Technology Pursuit

Blending Technology Into the Language Arts Classroom

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Final Senior Assignment: Found Poems

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I can count down the number of contracted days left on one hand, and let me tell you, I’m ready. More ready than I’ve been in a while. I changed so much in my curriculum this year, and teaching four preps instead of my usual three kept me busier than usual, too.

Result: My brain is fried.

So were my seniors’ brains. The last few days of every seniors’ final years–for most of them–seems to be a final crawl to the end of that marathon line, especially if their grades are pretty well set. However, I’m not one to stop with a week left. I wanted some language/writing activity for my composition class that didn’t actually feel like writing.

Answer: Found Advice Poems.

I gathered old magazines from the school library that are free for the cutting. Then I created my own found poem, cutting out a few dozen words and phrases from headlines. Gradually, I found some that stood out more than the others, some that created parallelism, and some that could make a good opening. In the end, I formed a poem that shared my final advice for the seniors.IMG_1027

After showing them my poem, it was their turn. They grabbed scissors and dug in, spending the next 2-4 creating their own advice poem for either their classmates or for the underclassmen.IMG_1026

Result: Success!

The seniors had a lot of fun–to be honest, most high school students still love playing with markers, glue sticks, and scissors. And some of their poems turned out pretty darn profound. Check out some samples below: IMG_1040 IMG_1048 IMG_1053

Editing with an Easter Egg Error Hunt

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The last round of our History’s Mysteries Informative essays proved to be a mixed bag of results.

The good things:

Students became more cognizant of analyzing sources for credibility. They learned how to better maintain an objective voice. They noticed how narrative elements in an essay helps create a stronger voice and more interest. They practiced taking a topic, writing about it using different structures, and reflecting on how structure can affect the purpose, voice, and overall power of writing.

These are all very important and very messy lessons of writing. I’m pleased with what they’ve done. But there’s one area I’m quite unhappy about, which leads us to

The bad thing:  Proofreading and Editing

Not to mince words, but the editing was appalling. Chalk it up to apathy, senioritis, or my own frequent absences the past few weeks, but the number of even basic errors disturbed me. 

Thus, I decided we needed to serious time on proofreading practice.

Proofreading alone isn’t a very compelling lesson. Not many students get fired up about hard core editing and grammar, yet it can’t be ignored.

So I did what I so often do: I turned it into a game.

Specifically, The Easter Egg Error Hunt.

I introduced it to the students by sharing my concerns with their (lack of) proofreading & editing, but also reminded them that this activity would simulate college next year. Professors are unlikely to help students much with proofreading, formatting, and final edits. They would have to use their resources, such as classmates, friends, the tutoring center, or the internet.

Students were allowed to ask me questions, but I gave them examples of good questions and questions I wouldn’t answer. I wouldn’t answer questions such as

  • Is there something wrong with this sentence?
  • Can you proofread this paragraph?
  • How many mistakes do I have in my paper right now?

However, they could ask questions such as

  • Did I format this quotation correctly?
  • Do I need a comma here?
  • Does the apostrophe go before or after the “s” here?

What impressed me even more than the questions they asked were the resources they used. Some added the Grammarly extension, others installed and used add-ons, and still others found websites that allowed them to copy/paste excerpts of their papers and then grammar checked them.

For the first time, I became confident that they coulddo this on their own next year, that now they had a toolbelt of potential resources they could use for editing and proofreading–especially for those who know they struggle with conventions and formatting.

Adding an element of fun and the unknown with the Easter Egg prizes adds another layer that makes this more than “another dull proofreading assignment.” They’re trying to reach levels of mastery–gold ninja, silver ninja, and bronze ninja–but there’s also the potential for winning candy or XP.

Is this bribery? I’m arguing no. I don’t think any of my students are doing the assignment for the sole purpose of possibly winning candy (there’s no guarantee that the egg they draw will have a good prize.) Most of them are doing it because, deep down, they know that proofreading is important, that finding resources to help them is important, and because they all have the potential to achieve gold mastery. Since they can use any resources available, even students with weaker grammar skills can do well.

Plus, choosing random eggs and finding what prize you win is just fun in itself. And school can always be more fun.

Sample prizes I use below:




Book Soundtracks: Combining Reading & Music

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First: apologies for the one-month hiatus. Speech season has been an energy zapper this year. Now that we’re nearing the finish line, I’ll have time to catch up on what I’ve been doing.

One of our latest projects has been designing soundtracks/playlists for our independent reading books. This entailed students choosing four songs that matched a scene in their books and creating a Smore page.

To introduce the project, I presented my own example project: A playlist for Jonathan Maberry’s Dust and Decay. 

Students created their own and then presented them to the class. The project turned out to be a great way not only to integrate reading, writing, and speaking, but also a way expose students to new books that they wouldn’t have considered reading otherwise.

I created a Symbaloo with links to the students’ Smore pages. Check them out!


Character/Student Bonding with Personality Tests

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Five years ago, I created a personality test for Julius Caesar. Students answered questions that either connected them to Caesar, Brutus, Marc Antony, or Cassius. I’d planned for it to be an interest-builder, but I saw weaker readers suddenly volunteer to read aloud–as long as it was “their” character.

Last week, I finally made use of Riddle’s personality quiz maker and created a Canterbury Tales Pilgrims Quiz entitled “Which Pilgrim are You?” Now, writing a quiz using 29 personalities for all 29 pilgrims would be a bit unwieldy, so I chose nine pilgrims. Then I wrote questions regarding clothing, hobbies, spirituality, and careers.

In a few days when we begin reading about the characters in Chaucer’s prologue, I’m hoping the students will connect with their pilgrims, as well as their friends’ pilgrims.

Canterbury Tales Personality Test

Which character are you? Find out with this personality test. At the end, share your pilgrim with the rest of the class at Google Classroom.


Honorable and moral, the knight represents what people envisioned a knight should be. He fought in fifteen major battles and had just returned from war during the Canterbury Tales. His clothing is dirty and smudged, but he doesn’t care–his main focus is traveling to the Canterbury Cathedral to pray and give thanks for his victories in battle.

Wife of Bath

If the Wife of Bath knew how to do one thing, it was how to woo men. She’d been married five times…and was single again! The narrator describes her as having a wide gap between her teeth and wide hips as well. Most women were dependent on men at this time, but the Wife of Bath can afford to pay for her own trips.


The miller spends most of his time milling wheat into grain, but even he deserves a vacation–er, a pilgrimage once in a while. He’s not an attractive man, but he’s super strong and plays the bagpipes, so there’s that.


The pardoner was a man who would forgive your sins and guarantee you life in heaven–if you paid the right price. He could also tell a good story and sing a great song, but you’d have to put up with his “goat” voice to listen to him. Also, he couldn’t grow a beard.

Prioress (Nun)

The prioress, or head, of a nunnery was kind and gentle, but also educated. She could speak French and knew how to eat properly. She’d cry to see a mouse in a trap.


The monk may be technically a man of God, but he sure does like hunting. He spends much of his time out in the woods–then spends the rest caring for his clothes, which he lines with the fur from his prey.


Out of all the religious characters in The Canterbury Tales, the Parson is the most genuine. He and his brother, a farmer, ride for the Cathedral to truly pray and do homage to the saint. The parson rarely left his parish, for he truly cared for his people, so this trip is a rare one.

Oxford Cleric

A true student, the cleric would rather spend his time with a book than doing–well, anything. In fact, he spends so much money books that his horse is the skinniest one in the group, and the cleric’s own clothes have holes.


The knight has taught his son, the squire, how to be courteous and kind, which comes in handy when he’s wooing the girls. He’s quite the ladies’ man, spending most of his nights out with them.

Which best describes your fashion style?

Lookin’ good…feelin’ good! Always dressed to impress!

I like dressing well, but it’s not my top priority.

Yes, I’ve got clothes, but if they’re dirty, it shows I’m a hard worker.

I’m have no interest in clothes. As long as I’m warm, I’m good.

Which would you choose as your hobby?

Wooing other girls/guys



Helping other people

Enjoy music

What would you look for most in a career?

Managing people

Providing assistance to people

Being sedentary–not physical labor

Physical Labor

How religious/spiritual are you?

Extremely religious

Somewhat religious

To be honest, I tend to fake being religious.

I’m only as religious as my parents make me

Google Drawing for Assignment Maps

I haven’t used Google Drawing much. And I think that’s about to change…

My Brit Lit students are getting ready to read The Canterbury Tales, but it’s a type of reading that takes a little prep and background information.  In fact, I had three different activities I wanted them to do before we started reading, but I wanted them to be able to work at their own pace.

Pair that with wanting to provide students a more modern idea of the setting still existing in our modern world, and the Path to Canterbury was born.

I wish I would’ve thought of this sooner because it’s so easy. First I snagged a map that showed the route from Southwark (London) to Canterbury. Then I added some images of the Tabard Inn and Canterbury Cathedral. Finally, I added “rest stops” along the road for students to complete.

The first rest stop is an introductory video in Zaption that shows the evolution of English and a background of Chaucer and the Tales. The second rest stop is a personality test (through Riddle) so students find which pilgrim they are most connected to (and increases engagement to the text). Finally, the last rest stop are two more videos on Zaption that show modern pilgrimages to the shrine of the Lady of Guadalupe and Mecca.

We tried it out today, and it works really well. I’ll definitely do this again–next time with longer paths, hopefully evolving to full units where students get even more ownership over their pace and choice of assignments.

Assess Learning with Scattergories!

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My husband’s family is extremely competitive, from high school sports records to Wii tournaments to board games. And the board game they get most competitive about: Scattergories. We might have a dozen of us playing at once, and with every round, there’s at least one heated argument about someone’s answer. Should cottage cheese earn double points? Does air count as “Things Found in the Kitchen”?

A few weeks ago, I decided to bring Scattergories into my classroom as an alternative to our traditional Beowulf test. I did modify the rules a bit. Instead of using only one letter, I created a document with each letter of the alphabet. (see below)

Rules of the Game:

1. Write one word associated with the Beowulf text for each letter of the alphabet. I handed the form out the day before, but you could do it the day of and give students 5-10 minutes to complete it. By handing it out the day before, students spent time researching on the internet and scouring the thesaurus.

2. Each player shares the word he/she listed for the letter A.

  • If the word is not used by any other player, the student earns 20 XP (or whatever you want to give them).
  • If the word IS used by another player, both players must cross out the word. It is not worth any points. (This is why students spent time scouring the internet and the thesaurus for words.
  • If a word is questionable in its association with Beowulf, then the group must discuss whether to accept it or not. The writer may, of course, defend his/her word.

3. Repeat the process through the rest of the letters.

Overall, it’s a pretty simple game that creates great discussion and arguments. Although I reserved the right to make an executive decision, I don’t think I used it. Perhaps once. Otherwise, I left the decisions up to the students. Too often, students look to the teacher for the “correct answer,” so during this game, I stayed quiet as much as possible and mainly provided clarification if needed.

Benefits of the Game:

  1. Critical Thinking. Students have to think beyond their original ideas for answers and search for more unique words or examples. This encourages more research or making connections to more unusual words.
  2. Learning New Words: Students who study the thesaurus for this usually pick up a couple new words. Often they’d double check with me that they were truly understanding the word because they didn’t want to risk using it incorrectly and having the group vote against them.
  3. Argumentation. Students have to be able to defend their words to the rest of the group.
  4. Observation Time for Teachers. With the students truly in charge, teachers can take a back seat and jot notes of students’ formative assessment.
  5. Low Prep Time. It doesn’t take much to get students ready for the game. It can even be a last minute activity when internet goes out, a guest speaker doesn’t show, or the lesson just falls through. Hand out paper, have students write the alphabet down the page, and give them a few minutes to fill it out. They could work in pairs as well to make it cooperative.

Tic-Tac-Toe Fact Find

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Yesterday, one of my students looked at what we were doing in class: an analysis of the article “Can ISIS Be Stopped?”

This is an important assignment. We’re working on our argument unit, and ISIS has been a topic that they’ve been passionate about discussing. I want them to write high-level arguments using facts and evidence presented in this article, so it’s vital that we take time to talk about the text, to do a close read of it and really know what it means.

But when one of my students opened the assignment and said, “Ugh, this is what we’re doing today?” I knew that I needed to spice it up.

And so, the Tic-Tac-Toe Fact Find was born.

I remembered that another teacher (I’m talking about you Drew DeJong) had posted an image of tic-tac-toe games on his board, which was an inspiration from Michael Matera’s EXPlore Like a Pirate. 


So, I drew a bunch of tic-tac-toes on the board and split the class into two teams. I gave each team 4 minutes to read a section of the article. Then each team nominated a member to play tic-tac-toe. The catch was that each team had to state a fact from the article to earn a “turn.” Also, the players could play on ANY board–theoretically, there could be up to SIX tic-tac-toe games going at once.

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The games added a great level of playfulness and excitement to the lesson–but also more important things happened that made the learning more effective.

1.  We created a master list of facts as a class instead of each student having their own.  Some facts or evidence students may have normally skipped over were added by other students, making the list of evidence available to use for their arguments more comprehensive.

2. We talked about the facts more and how they related to ISIS. Sometimes students would simply read a sentence, so I could prod them to elaborate the importance of the facts.

3. I was able to clarify some misinterpretations and further explain some of the events happening in the Middle East to further student understanding.

4. During round one, students were simply reading facts straight from the text. During round two, I made them put the facts into their own words. This forced the students to do more thinking and cemented their understanding.

Next week we’ll finish our Tic-Tac-Toe Fact Find and start our arguments using evidence from our master list below:


What Any Creator aka Human Being Can Learn from Big Magic

Big Magictakeaways

#oneword for 2016

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The first day back from our semester break, I didn’t want to throw the students straight into content and work. I wanted to take a day and have them think about the second part of the year and ease back into the routine.

#oneword was the perfect lesson to do this.

First we watched Jon Gordon explain #oneword in the video below:

Then students chose their own words and created a graphic of them using Quozio, Google Drawing, or Pablo.  Finally, they posted them to a Padlet wall and gave a short explanation of why that word is their touchstone for this year.

Take a look! They turned out fabulously!

The #DigCit Teachable Moment that I Missed

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I’d planned to write a post about our #oneword experience in my classes today. It was cool, and students chose many thoughtful and insightful words. I’ll have to save it for another post, though.

What I’m going to write instead is how I screwed up. How I had a teachable digital citizenship moment in my hands, and I let it drop.  It starts like this…

All morning, students created their #oneword graphics and uploaded them to a website to share with parents and stakeholders.

Then after lunch, I click on the site to do a double check of the previous class’s work, and to my shock, I see a screen that says my page has been taken down for review. Our page had been “reported” for breaking a code of conduct, which could range from anything from copyright infringement to pornography.

Needless to say, I fumed. I couldn’t even access the page to double check that a student hadn’t done something inappropriate. Quickly, I had to set up another page for my afternoon classes to post to.

Toward the end of the class I finally had time to email the company and share my concerns with their procedure. This is where I messed up.

I sat at my desk and pounded out a frank email about taking down a page without reviewing it first or sending an email to the owner. Essentially, I ignored my students for five minutes to feed my frustration.

I should have taken some deep breaths. Then I should’ve turned this perfect teachable moment around. Computer trolls would be out there. Mistakes would be made in internet land. And while my students and I talked about this issue today, I should have taken it one step further.

I should have written the email with them. I should have asked for their input. I should have modeled how to write a frank but tactful message.

Everything turned out fine in the end. Within ten minutes of my email, the company apologized and re-instated the page. They were prompt, polite, and apologetic. I’m still not thrilled with the process of taking a page down on the invalid report of some troll, but it all turned out okay.

But I’m disappointed in myself. I let my emotions get the best of me. I got too defensive of me and my students instead of staying objective and showing students how to deal with issues with online issues.

The person who learned the most in my classroom today: Me.

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