Technology Pursuit

Blending Technology Into the Language Arts Classroom

Tag: teaching writing

Blurb: My Go-To for Self-Publishing

In a previous post, I wrote about using the online publisher Blurb to publish my 2013-2014 Expository Writing class’ favorite works.  I enjoyed the process, but I didn’t know how the final copies would turn out once I had them in my hands.

Now I know.  They’re FAB-U-LOUS!



The magazines came in with a thick glossy cover, plus nice thick pages with full-color images.  It was just as I’d hoped, but was afraid I wouldn’t get.

Immediately I started showing them off.  My own expository students this year were impressed and started thinking what they would submit for this year’s publication. Even students in other classes were a bit envious and asked if they could submit a piece of writing.

Which got me to thinking…other schools do literary journals.  It’s not a new idea–just new to us, and maybe new-ish for a school our size.  But why not?

I took the magazine to my principal and guidance counselor, and they were both impressed as well.  And then the ideas started flowing.  Why not open this up to submission from the student body and have my expository classes edit and manage the submissions? Why not publish quarterly?  Wouldn’t local dentist offices and car dealerships want a subscription?  In fact, couldn’t the new marketing class next year help market the book?

I’m feeling excited and overwhelmed with the ideas flowing–on top of all the other ideas I want to do next year.  I’ve got a lot of planning to do this summer.

But I can’t wait for school to get out–so I can start getting ready for next year!

(I’m such a teacher geek.)


Writing a Choose Your Own Adventure Story!



You remember these.

The Choose Your Own Adventure books, where you’re chased by a tiger.  You can escape it by leaping into the ocean 50 feet below (go to page 48) or face the tiger with your homemade slingshot (go to page 128).

Tomorrow, after weeks of research writing, my expository writing students are going to take a break and write their own Choose Your Own Adventure story.

I swiped the idea from Sean O’Neil’s webinar from last year’s QuestBoise Unconference (can’t wait to “attend” this year’s!)  Sean demonstrated how students could write their own choose your own adventure stories using links in word documents or slideshows.

Then I thought, couldn’t this easily be done in Google forms as well?  And that’s just what I did today.  To provide a sample product for my students, I created a Choose Your Own Adventure story based on Hamlet.

Since I love the play and am very familiar with it, I jumped right in and started writing.  However, I think I’ll encourage students to start with a storyboard/flowchart tomorrow, especially if they are writing a story from scratch.  I’ll also give them the option for using a story they already know (as I did with Hamlet).  Providing the “alternate routes” that don’t happen in Hamlet challenged my creativity similar to if I had written a story from scratch.

Normally I focus on essay writing in class, but there are benefits to this activity.  One, when students do write narratives, I often find that they get lost in describing the mundane and don’t confront their characters with conflicts.  An activity such as this prompts students to throw conflicts and decisions in front of their characters.  I’m also considering using this activity next year as a possible quest when I teach Beowulf and The Hero’s Journey.

Other standards can also be addressed in this activity.  Storyboarding/flow-charting can be taught as a method of pre-writing, and students can peer review each other’s stories.  Students can also be required to include specific literary elements, such as allusions, metaphors, and alliteration.

And knowing that students will be writing these stories for other students to read?  The stakes just went up about a million percent.  (Yep, just showing off my awesome hyperbole skills).

Can’t wait to get started tomorrow!

Individualize Grammar with

Create Pretest   NoRedInkNoRedInk  Teacher

My newest find–and one I can’t wait to start using, maybe even yet this year–is  This is more specifically geared to us ELA folks out there who teach grammar.  But for you language arts teachers, if you’re like me, I’ve always struggled with students being on different levels in their grammar and conventions.  I have seniors in college composition–some who are still plagued with the comma splice virus and others who are ready to take on advanced punctuation with the dash.  Yet how do you gear individualized lessons and still stay sane–and then I’ve still got the other 85-90% of my writing curriculum to teach.

Until now, my students have taken diagnostic grammar tests, and then they’ve submitted their “weaknesses” via a Google form.  As a class, we look at the overall results and made a plan from there of the 5-6 key grammar issues they thought we should focus on this year.

And it’s worked well.  I’ve used a lot of Pear Deck and interaction.  But sometimes I have students who are ready to move on and other students who need more review.  Plus, I’ve always feared that I was “shorting” the students who could benefit from more of the basic grammar lessons, but just when and how was I supposed to fit that into the curriculum?

With, teachers can build classes where students take a diagnostic pre-test, and then teachers can program individual or groups of students into grammar lessons ranging from commas to hyphens to subject/verb agreement.

I’ll probably still add some of my own videos to my website for them to watch in conjunction.  I think hearing the teacher’s voice that students are used to often helps them learn faster and easier than simply reading the screen.  But I love the accountability of the website and how well it can track student mastery of different areas of grammar.

Websites for Argumentation Writing in High School

Art & Design for Advocacy TrainingCreative Commons License IDEA iDebate via Compfight

This week in my masters multimedia class, we’re webquesting valuable open educational resources (OER).  One, or rather two, of my favorite websites for teaching argumentation are and

At the high school, and especially at the eleventh grade level, our department focuses on argumentation and persuasive writing.  (I’d bet most schools in Nebraska do, since 11th graders are assessed on their persuasive writing skills.)

Persuasive writing and argumentation is one of the most difficult forms of writing to teach.  Not only do we expect students to use proper conventions, smooth sentence fluency, and powerful word choice, but we also expect to see critical–and coherent–thinking.  In some assignments, we teachers throw in research on top of it, and we’re asking a heckuva lot from our kids.

Two websites I’ve used with students for persuasive research and writing are and  These sites provide objective information for both sides of controversial issues.

procon-logo-founded-2004 provides evidence including direct quotes and statistics on 52 current issues, ranging from standardized tests to concealed handguns to the Keystone pipeline.  Evidence  is presented in small chunks, giving students the building blocks to build their arguments.  Background information is also presented for each issue.


The Debate Club at US News and World Reports’ site is another argumentation site that I’ve used with students.  The site hosts essays about dozens of topics ranging from JFK’s assassination to the US military role in Syria, and essays about a new topic are published weekly.  Each week, essays by expert supporters and proponents of an issue are published, giving students several points of view.

Both sites are beneficial depending on the project.  If you’re looking for students to take raw evidence and synthesize it, is your goto site.  If you want to focus on critical reading of essays–and in the process, provide samples of persuasive writing that you expect students to perform–you can’t go wrong with the Debate Club.

This past November my business English seniors performed a debate for the culminating project of their persuasive unit.  After an entire class voted on their favorite topic, I split them in half; half took the pro side, while the other half took the con side.  They critically read essays from the Debate Club site, which provided them with possible arguments they could use in a debate–very beneficial with students who struggle with language.  Some students researched other sources and websites to find more information that they hoped other students wouldn’t find.

Even if you expect students to find research from a variety of sites, and the Debate Club are two fantastic sites that serve as springboards into controversial topics.

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