Whether you’re a veteran teacher or a new teacher, we know you share something in common: you are busy. In addition to this, you can never have too many ideas for increasing student engagement, as well as improving reading and writing skills.
That’s why we are offering our FREE downloadable guide, Surfing for Substance II, a compilation of 50 User-friendly websites and apps for teachers.
You may be a “tech-head” already, but you don’t have to be to make any of these 50 user-friendly websites and apps a part of your everyday life. Our descriptions of each resource are brief and lighthearted—and hopefully, substantive enough to give you a sense for whether or not they will fit your students’ and your needs.
Inside you'll find apps for the following:
-Reading and Literacy
-Images and more!
Amaze your class with your technology "know-how" and have fun too!
Storytelling is an important human activity. Stories give shape to our identity; we use them to convey ideas, share our experiences and enhance our arguments. Despite their importance, it’s often a challenge to get our reluctant writers excited about storytelling. Fortunately, we’ve come across a free digital storytelling application called Storybird.
Storybird uses digital storytelling to engage reluctant writers
Storybird inverts the writing process. No more intimidating, blank- white screens in Microsoft Word. Instead, students choose their images first; then they write, tailoring their story to fit the images. Unlike most digital storytelling apps that have limited choices in imagery (and most are low-quality), Storybird works with professional artists, illustrators and animators from around the world who upload their portfolios onto Storybird’s platform. The illustrations are gorgeous and all of them are free for you to sequence and arrange as you wish.
Over 125,000 schools are now using this digital storytelling app and it’s not surprising when you consider that a free membership includes 75 student accounts and allows students to create an unlimited number of books. A premium account, which goes for $69 a year, will give you access to more accounts, classroom tools and access to an unlimited number of digital storytelling books. Standard memberships are only $9 a month and give users access to free PDF downloads of their book and custom covers. Below you’ll find a sampling of the images you can expect to find on Storybird. Pretty cool, huh?
If you’re looking a few more digital storytelling apps to help you engage reluctant writers, check out one of our recent blogs, Make Writing Less Intimidating with these 5 Digital Storytelling Apps.
It’s been truly exciting to watch the career arc of John and Hank Green over the years. Not only has John penned six books—several of which have debuted at the top of The New York Times bestseller list and received prestigious awards—he also produces highly entertaining video blogs with his brother. And we’re not the only ones who have become fans of their work. Our students love them too, particularly the videos they find on the duo’s Crash Course YouTube channel.
To date, John and Hank have put together 130 videos. Most of them are under 12 minutes in length and cover a wide range of subjects related to world history, literature, U.S. history, chemistry, ecology and biology. Although Crash Course is clearly targeting a student demographic, adults will find that they have much to learn from these two self-proclaimed “Nerdfighters.”
Below you’ll find a sample Crash Course video. If you like this, you’ll probably like the other 129 videos.
Lately our blog topics have been targeting parents and there’s a reason for it: Summer is only a few weeks away. Like most teachers, we’re looking forward to the warm weather and a new schedule, but our students—particularly our struggling readers—are never far from our minds. Will the progress these students made over the last year stagnate in the next three months when we’re not there to coach and encourage them? Did we successfully develop their intrinsic motivation to read? Will parents pick up where we left off? Since you can’t be there over the summer, we’re passing along 10 summer reading activities for struggling readers.
10 Summer Reading Activities for Struggling Readers
- If you’re going on a trip this summer, read about your destination. While you’re on the trip, keep a record of the things you saw.
- Compile a checklist of things you want to do over the summer. Do you want to build something? See something? Go somewhere? Find books or documentary films related to your list.
- Sign up for a summer activity—this could be an art class, a sports team, a dance class, guitar lessons, whatever. Now find books and magazines related to it.
- Get a library card. Parents: Treat this as an honorable occasion and a rite of passage.
- Write a letter to your favorite author. Don’t be surprised when they write you back.
- Start a summer blog and keep your friends and teachers updated on what you are doing. There are dozens of blogging platforms to choose from and most of them are free. Here are a few free blogging platforms you might check out: Blogger, WordPress.com, Blog.com, or even TypePad Micro.
- Write a digital story using a free website called Storybird. Struggling readers and writers are often intimidated by blank screens. Digital storytelling allows users to choose their images first; then they write, tailoring their story to fit the images.
- Watch foreign films and read our blog to find out why you should.
- Subscribe to an online blog that writes about topics that interest you. Get involved in the conversation by commenting on the posts.
- Make a deal with your parents: If they buy something on Amazon.com, you get to write a product review for it.
If you’re looking for more ways to engage struggling readers, check out two of our recent blogs, 5 Reading Strategies you can share with your students' parents and Teaching Reading Means Teaching Students to LOVE Reading.
Photo credit: KOMU news.
For many students, beginning a new school year can be a great source of anxiety. Thanks to a successful end-of-year transition though, one that you can begin right now, a new teacher and classroom can be an exciting event—not one that causes insecurity or dread. To help your students make a successful transition into the next academic year, we’re offering five simple activities you can put into practice right away.
5 tips for a successful end-of-year transition
The relationship doesn’t end with the academic year
You don’t have to cry like my second grade teacher did on the last day of school, but do let your students know that you valued your time with them. Also, let them know that the relationship doesn’t have to end with the academic school year. They may be moving rooms and working with new teachers, but let them know that they are always welcome to say hello, stop by after school or interact with your new students on your classroom blog.
Ask their new teacher to visit your room
Arrange a time for the new teacher to visit your classroom so that s/he can interact with the students. If you’re looking for a list of tried-and-true icebreaker activities, you can find them here.
Meet the new teacher’s current class
One way to ease your students’ fears about their transition is by having them each interview one student in their new teacher’s current class. They might ask questions like:
- What’s it like having Mr. X for a teacher?
- Did Mrs. M assign a lot of homework?
- What was your favorite memory this year in Mr. X’s class?
- What should I know before starting the new school year?
Once they conduct the interview, have your students share their findings with the class.
Visit the new classroom
Arrange a time for your students to check out their new digs. It’s always easier to walk into an unfamiliar place when you know where to go and what your surroundings look like. Ask the new teacher to give them a tour and, if you can, try scheduling a follow-up visit.
To help prepare your students for the upcoming summer, check out two of our recent blogs, 10 Summer Reading Activities for Struggling Readers and 10 things parents can say to struggling readers.
When we truly love something, it becomes a visceral experience: we laugh and smile, we feel energetic, optimistic, and time seems to go by quickly. And more often than not, we are compelled to return to the source, hoping to repeat these feelings again. While many of us have had visceral experiences reading books, a good number of our struggling readers haven’t even come close. One way to help students experience this is by creating what Esmé Raji Codell, author of How to Get Your Child to Love Reading, calls positive and collaborative reading experiences.
Below we’ve given you 10 prompts that you can use to initiate conversations and share your enthusiasm for books with struggling readers. While teachers will find these reading prompts useful, many of them have been created specifically with parents in mind.
10 things parents can say to struggling readers
- “You can stay up as late as you want tonight, as long as you are reading.”
- “I remember you telling me that you just finished reading Charlotte’s Web in class, so I rented the movie. I thought it would be fun to see how the movie and book were different from one another.”
- “Here’s a flashlight and some snacks. I’ve set up a reading fort for you in the closet so you’ll have a private spot to read.”
- “I’ve been saving this present for a rainy day. Here’s a new book; it was my favorite when I was your age.”
- “I know waiting in the doctor’s office is boring. I brought this for you; it’ll make the time fly by.”
- “I get bored when I’m folding laundry. Would you keep me company by reading me something interesting?”
- “Tell me about that book I saw you reading. The cover looked interesting.”
- “This is an interesting book cover. Why do you think that the illustrator chose these colors? Would you have illustrated the main character differently? Can you think of another scene that would have made a great book cover? What made you choose that scene?”
- “I’m really glad you’re reading Big Frank’s Fire Truck. I noticed that the firefighters at the station down the street wash their truck every Thursday morning. Would you be interested in walking there sometime so that we could meet them?
- “I saw you reading Meet George Washington last night. Did you know that one of his wife’s favorite desserts was Shrewsbury cake? I found a recipe in a book at the library and thought we could make it tonight after dinner.”
If you are looking for more ways to engage struggling readers, you might be interested in two of our recent blogs, 5 Reading Strategies you can share with your students' parents, and Reading Teachers: Book Wink has heard your students’ cries for help.
"You're doing WHAT with your kindergarteners!?" Usually this is the reaction I get when I tell people I use Twitter with my students. (New to Twitter? Watch this video, set up an account, thank me later!) Maybe they're picturing a bunch of five-year-olds sending each other messages about their favorite T.V. show. Twitter is a tool for social connections, but it can be so much more!
Prior to this, I had been using Twitter as a professional learning network. One day I started thinking.... if I'm getting excited about connecting with the world in this way...wouldn't my STUDENTS enjoy it too?
Student account made, kid-friendly picture uploaded, parent email sent... we're in business!
We began simple—a few "tickets to exit" at the end of the day and we were rereading our own tweets. Then we graphed the number of our followers and watched it increase. Sometimes students would take turns rereading our tweets and typing their own: "What I learned today..." is one simple example.
Next, we started using Twitter to gather information. For kindergartners, that means asking things like, "What 'h-brother' words do you know?" One student got excited about writing story problems, so she and her math group started tweeting people math stories. Yeah!!
Then along came my super student. You know, the one that always understands the lesson before you teach it? This same student made a poster in March, warning others to watch out for the naughty leprechaun who makes messes in our classroom during recess. He asked, "Is there a way to put this poster on Twitter?" Umm... yeah!!! After getting his parent's consent, I got out my cellphone and point, click, click... this 5 year old was a published author. We had just stepped into the world of online publishing!
We've started to publish things that we already do in class. I just take pictures of their work and tweet it. Story problems, writing, math work, etc... just take a picture and tweet! We've also published videos of them reading, giving book previews, giving a book retell, and having a math conversation.
It's amazing, but when the iPad pops out, the oral reading is expressive, the previews have more details, the retells get longer, and the conversations more in-depth. All this as a result of spending one minute figuring out how to post videos on Twitter.
I love using Twitter in my classroom! My students are engaged in their learning. They want to learn so they can share their insightful sentence on Twitter at the end of the day. Also, they have an authentic audience.... THE WHOLE WORLD...., so they want to have quality work. Often they will ask to redo something over... and over... and over to get it just right.
One thing that I love is that my students are going home and Tweeting the class back with their parents. They are thinking about what we learned in class, watching other students read, and rereading our old posts.... AT HOME!!! Amazing!! I absolutely love using Twitter in my classroom, and I hope you try it too!!
Follow us! @wkinders2013
Marie Westman is a three-year Kindergarten teacher at Morrish Elementary School, Swartz Creek Community Schools. She received her B.A. from Northern Michigan University (Elementary Education, Language Arts) and is pursuing her Master in the Art of Teaching degree from Marygrove College. Currently, she lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where she enjoys spending time outdoors and kayaking. When she’s not teaching or “tweeting” with her students, she can be found spending time with her wonderful extended family.
Class Twitter- @wkinders2013
Class Website- www.openningthecrayonbox.weebly.com
In her book Engaging Reluctant Readers Through Foreign Films, Kerry P. Holmes recounts a Saturday evening, one where she intended to put all thoughts of school aside and relax with her husband. It was decided that they would finally watch East/West, a French film with English subtitles. At first, she found herself grumbling over the subtitles, but as the film progressed, she became swept up in the plot—so much so in fact, that she forgot she was even reading the subtitles. This experience sparked an epiphany: What if she started using foreign films to engage reluctant readers?
As many of us know, finding creative ways to focus reluctant readers on books, the very thing that evokes feelings of frustration, inadequacy and failure, is challenging. But there are several reasons that foreign films can capture students’ interest and stimulate their imagination in ways that books can’t.
Films are sensory
Psychologists have long known that the brain is a “novelty seeker.” We are attracted to movement and stimulated by unexpected events. Films are brimming with moving images and sounds; these create a context for the text in ways that print simply can’t. Let’s explain.
In foreign films, sight and sound are used simultaneously. A man shouts; we see it, hear it and read it. In fact, every action is accompanied by sound, movement and text, which means that your reluctant readers are hearing and seeing the emotion of the words they are reading.
Subtitles come in short bursts, not long pages
Long paragraphs and twenty-page chapters can be paralyzing for reluctant readers. The text in subtitles, however, appears in short bursts that are never more than one or two sentences at a time. There’s something else to consider: The text we find in a typical book is limited to small black words on a page. Sure, there may be accompanying pictures or graphics, but they don’t move, speak, or make sound. Films do all three.
Foreign films come in a variety of genres
How often do your reluctant readers complain that there aren’t any books that suit their interests? By adding foreign films to your classroom library, students will have even less of a reason to say they can’t find “books” that they like. Like books, foreign films come in a variety of genres; there’s bound to be one that will resonate with them.
Foreign films expose students to cultural differences
As with books, foreign films allow students to transcend their own lives for a short time and enter the lives of those from another culture. In films, cultural differences (which are often abstract) can be seen, heard and read, making them much more real and digestible.
If you are looking for a few more ways to engage your reluctant readers, check out two of our recent blogs, Text-Based Games: A cure for the common book? and Engaging reluctant readers with a multi-media reading experience.
We’re always looking forward, but before we get too far into May, we want to look back on our most popular blogs in April. We like doing this for a couple of reasons. First, as avid blog readers ourselves, we know that we often miss out on great content, especially when our favorite sites are updated every day. Second, we’ve found that looking back on the content that was most popular with our readers is the best way to figure out what we should (or shouldn’t) be blogging about in the future. Happy May, everyone!
An awesome classroom management strategy you've never heard of
If you have a cell phone or landline in your classroom, you’ve got everything you need for your students to make “Brag Phone Calls.” Did a number of your students recently turn in exceptional work or demonstrate leadership? Brag Phone Calls give these students the opportunity to call home and brag to their parents about it.
Spark It: A free reading assessment tool for parents and teachers
It’s unfortunate, but every year we encounter struggling readers who have been lost in the shuffle or flown under the “reading radar” for years. So you can imagine how pleased we were to come across Spark it, a free reading assessment tool that not only evaluates readers’ skill level, but also offers recommendations for improvement and activities to develop their skills.
Text-Based Games: A cure for the common book?
When Bantam discontinued its popular Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book series in the late 90s, our students shed a few tears. Thankfully, Choice of Games—an online publisher who has been releasing “text-based games”—has picked up where Bantam left off. Did we mention that all of their books are completely free?
No More Poetry-Induced Groans: 2 unconventional Poetry Lessons
Robert Frost once said that free verse poetry is “like playing tennis with the nets down.” Mr. Frost may not approve, but we want to help you take down the proverbial nets and give your students two poetry lessons they’ll actually enjoy.
How to Make Earth Day Relevant to Students
Technically Earth Day falls on April 22 every year, but we know how important it is to commemorate the holiday every day. To help you do this, we put together a free downloadable guide that offers two student-friendly activities that will:
- Help students visualize and understand how oil spills impact our planet
- Give students the opportunity to use two methods currently used to clean up oil spills
When we were students, it quickly became apparent who was “smart” and who was “not so smart.” This writer happened to find himself in the latter category, especially when it came to math. How did we figure this out? Those who struggled with math, for example, simply interpreted the arrangement of the math groups: Group A, who was often first to work with the teacher (and the first to finish), was obviously the “smart group.” Group B, who went next, was the “decently smart group” and so on and so forth. “Smart kids” earned A’s in math. “Not so smart kids” didn’t. “Smart kids” went outside during recess. “Not so smart kids” had to get extra help during recess. Most teachers know A’s say very little about a student’s intellect. Unfortunately, most students don’t.
Whether our struggling students know it or not, they have a unique gift. And it’s up to us to unearth that special talent and find ways to empower them.
Uncommon commonsense ways to empower struggling students
Have your students talk about their interests
There are myriad ways to find out what your students are passionate about. One way is to have them write about it. We’ve had success with prompts like, “What are three things you want me to know about you?” and “Describe three things that you are really good at.”
Another way to discover your students’ special talents is to have them go around the room and talk about them. Or you might pair students up and have them interview one another and report back to the class.
Publicize the strengths of each student
In fifth grade I sat next to a student named Marcus for most of the year. He had little interest in most of what we were asked to do and received low marks because of it. If you would have asked his peers where Marcus fit, they would have relegated him to the “not so smart” category.
A typical day for Marcus went something like this: His group would work together on a project; meanwhile, he would pull out his notebook, place it on his lap beneath the desk, and sketch. Even at that age, he was supremely talented. One day, as the class worked in groups, he was finally caught—but instead of punishing Marcus, our teacher quietly whispered into his ear. He nodded and handed over the notebook to her. Then the strangest thing happened: She asked everyone to stop what they were doing and held up his sketch. As we looked at it, she raved about its sophistication. Then she walked around the room so that every student could see. Marcus beamed. When she finished, she returned the notebook, which he closed and promptly put back in his desk.
Prior to this, Marcus’ strengths had never been publicized. This simple, but brilliantly executed decision by our teacher had a lasting impact on his learning experience—and we all began to notice a change in him.
Spend more time talking to parents about the student’s strengths
When we meet with parents to review our students’ progress, it’s tempting to gloss over the A’s and B’s and quickly move on to the D’s. The reasons for this are obvious enough, but doing so may come at the cost of building on our students’ strengths. Spend an equal amount of time talking about the A’s and B’s as you do the D’s. Though higher marks have little to do with intellect, they do point to where a student’s strengths lie. Spend time investigating the meaning of that A; explore ways to develop that strength, both inside and outside the classroom.
Encourage students beyond academics
Are some of your students in the school play? Are others on the baseball or soccer team? Why not spend five minutes before class talking about yesterday’s game or tonight’s performance. Not only will this ease your students into the work that lies ahead, it will give your athletes and artists an opportunity to share talents that they might not get to share otherwise.