Are you exhausted at the end of a day of teaching? Does your head hurt? Are you hoarse? Do you look something like this?

You may be suffering from a common condition called Doing-It-For-Them-Itis, otherwise known as Mother Robin Syndrome (MRS). This results when a teacher takes on the entire intellectual burden of the content he is teaching.
The cure is simple: shift the burden of thinking from yourself to your students. It’s good for you, and it’s good for them.
Today, we offer some strategies to help you plan for student thinking in your lessons. We’ll start with strategies that keep students’ brains turned on during direct instruction. During direct instruction the teacher delivers information to students. Although other media may be involved (videos, etc.), this usually means that the teacher is standing in the front of the room giving a presentation while students sit in the audience.
It looks like this:

We start here because this is a common mode of class and, without careful planning, generally involves a lot of teacher thinking and minimal student thinking. Let’s reverse that!


How to do it

What it does


Stop every 2-5 minutes during a presentation or reading and ask students to THINK using an active processing strategy below Chunking makes time for thinking. If you don’t stop to make sure students are thinking during direct instruction, they probably aren’t.


Pose a question to the class. Good questions ask students to do more than just repeat what you have told them. Ask them to make predictions, judgments, or connections between two ideas. Give them 15 seconds to think of an answer and then have them share with a partner. This requires EVERY student to think and holds them accountable because they have to share their thoughts out loud. You can listen in to hear which students are on track in their thinking and which students are having trouble with their ideas.

Non-linguistic representations

Ask students to transform the ideas that you have presented in words (or the plot of the story you are reading, etc.) into a non-linguistic representation. This might be a diagram, a picture, a symbol, etc. Then ask some students to present their work to the class. When students translate ideas into a new form, in this case an image, they are doing more than just comprehending or remembering what you say. This especially helps students who are visual learners.

Synectics and analogies

Ask students to fill in the blank: ______ is like _______ because ______. Then give them a menu of images or symbols to choose from. They can either write their analogy down or share out loud. This encourages students to make creative connections and, like non-linguistic representations, helps visual learners.

Four corners

(vote with your feet)

After presenting several competing ideas, ask students to stand up and move to different corners of the room to indicate their preference. For instance, you might ask them which character in a story is most relatable and provide four options, one for each corner of the room. Once they pick a corner, students discuss why they chose that option with others who agree. This requires every student to make a choice by quickly thinking and evaluating several different ideas. Then they have to defend their choices by explaining their thought process out loud.

You will notice that as long as you are “chunking” direct instruction, and asking students to think at regular intervals, you can also check for their understanding and address misconceptions as they arise. Bonus!
What other strategies do you use to get students to actively process class content? Reply with some ideas below!