The Ultimate List of Teaching Strategies Every Teacher NEEDS to Know

By Adam Welcome
The Ultimate List of Teaching Strategies Every Teacher NEEDS to Know

I had to pinch myself.

I was 24 years old and in charge of thirty 5th graders…

Every day. Monday through Friday.

And to top it all off—

A good friend of mine taught at the same school. In fact, he taught right across the hall from me!

We’d often find ourselves repeating the same phrase:

“It’s kind of crazy that we’re in charge of these kids!”

Back then, I had two goals as a teacher.

  1. Have fun.
  2. Continually boost the confidence of my students.

People who don’t work in education have asked me:

“How you measure success as a teacher?”

Some people point to standardized testing scores.

But for me, it’s always been something different.

It’s the reaction in the room from the kids—

Plain and simple.

Pay attention to kids’ reactions, and you’ll know pretty quickly whether your teaching strategies are working or not.

As a young student teacher, I constantly ventured beyond the walls of my master teacher’s classroom in search of different teaching strategies.

I noticed there were two types of classrooms.

To keep things simple, let’s call them Stuffy Classrooms and Free Classrooms.

In the Stuffy Classrooms…  

Kids weren’t allowed to get out of their seats without asking for permission…

They could only use the bathroom if they had enough tickets…

Teachers would demonstrate a concept on the board and then assign forty to fifty problems for the class to then solve in complete silence. —

But in the Free Classrooms…  

Things were different.

They had very few rules…

There was a hum in the air…

And there wasn’t a darn bathroom policy. If you needed to go, you went.

All I had to do was look at the kids’ reactions to see that the strategies used in the Free Classrooms were much more effective than those used in the Stuffy Classrooms.

But regardless of your methods, they can get stale after years of use. So teachers must be light and tight with their strategies — always open to change and experimentation.

In this post, I’m going to share with you 7 of the teaching strategies I love most.

I’ll show you how you can start using them to get more engagement, better behavior, and most importantly — better reactions — from your kids.

7 Instructional Strategies That Will Make You a More Effective Teacher

1. Technology-Infused Teaching

The Technology-Infused Teaching strategy is exactly what it sounds like:

Integrating any and all technology in your classroom into the daily lessons with kids.

Just because a teacher has technology in the classroom doesn’t mean he or she will be an effective teacher…

But technology paired with the right mindset and willingness to try new things can turn a good teacher into a great one.

There’s one simple key to getting this strategy right:

Don’t overthink it.

Doing so can actually turn technology from a help into a hindrance.

I’ve seen it before…

A school or district purchases a bunch of devices and gives the teachers little to no professional development about how to actually use it in the classroom. So, the teacher focuses so much on integrating technology that actually educating kids (the real job) becomes secondary.

Thankfully, this doesn’t happen near as much now as it used to.

How to Get Started

Choose one lesson to digitize…

And do it.

Let’s pretend it’s a language arts lesson in which students previously answered questions from a worksheet or packet and then turned them in.

What you can do instead is create a free account on Flipgrid and have students verbally respond to the questions, which allows them to interact with their peers and also learn from each other.

What You Need to Know

The more often you try new things, the more you’re going to think about those strategies and tools and how to utilize them in your classroom!

Technology is the language our kids speak today…  

And if we’re not integrating technology into the classroom at all, we’re educating an entire generation of kids in the wrong language.

2. Trust-Based Teaching

In almost every conversation I have with teachers, the same hurdle comes up:

They don’t have enough time.

Time is the currency by which we all operate in our professional and personal lives. And teachers often spend a lot of time trying to manage students.

If that sounds like you, it might surprise you to hear that one of the best ways to infuse more time into your day is to build additional layers of trust with your class.

Why?

The best discipline program is an engaged classroom.

The more trust you have in your students, the more engaged they will be. And the more engaged students are, the less likely they are to cause disruptions.

How to Get Started

One of the first steps to build trust with your students is to make a list of all the things you’re currently doing in class that one of your students could take over.

I’m not just talking about the typical jobs that teachers have kids do. Think bigger than that.  

For instance, at one school I worked at, we wanted to start using robotics and coding for students.

But after talking with my teachers, their message was loud and clear:

“We don’t have enough time.”

But we didn’t let that kill the initiative. Instead of having the adults be in charge  of it, we had students take control.

We purchased Sphero robots and sent them home with kids.

And let me tell you—

When you send a robot home with a 4th grader on a Friday afternoon, they come back on Monday as an expert!

So you’re not only taking things off teachers’ plates, you’re trusting and empowering the kids in new and fun ways.

What You Need to Know

Trust comes into play across so many parts of the school day.

Trust-Based Teaching is a strategy that will give you more time, get your students more involved in their own learning, and build a stronger school.

3. Variable Instruction

Every student is different.

You already know that. But this point is so relevant, I need to talk about it here.

You can’t just have a single teaching strategy for every kid in your class.

Some need small group…  

Some need you to flip the lesson, so they can come to school with a little bit of pre-knowledge…

Some need to get their hands dirty and be able to have manipulatives they can use…

And some need all of those strategies in order to access the curriculum.

The point is:

If you want to be as effective as possible, you need to vary lessons based on what individual students need.

How to Get Started

In my opinion—

All concepts should be introduced in a mini-lesson format.

Gather your class to the carpet, or have them sit in their desks.

With a document camera, or preferrably on a large piece of chart paper teach the lesson concept in five to eight minutes. Go over the key components, expected outcomes, next steps in the lesson, and then let your class go.

Now this is where Variable Instruction shines…

Some of your students will run with the concept and be off on their own.

You’ll need to differentiate with some, though.

Maybe that means pulling a small group to the carpet or a table to reinforce the lesson concepts with them.

There will some students who can initially go on their own, but will need the anchor chart that you created on the chart paper as a support as they work independently.

That anchor chart is important, because it gives your students support, but also doesn’t tie you up with questions they can answer on their own.

About ten minutes into the lesson, stop the entire class and provide them a mid-lesson teaching point or reminder to either support the ones that are struggling, or to push the ones that need a little extra.

This small interruption should last no longer than a minute. You want to offer  support, but not derail students from what they’re working on.

What You Need to Know

Variable Instruction is a moving target.

What worked in one lesson may not work in another.

Have as many strategies as possible in your back pocket, and pull them out whenever you need to!

4. Mystery-Making

Mystery-Making really is as simple as it sounds:

Keep things mysterious in your classroom at times, and your kids will be hooked on whatever concept you’re teaching.

Make something a mystery, and they’ll almost have to figure it out.

How to Get Started

One incredibly simple way to get started is to put a box on a stool at the front of your classroom without saying anything about it.

The chatter will erupt.

“What is it?”

“What are we using it for?”

What’s in the box really isn’t important, it’s just that you’re making a mystery around the lesson to heighten students’ engagement and curiosity.

Whatever it is, just make sure you can use it to help teach the day’s lesson.

What You Need to Know

During my last couple years in the classroom, we started a “Mystery Reader’ program.

Each month, a different person from the community would come in to read.

Some of our Mystery Readers included:

  • Parents
  • The Chief of Police
  • A real author (via Skype)

And you want to know what happened after we started the program?

My entire class couldn’t stop reading!

The kids that were reluctant readers before we started the program got excited about reading. And the ones that were already solid readers started reading even more.

As their teacher, I couldn’t have been happier.

This stuff works.

5. The Lanyard Method

“What should I do with these?”

I had a jumble of conference lanyards piling up in my backpack.

I didn’t need all of them. And that’s how the Lanyard Method was born…

As a Principal, I was always having kids do jobs for me as a way to build relationships and to empower them!

So I brought the lanyards to work one day, got some index cards, and wrote students’ names on them. I made sure to include the job they were doing too — their specific expertise.

And they started wearing them around school.

We weren’t totally sure what to expect from this, or if anyone would even notice.

Oh my gosh, we were wrong.

The lanyard currency completely took off. Every single student wanted one.

How to Get Started

It’s important to not give every single student a lanyard right away.

There is a balance of empowering the kids, but also keeping it special, so the lanyard currency holds value.

A student also shouldn’t wear their specific lanyard for the entire day, either.

Maybe they’re the “Tech Support” (see below) and only wear it when the class is coding or working on a 3D design project. Each specific teacher will work out their balance in their class, just keep it in mind as you get started.

Here are some specific steps to get going:

  1. Get some free or super-cheap lanyards. (The next time you attend a conference, ask the organizers on the last day if they have any extras and would like to donate them to your class.)
  2. Identify the areas of need in your classroom. This is where you’ll start with the lanyards.
  3. Create names for the specific areas of support, and put your lanyards together.
  4. Start the lanyard currency, and see the positive effect!

What You Need to Know

Don’t overthink it.

Too often adults come up with a really great idea, and then ruin it with too many rules and regulations.

At that point, it becomes the opposite of a teaching strategy. It’s no fun at all.

So, if you start using the Lanyard Method, have fun, and don’t overthink it!

6. Fake Points

This strategy still makes me smile to this day.

To be completely honest—

I’m not even sure how it all started in my classroom, but I’m so glad it did.

The best part?

It’s incredibly simple.

How to Get Started

Maybe you have a student who completed a really tough project. So, in front of the whole class, you make a public announcement of it—

“Joshua gets 500 points for completing his project!”

And that’s it. The points don’t go anywhere. They don’t really mean anything. They don’t contribute to their grade.

At face value, they’re meaningless. But if you look deeper, you’ll realize that’s not true.

Fake Points are a public acknowledgment of approval and acceptance from an authority figure — and that means a lot to students.

What You Need to Know

This may not be for everyone. Some people may be uncomfortable with giving fake points.

But from my experience, I can assure you it’s so much fun — and it’s a great motivator for some kids.

Think about it:

They start hearing about these points…

They start seeing other kids receiving them…

So all of a sudden, they’re motivated to work a little harder and collaborate a little more.

And then, when they’re thrown some points in front of their peers, it’s going to be important to them.

Just like the Lanyard Method, don’t overthink fake points.

There are kids in your class that need an extra boost. Maybe their home life isn’t that great, or they’ve been struggling in class lately and are getting down about it.

Maybe they just need a little recognition and approval. The Fake Points strategy lets you give them that.

Fake points are meant to be a public endeavor in your class. Don’t keep them quiet. Tell everyone when they’re earned!

7. Excitement Modeling

A few years ago, my son started a soccer class.

We had been playing in the backyard as a family for years, and he loved the sport.

We show up for the first class, and my son is absolutely pumped. He can’t wait to start kicking the ball around with the other players.

The coach blows his whistle and brings everyone over.

Now, mind you, my son was only three years old at the time…

And he went into this soccer class at full RPMs. He was ready to go!

But that began to slip away once the coach started talking.

Think of the most monotone voice you can imagine, saying:

“Ok soccer players. My name is coach, and we’re going to start soccer.”

It didn’t happen right away, but I could see it in my sons face…  

His excitement began to wane, then drop, and then absolutely disappear throughout the first class.

We got home that afternoon and it happened—

“Dad, I don’t really want to play soccer anymore.”

As a parent, you can imagine how this feels. And we’re only talking about soccer…at 3 years old!

Just imagine how many kids are in classrooms where the teacher has practically no excitement about the material.

It takes the love of learning, or reading, or writing, or pretty much anything at all, completely away.

Be excited, be engaged, and show your students that, because it makes such a huge impact!

How to Get Started

This could be as simple as playing music in your classroom as the day starts. Some catchy songs will put a smile on your students’ faces.

Even better, take a cue from the lanyard idea above, and have the kids be the DJ each morning so they get some choice in the music excitement.

And if you’re bold…

I would even try talking with an accent or changing your voice for certain lessons.

Not just any lesson, though —

But the lesson that you’re not excited about teaching. Or the one you think your students aren’t excited about, either.

A fun accent gets kids smiling and will hopefully get them more engaged!

What You Need to Know

Choose something sustainable.

Decorating your classroom for every lesson you teach might show your excitement and build some excitement for your kids, but it’s not sustainable throughout the school year.

Be excited, and be brave, but don’t burn yourself out by choosing something too ambitious.

The Most Important Thing to Consider When Using One of These Teaching Methods…

Regardless which teaching strategy you use, I encourage you to be awesome for your kids and bring your best every single day.

You never know who is going to need your positive energy, so it’s always best to radiate that positivity on a daily basis, especially for your class.

A few reminders as you move forward with some new teaching strategy ideas.

1. Don’t overthink it.

Kids don’t need you to be perfect. But they do need you to be forgiving, flexible, and excited.

So focus on those things, rather than getting everything “right.”

2. Don’t get comfortable.

Some of the new things you try won’t work. And that’s okay.

Don’t give up on them right away. But also don’t wait too long to try something different.

If something didn’t land with your class in November, put it away and try it again in March.

You might have better luck!

3. Smile.

The power of a smile is real.

When you’re feeling frustrated, or down, or like nothing is going your way — just smile.

It will brighten your day and those around you, especially the kids!

Adam Welcome

Adam Welcome

Adam has been an elementary school teacher, Principal, Director of Innovation for a large school district in the Bay Area and is also an author and speaker.

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