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, 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!