Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

February 26, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

Visualizing Success

I’ve written a fair amount about how I sometimes have my students visualize success (see My Best Posts On Helping Students “Visualize Success”).

A study just came out reinforcing its effectiveness. The research focused on developing healthy eating habits, but it seems to me that it’s easily applicable to the classroom.

Here’s an excerpt:

Those who made a concrete plan, wrote it down and also visualized how they were going to carry out the action (i.e. when, where and how they would buy, prepare and eat fruit) increased their fruit consumption twice as much as those who simply set out to eat more fruit without visualizing and planning how they were going to do it.

These kinds of visualization techniques are borrowed from sports psychology. “Athletes do lots of work mentally rehearsing their performances before competing and it’s often very successful. So we thought having people mentally rehearse how they were going to buy and eat their fruit should make it more likely that they would actually do it. And this is exactly what happened,” says Bärbel Knäuper. This research points to a simple yet effective means of changing eating habits.

March 28, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

What Does The Navy Seals Training Program Have To Say About Students Visualizing Success?

I’ve written several posts about my ongoing experiment with having students visualize themselves succeeding academically.

I just discovered an article that describes how the Navy Seals have begun training their recruits to visualize themselves succeeding in difficult tasks:

With mental rehearsal they were taught to visualize themselves succeeding in their activities and going through the motions.

I’m going to convert the article to a short read aloud. This should get the attention of some of my students, especially the boys!

February 28, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo

More Results From Students Visualizing Success

I’ve written about how I’m having students in my classes trying visualizing success each day (see Results From Having ELL Students “Visualize Success”).

I just got around to tabulating assessment results in my mainstream ninth-grade English class. There was no difference at all in reading fluency assessments between the students who are doing the visualization and those who are not.

There was, however, a difference in the cloze assessments (fill-in-th-gap), which tend to reflect vocabulary development and reading comprehension. Those who are not practicing the visualization technique in class had an 8.4% increase in their cloze scores, while those who were doing it had a 10% increase. It’s not a huge difference, and it may be a correlation and not causal, but it’s clearly worth continuing.

February 18, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Where Can I Find Online Videos of Athletes Visualizing Success?

A colleague told me that the Olympics television coverage yesterday of Lindsey Vonn’s Gold Medal ski run showed her and other skiers visualizing the course before their runs.

As regular readers know, I’ve been using visualization with my students.

I’d love to find some online clips of the skiers prior to their races, of other athletes doing the same thing, or even video showing them talking about them doing it. I think my students would benefit from watching them — it would provide some good reinforcement. I haven’t been successful, though, in finding them. For example, there are plenty of clips of Vonn in action, but none of her warming-up.

Does anybody have suggestions?

January 7, 2010
by Larry Ferlazzo

Visualizing Success Through Student Art

I’ve written before about my ongoing experiment with students visualizing success. It seems to be going well, and I’m going to be very interested in late January when we have our first assessments to determine if there is any measurable affect on the data.

I recently tried a slightly different version of the same idea. One of my students, who is clearly very smart, has had incredible difficulties focusing an concentrating on any academic work — in any of his classes. I’ve tried every strategy imaginable and, though he and I have a very good relationship, nothing has worked (we’ve also been trying to work with his family).

He really likes to draw. So I suggested to him that he take half of the time we spend on “practice reading” (or silent sustained reading) each day and write a sentence saying what his goal in class was for that day. After he wrote the sentence, he was to draw himself accomplishing it. For example, today he decided to write “Today, I’m going to do all my work” and drew a pretty good artistic rendering of himself doing just that.

And he really did it. In fact, since we’ve started doing this exercise, he’s been remarkably focused in class.

We’ll see if it’s a long term solution or not, but it’s an example of looking at students through a “lens” of assets instead of deficits, and figuring out how to effectively “leverage” those talents.

December 11, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo

Want To Know What’s Happened Since My “Marshmallow” & “Visualizing Success” Lessons

As regular readers know, two months ago we did some pretty successful lessons on self-control (“I Like This Lesson Because It Make Me Have a Longer Temper” (Part One) — using the famous “Don’t eat the marshmallow” experiment) and last month began an experiment having students regularly visualize academic success (Helping Sudents Visualize Success and More On Helping Students Visualize Success).


I realized last week that I hadn’t done much follow-up since the initial self-control lesson. So, today, as part of our regular “Friday Reflection” I asked students to share the last two times they “didn’t eat the marshmallow” (the last two times they wanted to do something that they knew they shouldn’t do, but resisted) and how they felt about it afterwards. I’m going to start incorporating this question into these end-of-the-week reflections twice-a-month, though I will also explicitly ask students to share what strategy/thinking-process they used to help them resist the temptation. After I had students share with partners, we “lifted-up” some successful strategies people used, and I think that worked out to be an excellent teaching opportunity.  We discussed the importance of thinking through consequences and trying to distract one’s self.

Here are some student responses (from both my mainstream ninth-grade English and my Intermediate English class):

I wanted to steal an iPod but I didn’t do it because I thought of something different.

The time when I didn’t eat the marshmallow was the time I wanted to steal from the snack bar because I didn’t want to spend my $5.

A time that I wanted to hit Cheng, but I stopped because I remembered we were friends. If felt much better afterwards because I didn’t hit him.

The time I want to hit my little sister but I stopped myself. I felt that if I did hit her she was going to tell my mom and I was going to get into a lot of trouble.

Last week there was a piece of pie that I wanted so bad, but I thought that if I took it I was going to get into a whole lot of trouble afterwards. So I walked away from it and it felt good to do something good.


Since the initial lesson, I’ve been having students take twenty seconds twice each class to visualize themselves being successful in the academic activity that we were just about to begin — reading, writing, speaking, listening.  I’ve given people the option to do it with their eyes closed or open, along with the option not to participate (though, if they choose that option, they need to sit silently while others do so.)

We’re giving monthly clozes (fill-in-the-blank) assessments to my class and another Intermediate English class that is not doing this exercise to see if there are any effects.

As part of today’s Friday’s reflection, I asked students to answer the question “Are you participating in the visualization activity?  If so, what do you see?”  I made it clear that it was okay to say “No.”

It appears that about forty percent of my mainstream ninth-grade English class are doing it, and over sixty percent of my Intermediate English students are.

Here is a sampling of responses from the students who said “yes”:

“Yes, I see a lot of different words that come from my mind when I close my eyes.”

“Yes, I see me writing very well and reading very well.”

“I see myself speaking English.”

“Yes, I see myself reading very good.”

“Yes, I see myself studying and doing my best.  But when I do it, it’s not easy.”

“Yes, I see myself speaking to many people.”

I’ve also begun asking students to see themselves achieving the goals they set for themselves as part of our goal-setting lesson earlier this week.

So, all in all, I’m feeling pretty good — not just about the initial lessons, but also the follow-up.

I’ll keep people posted. And, of course, if anybody has suggestions for additional follow-up activities, I’m all ears….

April 17, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo

Verifiable For Visualizing Data

Verifiable is a site where you can use data already contained on the website (or upload your own), choose the visual form in which you want the data explained, and then create a visual representation (which then has its own url which can be posted).

It’s impressive though, in terms of accessibility for Beginning and Intermediate English Language Learners, The New York Times Visualization Lab works better. Though you can’t upload your own data there — just use the Times’ info — that’s not a problem for how I use it with ELL’s. Not having that option, I think, also helps to make it easier.

What is most impressive to me about the Verifiable site is the lengths the go to make it accessible to the “layperson.” If you are an advanced ELL or native-English speaker, Verifiable has created an innovated system to guide you through the process. It would be great if other Web 2.0 tools used a similar process. Even if you have no interest in data visualization, I’d recommend you try it out just to see their “help” process.

Thanks to Information Aesthetics for the tip.

April 2, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

April’s Infographics & Interactives Galore – Part One

There are just so many good infographics and interactives out there that I’ve begun a new semi-regular feature called “Infographics & Interactives Galore.”

You can see others at A Collection Of “The Best…” Lists On Infographics and by searching “infographics” on this blog.

I’ll still be publishing separate posts to individually highlight especially useful infographics and interactives, but you’ll find others in this regular feature.

Here goes:

This map shows how the world has been hurt by climate change so far and A terrifying map of what climate change will mean around the world this century are both from The Washington Post, and are taken from the recent UN report on climate change. I’m adding them to The Best Sites To Learn About Climate Change.

Daily Routines Of The World’s Most Creative People is a pretty interesting infographic. You can see it as a slideshow at Fast Company or as a full infographic. I’m adding it to The Best Resources For Identifying Qualities Needed In Order To Be “Successful.”

KQED has some good infographics on poverty. I’m adding them to The Best Visualizations Of Poverty In The U.S. & Around The World:

America, the Land of Opportunity? Not for Most Poor Kids, One Study Finds

Infographic: What Does it Mean to Be Poor in America?

Poverty Line Problems: The History of an Outdated Measurement (Infographic)

County Health Rankings Interactive Application is from The Robert Woods Johnson Foundation. Type in any zipcode and you sure get a lot of info on that community. I’m adding it to A Lesson Highlighting Community Assets — Not Deficits.

Here’s another useful infographic on climate change:

March 22, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

March’s Infographics & Interactives Galore – Part Four

There are just so many good infographics and interactives out there that I’ve begun a new semi-regular feature called “Infographics & Interactives Galore.”

You can see others at A Collection Of “The Best…” Lists On Infographics and by searching “infographics” on this blog.

I’ll still be publishing separate posts to individually highlight especially useful infographics and interactives, but you’ll find others in this regular feature.

Here goes:

How sustainable is your smartphone? – interactive is a very sophisticated resource from The Guardian. is a real “find-of-the-week.” It’s a great source for infographics, and is similar to Even though may have many more infographics, the ones on are of a uniformly high quality. I’m adding it to The Best Sources For Interactive Infographics. By the way, I just updated that list.

A partial history of the open web, in snakes and ladders form is from The Guardian. I’m adding it to The Best Sites To Learn About The Internet.

I’m adding this next infographic to The Best Sites For Learning About The World’s Different Cultures:

Dining Etiquette Around the World
Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.

via Restaurant Choice

December 10, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Nelson Mandela’s Memorial Service

'Nelson Mandela Shweshwe' photo (c) 2009, Tommy Miles - license:

Nelson Mandela’s memorial service is still going on at the time of my writing this post. I’m sure I’ll be adding more reports on it as videos become available, but here are some resources I’m adding to The Best Resources Honoring Nelson Mandela At His Passing….:

Crowds Mass in South Africa to Bid Farewell and Honor Mandela is from The New York Times.

World leaders join singing crowds for Mandela memorial is from CNN.

The Nelson Mandela Memorial Service is from The Atlantic.

LISTEN: President Obama Delivers A Eulogy For Nelson Mandela is from NPR.

Nelson Mandela’s Memorial Service In South Africa is from NPR.

And here are a couple of other related resources:

Visualizing Apartheid – Teaching Students About Nelson Mandela is from The ASIDE blog.

The Associated Press has a new interactive.

December 5, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Best Resources Honoring Nelson Mandela At His Passing….

'Impossible Things' photo (c) 2013, Celestine Chua - license:

The world lost a great man .

I have an exhaustive The Best Sites For Learning About Nelson Mandela list. I thought it would be useful to create a second one highlighting resources coming out now to celebrate his life and mourn his death. I certainly be adding to it in the coming days:

English Lesson Plan on Nelson Mandela is from Famous People Lessons.






The Voice of Mandela is an amazing interactive from The New York Times.

World Leaders Honor Nelson Mandela is from Mashable.

Nelson Mandela, Who Led South Africa’s Liberation, Dies at 95 is his obituary in The New York Times.

Latest Updates: Global Reaction to the Death of Nelson Mandela is from The NY Times.

The Contradictions of Mandela is a NY Times op-ed.

Here’s a video obituary from The Guardian:

Mandela Lives is by Nicholas Kristof.

Nelson Mandela’s Death, As Told By Newspaper Front Pages is from BuzzFeed.

Nelson Mandela: interactive timeline is from The Telegraph.

Here’s are President Obama’s remarks on Mandela’s death (here’s the transcript):

Life and times of Nelson Mandela is an interactive from Al Jazeera.

Here’s USA coverage of his death.

Here’s is CNN’s coverage.

Mandela’s Struggle in Posters
is from The NY Times.

Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013 – interactive timeline is from The Guardian.

This is how Nelson Mandela thought about policy is from The Washington Post.

The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela is from PBS.

12 Mandela Quotes That Won’t Be In the Corporate Media Obituaries is from common Dreams.

See how South Africa changed over Nelson Mandela’s lifetime is from The Washington Post.

Rare Footage of Mandela in Prison is from The New York Times.

‘Free Mandela (From the Prison of Fantasy)!’ is also from The NY Times.

The Zinn Education Project has a number of resources.

World mourns Nelson Mandela (8th December, 2013) is an ESL Lesson Plan from Breaking News English.

The World Reacts To Nelson Mandela’s Death is a TIME slideshow.

Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013 is an Atlantic slideshow.

The World Mourns Mandela is an Boston Globe slideshow.

You may have already seen or heard about “His Day is Done: A Tribute Poem for Nelson Mandela by Maya Angelou,” which was produced by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs in December 2013.

Here’s a version of it with English subtitles. You can access videos of it with subtitles in numerous other languages here.

Unfortunately, the only transcript of the poem I’ve found so far is this one, which includes the time in the video each sentence appears. If you know of one, or have created one, let me know.

Nelson Mandela

Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.



The life and times of Nelson Mandela

Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.


by Ad-Rank

Nelson Mandela: Before Prisoner, Beyond President

ABC News has an interactive infographic on his life.

The Mandela Playlist: A Life And Legacy, Told In Music is from NPR.

How Nelson Mandela became the man we knew is from CBS News.

Mandela and The Politics of Forgiveness is from The New Yorker.

The CBBC Newsround has a very accessible page with many features on Mandela.

Crowds Mass in South Africa to Bid Farewell and Honor Mandela is from The New York Times.

World leaders join singing crowds for Mandela memorial is from CNN.

The Nelson Mandela Memorial Service is from The Atlantic.

Visualizing Apartheid – Teaching Students About Nelson Mandela is from The ASIDE blog.

The Associated Press has a new interactive.

LISTEN: President Obama Delivers A Eulogy For Nelson Mandela is from NPR.

Nelson Mandela’s Memorial Service In South Africa is from NPR.

From Rebel to Statesman: Teaching About the Life of Nelson Mandela is from The New York Times Learning Network.

In Defense of Mandela’s Defense of Tyrants is from TIME.

Honoring Mandela is a photo gallery from The New York Times.

Here are videos from the Memorial Service/Celebration:

Highlights From Memorial Service for Mandela is from The NY Times.

Read President Obama’s powerful eulogy for Nelson Mandela is from The Washington Post.

Nelson Mandela’s Funeral in Pictures is from TIME.

AP PHOTOS: Signs of global devotion to Mandela is from The Associated Press.

August 1, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Interactive Infographic: “The Incredible Rise Of Migrants’ Remittances”

I’m embedding below a pretty interesting interactive showing the impact of migrants’ remittances (the monies they send back to families in their native countries) around the world. It’s based on World Bank data. Even though it doesn’t quite fit, I’m adding it to The Best Sites For Learning About Immigration In The United States.

December 1, 2012
by Larry Ferlazzo

My Best Posts Over The Years — Volume Three

I’ve been writing this blog for six or seven years. I thought readers might find it useful for me to dig back in the “archives” and highlight my choices for some of the best posts that appeared during that time.

The first list in this series, My Best Posts Over The Years — Volume One, focused on the year 2007 and included a fair amount of still-useful material (at least in my opinion).

I’d say the same thing about my review of posts from 2008, which you can find in My Best Posts Over The Years — Volume Two.

Here in Volume Three I’ll identify the best of 2009:

I posted what has turned out to be the most popular piece I’ve every posted — The Best Resources For Helping Teachers Use Bloom’s Taxonomy In The Classroom (which, as I do for most of my “The Best” lists, I continue to update).

The Best Teacher Resources For “TED Talks” (& Similar Presentations) has been similarly popular over the years.

And The Best Places Where Students Can Write For An “Authentic Audience” is another long-time popular list that was published that year.

I had my first book published that year, Building Parent Engagement In Schools, and started by other blog, Engaging Parents In School. And I began publishing an annual list of my best posts on parent engagement.

Some “unusual” lists that I like, and which came out in 2009 include:

The Best Sites For Walking In Someone Else’s Shoes

The Best Sites To Learn About Walls That Separate Us

The Best Images Of Weird, Cool & Neat-Looking Buildings (& Ways To Design Your Own)

I still regularly use The Best Sources Of Advice For Teachers (And Others!) On How To Be Better Bloggers and The Best Sites For Free ESL/EFL Hand-Outs & Worksheets.

And my students love The Best Places To Read & Write “Choose Your Own Adventure” Stories.

I wrote Teaching Secrets: The Last Day of School for Education Week, and Parent Involvement or Parent Engagement? for Learning First.

I also wrote an Ed Week article on making home visits to parents.

That year, I taught one U.S. History class in the classroom and another in the computer lab. I wrote about how it went here.

I reflect on the difference in career goals that I see in my mainstream and ELL students in The Hopes And Dreams Of My Students.

I wrote some decent posts on classroom management issues and lesson plans:

“I’ll Work If You Give Me Candy”

What Do You Do To Keep Students (& You!) Focused Near The End Of The School Year?

Want To Know What’s Happened Since My “Marshmallow” & “Visualizing Success” Lessons

Student Goal-Setting Lesson I’m Trying Out On Monday

The Importance Of Saying “I’m Sorry” To Students

When You Have A Sub…

Improvisation In The ESL/EFL Classroom — At Least In Mine

“How Students Can Grow Their Brains”

Answers To “What Do You Do On The First Day Of School?”

And here are some interesting education policy-related posts:

“Data-Driven” Versus “Data-Informed”

Evaluating Teachers In Order To Fire Them?

Is Figuring Out How To Make Schools Better A Puzzle Or A Mystery?

Do Teachers REALLY Come From The Bottom Third Of Colleges? Or Is That Statistic A Bunch Of Baloney?

“I just thought it would end differently this time”

Compasses Or Road Maps?

“Does Slow and Steady Win the Race?”

What Would Paulo Freire Do If He Was A School Superintendent?

Here are some posts to particularly useful sites that are still in operation:

Culture Crossing

The Art Of Storytelling

“Funniest videos about teaching / learning English”

The Fun Theory

And check out this essay on “The Best Teacher I Ever Had.”

July 30, 2012
by Larry Ferlazzo

Today’s Resources On The Olympics

Here are the newest additions to The Best Sites For Learning About The London 2012 Olympics:

Immigrants on the U.S. Olympic Team is from

Here’s a great U.S. Olympic Team Tribute To Muhammad Ali:

Visualizing The Evolution Of Olympic Speed is a pretty cool interactive.

A look at the many different sports represented during the 2012 London Olympics is an interactive from The Associated Press.

May 7, 2012
by Larry Ferlazzo

How Reading Strategies Can Increase Student Engagement

A few days ago, both Daniel Willingham and Robert Pondiscio — two thinkers and educators whose opinions I value highly — wrote posts critical of the use (or, perhaps, the over-use) of teaching reading strategies to students. They both suggest that this can result in making students feel bored by reading.

I certainly agree that teachers misusing reading strategies in class can indeed, as Dan Willingham put it, cause “collateral damage.” I’d also suggest that poor teaching of just about anything can have a similar result.

Done well, regular teaching and reinforcing of reading strategies can have the opposite result, and I see it in my classroom, and the classrooms of my colleagues, everyday.

Reading strategies are not just for comprehension — they are also for engagement.

We don’t have students explicitly apply them (or, if they do, very seldom) during their pleasure reading. But for reading text they are unfamiliar with and often, at least initially, not interested in (especially informational text in English and in content area classes) reading strategies like highlighting, visualizing, connecting, asking questions, evaluating, and summarizing provide a tool for students to extend their thinking and also a provide a system for accountability. Explicitly being challenged to ask questions, expand those questions to higher level orders of thinking, and then share them with their classmates agitates everyone to wonder and explore what the answers might be. Some reluctant readers become more engaged when they know they can draw and visualize what they are reading. Pushing students to consciously agree or disagree with what they read and provide evidence for their beliefs helps students develop needed critical thinking skills. And, yes, all that engagement reinforces comprehension, too.

I’ve invited Kelly Young, an extraordinary consultant from Pebble Creek Labs for our school (and for many others), to also comment on this issue. I’ve written often about Kelly, who I consider a mentor.

Here are his comments:

I appreciate Mr. Willingham’s spur to open a conversation about the value and weight of reading strategies in the larger milieu of reading instruction.

For openers, I cannot imagine responsible reading instruction without the teaching of reading strategies, though I too worry about appropriate balance and priority.

Just as teachers of music, dance and sports use exercises and drills to refine, expand and enhance learner skills and technique, so should reading teachers give students’ methods and means for making text more available and understandable, and thus enjoyable.

When I take a tennis lesson, I don’t expect to only play during the lesson… I expect to learn strategies through exercises that will expand my skill set. I also don’t expect to just do drills, as I need to apply my sharpened skills to the larger game.

The same holds for reading instruction. Through strategy work, in appropriate balance with general reading and free reading, we make transparent via modeling and practice varied means of engaging with text in novel and more sophisticated levels of thinking. This expansion of reader tools has the effect of broadening and strengthening students’ reading repertoire. Students are asked to read and interact with text through different lenses and points of contact. This arms students with more tools through which to connect with and enjoy reading. Done correctly, it simultaneously makes text more engaging while sharpening and expanding meaning-making competencies.

Done poorly, indeed it feels monotonous and superfluous, though not a reason to deny expanded and powerful tools from students. That is a teaching problem. Reading strategies are not to be confused with teaching methods, they are learning strategies for student to own and apply as needed with varied levels and types of text. They are also not to be confused with assessment and poorly worded multiple-choice questions testing student comprehension. Such “methods” do not teach reading skill; they only test it, weakly.

Reading strategies are an amalgam of tactics and approaches for making reading more available and understandable, more vivid and rich. As with most teaching and learning challenges, the magic is in the right mix of applied practice and inquiry. More tools, and more understanding of these tools, only enriches the reading and learning experience.

How do you use reading strategies in your classroom?

(see Robert Pondiscio’s thoughtful response in the comments)

February 18, 2012
by Larry Ferlazzo

What Can Teachers Learn From Target?

Today’s New York Times Magazine has a pretty scary article about how the retail giant Target tracks what’s going on in the lives of customers and uses that information to get us to buy more stuff from them.  It’s definitely worth reading the whole piece.

As I mentioned, it’s scary — in addition to being creepy. Nevertheless, the article does highlight some strategies that can be used for good in the classroom and not only for not-so-good things in the quest for corporate profit.

Here are three points that struck me in the article:

The Effectiveness of Inductive Learning: Target uses inductive learning to analyse information, look for information, and apply and extend what it learns — the typical steps in the inductive learning process:

For companies like Target, the exhaustive rendering of our conscious and unconscious patterns into data sets and algorithms has revolutionized what they know about us and, therefore, how precisely they can sell.

Inductive learning is an extremely effective teaching and learning process that’s used by other companies as well, including Google Translate. Last year, a major study written about by Robert Marzano found inductive learning to be far more effective than direct instruction in the classroom.

The Importance Of Automaticity & Chunking: The article discusses Target’s efforts to shape shopping habits, and discusses automaticity and chunking. It includes a good story that I will be using with my students when we discuss why I ask them to use explicit reading strategies (asking a question, visualizing, etc.) often when we’re reading texts:

Take backing your car out of the driveway. When you first learned to drive, that act required a major dose of concentration, and for good reason: it involves peering into the rearview and side mirrors and checking for obstacles, putting your foot on the brake, moving the gearshift into reverse, removing your foot from the brake, estimating the distance between the garage and the street while keeping the wheels aligned, calculating how images in the mirrors translate into actual distances, all while applying differing amounts of pressure to the gas pedal and brake.

Now, you perform that series of actions every time you pull into the street without thinking very much. Your brain has chunked large parts of it.

Reflecting On Cues & Rewards: The author’s discussion of cues and rewards, and how to use them to create habits, was particularly intriguing to me:

The process within our brains that creates habits is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop — cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward — becomes more and more automatic…..

Luckily, simply understanding how habits work makes them easier to control. Take, for instance, a series of studies conducted a few years ago at Columbia University and the University of Alberta. Researchers wanted to understand how exercise habits emerge. In one project, 256 members of a health-insurance plan were invited to classes stressing the importance of exercise. Half the participants received an extra lesson on the theories of habit formation (the structure of the habit loop) and were asked to identify cues and rewards that might help them develop exercise routines.

The results were dramatic. Over the next four months, those participants who deliberately identified cues and rewards spent twice as much time exercising as their peers. Other studies have yielded similar results. According to another recent paper, if you want to start running in the morning, it’s essential that you choose a simple cue (like always putting on your sneakers before breakfast or leaving your running clothes next to your bed) and a clear reward (like a midday treat or even the sense of accomplishment that comes from ritually recording your miles in a log book). After a while, your brain will start anticipating that reward — craving the treat or the feeling of accomplishment — and there will be a measurable neurological impulse to lace up your jogging shoes each morning.

Charles Duhigg, the article’s author (who also is publishing a book on the topic) made this personal:

I wanted to lose weight.

I had got into a bad habit of going to the cafeteria every afternoon and eating a chocolate-chip cookie, which contributed to my gaining a few pounds. Eight, to be precise. I put a Post-it note on my computer reading “NO MORE COOKIES.” But every afternoon, I managed to ignore that note, wander to the cafeteria, buy a cookie and eat it while chatting with colleagues. Tomorrow, I always promised myself, I’ll muster the willpower to resist.

Tomorrow, I ate another cookie.

When I started interviewing experts in habit formation, I concluded each interview by asking what I should do. The first step, they said, was to figure out my habit loop. The routine was simple: every afternoon, I walked to the cafeteria, bought a cookie and ate it while chatting with friends.

Next came some less obvious questions: What was the cue? Hunger? Boredom? Low blood sugar? And what was the reward? The taste of the cookie itself? The temporary distraction from my work? The chance to socialize with colleagues?

Rewards are powerful because they satisfy cravings, but we’re often not conscious of the urges driving our habits in the first place. So one day, when I felt a cookie impulse, I went outside and took a walk instead. The next day, I went to the cafeteria and bought a coffee. The next, I bought an apple and ate it while chatting with friends. You get the idea. I wanted to test different theories regarding what reward I was really craving. Was it hunger? (In which case the apple should have worked.) Was it the desire for a quick burst of energy? (If so, the coffee should suffice.) Or, as turned out to be the answer, was it that after several hours spent focused on work, I wanted to socialize, to make sure I was up to speed on office gossip, and the cookie was just a convenient excuse? When I walked to a colleague’s desk and chatted for a few minutes, it turned out, my cookie urge was gone.

All that was left was identifying the cue.

Deciphering cues is hard, however. Our lives often contain too much information to figure out what is triggering a particular behavior. Do you eat breakfast at a certain time because you’re hungry? Or because the morning news is on? Or because your kids have started eating? Experiments have shown that most cues fit into one of five categories: location, time, emotional state, other people or the immediately preceding action. So to figure out the cue for my cookie habit, I wrote down five things the moment the urge hit:

Where are you? (Sitting at my desk.)

What time is it? (3:36 p.m.)

What’s your emotional state? (Bored.)

Who else is around? (No one.)

What action preceded the urge? (Answered an e-mail.)

The next day I did the same thing. And the next. Pretty soon, the cue was clear: I always felt an urge to snack around 3:30.

Once I figured out all the parts of the loop, it seemed fairly easy to change my habit. But the psychologists and neuroscientists warned me that, for my new behavior to stick, I needed to abide by the same principle that guided Procter & Gamble in selling Febreze: To shift the routine — to socialize, rather than eat a cookie — I needed to piggyback on an existing habit. So now, every day around 3:30, I stand up, look around the newsroom for someone to talk to, spend 10 minutes gossiping, then go back to my desk. The cue and reward have stayed the same. Only the routine has shifted. It doesn’t feel like a decision, any more than the M.I.T. rats made a decision to run through the maze. It’s now a habit. I’ve lost 21 pounds since then (12 of them from changing my cookie ritual).

I think this point can be very, very helpful in the classroom with students who want to break habits they have identified as ones they want to change (not to mention with us teachers who might have a few, too).

I’m going to put some thought into it and develop a lesson plan, which I’ll share here at a later date.  If you have some ideas of what I should considering including, please leave a comment.

I guess many things can be applied for ill… or for good…..

January 16, 2012
by Larry Ferlazzo

Bill Moyers On Economic Inequality

Bill Moyers’ new show made its debut this past weekend, and it looks like it’s going to be a winner. The first episode was on economic inequality. Here’s how it’s described:

Bill Moyers explores how America’s vast inequality didn’t just happen, it’s been politically engineered.

I’ve embedded the show below. It’s obviously challenging for English Language Learners, but they’ve made the transcript available, too. In addition, they’ve published a very accessible chart.

Moyers & Company 101: On Winner Take All Politics from on Vimeo.

I’m adding it to The Best Resources About Wealth & Income Inequality.

And, while I’m at it, here are some more new additions to that list:

The Top 1 Percent: What Jobs Do They Have?
is a cool NY Times interactive.

The Great Divergence In Pictures: A visual guide to income inequality