Thursday, February 25, 2016

Text It to Me: Using Text Generators in the Classroom

by: The Engaging Station 
TpT Store: The Engaging Station

As educators, we are constantly seeking ways to make texts relevant to our students. What better way to establish that relevance than to have students use text generators to create conversations between characters, people in history, interviewer and interviewee? That is short-list of the options.

As many districts move towards a 1:1 classroom, we are granted a plethora of options to enhance instruction, one of them being the online text generator. My students were reading Romeo and Juliet, and rather than have them simply summarize the conversations by writing on a worksheet, I had them summarize the conversations between the characters using a text generator. In doing so, they had to first comprehend the complex text, and then paraphrase it in their own words.

I tried out two text generators: and Ultimately, you'll know your students better and will decide which is best for your lesson:


1. - This site allows students to see the changes instantly on a mock iPhone. They can customize everything from the carrier to the battery percentage to the Wi-Fi connection in addition to creating messages. This site is definitely more interactive, but it also takes students more time to become acclimated with all of the features.

2. - This is a much simpler version of the text generator. Students can pick a carrier and time and then get right into creating the messages. This generator is to the point, simple, and accessible. It does not offer all of the extra features that ios7text does, but for some students, it is less distracting.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

How to Show Movies in Class—Without Feeling Like a ‘Bad Teacher’


By Mary Kate Mikulskis

TpT Store: Fun ACT Prep
You know it’s true: Students and teachers alike equate “movie day” with “free day.” Sure, it’s easy to just pop in a movie and kick up your feet (a la Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher), but showing films can actually be a rewarding and educational experience for students. While movies should never be a substitute for reading, they can enhance a powerful lesson and help students to make meaningful connections. So, how can you avoid the negative connotation of being “that teacher who shows all those movies?”

Here are some suggestions:
1) Prepare to be approved: First and foremost, get approval from your administration and parents. Know your district’s policy, but, at the same time, don’t automatically assume that “no” means “no” in this case. I’m a big believer in the saying, “It doesn’t hurt to ask.” The key isn’t just asking; it’s informing. Be prepared with detailed lesson plans and assignments aligned to standards. Don’t just tell your principal what you are showing; show him or her what you plan to do with the film. For instance, the film Coach Carter may appear to be just a fun film about a basketball team. However, when I show administration my “Deepest Fear Narrative Essay” aligned to CCSS narrative writing standards, or my “Argumentative Editorial” assignment (also CCSS aligned), they are much more supportive.

2) Understand the film’s rating: Not all ratings are created equal. I love the website Common Sense Media. The site clearly explains why the film has the rating it does, outlining specific instances of profanity, violence, sexual content, etc. It also gives recommendations for an appropriate age range and has input from kids and parents, too. I always consider Common Sense Media’s recommendations when deciding whether or not to show a film. This is helpful information for both administrative approval and is useful to include on parent permission slips. Check out Common Sense Media before assuming a particular film will be prohibited simply based on its MPAA rating; try to make your case.

3) You don’t have to show it all: The film 12 Years a Slave, for instance, is intense (hence its R rating). Administrators can be hesitant to show films with a particular rating. Being able to clearly outline what you will and will not be showing can ease some of their anxieties. I have my free “12 Years a Slave Viewing Guide” clearly marked with the scenes to show, to fast-forward, or to cut entirely, complete with minute markers. I feel more prepared, and it’s clear to my principal that I won’t just be sitting in the back of the room passively as the film plays along from start to finish.

4) Set the tone: Make it clear to your students that movie day does not equal free day. I set three rules for my “movie theater” (in addition to our everyday classroom rules): a) no talking, b) no texting, c) no sleeping. Always have something productive and meaningful (not just rote comprehension questions) for students to work on as they watch the movie. I rarely, if ever, show a movie straight through from start to finish. Instead, just like reading a book, we pause and discuss, write, and reflect throughout the film. When I show Freedom Writers, for instance, I pause the film every few scenes and give students time to respond to personal journal prompts that relate to the film. This gives them a chance to process each scene and make connections; plus, it’s a quick way for me to check that they are attentive and engaged.

5) Go beyond basic Q and A: Sure, giving students a simple list of questions to make sure they are paying attention forces some level of accountability, but is our objective for showing a film simply to make sure they pay attention? Journal prompts, graphic organizers, and character growth charts are just a handful of creative and engaging ways to not just keep students attentive and accountable, but to get them to think critically.

Showing movies can be part of a meaningful, engaging, and educational unit that your students will love and administrators will approve.

Here's an Idea: Doodles and Stories

Here's an Idea: Doodles and Stories

by Doc Running TpT Store: Education with Doc Running

There are many reasons that I love social studies.  One of these  is the opportunity find out the interesting stories behind people and events.  For me Leonardo da Vinci's artwork is of course noteworthy, but I loved learning that he taught himself to read and write and, at his heart, he was just fascinated about the world.

I find that when it’s time to study various wars, we tend to focus on causes and battle wins.  The stories are out there, though finding the stories can be difficult. That is why I was thrilled to find the stories of five lesser known figures from the Civil War.

The stories include that of Robert Small, a talented slave who literally sailed his way to freedom, and Mary Walker, a doctor and surgeon who dressed in union uniform and helped wounded soldiers on both sides of the battle field.

When we look at these stories, I really want us all see a bigger picture of the Civil War.  To connect with my visual learners, one option I gave for working with the stories was doodles. I was inspired by the Google doodles. Ours were much simpler but still fun. I provided blank words related to the Civil War and then students created doodles for one of the stories that they’d read. The doodles became part of a large wall of ideas, facts, timelines, and analysis of the Civil War.

For me, and others, the stories made the war more interesting. And, the doodles were a big hit. I'm sure the doodles will be a part of future projects. You can find all the stories and activity here.  

Thursday, February 11, 2016

5 Reasons to Review with List Group Label

5 Reasons to Review with List Group Label

by Stephanie's History Store

When I was introduced to list-group-label in my education classes, I mentally scoffed at it.  I didn’t see the value in it, I thought it was painlessly simplistic, and that it couldn’t possibly offer any real value to students.  Well, I officially take all that back.  I’ve used it a few times every semester with my high schoolers and very recently with my middle schoolers.
There is a lot of flexibility to this strategy but the basic premise is that your students create or are given a list of vocabulary terms related to the topic at hand (i.e. the Revolutionary War), then they group the words how they see fit (i.e. according to when during the Revolutionary War a term came up, or if it was a person/battle/document, etc.). Finally they label their lists with a term that summarizes the list, or connects each item in the list (i.e. early Revolutionary War, or Military Leaders, etc).  Ideally some great discussion and connections will come of this.
I have a mix of 5th-10th graders in my classroom right now so I recently did a slightly modified version of list-group-label.  I paired my kids up and gave them a list of the vocabulary terms we were going to review.  They organized the words into lists that made sense to them and we discussed each pairs’ thought process.  Then they grouped the terms in a way that they saw them connect and we then discussed the groupings.  I was pleasantly surprised that almost all the groupings were different (one group did theirs according to “degree of success” which I hadn’t even thought of myself!)  Lastly they labeled their lists and we had a concluding discussion.  Each time I use this strategy it makes students think outside the box a bit and they always surprise me with the variety of perspectives they produce for this activity.

Over the years I have discovered 5 main reasons why I use L-G-L as a review technique and why I think teachers in any content area should give it a try.

1.  Vocabulary reinforcement–You and your students will be able to very clearly see if they know which terms are people/places/things/events/buildings/treaties/etc.  If you have time, you can even have each pair say or write a quick identification for each term to show that they remember something correct about them.  It’s one thing to know that Versailles and the Hagia Sophia are both buildings, but it’s a bit more to know where each is located and the purpose of each building, or to confirm if students remember the different significances between the Battle of El Alamein and the Battle of Midway.

2.  Pairs work–It is so important for students to have opportunities to work in pairs and groups.  In the real world people have to be able to cooperate and work with a variety of personalities.  Having them work with a different student each week helps students practice working with different personalities and different academic capabilities. They practice cooperating. They exercise some flexibility, and possibly even exert some patience.

3.  Form an opinion and defend it–I don’t tell my students how to group the terms, so not only will they have to form an opinion for themselves on how to make connections and group the terms, they have to defend it/explain it to the rest of the class.  Being able to explain your thought process is a skill that should be addressed in all content areas, and this is a low pressure way to have kids do just that.

4.  Make connections between different parts of the unit–We might not have spoken about Magellan and the Aztecs in the same class period, but could there be a connection between them?  That’s up to the students to determine.  Or, they might see a connection between Tuskegee Airmen and Navajo Code Talkers beyond both being soldiers from minority races during WW2. They should be encouraged to make those connections.

5.  Respect other people’s opinions and see that there’s more than one way to think–Not every pair will group up the terms the same way, and that’s OK!!!  It is so important for kids to learn (and to practice) the art of respecting a different opinion, especially if it’s an opinion you disagree with.  If the terms have been grouped differently across the pairs, that’s a great discussion opportunity for students to hear, and respect, the thought process of their peers.

As a bonus reason for using this as a review strategy, you will see growth in your students as the year progresses.  Students will think differently and defend their opinions differently based on the material and how they feel about it. As students become more comfortable with this activity they begin thinking more deeply (especially with making connections between parts of the material).  The deeper they think, the greater their ability to have organized, controlled, longer debates and to discuss their different thought processes.
If you’ve been on the fence about using list-group-label, go for it then let me know how it goes!!!