Technology Pursuit

Blending Technology Into the Language Arts Classroom

Month: April 2018

The Easiest Classroom Daily Agenda EVER


Update 4/19/20: We’re all trying to cope with remote learning right now, but I can tell you I still use this format! It’s been a lifesaver during this crazy time.  If you want to make a copy of my file, click here, and then go to File > Make a Copy.




For years I experimented with daily agendas for my students. Each year, I rolled out a new technique, from the whiteboard to a website, looking for the right one to stick.

Then I embraced the obvious, simplest answer: A Google Doc. Below is one of the agendas we are currently using this year.

I created one for each one of my preps. Each week I add a new table with the dates at the top, missing work in the left margin, and then a cell for each day of the week. One document lasts all year long, so in the first days of school, my students bookmark the page so they can click on it anytime.

This method has reaped benefits:

  • Any links my students need are available in one place.
  • Changes are easily made–so much easier than using webpages or slides.
  • Absentee students can always review what they missed.
  • Students have an overview of our journey and always know what to expect. Even outside of class, I see them on the agenda.
  • I don’t have to remind students about missing work. I keep a reminder section and link the assignment, as well.
  • Our school has “make-up slips” that students have to have signed before being excused for school activities. I never have to think what to write. It’s always the same: Check the Agenda.
  • I have a record of an entire year on one document. I refer back to previous years to compare pacing, refresh my mind about activities I used, or locate docs I can’t find in my Drive.

And let’s talk about the memes. They’re fun. I change them every week as well. They have no other purpose than to make everyone smile and look forward to the change at the beginning of the week. It’s all about building a culture of fun.

This is the fourth year I’ve used Google Docs for my daily agendas–and I don’t foresee changing it anytime soon!

7 Tips for Surviving Research Papers


Today I got to sit down with our two new teachers in my wing–let me get an Amen for the first year of teaching!–and love the fact that they are planning a collaborative cross-curricular research paper. Here were some of the tips we talked about…maybe you can find some useful.

1.Narrow Down Your Objectives. Don’t try to evaluate several standards at once. What’s really important to you? Our new teachers today decided organization was extremely important, as well as researching a variety of sources. I suggest making a rubric of 4 or 5 areas at one time. More than that and you’ll be overwhelmed in the end, and if your students do any reflection activities, they’ll be overwhelmed as well.

2. Don’t Skimp the Pre-Writing. This is essential. I use a variety of pre-writing strategies–T-charts, mind maps, post-it notes, sketched boxes, or a combination of all. Pre-writing strategies aren’t a one-size-fit-all. However, it’s important that all our writers have a plan. Before I let any student continue into a major paper, I need to see a (tentative) thesis with what their (tentative) main points are, as well as how they relate and prove the thesis. Later if students have problems, we can look at the pre-writing together and better see how to resolve it. Seriously: Take just as much time to lead pre-writing activities as you would expect students to write.

3. Accept that Research will be MESSY. Provide students with more than one way to keep track of research, such as Google Keep, Google Docs, Evernote, and traditional post-it notes.  Then allow them to choose or experiment with their own system. This process will be messy. Students will lose track of where they are, lose their source, lose their notes in the depths of their Google Drive. But if we want students to find a system that works for them, we need to let them muddle around. We as teachers need to go into the process knowing it will be messy and that students will make mistakes.

4. Rethink the “Word/Page Count”.  Don’t set an arbitrary number. Instead, think about it. Do you want at least a page for each main point? Then add an intro and conclusion, and you’re looking at four pages. But also consider what your students are able to do. This afternoon we talked about how wide-ranging our students’ abilities were; some could handle six or more pages, while others would be challenged by writing a full two pages.

5. Create a Differentiated Menu. This idea arose when talking about how to challenge the higher achievers. To do this, we sketched out a rubric with requirements for an A, a B, etc. To reach that “A” level, their students need to complete a higher number of pages, a wider variety of sources, and a direct quote integrated into each main point.


6. Don’t put points on your rubric. I find that the more points you put on a rubric–points for each category, for example–the stricter and more complicated your grading gets. I recommend either a 3- or 4-level rubric. While I follow the 1-2-3-4 (1=little to no evidence, 4=advanced) format, we talked today about an A-D rubric for this project. However, I do avoid using any more points than this. Writing is subjective. It can’t always be whittled down to points. Plus, totaling up points for four or five categories takes time and slows you down. (Better yet, complete the rubric and then conference with the student about their final grade.)

7. Make videos for mini-lessons. Students aren’t ready to learn how to integrate quotations or format in MLA style until they reach that very moment where they need it. Use Screencastify or Screencast-o-matic to record mini-lessons for these skills. Some students still will try to ask questions rather than watch the videos, but I refer them to the video first and then allow them to ask questions. Most of the time, I don’t hear from them again because the video has done its job. Many teachers cringe at the thought of making a video, and I get it! But also consider how many times do you want to teach the same lesson? Plus, you gradually build a library of videos over the years.


I’m sure there are hundreds of other tips to writing research papers.  Feel free to add them below!



Requisition Time: What I Order for My Classroom

Our requisition orders were due this week. Crazy early, it seems, with a solid six weeks left of school this year, but that’s the way we roll. Here’s a glimpse of what I order each and every year for my classroom.

  1. New book collections. Environment impacts students, and if we want students to read, we have to surround them with books. A school library is not enough. Each year, I add 30-50 books to my classroom library through requisitions. I order through BMI Educational Services  and get the New Title collection and Best New Fiction collection. This gets me a huge variety of books. Any books that I already have in my classroom–I do purchase a lot throughout the year–I give to another teacher in my department.

2. Classcraft. For $96, you get all the bells and whistles, and that includes the Quest feature, which is go-to tool for teaching. I set up learning paths for our units, and students follow their own path and move at their own pace. Most students also like the pets and outfits for their avatars, but those are just an added bonus. The quest feature is the best choice-based/quest-based learning tool I’ve seen.

3. PearDeck. Even the free version of PearDeck is pretty slick, and if you haven’t played with the Flashcard Factory, then put that on your to-do list next time you teach vocab. For the premium version, you also have access to the drawing and draggable features, which I love when I’m providing direct instruction of grammar. Other (free) perks is integration with Google (and a new PearDeck add-on that allows you to edit right in Google Slides) and a self-paced option for students to use as “homework.” The last aspect I love is the ability for students to try different sentence structures, and I can show them anonymously on the projector screen and point out strengths and weaknesses with no one needing to feel bad if they made an error.

4. Publishing Costs. While Padlet, the Google Suite,, and other free online sites can publish student work for free, I always set aside money to publish a genuine, tactile glossy magazine each year for my college comp students. No matter how much students have published online, owning a professional looking glossy literature journal always feels more “real” to them. Plus, I order a couple extra for the school library and our English classrooms. They’re great models to new college comp students.

5. Markers, Post-Its, and More. Even though my students all have Chromebooks, nothing replaces hands-on work, especially early in the creation process. I use Post-It notes liberally and have students practice using them for some pre-writing. And no classroom is complete without lots of markers.

6. Games. Just as I grow my book library, I also grow my game library with a new game or two each year. OK, more than that, but the rest I purchase on my own. I choose games that are either easy to modify for class or that specifically connect with a concept I teach, such as the Hero’s Journey.

7. NoRedInk. This last one is specifically for ELA classrooms. In this website, students move punctuation or words around–no multiple choice here. I’m not a fan of most of their static lessons, but the few interactive tutorials they have a pretty good. I use PearDeck to teach the concepts and practice different sentence structures, and then students use NoRedInk for reinforcement and assessment.




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