Author Archives: The Teaching Factor

Choice Boards for Learning & Student Engagement

Choice Menus come in different styles:

Simple List Menu

Weighted List Menu

Think Tac Toe Menu

2-50-80 Menu

Game Show Menu

Themed Menu

Learning menu choice boards provide options for students. As teacher and author, AJ Juliani writes, “One of the basic tenets of differentiated instruction is that it allows a teacher to reach many students at different levels of understanding. By differentiating what we teach, and how we teach it, we are able to reach the entire classroom instead of the small group of students who are going to follow along with direct instruction. When we differentiate, we build the choices/options into our instruction, and conversely the learning process.”

Our goal as teachers  is to figure out how to teach the same content through a student-choice of instructional experiences. Our objective  is getting all students engaged and that means all students must have high attention and high commitment. One of the best and most manageable ways to do this is through choice boards and learning menus.

Here’s an example of what a “choice board” activity might look like: 

The “Get to Know You Think Tac Toe” choice board provides learning activities a variety of formats and experiences. Here, they have the choice to go with what works best for them as a learner.

Author and educator Caitlyn Tucker writes about organizing a choice board menu.

 “The classic 9 square model is ideal for a tic-tac-toe approach to a choice board that requires students to complete any three activities in a row across the board. Teachers can organize a choice board so that each column focuses on a particular skill or standard. Elementary teachers, who are teaching all subjects, may combine reading, math and vocabulary activities on a single board. On the other hand, a secondary teacher might design a board focused on one aspect of their curriculum, like reading or writing.

As teachers consider what types of activities to design, it’s important to keep differentiation in mind. Teachers can choose to differentiate by allowing students to decide:

  • what they will produce.
  • how they will engage with the information (learning modality).
  • which level of complexity they are ready for.
  • which activity appeals to their interests.

Caitlyn Tucker provides a template for a digital choice board using Google Documents on her blog. If you want to use this to design your own choice board, simply log into your Google account then go to “File” on this document and select “Make a copy.” It will automatically save to your Google Drive. When you design and share your choice board online you can include hyperlinks for students to visit and utilize educational digital apps and platforms. 

If you want to break out of the tic tac toe style choice board, you might consider these different styles:

2-5-8 Menu and Dinner Menu choice boards are presented in a list providing options for students to complete. For the 2-5-8 Choice Menu students choose to complete two activities that total 10 points. See the example below for an outside reading assignment.

Click on the image to see the document in Google Docs or make a copy for yourself

Check out this Dinner Menu example below. Students select three learning activities in each category to show their understanding and new knowledge.

Click on the image to see the document in Google Docs or make a copy for yourself

Choice Board Menus are great assessment tools, learning activities, and planning out a unit of study. A game show Choice Board or Bingo Board can be utilized over the course of many weeks for students to complete the entire board or a one time learning activity where students choose a single row or column. For example, The Rowdy Math Teacher created a nine week game show menu for students to complete one activity from each column and accumulate a target number of points each week. Notice the free choices at the bottom. This allows students additional choice and opportunities to demonstrate their own creativity in the selection of tasks that are of interest to them.

Choice Boards provide students with the power to choose “how” to learn a particular subject or concept. This freedom encourages them to be more responsible, accountable and independent in their learning. It also allows them to work on the activities at their own pace.

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I’m excited to be on this week’s episode of the #WritingMatters podcast with Dr. Troy Hicks @hickstro by @getwritable! We discuss my book New Realms for Writing (ISTE 2019) and ways to support the diverse writers in our classrooms.

Here is where the playlist for all past Season 2 episodes or you can visit the landing page for all the Writing Matters podcasts.

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4 Tips for Building Peloton Style Choice Boards

The following post was written as a guest post for Ditch That Textbook. You can also read the full post on the Ditch That website.

Peloton is a fitness powerhouse brand. It started with a bike connected to a monitor back in 2012 and now has expanded its equipment, subscription fitness classes, and apparel business into a successful lifestyle brand. Whether you are one of the multi-million passionate users or not, educators can take lessons from Peloton’s business model and the fitness instructors themselves in order to spread happiness and deep learning into our classrooms remotely and in person.

Our job as teachers is to inspire and lead our students to success. Playlists, choice boards and hyperdocs are part of the blended learning model that help create active student learner opportunities. We can use our playlists and hyperdocs like Peloton instructors to personalize, connect, and embrace our community members – our students. 

Here are four tips for building Peloton style choice boards

1. Create thought provoking learning experiences

Instructor: Ally Love

Ally Love (@allymisslove) is one of the most diverse instructors  in her music and classes. She is “thoughtful, thorough, and tough.” My favorite classes are her “Sunday’s With Love” because she states,  “it is about movement that is thought provoking.” Her motto is “if it is hard  – good.”

As teachers we want to create learning experiences that are thought provoking and thorough. When designing your playlist or choice board choose thematic activities that get students thinking like Ally Love. Create learning opportunities that allow students to explore, reflect, and dig deep into a topic.  

Check out this hyperdoc created for the Centennial of the 19th Amendment that provides students opportunities for students to listen, view, and learn about a topic so they can evaluate and reflect on how this information impacts the decisions and actions they make today. 

Here are four tips for building Peloton style choice boards

1. Create thought provoking learning experiences

Instructor: Ally Love

Ally Love (@allymisslove) is one of the most diverse instructors  in her music and classes. She is “thoughtful, thorough, and tough.” My favorite classes are her “Sunday’s With Love” because she states,  “it is about movement that is thought provoking.” Her motto is “if it is hard  – good.”

As teachers we want to create learning experiences that are thought provoking and thorough. When designing your playlist or choice board choose thematic activities that get students thinking like Ally Love. Create learning opportunities that allow students to explore, reflect, and dig deep into a topic.  

Check out this hyperdoc created for the Centennial of the 19th Amendment that provides students opportunities for students to listen, view, and learn about a topic so they can evaluate and reflect on how this information impacts the decisions and actions they make today. 

2. Learn to lean into the discomfort

Instructor: Tunde Oyeneyin

Tunde Oyeneyin (@tune2tunde) is one of the newer instructors for spinning and her “Speak Up Ride” on June 3, 2020 is a must for everyone as it reflects on our turbulent times today. Tunde wants you to “lean into the discomfort” as she speaks up and out about racism, white privilege, and moving forward together. This ride is so powerful, I want to emulate powerful lessons that are grounded in our everyday lives like her. Another thing about Tunde’s rides is that she talks about her 70 pound weight loss and how she did it in micro-steps.

Many of our students come into our classrooms looking to make giant leaps in reading, writing, and thinking. Tunde reminds her riders that if we want to see growth, every baby step we make will lead to bigger gains. When curating your playlist, provide smaller steps for everyone to reach success. Moving from point A to point B might require some students to choose one path and another student go a different route.  

Choice boards can be simplified for students by the number of selections and modifications in order to accommodate diverse learning styles, needs, interests, and skills. Choice is important. On this Dystopian playlist there are required tasks and then a few added opportunities for students to level up if they choose.  

3. Set your students up for success.

Instructors: Cody Rigsby and Jess King

Speaking of modifications and scaffolding, Cody Rigsby (@codyrigsby) and Jess King @jesskingnyc) will tell you that they are “setting up for success.” Teachers need to do the same  for  students, set students up for success and modify  with no pressure. Additionally,  Jess and Cody always bring fun and surprise to each class. The popular songs these instructors include on their playlists set the pace for the class. 

Take cues from Cody and Jess by adding a little fun and games to your playlist with VR field trips, Kahoots, and collaborative activities. Peloton has started introducing rides that couple instructors together for double the engagement – learning is not an isolated event or experience and when we are designing choice boards and playlists, don’t leave out collaborative opportunities.

This  vocabulary HyperDoc was created for teachers to help understand the role of vocabulary in content area classrooms. After teachers were able to explore and reflect, they collaborated to create a product to share with the whole group their new understanding.

4. Offer activities that honor student voice and agency 

Instructor: Christine D’Ercole

Christine D’Ercole’s  (@iamicaniwillido) catchphrase is, “I am. I can. I will. I do.”– Enough said. Christine is a pro track cyclist who is all about changing your inner monologue and empowering you to love yourself.  Many of her rides she will tell you “it is not about the leaderboard or the numbers, but the fact that you are here.” I associate this with number and letter grades because so many of our students use number and letter grades to define who they are.

Christine reminds riders not to focus on the numbers. Similarly, let’s move away from too many tasks that distract from real learning. Offer activities that honor student voice and agency.  This poetry playlist allows students to choose which assignments they want to complete.  Students are empowered when they are given choice and know their voice will be heard. 

These are only a few of the teachers you will meet through Peloton, there are so many others who are just as awesome and provide engaging opportunities both physically and mentally. Peloton’s recipe for success comes from its instructors and the Peloton community. We all get on our bikes and treads for different reasons but our instructors have us coming back for more.

As teachers we are committed to our students, building a safe classroom community where students come back because they are engaged, empowered, and inspired. Like Peloton, we can create opportunities for our students to discover their true potential through the power of playlists and blended learning opportunities.  

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Free Access to Audiobooks, Read Alouds & eBooks for Teachers and Students

As teachers begin to prepare for the new school year here are some sites that offer free access to audiobooks, read aloud, and eBooks. Whether you are teaching remotely or in a hybrid, access to books is vital for building world knowledge and word knowledge. Share these sites with students and families to make sure students always have a good story to listen to or use these sites to create lesson plans that engage students with awesome adventures and information.

Actively Learn – I talk about this digital reading platform often because I find it the most accessible, free reading platform that is brain compatible with new and engaging reading passages added daily. Lesson plans and assistive technology provided on the platform for teachers to utilize or customize to meet their students learning needs.

Audible offers free audiobooks for kids of all ages K-12. Some popular YA novels like Kwame Alexander’s Crossover and Harry Potter are available to listen to at no cost. All stories are free to stream on your desktop, laptop, phone or tablet.

CommonLit has text with accompanying questions for educators to use for reading comprehension practice.

Get Epic has a good selection of audiobooks for elementary age students.

Global Storybooks Portal is a free multilingual resource.

Newsela provides up to date, high interest articles that can be differentiated by lexile level.

Project Gutenberg has a library of over 60,000 free ebooks in the public domain.

Rivet app from Google has over 2,500 leveled books in its collection including book titles and topics of high interest to students.

Storyline Online streams videos featuring celebrated actors reading children’s books. Each book includes supplemental curriculum.

Tween Tribune is a free online newspaper for kids in grades 4-12 with stories from the Associated Press.

Vooks is for younger learners (K-3) and even has put together some lesson plans for teachers.

Wonderopolis asks and answers a question a day about the things you want to know about. For example, what is a gummy bear made of or why is a fire hydrant red. Each question is catalogued with videos and nonfiction readings to quench your curiosity.

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Design and Delivery in a Blended Learning Jungle Texthelp Virtual Conference

This week Texthelp launched a virtual conference “Design and Delivery in a Blended Learning Jungle” to help educators navigate through the current blended learning plans with schools reopening during the pandemic. The three day virtual conference was a huge success with more than 6,000 educators around the world and 28 speakers addressing how to support students and make learning successful despite COVID-19. Don’t worry if you were not able to attend the conference, you can still sign up to watch the awesome presentations which are available until September 20th, 2020.

The theme among the speakers was about making blended learning lessons that are flexible, feasible, family friendly, and fun. These core ideas were the center of Tinashe Blanchet‘s presentation. All of the presenter spoke about think deeply about delivering instruction that is engaging, relevant and most of all, doable to their students during this unprecedented time. Casey Bell and Shaelynn Farnsworth spoke about tech tools and strategies to support all learners from Google Extensions to Assistive Technology.

Shaelynn Farnsworth, Vicki Davis, Diana Petschauer, and I spoke about how help our students learn how to personalize their learning, use multiple modalities and build relationships with their teachers and each other. My own presentations highlighted tools and strategies to support ALL the readers in your classroom. In a blended learning environment we want to empower readers with opportunities to leverage technology so they can be in control of their own learning and achieve their personalized reading goals. Check out my presentation below.

Vicki Davis’ closing keynote mentions many tools to support the readers in our classroom. She says “we teach in a blended way it is a different mode of teaching and we need to redefine learning and engagement.”

This year all teachers are embarking on a new learning and teaching experiences. Our classrooms will not look like what they have in the past. We need to help support students so they can be successful no matter the blended learning environment.

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Get to Know You Think Tac Toe

What are you doing the first week back to school to get to know your students? Whether you are in the classroom, teaching remotely, or in a hybrid plan, building community is key for student learning success.

This year my school is following a hybrid schedule with my students in the classroom twice a week and working three days remotely. Half of my students will be in the classroom on Mondays and Thursdays and the other half will be in the classroom Tuesdays and Fridays. One hundred percent of my classes will taught synchronous. This means the students who are working remotely home on Monday are required to log onto  my Google Meet during our class period and participate in the lesson. I am now planning lessons that provide differentiation not only in terms of product and process, but adapt activities and assignments for digitally and in person learning as well.

During the first week, your schedule might be a mix of teaching procedures and expectations as well as building a strong classroom community.  I have designed this “Get  to Know You Think Tac Toe” for students to choose three different assignments (Creating a tick tac toe win) about themselves and their reading lives, so I can learn more about them. What is key is that students have a choice and each activity highlights their voice and agency. Click on the image to make a copy and adapt for your classroom needs.

Get To Know You Think Tac Toe

Jerry Webster states in a blog post for ThoughtCo (2019), “Think-tac-toe is a strategy that harnesses the visual pattern of the tic-tac-toe game to broaden student understanding of instructional content, challenge students who already have some mastery of a subject, and provide a variety of means to assess student mastery in a way that is fun and unusual.” These assignments can be differentiated by product, choice, and theme. This is an alternative assignment that allows students to show what they know in creative and fun ways. It is up to you if you want to assign students to complete a single assignment listed in one box or invite them to try three assignments to score a “think-tac-toe.”

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The Epic Ebook of Web Tools & Apps

Epic Book Title Page


I am so excited to have collaborated on this ebook that is filled with so many web tools and apps that educators can access for blended and student centered learning. Created on Bookcreator, this awesome collaborative project includes descriptions of each tool, ways to utilize it in the classroom, screenshots and videos to get started. There are so many excellent tools and resources to help all teachers make the most of edtech in their classrooms.

Table of Contents Epic Book

Get your copy of the Epic Ebook of Web Tools & Apps

View the recording of the release party sponsored by the NJASL (New Jersey Association of School Librarians) for sponsoring this event.

My pages in the ebook cover the digital reading platform Actively Learn. Below are screenshots of the pages I created and included in the ebook.

This digital reading platform Actively Learn offers a catalog of articles and texts suitable for elementary and secondary students. You can assign texts for your students to read as well as embed questions, polls and writing assessments throughout the reading. You can also embed media and hyperlinks in the text to help guide student reading and thinking.

Another benefit of Actively Learn is that it offers not only pre-made reading lessons with questions aligned to cited Common Core State Standards, but also the ability to upload your own text and create customized reading assignments for students. If a student doesn’t know the meaning of a word, right-clicking on the word brings up a menu where the student can choose to see a definition, translate the word or hear the word read aloud.

Because Actively Learn lets students translate the text into different languages or hear it read aloud, ELL students can read in their native languages and struggling students get help with text comprehension.

Customizing assignments with a digital platform like Actively Learn leads to more effective and independent instruction that targets students’ strengths and weaknesses by giving support to students that need it, while omitting it for those who don’t.




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5 Ways to Kickoff the School Year with BookCreator


Book Creator is a simple tool for creating awesome digital books. Users combine text, images, audio and video to create stories, portfolios, comic adventures, and more. With the simple to use tool bar and page templates, students are authors and can share their creations with a wide audience. There are a variety of ideas for using book creator across grade level and content areas on their website.

Here are five ways I plan to use Bookcreator to kick off the new school year:

  1. Create a teaching manual for parents and students. Consider posting your syllabus as a comic adventure using bitmojis to articulate the responsibilities, expectations, and objectives in the classroom. As a middle school teacher, I work with a team of teachers across content areas and I am making a “Team 8R” manual for parents and students to help them navigate blended learning in 8th grade.
  2. Start off the new year with a look book of all your students. What better way to get to know your students then by creating a collaborative book with the students in your classroom. Allow students to create their own two page spread showcasing their interests, spirit animal, favorite books, music, and movies. Provide a suggested list of ways students can design their pages and get to know the students in your classroom.
  3. Summer Reading . . . okay, this is the English teacher in me and a ways to get to know your students as readers. Then this book becomes a catalogue of book recommendations, inspiration, and reviews. Students can write a book synopsis, review, and even compare the book vs. the movie or cast the best actors to play the characters they read about.


4. The comic book features on Bookcreator are easy to use and allow for creative storytelling. Students can create a comic book about their summer adventures or retell a story. Students choose the page templates, fonts, and can even use the stickers and speech bubbles to convey the theme of their story. 

5.  Guidebooks and How-To books are really helpful if we are going to be teaching remotely, you can insert a video or audio directions how to get organized with Google Classroom the start of the school year or maybe you are using a new web platform and you want to help students set up the digital platform and access it with ease, creating a guide book that students can easily access is helpful for students and parents.

There are so many ways to use Bookcreator in the classroom. Check out the Big Book Creator Activity Book for more great ideas and inspiration.

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Travel the World & More Remote Learning Opportunities From Your Couch

COVID-19 kept the majority of people home. Not only were schools, social events, sports all cancelled or moved online, many of people’s travel plans were postponed and or revoked. Whether visiting family in another state or looking to visit a famous landmark, so many of us have been homebound these past months.

I have found how a way to travel the globe without leaving my house. In fact, I have had the opportunity over the past four months to attend cooking classes, virtually walk the streets of London on a Harry Potter tour, participate in art and history lectures, and even listen to conversations with internationally acclaimed designers, writers, and health experts. I learned to make gnocchi with a chef in Italy and tagine cooking in Morocco. I made steak and frites and traveled to Brazil to watch a chef demonstrate classic Brazilian  cooking.

Indagare is a travel company and their mission is to inspire and empower people to change their lives through travel. When the pandemic hit this travel company created a global classroom hosting virtual travel and exploration for all.

This week our excursions include virtual adventures from Ancient Egypt and Rome to the worlds of Marie Antoinette and Harry Potter. My daughter and I travel virtually, as well as bake and taste our way around the globe starting with a  backyard safari, a beekeeping and baking class, pizza-making, painting and photography lessons, among other activities.

After participating in a Lecture with Q&A: Contemporary Black Art in America I was introduced to amazing artists, some who I already knew and others I was enamored to learn more about:

  • Kerry James Marshall
  • Sam Gilliam
  • Mark Bradford
  • Lorna Simpson
  • Nari Ward
  • Hank Willis Thomas
  • Rashid Johnson
  • Nick Cave
  • Mickalene Thomas
  • Kehinde Wiley
  • Fred Wilson
  • Simone Leigh
  • Toyin Ojih Odutola
  • Wole Lagunju
  • Devan Shimoyama
  • Grace Lynne Haynes
  • Njideka Akunyili Crosby
  • Tschabalala Self
  • Kara Walker
  • Julie Mehretu
  • Derrick Adams
  • Wangechi Mutu
  • Charles Gaines
  • Faith Ringgold
  • Betye Saar
  • Howardena Pindell

Wole Lagunju

There is a lot talk about learning loss during COVID-19 but that does not have to be the case. So many companies like Indagare are providing free content for the public. You can take virtual tours of many museums that still remain closed. Multiple museums are offering online lectures and Zoom conversations with authors, artists, and historians like The Jewish Heritage Museum in New York and the Gilder Lehrman Institute.

Many of the workshops provide follow up materials and web links for further interest. For example, I attended Understanding Anne Frank with Teresien da Silva, presented by the Museum of Jewish Heritage which provided a recording of the program on their YouTube channelAdditionally, a few resources that may be of interest were shared:
As well as some recommended reading:

If you are like me with an appetite for learning, travel, and enhancing your mind, body, and spirit there are so many valuable virtual experiences for everyone. If you are looking for more options, also consider:


Google Arts & Culture

King Arthur Baking’s “The Isolation Baking Show”


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12 Tech Resources for Teaching English

Matt Miller (@JMattMiller), author of the Ditch that . . . series wrote in his book Don’t Ditch That Tech (Burgess, 2020), “Technology can super charge learning.” Technology provides active learning, student centered, differentiated opportunities for students to showcase learning and understanding. Before you integrate any technology, consider the goals for the unit, lesson, and individual students. Then think about how technology might integrate to support those goals and provide opportunities to transcend learning.

As we get closer to the start of another school year and many of us do not know what that will look like in the midst of COVID-19 – in person teaching, hybrid models, blended learning, or 100% remote learning. Here are twelve tech resources for teaching English (and other content areas) to super-charge learning whether we are in the classroom or working from a distance.


Reading Platforms:

Actively Learn – My favorite reading platform by far because of its customizable aspects. Students are able to read digital, print and videos within the platform and answer reading comprehension questions. Standards aligned and tons of free content or you can upload and design your own. Many differentiated aspects to support ENLs. struggling readers and high fliers. Syncs with Google Classroom.

Newsela – Similar to Actively Learn but now is a paid platform with tons of nonfiction articles. Differentiates by changing the lexile scores of reading passages to make information accessible to everyone.

Insert Learning – This Chrome Extension allows you to insert instructional content to any page! Create your own differentiated assignments that are customized to individual students. It’s free!

Edpuzzle – Yes, this is a video platform that allows a teacher to insert a video and include comprehension questions throughout the video to check for understanding. We live in a visually saturated culture and students need to be able to “read close” visual texts.

Creative Communicators:

TeleStory is an App that allows students to create and broadcast your own TV show! Record a music video, teleport to an alien planet, film a high-speed-chase, or perform on a reality TV show. This is a great way for students to get creative in how they showcase their ideas, learning, and knowledge.

Flipgrid is a free platform that Syncs with Google Classroom for students to amplify their voice by sharing and showcasing ideas, reflections, and information verbally.

Storybird is a creative writing platform for students and provides a writing curriculum for teachers.  This paid platform supports Google Classroom and has more than 600 writing challenges and art from around the world to inspire and support students authors.

Buncee is a great tool to create, present, and share multimedia. Teachers can use it for lessons to share content and students can create their own engaging presentations or portfolios.  Nearpod and Peardeck are similar to Buncee for sharing information for classroom presentations or a flipped lessons.

Showcase Learning & Assessment:

I have already mentioned Flipgrid and Buncee which students can utilize to document, communicate, and visualize their learning. Here are a few others that allow students to be creative and show learning and understanding.

Powtoons is a comic creation tool where students can create their own storyboard, comic book, or graphic novel.

Padlet collects responses from students in text or visual format. I have also utilized padlets for book reviews, sharing poetry and reading responses. is like Google Lit Trips  where a map is utilized to tell a story. You can tell stories with photographs, works of art, historic maps, or a narrative.

I work in a Google School and I use Google Suite daily. GSuite offers lots of different tools that can help students showcase their learning from Google Jamboards for collaboration and brainstorms, longer writing on Google Docs, presentations in Google Slides or think outside of the box with Google Drawings to create infographics, graphic organizers or illustrations.


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