Set the Stage to Engage Q&A: Spy Headquarters

Happy Sunday, everyone! I hope you enjoyed my last post all about how I engage my students while reading nonfiction texts. If you missed that, you can check it out here

I know a lot of you had questions about lesson specifics, so I grouped some of the questions together to hopefully provide you more information about how I made this happen in my classroom. So let's get started...

1. Does this theme last a day/week/month/year? ;) Do you incorporate all subject areas into this theme or only this specific lesson? 

Part 1: Let me begin by answering the first part. The length of how long something stays up honestly depends on the theme, and how I am incorporating it into my instructional content. The spy theme was a little tricky because you literally had to walk over lasers during each lesson. It was the best workout ever, and I was completely sore. LOL! {I hope that didn't scare you away.} So for this specific lesson, I left it up for two days. The students really just got the hang of the lesson on day one, and on day two they were really getting deep into literature. 

Now this specific "flip" (as I like to call it) was only up for a short time. However, when I turned my room into a safari in 2nd grade, I left it up for two weeks throughout our entire unit of study. Here is a little peek at that. It really depends on a) how conducive the decor is to the classroom logistics and b) if it is meant to enhance a lesson or an entire unit. 

Here is a look at the safari:

Part 2: The spy headquarters was used to teach one concept in ELA. However, that concept was pretty deep, so I had to build up to that lesson. Using the same example as above when I turned my room into a safari, I integrated it into every part of our day. Interdisciplinary units can be powerful. More on that later. Not only were we studying groups of animals and their habitats/life cycles in science, I also incorporated it into measurement in math, research/reading for ELA, etc. You can learn more about my safari by clicking on the titles below. 

All of that to say...there is no one way to flip your room. It depends on how long you can handle it {until it drives you crazy} and really how long it can be used to really pull your students in and enhance, rather than take away, from your instruction. 

2. How might you modify this for other grade levels? 

This would be extremely easy to use with any nonfiction text. For upper grades, as I did with my students, I used this lesson to really emphasize the need to summarize and include all key events, details, etc. for a spy profile. 

If I did this exact concept with 1st or 2nd, I could take it 100 different directions. Perhaps they are working to simply spy on the facts of a text. Or maybe they are deciphering between facts and opinions in a lesson. That would be great for some magnifying glasses...because...well you know a magnifying glass definitely helps spot the difference. ;) Or maybe they are even working on finding text "evidence" {see...perfect for a spy unit} to support some questions about a topic. It's never too early to start that. Like I said, the list could go on. You really can just make these "flips" work for you and most importantly, for your students. Find a way to make it fit that reinforces and really challenges your students on what you have been studying. Remember...the rigor and challenge level is equally (if not MORE) important than the environment. They really should compliment one another well. 

I have also had a lot of recommendations and requests to create my Spy Headquarters for other grade levels. If you are interested, I would love to hear from you. I am thinking that I will try to split it up early elementary and upper elementary. Crossing my fingers that these will be ready by next week. 

Book recommendations for lower elementary: 

I was talking with a teacher bestie yesterday, and she reminded me about the types of books below. I used them all the time to teach nonfiction when I taught 1-2nd grades. I also loved, loved, loved my Weekly Readers from Scholastic. So did the kids. Weekly Readers would be excellent to incorporate into a lesson like this. I still use Weekly Readers for my older friends and they are by far their favorite nonfiction source.

3. How did you create the "crack the code" portion of the lesson? 

Easy! The codes identified which text structure the students were reading. Prior to cracking the code, they had to first use textual evidence to support which structure they thought they were working with after reading the passage. 

Now I couldn't just say sequencing, description, compare/contrast because they would just count the letters and guess. I had it say something like "All clues point to sequence." or "All clues point to description." 

To make the code, I simply wrote it out and either made it the letter before the actual letter or the letter after. Clear as mud, right? Here is an example of letter before. If the word was dog, it would look like this: cnf {letter "c" is before "d", letter "n" is before "o", letter "f" is before "g".} I hope that makes better sense. Then I just wrote the clue out on a piece of neon paper, and the students had to figure out the pattern and crack the code. 

4. Did you do this lesson as an introduction, mid-unit, or end of unit lesson? 

This specific lesson was done at the end of our unit on nonfiction features, text structures, and effective summarization skills and techniques. However, I have "flipped" my classroom for a variety of lessons all coming at different points in my instruction. In the safari unit that I mentioned above, I flipped the classroom right when the unit began. The kids came in and were in uproar about what we would be leaning about. It really set the tone for that unit.

5. What are the size of the black lights and how many did you use? 

I used four of the large black lights. They were probably 36 inches long. I have a relatively large room, so it was needed for a large amount of space. If you have a smaller room, two would probably do the trick! 

6. How do I black my room out? I have so much light coming in through my windows. 

Oh, that's an easy fix as well. Trash bags and a spray bottle filled with water. Those trash bags will suction straight to your window. 

Alright y'all. I hoped this helped answer some of your questions about the logistics of this lesson. I will be back next week for week number TWO of my Set the Stage to Engage Series! 

I would also like to see some of the things that you do to set the stage in your room. Post some of your favorites on Instagram and use the #hashtag below. I can't wait to add to my bag of tricks with all of your fabulous ideas! 

See ya next week! 


  1. Thanks for answering so many questions; it was very helpful! I love the idea of creating a lower elementary and an upper elementary unit each time. Does the safari unit in your tpt store focus on the set to engage part as well? You are incredible! :)

  2. Hope -
    I love this post. What do you mean by "flipping" your classroom? Did you flip a lesson - like having the kids watch a video/screencast for homework? Or do you mean you just changed what was happening in the classroom? Thanks for the help. You're lessons always seem very engaging for the students. I definitely need some guidance in this area!
    Are We There Yet?

  3. I hope you create an early education Spy Headquarters! I'd be all over that! Thanks for sharing your creative genius!