give a special gift to your special graduate. You don't have to be a teacher to give these books either! Don't forget to write a special inscription in the front cover so the student knows why you picked that particular book for him or her.

Happy summer!

5 End-of-the-Year Activities to Go Out BIG

The end of the year is like a curtain closing on a long, dramatic play. Like any good playwright, we want to go out big! But, the end of the year poses it’s own challenges: wrapped up curriculum, checked-out attitudes, and lots of paperwork. What end-of-the-year activities will keep your students engaged until the end while also providing meaningful closure? Fear not! I have five great activities so you can rock your final curtain call. And, if they request an encore, I have some backups for you too.
This is an awesome digital resource for the end of the year, but you might even want to use it for yourself anytime of the year. To use this free service, you simply write an email to your FutureMe and pick a date in the future for it to be delivered. It’s a perfect wrap up the school year because it includes both reflection and prediction. Here are the directions I give: Write a letter to your FutureMe to be delivered on [this day] exactly one year from now. In your letter include these four things: 1) A reflection on this school year, 2) a prediction on your future, 3) a piece of advice to your FutureMe, and 4) a reminder to email or visit [your name] at this time next year.

It really works too! At graduation this year, I had many students tell me to expect an email from them next year. What a great way to keep in touch with your former students! This is a one-day lesson, so it would be perfect as a meaningful one-day filler or a last-day activity.

2. Podcasts

There are podcasts for just about any area of interest or expertise. I found three engaging and meaningful podcasts from The Chalene Show to play for life advice at the end of the year, and it’s worked out really well. What makes these three podcasts really great is that they all include some type of interactive component, list making, reflecting, and taking a quiz. This makes the podcasts interactive, and it helps the students stay engaged so they don’t zone out while listening. In addition, the three topics are really important for getting organized, finding your purpose, and checking your attitude. I suggest you listen and follow along too!

  • Episode 227 The Key to Getting Organized: For this one, they will be asked to get out a piece of paper and pencil and follow along to prompts.
  • Episode 147 What the Heck is Your Purpose: They will also be asked to get out pencil and paper for this one too.
  • Episode 155 Oh No! Your Attitude is Showing!: There is a quiz for this one.

These episodes are all around 30 minutes, so for me with 40-minute periods, we have time to discuss the content. The podcasts work great independently or as a group of three.

3. Email etiquette

Again, credit goes to my husband for this awesome lesson. He found an excellent article called, “U Can’t Talk to Ur Professor Like This” by Molly Wharton. Wow! This article is so pertinent to our high school students as they prepare for post-secondary education and the real world. As a part-time college professor, I know all too well how my college students lack email etiquette.

  1. Start off by reading the article as a class. You could use this article analysis guide to analyze the modes of persuasion and the tone.
  2. Discuss the article as a class.
  3. Review this website, linked in the article, to discussion email etiquette.
  4. Then, give several scenarios and ask students to compose an email based on that scenario, e.g. your digital gradebook says you have a zero for an assignment you know you completed, you missed class and you can’t find the homework, you are sick and can’t attend class, you are unhappy with your grade on an essay, etc. You might even ask a few students to intentionally write unacceptable emails so you can point out the flaws.
  5. Instruct students to read their emails to the class and ask the class to critique the emails.

This process can be a lot fun, and more importantly, it can teach real-world 21st century skills that our students so desperately need. Students need to learn these skills, and the end of the year is a great time to fit it in your curriculum.

4. Charades

Really, who doesn’t love charades? This one is so simple, but it’s really a ton of fun! All you need to do is come up with a list of terms, concepts, ideas, vocabulary, etc. that relate to your class. Write them down on slips of paper and then play charades. I like using charades as a review game (shown below), but you can use it as a standalone game.

Follow me on Instagram @doc_cop for more teaching tidbits!

5. Film study

Of course, I couldn’t write about the end of the year without including some movie suggestions. This seems to be the go-to for most teachers. It keeps your students entertained and out of trouble. But, we’re not talking about watching a movie just to keep them busy and fill time. A film study requires a focused and thoughtful analysis of the film. Here are two ideas for you that could be applied to humanities classes:

  1. I use Life Is Beautiful, the Italian tragicomedy, for my end-of-the-year film study. Because my students dive deep into tragedy, like Macbeth, and comedy, such as The Importance of Being Earnest, this film acts an engaging denouement to the year. As a bonus, the film is in Italian so they have to read subtitles. You can find my film study unit here.
  2. My husband who teaches AP Government and Politics and senior government shows 12 Angry Men, a classic courtroom drama starring Henry Fonda. He asks students to write a reflection answering the following prompts:
  1. Explain what each character represents.
  2. Explain which character you most identify with and why.
  3. Analyze the film’s message about democracy and the legal system.

As your curtain closes this year, I hope you can use these ideas to take your final bow with pride knowing you went out big!

The end of the year possesses many challenges, but this year, finding meaningful closure won't be one of them! Check out this post for five engaging end-of-the-year activities for your secondary students, so you can go out BIG!

Happy (almost) summer!

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