"Blocking" Lessons: A Classroom
"How do I spend ninety minutes with students in a
way that maximizes opportunity to learn, keeps students on-task,
and doesn't drive me nuts in the process?"
These are some questions teachers typically ask when they make
the transition from shorter class periods (40-50 minutes) to
longer periods (80-120 minutes) of learning time. Below are some
practical tools, tips, and techniques for getting the most out of
block of time learning.
- Save your voice for the important things. Use
your voice for clear explanations and giving good
examples of the ideas you are trying to convey. Write
instructions for individual or group work on the board or
- Post a daily class agenda on a newsprint sheet or
chalkboard. Your daily class agenda may include:
- 30 minutes--teacher introduces a new idea, topic,
- 30 minutes--students work in small groups to
review concept, skill, or issue presented.
- 30 minutes--teacher introduces another new idea
or holds whole group discussion.
- Use learning stations as the basis for organizing
time. Divide the class into learning teams and
rotate the teams through a series of learning stations
that require them to perform a key task related to the
topic under study.
- 15 minutes--introducing and directing the work.
- 20 minutes--Station 1
- 20 minutes--Station 2
- 20 minutes--Station 3
- 15 minutes--reviewing and refining learning
- Use the "workshop way" in your discipline.
- 15 minutes--sustaining silent reading (everybody
- 15 minutes--reader response forms (everybody
writes in response to an analysis of the reading
- 30 minutes--choices (everybody must do one of the
- journal reflections
- peer review or a required essay/product
- research (including pass to library/media
center to do multi media searches)
- conference with the teacher (oral discussion
of work in progress)
- publishing center (final print-out of work in
- presentation rehearsal (practice/feedback
with peer or performance)
- 30 minutes--whole group instruction (may include
teacher reading to class, class reading to
teacher, discussion of story/themes, critical
review of stories, read, etc.)
- Employ cooperative learning strategies. Dividing
classes into smaller groups that work on the same or
different tasks provides several benefits. Students learn
the skills of group work by using roles, following rules,
keeping records, and focusing on results. They can review
what the teacher has just taught, or they can build on
prior knowledge by pursuing something new. The teacher
introduces or reviews the group work fundamentals:
positive interdependence, individual accountability,
group processing, social skill development, and
face-to-face interaction. Learning stations can also
optimize use of scarce equipment or resources. Both
cooperative learning tasks and learning stations provide
hands-on learning experiences, require practice of
essential knowledge and skills, free up the teacher to
observe and assess learning, and are more likely to meet
individual student needs.
Students work in teams. Each member of a team
chooses one of the reading assignments (Selections A,
B, C, D, and E.) The teacher provides time for each
"assignment alike" group to meet, read
their selection, and discuss its main ideas. The
teacher has the teams get together and each none
teaches the others, using the ideas from the reading
selection. Finally, the teacher brings all of the
teams together to review key ideas, terms, or
operations. In a block scheduled class, the daily
agenda might look like this:
- 15 minutes--attendance, introduction to the
process, organization of teams, distribution
- 30 minutes--students meet in assignment alike
groups ("expert" groups) to read
and discuss key ideas, facts, principles,
- 30 minutes--students meet in home teams to
review each section. Each member teachers the
others the key ideas.
- 15 minutes--the teacher convenes the whole
class to reinforce main ideas, give homework
assignment building on the reading and
Students are assigned to teams and each team is
given an envelope containing clue cards. Each person
receives one or more clue cards. From the information
provided, the team must determine the problem and use
the facts provided to reach a solution. An example of
a cooperative logic problem follows: Who is Standing
Next To Whom?
- Keisha is almost the tallest. Otis is almost
- Jose was disappointed that he couldn't stand
next to John.
- Kevin has three kids on each side of him in
- John and Luanne are standing at the ends of
- Jose and Angela are not next to each other.
- Otis is the only boy that is standing between
- Angela didn't get to stand next to her best
- The students are lined up from tallest to
- There are seven students in the line-up.
- Angela and Luanne are best friends.
Source: Get It Together: Math Problems for Groups,
Grades 4-12 Lawrence Hall of Science Berkeley,
- Make assessment part of the instructional process. Build
into your instructional time opportunities for students
- Add materials to their portfolios.
- Have a personal conference with the teacher.
- Review a videotape of their performance to assess
how well they execute a procedure, using an
agreed upon rubric.
- "Qualify" for points or credit by
completing a performance (may be a demonstration
to a group of elementary students, a presentation
to another class, or a community service
- Work on independent or group projects resulting
in some tangible product (poster, diorama,
working model, construction, report, multimedia
presentation, video, database.
- Emphasized the importance of dialogue in learning.
One way to accommodate this to divide your class in half.
While one half of the class works on independent projects
or assignments, the other half sits with you in a circle
or semi-circle to discuss a reading assignment. The
reading selection should be an original source of work--a
novel, play, or essay--not an excerpt from an anthology.
The purpose of the dialogue is for students to articulate
their own ideas about the meaning and value of the work.
The teacher elicits both opinion and questions through
open-ended inquiries. Some dialogue starters are
- Evidence--How does the author back up his or her
claims? Can you cite specific evidence that the
main character was trustworthy/fair/disloyal.
- Perspective--Who wrote this? How do you know?
What were the conditions at the time the author
expressed these ideas.
- Connections--Where have you encountered this
theme/issue before? Does this relate to anything
that is happening in the world/in your life/in
your family right now?
- Consequence--What is the importance and
significance of these ideas?
- Establish a set of routines and standards. If
all of your classes are the same length, you may start
out the day with a set of short whole group "warm
ups" and close with a set of whole group "cool
downs." Math classes often start out with a problem
of the day for which individuals or teams may earn
"points." If your block schedule classes are of
different lengths or different days, you may do your
planning around the length of time available, such that
the shorter sessions are used for review, exhibitions of
performance, or formal testing. The routines should
reflect the rhythm and language of the discipline.
Laboratory investigations generally follow some
introductory experiences or explorations, providing
students with practical opportunities to observe
scientific principles in action. These activities
typically allow students to gather, use, and manage sets
of data to draw generalizations and conclusions. Student
hypothesis, tests, and conclusions are documented and
summarized in a laboratory report, which becomes part of
the students' science portfolios.
The standards a teacher may set for scientific
- Student can define a problem
- Student can write a hypothesis
- Student can devise a research plan
- Student can carry out research Student can gather
- Student can organize data
- Student can analyze and interpret data
- Student uses a variety of sources
- Student can write a conclusion
- Student can present the findings visually and
- Student chooses a relevant problem
- Student can plan and adhere to a timeline
Source: The Grady Profile, Software for Teachers,
Aurbach & Associates, Inc., St. Louis, Missouri.
- Put problems in the center of the classroom.
Most adult occupations deal with resolving problems faced
by society--in law, medicine, agriculture, industry,
business, finance, and government. By putting students in
the roles of scientists, reporters, writers, artists,
historians, mathematicians, and judges, schools can
integrate the acquisition of basic skills with career
exploration and the development of life long learning
interests. Teachers who use real world problems let
students address a concept, problem, or issue that they
are likely to encounter in life beyond the classroom. The
problem situation challenges students to think more
deeply, apply learnings to real-life situations, examine
the information they discover, and use their knowledge to
construct ethical solutions to problems.
Example: (from an individual mathematics task)
"We are making a bookcase to hold our new
stereo. We need to have three shelves. The top shelf
must contain three compartments; the second shelf,
two compartments; the bottom shelf, one compartment.
We also have 6 boards that are 60" long,
2.5" wide, and 1" thick. You may use only
the materials provided. Draw a diagram of what the
bookcase will look like when finished. Use fractions
to show how you will cut the boards to make the
- Encourage student dialogue. Teachers who
emphasize logic, reasoning, and effective communication
require students to engage in substantive conversation
with the teacher and/or peers in a way that builds
improved and shared understanding of ideas and topics.
Conversations are characterized by discussing different
points of view openly, seeking solutions mutually,
creating positive and productive relationships. Socratic
Seminars are a specialized format for generating critical
thinking and essential questioning. While the rest of the
class works on individual projects or rehearsals, a
teacher might work with 10 to 15 students who have
completed a major reading (a novel, case, or essay) in a
seminar format. The teacher prepares for the seminar by
constructing questions for which:
- there could be many possible responses;
- the leader does not have all the answers;
- all participants can respond (round robin,
- questions are based on the reading
assignment. Example: (from an English class)
- What did the author mean by
- How would you rate
- Can you find a passage in the text
that supports that position?
- How is "_________"
different from "_________?"
- How does this relate to today?
- What two or three themes have come up
repeatedly in this discussion?
- Require students to complete projects. The
project usually results in some tangible product- a
written report, a display, a collection, a poster, a
construction, or a performance. Teachers who expect their
students to plan and carry out projects often demand that
their students communicate their knowledge through a
product or performance provided for an audience beyond
the teacher, classroom, and school building. Projects
help students learn to manage time in group work, solve
problems together, integrate content, and develop
lifelong work habits. Teachers use portfolios,
exhibitions, and oral presentations to assess learning
from project related work.
Example: (from a Social Studies class)
The Black Hills Debate There is a current
political and sociological debate regarding the
return of the Black Hills to the Lakota Sioux. The
Lakota were the Native Americans who lived in the
Black Hills before the United States took possession
of the territory. Your task is to research the
history of the possession of the Black Hills from the
time of the Lakota and investigate the points of view
of all those who were and are currently affected by
- Use at least three sources for your research
(books, personal interviews, articles, newspaper
- As a team, construct an argument for or against
the return of the Black Hills to the Lakota,
citing your sources as support.
- Present your argument to a public policy group
studying the issue.
- You may present your argument using visuals, a
pamphlet prepared for the public, an oral
presentation, a slide show, etc.
Source: Jo Sue Whisler, The High Success Network,
Eagle, Colorado, 1994.
- Develop authentic assignments. Students perform
the same activities that successful adults, such as
scientists, musicians, business managers, novelists,
nurses, and designers do. This serves to motivate as well
as to deepen understanding by exploring concepts and
skills with thoroughness. Teachers require students to
demonstrate their knowledge in use, culminating in an
observable performance or product. Teachers encourage
students to self- assess, self-evaluate, and
self-regulate their own work.
Example: (from a social studies class)
"Select one of the neighborhoods marked in
the city map. Identify its current features by doing
an inventory of its buildings, businesses, housing,
and public facilities. Identify current
transportation patterns and traffic flow. Describe
any special problems this neighborhood is
experiencing. As a group, consider various plans for
changing and improving the neighborhood."
- Vary Questioning Techniques. Teachers ask
open-ended questions so that students manipulate
information and ideas through analysis, synthesis, and
evaluation as well as recall, comprehension and
application. The teacher's questions stimulate all forms
of thinking, including higher order thought processes.
Teachers respond to learning preferences, show students
how to organize thinking about the content being learned
and encourage students to think about their own thinking.
Example: (from an urban geography group task)
"After deciding on a plan, draw and label it
on the overlay provided with your map. Indicate in a
written narrative one possible plan you rejected, and
explain why you rejected it. Explain how your plan
will promote and achieve the neighborhood features
- Integrate Technology. By providing classroom
opportunities to make and use a variety of tools to
gather, analyze, and manipulate data, teachers help
students make connections between what they are learning
in school and workplace skills required in the world
beyond school. One of the strategies for this is using
computers, CD-ROM, laser disk, and multi-media to enhance
project-based learning and authentic assessment. Another
is requiring students to show the results of their work
in a product or presentation.
Example of technology as an instructional support
( from a social studies class using The Decisions,
Decisions Series available for MAC, APPLE II, or
MS-DOS, from Tom Synder Productions, Inc)
Students become presidents of countries faced with
international relations dilemmas or massive
immigration problems, and town mayors faced with
environmental crises. "On-line advisors"
point students to opinions, facts, precedents, and
advice drawn from history and current events.
Students are exposed to all sides of the issues and
quickly learn the complexities involved in
decision-making. Students learn to set priorities,
think critically about what they read, make
connections, and anticipate consequences.
- Students uncover a real world dilemma through
an on-line presentation and critical reading
of the scenario in their reference books.
- As a whole group, students prioritize their
- Online advisors point students to relevant
historical references and offer multiple
perspectives on the decisions students face.
- Opposing viewpoints and examples from the
past spark lively classroom discussions as
students come to a consensus on what action
The computer presents the actual consequences.
Advisors reappear to offer additional help.
For more information about what might address the
needs and interests of your school, district, or organization
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