Posts Tagged ‘Learning’

Make that Trip to the Computer Lab Count

Do you feel like you are in a technology rut? Maybe your school doesn’t have the latest gear. Or maybe you just don’t know where to start. Whatever the issue, the best answer is to spend some time exploring the internet. Practically every time I begin a lesson, I start searching around to find different ways to introduce and practice ideas. I’m constantly discovering neat new websites that offer interactive elements and conversions from old to new (i.e. online storyboards, flashcards, visuals) formats. Just consider, students enjoy opportunities to be highly creative, and asking them to create a visual display using  , , or is probably much more appealing to their computer savvy minds.

This Bloom’s Taxonomy chart gives some great suggestions as to what websites aid in what skills. My person favorites include:

Prezi- bored with PowerPoint? These presentation templates will energize your material.

Schooltube– the chart lists Youtube, but sidestep it for Schooltube. The content is more focused, student-friendly, and a site less likely to be blocked than Youtube.

WolframAlpha- this is a perfect search engine for the student who needs horse blinders while looking at Google or Wikipedia. WolframAlpha is a pared down, simplistic  World Almanac of information. It also does computations, which is handy.

Footnote- ignore of the somewhat misleading name, here you find historical documents- records, photos, government treaties. There is a fee for full access, but it can still be useful for free.

Flashcardexchange- out of the many flash card sites out there, this one is user friendly, offers existing card sets created by others, and the cards can easily be downloaded and printed.

When I first found the Bloom’s graphic, I spent an hour or so looking at all the websites I wasn’t familiar with- some I’d never even heard of. No one is a born pro, so constantly try to educate yourself. Seek out new tools just by taking the time to surf around!

Also take a look at the ALA’s Top 25 Websites for Teaching and Learning:


Word Choice Activities

Teaching word choice in writing can be tricky. It requires a student to already have a solid vocabulary he feels confident with and then asks the student to apply that vocabulary in an interesting, clever way.

So what do you do when you have a classroom of kiddos struggling to use anything other than good, bad, very, and a lot? Here is an activity I picked up at a 6 Trait of Writing workshop hosted by my district’s literary specialist.

Word Garden/ Graveyard

Post on a wall a decorated “graveyard” with tombstones. On these tombstones, write boring or worn out words you want your students to bury. Then require the students to create an “epitaph” of at least 3 suitable replacement words.

Another option is to create a garden of flowers with colorful word choices. A basic word can be in the middle with colorful synonyms on each petal, or one colorful word on each flower. These can be updated throughout the year.

7th Grade Word Graveyard

I did this activity around Halloween, so we used pumpkins and tombstones. I hung up a large sheet of butcher block paper on a wall and then the students were given blank sheets of colored paper to cut, write on, and paste on the butcher block paper. Depending on the level of your students you can judge how much control to have over what they do. For instance, I approved their work before they hung it on the wall. You also might what to select the boring words each student is to replace.

The beauty of this activity is that it is a knowledge gift that keeps on giving. Leave it up on your wall for your students to walk by daily and notice the better word options. Hang it in clear sight of desks for  students to glance up at as they write.

Weird Questions…Cause You Have Teacher Answers

One thing I never expected as a teacher was the weird questions. So many weird questions. As a teacher, it is easy for your students to see you as a “know it all,” and if they do- that’s GREAT! They think you are smart, that you are an authority on information, and a place they can go with their questions…their weird questions.

Be prepared to get some questions that come out of left field or questions that shock you as simple things you expected everyone to know. For example, an 11th grade boy once asked me, “What is communism?” I explained the highlights, shocked a 17 year old didn’t know about communism, when he threw me for another loop with, “Did the US ever have that?”

Just a few days ago a couple of my 7th grade girls stopped me in the hallway to ask me a question, “What is a Jew?” Being randomly approached mid-stride made me think at first that they were joking, starting in on some off-color joke. Then I realized, “These are just inquisitive 12 year olds who don’t know it all!”


I sometimes forget that I did not always “know it all,” hard as that might seem to believe! Building up that big storehouse of knowledge in our head takes a while, in fact, our whole lives. Sometimes the pieces of knowledge you think everyone already knows haven’t clicked into place yet. Be patient, explain the Mickey Mouse questions in a way that isn’t condescending or impatient. Be proud that you get to be that educator who helps them seek out answers.

There are plenty of other weird questions you can expect to answer, especially ones concerning who you are (I’d like to think it’s ’cause they care) like,  “Do you have kids that go to this school?” (even if you are 24 and you teach junior high) “Do you have a boyfriend?” (nonya!) or  “Where do you live?” (creeeepy) These are often funny and if too personal- don’t feel obligated to answer them! I like to turn the question around on them, because teens are more likely to want to talk about themselves than you.

Movement for Learning

They say you never forget how to ride a bike. The thing is…it’s true! Once you do something, it goes into your procedural memory and pretty much stays there. Moving around or acting things out ends up being a great way to remember all kinds of things.

That’s why I’d highly encourage you to try and find ways to incorporate movement into the classroom. I know my college professors always told me this, but secretly in my head I was picturing 32 kids running around the room driving me bonkers. Naturally, I didn’t do much movement at all this past year.

However, if you plan out the movement and you keep it focused and short, there shouldn’t be any crazy scenarios like the one that ran through my head. Students can simply stand up, right next to their desks. The movement can only be in their arms. Make it what will work for your non-chaotic classroom.

Pat your head

Here is a nifty example:

Parts of the Friendly Letter with Movements

  1. Heading- pat your head
  2. Greeting- wave
  3. Body- shake your shoulders and body
  4. Closing- stomp your feet
  5. Signature- sign your name in the air

Once students start acting out the information, it really will become knowledge that stays in their heads. Try to think about little ways and also ask your colleagues! A teacher in my department has her students bounce up and down like bunnies when going over why it’s important to stay on topic in your writing- you don’t want to be hopping all over the place like a rabbit with your thoughts.

Remember, the first step to doing something is to visualize it. The same thing can be said for learning!

Acronyms for Learning

Acronyms might seem cheesy at upper levels…but they do work at locking away information in your memory. Just take a look at this:

PlanetsBlasphemy! I clearly remember my very educated mother jut served us NINE PIZZAS. Yes this may have been back in 2nd grade, but see? I’m proving my point!

Even if acronyms don’t receive the constant spotlight they deserve in the classroom from you, at least make sure to post them prominently on your walls. Students will be able to refer to the acronyms as they work and hopefully allow some of that stellar knowledge to seep in.

Teaching Tip: Want to ensure that students remember the material? As an activity, let them create their own acronyms and mnemonic devices for what they have learned. I promise you they will remember it much more easily after taking an active role in creating a way to store it in their brain.

Here are just a few acronym examples, focused on English, since that is what I teach.

Conjunction Words-

  • For
  • And
  • Nor
  • But
  • Or
  • Yet
  • So

Essay Introduction Information-

  • Author
  • Title
  • Type of selection
  • Time Period

Essay Prompt Reminder-

  • Answer the
  • Question
  • Asked

Writing Checklist-

  • Capitalization
  • Usage (grammar)
  • Punctuation
  • Spelling

Poetry Analysis-

  • Title’s meaning
  • Paraphrase
  • Connotation
  • Attitude
  • Shifts
  • Title- reevaluate meaning
  • Theme

If you have any more acronyms worthy to add to this list, please mention them!

Who is Teaching Spark Notes?


I am an English teacher at a regular, plain, ‘ole public school. After finishing up my first year in the classroom, I am eager to fine tune my skills. No one wants to be mediocre at their job, especially when there is always a sassy teenager itching it point it out to you. Since I want to be the best, and so do you, here we are blogging about it. I’m not a touchy-feely miracle worker teacher. Perhaps because I can’t work any miracles. This blog is not about high-fiving or griping, nor is it inspirational. I merely want to convey basic, easy to use steps for teaching based on the tried and true methods of other teachers, research, or my own hilarious failures in the classroom. Enjoy!

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