A New Way to Use Padlet That Your Class will Love!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017 / Leave a Comment

A New Way to Use Padlet That Your Class will Love!

OK, so do you know about padlet? It's a great, easy-to-use app that works kind of like a digital bulletin board. You can create a board and ask a question and students log in, type their response, and it posts on the board. It sounds simple, and it is, but there's a wonderful accountability that happens when students know their work is going to be viewed by their peers. It makes padlet a very powerful app. 

Here's an example from my classroom. My 9th graders read an article about why the mystery genre is so popular. I then had them post on padlet, responding to the prompt: "Do you agree with [the author]? Explain why (or why not) with at least one quote from the text!"

There are hundreds of uses for this handy, little app, but recently I used it in a totally different way than I had before...and I loved it. 

Sometimes...rarely, but sometimes...I show a movie during class. Gasp! I know, the horror! I often break up a movie and show it in pieces, but for some occasions, watching the whole film is the best choice. The students get so excited when they hear they're going to get to watch something, which is great...but too often, the excitement doesn't last. By the halfway point of the movie the students are fading.
I can rationalize the purpose for showing my classes a movie...but not if they all sleep through it!

This year, I just happened to have padlet up on my laptop while writing lesson plans and an idea occurred to me. 

What if I post different questions about what we're watching throughout
the movie and require the students to respond in real time?

I was worried about the students having Chromebooks open during the movie, but it turned out to be no big deal. I set the expectation that they were not to leave the padlet page and it worked fine. I circulated to check from time to time, but there were no issues.

Here's an example of a padlet students completed during an exploration of trickster myths:
They were responsible for listing 3 thoughts/reactions/emotions they experienced while viewing/listening to the myths, 2 examples of trickster characteristics, and 1 response to the lesson question, "Why do you think the trickster archetype was so important to African American slaves?"

The students enjoyed this break from a more typical fill-in-the-blanks sheet and I enjoyed a more alert, focused class during the videos.

Give it a try! I promise the kids will get a kick out of it and you'll enjoy their responses!

P.S. Not able to provide a laptop to each of your students (or not sure you're interested in trying out this idea)? Check out my Meaningful Movie Guides. They're not your usual follow-along notes!

One of my best-selling resources!

Perfect for the days before Winter Break!

Let your students have fun while they learn from the movie!

Build their comprehension skills in a fun, fresh way!
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A New Way to Review with Kahoot! Your Students will Love!

Saturday, October 28, 2017 / 1 comment
A New Way to Review with Kahoot Your Students will Love!

Are you familiar with Kahoot!? If not, you definitely need to check it out. According to its website, Kahoot! is "a free game-based learning platform for teachers of awesome and classroom superheroes." (How great is that?)

For the most part, I use it in my classroom to review for upcoming tests. My students love that they get to use their cell phones and I love the versatility of Kahoot!'s games and that I don't have to be the one who determines which student answered the fastest. 

This week, however, I came up with a new way to use the Kahoot! quiz game with my high-school students and I wanted to share it with you because they LOVED it! Check this out!

That's a bunch of high-school seniors eagerly reviewing for an upcoming test!

So what did I do differently to create such a buzz? I called it Kahoot! Madness!!! Here were the steps:

Step 1: Make them do the work

Instead of creating one Kahoot! quiz the entire class took to review, I had them work in groups. Each group created a 10-question quiz about the material we'd been studying. We discussed making questions that were challenging, but not impossible. I stated that I would act as referee, calling foul if questions were too hard or too off topic (I threatened to award additional points to the opposite team if this occurred, but it never happened). 

Step 2: Kahoot! Madness!!! Brackets

My class had eight groups of 4, so I created a bracket system by randomly assigning each group a number. In the first round, Group 1 would compete against Group 2, Group 3 versus Group 4, and so on. The four winning teams earned an extra credit point on their test. In the second round, four teams competed and the winning two teams earned another extra credit point. Finally, the last two teams competed. The winning team ended the day with three bonus points on their upcoming test. 

A New Way to Review with Kahoot! Your Students will Love! 
Here's a super-simple graphic organizer to help you visualize it.

Step 3: Rules of the Game

I wanted to make sure all members of the team were involved, but that the game was simple enough and fast enough so that we could get through all the rounds in one class period. One group presented their game first. The competing group chose one team member to be the answerer, but the entire team helped pick the correct response. When they had completed all 10 questions they wrote down their score and then the teams switched roles. When the competing group had completed their 10 questions, the team with the highest score progressed to the next round.

Step 4: What to do with the Losers

I use the word "losers" with love because it's what my students' called themselves when they asked me what they should do. "We're losers...what are we supposed to do now?" I wanted them engaged and learning...but technically, they're game time was over. I decided to give them an opportunity to win some extra credit as well by choosing a team and cheering it on. The rules were simple - choose one team only, stand behind them so I know you're giving them your support, no moving once the game has started. The non-playing students really liked the idea of still having a chance to win some bonus points and the room started to take on a very fun, competitive vibe!

Forgive the lighting. What is soothing and calming in real life makes for terrible lighting for photos!

Step 5: Shh! Don't Tell Them It's Good for Them

By the time we ran through the three rounds of games we had taken up almost the entire 55 minute class period. Instead of seeing one set of questions about the topic, the students had seen at least six different review quizzes. They had helped each other, collaborated, cheered each other on, and - for the most part, walked away from the day with some extra credit on their test. Most importantly, they had enjoyed an entire class period of learning/reviewing and had no idea how much reviewing they had actually done!

Please give this a try the next time you're planning a review then come back and let me know how it goes!

And many, many thanks to the awesome people at Kahoot! for their amazing resource!

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Things Only Teachers Understand #5: What Happens When You Give a Test

Wednesday, October 11, 2017 / Leave a Comment
What happens when teachers give tests teacher humor teacher funny

It’s test day. You’ve finished your unit. You’ve handed out the review guide. You’ve played the fun review game. The test has been written on your homework board for at least a week. Secretly, you're kind of looking forward to a quiet, easy day. But still...you know. You know what's going to happen today:

1. Students will come in and act totally shocked that they have a test.

What happens when teachers give tests teacher humor teacher funny
"Unfair! We were not informed or prepared for this test in any way, shape, or form!"

2. You will remind them of all the different things you did to prepare them for the test and they will grudgingly admit that you are right...but it's STILL totally unfair.

What happens when teachers give tests teacher humor teacher funny
See! Right there. Right where the homework and upcoming tests are always listed.

3. At least one student will loudly brag that they have done absolutely nothing to prepare for this test and will likely fail.

What happens when teachers give tests teacher humor teacher funny
"I didn't read the text. Didn't do any of the assignments. And for some strange reason, I think I should boast loudly about this in front of the teacher."

4. When you pass out the test, students will behave as if they have never taken a test before. They won't have writing utensils. Simple instructions will confuse them. Scantron sheets will be met with complete bewilderment.

What happens when teachers give tests teacher humor teacher funny
I'm just gonna wait here until you guys remember how to use a pencil...

5. The students finally settle down and begin to work and you allow yourself to think for a second that it might be OK.

What happens when teachers give tests teacher humor teacher funny
Alright...this isn't so bad. Maybe things will be...

6. 12 hands shoot up at the same time. 

What happens when teachers give tests teacher humor teacher funny
I just passed out the test?!? How is this possible?!?

7. Someone will argue that you never went over something you're testing them on.

What happens when teachers give tests teacher humor teacher funny
Oh, I'm sure you're right. I just put random stuff into tests because I want my students to fail.

8. Someone will eagerly point out your typos (and ask if they get bonus points for finding them).

What happens when teachers give tests teacher humor teacher funny
Right, I'll remember to be just as excited to point out your mistakes on this test.

9. When you announce there's 10 minutes left before the end of class, someone will react as if they had no idea they were supposed to be working the whole time.

What happens when teachers give tests teacher humor teacher funny
"How was I supposed to know we'd only have one class period in which to finish the test you told us we'd only have one class period to finish?!?! You're a monster!"

10. After showing the students where to put tests when they've finished, most will still walk up to you and stand there with tests in hand waiting for you to tell them what to do.

What happens when teachers give tests teacher humor teacher funny
"Do you want this, or.... I'm done...What should I do now?"

11. All your students will look surprised and wonder why you're in such a bad mood.

What happens when teachers give tests teacher humor teacher funny
You all need to leave. Now. Right now. Before I lose it.

Hang in there, teachers. The weekend is coming...eventually...right???

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A Super Simple Strategy for Supporting Struggling Readers

Tuesday, October 3, 2017 / Leave a Comment

Super simple strategy for supporting struggling readers, screencastomatic, tutorial, unmotivated readers

Do you struggle to find ways to get your students to read outside of class? (Ok, ok - stop laughing...I get it) We ALL struggle to find ways to get our disinterested readers to take the text home and actually read it.

Recently, however, one of my "non-reading" students actually helped me stumble on a really simple strategy for helping struggling readers interact with text outside of class.

"I'm starting to like this book, Mrs. Mathis," he said to me as I assigned the next chapter for the class to read that night. "but I won't read it out of class."

I was so exasperated. "You admit that you like it! Why don't you want to find out what happens next?"

"I like following along when you read. But when I read by myself...it's just too boring."

And that was when the lightbulb went off in my head...

Super simple strategy for supporting struggling readers, screencastomatic, tutorial, unmotivated readers

"If you could listen to it on Google Classroom, would you?" I asked, fingers and toes crossed.

"You can do that?!?" He asked, and I smiled.


Because we can do that. We can record the texts we want our students to read. We don't have to wait for our departments to buy audiobooks, or worry if a non-fiction article we want them to read is too complicated. With very little trouble, we can record what we want our students to read and give them the opportunity to hear strong, fluent reading - a proven benefit to struggling readers!

Here's how easy it is:

1) Go to Screencastomatic.com and sign up for a free account.
Super simple strategy for supporting struggling readers, screencastomatic, tutorial, unmotivated readers

2) Once you have set up your account, you'll be taken to this screen:
Super simple strategy for supporting struggling readers, screencastomatic, tutorial, unmotivated readers

3) Click the "Start Recorder" tab and a white box will appear on top of whatever is showing on your screen. You may be asked if the program can access your microphone. You'll have to give it permission to record.
Super simple strategy for supporting struggling readers, screencastomatic, tutorial, unmotivated readers

4) Set up whatever you want in the background while you're recording. It can be the cover of the novel, a copy of the article, a photo of the subject you're teaching, a blank screen. I just created a PowerPoint slide with the novel cover on it. 
Super simple strategy for supporting struggling readers, screencastomatic, tutorial, unmotivated readers

5) Click the "Rec" button. It will give you a 3-second countdown before it begins recording. When you're done recording, hit the pause button. It will give you the option of clicking "Done," or trashing the whole recording and starting over again.
Super simple strategy for supporting struggling readers, screencastomatic, tutorial, unmotivated readers

6) When you're happy with your recording. Click "Done." You will then get options to save the recording as an audio file, share it on YouTube, or save it in your Screencast-O-Matic account. I downloaded all the files to my desktop and then uploaded them to Google Classroom for my students to listen to. It was easy!
Super simple strategy for supporting struggling readers, screencastomatic, tutorial, unmotivated readers

Just like that, I had a significant number of reluctant readers actually engaging with the text! They could listen to it during study halls, some said they listened while they did other homework (I wasn't thrilled about that one but hey - it's better than nothing!), they were engaged! 

It isn't perfect. It was time-consuming. Several students told me that while they were listening, they still wouldn't have read on their own if I hadn't made the recordings, but at the end of the day, I had more students in my classroom each day prepared and eager to discuss with their classmates.

I'll take that as a win.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

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Want your students to be excited to write? Check out this awesome app!

Friday, September 15, 2017 / 1 comment

This year making my students better writers isn't just one aspect of my job as an English teacher, it's become a bit of an obsession. I am on a quest to find a way to help my students, who are largely struggling (and often unmotivated), writers discover their unique voices and how to channel that voice into interesting writing that breaks free from the formulaic rules we've been trying to teach them unsuccessfully for so long.

I'm reading like mad and always on the hunt for good ideas. And today I found this:

This simple site starts with one emoji. It's totally random so it might not be a smiley emoji. One time it will be a cow emoji. Another time, a ladybug. 

student writing writing prompt excited to write fun fresh ideas

I tried this with my students today and they went wild for it! I displayed the first emoji and asked them to start writing a story about it. After two minutes, I added another emoji. Some students groaned. Others got excited as they figured out what was going on. A few minutes later I added another. At the end, I had put up 5 emojis, my students had written practically non-stop for 15 minutes, and they were desperate to share their writing with each other. 


student writing writing prompt excited to write fun fresh ideas
You KNOW you want to hear the stories your students would come up with for this one!

Give it a try and then stop back to let me know what awesome writing takes place!

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Saturday, September 2, 2017 / Leave a Comment

Back to School Reflection || funfreshideas.com

Two weeks down. We are officially back in school. The icebreakers and get-to-know-you games are over and we're starting (or have already started) our first real unit of the year. What a whirlwind!

Before leaving for home this week, I found myself sitting at my desk in a bit of a stupor (this happens a lot on Friday afternoons if I'm being honest). The first two weeks had flown by, I feel like I'm getting to know my students and I'm excited for the year. But I wanted to make sure to take a second to reflect back on all the things that I poured time, money, and energy into that were worth it...as well as admit the one thing I already know I could have done better.

1. The amount of time (and money!) we spend on making our rooms feel welcoming and comfortable...is WORTH IT.

This will be my third year in my current classroom and each year it becomes more and more comfortable. I toyed around with the idea of flexible seating this summer, but ultimately it didn't work out, but overall I really like my classroom. It's warm and welcoming and full of fun little touches that make the students laugh when they discover them. I can tell they enjoy being in my room and I truly believe that makes a big difference.

I love my room swag!

2. The time we spend getting to know our students instead of diving right into the curriculum...is WORTH IT.

I spent the past two weeks doing activities to develop a positive classroom culture in my classroom. At times, I did panic a little about the fact that I wasn't getting to the curriculum fast enough, but when I had my students write about why feeling comfortable and positive in class is important I knew I had made the right decision. "It makes me more willing to take chances when I know no one is going to judge me." wrote one of my students. "I'm gonna talk more this year because I know people will listen." wrote another.

3. The pain of preparing cool new projects and ideas so our students can enjoy new experiences...is WORTH IT.

I'm not sure I would have agreed with this sentiment on the Saturday before school started as I was trying to figure out how to get a small 3-digit lock to close a pencil case in such a way that no one could get into it unless they had the combination. Sweating (and swearing...I'll be honest), the thought of just handing out the syllabus and skipping the whole "escape room" opening I had planned sounded like a great idea. But look:

They were up and alert. Engaged. Laughing. Focused. Curious. Frustrated. Collaborative. They were having fun on the first day of classes doing an activity that they're still talking about. As I snapped the pictures all the frustration of getting the experience ready seemed like nothing.

4. The formative assessments we give at the beginning of the year to gauge where our students are at academically before we begin...are WORTH IT.

It's tempting to do all the fun activities we've pinned this summer. I had two projects I was super excited to do with my students, the Get-to-Know-You Curation Project, I talked about last month, and the Breakout Room project - many, many thanks to BreakoutEDU for their amazing resources and products (I'm planning on writing a grant to see if I can get several of the boxes for my high school!). I did them - and I'm so happy I did, but I also made sure to leave time for my students to show me what their best writing, reading, and analyzing text looks like in August. I'm planning on spending time this weekend looking over it all and deciding where I need to focus my instruction. This will give me more "bang for my buck," by making sure I'm really paying attention to areas where more time needs to be spent.

5. Letting our students get to know us (as teachers AND as people) is WORTH IT.

 I always try to stay on the right side of the "share-overshare" line with my students. I know they want to know who I am, both as a teacher and as a person, but I also know that they're my students and I'm their teacher and a line should exist between us for many reasons. I like to share my interests with my students - especially if I find out that we have shared favorites, like music, tv shows, movies, or hobbies, but I try to keep the stories about my kids or husband to myself. I don't think they really care and I don't want to cross over that line between teacher and friend.

I was honest with them, however, about the fact that while I love the idea of this bulletin board; it is not my most beautifully executed design. A few of them have already offered to help me "pretty it up."

I already know I need to fix...being clear about when it's time to work and when its time to play.

I'm not a follower of the "Don't Smile 'Til Christmas" camp of classroom management. I enjoy lively classrooms where students can express themselves (appropriately, of course). I'm not a yeller. At five feet tall exactly, I know I'm never going to be intimidating in that way, so I never really tried. All that being said, I do run a "tight ship" for the most part. My classes talk a lot about mutual respect. About knowing when joke and when to get down to work. 

I already know, however, that several of my classes haven't quite learned the difference yet. I erred on the side of making classes engaging and active these past two weeks, and let a few things slide that I really shouldn't have. On Friday, I spoke about this with two classes - letting them know that I loved our classes energy, but that we all needed to be more aware of when it is time to get down to business. I'm already planning how I'm going to communicate this more clearly next year.

Overall, I'm excited and energized to be back in my classroom! I hope your school year (and mine!) are meaningful and memorable!

Let me know your Back to School Successes (and mistakes!) in the comments!

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46 Reasons You Might Be Freaking Out Right Now (if you're a teacher at the end of summer vacation)

Tuesday, August 8, 2017 / Leave a Comment

46 Reasons Why You Might Be Freaking Out Right Now (if you're a teacher at the end of summer vacation)

It's coming. Whether we like it or not, the first day of school will be here soon. Here are just a few of the random anxieties floating around in my head... Can you relate?

You only finished 5 of the 87 books you hoped to be able to read this summer.

The house still looks like a pack of wild dogs use it as their den.

You aren’t nearly as tan as you want to be before heading back under the fluorescent lights.

You’ve been having too much fun peeing whenever you actually need to go instead of holding it for hours on end.

You’ve been able to eat lunch at a normal hour, instead of at 10:30 AM or 2 PM or whatever other odd time your schedule dictates you can eat.

You actually have time to eat lunch now…and it’s really nice.

The thought of setting an alarm clock makes you twitch.

There are still a million people you said you’d hang out with once summer arrived…and you’ve only seen three of them.

You haven’t gotten your class rosters yet.

You have gotten your class rosters and they’re making you twitch.

The teacher in the classroom across the hall has her entire room set up with the theme you were planning on using this year.

You haven’t chosen a theme for your classroom yet.

The thought of choosing a classroom theme makes you twitch.

None of the school supplies you ordered for the start of the year have arrived yet.

They changed your schedule.

You’re teaching an entirely different class/grade/course this year.

You’re teaching the exact same thing you’ve taught for the past _____ years.

The “Back-to-School Nightmares” have started.

A fellow teacher’s son/daughter will be in your class this year.

The school principal’s/superintendent’s son/daughter will be in your class this year.

The brother/sister of that student will be in your class this year.

It’s still too hot to spend all day inside.

Analyzing last year’s testing results.

Writing/reviewing special education paperwork for all the students who move in a day before the school year starts.

Your teacher friend from another district doesn’t start until September.

None of your teacher clothes fit.

It’s been nice not to hear people asking you to repeat directions immediately after you finish saying them (unless you have kids…then this one really doesn’t apply).

You’ve been able to stay up past 10 o’clock in the evening.

You’re not caught up on all the TV shows you couldn’t stay up for during the school year.

Trying to work out how you’re going to attend your Back-to-School Night and your kids’ Back-to-School Nights is already giving you headaches.

You decided to try flexible seating…and you’re terrified.

You didn’t decide to do flexible seating…and you regret it.

Right now, it’s a weekday and you’re not teaching.

The lifeguards at the pool know you by name.

You’re going to need to start remembering which day of the week it is.

The desk arrangement you planned out in your head doesn’t work the way you thought it would once you got into your classroom.

You can’t get into your classroom because the custodians are still waxing the floors.

The school construction that was supposed to be done in July still isn’t finished.

The redecorating/redesigning project in your house that was supposed to be done by June still isn’t finished.

Your kids/pets have just started to sleep in.

You’ve become very committed to your daily naps.

The thought of leaving your kid(s)/pet(s) every day makes you weepy.

The putty you bought to stick your posters on the wall isn’t working.

Having to pack a lunch every day is a pain.

What if the students don’t like you?/don’t listen to you?

You’ve just started to relax and now summer is over!

What did I miss? Let me know what you're feeling anxious about in the comment section!

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