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Tip of the Week: Tic Tac Tell

One of the advantages of doing what I do is the chance to meet and talk with lots of great social studies teachers. Whether it’s traveling around doing on-site trainings or leading workshops in ESSDACK’s own facility, the opportunities to brainstorm ideas and learn new things are abundant.

Earlier this week, I spent the day working with a small group of middle school teachers. The conversation shifted to literacy strategies and what works best to help students read and write in the social studies. Andrew Trent, teacher from Clay Center and colleague on the state assessment writing team, shared a strategy that I had never seen before.

Titled Tic Tac Tell, the strategy is very simple to implement but it has a lot of potential for adapting to different grade levels, content, and complexity. The original focus of Tic Tac Tell was to provide a quick and easy way for kids to interact with vocabulary words.  We know that to learn new vocabulary words and phrases, kids need to experience those words or phrases multiple times in a variety of contexts. Tic Tac Tell works great for that, especially with elementary kids.

But I think you could also use this to introduce, review, and assess a wide variety of concepts, ideas, people, places, or events.

So. How to use it?

The Basics:

  1. Create a tic-tac-toe grid with nine spaces. Insert the nine words or phrases that you want kids to learn and review. Hand the grid to your students. Ask them to create sentences or paragraphs using three words from the grid – the only requirement is that the three words must be selected vertically, horizontally, or diagonally – just like the game Tic Tac Toe. Also require that the sentences or paragraphs relate to the topic of study.
  2. Repeat the process with the same grid throughout the instructional unit.

Beyond the Basics:

  1. Have kids work in small groups, then whole group.
  2. You could have students do a Think/Pair/Share one day.
  3. Facilitate a whole group exercise during which you select three words and ask small groups to quickly create a sentence using each of those three words. The group that creates the quickest (or best or most relevant or most entertaining or . . . you get the idea) sentence wins a point.
  4. You might require students to rearrange the order of the words in the grid – creating new possible combinations.
  5. Have students post their sentences to a Padlet Wall, shared Google Doc, or on a class Wiki so that kids can see what others have created.
  6. Encourage kids to create their own grids – using both words they know and words they don’t know.
  7. Have kids create grids, put all of their grids in a pile, and then have students randomly select a grid from the stack.
  8. For middle school kids, use a variety of options for filling in the grid. Add people, places, events, dates, or concepts such as democracy and appeasement.
  9. For high school kids, use different primary and secondary sources. Instead of sentences, students must create paragraphs showing relationships between the different pieces of evidence or develop an argument using the three sources.

I’ve pasted a PDF of Andrew’s sample below.

tictactell screenshot

Thanks Andrew!

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great blog post, thanks! I have been meaning to do concept mapping for years, and I never seem to get around to it for some reason. This seems like a simple and effective way to introduce it.

    It reminds me of this other activity I read about (also on the list of things to do…)

    February 5, 2014
    • glennw #


      Thanks for the comment. I’m loving the Brady Bunch version of Tic Tac Tell! Very cool idea. Thanks for sharing it.


      February 5, 2014

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