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Plan your lesson meticulously with strategy-based teaching

Thank God for Ms. Lippo! Ms. Lippo was my kindergarten colleague when I first started teaching dual language. She was a 30+ year veteran who knew the standards and how to teach them like the back of her hand. Fortunately, she was the grade leader the first year I taught at PS 58 The Carroll School, and she led our weekly meetings by planning each component, one at a time. We planned all of shared reading, then all of the reading workshop, next all of the writing workshop, and finally all of math. For each day we came up with a content objective, or what my school called a “teaching point” in Teachers College Reading and Writing Project lingo. As we named the content objective, Ms. Lippo would keep us in check by saying “What’s the ‘by’?”, meaning: “What strategy are the students using to show that they are implementing or mastering the skill taught?” If only I had learned that in grad school! It would have made me so much more effective during student teaching.

In today’s post, you’ll learn: 

  1. What is strategy-based teaching
  2. How to find a strategy
  3. How to plan the I Do

1. “What’s Your By?”: Strategy-Based Teaching

What Ms. Lippo meant was: Yes, the standard is that students will “follow words from left to right, top to bottom, and page by page.” (RF.K.1.A) However, what’s the “by”? How will students show us they follow words from left to right? Of course, Ms. Lippo knew the answer already, but she challenged us to be more precise so that when we taught, we also showed how. We didn’t limit ourselves to saying what the standard was, we equipped students with a strategy (the “by”) to put it in practice. Not only did it help me make the content objective more visible to students by teaching them a way to implement the strategy, the “by” also gave me a data-tracking tool to hear or see evidence of the standard in practice. In case you were wondering, “Readers follow words from left to right by pointing once under each word starting from the left.” So, if students weren’t pointing once under each word, then I had an instant read on whether the student could “follow words from left to right.” Ms. Lippo was a stickler for pointing once instead of sliding your finger across the word. Sliding your finger across the word was used for a different standard: “decode regularly spelled one-syllable words.” (RF.1.3.B).

Identifying the “by” is useful for any student, but it’s particularly valuable for a language learner. Why? Because your “by,” your strategy, is something that is visible or can be heard. It can be an action such as pointing once under each word. It can be a written trace such as a written thought in a reading notebook or a diagram of base ten blocks.  When you, the teacher, have identified the “by” you’re halfway there to a great lesson because you already know how you’re going to model the skill; how the students are going to show you mastery; and how you will assess formatively.  


2. How do you find a strategy?

Find the standard that you are working on.  Then, locate the skills in this standard. Skills are easily identifiable because they are written in infinitive form.  Most standards have multiple skills.  

Now, you have to think about how you will model this skill: your strategy.  I like to think of a strategy as something you do with your brain, your fingers or hands, your mouth or your eyes.  I use this chart to help me find verbs that will help me generate strategies.  

Watch out!  A strategy is not a tool or an activity such as “completing a Venn diagram.”  A strategy has to be something you would do as an adult (how many people do you know actually use Venn diagrams as adults???).  If you’re asking students to compare, then they can compare by: 

  • thinking about the similarities between [object 1] and [object 2], 
  • listing characteristics that are the same, 
  • noticing colors, patterns or shapes that are similar. 

I like to use “From Standard to Skill to Strategy Table” to help me extract strategies.  I like to plan all of my strategies in one big swoop so I get the big picture of what a unit will look like. 

Blank Table PDF "From Standard to Skill to Strategy"

3. How to plan the I Do

Once you have mapped out all of your strategies for the unit, it’s time to plan your I Dos!  Remember that the I Do is where the teacher is in the spotlight. You are the star! My I Dos follow a very basic structure: 

  1. Connection
  2. Modeling
  3. Recap

The Connection is a chance for the teacher to connect between one lesson and the next or one week and the next or one literacy component and the next.  

  • Last week, we studied how to develop our writing, and this week, we’re going to focus on revising our work to make it more powerful and to the point. 
  • Yesterday, I showed you how to reread and cross off repeated words so you don’t sound too repetitive.  Well, today, I want to show you how to balance your writing out by adding more details in shorter paragraphs. 
  • In Read Aloud, we found a lot of really interesting words scientists use to talk about how  animals hunt, and in Word Work, I presented different synonyms for the word “hunt.”  Well, today, during Writing Workshop, I’m going to show you how we vary our verbs by using different words that have the same meaning.  
  • As you can see, these connections are super short.  I try to keep them to about 30 seconds. This is not a time when I ask a lot of questions or assess background knowledge.  Instead, I make the connection explicit for students so they see how all that we do ties in together.  


    The Modeling part is where you really take center stage and begin doing and saying.  That’s right! When the director says “Lights!  Camera! Action!”, they really mean action, and so do I!  This is all about you acting out each part of the process of applying this strategy.  I like to start off the modeling by saying: 

    Watch me as I…  or 

    Let me show you how... or 

    I’m going to show you how...

    Here are some other teacher stems (sentence starters for teachers) that I use:

    Here is a written example of the difference between explaining a lesson and modeling a lesson. 


    A recap is a short summary of what you just showed the students.  You retrace your steps very quickly so students are reminded not of what you did, but how you did it.  Recaps sound like a mini-recipe for applying the strategy correctly.  

  • So, remember that to vary the subjects in sentences, you want to first underline the subject, then, see if too many subjects repeat and finally think of which subjects you want to change using special words from the word wall.   
  • Today, I showed you how to add more details in shorter paragraphs by thinking of specific examples or facts.   One way to give an example was to make a number relatable. Another way to elaborate was to give my opinion on a particular fact.     

    Now, it’s always great to see if the teacher can walk the walk.  So check out the recording of my lesson on Writers can revise their writing by varying subjects in sentences to see how I apply these tips.  You’ll probably notice that I like to model more than once.  That’s because it helps our language learners hear the same steps several times and, more importantly, hear the language associated with those steps. Those internal thoughts are so valuable to them because it helps them think in the target language.  

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