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.

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!