Decode Teaching Terms

Is teacher terminology stumping you? We explain the new lingo -- like fist-to-five -- in plain English.



Every day, kids and their teachers share terms that mystify the rest of us. To keep you in the loop and help you out at homework time, we asked Christine Brower-Cohen, a teacher in West Babylon, NY, for a cheat sheet:

Think Aloud
What it is
Breaking down a problem (social or academic) into manageable steps and then talking them through.

Why it works
When your kid voices what he needs to do — to a classmate, to a teacher, or to you — solving the issue will suddenly seem more doable. “I want to join Math Olympiads, but first I have to find out when the meetings are. Then I have to ask my parents if I can go to the meetings . . .”

Stop and Jot
What it is
The teacher pauses periodically to ask kids to quickly write down what they remember so far. Then she peeks at their papers.

Why it works
It’s an easy way to see who’s on the right track — and who still needs help with grasping the lesson.

What it is
A three-step strategy for teaching concepts. After the teacher gives a lesson, students think about it on their own. Then they pair up and discuss it. Finally, the pairs share their conclusions with the class.

Why it works
This process allows kids to hear new points of view and learn how a question can be answered in various ways.

Paired Passages
What it is
Two readings studied together that have something in common. For example, the class might read a poem about a boy’s love for his seeing-eye dog, followed by an article on common ailments of dachshunds.

Why it works
This approach helps kids see that although texts can be different in several ways, they may share a common subject (in this case, dogs).

What it is 
A show of hands that lets teachers know how well kids have grasped the lesson. If students raise a fist, it means they have no clue. Or they can show their level of comprehension by holding up any number of fingers up to five.

Why it works
Kids are usually too embarrassed to confess out loud that they don't understand a topic. A gesture relieves them of some of that shame.

Number Partners
What it is
The combinations of numerals that add up to the same number. For instance, "1 + 4," "2 + 3," "3 + 2," and "4 + 1" are the  number partners for 5.

Why it works
Kids learn that changing the order of the partners, or even the combination itself, doesn't change the answer.

Parent Teacher Communication: Dos and Don'ts
4 School Success Tips

Credit: illustration by Andy J. Miller

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