Building Wordsmiths: 8 Activities for Teaching Vocabulary

Vocabulary is at the heart of the content areas we teach.  Each content has its own vocabulary unique to the understanding of the content material taught.  Some argue most vocabulary learning occurs independently. Most researchers would agree that you improve an individual’s vocabulary knowledge and comprehension through students immersed in a wide variety of reading and writing activities.

There is no one method for teaching vocabulary. Rather teachers need to use a variety of methods for the best results, including intentional, explicit instruction of specific vocabulary words. Teachers can also encourage creative approaches to spark enthusiasm.

Janet Allen, author of Words, Words, Words (1999), states, “Children and adults need to see and hear a word in meaningful context multiple times in order to know the word, somewhere between 10 to 15 times.” And with middle school and high school, variety is the key. Teachers cannot teach vocabulary the same way every time.

Reading is perhaps the most important element in vocabulary instruction.

So, how do I teach vocabulary in my English class?

Vocabulary is intertwined with reading and understanding a text. As a middle school English Language Arts teacher, I want to devise a way of teaching vocabulary in a way that does not interfere with students’ enjoyment and interest of a text. 

Here are 8 vocabulary activities to build wordsmiths in my classroom. The ultimate goals of all vocabulary development is for students to become independent word learners.

  1. Prefix Pursuit – All seventh graders in my school learn “SPROOTS”- Suffixes, Prefixes, and Roots. Every day the bell ringer or do now requires students learn 3 new Sproots to help students understand the structure of words and give them the tools to deconstruct complex vocabulary words. Create a prefix pursuit and have students collect the definition of the prefix from their classmates. For example, find someone who knows the meaning of “dis.” find a person who can use a “uni” word in a sentence, find someone who know the antonym of “anti,” and find someone who knows two words that begin with “cent.”
  2. Vocabulary Pre-Assessment – How well do I know these words? Post words on the SMARTBoard and have students put them in one of the columns that best describe what students know about each one. Columns can read, “Don’t know at all.” “Have seen or heard but I don’t know the meaning.” “I think I know the meaning.” and “I know the meaning.”
  3. Vocabulary Word Maps & Frayer Models – Graphic organizers are great tools to help students build a word bank of Tier 2 and Tier 3 words in the content area. Graphic organizers can require students to define the word, offer synonyms and antonyms, use the vocabulary word in a sentence, and draw a picture to help visualize the word.
  4. Alphaboxes – The Alphaboxes strategy (Hoyt) help students reflect on what they have read while engaging in vocabulary expansion. Given a grid with all 26 letters of the alphabet, students work together to find words for each box that relate to the reading selection. This activity generates discussion, questioning, and collaboration.
  5. MadLibs – This is a perfect strategy for math, science, and social studies content areas. Students are given a text passage with missing words to fill in, students apply content area vocabulary words to help the passage make sense. Include a  word bank to help students complete an accurate text.
  6. Vocabulary SudoKu – Create a grid so that every row, every column and every 3X3 box contains 9 different vocabulary words. Stack the sudoku boxes for more complexity.
  7. Magic Squares – Create a 3X3 grid for 9 vocabulary words and then write out a definition or explanation for each of the vocabulary words below. Students select from the numbered terms the best answer for each of the terms. If the students got the vocabulary words correct the total sum of the numbers will be the same across each row (horizontally) and down each column (vertically).
  8. Anticipating Content Through Vocabulary – This strategy helps to front load vocabulary in a reading or chapter. Give students a word bank of terms. Based on the words, have students make a prediction how the word will be used in the text. Then, have students write ten sentences that support that prediction. The sentences become a guide for their reading. When students are finished reading the text, students can go back to their prediction sentences and modify them so they are accurate in terms of the content of the reading passage.
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Recording Genius: Using Notebooks & Journals with Genius Hour

The great inventors like Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo Da Vinci, and artists, musicians, and writers maintain journals and notebooks to record their thinking, ideas, and experiments. In fact, Benjamin Franklin once said, ““If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things down worth reading or do things worth reading.”
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To catalogue students’ genius hour experiences over the course of the school year and semester, students created a Genius Journal recounting their investigation, planning, action, and reflections.

Genius journal could be as creative and artistic as a student chooses with a minimum of five entries that address the following:

Investigating

 

 

Define your genius hour goal based on personal interests

Explain why this project is important to you and something you are passionate about

Identify prior learning and subject specific knowledge relevant to the project.

Demonstrate the research you conducted to collect information, ideas, and knowledge

Planning

Articulate the guiding question for your project

Describe the steps you took to put the project in action

Describe the process and development of the genius project

Demonstrate how you managed your time and resources to bring your project to fruition

Describe where you might have had to change, revise, and revamp your project and why

Learning from the Experts

Interview a person you feel is a genius or can help you with your project, what insight do

they offer regarding carrying out your passions and project

Curate information about your project. What others are doing and have done

Who are the people in this field of study that have insight to share, what keywords have they presented

Taking Action

Demonstrate service and or product as a result of the project

Demonstrate your thinking skills and new understanding as a result of the project

Demonstrate communication and social skills

Reflecting

Evaluate the quality of your service or product

Reflect on how completing the project has extended your knowledge and understanding

Reflect on your own development of life skills and how you benefited from completing

this project

Reflect on whether you will continue your work on your genius project; why or why not

 

The journals would be evaluated on the criteria below:

Criteria
Quantity of Entries
Quality of Journal Entries
Original Illustrations, Diagrams, & Photos
Reflection
Grammar, spelling, mechanics, & punctuation

These reflections and entries would also work well as blog posts for Genius Blogs.

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Field Trip: Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture

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Learning does not only occur in the classroom. I love taking my students on field trips and experiencing learning beyond the walls of my classroom. When there is an opportunity for students to travel beyond the borders of our city and state to make curricular connections, learning is exponential. This past holiday weekend I went to Washington, DC with fifty eighth graders to see the sites and visit the American Holocaust Memorial Museum, Newseum, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African America History and Culture.

The eighth grade humanities curriculum begins with Reconstruction and then moves through American History ending as close to the Vietnam War as possible. The books read in English Language Arts coincide with the themes and time periods students explore in order to make connections and critically analyze choices made throughout history.

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The Smithsonian NMAAHC is an amazing museum with  powerful artifacts and stories depicting African American History from Slavery until today. There were shackles that were used on slaves on display, parts of slave ships, and along the walls of this exhibit the numbers of slaves that originated on a particular ship, it’s origin, and the number of survivors from the travels. There were painting of slave ships, a slave cabin, and even American bonds that depicted slave images on the bills.

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The museum states that the main messages of this exhibit include:

  • Slavery is a shared story resting at the heart of American political, economic, and cultural life.
  • African Americans constantly and consistently created new visions of freedom that have benefited all Americans.
  • African American identity has many roots and many expressions that reach far back into our past.

Walking through the History Galleries (I suggest you visit these floors first), there are artifacts like a Tuskegee Airplane, a segregated rail car, Emmitt Till Memorial, and hundreds of photographs, testimonies on displays that highlight the decades and movements of civil rights, and beyond.

Since many of my students read Melba Patillo Beals’ memoir, Warriors Don’t Cry, the artifacts like photographs of the Little Rock 9 during desegregation and a sign from a segregated bus station in Birmingham, Alabama were reminders of what Melba, and  others, experienced during her high school years at Central High School.

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The museum has over 37,000 artifacts from history that help show and tell American history and celebrate African American contributions. The upstairs galleries highlight the artists, writers, musicians, actors, politicians, and military heroes. The music contributions are tremendous and you will see Chuck Berry’s red convertible Cadillac, RUN DMC’s Adidas’ sneakers, and clothing worn by Michael Jackson and countless others. This exhibit rivals the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

There are learning opportunities for educators, one day workshops and a summer week long institute on race and identity. The museum states, “Our programs and resources are designed to ignite critical thinking skills and creativity, to generate self-pride and inspire life-long learning for diverse audiences.” To find out more about the professional learning events you can visit their website.

There is so much to see and reflect on. We did not spend enough time there and I cannot wait to go back. Attending an educator’s workshop is also on my list of things to do. As the museum states, “Race is an aspect of our American culture that is often ignored, glossed over or mishandled.  Additionally, to succeed in promoting equity, tolerance, and justice, childhood is the time to address these issues by understanding children’s development and encouraging positive feelings about their racial and cultural identity, as well as others’.  Working with youth makes it incumbent that educators are prepared to address issues of race whenever they surface such as in history or social studies lessons or when current events brings them forward such as events in our recent history.”

 

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To Kill A Mockingbird Socratic Seminar

This year I implemented socratic seminar into my classroom to encourage close reading. The trial scene in To Kill A Mockingbird is a perfect place to encourage discussion and deep reading. Prior to the seminar, students were to prepare a “One Pager” – A one pager is a single-page response to reading. Some might say that the purpose of a one pager is for students to own their reading and showcase their understanding with images and words.

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The One Pager Contains the following:

  1. Choose three or more meaningful quotes from the reading: passages/quotes that relate to the theme or main idea of the story. Be sure to use quotation marks, and include the page number where you found the quote.
  2. Provide a thought provoking explanation of the importance and meaning of the quote: (how does it help you, the reader, get a better understanding of the story, character, theme, etc.).
  3. Use graphic representations: a drawing, magazine pictures, or computer graphics that go with the piece you read, and the quotes you chose.
  4. Include a personal response to what you have read: this is NOT a summary of the story. This is a thoughtful, insightful response. Think about the message the author is trying to get across, how the author uses different types of literary devices (suspense, mood, point-of-view) to make the story more interesting. This response must be a paragraph minimum, with specific examples from the story.
  5. Remember the following guidelines for this assignment:
    •   It MUST be on a standard sized (81⁄2 x 11) unlined sheet of paper.
    •   It MUST fill the entire page (no white space showing)
    •   Writing MUST be in ink or typed…no pencil.
    •   Use colored pencils, crayons, or markers
    •   The title and author of the story (correctly formatted) MUST appear somewhere on the front of the paper.
    •   Reference the page number in parentheses after each excerpt.

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To help guide my students’ analysis of the trial scene in Mockingbird, I included eight (8) questions on the back of the one-pager assignment and suggested that students answer three (3) questions regarding the trial and to answer with direct textual support. The questions addressed how likely is it that Tom Robinson committed the crime of which he is accused, Mayella Ewell’s attitude about race, the response the children had to the trial, who is the mockingbird, was Atticus successful during the trial, and Atticus’ character displayed during and after the trial. For students not sure which quotes to pull from the text, these questions helped students hone in on some key ideas. In addition, they were the jumping off points for our Socratic Seminar.

The one pager assignment was completed in class and then if extra time was needed, students could work on it outside of class. The quality of the one-pagers I received from 95% of my students was exceptional and helped to carry out a robust Socratic Seminar.

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The procedure for the Socratic Seminar included moving all the desks into a large circle for all the participants to see each other. Students put all books away and only had their one-pagers out in front of them with the text. I reminded my students that this is a conversation and not a debate, rather it is a chance to uncover deeper meanings about the author’s central ideas within the text and communicate our interpretations with the class. I told students that there are no right  or wrong answers. In even posted discussion stems on the SMARTBoard to help students frame their conversations and support one another throughout the discussion.

While students were speaking, I kept track of who spoke and contributed to the discussion in meaningful ways. I told students that in order to earn points during the discussion they had to speak at least three times and build on another’s point using specific examples. I told students that I won’t call on them to speak, they are to jump into the conversation and say something to receive full credit for the discussion. In one class, students spoke around the first question for more than twenty minutes.

I have to give credit to my amazing co-teacher for introducing me to both the one-pager and encouraging me to do a Socratic Seminar with my students. It was such a success that I wish I had done these activities earlier in the school year and conducted the seminar more often. This is something that I will implement with all the units that students read and write in the new school year.

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Technology to Aid the Struggling Reader:

ISTE, Capstone, Amplify & School Library Journal are collaborating and hosting a webinar on how to leverage technology to help new and struggling readers.

I am honored to be part of this panel discussion along with

K.C. Boyd, Lead Librarian, East St.Louis (IL) School District

Cynthia Merrill, Literacy Consultant

and Moderator, Kathy Ishizuka, Executive Editor, School Library Journal

During the webinar I will be sharing strategies and technology tools to aid struggling readers.

Technology tools that I use in my classroom to help support the diverse readers in my classroom include the reading platform Actively Learn. Actively Learn is an online tool with a library of thousands of texts and Common Core-aligned lessons that both teachers and students can interact with in real-time. In the reading platform, teachers assign pre-existing Actively Learn materials to students or upload their own content, then track student responses and activity using data tools within the platform. Students can interact with a text by digitally highlighting and annotating, responding to embedded questions and content, and leaving feedback and comments for peers. Students can translate the text in their home language and define unknown words within the platform. Students can mark their confusion within the text and the teacher is able to annotate the text with additional links for clarity and deeper meaning to support student reading. In my classroom I utilize Actively Learn weekly for Articles of the Week in order for students to make connections across texts and address current events.

Audio books are another tool beneficial to struggling readers. I love my Audible App on my phone and listen to books every chance I have including my commute to work and home. Listening to a text while reading can help students visualize and comprehend complex text. Students are using different skills when they are listening versus reading but research shows that students have a higher listening comprehension than reading comprehension. In addition, podcasts are great texts for students to listen to explore concepts and ideas. My favorite include NPR’s Radiolab podcasts and any podcast from author of Tools of Titans (2016), Tim Ferriss. Check out Tim’s Podcast with YA author Soman Chainani.

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Two great resources with more about technology tools and strategies to engage diverse student learners include  Jules Csillag‘s  Differentiated Reading Instruction and Robert Furman‘s Technology, Reading & Digital Literacy: Strategies to Engage the Reluctant Reader.
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Tech & Learning Live Boston 2017

Tech & Learning is one of the leading resources for education technology professionals. It’s website and magazine, Tech & Learning provide an inside look at issues, trends, products, and strategies pertinent to the role of all educators –including state-level education decision makers, superintendents, principals, technology coordinators, and lead teachers.

I will be presenting all things Gamification and Game Based Learning on Friday, May 12th at Tech & Learning Live (formerly called Tech Forum), a high-powered, one-day event that provides K-12 decision makers with thought-provoking content on the hottest topics of the day in education technology.

Rather than present in a traditional way with a powerpoint, we will be playing a game (of course)! Check out the Gamification Bingo game board that I created for participants to get into the action, ask and answer provocative questions, and engage in meaningful discussions on the possibilities gaming can offer teachers and students.

Want to play, BINGO wins are equivalent to completing the entire Bingo board.

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13 Reasons to Watch 13 Reasons Why

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Jay Asher’s young adult novel Thirteen Reasons Why was published in 2011 and recently produced into a thirteen part series on Netflix. The series has been getting a tremendous amount of attention and controversy for the explicit scenes and issues raised throughout the series.

This series is a must see for teens, parents, and educators because we cannot look away from the issues presented throughout the show. There are some aspects of the show that were limited and stereotypical, but brings to the forefront suicide, rape, sexual assault, underage drinking and drug use. Hopefully, this series can be a catalyst and conversation starter for uncomfortable topics because as the protagonist Clay Jenson remarks, “It has to get better. The way we treat each other and look out for each other. It has to get better some how.”

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So here are 13 reasons why people should watch the show:

  1. Books & Movies are Windows, Mirrors, and DoorsLiterature, as Grace Lin describes in her TED Talk Mirrors and Windows of Your Child’s Bookshelf (2016), “can show you the world and also show you a reflection of yourself.” We want students to connect with books in a way that they see the potential and possibility for making the world a better place. Books not only are reflections of ourselves as Lin points out, but should also allow readers to see things from other points of view, to build empathize, question injustice, and create new opportunities that depict strength, adversity, and the responsibility to speak out against wrongdoing. Thus, our mission as teachers is to ban boring and use present tools to engage students, raise rigor, and help young people negotiate this world of text in all its diverse forms.
  2. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24. More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined as reported by the Jason Foundation, a nonprofit organization for the awareness and prevention of youth suicide. 
  3. One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime as reported by RAINN. Violence against women is everyone’s issue and people need to be taught at a young age. As mentioned in the Asher’s text, “Here’s a tip. If you touch a girl, even as joke, and she pushes you off, leave… her… alone. Don’t touch her. Anywhere! Just stop. Your touch does nothing but sicken her.”
  4. You are not alone. As much as the character Hannah Baker thought she was alone and as much as all the other characters felt they couldn’t trust the adults or each other to tell someone how they felt, I am going to take a quote from Jennifer Niven’s Holding Up the Universe (2016) to elaborate here: “Dear friend, You are not a freak. You are wanted. You are necessary. You are the only you there is. Don’t be afraid to leave the castle. It’s a great big world out there. Love, a fellow reader”
  5. There are consequences to our actions. Each character makes a decision that impacts  another person in mostly negative ways. Poor choices are made and more than one person gets hurt because of underage drinking, drug use, and lying.
  6. Start a Kindness Movement. In the book it states, “No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push it just the same.” In the first episode of the show it is referred to as “the butterfly effect,” the impact a person has on another and the bullying and meanness that is typical of any teen book or series can be reversed if we start a kindness movement and decide to be genuinely nice to one another.
  7. Cyberbullying and Public Shaming Have to Stop. So, if a guy sleeps around with many women he is perceived as cool, but if a girl acts on her sexual impulses she is seen, labelled, and ostracized as a “Slut.” Rumors, lies, and social media turn Hannah into an object and thing that both men and women took advantage to leverage their own popularity or lie to protect their identity. We can combat cyberbullying and public shaming with empathy and compassion.
  8. Are we too sports obsessed? In the last episode of the 13 Reasons Why series, there is a scene when one of the girls is being deposed and she talks about the popularity of the jocks in the school, how they are able to get away with everything. She describes both the students and teachers being fans who celebrate the jocks even when they are bullies and rapists who think they are above the law. There is more the high school than sports. But sports shouldn’t be the driving force of school or success in school.
  9.  Building Empathy is as important as building literacy skills. Compassion and caring are learned behaviors. Schools and communities can work together to help promote caring among one another and treat others the way we want to be treated.
  10. Bystanders vs. Upstanders. Encourage people to speak up and speak out when injustice is present. Even if it means going against the norm, people to speak up and call out bullies and injustice should be celebrated and not feel alienated to do so.
  11. The gun control debate. Three characters have access to guns in the text and one character’s interaction with the gun has critical consequences. These scenes in the text raise critical conversations about access to guns and the safety of others.
  12. Underage drinking and drug use doesn’t look cool. The high school parties portrayed in the text showed underage drinking and drug use among teens that lead to negative consequences for all. Drugs alter one’s state and influence one’s perception. As a result of drug and alcohol use in the text, one person is killed in an accident, two young woman are raped, and peer pressure is exacerbated.
  13. Professionals can help. Although the book portrays parents, teachers, and counselors in a negative light. There are professionals that can help, who care, and who want to help young people who might be feeling depressed, sad, alone, and suicidal. You are not alone. Speak up and seek help if you or you know someone who shows signs of depression or suicidal thoughts.

What are your reasons why or why not watch 13 Reasons Why? Leave your comments below.

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Use Badges to Create Self Paced Learning Experiences

The following blog post was written by Julie Randles for ISTE’s EdTekHub. The original post can be found here.

Awarding badges is more than a way to recognize student accomplishments. For educator Michele Haiken, badges also offer a way to give students a self-paced learning experience.

“I looked to my gaming experience and I borrowed the idea of badging as I re-examined my curriculum to find ways that students could work independently and in a self-paced environment to meet learning targets,” says Haiken, a teacher at Rye Middle School in New York.

And with that new benefit in mind, Haiken was hooked.

For teachers ready to try badging to allow students to demonstrate concept, standard or skill mastery, or to give them a self-paced learning experience, Haiken offers these on-ramps:

Consider reversing curriculum design. Haiken found the best way to get started with badging was to “backward design” some of her curriculum. She started with her targets for students by semester’s end – say meeting Common Core standards or her own standards – and then created self-paced learning projects.

She took this approach in both an English class and a speech and debate elective, making the first 10 weeks of class self-paced and requiring students to complete three badges by the end of the quarter. It all began with asking herself what she wanted students to be able to do in 10 weeks and what smaller pieces could she create that show evidence of learning?

Revise or re-rig. If the backward design approach is too much to bite off, Haiken suggests revising current curriculum to include opportunities for students to master learning levels to earn badges.

She took this approach for a dystopian reading unit where all students were reading different novels. The entire class met to discuss broad themes in all dystopian novels, but when students met in smaller reading groups or worked independently, Haiken provided badge-based activities that let her know individual students understood the texts they were reading.

Build in opportunities for reflection and revision. Adding badging into the learning mix is a great way to encourage students to slow down, understand concepts and use old knowledge to build new knowledge.

It’s also a good way to address the 2016 ISTE Standards for Students, which expect students to use technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals.

In her speech and debate class, Haiken asked students to look at models and mentors for public speaking – think John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King Jr. – and reflect on what the two men were doing as public speakers, asking “What can I take away from that?”

Students used the knowledge they gained from that reflection to created their own speeches, and earn their next badge.

“I would send notes through Google Classroom so they could revise or improve; so it wasn’t one and done and their work showed a synthesis of old knowledge and new knowledge.” Forcing students to improve their work before they could earn the next badge helped drive home the importance of revision and reflection.

Try badges for motivation. Badges can also help create a positive classroom culture. Consider awarding badges to students who have gone above and beyond as “super helpers” or to encourage acts of collaboration, character and citizenship.

Educators interested in learning more about how to use badges to recognize mastery and achievement can join Haiken for the ISTE Professional Learning Series webinar “Improving Student Achievement with Classroom Badges” on April 26.

Participants will:

  • Hear about badging ideas, criteria and ways to organize them in their classrooms.
  • Get resources for designing and distributing digital and physical badges.
  • Learn how other educators are using badges across content areas and grade levels.

ISTE members can sign up now for the ISTE Professional Learning Series that includes the webinar “Improving Student Achievement with Classroom Badges.” Not a member? Join ISTE today.

 

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Gamifying English Language Arts

For more than two years that I have infused gamification elements into my English Language Arts classroom to improve engagement, community, and learning. This upcoming Wednesday, April 19th I will be presenting a Webinar for Classcraft Games on using gamification in English. As a Classcraft user, I will address how I use Classcraft Games in my classroom, plus share additional add on games I have created over the past few years to teach concepts related to reading, writing, and critical thinking.

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Classcraft fits seamlessly into any content area classroom and I use the gaming platform as a way for students to track game points earned throughout the school year. Within the Classcraft platform additional gaming elements such as a random student generator, boss battles, and daily events inspire more gaming variety. Classcraft encourages teamwork and motivates many of my students to go beyond simple classwork. For example, each month I moderate Twitter Book Chats and students can earn 1,000 XP (Experience Points) for reading the book and participating in the chat. This is a win win for the students because they are reading new books, talking with others about their reading, and earning games points that can unlock additional powers and privileges. Privileges include preferential seating, previewing quiz questions, and even a free homework pass.

In addition to utilizing Classcraft, I am always building new games and add ons with each unit of study. This year I used bottle flipping on a target board for specific writing prompts. After learning about the “old school” Nickelodeon show Legends of the Hidden Temple, I created my own version of the game for a reading unit on courage.  I am always transforming traditional board games like Bingo, Connect Four, and Snakes and Ladders into theme based games for classroom learning.

Join me for a discussion of gamification to promote reading, writing, and critical thinking.  Register for the Webinar here. 

Preview the slide deck below.

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How do the choices we make impact the world? Blending Science and English in an Investigative Writing Unit of Study

Saturday, April 8th is the #EdCollabGathering, an free online conference addressing innovative ideas in education.

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The Educator Collaborative, LLC, is a think tank and educational consulting organization working to innovate the ways educators learn together.

Founded by internationally recognized educator, author, and consultant Christopher Lehman, we aim to serve children and the adults who teach, learn, and grow alongside them.

I will be presenting, “How do the choices we make impact the world? Blending Science and English in an Investigative Writing Unit of Study.” The presentation will address inquiry based content area writing with investigative science research and feature articles. Grounded in informational text and research, students write their own science based investigative journalism article with the guiding question: How do the choices we make impact the world?

Below are the slides for the presentation.

Check out an archive of the presentation here.

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