Gratitude and Self-reflection

This is my final week of the 2015-2016 school, and while I have concluded 14 school years now, this one is not any less special. I think every teacher’s final days ends with at least one deep, long sigh. The sigh represents a sense of accomplishment, relief, and of course excitement (for both the summer reprieve and the thought about starting fresh next school year). A huge part of closing the school year for me is both showing my gratitude to my parents and students and self-reflecting about how I can improve as a teacher for my next 150 plus students coming in August.

Gratitude to Parents

This year was  the first year I created parent newsletters about once a quarter. I wanted to both inform parents of the English curriculum, and also share all the great things happening in room 102. I created my newsletters on Google Docs and then through my school grade-book system, AERIES sent out mass emails with the link to the document. In my final parent newsletter, I added images of student work and provided links to student final projects.

Parent Newsletter

Gratitude to Students

I began documenting and showcasing what was happening in my classroom a few years back via Twitter. Because I had a multitude of awesome pictures of my students’ hard work, last year I decided to end the final semester with a slideshow highlighting their year in room 102. I pondered skipping this step this year, but when I began to peruse all the images on my home computer, I felt compelled to continue this and make it a tradition. I think students, especially freshmen, tend to forget the long academic journey they take in my class. The final slideshow honors this journey and I hope makes them realize what a long way they have come. I hope they leave knowing that each day mattered.

English 1 Honors (four periods) Final Slideshow

English 2 Transitional (one period)


Self-reflection is crucial to becoming a stronger teacher, and while it may be intimidating and humbling, I believe this is one of the major ways a teacher can grow and refine his/her craft. Sadly, there is little time embedded into the school year for educators to stop and self-reflect; therefore, it takes deliberate planning for a teacher to ensure this happens. Since blogging and working with a Digital Learning Coach, I have found that my self-reflection has become almost routine. I find myself pondering the strengths and weaknesses of a lesson, and paying closer attention to the final products/results. What better way to self-reflect then to ask my students what worked and what didn’t? After finals, I had my students complete a survey via Google Forms assessing the learning experiences, units and lessons from the school year. I will be completely honest and say I know that the results may not be all positive and it might, or rather WILL hurt my ego; yet, the reality is that I can learn from the data and make adjustments for the overall benefit of next year’s students.


“Always walk through life as if you have something new to learn and you will.” ~Vernon Howard

I LOVE learning; I always have and I always will (maybe that’s why I chose teaching as a career). One of my summer traditions is to try and read a few professional books. This year I purchased Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess and Visible Learning for Literacy by Fisher, Frey and Hattie. Along with learning, I am passionate about collaboration, so together with a Digitial Learning Coach, Gina Dearborn, I hope to have thought provoking discussions about Teach Like a Pirate to enhance my understanding and ensure that I identify takeaways that will affect my teaching next school year.


As I conclude, let me just say to my English 1 Honors and English 2 Transitional students from this school year, Mrs. Lam has enjoyed every day with you and wishes you nothing, but the best during your journey here at Beckman. She believes in you and cares deeply about your future. Never forget that everyday is your birthday and all people should feel just as special because as Atticus Finch says, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” (3.85-87)

I think it’s only fitting to end with my goals for next school year and thank you for reading!

  1. Revise my English 2 Transitional curriculum to ensure that it is skill based, offers students choice, and connects to their lives ( I guess this is keeping in mind the three R’s: rigor, relevance and relationships)
  2. Focus on timely, effective feedback
  3. Offer more positive reinforcement and recognition to ALL students

Writing Groups to Inspire Young Writers

After having attended the UCI Writing Project Summer Institute for Teachers, I was inspired to implement Writing Groups because with much self-reflection, I realized that I was teaching writing in my classroom, but not necessarily creating an environment that treated my students as writers. I did not want to be the teacher that, like Kelly Gallagher mentioned, was teaching the 4×4 model with a piece of literature each quarter followed by a writing assignment. I never viewed myself as a writer, but after my own experience in my personal writing group last summer, I noticed a new passion for writing, and believed that if I provided my students with this opportunity, they would benefit just as much, if not more than me.


During the first few weeks of the Fall semester, my students wrote the Memory Snapshot paper and I introduced them to their assigned Writing Groups. I used Fridays as Writing Group days and explained the process. Each student needed to bring enough copies of his or her writing for each member of the Writing Group and he or she was to ask for his or her group’s members  to either “bless, address, or press” their written compositions (see screenshot of Google Slides directions below). Students knew going into the process that I was not grading them other than giving credit or no credit for being prepared with enough copies of their writing. At the end of each Friday’s meeting, Writing Groups pick a piece to showcase and I place the writing up on my Showcase wall (see image belows). Writing Groups meet once a month for the whole school year. Below is a list of the writing assignments for each Writing Group meeting thus far.

September: Memory Snapshot

October: Object Piece

November: Open (writing of choice)

December: Mrs. Dubose Speech

January: no meeting

February: Allegory Project

March: Writing Feedback w/ 6th graders

After three months of Writing Groups, I felt the need to do more with my students’ writing, so each class began a blog; I wanted students to experience the feeling of publishing a piece of writing and having it in an open forum for feedback. Now, students meet in Writing Groups once a month and post one composition a month on the class blog. Students also have the freedom to post any piece they would like whenever they so choose. For some students, this is their only outlet to share their writing and explore their creativity. I have embedded class time for students to go onto the blog and read their peers’ posts and offer feedback and or post comments.

Finally, this past month I collaborated with a seventh grade teacher in my district and we used my Writing Groups to offer peer feedback to his seventh graders as they wrote an argumentative essay about drone racing. His students put links to both their planning documents and rough drafts, and in Writing Groups, my students pulled up these documents and offered the seventh graders feedback on how best to improve their writing. My students were very engaged with the process, and the seventh grade teacher commented that his students found the feedback very helpful. I think this collaboration made my students feel even more like writers as they were the “experts” offering editing and revision advice to younger members in their community.

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Excerpts from student writing:

Memory Snapshot:

“Heat, the silent monster attacking me as the gleaming pinnacle of half dome lies in sight, rising above the vast Yosemite Valley. One who dare make the near 20 mile loop to reach this sight will see the end a staggering 2 miles from the rocky peak. I turn to my dad “I can see the top! Are we almost there?” he replies “Were close, but it’s still a little ways.” That is his favorite phrase “it’s a little ways” he uses it whenever we go on these kinds of trips because it maintains hope. 2 members of our party are ahead of me, trudging along the trail as two others are slightly behind. We all have one goal, and it lies 500 feet above us still. That may seem meek to the 5000 we have just accomplished, but the previous miles were nothing compared to the final trials of the dirt riddled trail that lingers with the aroma of pine. Ahead lies step 1 of a 200 foot direct stair climb. Each step is a full 2 feet at least as I scramble to the top. By this point I had completely depleted my water source and my mouth felt like it was filled to the brim with cotton. Yet, I still managed to persist in my climb. The man at the bottom of the stairs had warned us of the ominous storm clouds rising before us. “If it begins to storm, don’t come back to find me, because I’ll be gone.” I could not understand how we could be fearful of a storm in weather that was so excruciatingly burning. “

Object Piece:

Stumbling into my room with blurry eyes filled with tears, I flung myself onto my fluffy couch, wishing that my life ceased to exist. Today included one of the biggest tragedies I had ever faced, and all I wanted was to be alone in the darkness, under a bundle of cozy blankets and silence to mourn in my sadness. Anger unexpectedly washed over me as I violently knocked down anything near me. But then I saw it, and paused. A pillow, soft blue with faded sewn flowers and trees powdered in dust. Nothing that special, as you might think, except for the fact that it had the touch and protection from my beloved grandmother. It seemed like ages passed from her sorrowful death, but it had only happened an hour ago. Memories of her joyful laughter and somber hugs suddenly flip like pages in a book in my mind, moving faster and faster, until it finally stops at the last page.

I am four years old again, running with my bare, pudgy feet on our family’s grassy backyard. It’s a bright morning, with sunlight shining through the clear, azul sky and occasional puffy clouds drifting past. Grandma sits relaxed on a brittle, rocking chair made of cheap, worn-down wood. She smiles at my poor attempt to catch a nearby butterfly, for I am fascinated by its vibrant colors and intricate patterns. I beam back, and walk towards her direction, leaving the butterfly to happily flutter away.

Noticing that she has a fistful of vibrant colored fabrics in her right hand, and an unraveled blue spool of thread in her other, I curiously ask, “What are we playing today, Grandma?”

She chuckles, replying, “No, dear, this is a gift I am making for you. It’s your early birthday present, and I am almost done.”

I excitedly yell, “Oh, Grandma, thank you! What is this gift you are preparing?”

“You’ll see. Let us keep it as a mystery for now,” she answers playfully.

I then sit beside her, watching her slow but steady progress. Examining her careful fingers as she skillfully weaves the needle back and forth through the fabric, and her squinting eyes that strain to see and ensure her accuracy, I begin to realize her immense heart that drives her efforts in working her hardest.”

Mrs. Dubose Speech:

“The Mrs. Dubose of my life was not a singular circumstance or incident but instead was an epic odyssey of ups and downs spanning over a period of few years that would sear a mark into my subconscious, leaving a permanent scar.

The beginning starts in a fifth series BMW parked in a Sprout’s parking lot. Imagine 10 year old me lazily reclining in the passenger seat, regretting tagging along to the grocery store, when my chipmunk face contorts with the sudden awareness of what felt like my entire chest cavity vibrating from the inside. Three Google searches, two helicopter parents, and one doctor’s appointment later, I was diagnosed with paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia. That very scary sounding name translates into the heart’s electrical circuit board has extra cells that randomly short out, messing up the pathways (imagine a train track changing when it is not supposed to), causing my heart to beat over 200 times per minute. A simple surgery could correct it, but I decided that was too serious of a solution to what seemed like a not so serious problem, and I agreed to “wait and see what happens.””

Links to Class Blogs:


I knew almost instantly that implementing Writing Groups was going to change how my students and I viewed writing in the classroom. As I walk the classroom during Writing Group days, the conversations I hear about writing and revision are almost inexplicable, especially coming from young thirteen and fourteen year old boys and girls. What warms my heart is when I say that this week is Writing Groups, and I hear an overwhelming, “Yes!” The following outlines the changes I have observed in my classroom since Writing Group Implementation:

  • Student desire to get effective writing feedback from peers
  • Students feel part of a community within the classroom
  • Students believe their writing can be improved with practice and revision
  • Students pay closer attention to author’s craft while reading (mimic writer’s moves)
  • Students are developing a growth rather than fixed  mindset about their writing

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Fostering Creativity

Last year I showed my students Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk about schools killing creativity and we had a discussion about whether they agreed or disagreed with his argument. Every student felt that during their school day, creativity was definitely NOT a skill that their teachers were trying to foster. Sadly, many felt that even their own parents killed their creativity, as they were told not to pursue their love of music or art, as it would not provide a stable income for them in the future. Right about this time, we were finalizing our study of the allegory, Animal Farm. I figured the best way for students to understand the purpose of the genre was to write their own allegories and I made it a goal to encourage both written and artistic creativity. It was a huge success, so this is now a unit I implement every year.

During the process, I encourage students to either develop a movie or book plot that symbolizes a historical event of their choosing. The steps include researching the historical event, diagramming plot, writing a scene or chapter passage, designing a book cover or movie trailer and presenting to the class.

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Outline for Project HERE.

Student Outline Sample #1

Student Outline Sample #2

Sample Book Covers:

Allegory Book Cover
Mixture of both hand drawn illustration and electronic text
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Made with Canva
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Mixture of both hand drawn illustration and electronic text

Sample Presentations:

A huge part of fostering student creativity is offering students choice. This year, I had students ask if they could use certain tech tools and or create book trailers instead of book covers, and my response was always “go for it!” Sir Ken Robinson says “we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it;” our job as teachers in the 21st century is to reverse this trend and the only way to do so is to make a conscious effort to design learning environments that “educate [our students]” into “their  creative capacities.”

Robinson, Ken Sir. “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” TED Conference. CA, Monterey. 2 Feb. 2009. TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.

Let’s Take a Walk Down My Writing Lane

During my unit, Power, Leadership and Change, my students write a literary response essay about the novel, Animal Farm. My goals are to improve their thesis and topic sentence development, along with their quote integration. Here are the steps we have taken during the writing process. Now that I am looking at the final products, I realize I still have work to do; therefore, I am adding a new step and continuing the revision process.

1. Thesis Throwdown

I have six prompts to choose from and students work in Lit Circles to develop thesis statements for each prompt. See my post about this step here. The idea was inspired by Catlin Tucker’s blog post. Check it out!

2. Rough Draft Document w/ Model Essay

I use Doctopus to share a document that breaks down each step of the essay (this can be done w/ Google Classroom). On the document, I have a model RTL essay about another piece of literature written by a previous anonymous student. After Thesis Throwdown, students work on their RTL introductions on this document.

Sample RTL Intro

3. Introduction Gallery Walk

The next morning, I get to school early and print six anonymous introductions written the night before by the students (I have access because I sent out the Docs via Doctopus; you can do this w/ Google Classroom). I attach these to what I call my “parking lots” and Lit Circles walk around critiquing the introductions. I then randomly ask one to two students per Lit circle to share our “areas of growth” as  introduction writers. I then require students to open up their Google Documents and revise, paying attention to  these “areas of growth.”

4. Topic Sentence Class Give and Get

Once students have revised introductions, they write their body paragraphs one at a time. After writing their first body paragraph, I print out anonymous topic sentences written by my students the night before (a class set- 35 different topic sentences). As a student enters the class, I hand them a topic sentence. During the Give and Get, students try to meet up with as many students as possible to get feedback on how best to revise the topic sentence assigned to them. After about five minutes, students report to their Lit Circle parking lot and decide whose topic sentence has the most room for growth (this may or may not be a topic sentence written by a group member). They then attach it to their parking lot and revise it as a group. Representatives from each Lit Circle then share the original sentence and revised version. After this process, students then sit down, open their Google Documents and revise their own topic sentences that were written the night before. Finally, I assign the writing of their next body paragraphs with time to write in class.

5. Quote Clash

This activity is much like Thesis Throwdown. The goal is to help students write clear quote sandwiches as evidence to prove their thesis statements. I share a Google Document with the Lit Circles that has room for six quote sandwiches. I then one at a time display a quote on the screen and Lit Circles have six minutes to write a quote sandwich (context, smoothly integrated quote, and analysis). When the timer goes off, a secretary then posts the quote sandwich on the class Padlet wall. Groups then must vote for the quote sandwich that is the strongest. If their vote matches mine, they earn a bonus point. Throughout the process, I stop to discuss strengths and areas of growth of the quote sandwiches posted to the Padlet wall. This activity occurs before a revision day, where students then must review and revise their quote sandwiches, paying close to attention to pointers discussed during Quote Clash.

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6. GoFormative Assessment and Revision

I love using GoFormative to have students score class writing and make revisions. I will add screenshots of student writing and ask students to score with a rubric (4 point scale) to see if  they have the ability to recognize what makes strong writing. I  screenshot samples of low, middle and high writing and ask students to explain their scores and/or revise the sample writing to make it stronger.

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7. Score w/ Student Goobric

On the day the RTL was due, students used the Student Goobric extension to self-assess their writing with our school Literary Response rubric. This was my first time trying it out and we did have some hiccups, but for those students that had no technical issues, it was beneficial to give time for reflection. The students that had technical issues used a printed version of the rubric, which is not as convenient for me, since I have to have these with me while I am grading. With the Student Goobric extension, wherever I am with my technology, I have the ability to see their self-assessment.

On this day, I also had them highlight their thesis statement and topic sentences and leave me a feedback question with a comment explaining which activity helped their writing the most. I will use this feedback to guide my lesson planning during our next writing process.

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8. Offering Feedback with Kaizena

Because my students left me specific questions about their essays, I wanted to be sure I spent time giving adequate feedback. However, I realized as I started the process that this was going to be quite time consuming (130+ students). I tried opening the documents and offering feedback with the Google Voice Typing, but I found that it often misspelled my words, which was even more time consuming to fix. My Digital Learning Coach mentioned Kaizena, so I played with it this weekend. I sent out a Remind 101, offering students a few bonus points if they joined my Kaizena classes. I also added the shortcut addon to my Google Document app (this allows me to add student papers to Kaizena even if a student hasn’t added himself/herself to my class yet). Yesterday, I offered feedback to at least 40 students from home. I LOVED the voice comments capability and the ability to add lessons. There are curated lessons, but you can also add your own. I have links to my favorite videos/pdfs/web resources for skills such as quote integration, analysis, thesis statement writing, etc. With my added lessons, I can highlight the students’ text in their essay and quickly provide them with a link to the resource.


Because what’s most important to me is my students’ writing growth, I am going to extend the due date after I have provided feedback to ALL my students in Kaizena…this is a long Writer’s Lane, but I am sure the walk will be well worth it!



Fall in Love with Reading

Our English Department requires students to read at least one ORB (outside reading book) a semester, along with reading the grade level novels on our curriculum guides. Last year I noticed because the ORB reading ended in one culminating project, my students either “fake read” or rushed to finish a book at the last minute. I was fortunate enough to attend the UCI December Conference for Teachers and the keynote speakers were Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle…I know, awesome, right? Both Gallagher and Kittle make reading in class  a priority because as Kittle suggests “engagement leads to volume leads to rigor.” The more time and encouragement we offer students to fall in love with books, the more likely they will read more and then in turn try more challenging texts. Following the conference, I made outside reading a priority. Here’s what I did:

1. In Class Time for Reading

I tried my best to offer 15 minutes each day solely to the reading of their ORBs. This was my opening activity and as soon as the bell rang, I stared my One Click Timer and everyone read quietly until the timer went off.

2. Reading Conferences

Taking the idea from Gallagher, I created a Student Reading Conference journal and called up about 3-4 students each period to talk about their reading. During this time, I learned what types of books my students loved, their favorite genres, and discussed the plots of their current books. Not surprisingly, many students said they enjoyed reading, but with all their homework and extracurricular activities they had stopped reading for enjoyment. Several of my  Honors freshmen explained that the last time they had read a book out of their own volition and not because it was a class assignment was in upper elementary or sixth grade. The conferences were extremely valuable as I felt it also helped me establish stronger relationships with each student in my class.

3. Book Clubs

Also inspired by Kittle and Gallagher, this past month, I assigned students to Book Clubs. I selected six books for the students to choose from and asked students to complete a Google form ranking their top choices; to help, I supplied a brief synopsis of each book and links to book reviews to make ranking easier. I used the results to assign students to Book Clubs in each period. Most students were assigned to their  first or second choice.

Students met once a week in Book Clubs to discuss their reactions. Each week, I provided guided questions to help support their conversations, along with assigning one task. These questions and tasks were shared on Google Slides during each Book Club meeting.

Meeting Foci (we had 4 meetings total):

  1. First Impressions
  2. Character Analysis
  3. Passage Annotation
  4. Theme/ Character Analysis (Final Meeting)
    Sample Book Talk Slides (1)
    These are samples of tasks completed during Book Club meetings via Google Slides.
    Today was our final Book Club meeting and I tried for the first time a Fictional Twitter Account activity I discovered on Twitter (ironic?). Tony Vincent tweeted this blog post. Check it out! The students made a copy of the Google Drawing template and then once they were done, downloaded the file as a JPEG and uploaded it to our Google Slides. Their creativity was astounding! As I circulated the room, I heard giggles and conversations such as “that character would say that!” How awesome to observe students having fun while they critically thought about the characters in their Book Club books.

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Book: Out of Reach

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Book: Unwind

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Book: Shattering Glass

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Book: 13 Reasons Why
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Book: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Next week, my students who read Out of Reach will get to Skype with the author, Carrie Arcos during lunch. This will be my first time Skyping in the classroom, so I am super excited!

I don’t yet know how I plan to follow up Book Clubs, but I do know that I care about making the love of reading in my class a priority and I hope when students leave my class this year they will be able to say that they fell in love with at least one book!

Let’s Have Fun!

During my 13th year of teaching, I was working with one of my APs to institute Instructional Rounds on our campus. With a small group, we read the book and then before beginning the implementation process, I asked him to observe my class with a form we created. During the debriefing, which was the best post observation conference I have ever had (not because it was all commendations, but because he made me self-reflect), he asked, “Would you want to be a student in your class today?” It was a simple question, but I was silent for a few minutes, and while I would say it was an engaging lesson, my answer was just “I think so.” When he left, the question resonated with me and till this day, it still does. This has motivated me to make a concerted effort to always make sure that as I make choices about learning objectives, tech tools and lesson design to also make my class engaging and fun. Here are a few lesson ideas I have implemented that you may want to try and/or adapt.

1. Blocks for English Humanity

Yes, this is adapted from Cards Against Humanity…hahaha! One weekend I played the game for the first time and had a blast! It made me wonder how I could adapt the game to fit some of my English objectives. I had some wooden blocks I ordered from Amazon, and had two ideas: 1. use them to practice sentence types 2. use them to examine literary devices in our literature. I picked the latter for now, but still have intentions to try the sentence types route somehow.

Each Lit Circle receives a block with literary devices written on each side. During each round, one student acts as a judge and rolls the block. The others are reviewing the previous night’s reading to search for an example of the literary device showing on the block. They then type them anonymously on their group’s Padlet wall. The judge gets to pick the quote they feel best exhibits the device and the student who wrote that quote earns a point. The judges rotate and the goal is to be the student with the highest score in the Lit Circle. I give each winner (6 per period) 1 bonus point for the reading quiz that follows.

I love this activity because one, students are forced back into the text to review, and secondly, because students are forced to have conversations about author’s craft. I often overhear students talking about the author’s intentions or whether the quote is in fact the literary device that the student is suggesting. Finally, it’s fun!

Student Directions

2. Thesis Throwdown

I learned about this activity from Catlin Tucker’s blog. I adapted it a bit, but the idea is the same. My students are in Lit Circles and competing to earn points. I project a writing prompt on the screen and students have 4 minutes to work with their group to construct a thesis statement. I use Doctopus to manage a Google Document that is shared with me and their groups (I haven’t switched to Google Classroom yet because I love that group sharing a Document and assessing w/ Goobric is so user friendly w/ Doctopus). I encourage students to use the comment box to revise/edit and collaborate as they devise a thesis. Once the timer is up, a group secretary must post the thesis statement to the period’s Padlet wall. The groups must then pick the best thesis statement during the round, but cannot vote for their own. I give groups who vote for my pick a bonus point to encourage them to judge wisely and not strategically for a win. After the final round, the team with the most points wins.

I love this activity because students get to work with all leveled writers to see and hear the process of devising a thesis statement. They then also have access to every group’s thesis statements on the Padlet wall to see samples as they write their literary response essays. There are also great teachable moments for me, as I can explain why one thesis statement is stronger than another, and how best to revise weak thesis statements.

Thesis Throwdown (1)Thesis Throwdown Pic

Thesis Throwdown

3. Team Textual Tussle

I use Team Textual Tussle as a way to review a night’s reading AND to practice writing with quote integration. I pick words or phrases that are significant from the previous night’s reading and display them one at a time. In Lit Circles, students must write a quote sandwich that shows the importance of the word/phrase. Each student must write on a separate sheet of paper and also be assigned a letter a-f in his/her group. After a couple of minutes in, I will call out a letter. Each student that is assigned this letter must run up and attach  his/her quote sandwich to the group’s parking lot (on my white boards). The first group that has a STRONG quote sandwich earns a point. Throughout the process, I will place the quote sandwiches under the document camera and explain the strengths and weaknesses. Just because a group is first to put their quote sandwich up on the parking lot does not ensure them the point. If the writing has weak quote integration and/or analysis, I will move on to assess the next group’s quote sandwich. The Lit Circle with the most points after all the rounds wins.

Team Textual Tussle Directions

I am always looking for fun, engaging activities to teach writing and grammar, so please share your ideas!

Building Background Knowledge

Our district has adopted a focus strategy this year of building background knowledge in order to help all learners access the content. I begin semester two teaching the novel Animal Farm by George Orwell. I take the following steps to help build background knowledge and increase engagement with the text.

I. Anticipation Guide: Class Discussion

I embed a Google form version of an anticipation/reaction guide that requires students to think about statements that link thematically to the novel. After filling in their initial reactions, students have a discussion about how they reacted to the statements; they are then required to complete the short answer questions related to their Lit Circle discussions. After submitting their Google Form,  I then open up a whole class discussion in which students talk about their smaller discussions.

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II. Flip Instruction w/ a W-S-Q

Typically, I would present a mini-lecture or show a short clip in class that provides some basic background on the Russian Revolution. However, now I link the video to my Haiku page and have students complete a W-S-Q via Google form (watch the video, summarize the video, and pose a question) at home. This is a strategy created by my DLC, Crystal Kirch. If you want more info see her blog!


I then get to school a bit early the next day and sort the Google Form results by their “Point of Confusion” questions. I take the top six most often asked questions and post them around the room at what I call their “parking lots” (since I have six Lit Circles per period, we have six parking lot locations). Students rotate with their Lit Circles reading, discussing and answering the questions. Once all groups have discussed all six questions, each group must share out the response to the question that is posted to their original parking lot.

We then play a review game with quizizz. I love quizizz because the game is self-paced and the questions pop up on the students’ screens. Depending on their responses, a funny meme will appear on their screen. The site tracks correct responses and time to give each student an overall score (much like Kahoot). Whoever has the highest score earns a participation point for each person in their Lit Circle.

III. Socratic Smackdown

I discovered the Socratic Smackdown one day while researching resources for Socratic Seminars. This creates a higher level of engagement with the seminars due to the competitive/game aspect of the strategy. Essentially, my students are posed with the question: what makes an effective leader? and they attempt to answer the question with peers in an inner circle. I do offer one article to start their research, but in Lit Circles students must do their own research and also reference the first two chapters of Animal Farm . In Lit Circles, they have about 1 full day to research and prepare questions on a shared Google Document.

The day of the Smackdown, there are six rounds of Socratic Seminar that are timed for six minutes. During each round, a Lit Circle must send up a new speaker for the inner circle. Each speaker is scored by a different student who is not speaking in the inner circle on a scorecard and Google Form. Each individual score is added to the overall team score. During each round, the outer circle is either scoring, giving feedback to their teams’ speaker via the shared Google Document, and/or participating in a discussion on the back channel with Today’s Meet. The winning teams each period earn 5 bonus points.

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Do you have a favorite, engaging way to build background knowledge before starting your units of study? Please share!!

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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