Buzzword: Close Reading

With the Common Core standards, we hear a lot about close reading and annotation. Many of the workshops and Professional Development series I have attended in the past two years focus greatly on strategies to get students to read closely and annotate text. Looking at the CAASPP performance tasks, students need to have the ability to quickly read critically, synthesize information and then write a coherent expository and or argumentative composition. This post will focus on ways I use technology to annotate text, but I will say I am still a proponent of also ensuring students annotate what we call the “old school” way with highlighters and marginalia on paper. It is crucial for teachers to decide learning objectives and decide when best to use the “old school” approach and or a technology tool like the ones listed below.

1. Diigo

My DLC introduced me to the Diigo Google Chrome extension last year and I LOVE it. Part of my school’s curriculum includes at least three grade level performance tasks in which students read multiple sources and write an argumentative and or expository essay. Often times, there are online sources included in the text set. I put these sources on my Haiku page and have students use Diigo to annotate. They submit their annotated links via a Google form. The links include their highlights (which can be color coded) and their digital post it notes. While writing their essays, my students open their Diigo libraries to reference their annotations.

2. Google Document

While reading a novel in class, I will take a passage that I want students to closely read and paste it into a Google Document with room for marginalia. Sometimes I will pose questions to the right and or give directions for highlighting certain aspects of the text. I like that my Transitional students have the ability to use the “Research” tool for definitions and or images when trying to dissect the text. This option would not be possible on paper.

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3. Google Spreadsheets: Template Tab

I am a BIG fan of Alice Keeler, and I tried this strategy this semester. My students read a couple chapters in To Kill a Mockingbird, and then posted to the Google spreadsheet. Each student ends up with a tab to complete. My favorite part was that at home students developed discussion questions. In class, I had students access another student’s sheet and answer their peer’s discussion question.

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I am brainstorming an idea for next semester and may use a Google Document. At my UCI Writing Project 2 meeting this past month, a teacher presented a close reading strategy with a poem in which students begin to annotate a poem/short passage and then pass their paper to their right in their cooperative learning groups. This process continues until the student gets his/her original paper back.

I am thinking I can group share a Google Document that has a passage from Animal Farm. The passage will be repeated 6 times on the document and the passages will be labelled  a,b,c,d,e,f. Depending on the students’ letters, they will begin annotating the corresponding passage. When the timer goes off, students will move to annotating the passage labelled with the next letter. For example, if I am “A” during round two, I will then annotate passage “B”; this process would continue 6 rounds. Students can then have discussions about how their peers’ annotations helped them look closely at deeper meanings in the text. Just a thought! If you have suggestions to improve this, let me know!!!

Tech Tools I love to Use w/ my English Learners

Before I dive into my list, let me provide some background about my Transitional class. My students have transitioned out of the ELD program, but are not quite ready to handle the rigor of a traditional English CP class due to language deficits. The goal with the Transitional program is to provide language support (oral, writing and reading) to help the students eventually move into an English CP class. I currently have 25 Sophomores enrolled in this class. Along with students new to the country, I also have LTELs (Long Term ELs) who have unique issues that  stem from low reading and writing skills, lack of family support and/or lack of motivation. Using technology with these students can be a challenge due to their lack of self-control. Without my presence in the classroom, circulating the room, these students will somehow begin to browse other sites (YouTube, for example). This makes choosing appropriate learning tasks and technology tools crucial.

1. Verso

One of the texts on our school’s Sophomore reading list is the play, The Glass Menagerie. Teaching drama is sometimes challenging because the playwright intended it to be acted out on stage. Often dramas are read in class and/or sometimes acted out by students. Because my students have language issues, reading in class needs a ton of scaffolding. I wanted my students to experience the play without having to watch the whole movie, while passively taking notes or taking up a 2 hour chunk of time. After a class reading, I would add an activity on Verso that required the students to watch a snippet of a scene and answer an open ended question tied to one of our essential questions. Once students make their initial post, they must reply to two peers’ posts. I love that the posts remain anonymous and students aren’t enticed to comment just on their friend’s post or worry about the class judging their own initial post.


Verso sample
I provide students with frames for both posting AND responding. When I first started, students would comment, “I agree” or “Good job,” and the frames have helped significantly.
Verso Cheat Sheet
I provide my students a Cheat Sheet to fill out while viewing the video to help them organize their thoughts.

Love that Verso allows you to add instructions (I add sentence frames) and key vocabulary for students to include.

Verso edit

2. Peardeck

At some point, all teachers need to relay information to their students and/or teach new concepts. Before Peardeck, I would use either Google Slides or PowerPoint and deliver notes, while students took Cornell notes on a Google Doc and/or filled in a graphic organizer. While I tried to check for understanding, by occasionally asking questions and/or asking the students to pose their questions developed from their Cornell notes, I never truly knew how well my students understood the concepts. With Peardeck, I import my Google slides or Powerpoints and pose questions intermittently throughout the presentation. These questions may be open ended, multiple choice, or drag a dot/annotate on an image/slide. Because each student is logged in with their unique school email, I can see how they are responding live. I can time their response, lock the question, and even display anonymous answers on the screen for the whole class. There are many times during a lesson when, because I can view their activity, I will say “So-and-so, I am still waiting for your response,” which also holds students accountable. An added bonus, is that after a session, teachers can send out a “Takeway” that produces a copy of each students’ responses and leaves a space for students to take notes later into their Google Drives. Usually, the day after a presentation, I will start by asking them to revisit their notes and write a summary in the box provided.

3. GoFormative

Like Peardeck, Goformative is an awesome tech tool that allows the teacher to see the work being accomplished live. What is an added bonus is the ability to give live feedback, which pops on the students’ screen; this allows the students to make revisions and corrections instantly. This tool is AMAZING! I have had students annotate passages, answer multiple choice questions, write thesis statements, code essays,etc. You name it and it probably can be done with Goformative. One time when I had students annotate a poem, I asked students to upload an image that symbolized what was happening in a given stanza. Just by looking at the images, I could see whether they were getting the gist of the poem. Students were very creative and even uploaded an image, labeled it, and added their own pictures with the freehand draw tool.

Try one of these tools! You will not be sorry.

Upgrade Those ERWC Units

Part of the ELA curriculum at both my previous school and current school include the integration of ERWC units. The Expository Reading and Writing Curriculum, developed by the Cal States, focuses on engaging students in the reading and writing of Expository texts. The belief is that most students will not major in English and should enter college with skills to handle the close reading of informational text, which is also a focus of the Common Core standards. I think most English teachers understand the need to teach these skills, but often find some of the ERWC units disengaging or tedious. One of the problems I have found with the units is the fact that a unit focuses on one expository article, and the Common Core standards and CAASP performance tasks tend to focus on the reading and synthesizing of multiple sources. Therefore, I like to add to the ERWC units to help my students think more critically about the topics raised in the expository articles. I then add elements that foster student creativity, which makes the unit relevant and engaging.

ERWC Unit: “How Self-fulfilling Stereotypes Can Drag Down Performance”

Before I dive into my To Kill a Mockingbird unit, I teach the ERWC unit about self-fulfilling stereotypes. It’s a great “into” unit.

Step 1:

In Lit Circles, students use the QFT (question formulation technique) strategy to create open ended questions about the subject of stereotypes. If you have never heard of this strategy, check out the book Make Just One Change and the website. The Lit Circles decide on their favorite question and this becomes their focus for close reading and annotating the sources I provide.


Step 2:

Students read and annotate the sources I provide, which are linked on my Haiku page. If the source is a web site, my students use the Diigo extension to annotate and then they submit their annotated links via a Google form.

Haiku ERWC

Step 3:

Students complete a graphic organizer that I share via a Google Drawing to synthesize their sources. Their goal is to find an answer to  the question they developed via the QFT strategy. I teach students the SEE-THINK-WONDER strategy at the beginning of the year to annotate paintings/images. This strategy is from the book Making Thinking Visible. It’s an awesome resource!

ERWC Unit Synthesis Chart

Step 4:

Students use Google Drawing to create an Infographic in their Lit Circles that displays their question, answer, and evidence from multiple sources. They also must do outside research to find additional evidence to support their answers.

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Why I LOVE Google Drawings

Before 1-1 technology, I was a strong proponent of using graphic organizers in my classroom. I would design them on Word and make enough copies for each of my students. These graphic organizers helped students visually organize ideas and or plan for writing. Now that my students have access to technology, most of our work is done using GAFE. One of my favorites is Google Drawings. I love how students can collaborate on one document and I can check their revision history; it also fosters their creativity. I share out my documents via a Document management system called Doctopus (I haven’t switched over to Google classroom since I love the group sharing process w/ Doctopus along with its ease of use with the Goobric extension).

I will send out a blank Google Drawing with a text box off to the side with the directions. This week for example, we are wrapping up the semester and students will have to compare Of Mice and Men to To Kill a Mockingbird. To have students review, I assigned a  group Theme Map.

Unnamed image

I am always amazed by my students creativity!

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I love that while from home I can access their work and see their revisions and chats about how to accomplish the task. If I notice any confusion, I can jump into their chat and add feedback.

Sample comments in theme map

Finally, because I use Doctopus with the Goobric extension, I can grade the Theme Map with a rubric created via Google spreadsheets, score the theme map, and the rubric automatically gets emailed to each student.

Goobric with theme map

I am super excited about the new Student Goobric extension for self-assessment and peer evaluation, and I am hoping to begin this process next semester. Check that out here!


Today Tomorrow Always

I have been at my new school site for a year and a half now and as a fourteen year Veteran English teacher, I can say with extreme confidence that I have refined my craft exponentially within this time. When you think about this statement, it is actually quite absurd. When I started I was single, childless and living at home about 3 miles from work. I had the time, energy and passion for my new career. Flashforward 13 years and I am married with two children, ages three and six…YIKES! So what revolutionized my teaching?

  1. Teaching in a 1-1 school

  2. Working with a Digital Learning Coach

  3. Attending the UCI Writing Project Summer Institute

Teaching in a 1-1 School

Every student that enrolls in my school is checked out a laptop. The District LMS available to students is Haiku. At my previous school, I dabbled with Edmodo, Nearpod and a few other tech resources, but I will say without the access, it was very difficult for me to hold my students accountable for following through with lessons created with these tech tools unless I reserved the computer lab (there were 3 for the whole school). With Haiku I have the ability to assess learning, flip my teaching and embed/ upload ALL my unit resources. Knowing that each student has the access with their laptops makes what I can do with Haiku in and out of class limitless (see screenshot of my Haiku page).

Haiku Sample

Working with a Digital Learning Coach

Because I was going to be in a school setting with 1-1 technology, I signed up to be a technology fellow, which meant I would work with a DLC (digital learning coach) once a week on my prep period. Let me first say that I didn’t have just any DLC. My school’s DLC is Crystal Kirch…THE Crystal Kirch. If you don’t know who she is, check out her blog “Flipping with Kirch.” She is phenomenal!

Crystal and I would meet and discuss my lessons and learning objectives and then together, we would find engaging ways to teach my lessons supported by technology. We would have a coaching cycle that started with pre-planning, lesson implementation and then debriefing. Although I was giving up a prep period every Friday (yes, Fridays!), with all honesty I can say that without her support, I would never be the teacher I am today. I hope districts, schools, and teachers realize the power of true coaching. We expect our students to grow academically throughout their school years, so we should expect our teachers to continue to grow professionally, and with skilled coaches and open minded teachers, growth is inevitable.

One of the strategies I added to my “tool belt” was an Edcafe inspired by an Edcamp I attended last school year. With Crystal’s support, we planned, implemented and revised this strategy and it is now one of my favorite lessons to engage students in meaningful, academic conversations. If you’d like more info about Edcafes here is my guest blog post on Crystal’s site.

Attending the UCI Writing Project Summer Institute

A respected colleague of mine recommended that I apply to attend the Summer Institute last summer, and because I was fortunate enough to have time and energy, I applied and it was the best professional development experience in ALL of my teaching career.

During the Summer Institute, along with guest speakers like Kelly Gallagher and Jim Burke (an English teacher’s dream), we were involved in writing groups, both professional and recreational Book Clubs and workshops hosted by the attending teachers. My experience made me reevaluate the way I was teaching writing. I came to the realization that I never treated my students like writers; I didn’t even see myself as a writer.

This year, my students are WRITERS. They attend monthly writing groups and provide each other with feedback and commendations. I have a wall to showcase each writing group’s favorite piece and we have now just started publishing our writing on class blogs. I am so proud of their growth this year. It also helps when I say that this week is Writing Group and they yell out “Yes!!!”

Sample blog 

So today: I am grateful for all the motivation and support mentioned above.

Tomorrow: I have to reflect upon a new lesson idea inspired by this book that I read to my daughters tonight.

Always: I will strive to become a better teacher because my students deserve it!