Lighthouse Initiative for Texas Classrooms

Classroom Strategies

The selection of teaching and learning strategies collected here includes those gathered by the revision committee members, as well as many originally compiled and described by the committee of educators who developed the Social Studies Lighthouse guide. Every effort was made to credit original sources. Hyperlinked strategies are those that appear in lessons on this site.

(Click here for downloadable MS Word version.)


One-Two-Three: This reading strategy introduces new words to students and allows them to learn how context can help them determine meaning. It is useful on many levels, particularly in the lower grades as full assignments and for older students in preparation for difficult reading objective questions. Using a three-columned chart, students write in the first column unfamiliar words in an assigned reading. In the second column, they jot down words and phrases near the unfamiliar word that seem to suggest its meaning. In the third column, students write their own guesses at definitions of the unfamiliar word, based on the surrounding words, keeping in mind consistency in parts of speech.

Survey the assignment; Question the purpose; Read the assignment; Recite the lesson; Review the lesson

SQ3R: This is a method of tackling a reading assignment for students of all levels of experience. The SQ3R method suggests a plan for surveying a given assignment, questioning the author’s purpose, reading the assignment in its entirety, reciting the lesson in some note-taking format, and reviewing the assignment for understanding. Suggested steps of this method include:

  • Before reading: SURVEY
  • While surveying: QUESTION
  • When beginning: READ
  • After reading: RECITE
  • As an ongoing process: REVIEW

If all of the materials from a reading assignment have been organized, regular review of study materials will eliminate the need to "cram" before a test. When preparing for a cumulative test, review of all previous study materials will assist in seeing broad relationships, overarching themes, and change over time. For more information, see: Robinson, F.P. (1961, 1970). Effective study (4th ed.). Harper & Row: New York.


PRTR: This simple reading method incorporates the principles psychologists have long studied through experimentation. People learn and retain information better if they understand the material to be learned, express ideas in their own words, and rehearse/review materials in several shorter study sessions over time. The PRTR method suggests that the learner preview, read, think, and review as he/she reads.

To begin a reading assignment, the learner should preview with a brief look ahead to the lesson, noting subheading or section titles. The learner then reads the major section previewed. The learner should do only a section or two at each reading session so as to absorb the information presented. The next step is to think about what has been read. This is an active process where the learner may take notes, ask questions, and think critically about the assignment. Finally, the learner should review, which should include scanning the section just read, noting key terms or concepts, and summarizing what has been presented. While this process sounds involved, with practice it becomes routine and takes but a few extra minutes of reading time. It will lead to greater understanding of content materials. For more information, see: Myer, D.G. (2001). Psychology (6th ed.). Worth Publishers: New York.

Spirit Reading

Spirit Reading: Also called Jump-in Reading, Spirit Reading is an oral reading activity used with whole groups. The teacher begins reading the text orally, and students then randomly read aloud as they desire. Spirit Reading can be an enjoyable activity to encourage full-class participation in oral reading in a non-threatening manner.

Read Along  Think Aloud

Read Along/Think Aloud:
This strategy involves:

  • modeling for students the internal thought processes of an effective reader.
  • defining for students skills/terms to be targeted in the selection.
  • helping students internalize and transfer reading skills to their own independent analysis.

Step 1: Select a passage to read aloud that contains outstanding examples of skills that are to be emphasized. The passage should be of moderate difficulty, so that it is neither too hard to understand, nor too easy to spot the examples.

Step 2: Talk through the thinking processes used as reading difficulties/skills appear, modeling the appropriate problem-solving/annotation strategies. Remember the following points:

  • Make predictions.
  • Target key literary devices and/or elements of author’s style.
  • Describe the picture you are forming in your head from the text.
  • Make analogies (linking prior knowledge to new information in the text).
  • Verbalize confusing points (monitoring ongoing comprehension).
  • Model “fix up” strategies (correcting lagging comprehension, annotation tips, dealing with dual comprehension).

Step 3: Continue reading passages aloud, but gradually make fewer verbal remarks. Begin to wean students from depending on your thought processes to developing their own processes and strategies.


Cornell Note-taking

Cornell Note-Taking: This is a useful tool for students as they begin to read textbooks, primary and secondary resource materials, or any other assigned reading where specific content information should be gathered and organized for future use. For more information, see: Pauk, W. (2000). How to study in college (7th ed.). Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston.

Sticky Note

Sticky Note Annotation: This note-taking method is an alternative when students are not allowed to write in their textbooks. Students will need a sticky note type pad of paper. As students read assigned textbook material, they should write in their own words important concepts, key terms, major dates, or issues of note on the removable notepaper. These sticky notes can be placed directly in the text for quick reference. When reviewing reading materials, the sticky note can be a valuable tool for summarizing large quantities of information. Sticky notes can be easily removed for class discussion, essay writing, or exam review.

dialectical journal

Dialectical Journal: This is a double-entry journal that provides a "paper trail of students’ thoughts" as they read text. In this journal, students essentially have a dialogue with their reading material. In the left column, students briefly paraphrase an idea from the text. In the right column, students write their response to the idea. Responses could include stating and defending an opinion, posing and explaining a question, or connecting the text’s content to other people, events, literature, or ideas. For more information, see: Berthoff, A.E. (1982). Forming, thinking, writing: The composing imagination. Boynton/Cook: Portsmouth, NH.

concept card

Concept Cards: Using note cards, students can identify major issues, characters, and events and may determine the significance and impact of these events. This method allows student practice in gathering, summarizing, comparing, contrasting, and analyzing information regarding a person, time period, or issue.

graphic organizer

Graphic Organizers: Using graphic organizers, students can categorize and organize information that they read in a meaningful format that is useful for analysis. Teachers can use these visual tools for explanations and review. Teachers and students can create their own or use blank structures found in most textbooks to show cause-effect, compare-contrast, sequencing, whole-part, and other concepts.

Half-page solution

Half-Page Solution: As students are required to read assignments of greater length for greater depth, it is important for them to make productive use of time spent in reading and note-taking. This strategy assists students in gathering information from a secondary source such as a textbook assignment and merging it with class discussion or lecture. Students fold a sheet of paper in half, placing “Notes from Reading” and “Notes from Class” as headings of the two resulting columns. On the left side of the page, students take selective notes indicating only the most significant information from a text or other reading assignment. As the instructor facilitates class discussion, the students decide what information not previously recorded should be added and include this information in their own words on the right side. This technique helps the student learn to take a large quantity of information and synthesize it for future use.


H Chart: An H Chart is similar to a Venn Diagram and is used to compare and contrast two items. Columns are labeled for students to fill in with the appropriate information. Students then complete a conclusion statement below the chart.


S: sender-receiver relationship; M:message (summary); E: effect (desired effect); L: logic; L: language (forming the acronym SMELL)

SMELL: This strategy introduces the skills of constructing and evaluating arguments and using primary and secondary documents to analyze point of view, context, and bias. SMELL was first developed for use in the analysis of advertising. In the classroom, it is especially appropriate for in-depth analysis of persuasive documents. Instructors are encouraged to go beyond the literal in showing students how to use this strategy for analysis. Elements include:
Sender-Receiver Relationship - Who are the sender and receiver of the message and what is their relationship?
Message - What is a literal summary of the content?
Effect - What emotional strategies does the author use?
Logic - What is the rationale used by the author?
- Why did the author choose the language and style used in the argument?



TPCASTT: This is an effective strategy for analyzing poems or other literary works. It is an especially useful tool for getting students to start thinking about the reliability of different historical sources. Frequently, poems will contain a popular version of history that students can evaluate critically using information in their text or from other sources.

Elements of analysis:

T: Title

What does the title mean literally? Complete this before reading the poem.

P: Paraphrase

After reading the poem, what does it mean literally in your own words? (This can be very difficult when a poem has abstract meaning.)

C: Connotation

What does the poem mean beyond the literal?

A: Attitude

What is/are the feeling(s) expressed by the author?

S: Shifts

What changes in speakers and attitudes occur in the poem?

T: Title Interpreted

What does the title mean beyond the literal?

T: Theme

What is the poet saying?



Content, Frames

Content Frame/Matrix: The content frame is a strategy to help students analyze the interrelationships of ideas. Frames, or matrices, help students organize and compare information from a variety of texts, including textbook information, visual texts, fiction, and nonfiction. A content frame/matrix is built with categories or types of information listed on the left-hand side of a chart and subdivisions of the categories listed across the top of the chart. It is important for students to create their own frame/matrix in order to use the strategy independently. If a teacher simply duplicates the frame to have students fill in the boxes, the strategy ceases to be a strategy for independent use and becomes nothing but a worksheet. Content frames can be used across the curriculum, but they are excellent for use in the English Language Arts classroom for character analysis and theme analysis. For more information, see: Armbruster, B. B., Anderson, T. H., & Meyer, J. L. (1991). Improving content-area reading using instructional graphs. Reading Research Quarterly, 26, 393–416.

Overview, Parts, Title, Interrelationships, Conclusion (forming the acronym OPTIC)

OPTIC: OPTIC is an organized approach for teaching students how to read visual or graphic text closely. As noted in How to Study in College (2001) by Walter Pauk, the five letters in the word OPTIC provide a mnemonic device to remember the five key elements in analyzing a visual.

O is for Overview.

  • Conduct a brief overview of the main subject of the visual.

P is for Parts.

  • Scrutinize the parts of the visual.
  • Note any elements or details that seem important.

T is for Title.

  • Read the title or caption of the visual (if present) for added information.

I is for Interrelationships.

  • Use the words in the title or caption and the individual parts of the visual to determine connections and relationships within the graphic.

C is for Conclusion.

  • Draw a conclusion about the meaning of the visual as a whole.
  • Summarize the message in one or two sentences.

OPTIC can be used with any visual or graphic text, including photographs, diagrams, charts, and fine art. For more information, see: Pauk, W. (2000). How to study in college (7th ed.). Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston


Two circles, one inside the other

Inner/Outer Circle: This technique can be used to develop students’ understanding of concepts while practicing higher-level questioning. This method gives students the responsibility for running a structured classroom discussion. To prepare for the activity, the teacher assigns a discussion-worthy reading assignment. In addition, the teacher instructs students in writing higher-order questions that go beyond simple knowledge-based and comprehension questions to ones requiring greater application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Students write three to five critical thinking questions. For discussion, students are seated in two concentric circles. As the activity begins, the inner circle discusses and answers questions posed by the outer circle, while the outer circle listens, takes notes, and poses prepared questions. Roles then reverse. The teacher is a non-participating observer.

Can you recall? How would you rephrase? What would result if? What is the relationship between? Can you predict the outcome? What would you cite to defend the actions? How would you prioritize?

Question Wall: To move students to a higher level of thinking, the instructor should model upper-level questioning and should give students the opportunity to practice these questioning techniques themselves. As a reference for themselves and for students, instructors may consider creating a Question Wall on which they post selected questions. As the entire class becomes familiar with these questions and practices using them, students will begin to demonstrate greater depth of thinking with greater confidence and frequency. For more information, see: Bloom, B.S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: Cognitive domain. David McKay and Company: New York.

Socratic Seminars

Socratic Model: Socratic seminars typically consist of 50- to 80-minute periods. In groups of 25 or fewer, students prepare for the seminar by reading a common text (e.g., a novel, poem, essay, or document) or viewing a work of art. The teacher poses questions requiring students to evaluate options and make decisions. In Socratic seminars, students must respond with a variety of thoughtful explanations: they must give evidence, make generalizations, and tell how the information is represented for them. In other words, they must engage in active learning. The assumption is that when students actively and cooperatively develop knowledge, understanding, and ethical attitudes and behaviors, they are more apt to retain these attributes than if they had received them passively.


Critical Thinking Verbs: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, Evaluation

Critical Thinking Verbs: The verbs below correlate with the six levels of thinking in Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Posting these verbs in a prominent place in the classroom attunes students to the difference between lower- and higher-level tasks and helps raise the level of classroom discussion. This in turn develops habits of mind that are central to an advanced level of critical thinking.

Level I. Knowledge
know, define, memorize, repeat, record, list, recall, name, relate, collect, label, specify, cite, enumerate, tell, recount

Level II. Comprehension
restate, summarize, discuss, describe, recognize, explain, express, identify, locate, report, retell, review, translate

Level III. Application
exhibit, solve, interview, simulate, apply, employ, use, demonstrate, dramatize, practice, illustrate, operate, calculate, show, experiment

Level IV. Analysis
interpret, analyze, differentiate, compare, contrast, scrutinize, categorize, probe, investigate, discover, inquire, detect, classify, arrange, group, organize, examine, survey, dissect, inventory, question, test, distinguish, diagram, inspect

Level V. Synthesis
compose, plan, propose, produce, invent, develop, design, formulate, arrange, assemble, construct, set up, prepare, imagine, hypothesize, incorporate, generalize, originate, predict, contrive, concoct, systematize

Level VI. Evaluation
judge, decide, appraise, evaluate, rate, compare, value, revise, conclude, select, assess, measure, estimate, infer, deduce, score, predict, choose, recommend, determine

For more information, see: Bloom, B.S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: Cognitive domain. David McKay and Company: New York.

Think Pair Share

Think-Pair-Share: This discussion strategy ensures that each student is an active participant in a learning situation.

  • The teacher provides something for the students to think about, often asking students to write down their ideas as evidence of their thinking.
  • Students then pair to share their ideas. As much as possible, students should only work in pairs. The larger the group, the greater the chance that students will once again become passive learners.
  • The share aspect can also include having partners share their observations or conclusions with another set of partners or the larger group. Sharing can involve posting writing work or making an informal or formal presentation.

For more information, see: Kagan, S. (1989). Cooperative learning resources for teachers. Resources for Teachers: San Juan Capistrano, CA.