What Teachers Say

Differentiated Visual Tools

The Makes Sense Smart Sheets™ are AMAZING! I am able to use them to compare/contrast as well as organize information. The So What boxes challenge students to do higher level thinking and make writing so much easier. Since I've been using them for several concepts (e.g. personification), my students have scored higher on tests than before.

Cynthia Alexander

High School English teacher, Fairfax, Virginia


The Smart Sheets™ worked well for the students. The majority of students were able to reread the article and to select the main idea of each paragraph and then to add at least one major detail that supported the main idea. After filling out the Smart Sheet™, students weren’t as intimidated about composing a paragraph because they had concrete information to include in their paragraph. The . . . process forced them to reread and discuss the article in small groups and helped them to connect and write the main ideas in their own words. It also helped me to hear and observe their thinking processes. The paragraphs that the students wrote were noticeably better than any paragraphs that they had composed before using the Smart Sheets. I will definitely use this with the students again – it is a valuable tool and gives them concrete information, confidence, and an outline for writing.

Gail Schwarz

Reading Teacher, Lake Braddock Secondary School, Fairfax, Virginia

My students were taught Lexicons last year. They tell me that this is the best and most fun way to learn and remember vocabulary words. Please print a Lexicon II book. I don't think you realize what a gold mine you have.

Judy Sharman

I wanted to email you this sample. I have several more that I have been using in my economics and 11th grade history class. I am loving these SMARTsheets!™ The picture is a Ying Yang of Perspectives and concerns from each side of the Cold War. Students did their own in their packets and we did it together on the board.  I think they liked it as well. Thanks so much for the resources!!

Crystal Sparks

Special Education Chairperson 11th and 12th History/Gov't/Econ Oxford High School Oxford, Alabama

I came across your "Frame" notes in some files I inherited from a retiring teacher.  I have been using a "white-out" version for 2 years.  I teach in inner city Roanoke and love using your SMARTsheets™ as a review of key events, concepts, etc.  

Elissa Grantham

6th grade, English and History teacher Addison Middle School, Roanoke, Va.

This stuff has totally changed my way of thinking about teaching. We used the Frame for everything -- taking notes when reading, organizing ideas when writing, planning projects, organizing activities, brainstorming ideas -- I mean everything. It's really helped my students learn how to organize their thinking. The Frame is one of the best, most versatile teaching tools I've ever seen. My kids are always focusing on the main ideas and the big picture.

Theresa Farmer

2001-02 Ala Teacher of the Year Fifth grade teacher Oak Mountain Intermediate School Birmingham, AL

At first, I wasn't so sure the Frame would work. But once I started using it and seeing how my students reacted to it, it was like a light going off in my head -- everybody's head, really. I started sharing with other teachers on my hall, and now our whole school uses it. The primary school that feeds Oak Mountain Intermediate is into it big time as well -- kindergarten on up. I'm telling you -- its great!" For years I searched for an effective way to teach my students to write. The PLAN Writing Strategy was not only the most effective, it was the most efficient method for teaching writing. Student scores on the Alabama Direct Writing Assessment improved dramatically after learning the PLAN technique.

Peggy Long

LD/MR Resource Teacher University Place Elementary Huntsville, AL

Yes, The Light Is On!!!!!! I recommend the Make Sense Strategies™ to all educators as a tool to meet the needs of all students. I believe the Make Sense Strategies™ help to turn the light on and keep it on for students in ways that last a life- time. These strategies assistance in watering-up the curriculum, gives life and nourishment to the educational development of all students. These strategies also help some to experience educational success for the first time because the Light is On.

Vanessa Norwood

7th Grade Technology Education Clarke County Middle School Jackson, AL

The Makes Sense Instruction was absolutely phenomenal. I have utilized some of these strategies in the past, but am now looking forward to practicing them with increased intensity and depth along with increased elaboration (which now know why) which will lead to more success for my students.

Doug Channell

Special Education Director Fayette County, AL


The Makes Sense Strategies™ will help me with my job as reading specialist. The strategies are a means to an end, reading comprehension. I loved it!

Tena Flanagan

Alabama Reading Initiative Specialist Colbert County, AL

Makes Sense Strategies™" provides teachers with strategies (tools) to teach those subjects or topics which present a level of difficulty. The students come alive with enthusiasm and want to participate. WOW!, this is definitely a "motivational" tool.

Raquel Cockrell

Math Teacher Montevallo Middle School

Makes Sense Strategies™ are appropriately named, they truly, "Make Sense". I am excited about the possibilities within my own classroom and school.

Charles Clemmons

Asst. Principal/Teacher Cullman County Child Development Center

Well, it is here!!!! A great wake-up call for me after 22 years of teaching Special Education. The Make Sense Strategies™ is a refreshing tool and concept to get old information to students in a new way. After years of teaching the same subjects year after year, any teacher will need a new way to present materials to their students. One of the strategies, the Graphic Organizer (Frame) is the most useful tool for my students in writing the summary of an article from the newspaper, taking notes and writing the main idea from the materials they have studied. This strategy did not work or was received immediately, but took a little time. This tool is excellent for teaching in the classroom as well as tutoring your children at home.

Velma Rowden

Special Education Teacher & Transition Coordinator Clarke County Public Schools Jackson, AL

I am excited to be able to give other teachers usable tools for their classroom that will empower students to learn more effectively and efficiently.

Serina P. Gibbs

Asst. Principal/Teacher Moody High School

I'm a special education teacher who works with a sixth grade middle school team of teachers in a total inclusion situation. We've used the Frame graphic organizer extensively, especially as a tool for facilitating note taking and writing. We were amazed at how well it helped our students. One child with mental retardation was able to write an entire page about his favorite teacher when before about all he could do was string a couple of sentences together -- at best. We keep copies of the Frame in a box, and students just go up and get one anytime they want. They used to ask permission if they could use one, but now they just go get one anytime. It's become kind of automatic for them -- especially when they are doing group work or cooperative learning activities.

Tuwanna McGee

Westlawn Middle School Tuscaloosa, AL

During the study, we were using a reversal design. That's where you use the Makes Sense Strategies™ one week, collect data to see how well it works, and then you don't use it the next week, and you collect data to see what happens to students' learning when you do use it. It's like on and off, on and off again. We loved it during the weeks where we used it. The teachers loved using it and so did the students. We hated the off weeks when we couldn't use it. We wanted so badly to use it during those "off" weeks.

Chaille Raines

4th/5th grade multi-age classroom teacher Stafford Elementary School Tuscaloosa, AL

I took a copy of the Frame down to a local printer and had several poster-sized versions made up and then laminated them. We use the laminated posters for group work. Students note their ideas using water-based markers. To re-use the posters, we just wipe them off with a damp paper towel. The Frames are a great way to structure and focus student's responses during group activities.

Betty Hudgins

5th grade teacher Scarsdale, NY

Frame helps my students to see connections in their learning and they seem to retain more subject content. The Makes Sense Strategies™ organizes ideas and concepts so that the teacher and the student understand the lesson in a more in-depth manner. Using the Frames has opened the door of opportunity for all students to comprehend what they are learning; It's not just the trivial facts when using frame, but the big ideas presented that allows the diverse classroom of today to interpret the lessons. Students love to keep frames in their notebooks as a study guide and reference. It's easy and fun.

Rebecca Stallings

6th grade language arts teacher Westlawn Middle School Tuscaloosa, AL

Makes Sense Strategies™ strengthens my planning and my teaching. It allows me to concentrate on big ideas without getting lost in trivial details. It focuses the student on the main idea providing a solid foundation for reading, writing, discussion, and studying. Framing gives students just enough structure in the thought process to allow them the freedom to become truly creative thinkers. MSS techniques help student interns tremendously with the planning process because it concentrates their thinking on the most important aspects of lessons. It helps keep them focused during the instructional process as well. 

Frances Weatherly

5th grade social studies teacher Verner Elementary Tuscaloosa, AL

I've used the Makes Sense Strategies™ with several different ability levels in 4th grade. The students love it because throughout brainstorming and discussion, all of their science content material ends up very organized and much easier for them to understand. My class has also used the Makes Sense Strategies™ to complete summaries and character analysis from basal reading stories. The organization of the Makes Sense Strategies™ has really improved my students reading comprehension.

Janice Jackson

4th grade teacher Aliceville, AL

The Makes Sense Strategies™ (whole to part organizer) is the most fundamental graphic organizer I share with teachers and graduate students. The structure of the graphic prompts teachers and students to organize their thinking about any content area topic in terms of main ideas and critical details, the most common text structure students encounter in secondary content area classes. As teachers mediate student use of the whole to part organizer (or Makes Sense Strategies™) they, in effect, become "cognitive coaches" teaching students how to independently organize factual information during reading, lecture/discussions, or before writing. In my experience, the Makes Sense Strategies™ provides students and teachers one of most practical, powerful, and flexible instructional routines available. The Makes Sense Strategies™ book provides an extraordinarily readable invitation to a teaching technique that has the potential to make a big difference in what students learn from classroom presentations of curricular content. The book begins by succinctly explaining why visual presentations of information (graphic organizers) are such powerful mediators of students' learning. Thus, after reading the introductory portions of the book, a teacher is motivated to use graphic organizers, because he or she has such a clear mental model of how they help people organize and learn information. But the real genius of this book is that Dr. Ellis provides such clear information about how to use the Makes Sense Strategies™ and how to modify it according to the particular needs of a group of students or the constraints of a particular lesson. The book is loaded with examples from multiple content areas from both elementary and secondary levels, making it easy for a teacher to match his or her lesson goals with one of the variations of the Makes Sense Strategies.™

Kevin Feldman

Ph.D. Director of Reading & Early Intervention Sonoma County Schools, CA


Makes Sense Strategies™ has been of inestimable help to the pre-service teachers with whom I work. My undergraduate students have moved from total ignorance of graphic organizers to confident users and creators of them. My students used graphics with first graders as well as with sixth graders. I am completely convinced of the utility of MSS to teachers, no matter what content or grade level is taught.

Sr. Madeleine Gregg

Ph.D. fcJ Professor of Teacher Education The University of Alabama

In a senior level course at the university (SPE 435—Behavior Management) of 44 students, I often ask them to complete SMARTsheets from the Makes Senses Strategies program.  Usually, we utilize the hierarchic main idea frames.  The week before mid-term, I accidently left the blank sheets in my office and instead of going back to my office to get them, I decided that the students could simply take notes in a traditional manner.  As soon as I began the presentation, a student asked for the SMARTSheet. I explained the situation and a student volunteered to hurry to my office upstairs to get the copies.  This indicated how appreciative this class of college seniors were of this strategy. Therefore, please tell everyone in your training sessions, that these strategies are NOT just for K-12!

Pamela W. Howard, Ph.D.

Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Alabama

I am teaching in an alternative school in Athens, AL, and I really like the Writing SMARTsheets, and I know that they are beneficial. I have a 5th grade student with learning disabilities who has been having trouble writing essays. He has trouble organizing the main ideas and details in appropriate order, and he really likes the structure involved with the SMARTsheets. I am glad that I have been able to work with him the past several weeks, but I know that general education teachers are not familiar with these strategies. I personally am more understanding of students who have lower levels of writing due to my time in Tarrant High School, but at the school where I’m currently teaching, it seems that the teachers expect so much without teaching any strategies. I particularly like the essay formats. I grew up when phonics was the rave (it still may be for all I know), but I feel that the Literature SMARTsheets for reading comprehension were very helpful with regard to student understanding.

Benjamin Carpenter

Athens, AL

Students in SPE 492 (Academic Methods for Adolescents with Mild Disabilities) are raving about Makes Sense Strategies

Jim Siders, Ph.D.

Chair, Department of Special Education Education & Multiple Abilities University of Alabama

MSS is the best purchase I have made in college... I use this for everything!

Molly Williams

Teacher-candidate, University of Alabama

The Make Sense Strategies are AMAZING and we use them in almost every class here at UA Huntsville.

Derrick Smith

University of Alabama Huntsville

What service! I’d recommend you guys to anyone, not just because your products are so successful with students, but also because you pay such individualized attention to your customers! 

Lindsey Brown

Thank you for the rigor that is reflected in your strategies and demonstration content. Too often secondary  educators are forced to look at elementary-type strategies for secondary students. As a former disrict level reading coach and now a school-based high school literacy coach, I often use and recommend your visuals. 

This morning I was coaching the US History teachers. The subject was Americans moving from the aguarian society to the cities. One of your visuals fit the content perfectly.

As a 21 year SIM trainer, I have applauded your work in the past and continue to benefit from your expertise. Thak you from my students and me.

Cher Hollar

Dr. Ellis, I attended one of your workshops two years ago in Dallas and was provided a copy of your Make Sense Strategies CD. I have used your graphic organizers in trainings to show teachers there are so many ways to support students - to differentiate instruction more effectively. I am a huge fan of your software and always refer teachers to your product.

Shannorn Sobeck

Associate Principal Midway High School, Waco, Texas

I attended your class on February 18th in LaGrange, Il "Emerging Core Thinking and Language Skills". It was fantastic!

Michelle Imes

Speech-Language Pathologist

Thank you very much for your Friday workshop and Saturday sessions, all of which were extremely well received.  As evidenced in the Sundial article Beth forwarded, the value of the DVTs was appreciated by veteran teachers  as well as credential candidates.   And I know our faculty were pleased you presented the supporting research. Thank you again for so generously sharing these extremely valuable resources.

Sue Sears

California State University, Northridge

By the way, Monday morning I was walking in the hall toward my office, when I hear, "excuse me, excuse me".  I turned around and a young woman walked up to me.  "I just wanted to thank you for organizing the Dr. Ellis presentation (Differentiated Visual Tools for Teaching Discipline-specific Content Literacy) Friday evening.  I am in the secondary ed program and I loved everything I learned and can't wait to start using it."

Beth Lasky, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Special Education, CSU Northridge

The feedback from your workshop, “Learning to Elaborate / Elaborating to Learn: Teaching emerging core language skills” was great!

Susan Gallagher, Ph.D.

LaGrange Area Dept. of Special Education