Stage 2: Active Processing

Stop working so hard…that’s the student’s job!

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:

(photo credit:

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!

19 thoughts on “Stop working so hard…that’s the student’s job!”

  1. some teachers complain that there are students who day dream in the classroom, i’m pretty sure if they use these strategies they won’t face such kind of problem! well done!

  2. I believe using different strategies simplify the teache’s goals & urges students to concentrate & focus more. Chunking is one of the strategies i always read while i’m reading & i do it with thumbs up/down. This strategy allows me to know if the student understand the points in the paragraph i’m reading or no. Because some kids when they miss one thing they can not gather or summarize the main idea in the passage. Also in the young classes i ask them to illustrate & they love to do it because it’s fun & educational at the same time.

  3. Involving students in the lesson is not so difficult we only need to plan carefully and try to follow cautiously.Once you will start doing then it will be easy to make them do work.Like I use:”telling neighbours” in between the lesson that what ever we are discussing tell your partner and talk about it,I also used thumbs up/down for their point of view,entry and exit slips are interesting because students know that they have to be active otherwise they wont be able to write in entry/exit slip.

  4. Very nice! Thanks for sharing! Introducing students’ self-assessment increases the effects of these strategies (among other engaging ones) and helps students become more self-sufficient in their learning. What I used a lot was reminding students of two things: you cannot borrow your partner’s brain (so everyone needs to think of the answer, and then compare it with their buddy) and that thinking is hard work, but it gets easier when you do it a lot (just like any other exercise).

    1. Thanks, Nina! I love that: no borrowing your partner’s brain. I also like to say: don’t rob others of the chance to think (to encourage kids not to shout out or whisper answers to their friends). Important to make thinking fun and a right that others can’t take away. Also love the brain is like a muscle and you have to work it out. Excellent. Thank you! 🙂

  5. I love it when I can establish a great question for a class to focus on answering. And then comes Steps 2 – 9. Step 2: Break the question down using think/pair/share to develop what becomes a subset of questions. Step 3: Based on student interest allow each to choose which question they are most interested in researching. Step 4: knowing the strengths of each student in each group assign them a role within their group for which they are accountable, e.g. the ideas person, the organiser, the thinker and the speaker. Say four students per group, (three or five can work). Step 5: Assist each group to time line their project to completion. Step 6: Through the process each member is encouraged by the teacher to notice, value and learn what the other group members are able to do. Step 7: Pause for a session and have some renewal by viewing where the other groups are at. It promotes further ideas across the class and prepares the groups to think about their forthcoming presentation. Step 8: Presentations from each expert tribe. They present with the audience in mind and so are encouraged to include ‘chunking’ and the other strategies the teacher has made a part of the learning culture. Step 9: Growth 🙂

  6. There’s another route – shift the burden to your purchasing department to select resources that ENGAGE supported by a well designed methodology with ‘done for you’ lesson plans. A 2007 PISA (OECD) study, showed levels of ‘engagement’ was the single factor that differentiated the nations with the highest and lowest levels of student achievement. When did you ever see engagement power on a resource RFI? If you don’t think resources can ever do that, try our Jazzles ELA in your roughest, toughest kindergarten/G1 and be surprised. Its ‘Arts in Education’ VAK-T strategy is designed specifically for today’s diverse classes, catering automatically for every kid’s learning styles. Its song-powered, amusing, humorous animations engage around 90% of the class – even the ODD – plus the Lesson Plans give teachers all the ideas (including many of the above) to achieve extraordinary levels of outcomes. In the rush to Apps, publishers and schools are ignoring the challenges of class/group teaching. Your strategies are great but your resources should be doing the heavy lifting. So get angry with publishers – or if you’re in PreK-G1, find happiness for you and your students with JazzlesELA

    1. I love your idea on “chunking.” It helps students stay engaged in lessons taught in the classroom, allows for informal assessment of material, and differentiates instruction. I also think it incorporates higher level thinking in a fun way. Well done!

  7. These strategies are a very good idea. It is easy to become exhausted if you are taking on all of the thinking involved, instead of delegating it to your students. This is very tied into Common Core, with a shift in getting the students to do the questioning instead of the teacher. Questioning requires the students to think deeply about the content. It isn’t going to be an easy task but with practice and modeling the students will get the hang of it, and soon it will be second nature to them. It is important that the students are engaged in learning and thinking, with an aspect of accountability.

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