Bring Presidential Debate into the Classroom

by Elizabeth Liberatore

A presidential debate is like a job interview. It is the final opportunity for a candidate to distinguish him or herself from the competition to earn the majority of votes. After two fiery debates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have one more showdown before the public heads to the polls and the Electoral College fills the position of president.

Presidential debates are significant in both the political landscape and classroom. As a learning tool, presidential debates aid in comprehension about the American government and democracy. Additionally, classroom debates enhance students’ critical thinking and public speaking.

With the debates between Trump and Clinton in full swing, there is no better time than the present to teach students about the debates and host debates in the classroom. Here are some ways to put past and present debates at the forefront of a lesson:

Political ethnographers

Designate different sections of a debate to small groups. The groups should be silent ethnographers, and take detailed notes on the content of the each candidate’s answers and the style of his or her performance. What is his or her tone of voice? What mannerisms are present? Does either candidate’s inflection change during the debate? Does this signify anything? Students should also identify the main idea of the argument and fact-check the information presented to ensure that it is sound. After students have completed their research, ask them to present their findings to the class.

Reference past debates

Watch the Debates is an archive of every presidential debate since 1960. The site allows students to easily navigate through more than five decades of election issues. Microsoft Pulse, an audience response tool, allows students to agree or disagree with the candidates’ responses and lets students compare their responses to those of other viewers. Watch The Debates is ideal for social studies teachers as it allows students to not only evaluate presidential debates but also understand the nation’s most serious issues. Students can use this site in conjunction with Google Newspapers to compare and contrast past election issues that dominated the headlines.

Create a classroom Twitter account

The first Trump-Clinton presidential debate was the most streamed debate ever. Twitter and Facebook’s live video feature allows audiences worldwide to watch the debates on their computers, tablets, and smartphones. The feature also allows viewers to participate in live conversation. In preparation for the final debate on Oct. 19, create a classroom Twitter account or Facebook page where students can interact with one another during the debate. Students should evaluate candidates’ answers, pose questions to their peers, and compare and contrast the first two debates to the third. Do the debates reveal what each candidate stands for? Are candidates being consistent? Are the candidates’ responses thoughtful? Were any of the candidates’ responses surprising?

Classroom debates

Another fantastic resource that both social studies and English teachers can benefit from is Join the Debates. Join the Debates gives teachers curriculum for free so that their students can have civil conversations in the classroom about the issues in the campaign cycle. Classroom debates enable students to become engaged listeners, collaborators, expand their vocabulary with domain-specific words, practice the art of persuasion, and become more proficient in public speech. Students learn all of this while also learning how important presidential debates or ‘interviews’ are in every election.


A Brief History of the Evolution of the Presidential Debate

by Tom Klonoski

The debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump occur at a critical time during the 2016 presidential campaign. With opinion polls showing a close race, the debates have the potential to swing the race in the favor of a single candidate.

Debates have not always been important factors in presidential general elections. They became significant only after the arrival of television in U.S. households in the mid-1900s. Prior to that, newspaper stories on campaign speeches played a much more important role.

The first presidential debate during a general election campaign occurred in 1960. Most people listening in on radio felt that Vice President Richard Nixon, a skilled debater, had triumphed. But those watching on television felt that Senator John F. Kennedy was the victor. Democrat Kennedy appeared calm and poised, whereas Republican Nixon appeared sweaty and nervous. It didn’t help Nixon that he applied his own makeup before the debate.

Youtube feature on Nixon-Kennedy debate

Another campaign in which debates played an important role in the public’s perceptions of the candidates occurred in 1976. In the second debate that year, President Gerald Ford, running against former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, declared that the Soviet Union had “no domination of Eastern Europe” at a time when the USSR had military control throughout the region and dominated Eastern European governments. Ford, a Republican, had meant that the spirit of the Eastern European people would never be dominated by the Soviets, but he did not make this clear. Carter pounced on the apparent error and was deemed to have won the debate. He surged ahead in the polls and was able to hold off late gains by Ford to win the election.

In 2000, presidential debates swung the general election campaign in the Republicans’ favor. Going into the first of three debates, Vice President Al Gore, a Democrat, had an 8 percent lead in the polls over former Texas Governor George Bush. But in the debates Gore came off as condescending while Bush appeared more likable. After the last debate, Gore’s lead had disintegrated and the campaign ended with one of the closest elections in U.S. history, with Bush winning in a controversial manner.

Photograph from 2000 presidential debate

Although the outcome of the first Clinton-Trump debate was widely portrayed as a Clinton victory, this result alone is unlikely to determine the election. There are still two debates to come, and unexpected developments in domestic and international affairs could also play a key role in separating the candidates in the minds of undecided voters. Only a major error in the debates would be likely to be an important factor in the election results on November 8th.

Photograph from 2016 presidential debate (image from

[Video] How to use a semicolon

Students struggling with punctuation? Tired of suggesting corrections for comma splices? Is it time to brush up on writing conventions before a big essay assignment?

Check out this brief video: in two and a half minutes, we can quell your students’ fears about correct semicolon usage.

Watch on YouTube:  How to use a semicolon

Visit our YouTube channel for great videos on punctuation and grammar, #edtech, and more!



Reading Dailies: Daily Digital Reading Curriculum, Available Now


Contemporary classrooms need to engage students with digital tools—such as tablets and Chromebooks—and digital curricula. That was the intent behind Reading Dailies, a new digital curriculum designed to be delivered through tablets and computers. A teacher need only paste the lesson link into an assignment, and students can access a complete week of lessons that break down one of the Common Core reading standards and that include high-quality, complex, literary texts.

Reading Dailies, for grades 3–5, build students’ reading skills through weekly lessons that break down the skills students need to understand fiction and informational texts.


This supplemental reading program includes a Teacher’s Guide, 19 units, and 19 Checkpoint Assessments. Each unit and Checkpoint Assessment is available as an interactive HTML5 lesson or as a downloadable PDF, and each unit includes 3, 4, or 5 lessons designed to be completed in a single week. Each lesson takes about one day and requires students to read and reread a literary passage and write about it. A checkpoint at the end of each week assess students’ understanding of the main strategy, giving teachers the summative data they need to assess whether students have mastered the composite skills folded into one of the Common Core standards.


Reading Dailies offers students and teachers several features that make the program easy to use and convenient while still being rigorous.


Reading Dailies title pageMain strategy gives the overall big idea for students to understand

Skills show the smaller skills needed to master the overall strategy





instructionalsummaryInstructional summary allows teachers to walk through key instruction at the beginning of the week

Academic vocabulary is introduced at the beginning of the week and reinforced throughout the week




guidedcloserdgInstructional focus begins each lesson to establish clear focus

Quality literature can be found in each lesson to acquaint students with literary use of language and the vocabulary used in authentic texts

Focused responses provide students with scaffolding needed to delve into the text and understand it


responserubricResponse rubrics
give students clear criteria for what is required in a successful response





checkpointCheckpoint Assessments are summative assessments that afford students an opportunity to demonstrate mastery of each unit.






pacingEach unit is designed to be completed in a single week.

  • Start the week by introducing the unit and key concepts. Then allow about one day to complete each lesson.
  • Some students on their own may be able to complete a unit in less time, but the one day, one lesson pace allows time for students to work in small groups to discuss the passages and respond to them. Talking about the passages in small groups will benefit all learners and help them enrich their understanding of the passages.
  • Small groups will also support struggling readers and English Language Learners.
  • Throughout the week, encourage use of the academic vocabulary in the lesson in small-and whole-group settings.

To preview a G3 unit for free, visit

To preview a G4 unit for free, visit

To preview a G5 unit for free, visit



Helen Beyne has years of experience in creating innovative curriculum materials in reading, ESL, science, and social studies. She writes about IWBs and free online resources for teachers.

How to Create a Weekly Reading Routine

unpacking the standards

Image courtesy of yodiyim at
Reading standards are big and complex, embedded with at least three or four smaller skills that warrant lessons on their own. A weekly reading routine that ‘unpacks’ literature standards into bite-size portions helps students become masterful, independent readers.

by Elizabeth Liberatore

Plan to turn complexity into comprehension

Reading, like any activity, requires plenty of practice to perfect. You cannot expect piano students to master a technically demanding score by Chopin or Beethoven unless it is practiced in bite-size portions. Reading is no different. Only when students are routinely exposed to quality literature with embedded skills that reinforce standards can students raise their literacy and comprehension skills.

“Unpack” Literature Standards in the Classroom

But how do you make a reading lesson equal parts attainable and rigorous for your students? You “unpack it.” Reading standards today are big and complex, embedded with at least three or four smaller skills. Students need to “make inferences” while also “explaining what the text says explicitly” and referring “to details and examples in a text.” Any one of those subskills warrants a lesson unto itself.

Small, bite-size skills help introduce your students to academic vocabulary, high frequency words, and other proficiencies needed to master the larger standard. Once students learn the subskills within a standard—such as reading and rereading, annotating unfamiliar and/or repetitive words, locating literary devices, and so forth—they will approach the larger standard with confidence. Assessments of each subskill within a standard allow you to better gauge students’ trouble spots in mastering the overall standard.

Make It Approachable Without Compromising Rigor

How often should students be practicing their reading? According to Dick Allington, author of What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing Research-based Programs, students ought to read 300 minutes every week. That’s a lot. Constant distractions like entertainment on devices such as computers or iPads and students entering and exiting the classroom can make it difficult to allot that much time to reading without shortchanging other subjects. Even when 15–30 minutes of reading is spent in after-school programs or as homework, the suggested 300 minutes per week will be met only if students practice a daily reading routine in the classroom. That is, students need to read daily and practice mastering the skills they need to unravel today’s complex reading and literature standards.

Planning is teaching—teach a plan! Pack two ingredients into each week: clear, explicit instruction of key reading skills and sufficient reading of engaging, complex texts across all subjects. Take time to unpack the reading literature and informational text standards and work through them methodically. Then challenge students with complex texts on which they can practice the subskills they need to master. As long as your weekly reading routine has a consistent structure that students can easily digest, you can be assured that their comprehension and literacy skills will improve with every lesson they complete.

Awesome Virtual Tours for the Classroom

by Emily Levison

Where do you want to go today? | Image courtesy of nattavut at

Where do you want to go today? | Image courtesy of nattavut at

Teachers face the daily challenge of making their lessons accessible to all types of learners. Virtual tours are an incredible tool to reach a wide variety of learning needs, spark your student’s interest, and bring the field trip into the classroom. With applications like Google Earth, we can view anywhere in the world at the click of a button. Virtual tours, however, take you inside or give a full and expansive view of iconic monuments, landscapes, or artifacts.

Here are a few great virtual tours to use in your classroom:

  1. Mount St. Helens

This virtual tour puts you at the top of Mount St. Helens and gives you a full 360-degree view. Help your students discover the way the landscape has changed by comparing images from 2003, 2006, 2011, and 2016. Explore many other iconic places at Fullscreen 360.

  1. U.S. Supreme Court Building

Let’s explore the U.S. Supreme Court – not just the exterior of the building but the inside and outside of each room. What better way to learn about Supreme Court cases than to put the students right there? Imagine teaching about key Supreme Court cases, like Brown v. Board of Education, and allowing your students to see the inside of the courtroom and imagine what it was like to be there.

  1. Rare Book Room

Unlike other virtual tours that focus on exotic locales, the Rare Book Room allows visitors to digitally view the pages of almost four hundred books from some of the greatest libraries all over the world. Students can closely examine original copies of books from authors like William Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, Galileo, and Copernicus. Whether you are teaching social studies, science, language arts or mathematics this is a worthwhile resource to use with your students.

  1. Sistine Chapel

I have never had the privilege to travel to Vatican City, let alone the miraculous Sistine Chapel. This virtual tour makes you feel like you are right there, painting the ceiling with Michelangelo. Spin 360 degrees, zoom in and out and even enjoy the complimentary music from the Westminster Abbey Choir as you browse around this pristine work of art, just don’t forget to bring your students with you!

5 Free Resources for Science Teachers

by Mary Kate Dempsey

science resources

Image courtesy of jk1991 at

Fun and informative websites and videos can improve even the most reluctant student’s understanding of science. Here are five of our favorite science resources to use in the classroom.

The Periodic Table of Comic Books

Show students who question the relevance of learning the periodic table this website. Click any element to see an array of retro comic book pages that mention or connect to that element. Sure, it can be cheesy, but even elements like molybdenum have been mentioned in comic books. Who knew?


Hank Green, Michael Aranda, and Olivia Gordon strive to make science fun on their YouTube channel, SciShow. Their videos explain things from animal behavior to oceans to why babies smell good. The videos range from 3 to 10 minutes, and are a great supplement to classroom discussions.


Veritasium is another YouTube channel that makes science engaging. The videos cover topics from energy to animals. The channel features several playlists, including overturning misconceptions, experiments, and catchy, memory-aiding songs. It is wonderful when students question the real world applications of science class.

Wildscreen Arkive

This wildlife teaching resource for ages 5–18 contains professional photographs of animals accompanied by detailed descriptions, most of which are authenticated by scientists and researchers. Students can filter by species, conservation status, or location. The website also has fun games, activities, and quizzes. Check out the Educate tab for lesson plans and worksheets.

Sumanas, Inc.

Sumanas, Inc. is an educational publisher with the goal to make science easier to understand. Their website features short animations appropriate for high school students on topics such as mitosis, the moon’s phases, and synaptic transmission. The section “Science in Focus” animates scientific current events, such as antibiotic resistance.

How to Protect Your Data in Google for Education

by Emily Levison

With so many schools using Google Apps these days, it’s worth a refresher course on a few easy things you can do to keep your (and your students’!) data safe.

Two-Step Verification

Although this is the most basic form of protection, two-step verification means someone trying to get into your Google account needs more than just your password to get in. With two-step verification, Google sends a code to your phone after you enter your password. The code can be sent through an app, a text message, or a call. Two devices, two steps; good luck, hackers.

Now that sounds like a lot of work just to log into your Gmail every day. However, you have the choice to remove the two-step verification from specific devices; this keeps your Gmail sign in fast and easy on the computer, laptop or tablet you use regularly.


Hackers are not the only fear with Google Drive. One of the major worries of many Google users is the loss of data or files. Boxcryptor is one easy solution. This application secures your files by encrypting them before they are uploaded to Google Drive. There is a free version that allows for storage encryption on two devices.

Share with Care

One of the best features in Google Drive is the ability to have multiple people share and simultaneously edit a file. Despite this incredible capability, the multiple user feature of Google Drive opens the door to more risk. Take the time to explore your options before sharing a file. Here are some tips:

  1. Limit access: Share access only with users you fully trust.
  2. Use your options: Default to the “view only” option. When you share access with this restriction a user can only see the file, not change it. For sensitive content, choose the option to “Disable options to download, print, and copy for commenters and viewers.”
    NOTE: If you give someone editing access, be sure to check the box that says “Prevent editors from changing access and adding new people” to stop others from distributing your content.
  3. Less is more: You can always upgrade a user to have more access if needed.
  4. Remove: If someone no longer needs to see a file, remove his or her access in the Advanced sharing setting.
  5. Remember: Although you can prevent all of these actions, a user can still use a screenshot to steal important information. Share smart and you’ll never have to worry.

5 Great Free Math Websites For Teachers

by Mary Kate Dempsey

free math websites for teachers

Image courtesy of artur84 |

Technology is a great way to introduce variety to your math lessons. Below are some helpful websites that teachers can use as reference materials, for tutoring, as extra practice, or just for fun.

Khan Academy

We have talked about Khan Academy before. Khan Academy has thousands of K-8 educational videos to help students grasp concepts from basic arithmetic to calculus and organic chemistry. As a teacher, you can create a class and track both your students’ progress through skill assessments and how much time they spent working on the site. The site includes non-math subjects, but they aren’t the draw.

A+ Click

A+ Click is a great resource for students who need extra practice. Students choose either a grade level, G1–12, or a topic. Whether the student answers right or wrong, A+ Click will show you why the correct answer is correct (so even the lucky guessers will learn something). The site revised most of the questions in 2015 to align to the Common Core. Bonus: no sign-in required!

Wolfram MathWorld

This offshoot of the popular Wolfram Alpha online calculator has hundreds of free math articles on topics ranging from algebra to topology, including the history and definitions of math terms—fun for the math nerd in all of us! Many articles include helpful visuals such as GIFs and pictures. It is the perfect reference material when needing to go into more detail about a theorem or topic.

AAA Math

This site for students in grades K-8 contains short written lessons followed by practice items on topics from addition to algebra. In the classroom, ask students to answer a specific number of practice questions or set a time limit and have students tell you their score at the end. The site is also available in Spanish.

Math Dude Podcast

More for the audial learner, Math Dude is a weekly podcast most appropriate for high school students. Host Jason Marshall aims to make math fun with facts about the Juno Spaceship and the NCAA Tournament. He shares tips and tricks to help make math easier for kids who are struggling. The podcasts range from 6-10 minutes, making it a great bellringer.

What are some other math websites you love? Let us know in the comments.

Green Light Learning Tools is the Featured Provider on the HMH Marketplace for July!

HMH Marketplace

Exciting news for Green Light Learning Tools: We’ve been named the Featured Provider on the HMH Marketplace for July. Hop on over to browse a selection of our products, from our iPad apps to our ever-popular Toolkit of Reading. (Bonus: The Toolkit lessons are Common Core aligned!)

While you’re there, check out some of the great summer resources available! Check back later in the summer for more great activities for back to school. Find something you love? Tell us about it in the comments or on Twitter.