K-5 Curriculum Newsletter

February 2022

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Teaching Keywords is not the Answer to the Problem

Teaching Keywords is not the Answer to the Problem

Solving word problems is often one of the most difficult skills for students to master. Teaching keywords seems like a logical solution for making this difficult skill easier for students but this strategy actually makes it even more difficult.

As teachers, we want to make sure we are doing everything we can to make content click for our students. In the case of math, this often includes teaching students “tricks”, however, in the long run, doing this is a disservice to our students.

Below is s list of keywords often taught that indicate addition and subtraction:






in all





take away





gave away




The list above includes 18 words to memorize and categorize just for two of the four operations. Not only is this more memorization for students without meaning, these keywords are often missing in simple problems.

Here is a word problem that Kindergarten students are expected to be able to solve: 10 apples were sitting on the table. I ate 4. How many are on the table now? One could argue that ate indicates subtraction but that is not one of our keywords. Students would need to understand the meaning of subtraction to know that ate means take away which indicates subtraction.

There are hundreds of examples where problems have no keywords and students must use the meaning of the operation to analyze what operation would be used to solve the problem and that does not even touch on two-step or multi-step word problems that are taught beginning in second grade.

Teaching students the meaning of the operation and how to interpret the action words in the problem is actually much more meaningful for students and in the end easier than teaching keywords. Some other strategies that can be used to help students analyze word problems are teaching reading comprehension strategies, teaching students to look for the structure of the problem, giving a summary, or visualizing or acting out the problem. These are just some of the effective reading comprehension strategies that can be used.

Just as with many other skills in math, students need to be taught for conceptual understanding rather than just rote memorization. For more strategies to use for teaching students word problems see the link below.

Creativity is Intelligence Having Fun

Electronic media has impacted the amount of time our students spend developing their artistic skills, fine motor skills, and their creative thinking. Children need to know facts, but once the information has been memorized, the real evidence of learning is when a student can use the knowledge effectively in a creative way. The arts foster creativity, self-expression, problem-solving, and the ability to think creatively; but the ability to think creatively is not only beneficial to those who want to pursue a career in the arts but is useful to many occupational fields.

Below are some strategies to help foster creativity in your classes:

  • When discussing creativity, ensure that students understand that creativity is separate from artistic abilities.

  • Push students beyond one idea and encourage them to brainstorm multiple solutions to a problem.

  • Encourage students to look beyond the obvious and develop unique ideas. When presenting students with a problem, have them start by responding with the most obvious or cliché ideas. Then, have them develop ideas beyond those typical responses.

  • Use divergent questions to help students look for and make connections.

  • Create a display for your student's creative work. Displaying their work will encourage them and show that you value their efforts.

"Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere."- Albert Einstein

Integrating Reading with Multi-Sensory Activities to Enhance Literacy Skills

Effective techniques for a teacher to use when addressing the many skills of reading include those that address various learning styles. When focusing on skills such as phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension, a student will retain the information faster and with greater accuracy if they are doing more than one modality to learn the concepts. As found in multiple studies, children with the strongest literacy skills have more interactivity between various regions in their brain which indicates a greater amount of retention and understanding. .

By utilizing multi-sensory activities, you are engaging students by using more than one sense at a time. The activities would require the student to use touch, sight, movement, and hearing to maximize the connection to the material. Multisensory activities can be integrated into lessons relatively easily and make a very large impact in their understanding and retention.

  1. Finger Tracing - Have students trace letters in sand, rice, or shaving cream while saying the letters, sounds, then the word. Stimulated using: touch, movement, sound, and sight.

  2. Modeling - create models of objects using playdough or clay that begin with or end with the target letter sound. Be sure to have the students blend the letter sounds together. Stimulated using: hearing, movement, touch, and sight

  3. Read, Build, Say - students will read a vocabulary word, build using tactile objects (ie magnets), then say the word. Students then build a sentence using the vocabulary word. Stimulated using: sight, touch, movement, and hearing

  4. Whole Brain Teaching - has students connecting hand gestures with the definition of the word. The students practice with their classmates then share. Stimulated using: touch, movement, hearing, and speaking.

Supporting Immigrant Families in the Schools

Students from immigrant families with issues that may not sometimes may deal with issues that are not always visible. It is crucial for educators to look for clues that may point to issues that may be due to an interruption in having their basic needs met. These factors can play key roles in a student’s attendance, attention, and school responsibilities.

For example, an immigrant family’s economic situation may change quickly due to a variety of reasons; such as loss of employment, transportation limitations, and/or housing issues. In addition, immigrant families may need help in finding resources to help with food, transportation, and/or living costs. Immigrant families may not register for services that are available to help them because of a lack of knowledge or even a hesitation to draw attention to their immigrant status.

Important medical care is an area that immigrant families may not know how to access due to the lack of resources and knowledge of what is available to them. Especially with the pandemic, this is a key factor that may play a role in helping immigrant students both mentally and physically succeed in school. As educators, more importantly now during COVID-19, staying abreast with what is available to help support immigrant families, will help when a child’s lack of educational success may be due in part to having his/her basic needs met.

Strategies for Physical Education Assessment

In a class setting that is constantly in motion, it may seem difficult to find the time to perform assessments in Physical Education while attempting to maximize your lessons with movement. PE teachers need to check for student understanding and growth on a consistent basis throughout a student's K-12 Health and Physical Education experience. In order to constantly check for understanding and keep track of these skills, there is a multitude of assessments Health and PE teachers can adopt to check for student understanding.

Simple checklists: Teachers can create a checklist of skills and check off which skills are completed, in progress, or needing improvement.

Performance tasks: In this type of assessment, students will physically perform a specific skill that a teacher would like to assess. These can be used for both informal and formal assessments.

Portfolio tasks: In this assessment, teachers need to create a portfolio for each individual student. This type of assessment will track student growth over time. All student work will remain in the portfolio and is a great way to see students’ individual progress over time.

Rating scales/rubrics: Rubrics can be created for achieving certain skills, such as locomotor skills. Students have rated accordingly.

Written tests/ worksheets: Traditional pen/paper assessments can be created for skills learned at the end of units. Tests can be specific to different sports, skills, etc.

There is always a worry of losing time. The focus should be on how to assess effectively without losing physical activity time. Implementation is key and planning properly to match an assessment with your classroom routine will assist in making your assessment implementation a successful one.

Dear Data Guy

How do I motivate struggling learners who don’t like to take tests?

1) Motivate students before they take an assessment by creating a classroom game to test their knowledge. Make it fun!

2) Pair students in your class prior to the assessment. Have the pairs explain, recall, and share out with the rest of the class.

3) Offer a mini practice quiz with questions that are similar to the test.

4) Provide direct instruction to students on good study habits.

5) Offer bonus points for the best study outline or students who create a Quizlet.

Good Luck!

Notes from Mr. Scotto

As you know, our district runs a four year New Teacher Induction Program. Currently, new hires that are in the Year II and Year III Cohorts are working on a passion project (sometimes also known as Action Research).

These new hires have selected a particular topic because it is an area of professional interest, desire to learn more about the topic, and know that is area of focus will positively impact teaching and learning.

If you know of a colleague that is in Year II or Year III, we encourage you to touch base with this staff member and ask them the following questions:

  • What is your topic? What have you learned most about this topic?
  • Is there anything that I can assist you with regarding this topic?
  • Have you ever thought about speaking with ______; they are very knowledgeable in this area.

HTSD Curriculum Department

Anthony Scotto, Director of Curriculum and Instruction

Supervisors of K-5 Staff

Alejandro Batlle, Health/PE and World Language

Kevin Bobetich, Testing/Assessment

Sandra Jacome, ESL K-12, ESSER Pre-K

Danielle Tan, Art and Music

Dereth Sanchez-Ahmed, Interim K-5 ELA and Social Studies

Katie Mallon, K-5 Math and Science & ESSA Grant