Makes Sense Strategies

Student Engagement

This initiative focuses on improving instruction for all students so that students are engaging in meaningful learning experiences and the achievement gap is closed. 

Makes Sense Strategies

One of the key goals of the Alabama State Improvement Grant (SIG) and the State Personnel Development Grant (SPDG) has been to increase the quality of instruction so that all students (i.e., typical achieving, learning disabled, English-language Learners, etc.) are more engaged in meaningful learning to produce substantial improvements in performance.  At the heart of this initiative has been state-wide staff development in the Makes Sense Strategies (MSS) developed by Edwin Ellis at the University of Alabama.  The MSS model is an approach to teaching based on three fundamental instructional principles:

  1. Students learn better when they are actively engaged in processing new information in meaningful ways.
  2. Increasing the learn-ability of information or skills is preferable to dumbing down what students are expected to learn. 
  3. Students should not waste time learning trivia.


In part, the Makes Sense approach is a collection of powerful techniques and tools for differentiating curriculum, planning and implementing instruction, and assessing student learning.  In part, it’s a curriculum because students learn new strategies and thinking skills when teachers employ the MSS strategies.  In part, the Makes Sense approach is teaching philosophy about what students should learn and how it should be taught.  MSS also includes strategies and tools for planning, implementing, and assessing innovative school reform efforts. 

Makes Sense Strategies (MSS) videos series explores the MSS Toolkit, provides directions to access and use the software, features instruction routines, and provides samples created by teachers to address specific learning standards.    

Addressing Disproportionality in Alabama Schools

MSS professional development training must be conducted annually for all newly hired teachers, administrators, evaluators, and others, as appropriate in Alabama Public Schools.

MSS professional development is organized into four parts.  Complete the training in the order in which it is presented, starting with Part I:  Introduction, Part II: Specific Discipline, Part III:  Big Bang Graphic Organizer Instructional Routines, and ending with Part IV: Assessment.

Part 1. Introduction
Click the link to view all three videos:
Makes Sense Strategies Introduction
    What If Introduction
    What’s the Big Deal about Graphic Organizers?
    MSS software tour

Special Education Teachers please read the instructions.
    MSS SPE Teachers Instructions

Part 2.  Specific Discipline
Select from the menu below the area that best matches the type of position for which you have been hired.

  1. If you are a special education teacher, then select the option that best aligns with the curriculum area that you spend the majority of your time supporting (e.g. if you will be co-teaching math courses in grade 9, then select “MATH, grades 6-12”).
  2. We recommend that physical education teachersselect one of the science options.
  3. We recommend that ROTC teachers select the Social Studies (grades 9-12) option.


Administrators & Instructional Leaders
    Why Bother? – Watch Video
    MSS Critical Features – Watch Video
    Project Based – Learning Smart Sheets – Watch Video
  (e.g., curriculum Coordinator, Professional Developer, Reading Coach)

Science (grades 6-8) Teacher 
 Part 1 Smart Sheets for Science Content – Watch Video
     Part 2 Vocabulary Smart Sheets – Watch Video

Math (grades 6-12) Teacher
    6-12 Math MSS applications.- Watch Video

Part 3.  “Big Bang Graphic Organizer Instructional Routines”
Click the link to view all five videos: 
     Part 1 GO Instruction Big Ideas – Watch Video
     Part 2 BEFORE Lesson GO Routines – Watch Video
     Part 3 DURING Lesson Reading GO Routines – Watch Video
     Part 4 DURING Lesson Writing GO Routines – Watch Video
     Part 5 AFTER Lesson GO Routines – Watch Video

Part 4:  Assessments
Click the link to open the teacher assessment or the administrator assessment.  Answer each question, then save and print. 
Teacher Assessment
 Assessment for Administrators and Instructional Leaders

Note: To complete the assessment, you will need to access the MSS Toolkit software.  Each LEA received a copy of the software.  Please see your LEA contact for the software to complete the assessment.