22. My 10 Must-Have Free Tools to Start the Year


Displaying Untitled drawing.jpg

Summer went by so fast! Faster than other summers! I guess because it was my first free summer in many years. While spending the summer on three continents it was hard to find time to write on my blog. I really missed it! It was just impossible…to many things going on…a very exciting summer, after all. So, here I am, having finished a 5 year teaching experience in North Carolina, U.S., and starting my new adventure of teaching overseas, in an international school located in Qatar, Middle East. I have been enjoying living and teaching in Qatar tremendously, so far, but a more detailed recount of my experience here would probably go on a different type of blog. However, I thought I needed to mention this, because I am sure it will have a unique impact on my teaching, learning, and the blogging I will be doing while living and teaching here.

A new school year just started not very long ago. Needless to describe our best-resources searching frenzy or our effort to remember the names of all cool resources we used in previous years. It happened to many of us. It happened to me, too. That’s how I realized the importance of a blog post like this one. We all get to love using various resources and we think some work better than others. We like recycling resources as opposed to just starting from scratch, and year after year we are trying to make the most out of the teaching resources we are using and make a better use of them year after year. However, since we get new students each year, we need to create new accounts or new classes each year. So, I will list below the resources I started this school year with.

1. For classroom/behavior management- CLASS DOJO

Class dojo is a great classroom management tool. I like it because I can very effectively use it for positive reinforcements. Something new I did this year was personalizing my account by adding rewards for specific behavior or academic accomplishments. So, I made it both a behavior reward tool and academic reward tool. For instance, some of the rewards I added are follow the rules, smart answer, and super smart answer. Students regularly get 1 point when displaying good behavior. However, for smart answer  they get 2 points, and for super smart answer they get 3 points. You can connect with parents, as well, and some students will really enjoy seeing that the parents get updates on their behavior.

2. For one way teacher-parent communication- REMIND

3. For brain breaks- GO NOODLE

You can read more about this resources in one of my old posts, here.

4. For entry/exit tickets- TODAY’S MEET

This is how I described this great online resource in a previous post published in January 2013, on this blog:

I just love this site! And if you like entry and exit tickets, you might find this site very useful. It greatly engages your students and motivates them to write and reflect.

Using a 140-character limit, Today’s Meet gives teachers the opportunity to generate an engaging online discussion, without the interference of raised hands or student disruption. No sign up or registration required. You just name your room (when you name it, it will tell you if that name was already taken—displaying a red x- or if it is a valid one-a green check; just make sure you don’t leave any spaces if you want to use more words when naming the room you want to create).

Today’s Meet facilitates an interactive conversation in a relatively relaxed environment. You can monitor student participation and you can also save a transcript of the conversation. Another benefit is the fact that students can continue the conversation at a later time, too. You would be surprised to see that students, even after they get home, go online, check what everybody said during class time, and continue sharing their thoughts! You can make the room available from 2 hours up to a month. Be aware of the fact that everybody who has the link can contribute to the conversation for as long as the room is available.

5. For writing (any subject)- PADLET

6. For vocabulary and new concepts (interactive sticky note wall, any subject)- PRIMARY WALL

More about this awesome resource in one of my old posts published on this blog in October 2013.

PrimaryWall is a web-based sticky note tool which allows students and teachers to work together in real-time by adding sticky notes to a group wall. The message typed by users appears on the online collaborative wall instantly for everyone else online to read.

It is extremely easy to use and very kid-friendly. You need to sign up for an account, and all your walls will be saved in your account. After you created a wall, all students need to do is give a title to their note, write some content, and type in their name at the bottom of the note. Users can use different backgrounds for their wall papers.

Going to security you can allow others to have free access to the wall or only using a specific password. After creating your wall you can do 4 things: you can share a read only link, a link that allows other users to contribute to your wall, you can also get an embed code, and you can also export your wall as a list. TRICK: Don’t forget to go to Security, and select “everyone” or “everyone with a password,” so that all students who will collaborate will have access to that wall, not just the person who created it. Afterwards, just share the link with all students who will be collaborating, and all they have to do is type that URL in.

I have used it for vocabulary practice with my students. For the title of the note, they typed in the word they wanted to use in a sentence, and for the content of the note, they typed in their sentence. Consequently, we had a collection of sentences using the new words. This tool can easily be used as an entry or exit ticket. Students can reflect on their learning, list important things they have learned, or questions they might have labeling their notes with appropriate titles. You can check out a sample here. 🙂

7. For animated talking avatars (any subject; writing as well)- VOKI

8. Math personalized curriculum path- KHAN ACADEMY

You can read more about this resource in one of my old posts published on this blog, here.


Google apps work seamlessly together and are a all-in-one solution provided by these integrated apps. GAFE have a great variety of cool features. I will mention just a couple of them here. It is free and is provides users with 30 GB storage space in the cloud, which is great!!! You can say goodbye to your flash drive because now, due of Google Drive, you don’t need to worry about malfunctioning flash drives, or about not having it on you when you need it since you can access all your documents online on all you devices (phone, tablet, desktop or laptop computers, Macs). By using Google Docs, students don’t need to purchase any words processor, like Microsoft Word, because Google Docs is free. Also they can very easily collaborate with each other, comment on each others, documents, give suggestions to each other, or work together on projects in real time even from home. Google Apps for Education (GAFE) is just AWESOME!

10. Learning management system with- GOOGLE CLASSROOM

Google Classroom is one of the new tools I am using this year. I am super excited about how it can facilitate teaching and learning and will probably be the topic of my next blog post!

Until next time get creative, be inspired, and grow! 🙂
If you liked this post, remember that you can follow me via email. 🙂
To get my future posts via email (one post a month), you can subscribe by entering your email address in the box found on the right side of this screen. I hope the info I share with you through my blog will help your students at least as much as it has helped mine.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Posted in 21st century skills, Communication tools, Educational Technology, Instructional Strategies, iPad, Second Language Learners, Web 2.0 tools | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

21. 20 Tips and Tricks to Become a Techie Teacher over the Summer


Become a TT Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day;
teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
Chinese proverb

There are plenty of resources that enable us to meet the needs of our 21st century learners. By using our capacity as techie teachers we help our students get ready for their college and careers and enhance the rigor of instruction. I don’t subscribe to the idea that as long as a teacher knows how to turn on and off a computer and navigate the web he or she is a techie teacher; but I believe that any teacher can become one. The teaching profession has come a long way from the one-room school and learning becomes free of time and space restrictions.

Merriam Webster dictionary defines the word “techie” as “a person who is very knowledgeable or enthusiastic about technology and especially high technology.” A techie teacher is one who can design and deliver instruction using a rigorous combination of pedagogy, content, and technology. In other words, an effective techie teacher needs to show TPACK mastery. Technology not only gives users the possibility to express themselves in new ways, but it also creates new learning opportunities. I could go on and on talking about the wonders of technology in education, but I will stop here and I will recommend GREAT tools for expanding your instructional and technological expertise. The tools I am listing below can be used not only over the summer break, but they provide continuous training; it’s “learning how to fish.”

1. Go to a summer education conference

summer ed conferences2. Follow the ISTE conference. Follow the International Society for Technology in Education conference on Twitter #ISTE14 on Twitter (this year it takes place in Atlanta from June 28 to July 1 this year) to find out what the participants or presenters are sharing.

ISTE3. Watch previous ISTE conference sessions on YouTube. The ISTE 2013 Conference Playlist many videos available to watch. Sessions include 101 Free Tech Tools for Teachers. You can find about two hundred ISTE videos here.

4. Participate in Twitter chats. Wonderful collection of TWITTER chats! This is a MUST SEE! You can check out this amazing collection of twitter chats here. I know I get over excited by the power of technology but this is really amazing…a great way for educators across the globe to learn from each other for FREE and build strong PLNs. #edchat is probably the most popular of them, but this list is awesome…it has everything for everybody (the chats are listed by day, starting with Monday chats and ending with Saturday charts), including chats for music, or TD, COMMON CORE, ETC. Even the Wednesday CMS chat is listed #cmsk12chat. L O V E IT!

TWITTER5. Watch CMS edtech videos on YouTube. I love these 50 CMS edtech videos (Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools). Watching them is really a quick and great way to get a lot of techie ideas


6. Watch ITWeekly videos on YouTube. IT Weekly (ITW Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools) cool short recorded webinars (over 20 videos):
I will point out here the ITW webinar about GAFE– GAFE is the acronym for Google Apps fro Education- here you can watch a 13 min webinar recorded by the ITW team (Charlotte Mecklenburg School District).

ITW cms7. Google Apps recorded webinars can be checked out here.

GOOGLE APPS8. Watch sessions from the Learning Revolution virtual conference here. This conference invited educators worldwide to watch engaging and useful speakers via video chat for free. More than 40 presentations are available on the conference recordings site, and include talks from great thinkers and doers like Ian Jukes, Steve Wheeler and Howard Rheingold.

LEARNING REVOLUTION PROJECT9. Become a Google Apps for Education Ninja. The Ninja Program was developed to help students and educators to improve their skills using powerful Google Products.

GOOGLE APPS NINJA10. Listen to education podcasts. Listening to educational podcasts can be an easy way to learn even while doing something else around the house, jogging, or driving. You can download podcasts episodes using a podcasts app.
NPR education podcasts
Getting Smart super collection of 50 podcasts:
Education Podcasts on iTunesU
A list of eight good podcasts to get your started recommended by Matt Miller on his blog here.

PODCASTS11. Register for Simplek12 webinars– just create an account, and register for free Simple K12 webinars. I have done this before and I found them very interesting. I remember I registered one day for a series of about 5 webinars on a Saturday and I liked the fact that I didn’t need to go anywhere, but I could watch them conformably at home. It’s a really easy way to do PD in your PJs. I just logged in again, and saw that they are offering plenty of free webinars.

SIMPLE K 1212. Watch Education Week on-demand webinars or keep an eye on Education Week upcoming webinars

ed week logo13. BrainPOP archived webinars

BRAINPOPLOGO14. SIOP archived webinars and other webinars

siop15. Scientific Learning webinars

SCIENTIFIC LEARNING16. Watch Colorin Colorado videos about teaching in culturally diverse classrooms

colorin colorado logo17. Follow teacher blogs via email– you can see on the right side of this screen the blogs I am following and also, if you are not following me already, you can type in your email address on the right side of this page, hit FOLLOW and you will receive an email each time I post something (which is once a month). By doing this you don’t need to worry about searching for your favorite blogs in the cyberspace each time you want something because new posts will come straight to your inbox.

follow me18. Connect through Facebook with education experts and techie teachers

facebook19. Subscribe to online newspapers like Education Week, eSchool News, eClassroom News, etc.

newspapers20. Become part of a professional association

PROF ASSOCIATIONSUntil next time get creative, be inspired, and grow! 🙂
If you liked this post, remember that you can follow me via email. 🙂
To get my future posts via email (one post a month), you can subscribe by entering your email address in the box found on the right side of this screen. I hope the info I share with you through my blog will help your students at least as much as it has helped mine.


Posted in 21st century skills, Educational Technology, iPad, Second Language Learners, Video Tutorials, Web 2.0 tools | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

20. Kahoot


Kahoot logo

Blog Post Agenda:
1. What is Kahoot?
2. Techie Teachers’ Tricks for Using Kahoot
3. End-of-Blog-Post Bonus (Summer Reading Lists)

1. What is Kahoot?

kahoot logo 2

Kahoot is a free game-based response system similar to Infuse Learning and Socrative (to read my blog post about how to use Infuse Learning and Socrative click here). The teachers displays the questions of a quiz or survey on the screen and students can answer then using ALL kinds of devices. It benefits instruction because it provides teachers with quick formative feedback as they can check for understanding in real time. It is also highly engaging. I have used it in order to relieve the tension and test anxiety before end of year standardized testing and especially to get my students excited about intensive reading and about going over an extensive number of comprehension questions and passages. Kahoot can change the dynamic of your class because kids are fans of game-like environments. All I had to do was put the comprehension questions in Kahoot. Students read the passage and applied the runners strategy applying themselves much more than they would have done otherwise.

2. Techie Teachers’ Tricks for Using Kahoot


I recommend here a quick tutorial that explains its functionality. Bellow you can find step by step directions accompanied by visuals and tricks that might be helpful when using Kahoot.

1. Register for an account
As a teacher you need to create an account (entering a few details: username, password, email address). After you register, you can log in to your account. Students don’t need any accounts, everyone in the room can join using ANY devices.

2a. Create a Kahoot
In order to see how Kahoot works, you can either play a public quiz that is already created by other users, or create your own. You can create a quiz, a survey, or a discussion. However, I don’t see the point of using the discussion feature the way it is now because it won’t allow you to create open ended discussions, but it asks you to provide answer choices for the players. So, just forget about this and choose either a quiz or a survey. When you want to create a new Kahoot, your screen will look similar to the one below.

01 Kahoot create new

Then give your quiz/survey a title.

02 Kahoot title

After you give it a title, you create your first question. You can customize your Kahoot, by setting a time limit for the students to answer that particular question, you can allow them to earn points for answering the questions correctly (the time needed to answer the question is also taken into account when the winners are announced at the end of the game), and you can also add pictures and videos to each question. This last feature is awesome because the students can answer questions based on images or videos, which gives any content teacher a lot of room to create rigorous questions. Also, adding videos and pictures to your Kahoot questions is very easy: all you need to do is just a drag and drop. By default you can enter 4 answer choices, but you can adjust their number to what you need. You can add as many questions you want.

03 Kahoot create question 1

2b. Start using a quiz/survey already created
Like I mentioned above, you can use public quizzes and surveys created by other users, or you can run a quiz or a survey created by you. To do that, just locate the quiz/survey you want your students to do, and then launch it. You’ll see a screen similar to the one below:

1 Kahoot launch

3. Running your quiz or survey
The teacher needs to display the quiz on a big screen so that it will be visible to all the participants. After you hit Play and then Launch, you’ll be given a numeric code. All the participants need to go to Kahoot.it and enter that code in order to participate using ANY device. On the big screen you’ll see the numeric code and also the name of the participants who successfully joined the session. According to the screenshot below, 2 students joined the session.

1 b players-page0001

Now I will show you two student-view screenshots (all the other screenshots in this blog post are teacher-view screenshots). After they go to Kahoot.it, they need to enter the numeric code, and their screen will look like this:

1 c Kahoot 001

After they enter the pin associated with the quiz or survey you want to run for the class, the participants will be asked to enter a nickname, preferably their first name so you know who is who.

1 d Kahoot 002

Once you hit Start Now, the count down starts (if you chose to have a timed quiz). If you think, that would stress out your students and the time they need to answer the question doesn’t really matter, just set it as “no points question.” Note that the students will not see the question on their screens, but only the answer choices (and those answer choices can be color coded, which means the students need to look at the big screen to read the actual answer choices and then they can just pick the color associated with each response). You can see below a screenshot similar to the screenshot you’ll get when you don’t assign any pictures or videos to go with your survey/quiz questions.

2 Kahoot question no image

If you embedded a video or a picture, the participants will watch/see it on the big screen, and afterwards they can record their responses. See an example below (big screen).

3 Kahoot math image

4. Results and winners
When the quiz is over, a scoreboard will be displayed. By looking at the scoreboard below, you can notice that 2 students answered, and both of them answered correctly. So, teachers can see how many students chose each answer (great data that teachers can use on the spot). For instance, if  all of the students picked the same wrong answer, the teacher identified a common misunderstanding on the spot and can proceed to remediate it accordingly.

4 Kahoot score teacher view

The screen that announces the winner look like this:

6 Kahoot the winner is

The final score board lists the top 5 scores. For the purpose of this blog post, I logged in as a student from only two other devices only, that’s why you see only 2 student scores listed.

7 Kahoot final score board

5. Analyze data
From here you can proceed to download the results (MS Excel document).

Enjoy bumping up the dynamic of your formative assessment sessions! Get started using Kahoot to get feedback in real time! Both learning and assessment can be fun! 🙂

3. End-of-Blog-Post Bonus
(Summer Reading Lists)

One of the best things students can do during their summer break besides relaxing and having fun, is continue to read. Bellow you can find a great collection of good reads for all grade levels.
Scholastic Reading List
ALSC- Association for Library Service to Children
Education.com summer reading list
Many other great summer reading suggestions

Education Summer Reads (for teachers)– Jill Thompson

Until next time get creative, be inspired, and grow! 🙂
If you liked this post, remember that you can follow me via email. 🙂
To get my future posts via email (one post a month), you can subscribe by entering your email address in the box found on the right side of this screen. I hope the info I share with you through my blog will help your students at least as much as it has helped mine.


Posted in 21st century skills, Communication tools, Educational Technology, iPad, Second Language Learners, Video Tutorials | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

19. Brain Breaks with GoNoOdle and Just Dance Kids

Brain Breaks with GoNoOdle & Just Dance Kids

gonoodle logo

Blog Post Agenda:
1. Brain Breaks with GoNoOdle?
2. Brain Breaks with Just Dance Kids

1. Brain Breaks with GoNoOdle

To stay focused and engaged, students need brain breaks. How often? It depends on the type of instructional activities they are involved in. If the instructional activities involve movement, then they need fewer brain breaks. To stay engaged students need movement every 15-30 minutes depending on their age. GoNoOdle is designed for elementary age students.
I would mention the fact that even though the phrase “brain break” suggests that the brain is not involved in movement, students’ brains do not take breaks but make use of different parts. The brain researcher, John Medina explains very well how movement can greatly influence work productivity and academic performance in this 3-min YouTube video. For additional tips, check out his cool website here.

gonoodle logoBrain Breaks are important because they:

-build positive behaviors
-help students stay alert, engaged, and focused
-create a positive school culture
support academic performance since the same part of the brain processes both movement and learning

GoNoOdle is free and signing up for an account takes just about half a minute. Before I created a class, I used the demo class. When you create a class, you just give it a name and indicate how many students are in your class. Then you choose a mascot, called “Class Champ.” To sign up, click here.

See below our Class Champ; we are on level 2, already! After you click PLAY, it will take you to the menu, and you choose the brain break you want your class to enjoy.

level 2
One of the cool things about GoNoOdle is that students can see how many minutes they earn by playing brain breaks and they can see their Class Champ growing as a result of them taking brain breaks and being active. Rather than hunting for brain breaks all over the web, by using GoNoodle you find them in the same place. Additionally, GoNoOdle claims that many of their games are aligned to core-subjects like math, spelling, and vocabulary.
GoNoOdle has different short brain breaks activities that teachers can use according to their students’ needs:

-to help them get focused (airtime),
-to energize the students,
-to help them calm down.

Once you log in, you’ll see a screen similar to this (see menu on the left):


GoNoOdle provides a variety of fun brain breaks and activities, such as stretching, Zumba, 100 meter sprint, Hoola Hooping, Counting by 5s, songs, deep breathing exercises etc.; I would say, they are also synced with the latest trends in terms of music, games, and activities. For instance it even has Elsa’s Let It Go song (Frozen), Happy, or The Continental Drift. My kids loved it soooo much!

cool songs

Calm the classroom or energize your students depending on the time of day. Take a look at this YouTube video for a quick overview. You can register for free.

2. Brain Breaks with Just Dance Kids


Before stumbling upon GoNoOdle, brain breaks were still an important part of my instruction. My favorite resource to use was the Just Dance Kids YouTube videos.

Just Dance is a game developed by Ubisoft. Users mimic the movements of onscreen dancers with the Wii Remote. It features a variety of songs and popular artists. For brain breaks, the teachers at my school enjoy using the YouTube clips which proved to be very energizing and loved by kids. Just Google YouTube and then type in “Just Dance Kids” and you’ll come across them. The following are my favorite ones, but kids you can let the kids take the lead and pick their favorite ones once you get it started.

The Gummy Bear Song

Despicable Me

Yo Gabba Gabba

The Hokey Pokey

The Continental Drift

For additional resources, you can check out YouTube energizers here, or brain breaks by subject here.

Until next time get creative, be inspired, and grow! 🙂

If you liked this post, remember that you can follow me via email. 🙂
To get my future posts via email (one post a month), you can subscribe by entering your email address in the box found on the right side of this screen. I hope the info I share with you through my blog will help your students at least as much as it has helped mine.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Posted in 21st century skills, Educational Technology, Instructional Strategies, Second Language Learners, Video Tutorials | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

18. Nonfiction and Current Events using Newsela

Nonfiction and Current Events using NEWSELA

newsela logo

Blog Post Agenda:

  1. What is Newela?
  2. Techie Teachers’ Tricks for Using Newsela
  3. End-of-Blog-Post Bonus (current events resources)

1.      What is Newsela?

Newsela seems to be e very promising free web tool with multiple benefits for classrooms. It was lunched only a few months (in June 2013), but is has gained GREAT popularity across the globe. Newsela, is the abbreviation for News English Language Arts. It is a website that provides access to Lexile leveled informational text from reliable sources for students in grades 3-12. The articles come from the McClatchy-Tribune news wire service, a consortium of 30 daily newspapers including the LA Times, The Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, and the Orlando Sentinel. As the Common Core advocates a “staircase” of increasing text complexity, Newsela hits this target. Jennifer Coogan, Chief Content Officer at Newsela, said “what we aim to do is help students move, step-by-step, up the staircase of reading complexity, so that they can eventually read the paper fresh off the presses without any added support.”

You can watch a great overall presentation of Newsela here.

Newsela FINAL

Common Core states that “at the lowest grade in each band students focus on reading texts within that text complexity band. In the subsequent grade or grades, students within in a band, students must ‘stretch” to read a certain portion of texts from the next higher text complexity band.” The Common Core States Standards listed the Lexile measures and Lexile ranges appropriate for each grade band, and also what should be considered a ‘stretch band.


Lexile Band
Common Core

Lexile Band*

Common Core


5 Lexile levels

Newsela- grade level




Approximate Lexile levels

How I correlate them




710 L

(2?) 3, 4




900 L

5, 6, 7




1020 L

8, 9




1110 L

10, 11, 12






Newsela recommends a reading right level for each student as soon as they have accessed it and took the first quiz which is presented to them according to the grade level assigned to them by their teacher. However, it gives students the opportunity to read articles a different levels; they might be able to read more complex texts on familiar topics, but lower Lexile texts on topics they haven’t been exposed to and are not familiar with. Students can also see what the same article looks like at the next and previous levels of complexity, each version of the same articles displaying leveled text features. Not all articles have a quiz, but all articles that have a quiz are aligned with Common Core Standards for reading informational text. You’ll see an anchor by the title of each article indicating whether or not that particular article is aligned to Common Core. Currently, they cover reading standards 1-4 and 6-8, and working on including all standards 1-10. The students and the teachers are provided with data regarding students’ reading achievement.

The home screen displays all articles in reverse chronological order. However, users can sort them according to 7 categories shown at the top: War & Peace, Science, Kids, Money, Law, Health, Arts, or by Common Core standards as explained towards the end of this blog post.

This website has a free and a paid plan. The paid plan is being developed and will include extra features such as assignment design, more detailed progress reports, constructed response writing assessments, and annotations. By accessing either the free or the paid plan, users have access to over 500 articles by category and reading standard, access new articles daily at five different reading levels, view quiz results and progress, and take quizzes.

2.      Techie Teachers’ Tricks for Using Newsela


  1. Sign up for a free teacher account and create classes

After you sign up for a free account you can easily create your classes. You need to assign a grade level for your classes which will determine the Lexile level of first article that Newsela will deliver to your students. However, irrespective of grade level, the next articles will be delivered according to their performance on the initial quiz. If you work with students from different grade level, Newsela recommends leveling students at the lower level because after they take the first quiz, if they show mastery, they will get higher level articles. Once your class is set up, Newsela will generate a code for you. All the students in that class will use the same code to register.

Video tutorial for registering your students.

  1. Sign up for students

To register students need to fill out the boxes under the “I’m a Student” tab. Students will use the code provided by the teacher to join their class. After typing in their code, they need to provide their first and last name, create a unique username (of their choice), and pick a password.

Sign up student

  1. Assign articles

Assigning articles is very easy. All you need to do is open the article you want your students to work on and you would just click on the class name tab at the top to assign it. The tab that indicates the name of the class you assigned it to will turn green indicating that the articles has been successfully assigned to that group. The articles that have an anchor by their title are Common Core aligned and have quizzes that students can take. So far, Newsela doesn’t allow teachers to assign articles to individual students, but to the whole class. After completing each quiz, the students see the results immediately and they can review their answers.  They can also read articles of their choice not only the articles assigned to them by their teacher.

Video tutorial for assigning articles.

  1. Track progress (student view)

Accessing the BINDER tab at the top, the students can easily see what articles have been assigned to them by the teacher, what articles they completed, the number of quizzes they took, their average Lexile level, their average score, and their average quiz score by standard.

Binder student view

  1. Track progress (teacher view)

To track progress click on the BINDER tab found at the top. Teachers can track student progress by article, by student, or by class. They get data regarding overall group quiz average, group quiz average by standard, or by student. Teachers have also the possibility to download Excel spreadsheets with data for each class.

You can access a video tutorial about how to track students’ progress here.

Binder teacher view cover code

Finding articles and quizzes
A filter for the front page of the site that will allow you to view only articles that have multiple choice quizzes is currently being developed. In the meantime, in order to filter the main page to show articles aligned to individual standards, you can use this url: http://newsela.com/articles/?anchor=2. Replace the # 2 above with any number 1-4, 6-8 (5 and 9 are in progress) and the page will display only those articles with quizzes aligned to that particular standard.

You can find answers to other questions you might have here (support), or video tutorials here.

Newsela is piloting the annotation feature. It seems this feature would be available in the Newsela Pro package. After enjoying so much using this feature in Subtext, I would love to see this feature free! Annotations have a great instructional value as they help students become critical thinkers, and transform their learning environment into a dynamic virtual community.

Citing an article
As recommended by Newsela, students should cite a Newsela article in the following format:
Original author last name, original author first name, original publication via Newsela (Ed. Newsela version Lexile). “Headline of version.” Date published. Web. Date accessed. <URL>.
Neergaard, Lauran, Mary Clare Jalonick, Associated Press via Newsela (Ed. Newsela staff. Version 1180). “Don’t Cut Food Stamps, Doctors Tell Congress.” 14 Jan. 2014. Web. 5 Feb. 2014. <http://newsela.com/articles/foodstamps-doctors/id/2394/>.

3.      End-of-Blog-Post Bonus (Current Events)

current eventsExtra tools to teach current events:
1. DOGOnews– is a source for current events, news and non-fictional articles for kids and teachers which claims that helps kids engage with digital media in a fun, safe, and social environment.

2. Time for Kids– is an interactive news site from TIME magazine; it categorizes current events articles and activities by grade level and includes games, trivia, and a homework helper.

3. Teaching and Learning with the New York Times offers lesson plans, blogs, and student activities designed around current events and the news.

4. Teaching with the News, CHOICES- The Choices Program’s Teaching with the News initiative provides resources and lessons to connect instructional content to the headlines in the news.

5. News for Schools, BBC provides news-related education resources for Primary School and Secondary age students.

Until next time get creative, be inspired, and grow! :)

If you liked this post, remember that you can follow me via email. :)
To get my future posts via email (one post a month), you can subscribe by entering your email address in the box found on the right side of this screen. I hope the info I share with you through my blog will help your students at least as much as it has helped mine.

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17. Whole Brain Teaching



Blog Post Agenda:

  1. What is Whole Brain Teaching?
  2. Whole Brain Teaching Techniques and Videos 🙂
  3. End-of-Blog-Post Bonus (Write About This app)

1.      What is Whole Brain Teaching?

Whole Brain Teaching is an instructional delivery method that was created in 1999 by Chris Biffle in California. While whole brain teaching might represent a radical idea to some teachers, and it might be just a slightly different approach to teaching for other teachers. It is an approach to teaching which integrates movement, gestures, sharing, immediate feedback, songs, chants, and dances into teaching. It breaks learning down into small segments with direct instruction leading to cooperative learning and instant feedback.

Teaching to the whole brain requires establishing routines, stimulating emotions and prompting students to become active learners by being involved in direct instruction. Whole Brain teaching is a highly interactive form of instruction which focuses on the importance of students playing the role of the teacher, as well. Therefore, the teachers transfer the role of the “more knowledgeable other” (Vygostski’s idea) to the students, and the students show mastery of content by taking on the responsibility of delivering content several times throughout the lesson, which makes them stay engaged, focused, and take ownership of their learning.

Traditionally, education has focused on the right brain activity-the reasoning, rational, and cognitive part of the brain. This technique, seeks to make use not only of the right hemisphere, but also of the left hemisphere which is concerned with creative activity. Movement, and gestures assigned to concepts get tremendous importance in Whole Brain Teaching. Due to the specific techniques employed, Whole Brain Teaching may help tremendously with discipline and classroom management, too. It works with kindergarten through college students. Many teachers praise Whole Brain Teaching, but it also has its critics. Critics said that it does not facilitate higher-level thinking. However, the Whole Brain Teaching (WBT) techniques can be blended with other techniques that target specific critical thinking outcomes while WBT would help you target different aspects of your instruction. WBT has gained popularity since it was developed about a decade ago. I would say that if it fits your teaching style and your students’ learning styles, several techniques might have a great positive impact on your instruction. I personally love using a couple Whole Brain techniques and I’ve also seen great lessons delivered by fellow teachers with amazing positive results. I have used it with mainly with elementary students. However, I was very impressed to see how well it worked with middle school and high school students, as well, when I taught summer school. It helped tremendously with class management and with getting them to actively participate and focus. I would just mentioned the fact that it actually was a life saver during summer school last summer when I taught high school students (I found myself at one point, in front of over 30 students who arrived to the country just one or two years before; in other words, beside the challenges that come with these age groups, these students also spoke little or no English). The Whole Brain Teaching techniques work very well with all age groups and when implemented properly, they can really change the dynamic of your class.

2.      Whole Brain Teaching Techniques and Videos

A)    Class-Yes functions as an attention getter. Whenever the teacher needs the students’ attention, she would call “Class!” or “Class, class!” and the students would respond in unison “Yes!” or “Yes, Yes!” using the same tone of voice. It works great as all the students need to stop any side conversation they might be involved in order to respond.  Teachers can use this technique throughout the lesson each time they need students’ undivided attention.

class yes 2

B)     Hands and Eyes– This technique can be used at any point during the lesson when teachers want their students to pay “extra attention” to what they are saying/doing.  To begin this process the teacher says, “Hands and Eyes!” and the students respond by mimicking the words and movements of the teacher (basically repeating the same phrase and making sure they are looking at the teacher and they are not using their hands to perform any activity.)

hands and eyes

C)    TeachOK! By using this technique, students get to teach each other. First, the teacher teaches the whole class a small portion of the lesson, and then he/she calls ‘Teach!” and the students respond “OK!”. The teacher and the students need to use specific gestures when saying these words as you can see in the videos below. Then, the students take turns paraphrasing the teacher and basically reteaching that concept. When teaching their peers, the students are highly encouraged to use gestures. The teacher will observe the students’ comprehension while trying not to interfere. The noise level should be higher during this phase.

teach ok 2

This technique can be used when teaching new concepts, and also when the teachers want to make sure the students understood the directions. I would mention here the fact that this is a good technique that teachers can use when they want to teach “ACTIVE LISTENING.” When I want to practice active listening, I ask my students to repeat/rephrase what I just said by using the following discussion starter ”Ms. Tripsa said that….” It’s hard to express in words how highly effective this is!!! By using this technique, teachers check students’ comprehension. It is also a quick way to get feedback in real time while engaging all students and while delegating responsibility to students who would teach each other. The students become “the more knowledgeable other.” This technique is extremely effective when working with all students, but even more when working with second language learners. Even when working with older students, oftentimes you would be surprised to hear your students paraphrasing you. You would think that students understand what you are saying most of the time; given the fact that we all have different schema at different points in time and that communication is an art of negotiating meaning, the use of this technique in the classroom has even more sense. I really think it is one of the most important little teaching tricks I have learned while teaching in over a decade!

Also, according to The Learning Pyramid developed by Edgar Dale (National Training Laboratory), teaching to others is at top level.

The Learning Pyramid FINAL FINAL

D)    Switch! This step is used with the Teach-OK” technique, and ensures that not the same student in each pair is the teacher all the time, but that they swap roles. When the teacher calls “Switch!” the students repeat the same word and start teaching their peers that section of the lesson.


E)     Mirror- When the teacher calls “Mirror!” the students will mimic the speech and the gestures of the teacher.


I will share with you a couple of YouTube videos that will help you get a feel of how Whole Brain Teaching looks in practice.

1) 4th Grade Reading Lesson Delivery by Dawn Nelson

2) How to Begin Whole Brain Teaching: 2 by Chris Briffle 

If you want more ideas, you might want to visit a blog managed by a music teacher here. 🙂 If you want to use already-made posters with your class, you can find lots of free posters on Teachers pay Teachers.

3. End-of-Blog-Post Bonus 


Write About This is a free iPad app (it has both a free and a paid version). No sign up or registration required. It is extremely easy to use and a quick way to get students writing and I would say that once you start using it, it can easily become an app that you’ll be using on a regular basis. Students select categories of photos and write based on a text and/or a voice prompt. For differentiation purposes, students can write about each image using three prompt levels of difficulty. Students and teachers may also create photo writing prompts and share them. To create a writing prompt users can choose pictures from their camera roll, as well. The free version contains 50 prompts; the paid version ($3.99) contains about 500 prompts. You can print out their work by saving it to the camera roll, and it looks very neat.

write about this final sample

Until next time get creative, be inspired, and grow! :)

If you liked this post, remember that you can follow me via email. :)
To get my future posts via email (one post a month), you can subscribe by entering your email address in the box found on the right side of this screen. I hope the info I share with you through my blog will help your students at least as much as it has helped mine.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Posted in Communication tools, Educational Technology, Instructional Strategies, iPad, Second Language Learners, Video Tutorials | Tagged , | Leave a comment

16. Subtext app



Blog Post Agenda:

1. How Subtext can enrich instruction
2. Tricks I learned while using Subtext
3. Tutorials

4. End-of-blog-post bonus (Tools for reading, on Edshelf

1.            How Subtext Can Enrich Your Instruction

Subtext is a FREE collaborative reading app for the Ipad. Subtext claims that it promotes and facilitates an elevated reading experience on tablets. Subtext is a great tool to help students break down complex texts and it is perfectly suited for close reading. It allows groups to exchange ideas and interact within the pages of digital texts. Just think about the benefit of being able to leave notes or questions in the margins of a digital book and getting replies in real time from teachers and other peers as opposed to just you scribbling on a paper book, let alone the fact that you wouldn’t even be allowed to do this when using regular classroom textbooks. Subtext  provides many other tools to support reading which will be discussed below. Subtext can be used with 2nd grade through high school/college students. I have used it with 2nd grade, and all the screenshots below are screenshots of one of my 2nd grade groups.

To begin, you can watch the following 1,37 min. video clip about it here. 🙂

This is why I think teachers should use this great free app:

Subtext features  final

To teach reading or any content area lesson in the past, a typical lesson scenario would involve the teacher asking a question aloud and call on a student who raised his hand (who often was the brightest student). Using Subtext, the lesson can have a completely different look as all the students have the opportunity to interact with the text at their own pace. Subtext promotes the development of a dynamic learning community where students have the opportunity to interact with each other and learn from each other. It also makes learning more personalized though its various features that allows for differentiation; what I am talking about here are the following 8 features:

a) on spot dictionary definitions available for any words in the document which are also accompanied by audio
b) the possibility to do Google searches right from within the app
c) the possibility to make quick annotations
d) the possibility to check for understanding through polls, true/false questions, or multiple choice questions right from within the app and again, tailored to each student’s reading pace
e) the possibility to embed extra tasks or resources for high flyers or those who finish early
f) the possibility to supplement reading with multimedia resources right there where is needed in the middle of the passage
g) collaboration and feedback in real time (students-teacher, students-students)
h) the motivational aspect which helps the students stay focused, engaged, and it increases reading responsibility and accountability.

2. Tricks I Learned While Using Subtext


First, you and your students need to use a Google email address (aka Gmail). In Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools students can use their Gaggle email address. Note that they don’t need to actually access their Gaggle email at all; all they need is a valid Gaggle email address. To log in to Gaggle click access this link: http://j.mp/cmsgaggle. You need to do this only if you have trouble finding out what Gaggle email ID any of your students have. Your gaggle email address is your regular CMS username followed by @cms.gaggle.net. Your students’ username/email is their first initial, their last name, and the last four digits of their student id number.    Ex: hpotter0254@cms.gaggle.net. Your students’ password is their birthday (YYMMDD).  Ex: 010625

Teachers can use any Gmail address. Once you log in, your home screen will look similar to this:

0 Create a Group Join

You can see how easy you can create your groups. Note that you do not need to enter every student’s email address, because Subtext will generate a group code, and the students themselves will then use that code to join their group. You can also see above the books found in my library, and the tabs below then which say: SHARE, READ, ASSIGN, DISCUSS. Using the Share button, you can easily share your books, articles with your groups. You can use almost any eBook, articles, or PDFs you find online.

After you create your groups, when clicking on your group you’ll see something similar to the following screenshot:

0 Groups Members and Library faded code

The screenshot above is one of my groups. I covered the group code for security reasons, but you can see where it should be located and two other important things: the books you have shared with your group (see the tab named Library) and the members (see the tab named Members). If you want to see your group members, your screen would look like this:

0 Members' names faded names

While reading students can annotate their passage; they can highlight words, they can start a discussion, and they can look up words just by tapping and holding (tap and hold) on particular words. Once they tap and hold on a particular word, the dictionary definition of that word pops up and students can also play the audio to hear how the word is pronounced. This is a great feature for language learners and emergent readers, as well.

1 Highlight

When annotating, students can either just pick different colors to highlight key words, or they can tag their highlighted notes. So, if they want to just  simply highlight words or phrases using any color they want, their screen will look like this:

1b Highlight no tag

If they want to tag their notes, they can go to “edit” and assign a function to each color. For instance, purple= new learning, pink=new word, red= question, green=important, blue= I don’t understand. When they want to edit their notes, their screen will look like this:

1c tagging highlight

Now, after they highlight particular words, they might want to write a note or a comment. They can make their comment private or share it with the whole group. Note, that it is set to “private” by default and whenever you want your students to work collaboratively, they need to make sure they share their comments before submitting them. Another trick: I noticed that you can open the comments window in 2 ways depending on whether you have previously highlighted the word:

-If you highlighted the word, you just tap the word you highlighted without holding; and then you have the choice to click on “Start a discussion” or Delete the note (if you tap those 3 lines at the top). And again, after you start a discussion don’t forget to share it first with your group, or with your teacher if you don’t want it to be private. Your screen will look like this:

2 Delete a Note

– if you didn’t highlight the word, you need to tap and hold just like you did when you wanted to highlight it. In other words, you tap and hold on the highlight the word, and then you tap and hold again, to start a discussion. By doing this, you get 4 features: comment, multiple choice, true/false, or polls. Students and teachers can also decide when their answer can be seen: immediately, or after replying. This is helpful when teachers ask a question and they do not want students to see each others responses until after they have published their answers. The plus sign on the right allows students to share their comments with their group.

As you can see it is very easy to poll your class while they are reading, to check their comprehension through true/false items, multiple choice questions, or open ended questions. What you can see below is the student view. Note that it says Private. To share it with their group, students need to click on the plus sign and then select their group.

3 After They Reply

The teacher view include 2 extra features which are: Add a web link, and Add an image. The first feature is very useful, and it helps with differentiation, and well as with supplementing the digital text with multimedia. I have included external articles that students could read when they finished early, or videos they could watch. I have also included a Today’s Meet link as an entry ticket.

6 Comment Add a Web Link

If you want to quickly poll your class, your screen will look like this:

7 Polls

There are couple of ways to upload books or articles to subtext.

a) via email- email a PDF to your email, go to your email, and open the attachment in Subtext.

8 upload via email

b) using the Tap to Add Book or Articles tab found on the top left corner. Then you’ll have four options: Search, Find Free Web Articles, Article and Book Collections, Browse Your Public Library. The screen bellow shows you what your screen will look like when you access this feature.

9 a add books or artciles

The screen bellow shows you what your screen will look like when you use the Search tab at the top and not the three choices listed below it. This is very important and it might be confusing if you won’t remember it, because if you use the Search tab, you’ll get different results, most of the books that populate being Google books (Google books has free books).

9 b Search for Books using the Search bar

Also, I’ll show you here how to use the feature Find Free Web Articles. After you click on this tab, you’ll be able to look for your article by doing a Google search, and then select the option that is listed on the top right corner, called Save to Subtext, and then Close.

9 c find free web articles

All the features discussed above are available through the free plan. The paid plan offers a few more features. One of them is the Common Core State Standards Assignment Templates.

10 Assignment Premium

Another Premium feature is the Text to Speech feature.

11 Text to Speech Premium

Subtext also provide users with guidance and ideas you can have access to no matter if you are using the free or the Premium plan by clicking on the What You Want to Do tab, at the bottom of your home screen.

12 What Do You Want to Do

Once you click on the What You Want to Do tab, you’ll see the following guidance tabs:

12 What do you want to do help

3. Tutorials

I have enjoyed using Subtext with my students. I would admit that it took me a while to get the hang of it, but afterwards, I would say, it was definitely worth it. This is the reason why I am providing in this blog post more video tutorials than usual; I myself needed them to fully understand how to use its various features.

First I will point out a few places where Subtext provides useful guidance.

Functionality– you can find I guess almost anything you need about its different features. If you need to something I haven’t explained above, this is the place where you would find your answer.
Add instruction
Highlight, Highlight & Tag
Manage Reply Visibility

I would recommend two tutorials for you to watch. If you prefer to see work in action, just check out the guide I provided above (Tricks I Learned While Using Subtext) which are screenshots of my use of Subtext with my students(work in action). They picture essential features you would need to use in Subtext.

If you would like to see video tutorials about using Subtext, check the first one below.

If you need more, you can check a second tutorial.

4. End-of-Blog-Post Bonus
Tools for Reading on Edshelf


I have talked about Edshelf before, but I will list it here again thinking that it would provide you the additional tools you might need when using Subtext. What I am thinking about is the best resources online for Reading.

Edshelf claims that it helps teachers find the right educational tools for their needs. Edshelf is a directory of websites, mobile apps, and desktop software that are rated & reviewed by educators, for educators. Edshelf seems to be a terrific place to find new apps you may not know about and it seems to help teachers be innovative, creative, change their lesson dynamic. You can search by category, subject, age, and platform.

a) TOOLS FOR READING you might need when using Subtext TOOL FOR READING
I just performed a search by subject, and I chose READING, and I came across this wonderful collection of resources that support reading (make sure you click on Show More Results, found at the bottom of the page, to see a larger variety of tools) that you can check  out HERE.

I will share more about Edshelf for those interested in this awesome website. Edshelf is definitely one of the best collections of educational technology tools for teachers and parents! Just create a free account and you can go ahead and do a key-word search and you’ll find the tech tools that meet your specific needs. You can filter your search by PRICE, AGE, SUBJECT, PLATFORM, OR CATEGORY. You can find ratings that target the Learning Curves, pedagogical effectiveness, and student engagement. You can find resources for pretty much everything from Common Core, digital storytelling, clickers, digital storybooks, foreign languages, game based learning to classroom management, learning management systems, social networking, student assessment, and wiki creators.

Trick: just make sure you browse all the tools on Edshelf found at the bottom of their homepage beside those featured on top.

Until next time get creative, be inspired, and grow! 🙂

If you liked this post, remember that you can follow me via email. 🙂
To get my future posts via email (one post a month), you can subscribe by entering your email address in the box found on the right side of this screen. I hope the info I share with you through my blog will help your students at least as much as it has helped mine.


Posted in 21st century skills, Educational Technology, iPad, Video Tutorials, Web 2.0 tools | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments