Toolkit: Lemony Snicket and This Guy Are Asking All the Wrong Questions …

Or ARE They?

Meet Thomas Dennison, a fifth grade teacher at Havre de Grace Elementary School in Harford County and a winner of a 2016–2017 $25,000 Milken Educator Award. Read his ActionLine article: “Q: How do we start? A: #truth” here.

Here are some of his favorite classroom tools:

LEMONY SNICKET BOOKS (See above) A great book is the first and greatest tool for any teacher. We hate that we love reading Lemony Snicket’s stories about those poor Baudelaire orphans but we love his series All the Wrong Questions. It sets up what we do as great readers — ask questions and figure things out.

SPRAY PAINT & CONTACT PAPER I love to cover anything I can in contact paper and turn everything into a dry erase work surface. Division doesn’t seem so long with a neon chalk marker on a desk.

TICONDEROGA PENCIL (See photo above) This is the only pencil I will use — not because I have a sponsorship deal, but to emphasize quality. I give students fresh Ticonderogas on testing days or when we need to be reminded of the importance of quality.

TRANSITION SOUNDS It’s important that I don’t tell students what to do all the time, but they do need to know what’s expected. I use different sounds: chimes mean go to desks, the shaker means come to the carpet and couch, and the harmonica means freeze, I need your eyes.

YOGA BALLS Each student has their own desk in my room, but when it’s time to work, it doesn’t matter where they do it. When I deliver whole instruction, students are close with me sitting on couches. At their desks, students sit on yoga balls to give them just the bit of movement they need to stay focused.

CUPS Each student has a set of green, silver, and red cups. Green means no problems; silver means they could use some help; and red means they need my help immediately. This is more than an assessment for me, it signals student accountability and reflection.