Writing

Not Your Grandma’s Social Media

Here’s the truth: If Romeo had Snapchat, that entire mess might’ve been avoided. Even a simple status update on Facebook would have alerted his posse that tragedy was imminent.

Luckily, when it comes to sharing information, our students are no longer limited to messages passed along by Friar John. Instead, kids today exchange ideas almost instantaneously through texts, Snapchat, and Instagram.  Meet your students where they are by encouraging them to share ideas, reflect on their learning, and recreate classic moments in literature and history by reproducing the social media experiences they have outside the classroom using:

FakeBook Recreate classic moments in literature or history by creating a FakeBook account and plotting the development of characters through status updates and images. For a “real” social media experience add other characters to the friends’ list, offer “likes” to status updates, and post comments to images. 

Instagram Encourage your students to tell a character’s story through images and status updates using Instagram or this Instagram template (Thanks, Cynthia Nixon!) . For added authenticity, have them use #hashtags to capture big ideas and theme topics.

Texting Use this Google Drawing iPhone template from Darren Maltais to get students to write from a character’s perspective and speculate how a secondary character might react to the text. Plus, because the template is available in Google Drive, multiple students can add their own ideas to the template, really mimicking the group texting experience. 

Whisper Whisper is a social media app that allows users to share secrets anonymously. Recreate the Whisper experience in the classroom by sharing the secret confessions and inner thoughts of characters and historical figures. Use this template to share a character’s confession by uploading an image and editing the text box. Then, add an element of collaboration by having other students speculate as to which character is making the confession. 

Twitter Chats Have students use this Ryan O’Donnell’s Twitter Template to bring classic literature into the modern day world. Students can use this fictional Twitter chat template to develop profiles for characters and create posts and updates to capture the big plot moves and conflicts from the text.

Book Snaps . Have students try #Booksnaps to annotate and share reflections of any excerpt of a book or text using SnapChat. Not comfortable with SnapChat? Try using Google Slides made to look like the social media platform! Need a quick tutorial to get started?  Try this one from the girls at Not Your Grandma’s English Class.

Strategies

Not Your Grandma’s Trapper Keeper

Trapper Keepers. They answered the prayers of the ‘80s most disorganized students. Style. Organization. Velcro. Trapper Keepers had it all. Let’s be honest, there was a time not so long ago when you couldn’t walk down a school hallway without seeing these colorful three-ring binders and their super-stylish plastic flaps. Add to that the personal stylings of a pegasus, a Lamborghini, or a Care Bear. It was enough to make a kid stand up and shout, “Yea, see that Care Bear sliding down that rainbow? Yea, that’s my stuff.” 

Never before was a school supply considered this cool. 

Now a lot can be said about the advances of modern technology. Even more about the 1:1 initiative that’s taking most schools by storm. You can’t argue the benefits of technology in the classroom. You just can’t. And while we love (with devotion) all that Google Classroom has to offer, searching through Google Drive just leaves us wanting more. Color-coded folders? Sure, that’s a help… but still everything seems so… same. It’s hard to harness the excitement and hype of 1980’s school supplies when there is no individuality. No personality. No fun.

When we think about student achievement in the classroom, and compare it to what the digital generation students “get” to the students of years past, again, it leaves us wanting more. The content is the same. The kids’ desire to achieve, also the same. The things is, it’s become difficult for kids to stay organized, to easily locate important notes and documents. Here’s why: Google Classroom has allowed the teacher the control to organize their drives for them, to literally label every document for them, to push it into their drive for them. And that’s the problem: for them. They have little ownership. And when you don’t create it, everything just looks, well, the same. 

Now, imagine the ability to take all that modern technology (eh-hem, Google) has to offer, but add to it individuality, ownership, and personality. Imagine taking the best of the Trapper Keeper and bringing it into today’s classroom. Imagine adding fun.
Enter the DigiKeeper.

Using the power of Google Sites, DigiKeeper takes what made the Trapper Keeper great and…get this…brings the features into the digital world.  The best part(s)?

  • Tabs: Remember the colorful folders of yesteryear? The DigiKeeper brings the organization of these colorful folders into the digital age using tabs. And the best part? You can add as many (or as few) as you need. 
  • Organization Plus. In the 80’s, the Trapper Keeper’s plastic flap prevented a paper blizzard from causing a white out in the hallway after an embarrassing trip and fall. Likewise, the DigiKeeper laughs in the face of the digital blizzard that is Google Drive and offers the ability to have everything in one magical place. 
  • Connectedness. Umm, it’s through Google – so it’s all connected! Using Google Sites to create a DigiKeeper, students can easily drag and drop all the materials their teacher lovingly pushed through classroom. Adding documents from Drive to a DigiKeeper takes mere seconds. 
  • Visual Cues. Once documents are added to the student’s DigiKeeper, they are arranged in a way which offers an easy-to-see preview of the document. For so many students who can picture what it looked like but can’t remember what it was called, this brings back the triumphant “I found it!” moment that is missing from many classrooms.
  • Fun. Ummm… you can slap a Care Bear on it! Giving the students the time and respect to make their sites their own! Say goodbye to sameness. 

DigiKeeper. The best of 1980’s school supplies. Without the velcro.

Reading

Not Your Grandma’s Textbook

Think about it.  If you’re a Gen X-er (like us), a reading assignment used to mean cracking open a dusty old teacher-issued textbook, careful not to rip the cover you’d crafted from a brown paper shopping bag. If you didn’t understand what you were reading, too bad.  You read the text, and there was nothing you could do if just didn’t get it.   

Just as books, magazines, and newspapers have evolved over the years, so have the ways our students interact with and take in text. Reading articles, novels, and textbooks is no longer limited to what is stored in the school bookroom.  As teachers, we now have access to digital tools that can completely transform the way our students read and access information. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • MERCURY READER: Mercury Reader is the perfect compliment to reading instruction.  This Chrome extension literally removes ads and distractions from online content, leaving only text and images for a beautiful reading on any site. Bye, bye clickbait! 
  • ANNOUNCIFY: Announcify is a free text-to-speech application that is available as a Chrome extension. Announcify will read aloud any webpage in your browser with a single click.  Bonus: Announcify can also translate across languages- an A+ resource for our ELLs 🙂
  • NEWSELA: Newsela supercharges reading engagement and learning in every subject by providing students with customized reading experiences at their current reading level. Easy peasy differentiation that would make Gerry Brooks proud! 
  • COMMON LIT: CommonLit empowers teachers by providing a variety of leveled passages for students centered around common themes or topics, plus adaptive tools to completely tailor their reading experiences. Paired texts, guided reading, and annotation, Oh My!
Reading, Strategies

5 un-Bored Games for Your Classroom

This summer has been all about games for our families! Traditional, unplugged, games. (In fact, as this post is being written, there’s a mean game of Uno being played downstairs.) Why? Because everybody loves games! They’re fun. They’re engaging. And… they’re easy enough for anyone to play. You don’t have to be the most talented athlete or the smartest kid in the room to be successful at a typical board game. Jenga? You only need a study hand.  Twister? A little flexibility goes a long way! Operation? Well… you get the idea.

Think about your own classroom. How can you take your favorite games and transform them for your students to harness the excitement of competition and the power of student engagement and team-building?  Try these educational twists of our best-loved childhood games to bring the fun to your classroom instruction:

5 unBORED Games for the Classroom

Scattergories. Create a game card with a number of different categories related to the unit you are studying.  For example, in English class, a card might feature the following list for a vocabulary unit: Noun, Adjective, Verb, and Adverb.  Now, roll the letter die that comes with the game or simply choose a random letter of the alphabet. The twist is that students must complete their lists using only answers that begin with the selected letter. Use this simple Scattergories template to create your own game cards using Google Docs!

Jenga. Number all of the blocks in your Jenga stack.  As students select a block, they must answer a question from a list that corresponds with the number on the block they removed.  Answer the question right, and the block goes back on the top of the stack. Answer the question wrong, and the block is removed from play. The winning group is the team who creates the highest Jenga tower with the least number of blocks removed from the stack.  Want to make a real crash? Try using Giant Jenga- but be careful- those blocks fall hard! 

CandyLand.  Think about a current classroom unit and come up with FIVE basic categories. (Reading a class novel? Categories like Characters, Plot, Conflict, Setting, and Random work perfectly!)  Assign each of your five categories a different color from the Candy Land game board. Then, create 5-10 questions per category. Students spin the provided spinner and advance their token to the color indicated.  The student is then asked a question from the corresponding color. Answer correctly and the student stays on that space. Incorrect? The student moves back to their previous spot on the board. For added fun, keep the other rules from the original game in tact.  Come on…who wouldn’t want to cross a rainbow bridge to sneak to a further level in the game?

Memory.  Use index cards to recreate this old time favorite.  Select 8-10 vocabulary terms. On one card, list a vocabulary term.  On the other, print the term’s definition. Place the cards face down and have students try to find the matches. Find a matching pair?  Keep the cards. No match? The cards are placed back into play in the same location on the “board.” Short on time? Check out Filppity’s newest feature for creating a digital version of this childhood great.

Cup Stacking.  (Yes, it’s a thing!) Grab a sleeve of solo cups and label each with terms that need to be placed in order.  In English class, you could try the elements of plot: Exposition, Inciting Incident, Rising Action; Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution. This also works great with any sequencing exercise!  Students must work together to stack the cups in the correct order with only a half sheet of paper between each one. As a bonus, have them remove the sheets of paper in order to get the cups to fall into a neat stack.  Confused? Maybe this image will help.

Need even more ideas to gamify your classroom and recycle long-forgotten board games? Just ask your students!  Give them a voice and have them transform a classroom concept using a game from their own childhood. You might be amazed at their “outside the (game) box” thinking when it comes to gamifying their own learning.

Strategies

Bringing Summer Magic into the Classroom

Do you hear that sound? It’s the sound of parents celebrating as school supplies are being purchased and first-day outfits are being picked out. That’s right… for many districts around the country, the first day of school is fast approaching!  Now, whether your summer was spent poolside, beachfront, or in your minivan chauffeuring the travel team from tournament to tournament, summer always brings with it a feeling of magic. The warmer weather. The freedom from lesson-planning. The vacation from essays screaming to be graded. 

And with the end of this summer magic in sight, the first day back to the classroom tends to bring with it a mixture of excitement and sadness. But what if this year, we carry that summer magic back to school with us? What if we were able to hold onto that magic for a little bit longer? 

10 Ways to Create Summer Magic in the Classroom 

  1. Wear your sunglasses. That’s right. Sunglasses. Start off a lesson wearing shades and don’t say a word. Then jump into how you have a bright idea. It doesn’t matter what the idea is, the fact that you were wearing sunglasses will hook the kids and get them excited for what’s next. Heck, go all out and play a little 80’s rock to show them just how bright the future will be! 
  2. Visit somewhere new. Whether it is an impromptu journey to read outside under a tree or a virtual field trip somewhere they haven’t been before, it doesn’t matter. New experiences equal new memories. Let’s make them in our classrooms.
  3. Go “All-Inclusive”. Give your students problems and challenges that require them to tap into everything they have learned the previous year. What you’ll gain at this all-inclusive: a clear idea of where your students are, a map so you can meet them there, and snapshot of the personalities in the room!
  4. Crank some tunes. A little island music can help make anything seem a bit more fun. Fractions? No thank you. Island fractions? Why, yes please! 
  5. Forget about homework. Yeah, that’s right. I said it. One of the best things about summer is the fact the families don’t have to worry about spending countless hours on homework; they just get to spend time together. The start of a new school year can be stressful for our littles, so ease into the year with a homework hiatus, and watch your students’ attitudes about school change for the better.
  6. Do something active. Whether it’s getting up and going on a nature walk as part of a lesson or simply employing GoNoodle to get kids out of their seat, make an effort to get them up and moving. Part of the magic of summer is the fact that we are always on the move!
  7. Open the windows. Let the sun shine in. Let the warm breezes and summer smells fill the classroom. Winter weather will be here soon enough. 
  8. Read a book. Put time aside to just read. And let your students read what they want. Even in core subject classes, you can build in opportunities for student choice regarding reading. Historical fiction and nonfiction can help give students a better understanding of what they are learning in class. Plus, when students can empathize with a character and her situation, you have a better chance of making a topic more meaningful and relevant. 
  9. Make time to share. All summer long, my social media feeds were filled with pics of my friends’ summer adventures. What does that tell me? People like to share! It makes them feel good. It makes them feel empowered. Allow time for your students to share what makes them happy. You’ll be surprised at what you learn. 
  10. Visit the bathroom freely. Oh, wait. You’re a teacher. Never mind.
Reading, Strategies, Writing

Why We 😍 Emojis in the English Classroom

Emojis are the modern day hieroglyphics.  In fact, our students are sharing complete thoughts–and complete stories– in get this, PICTURES.  It’s true! Take a peek at the phone of any tween or teen. They’ve traded words for icons. Something’s drop-to-the-floor funny?  😂 will do. Their parents are looking over their shoulders? Insert 👫 .

That’s why we were so excited about a tweet shared by Steve Wick a few months back.  And while his post focused on how we can use emojis as a way of organizing our Google Drive 😲 , his tweet introduced us to a new Chrome extension that we didn’t know we needed in our lives, upping the fun factor in the English classroom and transforming the language used in Language Arts! Here are some of our favorite emoji activities:

Visual Summaries. Challenge your students to use emojis to summarize key ideas from a text.  Take a look at this example from the prologue of Romeo and Juliet.  Are you teaching a non-fiction unit? Call for students to summarize important historical events or moments of discovery using emojis.

Feedback Fun.  The comment feature of Google Docs is a great way to provide meaningful feedback to students in real time.  Why not up your feedback game with emojis to share your thoughts and reflections on students’ writing?  

Smiley Strategies in Writing.  In our English classrooms, we encourage students to use figurative language, challenging vocabulary words, and specific strategies for adding voice to their writing — and we call these risks “Smiley Strategies”.  Now let’s throw this back a few years to our paper and pencil classrooms. As students would write their drafts they were encouraged to add smiley faces in the margins of their work to indicate that they took a risk with a new strategy. Not only did it make us aware of these compositional risks, but it helped the students identify the strategies in their own writing.  In today’s digital classroom we take the same idea, have students highlight their writing risks, and use emojis in the comment feature to indicate their use of these “Smiley Strategies.”

Google Classroom Questions. Post an open-ended question in Google Classroom and have students respond using emojis.  Whether you are asking them to reflect on their learning or to use the icons to show agreement or disagreement as part of a class poll, emojis are a great way to get students to process their thinking and share in a new and innovative way.

Emoji Retellings Have students ONLY use emojis to retell important parts of a text.  (Tech Tip: Try Emoji-Translate to help your students get started.) An even crazier idea? See if your students can summarize the entire plot of a story using nothing but emojis. Impossible, you say?  Try to figure out which YA novel is represented by this string of emojis:

🙍🏻‍♂️👋🙋🏼‍♀️ ✈️  🇨🇦👨🏼‍💼👨🏻‍✈️💔 🛩 💦 👨🏻‍✈️ ☠️🙍🏻‍♂️ 🇨🇦🌲🌳

🦔 ⛏🔥 🙅🏻‍♂️ 🐝 🎣🔥 🐟 📻 ➡️ 🛩 👋

Digital Exit Tickets.  Have students use the emojis to gauge their understanding of a new topic. They can add the emoji as a comment to a shared Doc, on a note in Google Keep, or even as a comment of a post in the Google Classroom Stream.  

Emojis Beyond English.  During a recent coaching visit, a math teacher introduced Jen to the idea of emoji algebra.  Basically, the teacher shares a math problem that incorporates emojis to symbolize numbers and variables, and students have to use inductive reasoning and creative problem-solving skills to arrive at a solution. Just Google “emoji math”, and you will be shocked by the amount of emoji-based math problems that have been posted to sites like Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers. Why not create your own puzzles and problem-based prompts using emojis? Or, better yet, have students create their own problems to share with their peers.

Do yourself a favor- add Emoji for Google Chrome to your browser. Not only will you have access to all of the same icons and pictures that are built into our smartphones, you will open up a whole new way of using Emojis in the classroom!