I’ve been spending some time learning about “retrieval practice” (see The Best Resources For Learning About Retrieval Practice) and thinking about how to incorporate it more into my classes.

Then, yesterday, I read a very interesting piece by Jen McCabe about how she was doing it, and it gave me some ideas.

In my ELL History classes, we often have open-book tests.  These next two Read Alouds and writing prompts that I plan on sharing with students explain what I’m going to be doing (you can download them here).  Check them out and please give me advice on how I can improve them and the plan they are introducing:



As we have been learning about the past, we have also been learning about how it is connected to today and in the future.

For example, when we talked about how the National Anthem was created, we also talked about the protests begun by Colin Kaepernick. We learned a little bit about the real story of the Mexican-American War and its impact on us today.  When learning about Harriet Tubman, we learned about the controversy related to putting her image on the twenty-dollar bill. 

It is important to have knowledge, and to remember it, so we can think about how yesterday helps shape today and tomorrow.  This knowledge will help us participate in making decisions about what happens in our country.

We are learning many things this year in U.S. History.   In fact, you might be learning more in this class than in any other U.S. History class in this school since this is the first time you are studying it.  Most other students who have been in this country longer than you have spent many years learning about our country’s history.

And at the same time you are learning about history, you are learning a new language.

It’s a lot to learn. 

And a lot to remember.


Writing Prompt:

Please write a one-or-two sentence summary – in your own words – of this Read Aloud.  Do you agree with what it says?  Why or why not?




Our first read aloud talked about the importance of knowledge and memory.

There are two main types of memory: short-term memory and long-term memory.

In our short-term memory, we remember things for a short time before we forget them, or until we transfer that knowledge to long-term memory.

We keep things in our long-term memory that we are going to remember for a longer time.

Scientists have found that one of the best ways to help move knowledge into our long-term memory is through “retrieval practice.”  It’s basically forcing ourselves to remember things.

We are going to start doing this through two ways:

One, some of the warm-ups will ask you to write down answers to questions about things we’ve learned before.  You will not be graded on it.  But we hope that it might encourage you to focus more on what we study in class so you will remember more.  The more you remember, the more you will be able to be an active citizen in today’s world and apply what you know to what’s going on today. We all know that we have many challenges right now in our world.

Secondly, when we do the unit tests, you will first try answering them without looking at the book.  Then, after you have tried answering them without the book, you will have a chance to review and change your answers with the book.  You will be graded only on your final answers.

When you take each test, though, we’ll ask you to write down in your notebook how many questions you answered on the test correctly without looking at your book.  The teachers won’t look at what you wrote, but you will know how much each time you really learned and will remember.   Like the warm-ups, we hope that this process will also encourage you to focus more on what we study in class so you will remember more.


Writing Prompt:

Please write a one-or-two sentence summary – in your own words – of this Read Aloud.   Do you think the two changes are worth trying?  Why or why not?



What do you think?