Category Archives: Language Arts

iCivics Drafting Board

It’s been awhile since I’ve visited the iCivics site.  You can see my last post about it here (2012!).  The site, founded by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, offers interactives, games, and lesson plans for learning about civics.  And it’s all free!

There is a lot of curriculum available on the site, and teachers can log in and add students to a class, giving them assignments that the teachers can then monitor.  One of the tools that looks really great for 5th graders and up is the Drafting Board tool.  This is a robust, thought-provoking interactive that leads students through steps that result in crafting a persuasive essay.  I’ve embedded the iCivics  introductory video to Drafting Board below.  This PDF thoroughly explains how to use the tool.

iCivicsDraftingBoard

There are several things that appeal to me about Drafting Board.  It scaffolds the process of writing a persuasive essay based on evidence very well.  The teacher has the capability of differentiating the assignment by choosing different “challenge levels” for students. Though there is a lot of reading involved, all of the passages have accompanying audio for students who need that support.  These features make this a great UDL resource.

One of the lessons is about whether or not 16-year-olds should be given the right to vote - a topic that is frequently brought up by my students. (Actually, they think “all kids” should have the right to vote.)  Another one that would tie in very well with my 5th grade unit on The Giver is the question of whether or not students should be required to do volunteer work in order to graduate.

Even if you don’t have access to 1-to-1 devices for your students, Drafting Board would be a valuable whole-class lesson, or even a center for groups of students, inviting an educated discourse about controversial topics.

Try Calling Ishmael – Or at Least Listen to the Voicemails He Gets

I had a completely different post planned for today.  But then I was hip-hopping around the internet, visiting my usual suspects, when I came across this post on It’s Okay to Be Smart.  Joe Hanson rocks.  He always has intriguing entries on his Tumblr, and this one is no exception.

Call Me Ishmael is a website/YouTube Channel that is for people who love books.  “How can that be?” you ask, “Videos are the antithesis of books.”  Well, not if they are videos that celebrate books and the difference they have made in people’s lives.

Call Me Ishmael asks people to call “Ishmael” and leave a voicemail about their favorite book.  Each day, Ishmael takes one of those voicemails, and creates a video with the transcription.

It’s really moving to listen to the impact some of these books have made.  Aside from the implications for classroom use, I just found it inspiring to listen to a few of these, and it made me think deeply about the books that have become a core part of my soul over the years.

Here are a few that I recommend:



The Giver

from Lois Lowry's Newbery Acceptance Speech for The Giver
from Lois Lowry’s Newbery Acceptance Speech for The Giver

If you visit my Pinterest Board of Books for Gifted Students, you will see The Giver, by Lois Lowry, is prominently featured.  I read this dystopian novel along with my 5th grade Gifted and Talented students every year, and those of you who know me are aware that I don’t often do the same thing more than once.  However, this book seems brand new with every group of students.  The discussions are rich and we are always able to find many connections to current events and their own lives.

The Giver is coming to theaters this August.  It will be interesting to see how the book transfers to the big screen.  You can see how Lois Lowry feels about the movie in this recent Twitter chat in which she participated that is posted on Walden Media.  More resources from Walden Media, including educational materials, are available here.  I highly recommend Lois Lowry’s Newbery acceptance speech – which gives incredible insight into the formation of the book.

In the interest of full disclosure, I recently participated in Walden Media’s “Teachers are Givers” contest, and was one of the 4 winners.  They chose a teacher each week for four weeks, based on technology lesson plans we submitted.  I didn’t expect to win, as my amazing colleague, LeAnne Hernandez, won the first week.  However, I was fortunate enough to be chosen as the second winner.  I recommend you take a look at the winning entries, as there are some fabulous ideas for integrating this amazing novel with technology in the classroom.  I was truly impressed with the other 3 teachers’ submissions, and can’t wait to try them!  If you feel so inclined, you may want to vote for your favorite lesson plan.  The overall winner will receive a hometown screening of The Giver.

If you are looking for some other resources to support The Giver, you should definitely take a look at Teachers Pay Teachers.  I have a “Depth and Complexity with The Giver” product available for $1.00, but there are tons of other related products on the site – many of them free.

Also, here is a post I did awhile ago on Book Trailers for The Giver.

Read Write Think has a lesson called, “Memories Matter: The Giver and Descriptive Writing Memoirs.”

For older students, you can find some interesting resources on Schmoop (“We Speak Student”).

Whatever you do, if you choose to use this book with your class, be sure to leave lots of time for discussion.  This is a book that demands conversation.  Thoughtful dialogues will help your students to become much more reflective about its themes and implications.  You could probably spend a year on this book, and never fully explore some of the topics it suggests.  It will definitely make an impact, and will be a piece of literature that your students will never forget.

What Makes a Hero

From "What Makes a Hero" by Matthew Winkler
From “What Makes a Hero” by Matthew Winkler

I found this video through Kuriositas, an awesome resource, but it is also available through TED-Ed.  As we spend today, Memorial Day, in the United States, honoring our own fallen heroes, I thought this video might resonate with you as it does with me.  Freedom is a treasure, and I am so thankful for the heroes who accepted the challenge to claim it for us.

Last Letter by ThinkFun

image from: Last Letter game on Amazon.com
image from: Last Letter game by ThinkFun on Amazon.com

Note: ThinkFun gave a copy of Last Letter to my GT class to review.  However all opinions are my own – and those of my daughter and students ;)

ThinkFun always lives up to its name with its products.  Over my 14 years of teaching elementary GT students, we have enjoyed and learned from a lot of ThinkFun games.  As a mother of a daughter who is now 11, I can say that our family has found them to be equally educational and entertaining.

Last Letter is one of the newest games from ThinkFun, and I thought it would make a great Phun Phriday post.  This simple card game can appeal to all age levels that know how to spell – or at least can identify the first and last letter of words.  The rules are easy.  Everyone gets 5 cards.  The dealer puts down a card face-up and names something on that card.  The first person to find something on one of their own cards that starts with the last letter of the word the dealer gave puts his or her card down, and the game continues in that vein until someone is out of cards.

On a day when the majority of my class was missing due to a threat to San Antonio area schools, I decided to lighten the mood by trying the game with some of my 5th graders.  They loved it!  They enjoyed the unique illustrations on the cards and loved the challenge of searching their vocabulary for synonyms to help them put down a card.  I was vastly over-matched.  While I was quite literal (if someone said, “boy” for one card, I would say, “yellow” for the next) my students were much more creative.  We had a few challenges to words where students would have to explain the connection of the word to a card.  For example, for the 2nd picture below, one of my students would probably have said something like, “starvation” to describe the plight of the man on the island – while I probably would have said, “shark.”

Last Letter is a great game to play as a family as it definitely broadens everyone’s vocabulary.  Young and not-so-young can easily play together and learn from each other.  You can also change the rules to make it more challenging for some or all of the players.  For example, “no colors” or “no emotions” are two good parameters to set for older players.  There are so many images packed into each card that you can play the game repeatedly and never be bored.

Last Letter can currently be purchased from Amazon.com for $12.99.  I am adding it to my Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students – but it is fun for all to play! You don’t have to be gifted or a student to enjoy it!

image from: amazon.com
image from: Last Letter game on Amazon.com

 

What Would Socrates Do?

socrates-education

In past posts, I’ve mentioned using “Socratic Dialogue” with my students.  Sometimes this is referred to as “Socratic Method”, “Socratic Seminar”, or “Socratic Circles.”  You can learn more about this teaching technique here and in my post on “Socratic Questions.”

I recently ran across an excellent post on the Langwitches blog called, “Socratic Seminar and the Backchannel.”  The article gives a detailed description of teacher Shannon Hancock using the fishbowl method of an inner circle and outer circle with her 8th grade students to discuss The Alchemist. What distinguishes Shannon’s lesson from others of its kind is that she allowed her students to use Today’s Meet as a backchannel to comment during the discussion.  Normally, the outer circle of students remain fairly passive, but her technique makes the discussion much more interactive and collaborative for all who are involved.  I must confess that I have used a backchannel in my class before (Socrative and Google Docs are other great alternatives to Today’s Meet), but this particular use never occurred to me.

Even if you do not have enough digital devices to exactly replicate Shannon’s lesson, I encourage you to take a look at the article, which includes a wonderful video of the class in action, as well as examples of comments made on the backchannel.  I love the way Shannon introduces the lesson, as well as her encouragement of the students to collaborate by having a short discussion with partners at the half-way mark.

Watching Shannon Hancock inspires me to work harder to make our classroom Socratic Circles more meaningful and deep, whether we use technology or not.

Augmented Reality for Visual ARts

an example from Sherri
an example from Sherri Kushner’s presentation

My favorite use of augmented reality is when it enhances student creations.  Sherri Kushner, a Media Arts Teacher at Chute Middle School recently shared a presentation she had made for NAEA 2014 that astounded me with the creative use of the Aurasma augmented reality app for many amazing student projects. I added it to my Augmented Reality in Education Flipboard magazine, and tweeted the link, but I know that many people prefer to get their information in a variety of ways.  I was so blown away by Sherri’s students and their imaginative use of augmented reality that I don’t want anyone to miss out on these fabulous examples.

For anyone not familiar with using Aurasma, Sherri gives links to the basics of viewing augmented reality with the app, as well as how to create your own auras.  If you would like more information, I also have several tutorial links, including to some great videos from Two Guys and Some iPads, on my Augmented Reality Resource Page. (You can also check out a recent episode of the Two Guys Show in which they interview Aurasma’s Head of Operations, David Stone, here.)

To view the example above, you will need the free Aurasma app.  Follow the channel for Chute Middle School, and point the app viewfinder at the picture.  Be sure to visit Sherri’s presentation to see even more amazing ways to create augmented reality art!