Technology Pursuit

Blending Technology Into the Language Arts Classroom

Month: May 2019

Think Microgoals

Yesterday I had the privilege of hearing my friend Michael Matera (@mrmatera) give the keynote address at the Westside Personalized Summit in Omaha. Like any great keynote (which his was), there is always one golden nugget that you grab. For me, it was microgoals.

Goals can be scary, especially if they’re big. We tell our students and ourselves to break them down to smaller goals, but it can be hard to even tackle those smaller goals. We make excuses:

We’re too tired.

It’s too cold outside.

We don’t have all the materials.

Michael spoke about microgoals. Instead of a goal of 50 push-ups a day, or 20, or even 10, set a goal of ONE push-up.  Will one push-up per day turn you into sexy, fit athlete by the end of one year? No.  But as Michael said, once you’re on the floor to do that one, you’re now committed. Are you really going to stop at one? Likely no, at least not most of the time. You’re going to put in five. Or maybe ten. Other days, you might even put in more.

Let’s take this beyond exercise. Committing yourself to a writing routine is hard. Every professional writer will tell you that. Instead of setting a 500-word goal per day, try 100, or even 50. Then give yourself the freedom to quit. There may be days that you will, but there will also be days that you’re now committed, you’re in flow, and you keep going.

This works great with students. They hear me say the mantra “The first 100 words are the hardest” every time we start a major writing assignment. Other writing teachers may scoff that I set a mere 100 word goal on the first day of a student writing project, but I do it because it’s easily attainable. One hundred words is a paragraph. It’s five minutes of work. Yet once students (or any writer) have 100 words down, it’s easier to keep going, and also easier to return the next day and continue the work.

We can set microgoals for any task we dread.

The bathroom needs cleaned? Commit to cleaning just the sink.

Papers to grade? Commit to grading one.

Endless emails to reply to? Reply to one. Or maybe two.

Even if you decide to stop after that microgoal, you’re already further than you were when you started. Just that much will provide the momentum to tackle tomorrow’s microgoal.

What I really like about the microgoal concept is the feeling of less guilt. When I procrastinate on a goal–say cleaning the bathroom, which definitely could use a good scrub–I feel guilty at the end of the day when I don’t do anything in there. By setting a goal of cleaning the sink and then doing that tiny goal, I can feel good that I moved forward on that task. Granted, I didn’t get the whole bathroom clean, but getting one part done feels much better than doing nothing.

Right now, this second, what’s one microgoal that you can set? Walking around the block? Reading that book you’ve been putting off for the next five minutes? Picking up three things and putting them away? Now, go do that. At the end if you want to keep going, do it! If not, congrats–you’re still further than you were earlier.


Kahoot? Quizizz? Gimkit? What Should I Use?

It’s been a few years since I last wrote about my favorite student response system for formative assessment. Every year, these companies come out with improvements and upgrades, and it’s hard to keep up with what each has to offer.


However, different systems may fit different moments in your class. Do you want your students to have repeated practice? Do you want them to take their time and process? Do you need some energy in your room? Each of these different systems provide different benefits. Here’s a rundown of the three I use most.

Quizizz: Perhaps my favorite, and here’s why. One, I can turn off the timer on questions, which is very important to me. I’ve found that when students get more points for faster times, they answer without thinking. What’s more important to me is that they take a little longer to think about questions and choose the answer carefully. Does this take away energy from the class? Yes, but accuracy is more important. In addition, Quizizz has great question banks, so you can create quizzes using past questions you’ve written or questions from other teachers’ quizzes. A huge time saver!


I frequently use Quizizz to get a pulse of the class, especially in checking their vocabulary learning. A quick 4-6 question Quizizz gives me an immediate idea of what words they know well and which ones require more practice. I show the results for each question (with no student names) at the end of the Quizizz, so the entire class knows where they stand.

Kahoot: The granddaddy of gamified student-response systems, Kahoot can’t be beat for the energy it brings to the room. Because students tend to focus on the “race” rather than the “thinking” for answers with Kahoot, I don’t use it as often.


I do like to use Kahoot when I’m first introducing vocabulary. Sometimes we do a Kahoot before I introduce words so I can get a sense of which words they know well, know somewhat, or don’t know at all. (Plus, reading their non-verbals is very telling, too). A few months ago, I started using it as I read a narrative that contained all our vocab words. As we encountered each word, I played the next Kahoot question that focused on that word. This served as a great way to make students use context clues from the text, and also an opportunity for me to explain the word more. (Informal input from the students was they felt they knew the words much better with this method than doing the Kahoot in isolation as a way to introduce words.)

Gimkit: This is the new kid on the block. Like Quizizz, students work independently on their own screens, but like Kahoot, they are racing against time or competing for “money.” Each question is worth $1 to start, but can be increased by purchasing power-ups. Students can also purchase power-ups as insurance (because you can also lose money by answering questions incorrectly), change the colors of their screens, or freeze their biggest competitors.


Unlike the other systems, Gimkit will continue to cycle questions, which means you will need to have a good variety of questions for each game (I would suggest at least 10-12). This is great for low-level knowledge questions (vocabulary, multiplication facts), but I don’t use it for higher level questions.


Another downside: you can only have 5 “kits” (aka quizzes) unless you purchase the paid version. For me, the paid version is worth it, but you have to do what’s right for you.



Others to Try: Socrative and Quizalize


In the past, I’ve also used Socrative and Quizalize, which are both good systems. Both allow for flexibility with questions (especially if you have longer questions with more content). Both systems allow you to save and reuse quizzes.


Socrative provides a rocket-ship visual that is labeled with colors rather than names, so students can see how they’re doing comparatively to others but don’t have to worry about others knowing their score.


Quizalize scores well with its robust reporting of results and the added bonus of sending students to different activities based on how they score, which could be a huge benefit for differentiation after an initial opening assessment.

What I’d suggest is find the 2-3 systems that fit best with your style and what you’re looking for in a student response system. Each one has unique benefits, so choose the one that’s going to fit the need your students have at that time.

Create Your Own Media Bias Chart


Chances are, you’ve seen this media bias chart (or similar ones) on your social media.

During my fake & biased news analysis unit, I wanted to incorporate this chart. I could have just had students study and analyze it, but I didn’t know how long-lasting the experience would stay with them.

Instead, I decided students could make their own charts.

Using markers and butcher paper, I drew an XY axis. I also added a section on the side for sources that didn’t have a place on the chart (such as satire like The Onion).

When class time came, I first modeled how to search for sources on, where students could then see how sources were rated. (See the BBC results below). Then I showed them how the chart worked–left/liberal sources on the left, right/conservative sources on the right, as well as the level of factual reporting.

At that point, the students started looking up their own sources. I asked students to find at least five sources–and they needed to move quickly because if their source was already on the paper, they had to find another one.

I also encouraged students to check sources that they see on social media, and to Snapchat and YouTube they went. Of course, many searched mainstream sources or sources their parents used.

What did they find from this? Our mainstream media tends to the political left. However, we live in a conservative rural county, so many also realized that many sources they see on their social media feeds tend to the right side of the political spectrum.

We ended with discussing how every form of reporting has some bias. Any news passed on is slightly skewed through the reporter’s perspective, but as the chart shows, some sources choose language and stories that lean left or right politically. We also talked about how this chart doesn’t indicate which sources are right or wrong, good or bad–except for the extreme ends of the spectrum, which are downright fake news and faulty reporting–but that the goal is to be balanced in our research and reading. If you use a source that leans right, then also peruse a source that leans left.

Another great source (if your school doesn’t block Facebook like mine does) is Wall Street Journal’s Blue Feed/Red Feed. It’s a great comparison of what our social media feeds can look like if we program them to see only left-leaning or only right-leaning sources. This encourages discussion on how this can affect American’s understanding of both sides of issues, as well as the effects it could have on our society if we refuse to listen to those who think and believe differently from us.

Lessons and resources like these are essential to make our students critical thinkers about the media they consume and their responsibility to society. The media bias continuum activity, in particular, was one that students commented said had a major impact on how they viewed the media.

Any other resources you love using to encourage critical thinking about media consumption? Share them below!

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