Engagement Party

Everyone’s Invited! Interactive Strategies That Engage Young Adolescents
by Jill Spencer
(Association for Middle Level Education, 2008 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Sandy Wisneski

This my kind of middle school party, where everyone is invited. Author Jill Spencer crafts an invitation through research, variety and just plain fun in her book, Everyone’s Invited! Interactive Strategies That Engage Young Adolescents.

The party begins with a “Velcro for the Mind” chapter and conga-lines its way through subsequent chapters with titles that include “Show and Tell,” “Building Bridges,” and “Getting Them Moving: Get Them Thinking.” Each chapter has a plethora of engaging and higher level thinking activities you can put to use right away in your classroom. The activity suggestions span across the subjects and bring them together like a good party punch bowl conversation.

For instance, the author suggests using a comic strip to help students learn how to approach specific writing assignments. The students and teachers create a list of descriptor words together about the comic strip characters. This opens dialogue to discuss synonyms, antonyms, and metaphors. The dialogue goes beyond teacher/ student when Spencer suggests having students pair up and have a little contest to see which pair can come up with the most descriptors or the most unique ones. Using pop culture is a way for students to relate to what they are learning, the author suggests.

Globbing and giggling

Another great idea was the Extended Think-Pair-Share. It’s like the game of Glob tag. This strategy will help each student in the class develop a common understanding of a concept, term or process. Students will write down a definition of a word in their own words. Then students will pair up and share ideas until they agree on a definition that is satisfactory. Each pair joins another pair to share, discuss, and collaborate on a definition they all support. Each foursome joins another foursome. The globbing continues until there is just one group and one definition.

Animal noises. Nothing quite stirs up the party, or the classroom, like partnering up people using this strategy. I think it’s my favorite because of the disclaimer after the name: “Use this idea only if you have a high tolerance for giggles.” Here’s how you do it:

Write animal names on index cards. Write names two times for partners, three or four for small groups. Shuffle and distribute. Students find their partners or group by walking around imitating the animal by the noise it makes. I am using this right away. And my colleagues will not be surprised. :^)

Engaged and happy

A good party has a host, or teacher, who mingles and makes sure all the guests are engaged and happy. I like the 4 Corners strategy as a way to gauge how much of the lesson students are confident about. Here’s how it works: Number the corners of your classroom 1-4 and give each a different description and a different task. Students choose a corner, go there, and follow instructions such as the following:

Go to corner #1 if you can clearly explain what a metamorphic rock is.

Go to corner #2 if you can clearly explain what a igneous rock is.

Go to corner #3 if you can clearly explain what a sedimentary rock is.

Go to corner #4 if you can explain all three types of rocks.

Finally, a good party needs games. Tinker Toys to be exact. Kinesthetic learners process ideas more easily if they can manipulate objects while thinking. Demonstrate building a Tinker Toy to model and coach students through the structure of a writing assignment. Have a large piece with multiple holes around the edge to represent the main idea. Use different size pieces to represent Ideas and connection sticks to show supporting details.

This book extends an invitation you will be glad you RSVP’ed. It is full of adaptable ideas and explanations that will inspire creativity and problem solving in your classroom. You’ll find that your guests may not want to leave, and that’s a sure sign of the best kind of celebration of learning.

Sandy Wisneski is lead teacher at Catalyst Charter Middle School in Ripon, WI which opened in the fall of 2012. She is the district webmaster, tech mentor and yearbook advisor, as well as the new teacher mentor. Over the past 37 years she has become certified as a Flat Classroom Teacher and obtained her masters in reading. She enjoys challenging students to “take ownership” for their learning and  to be effective digital citizens in the world.


MiddleWeb is all about the middle grades, with great 4-8 resources, book reviews, and guest posts by educators who support the success of young adolescents. And be sure to subscribe to MiddleWeb SmartBrief for the latest middle grades news & commentary from around the USA.

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