Tag Archives: Teach Like a Pirate

Hook ’em First: Best Suggestions for Walk-In or Do Now Activities

I recently sat down with Larry Ferlazzo, Nancy Sulla, and Matthew Homrich-Knieling to discuss the best suggestions for walk in and do-now activities. We are talking about the academic work before the bell rings and the teacher’s mini-lesson.

You can listen to our conversation from Larry’s podcast Classroom Q & A on BAM Radio here.

There is no one do now or hook that works for all teachers and students. Nancy spoke about offering choice activities in the learner active classroom. And choices for teachers and students are important to personalize learning for the diverse students in our classrooms. I tend to change up the hooks in my classroom so no one activity is the same. I also like the idea of putting do-nows on task cards so students can choose to complete or a teacher can have students choose a new task card each day from a set. There is no one correct way to start the class, teachers need to connect with their content and consider the learners in their classroom.

Here are ways that I have my students working before the bell rings:

Poem A Day – Everyday begin with a poem. It can be based on current events, content material, or beautiful language. The teacher can read aloud the poem, post on the SMARTboard, share a paper or digital copy, or show a video of performance poetry for students to read and respond.

Gallery Walk with Text or QR Code Links – During a dystopian unit we look at rebellion, revolt, and revolution. I begin the class with QR Codes around the room linking to videos from the news and popular movies like Hunger Games as well as images throughout history for students to identify as rebellions, revolts, or revolutions. Some of the pictures include Arab Spring, the Boston Tea Party, and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. Viewing these images help students to create a definition of the three terms and help lead us to a discussion of these concepts and how they play out in the dystopian texts students are reading. You can also do this activity with excerpts from passages of a book students are reading or key quotes that students read and respond to.

Quick Writes and Journaling – Begin with a question or practice what Julia Cameron titled in her book, The Art’s Way (2016), morning pages. “Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. – There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages – they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page.

Sentence Work – For more formal writing practice I reference these sentence activities in the podcast with Larry Ferlazzo. This is not something my students do everyday, but are grounded in the the reading students engaged in. You can read more about sentence work strategies in my blog post Building Better Sentences. When students were reading the short story Most Dangerous Game, students completed this sentence frame:

Internal & External Conflict

Lastly, Do Nows and Walk in are Hooks. That means they are meant to hook the students into the lesson and excite them about learning in your classroom today. Engagement is key. Taking inspiration from Dave Burgess and his book Teach Like a Pirate, hooks can be  based on music, art, movement, games, play, involve the students, student choice, sensory. So, when thinking about your next lesson, how might you get your students thinking, engaged, and excited for today’s lesson?

Draw – A storyboard, a picture, sketch notes.

Taste – When we are reading about Scout and Jem finding Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum in To Kill a Mockingbird, I gave every student a piece of Wrigley’s Gum as they entered the classroom and we did some detective work in the text who might have left the gum in the Tree Knot.

Games – Take it digital or old school and have students answer questions, play Guess Who? or even design a quick review from yesterday’s lesson with Quizlet Live, QuizZ, or Kahoot.

Get Dramatic – Give small groups of students a scenario or props and they have to create a tableau (a frozen picture) or act out a key scene or potential scenarios presented in a text. Before reading Midsummer Night’s Dream and to introduce the play I give small groups of students different scenarios that take place in the play and students have to improvise a short scene how the situation plays out.

Music and Mozart – Bring in music, teach a song or play a song for students to listen to and make connections with. Have your students write a song or stanza to convey an idea or concept.

Get Crafty – Use legos, play dough, or any craft materials for students to create a 3-D image or representation of a concept, idea, or scene in a book.



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5 Ideas for Blending Gamification in Your ELA Classroom

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

– Benjamin Franklin

I have been reading Michael Matera’s EXPLORE Like a Pirate: Gamification and Game-Inspired Course Design to Engage, Enrich, and Elevate Your Learners as well as participating in weekly twitter chats about each chapter of the book with amazing teachers who have gamified their content area classroom and Michael Matera himself. These chats allow me to curate ideas and rethink how I am using gamification in my own eighth grade English Language Arts classroom.


I have used game based learning in my middle school classroom for a few years now and I have catalogued some of the games that I have created in my classroom and other gamification tools I use to engage and enrich my students’ classroom experiences below.

1. “Amazing Race”Style Learning Stations – Why not spice up learning stations with an Amazing Race style activity? Teams of students stop at different locations around the classroom (or utilize the entire school) completing various tasks. Check out the To Kill a Mockingbird Amazing Race Activity I created and describe in a previous blog post.

2. Avatar Autobiographies – I am currently using Classcraft Games, a gaming platform throughout my English class. Students earn points in order to unlock special privileges in my classroom. These privileges can be extensions on written work or free passes on notebook checks. Each of my students has an Avatar — an character representing them in the game. Students are able to change the outfits of their Avatars, purchase equipment, and even buy pets for their Avatars depending on the Experience Points they earn in class. I have my students write autobiographies about their Avatars to bring them to life and to offer creative writing opportunities in the class.


3. Boss BattlesHunger Games Style – Maybe you have a test coming up or you want to review an idea or concept with your class. You can use tech tools like Kahoot! or Plickers to test students knowledge. Once the teacher creates the questions or assessment,  students use a mobile device or computer to answer the questions with Kahoot! Pickers makes unique QR Codes that teachers can purchase and the teacher uses a mobile device to collect the formative assessment data based on the position of the QR Code which reveals their answer. Teachers can make their own boss battle reviews and assessments against a villainous character too. Students work in teams or independently to beat the “boss” within a few seconds. Getting a correct answer earns points where as the wrong answer can cost someone health points. Check out the amazing Boss Battle Assessment Mallory Kesson created for her students.

4. QR Code Quests & Micro Challenges – I love QR Codes for the ability to link digital media quickly to as activity or assignment. Over the past five years I have made a number of QR Code Quests that allow my students to investigate a concept or theme we are covering in class. I have made QR Code Quests for review, like this Figurative Language QR Code Quest and to learn about new information like with this music history QR Code Quest on Woodstock, 1969.

5. Adventure Quests – Throughout the #XPlap (Explore Like a Pirate Twitter Chats) there have been a series of Trivia type questions for participants to answer. Each week one question is asked within the chat to be answered on a Google Form. The questions are timed and for every question answered answered correctly, participants earn points. The person with the most points wins a bundle of gamification tools at the end.  Who doesn’t like winning free stuff?! Based on this idea, I created an Adventure Quest for my students. We are embarking on an investigative journalism unit and throughout the unit I will offer one question based on something happening in the news. The questions will unfold throughout the upcoming weeks and allows students to earn experience points as well as the possibility of winning a prize (to be determined). I will share more about this Adventure Quest and the questions asked in a later blog post.

Have ideas how to gamify your ELA class please share in the comments section of this blog.



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