Technology Pursuit

Blending Technology Into the Language Arts Classroom

Syllabus by Sutori


Last week, a fellow teacher asked me thoughts about Sutori.

I got to know Sutori back when it was Hstry, but even back then, I thought it was pretty cool. In fact, we even used it for Project-Based Learning, where students uploaded their pictures and progress reports.

But I hadn’t used it for a couple years–honestly, no major reason why–until my colleague brought it to me and made me remember how much I liked it.

Immediately, I decided to redo my syllabus into a Sutori.

What I love is the clean layout, the intuitive use, and the many options, including quizzes and discussion forums. But for my syllabi, I decided to keep it simple and allow students to browse through it at their own pace.

Now there is a free version that allows you to add text and images, which even just that is pretty cool and great to use with students. But I did splurge for the premium, so I could embed videos, create forums, and the like.

Check out my Brit Lit syllabus below. You can also see my College Comp and Applied Communications syllabi, too.

A Photo Finish: Photo Scavenger Hunts

Our admin pulled a good one on us. On our in-service schedule was “Data Review.”

(Which makes me want to drive screws into my nailbeds.)

Instead, they surprised us with a Photo Scavenger Hunt, all organized and designed by our ESU educators Stephanie Bernthal and Jeff McQuistan (so, unfortunately, I can take no credit for this activity.)

All the staff–teachers, paras, even custodians and maintenance–were split into teams and given an envelope of tasks that included these:

  • A team selfie
  • An aerial of school spirit
  • Quiz Bowl
  • A pic with the oldest trophy
  • A movie scene re-enactment
  • A pic with a VHS alum’s senior picture (all groups had at least one VHS alumna)
  • A pic with our bell
  • An inspirational quote in sidewalk chalk
  • A pic in the “Land of Enchantment”

Using Padlet and its stream format, each team assigned a techie to be responsible for the pictures. For the next 45 minutes, each group roamed the high school to accomplish the tasks. Points were awarded for all members being in the pictures and creativity.

Designed by Stephanie Bernthal and Jeff McQuistan

And then our superintendent revealed…these points would carry over to future challenges! Great teaser for more exciting activities to come in the new year.

This was a great kickoff activity for our staff! New staff were able to make new relationships and also get a feel for the culture of our school. Plus, since this included staff from all buildings, I got to better know other teachers who I’d never chatted with before. I also loved that this included all staff, so camaraderie was built district-wide. Granted, we’re a small district–this couldn’t be done in large districts, but it could certainly be done with building staffs.

Plus, the ideas proved contagious. Today I created a 50-mission GooseChase that my students can work on over the first two days of school (some classtime, but mostly out of class), including several missions that involve a group of students, family members, even pets. Our middle school staff shared with me today that they’re wanting to do something similar with their middle school homeroom classes to build their teamwork, especially as a way to build connections with their new 6th graders.

Thanks to Jeff and Stephanie for bringing this great activity to us! This actually makes me look forward to what more lies in store for our PLN groups in the future!

Covering Glass with Corkboard

This is my most recent project in my classroom: a new pillow/bulletin board corner.

There’s actually glass behind that corkboard, which used to allow passersby to peek in. I really liked it because I love sharing what’s happening in my classroom. But alas, in this day and age of security, we teachers had to cover up our windows. Some used curtains, some used posters, and some used frosted contact paper.

I wanted to make this functional, so instead, I first taped black posterboard to the glass, and then glued the corkboards to the posterboard.  Then I just tacked on those papers that have to be displayed in every room, our Celebrate Life board, and a Classcraft poster. The top is blank for now, but there I plan to add some clips for student work.

This may not be the prettiest, coolest way to cover up the glass, but I’m satisfied with its functionality. As the year goes on, my students or I can repurpose this area as needed.

Note: The cork boards aren’t as thick as my other bulletin boards. Papers that are changed or used frequently, such as daily announcements and the room checkout/check-in sheet, hang on another nearby board, where the thicker cork secures them more.


My Unit Planning Process

There are 3.2 million teachers in the US. Thus, there are 3.2 million ways teachers plan their units.

I do, however, love seeing other teachers’ processes for planning, so this post is about mine.

I usually spend time during the summer rethinking units. Maybe not all the units I teach (I have three different preps–four starting this year), but ones that need a little freshening up.

I’ve tried myriad apps and books to plan units, but over the past few years, I’ve attached myself to Understanding by Design, and this summer, I’ve used a basic Google slidedeck.

With slides, it’s easy to add links, comments, and changes. I’ve kept the deck open most of the summer, so as I think of something, I can quickly make a note or comment about it and move on.


Essential Questions and Assessment Correlation:

Most teachers are familiar with essential questions. I’ve also added an assessment correlation–how will students be able to demonstrate their thinking on that question? This may not be a formal assessment by any means, but I don’t want to simply create questions and then not have some activity where students demonstrate their thinking.


This is a game-based learning technique, and it’s also an option in Classcraft, which I use to deliver assignments to students. Providing a storyline to students creates more interest and motivation to keep moving through the unit. Although I’ve put some notes into some of the narrative blocks on the slidedeck, I haven’t written any out completely. My students will do a collaborative writing activity the second week of school, and I’ll use many of their stories and ideas to use in these narrative components.


This section is simply a place for me to put some ideas for potential competition between classes.

Target Standards

This doesn’t cover all the standards, but the ones that I want to focus on most in this unit. (I live in Nebraska, so these are our own state standards; we don’t follow Common Core. We’re rebels.)

Performance Assessment

The best assessments are performance assessments. Period. This isn’t saying don’t use a traditional test, but also provide other assessments where students are creating or demonstrating the standards. I also make sure these correlate with an essential question.

Authentic Audience

This component isn’t part of the Understanding by Design format, but I think it should be. We can’t have students creating in a vacuum for an audience of one, the teacher. By adding this block, I force myself to consider how student work is shared to a larger audience. While some activities may be only to the audience of the class, I include at least one activity or project that is shared online or with the community

All the Rest

The next slide is a skeleton of the activities and lessons for the unit. It’s the meat and potatoes of it all.

It’s easy to skip to slide 2. Goodness knows I have when in the throes of a school year and didn’t plan out a new unit over the summer. But the danger of doing this and missing that first slide is that the vision is gone. I’m a firm believer in the mantra Begin With the End in Mind. I totally missed that lesson in my pre-teaching classes (I’m sure I was probably taught it).

Without that vision of your goals, your standards, and making sure your assessments correlate with what you’re teaching, it’s easy to drift away. And when you don’t have a firm grasp of your map, your students won’t either.

But what about Flexibility? Teachable Moments? Letting Students Drive the Learning?

I find that the more organized I am, and the more I have a vision of what my students need to learn, the more flexible I am, too. I better know how teachable moments fit in with the big scheme.

I also try to provide lots of opportunities for student choice within my assessments and activities. Since I teach ELA, some lessons and activities are simply non-negotiables, so having a plan for teaching them ensures that we’ll get to them throughout the year.

What’s your Process?

So here’s my challenge. Share your messy process. How do you lay out your units and plans? Write it up, share it out!



My Favorite Tips from ISTE ’18

I attended ISTE to find more ideas for student quests for my classroom, new ways for them to engage and create with school and learning. Somehow, I’ve distilled the whole experience into my favorite takeaways.


-Take Quizizz and Kahoot to the Next Level: You’re probably familiar with these Q/A response systems (and if not, go check them out!) For your next assessment or text, have your students write the questions and potential answers…and explanations why their incorrect answer options may seem correct but aren’t.


-Create VR Tours with Google: New from Google is the ability to build your own virtual tours. Add pins to the tours for students to click for more information. Or, provide clues in the pins instead and use your VR Tour as a platform for a Breakout or escape room game.


-Use Writable for writing assignments: I’ve lost count of how many writing and/or feedback platforms I’ve looked at over the years, and I’m so excited for what Writable has to offer. After students complete a writing–short or long–the system immediately assigns peer reviews for anonymous feedback. Students earn feedback points for any comments the original writer marks as beneficial, and they also earn revision points for each piece of feedback they use to revise. Plus, it integrates with Google Classroom and Google Docs, so a total win!


-Try Sown to Grow to emphasize growth mindset: I’ve already been in one Zoom meeting about this website, and I’m very excited to share its possibilities. Teachers can insert content standards or soft skill goals, and then students reflect upon these goals weekly or biweekly. This site provides a place for comments from teachers and collects student-reported data to show growth over time. Great for personalized learning!


-For quick reviews, use photos as analogies for learning!: This is a simple trick. Show an interesting, perhaps wacky, photograph to students and ask them to work together to create an analogy or connection between the photo and the previous day’s learning. This super simple activity stretches students’ minds and gets them thinking outside the box.


-Quest-Based Learning for the Win!: While at ISTE, I had the fabulous opportunity to attend Classcraft’s Questathon, where we worked in teams to create new narratives based on the Hero’s Journey. Classcraft first debuted their quest feature last fall, and let me tell you, it’s a game changer! I now use quests as my LMS to deliver our class content. This has given me opportunities to personalize student learning and give them more agency and choice. I highly recommend checking out Classcraft!


Right now, the world of edtech is burgeoning with new products. It’s easy to be overwhelmed at conferences. What important is finding the technology tools that will advance student learning the most. There are many flashy, shiny tools out there, so choose carefully. Is it easy to learn and use? Can students not just consume with it but also create? Is it easy to share student work with stakeholders? Do students have purpose and an audience? Can it be used for multiple purposes? Whether you adopt any of my takeaways listed here or go out and find your own, make your edtech choices work for you.

When Students Make the Games

I’ve written before about students making games to cement their learning, but I want to show off Andrew Arevalo’s project, Top-Middle-Bottom, a math game his fourth grade students designed.

Top-Middle-Bottom is a card game, where students play cards to either grow their points or to reduce other players’ points. One player serves as the “banker,” which is the scorekeeper of the game. This role is central to gameplay; with the constant change of the scoreboard, the banker gets significant practice in arithmetic, plus the other players are constantly monitoring the scoreboard to double-check the math.

This game has brought not only great content practice to students but a much higher engagement and interest in math. And as we all know, when students are having fun and enjoying what they’re learning, their commitment and willingness to be challenged rises.

What makes this game doubly powerful is that the students designed it. Teacher-designed games or commercial games can be great for student learning, but when students experience the design, iteration, and thinking behind the game, their understanding grows.

My own kids and I have been really lucky to play Top-Middle-Bottom. Beautiful high-quality cards and lots of strategy and opportunities to win. In all, Andrew’s students have designed 22 cards (currently), but even playing with the first 8 is a big plenty for a challenging game. This game certainly has potential to grow and expand as you bring in new cards or take out others.  All my kids–14 yo daughter and 10 & 12 yo sons–enjoyed playing!

To check out more about Top-Middle Bottom, go here.  And check out a student journalism piece about the game below:


Go-To Resources for Teaching Fake News


I’ve been hard at work upgrading our fake news unit for next year. It’s been a couple years since I first created the unit–long before the infamous 2016 presidential election! Since then, the internet has exploded with resources, lesson plans, and games to teach fake news. Let me show off some of my favorite, best-of-the-best selections that I’ll be using!

  1. iCivics News Literacy Unit: Great resources available for teaching journalism, bias, satire, and misinformation. Both web-based and PDF activities are available. I love some of the depth in these lessons, such as studying the word choice used by The Hill v Washington Post, or CNN v FoxNews. The unit doesn’t have a lot of collaboration, but it has solid information and activities that you could use as is or modify to be more interactive.

2. NewseumEd: This website was new to me, and man, am I glad I stumbled across it. Let me tell you, there are some jewels of lessons and materials in here. I especially love the ESCAPE acronym they introduce for analyzing a suspicious source and the lesson about “Is it Shareworthy”–(I actually might enroll some of my extended family enroll in that lesson).

3. Factitious: I started using this game last year. It’s a basic game that presents the player with an article, and the player simply decides whether it’s real news or fake news. Factitious is a quick and fun way for students to get a baseline of their “fake news” sniffing abilities at the beginning of the unit and then return to the game at the end for another round.

Bad News

Fake It to Make It

4. Fake It to Make It and Bad News Game: These two games put you in the seat of a fake news mogul. What’s the benefit of that? Students get a feel for WHY people do this, what decisions they make, and THAT gives them a deeper understanding of what signs to look for when evaluating news. The Bad News Game is simpler and quicker, while Fake It to Make It is much more robust with more choices and strategy. Both are good, all depending on the time and depth you want your students to get.

Welcome to the CIA: Cicada Induced Anxiety

It starts in early July every year. The cicadas sing their long strained songs, and I know that summer is past its peak and on the downhill slide. In 4-5 weeks, I’ll be back in school for teacher in-services, and in six weeks, I’ll be welcoming students in my classroom again.

Usually, my CIA is a mix of excitement and anxiety. There’s so much I want to do each July, but I’m excited to get back to school.

This year, I’m not ready.

June has been crazy good. I danced until my feet blistered in Chicago, acted like a robot to get into a Safehouse bar in Milwaukee, and finished my oral exams here in Nebraska. I caught up with teacher friends I only see in the summer, met new colleagues that I can’t wait to know better, and enjoyed workshops and sessions that will make me a better teacher. I’ve gone down some rabbit holes with new tech tools that might fit well with my classroom goals.

But I’m also juggling six hours of classes. I’ve watched a colleague and a great uncle laid to rest in the same week. I’ve started studying for my GRE. And when I was driving the other day, I counted up at least 40 hours behind the wheel during June–not counting the hours I’ve spent on planes, shuttle buses, and subways.

And now, the cicadas are mocking me.

I have so much I want to tweak and improve for next year, and I feel so behind. Going to conferences makes me compare myself to the amazing teachers I meet–a dangerous thing to do.

Maybe some of you feel this way, too. This anxiety, this need to make this year the best ever, the unattainable desire to get it right this year. To be organized. In control. And if you’re like me, the desire to be less stressed during the school year only leads to more stress during the summer.

The past few days I’ve been feeling better. I don’t have all the answers to make anyone with CIA feel better, but here’s what works for me.

  1. The list. I took this idea from Mel Robbins, motivational speaker and author of the 5-Second Rule. Write down everything you need to do in one big list. It took me a while. I keep returning to my list days later and adding more. Then Robbins says highlight the ones that need done today–3 or 4 at most. Do those. Don’t worry about the rest today. Each day, I take on a few things on the list. Many of those things can’t be done in a day, but I can work on them for a little while.  (And some of them I have to accept may not get done this summer, like deep cleaning my carpets. The world will continue.)

2. Stop waiting for the time to make it perfect. Even writing this post, I wrote sentences in my head for days. I thought about what I would do for images. Finally, I had to tell myself just start. Don’t even worry about finishing. Just start it. Write down some ideas. And here I am, already over 500 words in a mere 20-30 minutes. Even if I only work for 5-10 minutes writing down ideas or an outline for a project, I can rely on my subconscious to start doing more work on it, especially if the ideas swirling around in my mind are finally out on paper and I don’t have to worry about them anymore.

3. Stop and breathe. Easier said than done, but I hadn’t done much yoga in the past month except for a little stretching here and there before workouts or in my hotel rooms. I hadn’t really sat down with a yoga video, which is what makes me slow down, focus, and just breathe. After just a couple sessions, I already feel calmer and more in control.

4. Stop comparing. If I get caught up in what other amazing teachers are doing, I start to feel lacking. I’m not creating enough amazing looking games, or I’m not connecting my kids enough to other classrooms, or I’m not personalizing or creating enough learning paths. I can get to the point where I look at social media and think, Wow, that’s such an amazing teacher. I wish I could be as amazing. I forget that social media isn’t real life. How often have I posted about a bombed lesson or a student project that fell far short of standards? Rarely (though maybe we should…) All teachers have areas to improve. No one has got this occupation figured out and in the bag. The best we can do is own where we are, focus where we want to go next, and accept that we can’t do every fantastic idea that we see.

And don’t be afraid to talk to someone. Find colleagues who can remind you how awesome you are. Or if you need to, find a professional. It took me months to get up the courage to talk to a doctor about my anxiety, but after doing so a few years ago and being more conscious about my anxiety, I’ve learned how to recognize my signs of increasing anxiety and what steps to take to slowly reduce it. (Plus, full disclosure here, Lexapro helps me out, too!)

Whether you can relate to any of this or not, enjoy this summer, embrace your own cicadas (well, not literally), and don’t forget how awesome an educator you are.

StoriumEDU Beta is HERE!!!


Next month, I’ll be presenting my top ten favorite critical thinking games for the classroom at Summer Spark, but here’s a sneak peek at one that’s going to engage almost every student: Storium EDU.

This spring, some of my students beta-tested the new StoriumEDU. Similar to the amazing original Storium, the EDU version allows students to work together to create a 3-scene narrative story followed by an epilogue.

As a teacher, you set up a classroom and add your students. Then you start a “game” by selecting the students who will collaborate together on a narrative. You can remain in the game as one of the players or assign one of the players to be the “organizer,” essentially the leader, and make your students do all the writing. (As a teacher, you still are able to access and control the story at all times.)

Each player selects a character archetype and can either choose an avatar available in the system or upload an image of their own.

At the beginning of each game, the team selects cards that determine the setting, the initiating event, the ending conflict, and the overall tone/mood of the game. The players can accept the cards or “reshuffle” until they get a set they like.


A similar set of cards is selected at the beginning of each scene, giving students more focus about what to write and how to shape the story. Each student writes part of each scene, contributing more to the story. At the end of Act 3, the student with the highest word counts earns the chance to start the epilogue.

Here are some of the aspects I like about StoriumEDU:

-The cards in the game guide students to create strong characters and a narrative arc, but students are also free to make their own choices if they find their story moving in another direction.



-The current game comes with a default Young Adult Dystopian deck, but teachers can create their own decks. This can create huge possibilities–history teachers can create a deck set in the Civil War, for example. Tailoring your decks to fit your content area allows teachers to bring this narrative game to nearly every class.

-Right now, only teachers have the capability to design a deck, but a couple of my students used my log-in to create their own horror-based decks. There are great possibilities here–students can create their own genre of deck and then another group of students can write a story based on it.

– Although students do not need to be near each other to write their stories, the students who sat together and planned the story out loud created a stronger and more cohesive story than those who didn’t talk to each other. The game definitely promoted teamwork and verbal communications skills between teammates.

If I were you, I’d go to and sign up for the waiting list. Seriously, like now.

Jenga-fy Your Class!

I’m all about different ways to modify current games for the classroom, especially if I can make them go beyond the traditional Q/A trivia game. One way to make poetry writing more playful was introducing Jenga Poetry to my students.

The concept is super simple. On each block, I wrote a noun, verb, or occasional adjective. When students pulled each block, they wrote down the word before returning the block to the top of the tower. Once the tower fell over, players could then use their word list to write their own poems or combine their words to write one group poem.

The concept proved to be super fun, and students often replayed the game. This made me think of other ways the game could be played:

1. Thesis Development. Place a topic on each block. With each block pulled, the players have to form a thesis about that topic. This could give them practice in creating theses but also ignite some ideas in their own mind.

2. Idea Development. Actually, my original plan for the Jenga blocks was to write questions on them for my seniors to reminisce about their high school memories before beginning their Last Lectures.

3. Concept Webs. Blocks could contain any major ideas or vocabulary that’s currently being taught. Students can create webs based on the words they’ve pulled.

No doubt there are dozens of other ways Jenga could be applied to your classroom. Get creative and design one!

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