Technology Pursuit

Blending Technology Into the Language Arts Classroom

Month: January 2016

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.

#oneword for 2016: YES!

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I’ve never been one for making huge New Year’s resolutions. I’m much more into New School Year resolutions in August. By January, I’m prepping for speech season and just praying I don’t gain 10 pounds eating desserts at Saturday speech meets every weekend.

One type of resolution I can get into is the #oneword movement.

I’ve put some thought into my word. Risk. Attention. Focus. I finally settled on Yes.

Yes to taking chances.

Yes to fewer grades and more conferences.

Yes to giving students more options.

Yes to my own kids when they ask me to play.

Yes to taking that walk or lifting weights.

Yes to leading more workshops and presentations.

Yes to watching that movie with my husband and doing nothing else.

Yes to calling my dad more often.

Yes to finishing my novel this year.

Yes to living in the moment.

Tomorrow I’ll link this post to a hyperdoc that asks my students to choose and design a poster for their own #oneword. I’m sure they’ll love mine and try to take every possible advantage of it.  To those beautiful students of mine, I assure you: I will still tell you no sometimes. No, we will not go on a field trip to McDonalds. No, we are not going to have a “free day.”

But you propose something that can connect to learning and/or English–you never know, I might just say yes.

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