Thoughtful Learning Blog

Thoughtful Learning Blog

The Thoughtful Learning blog features articles about English language arts, 21st century skills, and social-emotional learning. Insights come from the teachers, writers, and developers at Thoughtful Learning, who have been creating top-notch instructional materials for more than 40 years.

Brain diagram with stem shaded green, limbic system shaded yellow, and cortex shaded blue

Teaching students about their brains and how they work will help them understand their emotions and thoughts.

While the brain is a complex structure, you can teach its basic parts in a way students will understand. Introduce your students to the “lizard,” “dog,” and “owl” areas of their brains with this quick, hands-on lesson from In Focus.

Students often associate grammar with a complicated set of rules and terms instead of an avenue for clear and powerful writing.

Unfortunately, this misconception often stems from traditional ways of teaching grammar. (Think of sentence diagrams and red ink.) You can create better conditions in your classroom.

Make grammar relevant and useful to your students with these research-supported practices.

students working on their writing

1. Teach grammar with authentic writing.

To make grammar instruction stick, connect it to students’ writing. Introduce new concepts as students reach the editing stage of writing projects. That way, they apply the concepts in an authentic context. For example, if students are writing narratives, teach and practice how to punctuate dialogue. Then have students correctly punctuate the dialogue in their own writing.


Sadness is a beautiful emotion, tender and vulnerable. When someone is sad or crying, it is like seeing into the person’s heart. 

Yet, many students don’t know how to properly manage sadness. Sadness is not something they’ve carefully considered or discussed. As a result, they may bottle it up or feel embarrassed by it.

You can empower students to deal with sadness in healthy ways. Use this quick activity from In Focus to start a conversation about sadness. Then share the posters to discuss coping strategies. 

Effective writing flows smoothly from sentence to sentence, leading to clear and pleasurable reading. Young writers, though, are still learning how to command the rhythm of a page. They can get their ideas down, but their sentences often sound choppy or halting.

What they need is a little variety. Teach your students to vary sentence lengths, beginnings, and types—and to deliver their ideas smoothly.

Featured Activity: Improving Sentence Fluency

Use this activity to help students write with rhythm and flow.

Living through a pandemic has placed an enormous mental-health burden on students. Stress and isolation have increased anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts among young people.

Even though students are slowly returning to in-person classes, the mental toll of the past year will likely linger for a long time, influencing learning and behavior. How, then, can you best support your students’ social and emotional well-being while also caring for your own?

To start, it is important to recognize what stress does to the brain. With that understanding, you can plan and respond in healthy ways.

How does stress impact a young person’s brain?

Stress triggers a number of brain processes that impact learning and behavior. When students feel scared or threatened, much of their processing and energy drops from the cortex, where thinking and decision-making take place, down to the limbic system, where emotions are produced.

To innovate and problem solve, students need to exercise their creative muscles as much as their critical ones. 

You don’t need to teach art or theater to inspire creative thinking. You just need to provide students opportunities to think differently, even if it’s in short bursts. 

Today’s activity introduces a fun way to apply a topic or concept in a brand new context. 

Featured Activity: Creative Uses of Square-Pegging

Use these challenges to inspire creativity and engage students.


March marks the beginning of Women’s History Month. While women deserve recognition every day, this time of year presents a perfect opportunity to pay homage to women of the past and present.

The five writing activities below prompt middle and high school students to explore women’s achievements while also honoring the ongoing fight for progress and equality.

Writing a Historical Dialogue

This prompt introduces students to 16 women who have contributed greatly to history, arts, activism, and science. Students choose one of the contributors, complete additional research, and write a dialogue between themselves and the person.

Goals for Gender Equality

After learning about a gender discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. women’s national soccer team, students consider contemporary examples of gender inequality in school, sports, and other group settings. Then, in an essay, students define gender equality and why it matters.

The Hull House, Chicago

“Could you be more specific?” Teachers love to ask this question, and for good reason. It encourages students to clarify their thinking with specific answers rather than generalities. 

Students should ask this same question while they write. Without concrete details, writing falls flat. Vague ideas cause dull reading and misunderstanding. Specific details build interest and understanding.

Illustration of a moose jogging

When it comes to reading, fluency is fundamental. 

Students can learn strategies to comprehend new information, predict upcoming text, and connect reading to personal experience. In the process, they improve speed, accuracy, and expression.

Improving fluency requires regular practice and support. You can give your young readers the support they need by following the steps in the Fluency Development Lesson (FDL). 

Illustration of Youth Using Cell Phones and Laptop Computers

Fake news. Biased information. Divisive commentary. Today’s media landscape blurs the line between fact and fiction. Our students are left to sort out the truth. 

Passive reading and viewing won't do. Students need to learn media literacy—the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media critically and responsibly. 

This essential 21st century skill builds better learners and citizens.

Featured Activity: Evaluating Media Messages

Teach your students to evaluate the key parts of any media message.