Top Ten Classroom Life Hacks for Teachers

By Patrick Kelley, author of Teaching Smarter

Kelley-Patrick-Free Spirit author1. Need an idea for your next class project or assignment? Have students write a half page description of “The absolute best assignment a teacher has ever given you to do!” Or try this prompt: “Of all the assignments that you have ever done since you entered school, which one was the most fun? Why?” Or this: “Of all the assignments that you have ever done in any class, which one did you learn the most from?” Collect the work, and you’ll likely find at least two ideas worth trying. All you need is one!

2. Use Socratic Seminar discussion cards. Some students have difficulty participating in a group discussion. Sometimes the discussions lack insight. I have about forty 3 x 5 cards printed with suggestions for improving a discussion or helping a student enter it. For example, one card might say, “I agree with what John said but I would like to add this to his statement . . . ” With the cards, everyone participates without fear of being judged critically.

3. Here’s a trick to stop cheating on multiple choice tests. I number my tests version 1, version 2, version 3, etc. I tell students, “Please write the version number on your answer sheet. There is no need to attempt cheating now. Did you notice that there are different version numbers?” They always buy it even though all copies are the same. And, if you look at my wording I did not lie. Just a little irony, I suppose.

FileStack_retouched from AlMare wikimedia commons4. No time to grade that three-foot stack of homework? Instead of grading, give credit. Give one point for completing the assignment. Once a week tally up the points. You just saved yourself hours upon hours that can now be spent on other, more important tasks.

5. Is much of the work students turn in copied? Have them write a sworn statement with a signature at the end of each assignment verifying that it was NOT copied. Have them get creative and humorous in their testimonies. Will some still cheat? Of course they will—but not as many, and not as often.

6. One person in the group doing all the work? Assign rotating roles in which the leader changes. Make every individual turn in a written copy of the assignment. Give extra credit only to the groups that have 100 percent participation.

7. Tired of side conversations and murmuring? Put your students in groups and have each group create and present a humorous skit showing some of the worst offenders in classroom disruption without naming names that they have ever seen. Really have fun and laugh with them, but do a serious debriefing session in which you have them brainstorm solutions to the problems they identified. Now they’ll own the problem, and they won’t forget the lesson. It works!

8. Procrastinators! Offer one extra credit point (or another reward that you like) for each day an assignment is turned in early. Make it a competition to avoid the deadline.

450px-Houston_TFA_students wikimedia commons team4 upload9. Harness the power of peer tutoring. Check with your principal: Some states and school districts offer community service hours to advanced kids who engage in peer tutoring. This concept can be adapted to your classroom. I have assigned some of my more advanced kids to help those who are struggling. Incredible friendships have been formed—not to mention academic progress for both parties.

10. Start your history lectures with a song. (Let students see the words as it plays.) Assign them the task of finding their favorite “history song.” In no time, you will have quite the library. Many of my students have learned to love history through this process. As a side benefit, you have some great introductions for future lessons.

TeachingSmarterPatrick Kelley, M.A., is the author of Teaching Smarter: An Unconventional Guide to Boosting Student Success. He has a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from California State University San Bernardino and a bachelor’s degree in history from Castleton State College in Vermont. He has been a classroom teacher for more than twenty-five years. He has experience as a mentor teacher and an AP coordinator as well as ten years of experience with the AVID program. He is certified in Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) and currently works with the International Baccalaureate program. Patrick provides workshops and presentations to districts, schools, and teams. Visit him at

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