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ELA Secondary Resources


Using Concept Maps

Tip of the Week #22concept maps

Prepared by:  Dr. Mary Frances Spruce

Concept maps help students visualize various connections between words or phrases and a main idea. Most are comprised of words or phrases surrounded by a circle or square that connect to one another and ultimately back to the main idea through graphic lines. These lines help students to “negotiate meaning” (Hyerle, 1996) as they read and make the meaning connections between the main idea and other information.

Concept maps are a graphic representation of students’ knowledge. Having students create concept maps can provide you with insights into how they organize and represent knowledge. This can be a useful strategy for assessing both the knowledge students have coming into a program or course and their developing knowledge of course material.


Concept maps have been shown to support struggling readers (Lovitt & Horton, 1994) by building students’ prior knowledge and asking them to reflect on their understanding while reading. They are easy to construct and can be used across all content areas.

Designing a concept map exercise

Concept maps include concepts, usually enclosed in circles or boxes, and relationships between concepts, indicated by a connecting line. Words on the line are linking words and specify the relationship between concepts.

To structure a concept map exercise for students, follow these three steps:

  1. Create a focus question that clearly specifies the issue that the concept maps should address, such as “What are the potential effects of cap-and-trade policies?” or “What is materials science?”
  2. Tell students (individually or in groups) to begin by generating a list of relevant concepts and organizing them before constructing a preliminary map.
  3. Give students the opportunity to revise. Concept maps evolve as they become more detailed and may require rethinking and reconfiguring.

Encourage students to create maps that:

  • Employ a hierarchical structure that distinguishes concepts and facts at different levels of specificity


Tip of the Week #21

Prepared by:  Dr. Mary Frances Spruce10 tips

Formative feedback stimulates students’ thinking and provides teachers with information to guide future instruction.

10 things to remember about using formative feedback.

  Feedback may be motivational, informative, or corrective. You may provide it immediately or delay it, and you may decide to present it either in writing or verbally.

1 It probes the status of learners’ knowledge. By using formative feedback, you can inquire into the student’s current knowledge and experience. Use feedback to explore the what, how, and why of the student’s thinking.

2  It challenges the critical thinking process. Target feedback to encourage learners to conduct the error

analysis themselves. Ask them questions like “Did you make any assumptions when __ ?” and “Would you consider your __ to be strong or weak?”

F~~It aligns with self-assessment. Ask a student to assess his or her own performance and then help him or her diagnose any areas that need improvement. Give sufficient information so that students can address those areas. Be sure to focus your feedback on the task, not the learner.

4  It provides non-evaluative input. Make your comments constructive to guide learners to the next level of understanding. For example, you could say “You might consider measuring __ . What would happen if__ ?” Avoid comparisons with other students-directly or indirectly-or providing an overall grade at this stage of assessment.

5  You can use formative feedback to make observations. Consider how a student’s thinking has changed over time and point this out to the student to reinforce his or her thought process. Feedback like this supports students’ autonomy when they are completing assignments.

6  Make your comments simple and specific. Rather than giving many suggestions for improvement, work with the learner to set a single goal for the next assignment. Give only enough information to initiate new thinking, remove uncertainties, or clarify objectives. Provide feedback in small chunks so that it is not overwhelming or ignored.

7  Offer formative feedback frequently. Build in multiple checkpoints for feedback. Provide timely responses to students’ work. Use immediate feedback to help students retain procedural or conceptual knowledge. To promote transfer of learning, consider using delayed feedback.

8  Formative feedback should be differentiated. Tailor your comments based on the learner’s characteristics. There is no “one-size-fits-all” formative feedback. Provide early, structured, and corrective support for low-achieving students by offering explicit guidance or directive feedback. For high-achieving students, provide verification and facilitative feedback in the form of accuracy checks, hints, cues, and prompts. Consider the nature of the task and instructional goals and customize your comments to ensure your feedback is valid, objective, focused, and clear to the learner.

9  You can use multimedia formats to provide formative feedback. Explore the potential of multiple modes for feedback, including written, verbal, graphic, video, and electronic means.

10 Do not allow formative feedback to interrupt active learning. Minimize the use of formative feedback during implementation of an assignment. Comments at this time may take control or overly influence the direction of the task. They may also distract the learner from focusing on the task at hand.

Adapted from article written by Sandy Buczynski,

Close Reading and Annotationclose reading and annotating.jpg 2

Tip of the Week #20

Prepared by:  Dr. Mary Frances Spruce

Use the strategies outlined in this handout to make your Cornell notes (margin notes), more meaningful to you.

  1. First, why are you reading?

If you are reading to learn more about the subject, your margin notes should:

  • Summarize a sentence or a paragraph
  • Paraphrase a sentence or a paragraph
  • Outline central ideas
  • Define key words and terms
  •   If you are reading to answer a prompt, then your margin notes should address that specific question. For example:
  • Analyze: take notes that break down the text into understandable parts
  • Evaluate: take notes that determine the value, amount, importance or effectiveness of the claims within the text.
  1. Next, make sure you annotate WHILE you’re reading, NOT after you read.
  2. Taking margins notes while you read can help you avoid the trap of “zoning out” in the middle of a text. If you are already an excellent reader who doesn’t zone out, strong annotation can help make the follow up assignment to the reading even easier. You are building on a foundation that will serve you well in college or in the job force.
  1. Don’t give yourself “busywork.”

Strong annotation is thoughtful, purposeful, and targeted. You don’t have to fill in the margins with excessive notes and you do not have to paint the paper in a rainbow of highlighter ink. Instead set a goal of 2 to 4 thoughtful annotations per page.

  1. Finally, review your annotations once completed. Use them to work on long term memory by reviewing your notes each night in every subject.

The POWER of effective margin notes can be seen when you use them to help you complete more complicated follow-up work or on a subsequent assignment. Whether you are writing an analytical essay on the text or prepping for an exam on the material, don’t forget to refer back to your annotations.

The RAFTs Technique

Tip of the Week #19

Prepared by: Dr. Mary Frances Sprucewriting tool box 7


What is it?


This is a great strategy that integrates reading and writing in a non-traditional way. It asks that students take what they have read and create a new product that illustrates their depth of understanding; it may be used with fiction or nonfiction texts. The format is incredibly flexible and offers limitless opportunities for creativity for both you and your students. The RAFTs Technique (Santa, 1988) is a system to help students understand their role as a writer, the audience they will address, the varied formats for writing, and the expected content. It is an acronym that stands for:


  • Role of the Writer – Who are you as the writer? Are you Sir John
  1. Macdonald? A warrior? A homeless person? An auto mechanic?  The endangered snail darter?
  • Audience – To whom are you writing? Is your audience thewriting tool box 4Canadian people? A friend? Your teacher? Readers of a newspaper? A local bank?
  • Format – What form will the writing take? Is it a letter? A classified ad? A speech? A poem?
  • Topic + strong Verb – What’s the subject or the point of this piece? Is it to persuade a goddess to spare your life? To plead for a re-test? To call for stricter regulations on logging?


Almost all RAFTs writing assignments are written from a viewpoint different from the student’s, to another audience rather than the teacher, and in a form different from the ordinary theme. Therefore, students are encouraged to use creative thinking and response as they connect their imagination to newly learned information.


Words Have the Power to Change Our Lives

Tip #17wordle writing 2

Prepared by: Dr. Mary Frances Spruce

Words can change our LIVES.  They move us to move mountains.  They break spirits.  They can also build, embolden, and yes, EMPOWER.

Words have brilliance and they potential to unleash emotions strong enough to overwhelm each and every one of us.  Words incite us, inspire us, make us fall in love; go to war and So there is a veritable plethora of succulent, delightful and delicious berbiage.


The English language has some 1,009, 614 words according to an estimate by the Global Language Monitor on March 21, 2011.


Do you have a GO-TO Power Words list me share my list with you.  See what it invokes in you, what it stirs you to think to feel, to behave, to take ACTION!  What INSPIRES, MOTIVATES, MOVES you?


Here are 50 especially evocative, inspiring words, I’d like to share with you.  More than anything, they are empowering!


Passionate, Transforming, Wellness, Worthy, Radiance, Renewal, Thriving, Purposeful, Exuberant, Energetic, Brilliance, Abundance, Align, Visionary, Luminous, Creativity, Discovery, Results, Love, Release, Peaceful, Growth, Imagination, Courageous, Serendipity, Grace, Harmonious, Visualize, Clarity, Focus, Persistence, Service, Philanthropy, Faith, Outrageous, Prosperity, Insightful, Unlimited, Unleash, Results, Uncover, Solutions, Quality, Power/Powerful, Compelling, Exciting, Accomplish, Instantaneous, Worthwhile, Succulent.  


Start today – see how often and how many of these POWER WORDS you can include in your vocabulary.  And I challenge you – TODAY – create. Your own POWER WORDS or EMPOWERING WORDS list.  Words that invoke, delight, motivate and EMPOWER YOU.


Writing Tip #16active passive 2

Use active, not passive sentences

Prepared by:  Dr. Mary Frances Spruce

Readers prefer active voice sentences, and we should try to use the active voice in most of our writing to communicate our message most effectively. Skilled writers have learned that, most of the time, active verb constructions are better than passive ones.  Active voice clearly identifies the action and who is performing that action. If you learn to identify passive voice verbs and recast them into active voice, your writing will improve.

What is active?

I’ll start with active voice because it’s simpler. In an active sentence, the subject is doing the action. A straightforward example is the sentence “Steve loves Amy.” Steve is the subject, and he is doing the action: he loves Amy, the object of the sentence.

Another example is the title of the Marvin Gaye song “I Heard It through the Grapevine.” “I” is the subject, the one who is doing the action. “I” is hearing “it,” the object of the sentence.


What is Passive Voice?


In passive voice, the target of the action gets promoted to the subject position. Instead of saying, “Steve loves Amy,” I would say, “Amy is loved by Steve.” The subject of the sentence becomes Amy, but she isn’t doing anything. Rather, she is just the recipient of Steve’s love. The focus of the sentence has changed from Steve to Amy.

If you wanted to make the title of the Marvin Gaye song passive, you would say “It was heard by me through the grapevine,” not such a catchy title anymore.


Writing in the Passive vs. Active Voice

To know whether you are writing in the active or passive voice, identify the subject of the sentence and decide whether the subject is doing the action or being acted upon.

  • Passive Voice: the subject is the receiver of the action.
    The tax return (subject) was completed (action) before the April 15 deadline by Mr. Doe.
  • Active Voice: the subject does an action to an object.
    Doe (subject) completed (action) the tax return (object) before the April 15 deadline.

When we write in the passive voice, we add some form of the helping verb “to be” (am, is, are, was, were, being, or been) to an otherwise strong verb that really did not need help.  Writing filled with passive voice constructions are slow to read and difficult to understand.

  • Passive: Additional information (subject) can be obtained (action) by employees from our website.
  • Active: Employees (subject) can obtain (action) additional information (object) from our website.


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