Word Sneak: Vocabulary Game Inspired by the Tonight Show

While killing time in the airport last weekend, I watched a series of Jimmy Fallon Tonight Show clips. While watching Jimmy Fallon and Bryan Cranston playing “Word Sneak,” I was inspired! I decided to use this game format for a vocabulary review in my class.

Here are the steps for any teacher who wants to replicate this thoroughly entertaining vocabulary review game:

1. Start by playing a clip from The Tonight Show, so students know what they are being asked to do. Definitely preview the clip you plan to use to make sure it is appropriate for the grade level you teach.

2. Break up a list of vocabulary words into two shorter lists. I printed them out, so students could mark the words they were able to successfully and seamlessly “sneak” into the conversation.

3. Put students into pairs facing each other conversation style. Give each person a list with vocabulary words. Note: each member of the pair should have a different list of words.

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4. Ask pairs to exchange their lists temporarily and allow students 60 seconds to add 3 random, silly (yet school appropriate) words. This adds some spice to the activity.

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5. Once students have added random words to their partner’s paper, ask them to exchange papers and begin! As they “sneak” words into the conversation, they can check the words off of their list. However, if their partner does not think the word was inserted into the conversation “casually and seamlessly,” then they do not earn a point for that word. Note: I’d suggest setting a timer for 5 minutes.

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6. The person who successfully sneaks the most words into the conversation wins!

This game was ridiculously fun! I tweeted Jimmy Fallon (and The Tonight Show) to thank him for inspiring this fun activity. Look what I got in return! My students were totally pumped.

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New Google Docs Feature: Editing Student Documents Just Got Easier!

Today I took my classes to the computer lab to do synchronous editing on an essay they are writing. As they continued to work on their essays, I edited them. This way we can work simultaneously on their documents and use the instant chat window to discuss questions or problems.

While I was working, I saw a new feature in the upper right hand corner of their Google documents below the grey “Comments” button.

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Now, any user with “can comment” access to a document can make suggested edits to the document. These suggestions are marked by a green bracketed box and a comment is automatically attached. For example, if a student did not indent the first line of his/her body paragraph and I indent it for them, it marks the change in green and leaves an automatic comment.

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If I delete a word or phrase, it appears in green with a strikethrough and a comment is generated. This allows me to make in text changes that are easy for students to see. They can either keep the “suggested” change or remove it.

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My favorite part of this new change is that it highlights my in text comments in green. I’ve shared my trick for customizing preferences in Google documents to make grading faster in a previous blog titled “Google Docs: Grading Tips and Tricks.”

Teachers can create shortcuts in their Google docs so that if they write “awk,” it automatically becomes [awkward wording – rework for clarity]. In the past, these changes appeared in black. Now they appear in green when a teacher is in “suggesting” mode. They visually stand out on the page and are easier for students to see.

In the example below, my student misspelled the word society. I have my preferences set so that if I write “sp” with a space in any Google document, it automatically becomes [spelling error]. Now, that phrase is highlighted in green and a comment is generated.

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I’m so thrilled about this new feature, I had to share! It acts like track changes in Word making it even easier to provide valuable formative feedback as students work on their documents. I also appreciate that students have the freedom to decide whether they want to make the suggested change or not. This encourages them to think more deeply about the changes that have been suggested.

For anyone interested in setting their preferences in Google documents to create automatic shortcuts for comments, check out the screencast below.

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Advanced Google Search Tip: Sort by Reading Level

While presenting a series of Google trainings in Alaska last week, I discovered that very few participants knew how to do an advanced Google search by reading level. It’s such a useful trick for differentiating reading materials in the classroom, I wanted to share it.

Step 1: Enter your search terms into the query box.

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Step 2: Click “Search tools” > “All results”> “Reading level”

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Step 3: View the breakdown of your search results by reading level. To view only the “Basic,” “Intermediate,” or “Advanced,” simply click on the desired reading level to filter your search results for resources that fall into that specific reading level.

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Step 4: Each search result will be labeled with its specific reading level.

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This is super helpful for those of us who have classes with a wide range of skills and abilities. I can search for a topic, but select resources at different reading levels to differentiate my instruction.

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Common Core: Explicit vs. Implicit Information

Words like “explicit,” “implicit,” and “inference” sound like a foreign language to most students, yet the Common Core expects students to “read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it.” Students must be able to identify both explicit and implicit information, so they can make inferences about what they read. The trick is designing fun activities to keep students engaged as they practice and apply these new skills!

Yesterday, I briefly described each term and had students record the definitions.

    • Explicit – clearly stated so there is no room for confusion or questions.
    • Implicit – implied or suggested, but not clearly stated.
    • Inference – a conclusion made based on both information/evidence and reasoning.

To practice, I showed my students three movie trailers. I selected trailers for movies that target a teenage audience.

Before we began, I explained that movie trailers attempt to balance explicit and implicit information. They reveal enough explicit information to give you a sense of the movie’s premise, yet they rely on implicit information to capture their viewer’s imaginations. If the movie trailer has been successful, the audience will be intrigued enough about the movie to pay to see it.

Here is how I organized the lesson:

Step 1: We watched the upcoming Hunger Games: Mockingjay movie trailer. I encouraged students to note all of the explicit information presented in the trailer. 

Step 2: After the trailer, I gave my students a couple of minutes to quietly fill in any additional explicit information they learned. Then I asked them to brainstorm the implicit information revealed in the trailer.

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Step 3: After jotting down a list of explicit and implicit information, they discussed their information in small groups of 3 or 4. Then they made inferences about the movie based on the explicit and implicit information they gathered from the trailer. The group dynamic was great for sparking additional ideas!

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Step 4: After the groups made their inferences, we reconvened as a class. I asked groups to share the explicit and implicit information they generated, then invited them to share their inferences. Because their subject matter was a movie trailer, instead of a piece of literature, they were less intimidated (less fearful of being wrong) and more eager to share their ideas.

We repeated this process with two more movie trailers (The Fault in Our Stars and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).

Extend & Apply to Literature

After finishing our evaluations of the movie trailers, I asked students to apply these new terms to Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, which we are currently reading.

I asked students to crowdsource information from the first three chapters of the novel. I asked them to identify what they learned about the historical, social, economic, and political context of the novel. Each group collaborated for five minutes to generate a list of information.

After they finished crowdsourcing their information, I asked each group to work together to go back through their lists and decide whether each piece of information was explicitly stated or implicitly suggested. After discussing each piece of information, they labeled it either “explicit” or “implicit.” This gave them a chance to take the practice they did with the movie trailers and apply it to the text we are currently reading.

Finally, they also took that information and articulated specific inferences they were able to make about the novel based on their information.

*Note: This extension activity would also work with an informational text.

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Build an Online Community to Complement Your in Class Community

More and more teachers are venturing online with their students to enhance and extend the work done in the classroom. There are myriad benefits to engaging students online and replacing classic pen and paper assignments with more dynamic online lessons, asynchronous conversations and collaborative activities.

Unfortunately, many teachers jump into the online space without creating the foundation needed to ensure students will participate respectfully, supportively and substantively.

I believe we must follow the same steps we use in the classroom to build community online.

1. Establish Clear Expectations for Behavior

2. Give Students a Chance to Practice

3. Gently Correct Missteps Online

Establish Clear Expectations for Behavior 

Just as we discuss the norms for behavior in our physical classroom, I had students decide what was appropriate for our interactions and communication the online space. I asked them to work in groups to establish “norms” for our behavior online. Then I presented them with my “Dos and Don’ts for Online Communication” (available with other online community building resources in my book Blended Learning in Grades 4-12). We merged our lists to ensure we had a clear set of expectations prior to our first assignment online.

Give Students a Chance to Practice

Many of my students have never been asked to complete work online prior to my class, so it is important that they have a chance to practice in a low stress situation. I use online icebreakers to create opportunities for students to get to know one another and practice these new expectations for online behavior and communication.

Below is a screenshot of our first online icebreaker this year. Students stunned me with how strong their initial interactions were. I believe it was a product of our classroom conversations about online communication norms.

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Screen shot 2014-08-22 at 12.17.51 PMI’ve designed a collection of icebreakers that work well in the online space to help students get to know their peers, form relationships and practice engaging respectfully and substantively with one another online. (Note: 16 online icebreakers also featured in my book Blended Learning in Grades 4-12).

Gently Correct Missteps Online

Blending online work with face to face interactions in the classroom is most effective when the work done in one medium is woven seamlessly into the other medium.

After our initial online discussions, I selected several student responses and replies and copied them onto a document. I removed all of the students’ names for anonymity. Then I made copies – one for each group.

I asked the groups to read and critique the online discussions:

    • What was done well? Identify areas of strength.
    • What could be improved? As a group, add edits to the paper to improve the responses and peer replies.
    • Are any of the “dos and don’ts” of online communication violated? If so, how can you fix those errors?

photoThey worked collaboratively to discuss, critique and improve the responses and peer replies. Then we finished with a whole group discussion of what was done well and what missteps need to be avoided next time.

These types of activities reinforce expectations for online engagement to ensure that students’ work online stays respectful and productive. I’d encourage teachers to approach the online space with intention and use the same kinds of strategies they use in the classroom to build community online.


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Crowdsourcing as a Class with Blogger

The first few days of school can be a bit of a blur for students who are bombarded with syllabi and class rules. One of the ways I like to break the cycle of “sit and get” that first week of school is to use a crowdsourcing activity to put the responsibility of establishing expectations on my students. Instead of telling them what I expect, I ask them questions like:

    • What would make this class feel like a community?
    • What can your peers do to make you feel welcome?
    • How can you help to keep this classroom a safe space?

My students have been in school for 10 years by the time they get to my class, so they have a pretty good idea of what makes a classroom a welcoming and safe community.

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The second day of school, I asked them to discuss what they thought was polite versus rude when engaging in different forms of communication. In small groups, they had time to talk about their particular mode of communication. Then they constructed a “dos and don’ts” list of behaviors for face to face communication, text messages, photos sharing with commenting ability (Snapchats or Instagram), and email. Given the large number of students using photo sharing apps, I was particularly interested in their take on what was polite and what was rude.

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The challenge is that I don’t have enough wall space or white board to capture all of their incredible ideas. I also want to make sure we can reference the ideas they generate throughout the year.

Instead of crowdsourcing on the board, which is temporary, students post their ideas directly to our class blog. Our class blog is a space specifically designated for them to share ideas. I have a class website, but the class blog belongs to them.

Using Blogger to Crowdsource

Step 1: Set up your blog

You’ll find the Blogger app by clicking the collection of squares in the upper right hand corner of your Gmail. Blogger is Google’s free blogging tool, so it’s attached to your Gmail account.

Blogger - click on blogger icon

Step 2: Give your blog a name

Blogger - create a  new blog

Step 3: Change setting to allow students to email and text directly to your class blog

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You’re all set! Now students can use their devices in class to post their ideas and crowdsource. You can capture it in one shared space where everyone can view the information that has been generated.

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15 Reasons I Love to Teach

I teach because I love to learn.

I teach because it challenges me to grow.

I teach because I had great teachers who inspired me.

I teach because every day is different.

I teach because our students can make a difference.

I teach because it allows me to be creative every day.

I teach because I can model what it looks like to fail, not freak out and try again.

I teach because I want an excuse to read stories and talk about them.

I teach because high school students are hilarious.

I teach because technology is creating exciting new ways to communicate, collaborate and create.

I teach because students deserve a safe space to learn and engage with their peers.

I teach because I don’t have to sit at a desk.

I teach because 9 days out of 10 I leave school with a smile on my face.

I teach because I like to listen and I want every student to know their voice matters.

I teach because I get to experience the thrill of “ah ha” moments all the time!

This is my favorite way to end the summer and get ready for school. It always makes me thankful to have chosen this profession. I’m so lucky to wake up every morning excited to go to work.

Start this school year by making your “I teach because…” list. This could be a fun all staff activity with post-it notes too! I’d love to have teachers post a comment and share their #1 reason for teaching.


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Back to School To-Do List #2: Plan Epic Icebreakers

I feel for my students on the first day of school. It’s an overwhelming experience for my 9th grade students who are navigating a new campus and acclimating to new classes and classmates. I like to plan fun icebreakers to help them get past their fear (most are terrified) and get to know their peers! Here are three of my favorite first day icebreakers

#1 Personality quiz 

Instead of calling roll, I ask students to put their new schedules in the corner of their desks. Then I provide them with two part personality quiz to complete as I walk around silently taking roll. This efficient way of handling roll on the first day is a welcome relief to most students who are tired of listening to a long list of names at the start of class.

You may be questioning, “why a personality test?” First, students love answering questions about themselves. Second, it helps me to design their collaborative seating assignments after that first day.

This year I’m using this fun 5 Minute Personality Quiz, which asks students to rate words in the order they describe their personalities. After determining whether they are a lion, otter, Golden Retriever or beaver, I ask them to go to the corner of the classroom with that animal posted. As a small group, they read through the description of their personality type and discuss how accurate they feel it is.

The backside of this more structured personality quiz, is a “Would you rather…” activity. I list a collection of statements, like “Would you rather vacation at the beach or at the snow?” and “Would you rather go without your phone or a car for a month?” These statements range from intriguing to absurd, but students love it. Plus, it provides fodder for additional icebreakers asking students to stand on the side of the room that matches their particular selections.

#2 Design a Class Scavenger Hunt

This year I put together a class scavenger hunt compiled of questions, like “Who worked at a summer job?” and “Who speaks three languages?” and “Who watched the final game of the World Cup?” Students have to fill in as many of the blanks as possible and can only use a student’s name twice.

This activity gets students out of their seats and out of their comfort zones. To answer the questions, they have to walk around the room meeting people and making conversation.

#3 Socrative Space Race Ice Breaker 

I love Socrative and use it for everything from quizzes to review games to icebreakers. On the first day of class, I put students in small groups of 4 and challenge them to compete in a space race. Each group only needs one devices to make this activity work.

Prior to that first day I design either a pop culture quiz or a name that movie line quiz. I try to keep the topic fairly accessible to the majority of students. Then the groups compete against each other to answer the questions correctly. Because I run this quiz as a space race, students can see their rockets zoom across the screen as they answer questions correctly, which adds to the competitive nature of the activity. Most students forget to be nervous they are having so much fun.

If you are looking for more icebreakers, check out this Google document I started and blasted out on Twitter inviting my PLN to add their favorite icebreaker activities. If you have a fun icebreaker you use, please add it to the document so it continues to grow!

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Back to School To-Do List #1: Sign up for Remind

August is right around the corner and, like most teachers, I have a TON to do before my students return in 3 weeks. In an effort to help teachers prepare for the first day of school, I wanted to share some of the items on my to-do list.

If you’ve never used Remind (previously Remind101), this is a quick and easy tool that allows you to send groups of students and parents text message reminders. I’ve recorded a screencast walking teachers though the simple process of signing up for an account. I’ve also highlighted some of my favorite features.

Not only can teachers send text message reminders to communicate with students and parents, they can also have fun with this tool. Check out the blog I wrote about using Remind for Shakespeare Trivia!


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5 Ways to Provide Parents a Window Into Your Classroom

When I attended my daughter’s kindergarden Back-to-School Night two years ago, I was delighted to see a video of the classroom playing on a television in the corner. As a parent, it was exciting to see my child in the context of the classroom. My daughter’s teacher had simply videotaped the children singing, working on projects, and progressing through their daily routine. The classroom was no longer a mystery. I left wanting to provide the parents of my 9th and 10th grade students with a similar experience.

Most parents of high school students probably have no idea how their children spend their days or what they are doing in their classes. This makes me sad as I will eventually be the parent of a high school student. As a result, I’ve tried to create windows into my own classroom.

Here are 5 strategies I’d suggest teachers consider:

1. Use a Twitter Hashtag or Create a Class FaceBook Page

You can post announcements, share pictures, and connect parents to resources and documents online.

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Tip: If you are using Twitter you do not need to follow your students’ parents, but you can add them to a list “Parents 2014-2015.” If you are using Facebook, you do not need to friend you parents for them to follow a Facebook page you’ve created for your class.

2. Create a Class Instagram Account

This makes it possible for parents to actually see what students are doing in the classroom. Post pictures that give parents a sense of what is happening each week.

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Tip: If you are using Instagram and plan to have a public account where you will post pictures of your students, you need your parents to sign a photo release form. Like Twitter and Facebook, you do no need to follow any parents or students with your class Instagram account.

3. Post Content Videos & Tutorials to a YouTube Channel

If you flip your classroom and provide video content online for students, parents can watch the videos too. This provides parents with the tools to support their students as they work on an assignment.

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Tip: Organize your videos into “playlists” so they are easier for your parents to navigate. For example, I have essay writing videos in their own playlist and vocabulary videos in another playlist.

4. Share Animoto Videos

Animoto is so easy to use I often take pictures of students working on projects or in their daily routine to share with parents via short videos. I play a video at Back-to-School Night and then post them to our class website for parents to view.


Tip: You can create a simple Animoto video just using your phone. Take pictures and video clips, then use the Animoto app to create a polished video in minutes!

5. Share a Master List of Student Blogs

All of my students started writing their own blogs this year. I encouraged them to blog about any topic they are passionate about. One strategy for getting more eyes on your students’ blogs is to encourage parents to check them out! Create a Google Document with the blog titles (no names) and hyperlink to each student’s blog. This encourages parents to click on blogs written about topics they are interested in, while also giving them a sense of what students are working on for your class.

Tip: Post a link to a “View only” Google Document from your website. This way both parents and students can check out the blogs any time.

If you are using different strategies to engage your parents or provide a window into your classroom, please post a comment or find me on Twitter! I’d love to learn from what other teachers are doing.

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