Technology Pursuit

Blending Technology Into the Language Arts Classroom

Author: Melissa Pilakowski (page 2 of 22)

Hosting an All-School Kahoot!

The past few weeks, I’ve hosted an ALL-SCHOOL KAHOOT for our school as a way to keep our students connected and to have fun amidst this chaos. It’s an easy activity that anyone can do for their class, school, organization, neighborhood, extended family, etc. Here are the steps I followed as I figured this out:

Several days ahead of time:
  1. Create or choose your Kahoot. To build morale and community, keep it fun. Brain teasers, name that animal, and logo recognition Kahoots are good for evening the playing field, especially if you have a wide range of ages. One of our teachers, Jennie, created a Kahoot for us by taking close up photos of different areas of our high school. Then students had to select the location the photo was taken. Another idea is to use teachers’ senior photos, fun facts about teachers, or images of places in the neighborhood.
  2. Advertise. Decide how you’ll share the news of an upcoming Kahoot. If you want to limit it to students, then you may want to send it directly via email. If you want to invite the larger community, post it on your school’s social media. Make sure to include all the details of day and time and Zoom Room number.

If you are concerned about Zoom room bombers, maybe you would rather plan to post/email the Zoom address a few minutes before the actual Kahoot. In general, be very intentional about how and where you advertise–you want the Kahoot to be well-publicized, but not too well-publicized that you have unwanted participants.

You may also want to mention that players may want two devices: one to watch and one to use to play Kahoot. (This often brings siblings together so they can share a device to watch the Zoom on)



3. Open your Zoom Room. I open ours about 15 minutes ahead of time. In light of all the Zoom bombers, I would suggest checking settings for your room. Make sure no one else can share their screens. If you didn’t share your Zoom link, make sure to share that, too.

4. Start the Kahoot. Make sure to do this on the same device as your Zoom hosting. Once you have a pin number for your Kahoot, share your screen. This is how players will know the pin number to use AND be able to see the questions.

5. Play! Once everyone has logged in, or you’ve given them fair warning that you’re starting, then launch the game. I try to play the gamehost, reading the questions and pointing out the leaders and gainers after each question.

And that’s it. It’s pretty painless, especially after the first time walking through the steps.

Any other ideas for using Kahoot or bringing students together during this time? Share them below!

Don’t Make Everything About Covid-19

One piece of advice we’ve been hearing about this crisis is not to get inundated by information. Take breaks from the media and social media.

But are we doing the same when planning lessons for our students?

Imagine a  student opening up his packet to find several articles to read–and every single one is about Covid-19. This is what many parents have faced this week.

Before I go any further, everyone is doing their best. No one knows for sure what is right or wrong in this unprecedented crisis (or at least unprecedented in the past century).

That said, we need to be aware of how much we’re immersing students into this crisis, and how this inundation of information about this pandemic might be affecting their mental health.

I’ve been remembering back to the peak of the AIDS crisis. I was 8 or 9 years old and remember watching a 20/20 hosted by Barbara Walters (that’s how I remember it, at least) with my babysitter. Barbara posed so many questions. Should doctors be treating AIDS victims? Who was at danger of contracting it?

That night, I slept on the living room floor. I couldn’t bear to be alone in my upstairs bedroom.

I refused to tell my mom why I did this, no matter how much she asked. I didn’t want to seem ridiculous and childish, so I held that anxiety in.

When I reflect on this as a teacher and a parent, I don’t want children out there to be feeling the same.

This isn’t to say that we should never address the crisis in our current lessons. There are some classes–current events, sociology, economics–that should be addressing Covid-19 and its impact. And we should be addressing the facts about Covid and self-care at home. We can’t escape the reality around us.

But maybe we need to provide opportunities to escape reality, too, and think about life beyond the current crisis. We as teachers need to be cognizant about the lessons we’re giving students. While this is a time of teachable moments, not every lesson needs to be connected to Covid.

Instead, let’s make sure lessons that address the virus and its impact are balanced with lessons that don’t. Or let’s give kids an option to complete a Covid-related lesson or a non-Covid related lesson (because there may well be plenty of students out there who do want to learn more).

There isn’t much we can do to keep our students physically well, but there’s a lot of ways we can help them stay mentally healthy. Not barraging kids with lesson after Covid-related lesson is one of them.

Superfight: An Introduction to Argumentation

Need an engaging, (almost) guaranteed way to introduce argument to students that they’ll enjoy?

My answer to you is Superfight.

I’ve been using the game for a couple of years now, and it’s a playful, non-threatening way to venture into argumentation. I used it as a vehicle to teach the vocabulary of claim, evidence, reasoning, but not have to worry about research (yet–that was the next writing to come.)

Since I used the unit as a final project for a class last semester, I’ll just post that slidedeck below. Also, you can find it linked here if you’d rather look at it that way.

Any questions? Comment below. Gotta question you need answered today?! Email me at

Conferencing w/Students? Try Group Conferences

No one can deny the benefit of 1:1 conferences with students. It’s where strong relationships are formed, where we can get more insight on what they learned, where they can explain what maybe they can’t write down.

However, finding the time is tough. Last week, I tried something new:

Group conferences!

And let me tell you, I loved it. Meeting with 2-3 students at a time takes a bit longer, but it adds much more camaraderie among the students in the conference. Often, the students find themselves adding onto others’ comments, creating an even richer conversation.


Before conferencing, I ask students to fill out a reflection about the work we just finished. This makes them think more intensely about the work and also gives me some insight to what they’ve learned.

I also ask them to sign up on a large week-long schedule that includes my prep time, study hall, their class time, and other sections of their class. During these classes, I have a playlist of assignments that students will not need intensive teachers support to complete.


When we meet, I ask each student the following:

  1. What are the top revisions you’ve made to your writing? I’ve given feedback to their rough drafts but hadn’t read final drafts; this gives me insight to what they improved and also drastically reduces time in reading final drafts. To help with this, I open their drafts and either click “See New Changes” or open the previous version of the file that highlights the most revisions. Since the changes are all highlighted, it’s easy for both students and the teacher to see the revisions.
  2. What did you learn or improve in this unit?
  3. What do you still want to learn–and how can I help? For some, it’s more sophisticated transitions or satisfying conclusions. Others want help with semi-colons and commas. A few admit they need to focus on procrastination, which I think is just as important a writing goal as the others.
  4. What can I adjust in this unit to make it even better next year? I’ll admit, this question can be hard to ask. Maybe it’s one you work up to over time or once you have a stronger rapport with students. I’m not sure I could ask this question even a few years ago. Not only does this give you feedback to help improve, but it also strengthens that rapport with students. You’re being vulnerable with them, and that’s what makes us feel closer to people.

I’ll still do  1:1 conversations for students who prefer it, but group conferences have a lot of power. Students are able to listen to what revisions others make and where others are struggling–a reminder that they’re not alone in this never-ending challenge we call writing.



Helping Students Spot FAKE NEWS


My juniors have started our unit of “What Is Truth?” and the first focus of the unit is fake news. (We move to biased sources and unreliable narrators later.)

This is also a topic that has a lot of resources, including games. (You can find some of my favorite resources here.)

But this post is all about how we kick off the unit.

1. Start with Factitious

Factitious is a simple True/False fake news game. All players need to do is determine whether the article if real or fake. I also love that there are six different levels, which allows students choice–my higher-ability readers can choose the “hard” levels suggested for college readers, and students who are struggling may choose to do an “easy” level.

I used this as the opening activity this year. They played for 5-10 minutes, and then they added a post to a Padlet describing what their strategies were in playing the game.

This is important. I did not tell them any strategies. I didn’t give them any hints on discerning the fake news from real. They found their own ways, talked to their neighbors about them, shared them on Padlet. They learned just by trial and error.

At the end of the day, I made an anchor poster of the strategies they’d listed. This anchor poster then provides a go-to list of strategies for finding fake news throughout the unit (and hopefully, throughout life!)

Factitious Game

Anchor Poster of Fake News Strategies


2. Play The Canadian Infiltration

I like the collaborative feeling of Breakout Games, but I’m always looking for ways to add more close reading. Thus, The Canadian Infiltration was born. The narrative is that fifty years into the future, the Canadians are tired of the cold temperatures and want to move farther south. One of their steps in doing so: Dividing Americans through the use of fake news.

I provide each group with a manila envelope of articles. Four of them are fake. Their task is to determine which articles are fake. They’re allowed to use the Internet, the anchor chart, their experience from playing Factitious, and good ol’ common sense.

In the past, I’ve started out with The Canadian Infiltration, but I’m really happy with the sequence of this year’s activities. Playing Factitious, developing a set of strategies, and then moving into the group game was very smooth. More so than ever, I saw students more concerned about sources and checking other sites to corroborate articles

Feedback for You, Post-It for Me

My college composition students have been giving feedback to their colleagues’ arguments the past few days. One thing I always remind them before each new round of peer reviews is that we don’t do this just to provide feedback, though that’s nice.

What’s just as important is what they’re learning from others’ writing and applying to their own.

So I give them a tool to help them remember things they want to check in their own papers.

The magical Post-It Note.

As they read others’ papers and gave feedback, I asked them to write themselves notes about their own papers. Are their transitions working? Do they need more direct quotes? Is there a section that needs strengthening?

At the end of the period, they stuck their note next to their name on easel paper (plus this doubles as a quick accountability of who met these expectations.) When they return back to their own papers to do revisions, they’ll not only have the feedback others gave them but also their own post-it notes about what they wanted to work on more.

Multimedia Book Responses

In one of the classes I took last semester, we had to do a lot of reading, but we didn’t do a lot of writing. Instead of writing 300 to 500-word reading responses each week, we created visual collages. 

This type of response made me consider how I would use visual images to represent what I was learning and thinking instead of language. I considered what colors or images I would use for my background, what videos I might embed from YouTube, and what images and shapes I might add to represent concepts in the reading.

I liked this idea so much that I decided to use it in my own classroom. One way I did this was through visual book responses with my students. Each of my students reads their own choice of book at the beginning of each class.  Although we also have daily bullet journals for reading, I wanted to see what students could create with their own visual responses to their own books.

The Prep Work

For each section I taught, I created a slide deck. The opening slide gave the directions (see below), followed by a sample collage slide that I created. I then made a slide for each student and typed their name in the notes. (Students can also create their own slides, but I like to do a little more front work to prevent confusion later.)

When students were finished, I copied all the slides into one slidedeck so that they would be able to view the slides of other classmates as well. Last, students filled out a Google form that asked them which slides were their favorite and which books they might be interested in reading based on the slides.

Check out their slides below!

A PSA for Introverts

January 2 is National Introvert Day.

That makes me one day late, as I’m writing this on the 3rd.

This does bring up some thoughts to talk about in regards to introverts in our classrooms. So from this introverted teacher and student, may I present a PSA for Introverts.

Our Introverted Students

Right now, pushing collaboration and cooperative learning are buzz words in education. We talk about them in 21st Century Learning Skills, in project based learning, even in my state’s language arts skills. Because the truth is, collaboration and cooperation are important skills to have.

However, some things to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t always require group work. I really like giving the option of working with a partner, a group of three, or working alone on most assignments. This provides social students an environment where they work best while still giving introverts the option to work alone.
  2. Provide opportunities for group building. Introverts are more willing to work with people they’re comfortable with, so take time to build culture in your classroom and provide activities for students to get to know each other. Rather than kicking off a group project right away, wait a few weeks until students are more comfortable with each other.
  3. Invite participation through multiple channels. Some students are comfortable speaking up in class; others are more willing to share through writing. Give students the option when you can. Scaffolded sharing activities can also provide more support for students. Check out Save the Last Word for Me and Graffiti Boards.
  4. Unsure? Ask them. It’s not a bad idea to survey students about their comfort level of speaking in class, and assuming that they can’t always bow out of an activity such as giving a speech or reflecting on Flipgrid, ask how you can support them in these moments. Another important question: Do they want to be recognized in front of the class? Some may not want to be the center of attention, even if it’s for something good. But other introverted students may appreciate it.

Don’t Forget Introverted Teachers

Since the publication of Susan Cain’s Quiet, I think teachers have been far more cognizant of their introverted students and appreciative of the thinking those students are quietly doing.

However, we have to also be aware of educators who are introverted. Don’t think you can spot them–sometimes the most energetic teachers in the classroom are introverted. Instead, be aware that they’re on your staff, and there are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Respect their prep time. Introverts enjoy being around people, but they need alone time to recharge. This is why prep time can be essential to introvert teachers–we need those moments of solitude to be the best we can for students. In one school I taught in, our prep time was pre-planned for us four days a week with team meetings, grade-level meetings, planning meetings, etc. This is a quick way for your teachers to burn out.
  2. Avoid cheesy get-to-know-you activities at PD. While I doubt any teacher really enjoys playing signature bingo (you know–find a person who was born in the same month as you and have them sign their name in that block), introverts are even more likely to be frustrated with the small talk and meaningless connections.
  3. Build culture in meaningful ways. Just as we need to build our classroom cultures, we also need to build staff culture. That means providing opportunities for deeper conversations and PD that is actually meaningful.

No doubt I’m missing some other great tips to consider with introverts in our schools, so if you’ve got some, feel free to add them to the comments below.

Bullet Journals for Reading

Independent, self-selected reading is a cornerstone of my teaching. It’s the way we begin class every day. That hasn’t changed in the past 10 years.

What has changed (often) is how I’ve asked students to reflect on their reading. I’ve done short weekly responses, bi-weekly responses, and book reviews. I’ve used hand-written responses, book blogs, Google Forms, and Sutori.

To some extent, these all worked. But I always felt that we were jumping through hoops; students would write their assignment, I would give them feedback–sadly, sometimes a week or two later–that they may or may not read.

I’ve also dabbled in book conferences, although it’s pretty hard to find the time in a high school classroom, especially during reading time when I’m taking attendance, checking reading progress of each student, meeting with students who were absent the day before, and striving to read 2-3 minutes myself (because WE have to be readers and model that, too.)

A New Approach

This year, I created a new reflection approach based on the popular bullet journals. If you’re not familiar, bullet journals are a form of daily journaling and reflection that doesn’t focus on writing prose but rather focuses on short statements and phrases–bullet points of your day.

However, I didn’t want students to simply write a short summary statement of their reading each day. That was something they often did in their reading responses rather than sharing opinions and reflections. So I created a journal with simple questions or prompts that encouraged them to go beyond just a summary to questions of opinion, reflection, and metacognition.

How It Works

Before we read each day, I remind students what today’s prompt is so they can go in with that question or prompt in mind. This prompts them to be more active readers. When our ten minutes of reading is over, I give students a minute or so to fill in their bullet journals.

Every 2-3 weeks, I revise the form and print a new journal for each student. They keep their reading journals on their clipboards, which they store in their class mailbox at the end of each period.

After the first two rounds, I started asking students for ideas for potential prompts. They added questions such as “Which character do you relate to and why?” “What has been the biggest surprise for you in this book” and “WILDCARD–You create your own response.”

When I started, my goal was to highlight or write a quick response once a week on everyone’s journals. I have NOT been good at that–definitely room for improvement there.

What’s Next?

While I do think this has made my students more active and reflective readers than the traditional responses I used to use, and that this format is more enjoyable, too, I realize there still could be more choice and ownership for students. They do choose their own reading, but I think next iterations need to include more options, rather than just one. Perhaps creating a list of potential prompts to choose from rather than a daily assigned one.

I also want to continue student input on prompts. Creating a Google Form with current and potential prompts and having students vote for their favorites could be one approach; there could also be a space on the form for students to suggest new prompts.

I definitely want to keep including more social sharing of books, too. We did this earlier this year by creating book slides and then adding to our potential reading lists based on what other classmates were reading. In the past, we’ve also had book celebration days, where students met in groups, gave a book talk and read an excerpt from the book. Snacks were involved, which was probably just as interesting to teenagers as the books.

But I think it is important to continue making reading social. I’m really pleased with how the bullet journals are working this semester. We’ll see how this approach changes through iterations and what additions I make. A return to conferences? More social opportunities with reading? Stay tuned.

When You Have to Give Semester Finals

I’m required to give semester finals. I’m not saying I like it, but I have to do it.

This semester, I designed my finals based on the following criteria that I had set for myself:

  • Performance-based
  • Authentic and connecting to the non-school world
  • Incorporating several concepts from this semester’s lessons

What I ended up doing was–bear with me–an essay test. But I did my best to create ones to meet the above criteria. Here’s what we did in each class.

College Composition. Essentially, I wanted students to demonstrate their ability to state a claim, provide evidence and details to support it, and give reasoning to explain why the evidence and details were important. I also wanted to include some grammar and vocabulary learned this semester. Most of all, I wanted it to be authentic–something they wanted or at least needed to do.

The result: Scholarship essays. I provided prompts from The Common Application but also invited students to bring in their own prompts for specific scholarships they wanted to apply to. Students could then actually use their essays in the future; they also paid attention to my feedback and made adjustments AFTER THE ESSAYS WERE SCORED!


English 3. We’d just finished reading Macbeth, and honestly, I hadn’t planned for enough time to do much for connecting the play to our real world as we progressed through the play, so that made real-world connections important for our semester test. Also, we’d analyzed many non-fiction articles this semester, so I wanted to incorporate a non-fiction article into the test as well. This lead to two choices for students to select from:

  1. How accurate is the play Macbeth with the actual Macbeth who lived in the 1300s?  Write an argument using our reading of Macbeth and the article from
  2. What personality disorders would you diagnose Macbeth with at the conclusion of the play?  Write an argument using our reading of Macbeth and the article from the Mayo Clinic

This Macbeth assignment doesn’t provide as much choice or authenticity as the scholarship writing, but it still provides some choice and real-world connections, which was my goal. Most students selected the personality disorder analysis and demonstrated excellent reading of both the article and the play in their essays, including doing outside research and speculating about other conditions Macbeth suffered that wasn’t included in the original article, such as PTSD.

What about grading these essays?

I keep it simple, using Google comments and rubric that I copy/paste into each paper when I first begin reading. After I’m finished reading and commenting, I highlight each of the boxes in the table that represents the level of this writing.

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