Earth Day Friendly Classroom: Tips and Activities for Going Paperless Blog Hop

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Your bank wants you to go paperless. You child's report card is paperless. Retailers want to email you receipts rather than printing them at the register. Your students want to use their mobile devices for everything. So what about your classroom? How are you managing your teaching lessons? Are you paper or tech? Blended or 1:1?

Paperless classroom facilitation is also very low-prep. Teachers are saving prep time by not photocopying or filing endless stacks of paper. Wouldn't all teachers love that? We've put together a collection of blog posts to give you some Earth Day inspiration for your upcoming lesson plans.

Whether you are all in for going paperless, you plan on it, or you just can't seem to head in the paperless direction, Earth Day is typically the time when we all think about our environment, energy, recycling, preserving our resources, and eliminating waste. That's where our English language arts blog link up comes in.

Using technology in your classroom will definitely cut down on your trips to the copy machine. Sharing an assignment with your students via a cloud storage system (Google Drive or One Drive), an educational app (Notability, MS OneNote, Edmodo) or a learning management system (Canvas, Google Classroom, Microsoft Classroom, Blackboard, Schoology) will allow you to explore auto-grading, self-calculating rubrics, opportunities for student collaboration, and increased student engagement.

Paperless classroom facilitation is also very low-prep. Teachers are saving prep time by not photocopying or filing endless stacks of paper. Wouldn't all teachers love that? We've put together a collection of blog posts to give you some Earth Day inspiration for your upcoming lesson plans.

Paperless classroom facilitation is also very low-prep. Teachers are saving prep time by not photocopying or filing endless stacks of paper. Wouldn't all teachers love that? We've put together a collection of blog posts to give you some Earth Day inspiration for your upcoming lesson plans.

An InLinkz Link-up

How to Go Digital When You Teach the Research Process

Monday, April 17, 2017
From topic discovery to grading, going paperless (aka digital) when you teach the research process is the way to go! I cringe to think of all the wasted paper and index cards that we used during the research process when I was in high school (circa 2000). Not to mention how hard it is to keep track of all those papers. Your students and your back (from carrying all of those papers around) will thank you.

From topic discovery to grading, going digital when you teach the research process is the way to go! In this blog post, learn how to teach the research process from start, topic discovery, to finish, grading, all with digital tools.

1. Digital Discovery Day

After I introduce the theme for the paper, I give students a chance to explore the theme, and I call this day, Discovery Day. Discovery Day is step one in the research process and it is very important because it gives students autonomy in the writing process. It also helps students find a topic that they know will be supportable.

I create a discussion question in Google Classroom asking the students to submit their three topic ideas. This format works well because it gives students the opportunity to see their classmates' topics as well without giving them power to edit their classmates' responses. Once students submit their topics, I give them feedback on their selections. I personally like to meet with them one-on-one, but in the true nature of fully digital, you can write your comments to them in the discussion forum.

2. Digital Sources

One of the goals of the research process unit is for students to understand the difference between a credible, reliable source and an unreliable source. This is particularly important in today's day when fake news flourishes. I use this Media Source Scavenger Hunt as a mini-lesson after Discovery Day for honing in on this topic.

Obviously, students can use a search engine like Google to find their information; however, I ask that students use a required amount of scholarly and/or peer reviewed sources in their writing.  Google doesn't cut it. They generally get too many search results and narrowing it down to scholarly sources can be a challenge. Therefore, I introduce The Directory of Open Access Journals and ERIC. Both sources have a number of free scholarly articles. I also encourage students to use Google Scholar. Google Scholar is a specialized search engine that narrows the students' search results to scholarly journal articles and ebooks. I personally like to use it for their ebook selection. Within Google Scholar, they also can use the "related articles" option to narrow their searches even more closely to their topics.

3. Digital Note Taking 

I'll never forget my moment of sheer panic when my brother spilled orange juice on the table; the table that my senior research paper note cards were spread over. Though I salvaged most of them, I had to rewrite too many note cards for my liking only to eventually type some of them in my paper. When I went to college, I was amazed to find that my professors didn't require or even advocate handwritten notes for the research process. Cue digital note taking!

For me, the note taking aspect of the research process requires several steps, most importantly defining the thesis statement and main points of the paper, so I use this as a guide for my high school students. For middle level student, check this out. Students should have both focus and structure for their note taking so they know what type of information to look for and record. We always begin by defining the thesis statement and main points of the paper, so that the students note taking is driven by their main points. I use this digital research process notebook to guide students to efficient and productive notes. I've found that this structure ultimately leads to a well-organized and supported paper.

Digital note taking can take a variety of forms. Here are my favorites:
  1. Digital Doc: For this format, students write their notes in a document organized by topic or source. They can cut and paste to group the notes however they choose.
  2. Source Grid: A source grid is a chart that organizes notes into topics across the top of a chart and sources down the side of the chart. 
  3. Sketch Notes: Sketch notes are visual note taking. My friend, Danielle, from StudyAllKnight has a great post on using Google Classroom in combination with the Noteability app for visual note taking. 

4. Digital Documentation 

Documentation is a piece of cake with digital research process. There are several reliable bibliography and citation generators that work well. After trying a few, I like Cite This For Me for our purposes because it has both MLA and APA references, and it saves the students bibliographies for one week without an account. It also has a helpful Chrome Extension for citing webpages.

For scholarly sources, students usually can find a bibliography for that source in the database or search engine.

Note: I always begin with a caution that students must double check their formatting with the associated style (I use APA and MLA depending on the assignment). Too often they get into the habit of copying and pasting whatever the citation generator throws at them even if it's totally incorrect. I tell them that the citation generator is there to help you, but they must determine if it gave them correct information. For cross checking their citation format, we use Purdue Owl.

5. Digital Writing

Once students are ready to write their papers, I require them to write in the Google Doc that I upload to Google Classroom. I simply upload a plain document with the text, "Write your paper here. Delete these directions."

The purpose of having them work in this document is that it is already shared with me, and I can monitor their work in real time. If I give them class time to work on their projects, I have a record of everything they wrote during the period by looking at their document and viewing the revision history. 

6. Digital Peer Review and Plagiarism Checker

Once students have written their papers in Google Docs, of course, we go through a two-step editing as step six in the research process: peer editing and polishing.

Peer Review

On peer editing day, I have students share their papers with two classmates. They read each other's papers and provide feedback using the comment button in Google Docs. I've tried different apps and extensions, but I've always come back to this process for its effectiveness and simplicity.

I always give them guidelines for their feedback so they don't simply write, "good." As an example, I might give them five areas of focus: thesis effectiveness, organization effectiveness, word choice suggestions, one positive summary statement, and one summary suggestion for the paper as a whole.

When students receive their papers with comments from two reviewers, they use the "resolve" option to clean up their papers and the comments. This deletes the comment, but a record of the comment is saved in the comment button at the top. This is important if you want to give credit for peer editing.

Plagiarism Checker

To prepare students for college-level and real-world research processes, I find that giving them the opportunity to check their own papers for "matches" is a meaningful way to teach about avoiding plagiarism. I use the word match because that is what a plagiarism checker provides, a match to another source. A program or website cannot determine plagiarism; only a person can determine if the match was plagiarism, either intentional or unintentional. It is the student's task to review each match.

Sometimes, the match is simply common knowledge that happens to be stated in a similar way. For example, there are only so many ways to say, "Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts." Even though the student would probably find many direct matches to it, it isn't plagiarism. Maybe the student has an error in their citation punctuation; this could cause the plagiarism checker to find the match. Maybe the student simply forgot a citation. In this case, they fix it and move along. However, what would happen if you didn't give this lesson?  Now, you, as the teacher, have quite the conundrum. How do you know if it was unintentional? Does your school have a zero tolerance policy? Will this student fail the paper? Ugh! Save yourself the agony and give them the chance to revise their mistakes before it's too late! If after you give this opportunity and knowledge they still have an issue, you can feel much better knowing how to proceed.

There are many free plagiarism checkers, and they work similarly. My technology coach and I have searched so many free plagiarism checkers, and we've determined QueText to be best for our needs. If you have any other suggestions, please let us know by leaving a comment below.

7. Digital Grading

After you've done ALL of this work to prevent students from printing mounds of paper, do not print their papers for grading! Resist! You can provide rich, meaningful feedback digitally and save time and trees in the process. You can teach the research process from start (Discovery Day) to finish (grading) without printing a single paper! Of course, you can use the comments and editing guide like the peer review format, but I have many digital paper grading hacks that I can't wait to share in my next post. Check back for that post!

How to Engage Your Readers With Choice Reading: Book Snaps

Wednesday, April 5, 2017
Snapchat is ultra-popular with students, so I knew anything that made the app's influence educationally appropriate and meaningful would be a hit. This led me to create my new favorite resource: Book Snaps!

Book Snapchats are a great way to engage students in a deeper understanding of any work! They can be used to introduce options for choice reading, or students can create their own as an enrichment analysis activity. They also make fun classroom decor. Use the free template to create your own!

Book Snaps are an interactive and engaging activity for ANY book! The Book Snap is comprised of a snap (a picture) that represents the work and a caption (a quotation from the work). They are perfect for introducing a snapshot of a book during a choice reading unit, like The Critical Thinker's Novel Study, or an enrichment activity to engage students in higher-order analysis. As a bonus, they look beautiful printed and displayed around the room for trendy and meaningful classroom decor. Keep reading for my free template so you and your students can make your own.

Introducing Book Options

To introduce the book options for our choice reading unit, I used my own clever Book Snaps. They were perfect to give students a snapshot of the book without judging it by its cover.
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I wrapped each book in black paper, like a gift, and created a Book Snap for each book (more on that below). Once I had my Book Snaps ready to go, I taped them to the corresponding wrapped books and placed each book with a group of desks. (I also added a short summary of the work to accompany the Book Snap.)

Book Snapchats are a great way to engage students in a deeper understanding of any work! They can be used to introduce options for choice reading, or students can create their own as an enrichment analysis activity. They also make fun classroom decor. Use the free template to create your own!

Students moved around the classroom to each station to learn about the books and pick their favorite option.

Enrichment Activity 

These Book Snaps also make a great activity for students as an additional analysis for your choice reading assignment or any reading assignment. You can download the template here:

Ask students to find a picture that represents a "snap" of the book and a corresponding quotation for that picture. I advise students to use Open Educational Resources (OERs), so that they are only using images with a Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license, which means they are completely free to use without attribution. Unsplash and Pexels are our favorite OERs for this project. They should add emojis and hashtags that would enhance that Book Snap. The beauty of this activity is that even if you're doing a whole class novel, you are certain to have MANY different Book Snaps.

Below is a demonstration for how to create a Book Snap. You can show your students for a quick tutorial.

Once they're completed, I ask students to present an explanation for their Book Snaps to the class. I ask them to tell us what they did and why. My AP Literature students create Book Snaps as a review for the Open-Ended Free Response Question on the AP exam. They work really well for this review because the visuals and quotations make them particularly memorable. Maybe they'll even remember that Book Snap quotation to impress the AP readers!

Don't forget to display your Book Snaps around the room. I love how they look on cardstock or photo paper.

Check out the first post in this choice reading series, "How to Engage Your Readers With Choice Reading: The Set Up," here.

Happy Snappin'!

How to Engage Your Readers with Choice Reading: The Set Up

Friday, March 24, 2017
I am so excited to bring this series to you today. I have been researching choice reading since the spring of 2014, when my English department decided to create a summer reading program. After our pilot trial during that summer, I gave in to my instincts and started reading about choice reading units versus whole class novel units. With several successful attempts at choice independent reading under my belt, I gained confidence in my conviction that I could be on to something big with this choice reading idea, which led me to read more and more on the subject. 

Still, it wasn’t until I read Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer that I decided to tackle a true choice reading unit in class during the school year. My initial take on the book left me feeling somewhat defeated, though inspired. I felt that much of the information in the book was specific to younger levels; therefore, I was left with more questions than answers: 

How would I ensure that my students were picking books that were appropriate? 
How could I possibly read enough books to offer direction and advice to over 80 students? 
What would they do in class on the days that they weren't reading? 
How would I challenge them to think critically about their reading if they were all reading different books? 
How would I encourage active reading?
How would I assess their understanding of the book?

In this blog series, I will explain how I answered these questions and in doing so, created one of my best and proudest educational endeavors. I hope you will find my experience helpful. More than anything else, I hope you find it inspiring. If something I did inspires you, like Donalyn Miller did for me, then my English-teacher heart will be content.

Whole Class Novel Versus Choice Novel 

There are compelling arguments for both whole class novel units, a unit in which the whole class reads the same novel, and choice novel units, a unit in which each student chooses a novel to read. In my nine years of teaching, I have facilitated whole class novel units and choice novel units. While there are certainly challenges to both endeavors, I found one really significant issue with whole class novels: some students simply hate the book. I chalked it up as a "get over it" experience. I could be heard rationalizing something like, "Sometimes in life you're going to have to do things that don't particularly spark your interest." "Consider it a learning experience." "Most students love this book!" or "How could you not like it?" Ouch! Did I really say that? No wonder, I had students who claimed they didn't like reading. To combat these students whom I was sure weren't reading the assigned out-of-class work, I forced in-class reading on them. I hated popcorn reading as a student, and I hated it even more as a teacher. If I was going to get students to like reading, stressing them out about mispronouncing a word in front of the class surely wasn't going to do it. 

It wasn't until I was on the other side of the classroom that I finally could empathize. Because reading is one of my strengths, I rarely found a book that I couldn't chug through, even if I didn't like it. However, one year, I was tasked with teaching As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. Plain and simple, I hated that book. It was a struggle to teach a book that I could barely force myself to pick up. As much as I hated it, it was a pivotal learning experience for me. Now, I could see how I was alienating some students during our whole class novel units. 

This is not to say that whole class units do not have a place in the English classroom. For example, I love whole class drama units. To me, they lend themselves to whole class study for the engaging way roles can be assigned and acted out. Whole class novels absolutely can be done effectively, but from this point on, I knew I wanted to try something different. 

The Set Up

Defining the Objective

When I first began this endeavor, I struggled to visualize the choice novel unit in my classroom. My vision was blurry because I struggled to define just what they were to do. As with any novel unit, I knew I wanted my students to be engaged in a higher-order analysis of the work. I also knew if they hated the book, were unmotivated to read it, and therefore, not reading it, it was impossible to get them to dig deeper. Sure, I could force the book on them in class, but just how engaged would they be? The answer is not at all. Been there, done that. I had to define my objective.

Using a backward design approach, I broadly defined the goals of the unit:
  1. inspire students to enjoy reading
  2. engage students in creative and critical thinking related to their reading
With these two ideas in mind, I had a new focus and could start to take on the challenging questions related to the book choices. I encourage you to start with your overall goals for the unit. Yours certainly could be different from mine; however, I found that these two goals serve most classes and grades.

Creating a Book List OR Establishing the Parameters

Book List

Due to the number of students who would be participating in this unit (60 students across four classes), I soon realized that absolute free choice was out of the question. I didn't have the resources (books or time) to service that many students. Alas, I hit what I thought was a devastating road block. 

However, just because I couldn't give the students free reign on their choices, didn't mean I couldn't give them a choice; it didn't have to be all or nothing. The answer was simple: a book list. The decision to use a book list solved a number of problems. A well-researched book list would give them choice, but I wouldn't have to worry about complexity or appropriateness. With that many students, I wouldn't have the time necessary to review each selection. The challenge was giving enough choices. Here is the criteria I used to when constructing the book list:
  1. The book has at least 20 copies available.
  2. The book represents the curriculum. (My class is British Literature.)
  3. The book fits a unique genre (different from the other selections).
  4. The book is age appropriate/approved by the school board.
I searched every inch of the high school to find sets of books that could work for this project. I decided on eight options that represented different genres, including love, heroic, adventure, Gothic, mystery, drama (as in dramatic action, not a play), psychological, and nonfiction. (Obviously, the nonfiction option was not a novel, but it was about Jack the Ripper, so it fit the British content, and it met the other criteria. In retrospect, I'm really glad I included a nonfiction option for students who really would rather read nonfiction.)


My AP students will be participating in this unit after the AP exam. It will be the perfect creative culminating unit after the stress of the rigid AP exam. I only have 22 AP students total so a true free choice assignment is much more realistic. Even still, using the experience with my other classes, I've already created a set of parameters:
  1. The book must be on the approved book list set forth by the school board. (If you do not have an approved book list, this one might read, "The book must display literary merit." This is something that is subject and will require your approval; however, I would still give them a chance to argue their case.)
  2. The book must be age appropriate.*
*By age appropriate, I am referring to complexity. I do not use page numbers as a requirement, but rather focus on the appropriate complexity for their age group.

Because our district has a number of classroom sets of books that would fit this description, I will offer them these choices. However, if students would like a book that I do not have copies of, they are responsible for arranging their own copies. 

Designing the Reading Survey

The purpose of the reading survey is to ask students about their interests so you can help them make a reading choice that they will enjoy. It also helps me make some recommendations if a student is on the fence about two choices. This reading survey works well if you ask general questions about the students reading (and watching) interests. I include watching in my survey because I do not want them to feel defeated if they haven't read much in the past. They can't really know what books like, if they haven't read much before, right? By asking them what they like to watch, I can get a feel for what they might like to read. I personally love using Google Forms for the reading survey because my information is saved in a Google Sheet for easy access.

My reading survey is included in The Critical Thinker's Novel Study Bundle in both digital and print sources.

(Being that we did this project in March, I already knew my students well enough to develop this list. However, you may want to give a reading survey before you create the book list if you are starting this project before you feel confident about the trends for the year or age group.) 

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Click here to keep reading about how I used Book Snaps for an introduction to the choices and a student-led enrichment activity. While you're there, don't forget to download your free Book Snap template!

Happy Reading,

6 Practical Ideas for Successful Test Prep This Season

Sunday, March 12, 2017
Is your test prep game in need of a rebound? Sure, March Madness is starting this week, but for us teachers, it's testing season. With standardized state assessments and AP exams right around the corner, I worked on my game plan for test prep, and I'm sharing it today.

1. Card Challenge Quizzes

I was first introduced to this strategy by a former co-worker, and since then, I've used it every year with so much success. She came up with the idea of using a quiz bank to combat students sharing questions with later periods in the day. If you teach the same class more than once a day, this type of sharing is sure to happen. However, using a bank method with a random draw for questions minimizes the likelihood that they'll share answers. If nothing else, it works because they don't know which questions they'll receive on quiz day. To make the stakes a bit higher and since we're using cards anyway, the quiz is also a game of chance. If students pull a straight (it doesn't have to be in order) with Ace being high or low, they don't have to take the quiz and everyone gets a perfect score!

Here's how it works:
1. Make a quiz bank of at least 13 questions. (You could add up to 52 questions in one set; one question for each card.)
2. Add the questions to PowerPoint presentation giving each question a card in the suit. 
3. Separate one suit of cards Ace to King (13 in all).
4. Select five different students to pick one card from the suit.
5. Use those cards for your questions. Ask the questions that correspond to those cards.

This quiz "game" can work with any short quiz. I use it for reading check quizzes to check comprehension after independent reading. It also works great for test prep. I make a bank of literary terms examples and use this method for literary terms speed quizzes in preparation for the AP Literature and Composition exam.

My students enjoy playing this "game," and I am happy to know that the integrity of the quiz is maintained (or at least improved). It's so exciting when a class finally pulls that straight! It usually only happens about once in a school year for one class. If you're worried about them pulling it too often, don't! The probability of them pulling the straight from 13 cards a in single suit is 1 in 128.7 attempts or .7% of pulling the straight.

2. Prompt-Essay Writing Prep

When it comes to acing high-stakes, on-demand writing, the first and, in my opinion, most important factor is understanding exactly what the prompt asks you to do. Because standardized writing is graded holistically, it is impossible for students to score above average if they do not directly answer the prompt. If a student writes an essay with advanced diction, pristine organization, and an insightful analysis but doesn't directly answer the prompt, their effort was all for naught. Even though students do not have time to complete developed prewriting on timed tests, the skills that are required for this analysis can be practiced and perfected. Conducting a prompt analysis is a great way to practice these skills. Here's how we do it:

1. I give them 30 seconds to read the prompt.
2. Then, I ask them to turn the prompt over and immediately write down what the prompt was asking them to do.
3. We review their responses. It's not surprising with such a short reading that students miss something from the prompt. During this discussion, I make the point that hurried reading of the prompt when I time them or they're under pressure result in the same problem: lack of understanding.

We use a prompt essay writing process notebook to practice these skills in conjunction with organization. I've found that practicing these skills in a low-stakes environment gives them confidence and "brain-memory" to be able to do it on demand.

3. Scorer Training 

I had an epiphany after I attended an AP training. I was learning how to score these essays, so I can help my students, but wouldn't it also help them to learn what the AP readers are looking for? I decided it was important for them to learn about the grading process, so we do intensive grading training, just like the scorers of standardized tests. They learn that holistic scoring means their writing will be scored as a whole rather than individual sections. I show them the difference between a holistic rubric used for standardized tests and an analytical essay that breaks down each category for scoring with a set number of points. You can read about my "scorer training" through peer review below or on my Instagram.
This is how I set up peer review for AP, but it could work for any class. I number across desks with sticky notes (you know I love them! ๐Ÿ˜‚) for how many students I have in class. I use washi tape to cover the names because it comes off easily afterwards, and it's not see-through (but most of all bc it's pretty!). Then, I give each paper two sticky notes. I distribute the papers and the holistic rubric, and the students read and provide comments on the sticky notes. Once they're done, they put their numbered sticky notes back on the original table under the same number. We repeat for the second reviewer. This works really well because the second reviewer isn't influenced by the first reviewer, but we can stick them all back together at the end for the owner. Finally, the owner reviews his/her own after now having read two other papers and becoming familiar with the rubric. Not only does this process give them valuable feedback, but it really helps them understand what the scorers need to see for a high scoring essay. ๐ŸŽ‰
A post shared by Dr. Jenna Copper (Doc Cop) (@doc_cop) on

Follow me on Instagram for more teaching tips and tricks.

4. QR Code Word Walls

QR Code Word Walls are a great way to improve retention of important testing terms, literary devices, or advanced vocabulary. Because students are engaged in the process of teaching, they are more likely to recall the terms later on. You can check out the details here.

5. Text Dependent Analysis Resources

Text-dependent analysis, analysis that requires students to synthesize information based on textual evidence, an important skill not only for test prep but for real-world interactions. What I love about text-dependent analysis is that it works great in print and even better in digital format. 

This is an example of a digital text-dependent analysis for the "Tomorrow" Soliloquy from Macbeth. Students must use their active reading skills to engage with the text. 

I recently found CommonLit from B's Book Love. What's great about this source is that it provides hundreds of {free} nonfiction and fiction texts paired with guided reading, textual analysis, and discussion assessments. It can be printed or used digitally.

6. Test Prep Fun

Test prep doesn't have to be a battle. In fact, I like to sneak it in so that my students don't even realize it's test prep. Well, they might realize it, but at least, it's fun. 

My husband uses Kahoot to review with his students. Students need a SmartPhone, tablet, Chromebook, or laptop to participate in this fun real-time review game. Because Kahoot has a sharing component that allows teachers to share and search Kahoots for any subject and level, you might even be able to find ready-made review games for your students. (My husband found a ready-made Kahoot for every single unit in this AP Government textbook!)

Another fun idea is to throw it back to their elementary days. 

Remember 7 Up? We do! Today we did a throwback to elementary school to prep for our Romantic Poetry unit test, and it was so much fun! You must try this! It's easy, fun, and effective! Here's what we did: I picked 7 students. They picked a classmate 7-Up style. Here's where the prep comes in: the students who were picked have to answer a question. If it's answered correctly, they replace the person who picked them. If they get it wrong, someone who wasn't picked can steal. In English 12, we used this game to practice vocab before our test. I give a sentence with the word; they explain the word's meaning. For AP, I give a literary term, they have to give a definition or an example. These are seniors by the way...playing 7 Up! I'm so thankful they humor my ๐Ÿ˜œ ideas! #igteacherpd #igteacherpdtestprep
A post shared by Dr. Jenna Copper (Doc Cop) (@doc_cop) on

This really was as much fun as it looks!

Good luck during test prep season! If you need more inspiration, check out IGTeacherPD on Instagram and search #IGTeacherPDtestprep.

How To Wow Your Students with QR Code Word Walls

Wednesday, February 15, 2017
I've tried so many ways to teach literary terms. I'm up for anything that doesn't involve me standing in front of the room dictating the definitions to a room of unengaged students. Some of the ideas worked and others not so much. Thankfully, we finally found a winner! Our QR Code Word Wall is a definite keeper!

Here's why: 

  • It's versatile. Word walls, in general, build familiarity with important words. Weekly vocabulary words, SAT prep vocab, and literary terms are just a few of the many content-driven applications. 
  • It's collaborative. Students are a part of the word wall creation, so they take ownership of the words.
  • It's fun. We set up a "filming corner," and they go to work adding their own flair. Because each QR Code corresponds to a video of an explanation of the word by one of my students, they find it fun to watch the videos of their classmates. I like it because it's a great way to infuse multiple voices into the classroom aside from the teacher.
  • It's decorative. They look great! It can be a bit challenging to spice up the classroom in older grades yet maintain a more sophisticated look. We love the way our word wall looks!
  • It's effective. The wall can be added to throughout the year, and we can reference it whenever we need to. I also noticed that students associated each word with the person who explained the term, and therefore, they were able to retain the information longer and more accurately.
  • It's easy. Keep reading and I'll show you how!


1) First decide on your list. I created simple black and white printouts using cardstock. For my example, we used challenging AP literary terms. I love that my students can be involved in creating the list. My students use this TALK guide to annotate their texts. The "K" stands for "Key in" and asks them to key in on important literary terms. We use this guide to find and reiterate our literary terms.

2) Give each student a word and give them this assignment:
  • Be able to pronounce your word correctly. They can look the word up on or YouTube for the pronunciation.
  • Be able to tell me the definition.
  • Be able to give me an example.
I gave this short assignment as homework. I also didn't reveal what we were doing with it until the next day...sneak attack!

3) Set up a filming space. I used an old roll of dark blue wrapping paper for our backdrop. I simply taped it to the wall, and set up my podium across it to hold our iPad. I used my school-issued iPad for the taping, but you could also use a SmartPhone.

4) Film the students. I sent my students out in the hall in groups of three to do their own filming. We easily got through 16 students in one 40-minute class period. The rest of the class was working on another assignment.

5) If you don't have it on your device already, download Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, or another cloud. Save all of your videos to that cloud.

6) Access the videos from your cloud on your computer and copy the shareable link.

I like to use Google Drive because our school issues Google email addresses to the students. This makes it possible for the links to only be viewable to members of our district.

7) Next, paste each shared URL into a QR Code generator, and save the QR code. There are so many options, but I like this one.

8)  I made colorful cell phone clipart to display our QR codes with their matching words. You can get them for {free} by signing up for my monthly newsletter.

9) I found some packaging tape, and I taped these terms on three different spots around my room.

10) As the culminating activity, my students walked around the room with their cell phones or one of our school-issued iPads and scanned the QR codes. They recorded the definitions and examples in their notes.

My students really loved creating this word wall, and they asked if we could continue to add words throughout the year.  When you hear a high schooler say "This is so cool!" you know it's a keeper!

Since we all love word walls so much, check out #igforpdwordwalls on Instagram. Share your favorite word walls with the hashtag and tag @igforpd to be featured!

Panel Discussions: Make Your Students the Experts in Five Simple Steps

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

One Friday night in the early fall, I was watching Real-Time with Bill Maher, a political show that brings together people from all political views to discuss topics of the day in a panel format. Because my teacher-brain is always on the go, I had a vision of my classroom with my students as the expert panelists and the quick-fingered audience "Tweeters." (You know, a classroom discussion euphoria of sorts...) After some contemplation and tinkering, my vision became a reality, and it has quickly become a class favorite. The students like that they can express their opinions in several formats and how easy and fun it is to discuss with the guided open-question format.

Here's what I love about it:

1) All students are engaged because they all get a chance to be on the panel. When they're in the audience, they participate in a digital or print version of a "Twitter" chat, just like a real audience does. The panel only has four or five members, so the panel gets plenty of opportunities to discuss; once they've contributed to the discussion several times (you can determine the number), the students rotate, so new panel members come in and out.

2) My role, as the teacher, can be as big or as little as I want. I can be the moderator of the discussion, or I can hand that role over to a student.

3) The discussion is guided by the moderator, so the nature of the discussion is targeted, on-level for the grade/ability level, and content-focused.

4) It is so easy to set up.

To save even more time, you can download my participation tracker, rubric, nameplates/note page, and 20 discussion-starter questions by signing up for my newsletter:

Step 1:

Begin by making copies of the rubric, participation tracker, participation tracker number line, and name plate/notes. Each student needs one copy of each.

Step 2:

Then, decide on the number of students you want on the panel. Four or five students is a good number for my class. Less than four students makes it hard to generate discussion; More than five students makes it challenging to give everyone an equal turn.

Step 3:

Compile a list of topics for discussion. I like to use topics that focus on a central theme or concept for the work as a whole. For example, when I teach Macbeth, my topics are sleep, guilt, the role of women, revenge, the struggle for power, and supernatural elements. I give each student a topic or two and instruct them to become an expert on those topics. At this point, students should fill out their nameplate with their name and expertise (their topics). Additionally, they may take notes on their topics on the back of the nameplate. This makes it easy for them to view their notes as the nameplate will follow them during the discussion.

I also like to give them my Literary Theory Checklist, so they can think about what literary theories apply to the given work. It gives them multiple perspectives to bring to the panel. You can check it out here.

Step 4:

To prepare for your end as the teacher/moderator, print the example questions included and/or create your own. I use “cue cards” to help keep me organized. After practice, you may decide to have a student moderate the discussion.

Step 5:

On the day of the panel discussion, put together a group of four or five desks for your panel and another desk facing the panel for the moderator. The “audience” should be seated in front of the panel. Give each student a participation card to keep track of his/her meaningful contributions to the discussion.

Assign the audience a silent discussion. Either, they can work in pairs to comment on the panel discussion by passing a piece of paper back and forth, or you can create a backchannel chat for students if they have access to the internet. My favorite backchannel chat is Today’s Meet. Once a student has met the criteria for his/her contributions to the discussion, he/she should change places with a student in the audience. Continue this process until each student has had a chance to participate on the panel.

One of my current favorite tech tools is a website called Today's Meet. It's a free backchannel chat that I use with my students during discussions. In short, I set it up in seconds and the students chat in this backchannel while other classroom activities are going on. I used it for our Panel Discussion this week. Students who weren't part of the panel chatted about the discussion in this backchannel. ๐Ÿ’ป It's a lot of fun, and I love getting the whole class involved. They can chat from their cell phones, tablets, lap tops, or Chromebooks.๐Ÿ“ฑ I'm planning a blog about how I use it with my panel discussions, so stayed tuned if you'd like to know how the panel discussion works. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Make sure you check out #igforpdtech ๐Ÿ“ธ for more great tech ideas! @igforpd #igforpd
A photo posted by Dr. Jenna Copper (@doc_cop) on

Here's an example of Today's Meet that I posted on my Instagram account after our panel discussion on King Lear. This post was part of a fun PD series we're doing on Instagram. If you love all things teaching, find me on Instagram (@doc_cop) and search the hashtag #igforpd.

I hope you and your students enjoy this panel discussion! I'd love to hear from you!
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