Tag Archives: english

How to Start a Class Blog

by Hope Morley

class blog

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A class blog is a great way to connect with parents, inspire your students, and meet the Common Core standards. The CCSS Writing standards require students to produce and publish writing on the Internet, as well as adjust writing for different audiences and purposes.

According to a study done last year by the Pew Research Internet Project, 96% of teachers agree that digital technologies benefit students by helping them share writing with wider audiences. Students are writing and reading a lot online, but that language often isn’t appropriate for the classroom. Increasingly, students are using the same general voice whether they’re texting their peers or writing a formal report. Many students are unable to distinguish when to adjust voice and tone for audience; others simply don’t know how. As students prepare for college and the workplace, however, attention to audience may mean the difference between getting a job and offending a boss.

How do you go about preparing your students for college and career while hitting those technology standards? With a class blog of course!

Getting Started 

First and foremost, get permission from your administration and parents before publishing any student work online. Set ground rules, such as no last names for younger students.

Choose a Platform

There are plenty of options out there, but here are a few good options for teachers and students.

  • Blogger: Google’s free blogging platform is user-friendly and easy to set up if you already have a Google account. This platform is best for one class blog. While it is fairly intuitive, save this platform for middle or high school students.
  • Weebly: Weebly is ideal for teachers who want each student to have their own blogs. The teacher creates an umbrella site for the whole class, and then creates individual blogs for each student. Weebly’s drag and drop design is intuitive and easy even for younger students. Weebly has the option to password protect your class blog, which is a great privacy feature.
  • Edublogs: Edublogs are made for teachers and provide plenty of protections for students, though most of the best features require a paid account. Paying teachers can easily monitor comments and blogs from a master account. Edublogs is powered by WordPress, which can be a difficult platform to master.
  • Pen: Do you want students to post their work online only once or twice during the year? Try Pen. This easy website allows anyone to post work online to a unique URL with no log in required.

Set Rules and Expectations 

Before mentioning a blog to your students, figure out what the rules and expectations will be. Are comments allowed? If so, what happens to students who post mean-spirited or offensive comments? How will students be graded? If there’s a rubric, share it with students. How often and when do students need to post? Should students be reading and providing feedback on each other’s posts? Put answers to all these questions in writing (hey, that sounds like a good first blog post!).

Start Posting 

Once you have a blog up and running, set a schedule for posting. Will students post a reflection on the blog every Friday about what they learned? Is the blog a forum for book reviews or short analytical essays? (Be aware that not all students have Internet access at home and should be given time in class or after school to post their work.) What’s the process for corrections?

Have students think about their audience when they post. Who might be interested in reading this work? Who might stumble on it from Google? Bloggers should always have their audience in mind before they start to write.

Do you use a blog in your classroom? Tell us about your experience in the comments!

Hope bioHope Morley is a consultant and social media coordinator for Green Light Professional Development. She writes about social media, conferences, and anything else on the web that helps both students and teachers learn. Follow her @GreenlightLT

Move Your Curriculets Down the E-Hallway to Edmodo

by Amber Wilson

This spring, the web-based, cross-platform text annotation super-tool Curriculet (formerly known as Gobstopper) launched as an app in Edmodo. Whether this news grabs your attention because of your fandom in either Curriculet or Edmodo, I hope you love the combination as much as I do.

Using Your Own Curriculets

What if you’ve already made curriculets and want to port them over? I had some trouble at first and was concerned that I was going to have to start from scratch. Not the case! With some terrific, speedy help from the Curriculet support team, I was able to bring my curriculets over and assign to my existing Edmodo classes with no problems. Here are the steps:

  1. Log into curriculet.com.
  2. In the Library, choose a text.
  3. “Share” the curriculets you’ve already made. This generates a shortlink that you can copy to clipboard or send out to social media.

    1. If you are porting more than one curriculet into Edmodo, you might want to paste all your links into a text document.
  4. Log out of curriculet.com.
  5. Log into edmodo.com.
    1. If you already have the curriculet app, go to the next step.
    2. To get the app: using the search bar at the top of your Edmodo homepage, look for Curriculet.
    3. Choose the app, not the publisher page.
    4. Install the app.
  6. Using the Apps Launcher at the right side of your Edmodo page, launch the Curriculet app.
  7. In a new browser tab, open the link(s) you generated with the “Share” button. This will open previews of the curriculets.
  8. Choose Add to library (at top right).
  9. Your curriculet will appear within your Curriculet Edmodo app.

Using Readymade Curriculets

Check out the category “ready-to-use curriculets” in the Store (which you will see once you are logged in). You can also search the store for texts in the public domain. Once you’ve selected the text and added it to your library, you will see the “Available Curriculets.” Click “preview” to see the content. If you like it, click “+ Add to Library” in the top right corner. Navigate to the library, and choose the text the curriculet applies to. The curriculet will now appear under My Curriculets for that book. Any readymade curriculet is fully editable, so you can add, remove, or alter annotations, questions, and quizzes as you see fit.

Helpful Tips and Tricks

Click the colorful C logo at top left to quickly find particular chunks of the text, annotations, or questions.

Curriculet has a wide selection of public domain works readily available through its store. You can also easily add your own content to your library. This means you can make good use not just of additional public domain works but also web articles and essays—any file you have on your computer.

In your library, click “Edit Information Summary” on a title to give each curriculet a name and summary that will help you remember and identify it. You can make one curriculet for an entire text, or you can make one curriculet per chapter. Just remember to assign each curriculet to your class (or Edmodo group, if you go that route).

Note that because Curriculet is web-based, it can be a great option for 1:1 classrooms or BYOD settings in which students have different devices. Desktop computer? Tablet? iPad? Chromebook? Curriculet it up on any platform!

Thinking of Curriculet as a summer reading option for students? Check out this Curriculet post for ideas.


Teachers, how will you use annotation to increase student engagement with texts? How will you use quick-checks with instant feedback to help students build comprehension and good reading habits? Leave us a comment sharing your experiences using online close-reading tools.

AmberAmber Wilson is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development.

5 Highlights from the IRA 2014 Conference in New Orleans

guest post by Trisha Beck DeOre

The French Quarter, New Orleans, during the 2014 IRA conference | photo courtesy Trisha Beck DeOre

The French Quarter, New Orleans, during the 2014 IRA conference | photo courtesy Trisha Beck DeOre

This past weekend, the International Reading Association held its 59th annual conference in New Orleans. The Crescent City proved an exciting backdrop and offered a metaphor for the richness, diversity, and resilience of students, as well as the increasingly complex world they must learn to “read,” or navigate today. The conference goals are always twofold: to help teachers, administrators, and publishers improve reading achievement and to promote a lifelong love of reading.

1. Today’s Children Are Reading Less—Even for Fun.

Based on recent studies, IRA’s goals are more important than ever. This week, Common Sense Media published a report on the state of children, teens, and reading. The data indicates that reading comprehension is stagnant among teens. In addition, “several studies show a substantial drop in how often children and youth read for fun.”

View from a Canal Street hotel during this week’s IRA conference | photo courtesy Trisha Beck DeOre

View from a Canal Street hotel during the conference | photo courtesy Trisha Beck DeOre

With the declines in reading and the politicization of education reform, it was refreshing to see speakers at IRA focusing on the basics. We need to better understand why and how we read, and how to make the reading process transparent and engaging.

2. Attitudes Surrounding Common Core Are Increasingly Complex.

Common Core was again a dominant theme at IRA. The standards have come under heavy scrutiny this year, and education leaders were cognizant of the criticism, as well as the wide gaps in professional development for CCSS among ELA teachers. The 2014 conference sessions revealed a nuanced response to CCSS and a focus on practical teaching advice.

3. Close Reading Gains Support—Even at the Youngest Grades.

photo courtesy Trisha Beck DeOre

photo courtesy Trisha Beck DeOre

A discussion of reading and CCSS almost inevitably includes close reading, although not everyone is comfortable teaching it or agrees that it’s developmentally appropriate, particularly at K–2. “How many lessons can you really have on Make Way for Ducklings?” a salesperson asked as we discussed Pearson’s new Common Core program, ReadyGEN.

Education expert and literacy advocate Pam Allyn is a strong proponent of close reading, even for K–2. At her IRA session, “The Act and Art of Close Reading,” she noted that we should teach close reading because it is natural, effective, and gets at why and how good books affect us. Allyn argued that young children are naturally drawn to reread favorite books. They are trying to understand the world, and with each subsequent reading, they become better readers as they build stamina and engage more deeply with the text. For K–2 students, Allyn urged teachers to use photos, picture books, and short texts, and to encourage students to support their conclusions with details from the words they read (or hear) and the pictures they see. Even students not yet able to read can participate.

4. New Research on Literacy Teaching Reveals Important Gaps.

In the roundtable session, “Research into Practice: What’s New in Literacy Teaching?” educational experts Peter Afflerbach and Elfrieda “Freddy” Hiebert (TextProject), among others, offered new insights into literacy education. Afflerbach noted that, unlike adults, “students cannot opt out of what they’re not good at,” so motivation, particularly in assessment, is critical. Conversely, students will actively engage with highly challenging texts and tasks if they find the work interesting.

While discussing text complexity, Hiebert noted that readability is a for-profit business in the United States, and it is an incomplete measure of text complexity. Readability measures, such as Lexile, focus mainly on syntax, leaving out other indicators, including vocabulary demands, figurative language, text length, and text features. Readability measures are particularly problematic at lower levels, and scores should not be accepted uncritically.

5. Great Children’s Literature Is Still the Key Motivator.

As the discourse surrounding CCSS grows more politicized, some states are threatening to abandon Common Core or rebrand the standards for their states. In response, even the biggest educational publishers on the exhibit floor this year seemed cautious and subdued. The slick tech booths were quieter. Yet the trade book booths were buzzing as excited teachers clutched copies of Brian Floca’s Locomotive or Peter Sís’s The Pilot and the Little Prince and crowded into long, winding lines, eager to meet the authors who still make it all worthwhile.

Trisha Beck DeOre is a senior editor and curriculum developer at Nieman Inc.

Make a Couplet with Tech and Poetry

by Mark Hansen

April is National Poetry Month. Join the Academy of American Poets in this celebration, and couple it with technology in the classroom.

Make a Poet Laureate WebQuest or Prezi

National Poetry Month lesson plan

Image courtesy of the Academy of American Poets

Have students do a WebQuest on a poet to find what social and cultural forces inform the poet’s themes and how the use of language makes the poet’s work compelling. Consider starting a template in Google Docs to get students started. Or, have students create a Prezi using the map or timeline template, to survey the background of a poet. Have students include quotes from the poet’s work in each frame that relate to places or dates in the poet’s life.

As students research, direct them to the Poetry Foundation, which has a treasure trove of digital resources. (You can also find lesson plans there.) See the Foundation’s Learning Lab, and try its free Poetry app—it begins with an engaging “spin” of poems and allows you to search by author or by matching thematic areas. (Both iOS and Android versions are available.)

Consider focusing the students’ research on a poet laureate.

National Poet Laureate: Our national poet laureate is Natasha Tretheway. Explore Tretheway’s work through the multimedia resources available online through the Tretheway Web Guide at the Library of Congress.

State Poets Laureate: Each state (as well as the District the Columbia) has a poet laureate. Follow the links from the Library of Congress page on Current State Poets Laureate.

Children’s Poet Laureate: The Poetry Foundation has established a National Children’s Poet Laureate, who is currently Kenn Nesbitt.

Generate Electronic Poetry

How random is random? Try an electronic poetry generator that combines texts, such as The Electronic Poetry Kit, and analyze the results as a class. There are a few text manipulation games offered here that you can play to engage students in poetry.

Make an E-Commonplace Book

Have students use a note-taking tool such Evernote or Notability to keep a “commonplace book” of poetry quotes that they find striking. For each quote, have students describe what the quote means and how the poet creates the meaning. (Commonplace books date back to the Renaissance.)

Have a Slam!

Organize a poetry slam in the classroom. Here’s a lesson plan from Web English Teacher with background and a link to an engaging primer on writing a slam poem from Ted Ed. Have a group of students film the event using the native camera on an iPad, and produce the video using iMovie.

Read Independently

If you have access to an iPad cart or a library database such as MyOn allow students time to choose a poem and read it to join in the celebration of poetry month. Ask students to provide a memorable image from a poem they read as an exit ticket.

Aligning to the Common Core

Many Reading Literature standards in the Common Core specifically address poetry—and standards addressing literary “text” may be satisfied with coverage of poetry. Below are relevant literature standards with a shorthand description of each standard and the grade that poetry coverage begins for it.

RL.1 Read Closely, Make Inferences, and Use Text Evidence (On a “text,” starting in kindergarten)
RL.2 Determine Theme and Summarize (Starting in grade 4)
RL.4 Interpret Words and Phrases and Analyze Rhythm (Starting in grade 1)
RL.5 Analyze Structure (Starting in kindergarten)
RL.6 Analyze Point of View and Speaker (Starting in grade 6 with “speaker”)
RL.7 Integrate Diverse Formats and Media (Starting in grade 5)
RL.9 Compare Genres Treating the Same Theme (Starting in grade 6)
RL.10 Read Independently (Starting in kindergarten)

Keep poetry alive in the digital age—during April and always! Leave a reply to continue this discussion; we’ll be thinking more about the intersection of poetry and edtech throughout the month.

Mark HansenMark Hansen is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development.