Technology Pursuit

Blending Technology Into the Language Arts Classroom

Category: Language Arts (page 1 of 2)

Game Design in College Composition? Yep.

For their first unit of the year, my college composition classes aren’t writing essays. They’re designing games. Digital Breakout games, to be exact.

I’ve taught college composition for four years, and the same concerns keep nagging at me about these young writers:

  • They want to create the perfect draft the first time. The end.
  • Instead, they see revision as editing their grammatical errors.
  • They provide surface feedback in their peer reviews.
  • They don’t feel purpose or authenticity in their writing.

These are issues I need to address, and they aren’t easy fixes. However, the first step in my attempt is to shake up our first unit and instead of focusing on “writing,” we’ll be focusing on game design.

The secret: The game design process mimics the writing process. It mimics the major steps of EVERY creation/maker/design/invention process.

Clearly, for any writer or designer who ever created, there is no single process, and processes can change depending on the project. But the key steps remain: Ideation, Creation, Feedback, Iteration, More Feedback, Iteration, etc, until the project meets Nirvana or the final deadline, whatever comes first.

By teaching writing students game design, we’re also teaching them the design process for writing (or art, or inventing, or whatever you’re making.) That’s just what I want to do — the put my students into a design situation they’ve never been and discover that the steps are the same, and that all the steps are important and applicable to writing.

Here’s my plan in more detail:

  1. Ideation. Writers will first have to work together in groups to analyze digital Breakout games that currently exist, find the patterns, and then develop their own themes and ideas. They’ll also need to consider the age and purpose of their game.
  2. Creation. After the team delegates parts of the game to work on, writers will begin creating those components. In a digital Breakout game, many of the components include writing, so this also serves as a baseline assessment for me to see where my writers are in their abilities.
  3. Feedback. Teams will playtest other teams’ games and provide feedback. This will require some frontloading in demonstrating what clear and specific feedback looks like.
  4. Iteration. Back to work revising the game. Students may have to adjust the game — Was it too difficult? Too easy? Should they remove some red herrings? Did they see “tricks” other teams had in their games that they want to adapt to their own? (Then it’s back to Feedback, as needed.)
  5. Publication. The games will then be submitted to the Digital Breakout EDU sandbox, publicized via social media, and shared with our local teachers if applicable to their teaching areas.

In addition, the plan hits a liberal number of 21st Century Skills, so there’s that.

Granted, this process could be taught with any writing activity: Essays, arguments, short stories, heck, even haikus. (In fact, starting with shorter writings, like poems or short shorts, might be more effective in teaching the design process than longer texts.)

But why is game-based and game-inspired learning gaining momentum? Randy Pausch touched on it in his book The Last Lecture. Games, if well-designed, have the ability to teach without the learner knowing it. Mars Generation One teaches argumentation while students explore their space station, and FanGeopolitics teaches the interconnectedness of foreign issues in geography disguised with professional sports draft mechanics.

Many young writers are anxious about their writing. I get it: writing is personal. It makes you feel vulnerable.

Games — especially a game created as a team — have lower risk involved. Designing a game is more playful and less threatening than writing — or at least that’s what I’m hoping for my students. By experiencing the design process through game design rather than writing, my goal is for students to be less obsessed with writing the perfect draft the first time, less threatened with giving and receiving feedback, more open to deeper revisions.

I want them to see writing like game design. Go in knowing it won’t be perfect, but knowing you can also have fun in the feedback/playtesting and in your revising/iteration.

Studying Word Choice & Mood with Macbeth

For my multimedia class, I had to create a video with captions, images, and music, so I set up a tentative project for my students to choose a soliloquy/monologue from Macbeth and do a similar video, probably in Animoto.

But once  I’d made my video on the dagger scene (see above), I realized I suddenly had a quick prop for our final dagger scene wrap up day.

Using the sample video, students wrote down on post it notes the words with strongest connotations.  Here’s a sampling of what they came up with:

murder, fatal, dead, ravishing, dagger, bloody, knell, wicked

We talked about what kind of mood Shakespeare is establishing with those words–and how this can be related to other forms of reading and writing.

When students are asked about mood, whether on a test, in a college lit class, or simply while pleasure reading, one of the greatest hints to mood is the author’s use of word choice.

We also discussed how the same goes with writing.  As writers, we need to choose words with strong connotations to help express our style and tone.

It was a quick 8-10 minute lesson, but an effective one–full engagement from every student on a concept they could see visually both in language and images, hear in the music, see the patterns in our list on the board, and–hopefully–apply in their reading and writing lives.

Anticipation Guides on Pear Deck

Ant Guide Macbeth


Anticipation guides at the beginning of a unit are now a staple in the teacher’s tool kit.  However, I “techified” my Macbeth anticipation guide with the help of Pear Deck.

To be honest, I started with paper.  I used Jim Burke’s Macbeth anticipation guide as a starting point for my own.  I made copies and students circled their answers.  Then they broke into discussion groups of 4-5 classmates, where they had to come to a consensus for each question.

Afterward, each group logged onto Pear Deck, and a member from each group, using the “draggable” tool, dragged the red line to their group’s response.  I then called on random groups to explain and defend their responses.

This activity could easily be done individually, too, rather than in groups, especially if you have classes who are very open and enjoy discussing.  For classes that are more reticent, however, the groups work well as a springboard into the overall class discussion.  I hear stronger comments in the small groups, and I also find more members of small groups are willing to share with the whole class because they’ve already “rehearsed” their responses in small groups.

Pear Deck provides a great visual aid for anticipation guides and emphasizes how beliefs can range throughout a class.


Making Visual Aids with Pic Monkey



It’s been a crazy busy week.  Lots and lots and lots of essays to read and give feedback and speeches to coach and gamification quests to approve, and the snow keeps skirting around us and refuses to bless me with a snow day, even though Mother Nature has been generous with giving lots of other schools with plenty of days off.

Anyway.  I made a thing last night.  To be specific, a collage in PicMonkey.  And to be honest, it looks pretty cool.

Our assignment this week in my multimedia class was to create a photo collage that was connected to our content area.  Since my Brit Lit class started Macbeth today, I thought, “Is there a way I can integrate this into the Macbeth intro?”

So tomorrow, I will.  Today we discussed the anticipation guide in groups, and tomorrow they’ll make predictions about the play based on the collage (which is in chronological order with the story.)

PicMonkey was so easy to use–my students could use the web program for their own projects.  In lieu of the typical essay or report about a book, they could create a photographic storyboard.  To display poetry they’ve written or poems they’ve loved, they can create photo collages using photos that evoke the mood, tone, and symbols in the writing.  Students can create a biography about an historical event using a collage.  The more I use it, the more I’ll come up with more ideas.

Use Pear Deck’s Draggable Tool to Teach Vocabulary

Vocabulary is, by its nature, a left-brained language-intensive study.  Because not all our students are left-brained, I try to throw in a more visual vocabulary review.

One technique is to use the Draggable Tool in Pear Deck.  First I create a slide with a question about a vocabulary word.  Then I choose two images from the internet–these serve as the two “choices” for students to drag their circle to.  Since Pear Deck only has the option of inserting one image (at least right now), I set up the images side-by-side in a Google Doc and then use Awesome Screenshot to capture the two images together.  Then I upload that screenshot to Pear Deck.

Here’s an example below for the word “prudent.”

prudent home


If you have a teacher view on another device (see below), you can see which students are still struggling by their answers.

croc dolphin


A few hints I’ve found:

1.  Make sure to “lock” student answers before showing the results.  Otherwise all the students’ dots erupt in a game of tag, and the students are too busy chasing each other’s dots than paying attention to the content.  (Even college-credit seniors don’t have enough will power to resist the urge to watch their dots move across the board.)

2.  Don’t use full-body photos of Beyonce (or any human for that matter) to avoid the issue of dots being placed “strategically” on the bodies.  (Yes, I’ve witnessed this first-hand when I foolishly used a Beyonce slide with a predominantly 18-year-old male class.)


Curriculet: A Love Continued…

Yesterday I posted about my anticipation for using Curriculet with my British Lit students today.  If you want to check out my Curriculet, click here for my (abridged) “A Modest Proposal” Curriculet.

So now…the results!

Overall, I declare a success with our maiden voyage with Curriculet.  So far, I’ve heard no complaints about the site.  (I did field some complaints about the content, as they read “A Modest Proposal,” but as I told them, if they weren’t at least a little disturbed by Swift’s suggestion of 18th century cannibalism, I’d be worried.)

I’m not sure how to organize all my thoughts, so I’m simply going to enumerate them.

1.  The one major problem I encountered was linking my Google Classroom to the Curriculet website.  The link directed them to the “Log in” screen rather than a “Join” screen.  Note that this problem is ALL ON ME.  Once they were on the “Join” screen and I gave them their enrollment code, they were golden.

2.  I also found problems with the embedding of the YouTube video.  Again, likely had NOTHING to do with Curriculet and EVERYTHING to do with our school’s filter.  Even if a video is open on the filter, I find they still don’t open when embedded on Google forms, Google sites, Versal–pretty much anywhere.  I simply copy and pasted the code into the annotation so they could still watch the video at YouTube directly.  (But if they’re using any other wi-fi, I bet they’d love the embedded videos right there next to the text.)

3.  Curriculet gives great data of both in-progress and finished students.  Check out the first screenshot:

Curriculet student scores


I didn’t give a “quiz” but only individual questions, so there’s not data there.  However, I know at a glance how long it took students on average to read the essay and how many are finished.  Then I can see their individual scores (names are blurred) followed by how many questions they answered correctly, how long each took, and whether he/she is finished or still in progress.

Curriculet question results


On another tab, I access data about individual questions.  I can see that I need to review questions 5, 6, 7, 8, and 12 during our next class.

I’m very pleased with how it went.  As with all inaugural website adventures, there’s extra time spent helping some students get to where they need to be, but once they were “in” the Curriculet site, they navigated it very easily.  I’ll definitely be using this again (and again, and again, and again.)  And so, my tryst wtih Curriculet continues…


Curriculet: A Crush Destined for True Love?

Two days ago, I happened upon Curriculet thanks to Kate Baker and her blog.  Immediately, I fell into a hard-hitting crush with the website.



At Curriculet, you can choose among texts that are already available in the “store” or upload your own text.  Then comes the magic.  In those texts, teachers can embed annotations, multiple choice questions, open-ended questions, quizzes, and even YouTube videos.

Today, I made my first Curriculet using a text I abridged of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modern Proposal.”  I inserted lots of questions, annotations about historical facts, and a modern-day interpretation of the essay on YouTube.  Tomorrow, my students will start read it, get immediate feedback from the multiple choice questions, and watch the modern-day interpretation all in one place.

Here are screenshots from my Curriculet.  I’ll let you know tomorrow how it goes!

Curriculet annotation Curriculet MC 2 Sample cirriculet page Curriculet question


Distance Learning via Pear Deck


I was so inspired by these posts at and

In short, two teachers share teach together in two different classrooms 150 miles apart.  The collaborative duo pull off this feat with the use of Google Hangouts and PearDeck.  They each use two projectors in their respective classrooms; one projects the Pear Deck presentation, while the other projects the students from the other classroom 150 miles away.

Utterly inspiring!

While I don’t plan to use this technique in my immediate future, it does open up more possibilities for distance learning.  Since anyone globally can enter an open Pear Deck presentation if he has the PIN code, a teacher could instruct countless students at one time.  Pear Deck and hangouts provide a platform to merge the worlds of traditional classroom instruction and pure online instruction together.  You get the benefit of face-to-face human interaction through Skype and Hangouts while being able to continue education from hundreds–or thousands–of miles away.


New Google Read and Write Highlighting Tools!

We tried out a new add-on in my Brit Lit class today:  the Google Read and Write highlighting tools.  The current highlighting tools in the Google toolbar aren’t exactly the easiest to use, but this add-on made highlighting so much easier!

Highlighting Tools

We’re smack in the middle of a Jonathan Swift/satire unit, and we’re prepping to read “A Modest Proposal.”  Today we watched a Stephen Colbert clip that happens to be formatted just like an essay.  After watching the clip, I showed the students a transcript version (slightly altered to be more for the PG-13 crowd) and we reviewed essay structure.  Last semester we practiced highlighting thesis statements in green, main ideas in yellow, and supporting details in pink.  This strengthens both their understanding while reading non-fiction texts and helps them structuring their own non-fiction texts.

Instead of the clunky Google toolbar highlighting, we used the Read & Write tools–so much easier!



With color coding, students can see the patterns in non-fiction writing, which increases their reading ability as well as their writing ability.  Since my objective the next two weeks is to help them develop ideas in their writing, we did a reverse T-chart of this writing, analyzing the main points and then analyzing the different supporting details for each of the four points.  We did the T-charts the old-fashioned way:  plain old pencil and paper.

But today was truly a hybrid class period:  Reading (hard copy books, and ebooks on phones, and iPads),Vocab review on Pear Deck, online video, online text & highlighting, and the classic pencil to paper & whiteboard modeling work.  And to be honest, that’s the way I like it.  A little something for everyone, and it keeps them moving and always doing something new that appeals to their style of learning.

Creating Matching Activities in Pear Deck

matching pear deck


One of the first types of review activities I like to do with students after we talk about a set of vocabulary words is matching. Using Pear Deck and Google Docs, it takes only a few minutes to put together a matching activity that students can complete right in front of your eyes.

Step One:  Open a Google Doc and create your matching activity.

Step Two:  Using Awesome Screenshot, crop the screen and save it to Google Drive.

sample matching


Step Three:  In Pear Deck, set the slide to “Drawing” and then upload the image from your Google Drive.   Students can then draw lines on their computers or handheld devices.

The best part about this is in a single glance, I can see the students complete the assignment via the left hand side of the Pear Deck teacher screen.  I can see which words the students struggle with and which ones they’re comfortable with.

matching sample


When everyone is finished, I select one of the student responses at random on the right hand side (that side does not contain student names) and review the answers.  It’s a quick and easy way to review vocabulary and make sure that all students are accountable.

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