Teaching Tip Tuesday: Powtoon!

Powtoon is giving away 50,000 free classroom accounts to teachers!  It is an online tool for creating animated videos.  Although I didn’t know much about Powtoon, I thought it sounded fun and decided to try it out.

I clicked on the link here:  http://www.powtoon.com/lp/toonup/

After I registered and entered the promo code, I started playing around.  I created a video to advertise my coaching services in my new school.  Overall, I found this website fairly easy to use, and I think teachers could find some creative ways to incorporate this tool into their instruction.

 Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 8.39.14 AM

Here’s my video! (You can click on either link below.)


This was my first attempt with this online tool, and I look forward to exploring it even further!


Teaching Tip Tuesday: Pause, Star, Rank

Effective note taking is a learned skill.  When using direct instruction or lecturing, you need to give students a chance to summarize and process what you presented.  Note-taking can be difficult for students, as they try to quickly determine what is most important and how to put it in their own words. Some students try to write everything down verbatim, and other students don’t write anything, unless the teacher tells them to write it down.

Research tells us that when students process and repackage what they hear using notes that are in the form of a summary or a visual, they perform better than when they take notes verbatim.  Effective note-taking is a learned skill, so we need to take the time to support students as they develop this skill.

Pause, Star, Rank is a “Total Participation Technique” (Himmele) strategy that will support students as they summarize new material.

Pause Star Rank

This activity lends itself to analysis and higher-order thinking. When students read over their notes and determine the importance of what they have read, students are analyzing the concepts on which they took notes.

This is a great wrap-up activity that is perfect for when you have a few minutes left of class.  This could also work at the end of a unit.  Students could review what they learned over the last few days and rank the most important concepts.

Can you think of other ways to encourage students to pause and reflect on what they learned?

Teaching tip Tuesday: Technology to Flip Your Classroom

I am by no means a technology expert, but I am trying to learn more as I discover new ways to increase student learning. Recently, I have been playing around with various ways to flip classrooms using technology.  A few teachers have asked me about websites or apps to capture screen shots or create videos.  Although there are a lot of different resources, websites, and apps out there, I have found a few that I think work well.  I’ll share a few starting points for you, but I will also provide more resources that you can explore yourself.

What is a flipped classroom?

A flipped classroom is a reversed teaching model that delivers instruction at home through interactive, teacher-created videos and moves “homework” to the classroom. Moving lectures and low-rigor and engagement activities outside of the classroom allows teachers to maximize class time with more rigorous tasks that will extend student learning.

Here are some resources I have used:



You can record the screen of your computer, along with your voice, for up to 15 minutes per video. This website allows you to decide how much of your screen you want to record, and you can also use your computer’s webcam to have a small video of yourself in the corner as you teach the lesson. You can download and install a program for your computer, or you can start recording from the website. You can publish to their website or to YouTube.



Screener is a very simple & easy-to-use tool for creating up to five minutes for each screencast video. You can select how much of the screen is shown in the video. You don’t need to register, but if you want to save your videos you need a Twitter account. After you create your video, you can publish to twitter, YouTube, or download.



ScreenCastle is a web-based screencast creation tool.  Go to their website, click the start button, and you can start recording.  You can record your voice and the screen. Then your video will be saved through their website.

Some apps that allow you to create a lesson or video from your ipad or smart device:

Explain Everything (2.99)

ShowMe (free)

Educreations (free)

By using a free trial, the two websites below will allow you to create your own professional-looking videos or lessons:

Camtasia(free trial)

Active Presenter (free trial)

Video Apps


Explain everything

Green screen

Story robe

Coach my video/coaches eye

Art with animation

Sock puppets

Imovie trailer


Movie FX

Funny Movie Maker

Tube Box

Animation HD



Book Creator

Action Movie

If you want to learn more, here are a couple of links to some teachers’ blogs who know WAY more about this than me. They have ideas for excellent technology resources that you can use in your classroom.

17 Free Tools for Creating Screen Capture Images and Videos


20 Ways to Use ONE iPad in Your K-12 Classroom


Do you have other resources that you find helpful for a flipped classroom?

Teaching Tip Tuesday: Fake Texts

Here is a quick & fun way to engage your students.  You can create screenshots of fake texts using ifaketext.com!  You could get creative and have fun with this!

shakespeare text

You could use this fun format in various ways: 1)  You could present new information to students 2)  You could pose discussion questions or essential questions to students  3) You could grab their attention at the beginning of a lesson 4) Students could present their understanding of a topic 5) Students could answer questions that you have posed to them

How to create a fake text:

1.Go to : http://ifaketext.com/

2.Enter your name.

3.Choose a carrier.

4.Enter the conversation (Be sure to use the format they show you.)

5. Click “Create your screenshot.”

I am not a very funny person, but I know many of you fabulous teachers could make some funny stuff. I also know that our kids are very creative, and they could create some awesome fake texts.

If you wanted your students to show their understanding of vocabulary words, you could create texts like the following examples:

function text

lil wayne function

Other classroom activity ideas:

Students could write dialogue between…

•Two characters from a scene in a story or novel

•Two concepts (including some facts about them)

•Two historic figures

•Two friends discussing a book, movie, event, or concept.

And here is a pdf of a “TableTexting” file, which does not require any technology.

What other ideas do you have? How can you use fake texts in your classes?

Teaching Tip Tuesday: Spinners

Spinners are a fun way for students to engage in learning.  I have run across a few ideas of how to use them lately.  Usually, I see them used in elementary classrooms, but with anything, they can be adapted for our high school classrooms.  Add more complex tasks to the spinner and it will fit into your curriculum and will raise engagement and rigor.  These are a fun way to mix things up in your classroom and add a little more excitement and unpredictability to your lesson.

Vocabulary Spinner for Smartboards



Students will uncover hidden vocabulary words from under the shapes. Then students will spin the spinner on the Smartboard.  The space on which the spinner lands is what task the students must complete. There will be a variety of tasks for which students must use and demonstrate understanding of the selected words. This spinner could be adapted to include other tasks: example, non-example, drawing/picture, personal connection to the word…

Check out this page, which shows you how to create your own spinner on Smartboards.  There is also a library of spinner files.


Responding to Reading Spinners

Download and print out the fiction and nonfiction spinners here:

fiction & nonfiction spinners

2 spinners

Students will spin a paperclip under the tip of a pencil. Watch this video to see how it is done: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4g1FV_bhTo  Where the paperclip lands is how they must respond to the text after reading. Students could use these in small groups.  Students could stop at the end of each section of a text and respond.

spinner with paperclip

Teaching Tip Tuesday: Determining Reading Levels of a Text


“Missouri School Read-In Day” is next Friday, March 8.  It is recommended to the people of the state that the day be appropriately observed through activities that will bring about an increased awareness of the importance and benefits of reading and encourage greater emphasis on reading, both in the school and in the home. Missouri school read-in day recognizes that reading proficiency is a major factor in determining a child’s success in school.

Before you plan a reading lesson for the day, carefully consider the texts that you will have your students read.  The reading level of a text can make or break your lesson, no matter how many best practices and active engagement strategies you use.  I have a few tricks you can use with Microsoft Word to help you determine if a text is at an appropriate reading level for your students.slide1








Also, don’t forget that Popcorn Reading, Jump-In Reading, or Round Robin reading are not the best ways to read during class.  Want to read about why you should stop doing this? Want to learn about some alternatives to this method of whole-class reading? Read my old blog post https://msbinstructionalcoach.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/round-robin-reading-dont-do-it/.


Teaching Tip Tuesday: TodaysMeet

TodaysMeet is an excellent online tool that that allows you to create a digital discussion board that you can project to your class.  If you use this free, easy-to-use technology tool, you will increase your engagement and rigor very simply.  TodaysMeet helps you embrace the backchannel. Encourage your students to use the live stream to make comments, ask questions, and give you feedback.  TodaysMeet is an excellent tool to encourage students to chat about what they are learning.

todaysmeet home


What is backchanneling? A backchannel is a space in which secondary conversations happen during a presentation or delivery of content such as lectures, videos, or panel discussions. You can turn passive listening into active discussion. Rather than students whispering comments or texting each other during a presentation, you can give them a space to place information, make connections, ask questions and extend learning.


How it works

1)      Go to http://todaysmeet.com

2)      Name your room & give your room a shelf life & click “create your room.”

3)      Your page is ready to use.  You and your students can post questions or comments from smartphones, ipads, or computers.  No usernames or passwords are needed. You can project your page on the screen or smartboard for the class to see.

To see how easy it is for students to post comments or questions, visit the room I created.  Try posting comments or questions there!


msb todaysmeet

 How TodaysMeet can be used

1)      For frequent formative assessments to gauge student understanding, pose a question to the class. Every student can post their answer on the discussion board.

2)      While you are lecturing or teaching a concept, students can post their questions or comments to the page.

3)      Use it as a do now, exit slip, or homework activity.

4)      Have a virtual discussion or debate.  Students can discuss a topic in your virtual room, and even the shy students can be involved and voice their opinions.

5)      Show students an educational video, and students can respond to your prompts online as they watch.

6)      While reading a text, students can make connections, ask questions, or write their reactions.

Teaching Tip Tuesday: 4-2-1 Freewrite

As we transition to the Common Core Standards, all classrooms and subject areas need to incorporate more reading into your classes. Summarizing is an important skill that we need our students to understand and demonstrate as they read, but we also have the building goal of increasing the rigor in our classrooms.  Today’s teaching strategy is a way to increase the rigor with a summarizing activity.

Watch a video clip explaining the four quadrants of the Rigor-Relevance framework.


In the 4-2-1 Freewrite, students work individually and collaboratively to create and analyze main ideas.  They also must teach their information to the rest of the class and explain the main idea to their peers.

4-2-1 Freewrite

Click here for a 421 free write organizer

Within the Rigor-Relevance framework, you can see in the graphic below that this activity is a more complex task than a typical summarizing activity. Move the students from guessing what they think the teacher thinks is important to evaluating for themselves what they think is important, while creating a summary for an authentic audience.

summarizing high rigor relevance

Can you think of other ways to modify your lessons to increase the rigor and relevance?

Teaching Tip Tuesday: Think Alouds

I have returned from maternity leave, so Teaching Tip Tuesdays have returned.  Hooray!

This week, we will focus on a reading strategy called Think Alouds. This is a reading strategy that is often used by elementary teachers, but should definitely become a practice used by secondary teachers as well.  In this strategy, teachers model for students how to connect what they know to the text they are reading.  This strategy will seem spontaneous to the students, but it needs to be carefully planned ahead of time by the teacher.  For teachers, this might be difficult at first because we often don’t think about how we think.  You will need to make a conscious effort to verbalize the running dialogue in your head and thought-processes that you use while you read. Think alouds are an important part of teaching any comprehension strategy to students. This metacognition is a way of helping students monitor and improve their own comprehension.

Click on the following link to view an excellent example of a teacher using this strategy with a secondary classroom:


  1. The teacher reads aloud from a text
  2. Stop after a short passage and “think aloud.”  Demonstrate how to make connections that lead to better comprehension of the text.
  3. Model strategies for solving problems as they read.  Readers can run into all kinds of comprehension problems in a text, so a teacher simulates a comprehension problem and thinks aloud how the problem can be solved, showing students what to do when something is hard to understand.
  4. Students will read and think aloud.

Here are a few trouble-shooting techniques that are important to model for students:

  • Keep reading to see if the author explains what you don’t understand
  • Reread to see if you missed something
  • Read back to the part you didn’t understand, or, read forward skipping confusing words.
  • Reflect on what you have read and see if there is an alternative explanation that can be inferred based on your prior knowledge.
  • Seek information beyond the text (from a partner or a second source) in order to understand

Teachers need to encourage students to do think alouds themselves when they read.  As students think aloud, the teacher can monitor their understanding as well as observe their reasoning. Think alouds can easily be nested within any instruction, and they tend to make a teacher’s oral reading exercises more engaging and understandable for all students.

In your classroom, students can demonstrate think alouds in several ways:

  • Double entry journal/two-column notes/cornell notes
  • Take turns reading with a partner and stopping frequently to do think alouds as teacher circulates
  • Use sticky notes with codes for their reactions & thoughts
  • Record their voiced thoughts (on ipads, iphones, or electronic devices)
  • Provide question stems to prompt their thinking and responses to the text

Update: Read how a Math teacher in my district used this strategy in his classroom: Read Chuck Baker’s blog to learn more about his lesson plan & reflection piece

One important note Chuck Baker made is a major factor to consider before doing ANY reading activity in your class:

As far as choosing your text, its very important that the reading level is appropriate for your individual learners so they can get into the reading. A great opportunity for differentiation would be to group according to reading level and provide separate, approachable texts. My Stats class has been previously screened to make sure they could handle the reading required for the course, but when I try this with my Applied Math class next week, they willshut down if the reading is over the heads.

Teaching Tip Tuesday: worksheetworks.com

This week I am giving you another useful website.


On this website, you choose the type of graphic organizer you wish to use in your classroom.  Then you can customize it and add headings and titles. The worksheets are created in a pdf format.

You can see the variety of graphic organizers below:

If you click on Frayer Model, you can customize it with the word that the students need to explore:

It’s very simple and easy to use!  Many of the graphic organizers are compare/contrast, so they will fit right in with MSB’s instructional strategy of identifying similarities and differences.