3 Strategies to Engage Students Remotely with StudySync Using Google Classroom

English teachers using StudySync have a wealth of online resources they can use to keep students learning remotely. For teachers using StudySync in combination with Google Classroom, I’ve described three strategies that educators can use to capitalize on the activities in the StudySync First Read lesson plans to engage students in online discussions, collaborative research projects, and online vocabulary review.

#1 Use the StudySync Access Prior Knowledge Activities to Facilitate Online Discussions

Teachers using StudySync can use the Access Prior Knowledge Activities in the First Read Lessons to engage students in asynchronous online discussions using Google Classroom or a learning management system, like Schoology.

Online discussions give students the opportunity to engage with their peers virtually to share their prior knowledge before reading a text. This can help students to feel more connected to their peers when learning remotely. It also requires that they “use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.”

#2 Create Collaborative Online Research Activities with Building Background Activities

Despite having access to unlimited amounts of information, many students struggle to research effectively. Students are unfamiliar with search operations that can help them to narrow down their search results. For example, they can use quotes around phrases to do a verbatim search and limit their results to resources with that exact wording. They can also limit their search results to a particular domain by typing site:.edu or site:.gov. These simple search operations can help them to find higher quality content when they are researching a topic. 

In addition to using Google search operations to improve their searches, students need to practice assessing website credibility. They need to think critically about the quality of an online source before they take information from that website. They should ask questions like, does this website have an author? Does the author have expertise or experience in this field? Is the website affiliated with a company or organization? If so, could that create bias?  

For students to hone these critical research skills, they need to practice conducting online research. Teachers using StudySync can take the Building Background activities in the First Read lessons and create collaborative research assignments for students learning remotely. 

Teachers can use StudySync in combination with Google Slides to allow small groups of learners to engage in a collaborative research activity. Teachers can use the prompts from the lesson plan under the Building Background activity to guide the students’ research, and students can organize the information they find into a multimedia presentation. 

#3 Facilitate a Deep Dive into Vocabulary with Google Slides & the Frayer Model

In each First Read lesson, students encounter several bold vocabulary words. I ask them to stop and use the context clues in the sentence to make a prediction about what each word means based on how it is used. The goal is to get students thinking about a sentence like a puzzle. What can they learn about the words they do not know by looking closely at the words they do know? Once they have made a prediction about each word’s meaning, they capture that in an annotative note.

When students move on to the Close Read assignment, there is a vocabulary review activity. They have to drag and drop the definitions so that they appear next to the corresponding vocabulary words. They also need to write a sentence using the word.

Normally, students would do additional vocabulary review activities in class to help them learn and remember these words. While students are at home learning remotely, it is necessary to design online vocabulary review activities to reinforce their understanding of these words.

Teachers can use Google Slides and the Frayer Model to engage students in vocabulary review beyond the classroom. I created a Google Slide deck with a slide for each of the vocabulary words in the text. I used the Frayer Model to provide structure to the review activity.

On each slide, the students have to:

  1. define the vocabulary term in their own words
  2. insert an image that will help them to remember the word
  3. think of a synonym for the word
  4. find an antonym for the word

Teachers who want to make a copy of and use my vocabulary slide deck can access it. Google will force you to make a copy, so you will need to be signed into your Google account.

I am writing a series of guest blogs for StudySync to support teachers as they transition to teaching online. You can check them out here. StudySync is also creating resources designed to support teachers as they make the transition online. Check out their 5-Day Mini Units for Grades 6-12.

Posted in Learning | 6 Comments

Vrain Waves: Coping with Covid–Catlin Tucker on Teaching During a Quarantine

This Sunday, I spoke with Benjamin Kalb and Becky Peters about coping with Covid-19. In this episode, we talk about the impact of school closures on families, students, and teachers.

I share my coping strategies as a parent. I talk about how in times of uncertainty–first, the wildfires that destroyed our home and now, the pandemic–I find comfort in schedules and structure. Imposing order on chaos makes me feel more in control. I also hope it also provides my children with a sense of safety in this time of uncertainty and fear.

We also talk about the advice I have for teachers trying to find their footing teaching in an entirely online environment. I’ve had the opportunity to be a traditional teacher, a blended learning teacher, and an online professor. I know that teaching in each of those environments requires a specific skill set. For those teachers who are feeling overwhelmed, I offer some tips for approaching this new reality of teaching online.

I also remind teachers that students are juggling a lot mentally and emotionally during this crisis. Students are negotiating shared spaces with family members. They may be sharing devices with many siblings or family members. They are, no doubt, feeling isolated and maybe dealing with anxiety or depression related to this pandemic. As educators, we should consider creating spaces for them to connect online, be strategic in terms of what we assign, lean on video and video conferencing tools to support students and embrace the flexibility of the online environment allowing students to self-pace through work.

As Benjamin and Becky point out at the start of this episode, no one is the expert in this exact situation. Most of us could not have imagined facing this new reality of school closures, social distancing, and sheltering in place. We all need to be gentle with ourselves and each other and do the best we can in a tough situation.

Posted in Learning | 1 Comment

3 Ways to Use Video Conferencing with Students Learning Remotely

Thank goodness for Zoom and Google Hangouts! During this time of social isolation and remote learning, these video conferencing tools are lifesavers. They make it possible for teachers to maintain a human connection with their students and guide their learning from a distance. Below are three suggestions for using these video conferencing platforms to continue teaching students as they learn remotely.

#1 Small Group Instruction

Teachers can host a series of short Zoom or Google Hangouts sessions throughout the day focused on different skills or topics. These online sessions are an excellent way to continue teaching and connecting with learners. Even if teachers cannot require that students attend a live meeting due to concerns around access, connectivity, and availability, these sessions can be recorded and posted on class websites, Google Classroom, or a learning management system.

As teachers think about hosting virtual meetings, I would encourage them to approach the design of this time with intention. Structuring a small group instruction session will help to engage students and make the experience more meaningful for them. It is essential to build in time for them to discuss information and ask questions.


If teachers are planning to use video conference to simply transfer information (e.g., lectures or mini-lessons), I would suggest recording a video and allowing students to self-pace through that video. Then the valuable and limited time you have with students in a video conferencing session can be spent on more hands-on, collaborative, and engaging tasks.

#2 Facilitate a Small Group Discussion

Teachers can invite students to participate in a small group discussion about a chapter they read in a text or the textbook, debrief about a flipped video lesson, or unpack complex issues or topics related to your subject area.

Ideally, I would suggest teachers provide the discussion questions ahead of time to allow students to think about them before the conversation. I also recommend providing students with an online space where they can crowdsource and capture questions they would like to discuss. Teachers can do this using Mentimeter by asking an open-ended question, on a shared online document, or simply asking students to write down three questions on paper that they can bring to the conversation.

#3 Conferencing with Students

Conferencing online with students about their goals, progress, questions, and concerns is a powerful way to use video conferencing capabilities. Teachers can create a schedule of timeslots using an online calendar, like Google Calendar or Calendy, to allow students to sign up for 5-minute conferencing sessions.

I am a fan of using a goal-setting activity to guide conferencing sessions about student progress. In the past, I have used the SMART goal format to get students thinking about what they want to achieve in a grading period; however, given the fluid nature of the COVID-19 and school closures, I would encourage teachers to embrace goal-setting on a smaller scale (e.g., one week at a time).

I adapted Simon Sinek’s golden circle from his book Start with Why to get students thinking about why they want to achieve a particular goal (academic or personal), how they will go about achieving it, and what success will look or feel like.


Teachers can make a copy of the Google Drawing above and share it with students via Google Classroom. This goal-setting activity engages students in the metacognitive practice of setting a personal or academic goal at the start of each week. Then teachers can reference this goal during conferencing sessions. They can also end each week by asking students to reflect on their progress toward their goal that week in a journal or online reflective log.

Optional video conferencing sessions can offer students an avenue to connect and get the support they need during this tough time. I have also heard teachers on Twitter talk about offering parent Q&A sessions or coffee chats with families to keep them in the loop and lower anxiety levels. Other teachers are meeting with their professional learning communities (PLCs) to discuss lesson design, book study texts or education podcasts, or simply share what is working as they move curriculum online.

There are myriad ways to leverage video conferencing during this time of social isolation and remote learning. If you are using video conferencing with students, teachers, or families and want to share your approach, please take a moment to post a comment so we can learn from each other!

Posted in Learning | 28 Comments