Teaching Strategies for High School: Tips from a Teacher

Teaching Strategies for High School: Tips from a Teacher
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My first day of teaching was rapidly approaching. I was excited. I was enthusiastic. I was ready to change the world. And then I attended three days of teacher in-services to get ready for the year. I was depressed. I was scared. I was ready to change my underwear. If any of this sounds like you as you’re preparing to teach high school, you are not alone. Instead of getting overwhelmed by what the experts tell you, listen to the advice of a seasoned teacher.

Classroom Management and Teacher Survival

These strategies deal with establishing a framework for positive teacher and student experiences.

Set Clear Learning Expectations: After you’ve set them, communicate them, clearly. Tell students on day one or two what your goals are for them. Since they’re probably not listening, tell them again. Write classroom expectations on the course syllabus. Tell them specific expectations before every assignment. Write down assignment expectations in the form of a rubric. Write them down in instructions.

Establish Clear Behavioral Expectations: After you’ve established them, communicate them, clearly. Behavioral expectations are best established through your actions. If you expect kids to be on time, for example, you better be ready to crack down on that first tardy kid. Both your learning and behavioral expectations should be clearly stated in your course expectations.

Establish a Routine: Ordinary tasks, such as collecting papers, moving into groups, or getting a book off the shelf, can quickly become chaotic if there’s not an established routine. Take the time the first few weeks of school to go over in detail how things are done. Adjust, if necessary.

Document Everything: This is especially important early in your career when administrators, students and parents may not find you as credible as your more experienced colleagues. Items to document include lesson plans, student conferences, parent contacts, student misbehavior, meetings attended and parent/teacher conferences.

Find a Mentor: If you’re new, find a mentor. There’s another teacher at your school who understands what you’re going through and, more importantly, knows how to help. If it’s someone who teaches the same subject, great. If not, that’s OK. You’re better off learning the ropes from someone competent who teaches a different subject than an idiot who has similar interests.

Common Teaching Activities

Dress up like Albert if you want.

There are certain teaching activities all teachers do, regardless of subject. Use these strategies to make them more effective.

Note-Giving: Teenage attention spans aren’t what they used to be…and they weren’t that good to begin with. Be merciful. Understand that those poor children have been sitting inside a box-sized desk for hours. Be enthusiastic when you give notes. Break up note-taking with fast comprehension activities. Engage students in note-taking. Try Cornell Notes.

Class Discussion: A good class discussion helps students develop critical thinking and public speaking skills. In order for a class discussion, however, to be effective, it must be an actual discussion and not an “I’m the teacher and you’re the students and what I say is right and what you say is wrong unless you agree with me” lesson. Ask open-ended questions. Don’t call on the same students all the time. Thank students for their responses — right or wrong. Schedule a debate. Make it interesting and rewarding.

Vocabulary: Every subject has subject specific vocabulary. Not all students, unfortunately, bother to learn subject specific vocabulary. That’s a problem. The days of looking up words in a dictionary, copying them down in a notebook, and taking a quiz on Friday are no longer effective. Use learning modalities and various activities to teach vocabulary.

Collaborative Work: This used to be called group work and consisted of one person finding all the answers and three other people copying them. That’s not as effective as giving each group member a specific role and making each person accountable. Never assign group work as a summative grade. The purpose of a group assignment is to help students prepare and develop skills that you will assess on individual assignments.

Writing and Reading Assignments: Many high school students struggle with reading comprehension and writing competence. Help them help themselves by utilizing graphic organizers. The purpose of graphic organizers is to help students organize information in an intelligent manner. Writing assignments are much more effective when accompanied by a rubric.

One Last Suggestion

It doesn’t matter how many world-class teaching strategies you use if you are not positive and enthusiastic about teaching. This enthusiasm and positivity should be for the content you teach and the students you teach. Do yourself a favor and do not associate with the complainers and whiners in your profession. They’ll just bring you down.


  • Author’s Experience
  • Albert Einstein by Oren Jack Turner under Public Domain