SOS Story: Hugh McDonald

The Spotlight On Strategies series (CDN subscribers) is one of Discovery Education’s most popular resources. First introduced 2012, these strategies help teachers use media in effective and engaging ways in their classrooms.

The best part about the SOS is that they are flexible and can be used across grade levels and content areas. We are excited for our SOS Story: a new SOS series that spotlights teachers showing off how they have put the SOS to work in their classrooms.


SOS Strategy: Table Top Texting

Name: Hugh McDonald

District: Surrey School District in Surrey, BC, Canada

Role: Grade 6/7 Classroom Teacher

Twitter:  @hughtheteacher


Hugh’s Story

I like to use SOS Table Top Texting (CDN Version) to help get my students thinking and to provide a vehicle for all of their voices to be heard. I first learned about this strategy from colleagues who shared examples of how they’ve used it in the DEN Friends Facebook group and on Twitter, and decided to give it a try.

This school year I have intentionally focused students on developing the ability to ask open-ended questions. I often find during class discussions that the most extroverted students are often the only ones I hear from.  The students who struggle with shyness or anxiety rarely have their voices heard, even though I know they have a lot of ideas, responses, and questions to offer to our conversations. Inclusiveness and trust are things that I want to see my students practice and model every day.


SOS Table Top Texting

SOS Table Top Texting is a great strategy for beginning conversations that engage students in deeper inquiry about a topic. I use this strategy when we are watching a video or reading a piece of text. I play the video or read from the text for a given amount of time (usually in the 1 to 2 minutes.) During that time, students are listening and watching closely. When I stop, students are expected to communicate about what they’ve seen and heard by writing questions or comments. They also write responses to each other. I expect my students to, at a minimum, ask one question and respond to one question. I find, however, that students will often go well beyond, continuing to write and respond even after time is up.

I make sure to never go more than a couple minutes without giving students the time to write. I want to keep their brains activated and engaged in the conversation and the content they are learning about. Table Top Texting is a strategy students enjoy, in fact they often cheer when they find out it is part of the plan for the day!

Strategy Adaptations

I’ve used Table Top Texting in a variety of different ways, including:

  • Sharing  a piece of paper between 2 students and having them respond and talk to each other.
  • Sharing a bigger piece of paper between 3-5 students, with each student using a different colored pen/pencil/marker and each student responding at the same time. This can be done by making sure the piece of paper is in the center, providing equitable access for all students.   Using different colored pens makes it easier to follow the conversation and assess who understands the content, who needs further support, and what needs more scaffolding for the class.
  • Having each student start with their own piece of paper, ask a question, then pass it to the next student. At the next stopping point another student responds to the question, and adds their own question. Repeat the process as necessary.
  • Mashing this strategy with SOS Six Word Story (CDN Version). Either during the final stopping point, or after it, I challenge students to summarize the main ideas they learned from others in 6 words.  The act of synthesizing their learning helps them gain a deeper understanding of the learning experience they were just a part of, and they develop an awareness of how the insights and questions of their peers contribute to their own understanding of a topic.

Ideas for Sharing With Others

While this strategy is a student favorite, I’ve also found it to be helpful for me, too. I learn a lot about my students by analyzing their work. I can tell who is able able to ask open ended questions, who can actively engage in conversations about the learning topic, and who can work cooperatively with others. Watching students interact with others for the purposes of mutually supporting each person’s understanding of the content provides me with insight that a traditional lecture doesn’t.

I can see using this strategy at a staff meeting to help build our school’s vision statement. It would provide a venue for all teachers to share ideas in a comfortable setting that builds trust, cements relationships, and provides a foundation from which our vision statement could be built.

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