Posted in New Teacher, Podcast, systems, systems and routines, Teacher Tips, teaching resources

That Janky Necklace is your New Best Friend

The Catch-All Color-Coding System

When I show up to school, many of my colleagues look at me weirdly or straight-up laugh when they see my janky flair pen necklace. Why?


It has 5 flair pens (the best pens in the entire world! They don’t bleed through, their ink lasts forever and is smooth, you can tell I’m a nerd about pens….), but I kept them attached to my school lanyard with rubber bands.


You read that right. It was the most janky set-up ever, but it WORKED. I always had a pen, and as a co-teacher running around to 6 classrooms, I NEEDED those pens so that I could give the students quickmeaningful feedback that they would ACTUALLY LOOK AT.

Keep to the System

I think we can all agree that color-coding can be a super useful note-taking tool. However, we can also turn it into a SCAFFOLDING tool, FEEDBACK tool, and ASSESSMENT tool. The way to do this is to make it a SYSTEM in your room.

The less brain-power students use for learning the process, the more brain power they can use for learning.

Seward Montessori ELL Team, "How Can I Level Up?"

The most important thing you can do if you choose to use this system is to BE CONSISTENT. Whether you are writing quick directions on the board, making a Google Slide or Flipchart presentation, teaching writing, math, or social studies, you ALWAYS make the ACADEMIC WORDS red. You ALWAYS make the TRANSITION WORDS blue. You DEFINITELY ALWAYS put the POWER VERBS in purple. That way, students can focus on the learning, and not trying to learn whatever new color-coding system you just accidentally put in front of them.

The Benefits of Color-Coding

You will find that not only will it help you as a teacher be more cognizant of the language you are using, the students clue-in super fast to what you are trying to teach them! 

Aaaand, they will insist on using it themselves! Leading to natural SELF-ASSESSMENT, PEER-ASSESSMENT, and a meaningful, quick way for you to give them FEEDBACK. The perfect combination!!!

What is the Color-Coding System?

The sentence at the very beginning that states what the subject of the whole paragraph will be about. I’ve also used this interchangeably with the “Topic Paragraph” as students advance into 5+ paragraph essays.

Examples: “I will be writing about _____.”     “This essay will _______”    “In this essay, you will learn ____.”

Words that are SPECIFIC to that TOPIC. Side-note: They are usually the vocabulary for that lesson or unit.

Example: If you are teaching how to solve a multiplication problem, the academic words/phrases would be MULTIPLY, GROUPING, HOW MANY IN ALL, etc. 

Words or phrases that help connect phrases and show the relationship between ideas. It also helps the writing sound smoother.

Examples: To begin, on the other hand, therefore, moreover, and, because, but

Words or phrases that tell the students what KIND OF THINKING AND PERFORMANCE we are asking them to do. 

Warning: Until students have been explicitly taught what these words mean, they will not know what these words actually mean or what you are expecting of them. Never assume the students know these particular words mean until you’ve done a super quick vocabulary lesson on it.

Examples: describe, compare and contrast, predict, extrapolate, summarize, identify, etc.

The sentence at the very END that re-states what the subject of the whole paragraph was about. I’ve also used this interchangeably with the “Concluding Paragraph” as students advance into 5+ paragraph essays.

Examples: “To summarize, I wrote about _____.”     “This essay was _______”    “In this essay, you learned ____.”

What can I use the Color-Coding System For?

Be Consistent in the Details!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

DO NOT make the same mistake some of my student-teachers did in thinking this system is easy!!!! I was RUTHLESS in my feedback to them regarding how they used it because it matters!!!!

In essence, you are creating a VISUAL REPRESENTATION of writing. If they even made the PERIOD red by accident, I’d get on their tail and make them change it. It was THAT important.

(Plus, it just looks prettier! I had a student say they LOVED looking at their Writer’s Notebook and self-assessing because it made it look like a rainbow. WHO WOULDN’T WANT TO HEAR THAT?)

If you're sometimes forgetful and drink coffee like me,

Consider getting this coffee-mug. Not only will you NEVER forget the color-coding system again, YOUR STUDENTS WILL REMIND YOU TOO!

Here's an Example of How to Be Consistent.

Need an example of consistency in action? 

Take a closer look at one of the mini-lesson presentations or word bank and you’ll see what I mean.

Does the power verb and transition words jump out at ya?
Made a mistake? That's okay! Just underline it to fix the color-coding.
Notice how even the underlined spaces are color-coded.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Is that janky flair-pen necklace worth it?

How about the color-coding system? Could you use it in your classroom? Would you change anything?

Would the mug help you implement the color-coding system?


Let me know in the comments below!