I noticed that students both needed and wanted a quick and engaging introduction to content. Instead of simply asking what do you know about this topic students prior knowledge is activated through a often funny yet very informative video segment on a topic. These videos are great for introduciing Social Studies content because they take often large and abstract topics and make them accessible for students.
My colleagues and I have students write a Synopsis of their learning after every Independent Learning Zone period as well as after Live Investigations. The Synopsis acts as a reflective tool for both large and small concepts. I often tell my students to write what they actually learned or improved upon, not what they THINK I want them to write. I train my students to make a space for the Synopsis in their notebook headings. Occasionally, I will have my students read their Synopses out loud, but most often I walk around and do a quick check, as they are mostly a personal reflection for my students.
At the beginning of each Independent Learning Zone class session, I do a quick review of Independent Learning Zone Expectations. This strategy encourages the whole class to come together as a community with common expectations in mind before students begin working independently for the remainder of the class.
Since I work with 3 large cohorts of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students (100+ students in each cohort) my colleagues and I developed a Town Hall Meeting for the beginning of the year to explain our Rules, Routines, Procedures, and Consequences to the entire cohort at once. Having all of my students on the same system has provided tremendous consistency and stability and created a solid community foundation. Town Hall Meeting is a place where students not only hear the expectations but are encouraged to ask questions or make comments to the entire community. Delivering this presentation once to the entire cohort helps to set the culture in an efficient way.