English Language Arts Lesson Ideas

Elementary Classrooms

Grade: 1-5
Subject: English Language Arts, Technology
Objective: The student will be able to find and understand information from a variety of sources, including the Internet.
Original Post: Search Engine Scaffolding: Free tools help your students become search engine experts

Whenever a student has a basic question in class — i.e. “What’s Paris, France?” — look it up on Qwiki as a class. As time goes by, start having conversations about what students can and can’t learn from Qwiki. How does Qwiki compare to a dictionary? Can you ask Qwiki specific questions or just general questions? As a class, use chart paper to make a list of things Qwiki would be able to answer and a list of things it wouldn’t.

After several weeks or months, once students become more accustomed to using Qwiki for basic facts — similar to an encyclopedia — introduce SortFix to them. First, use it as a class to research a topic. Explain that, sometimes, computers need extra clues to understand your questions and, by giving them additional words, it helps computers answer our questions. Go back to the list the class made with things Qwiki wouldn’t be able to answer. Discuss whether there are any questions on that list that SortFix would be able to help answer. After using both SortFix and Qwiki several times as a class when questions arise, invite students to use the sites on their own for their research projects.

Grade: K-3
Subject: English Language Arts
Objective: The student will be able to read and identify sight words. The student will be able to write a sequenced story with a beginning, a middle, and an ending.
Original Post: Search Stories Give Reading Assignments a Fresh Twist

Create a series of search stories that display sight words (or spelling words) and associated images. Students can watch the videos as a class or individually, if you want to stress different words for different students. Some words might be difficult to associate with photos, but nouns like house, bike, and school could work. Done well, students could even create a story based on the order the words are displayed. For example, “The boy was at his house. Then he rode his bike to school. He found a cat and brought it home.”

Grade: K-3 (or students at those reading levels)
Subject: Reading
Objective: The student will be able to read sight words.
Original Post: Screencasts Turn Students into Digital Teachers

In most Kindergarten classrooms, you’ll find a computer center. Usually, what I’ve seen are two or three computers where kids put on headphones and play Starfall or sight-word games. In fact, even when I taught in middle school, I had some students who still needed sight-word practice, and I would send them to a computer station to practice while I worked with other students.

However, as teachers, we rarely have time to sit with students and listen to them as they play these games. Wouldn’t it be great if we could record exactly what they’re doing to double-check their accuracy?

Why not sit a student at a computer, start up Jing, press record, and play a video like this one (you could even use Jing to create student-specific videos like this):

Meanwhile, you could work with other students. At the end of the day, you can go back to that Jing video and check the student’s accuracy. You can make time to meet with him/her to review any misunderstandings. If the child read everything correctly, you could use the screencast to help other students learn sight words in the future. You could even show the video to parents at conferences, to show them how their child is doing as well as to model activities they could do at home.

Grade: 2-5
Subject: English Language Arts
Objective: The student will be able to write a sequenced story with a beginning, a middle, and an ending.
Original Post: Use What Their Mamas Gave ‘Em: Students’ Cell Phones in Education

Teachers often use add-on writing activities to build students’ reading and writing skills. One student starts the story with a sentence or two and then passes it on. The next student has to read what’s already been written and continue the story, then pass it again. Depending on students’ levels, the story can be passed through just three students or go through the entire class.

It’s a simple enough activity, but it can be expanded exponentially by integrating Twitter. One student could tweet the beginning of the story (limited to 140 characters), another could tweet the next piece, and so on. You could make it a lot more interesting by using DailyBooth — students would have to include a photo of something they see or of an illustration. Teachers could use a single phone at a center or several phones within class. Better yet, the activity could be a homework assignment — each student could be assigned a specific day to tweet from their parents’ phones and, after a month, the class story would be finished. (Throughout the month, students could even make predictions about how they think the story might end.)

So what’s the point of using Twitter, when you could do virtually the same activity without it? First of all, student motivation is sure to increase. Tweeting is more fun than passing a paper around, plus the kids have an audience of followers, which could include parents and family members around the world.

Also, unlike with a paper that gets passed around the room, you could even partner with a class (or several) in another country, having those students contribute to your story as well.

Grade: K-5
Subjects: English Language Arts and Science
Objective: The student will be able to

  • research and report on a topic;
  • understand that different animals live in different places and have body parts that they use for different purposes.

Original Post: Powerpoint Schmowerpoint: Teach kids to create really engaging presentations

At some point in every child’s early elementary years, they do a research report on an animal. Wouldn’t it be great if these kids could express their own personality in these reports and share them with the world?

With blabberize, they can. Students can write a research report on an animal, as always, but, rather than reading the report to the class, they can upload a photo of the animal to blabberize and then make the photo talk. Students can act as the animal and record a first-person narration that includes animal facts.

Grade: K-2
Subject: Writing
Objective: The student will be able to adjust his/her use of written and visual language to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences for different purposes.
Original Post: Use FREE Blogging to Increase Your Students’ Writing Scores 20 Percent

Some teachers aren’t sure when they should start having students blog. My suggestion: as soon as they start writing. Kathy Cassidy has her first-grade students blog from the beginning of the year. Their blogs are similar to what you’d see in an average first-grade writing journal – one sentence about an experience they’ve had, accompanied by a picture. Ms. Cassidy has her student create those pictures using a computer program. Other teachers might want to follow suit, using the FREE TuxPaint. My students used to just take photographs of their drawings and publish the photos on their blogs.

Giving younger students a blog gets them thinking about writing for an audience early. Most likely, this is a skill they’ll have mastered by early middle-school, when writing teachers often struggle to introduce it.

It’s also a great way to get students excited about literacy early. And most teachers know that instilling an early love of reading and writing is the best way to create life-long learners.

Grade: PreK-2
Subject: Reading
Objective: The student will be able to read grade-level appropriate text.
Original Post: iPad Dream at Realistic Price: the $250 Android Tablet

When young students are learning to read, it’s very important that they’re read to a lot. The Nook comes with a couple of children’s books already installed, and these stay on the Nook (in the “library” app) even after it’s rooted. Students can open these books and either read to themselves or have a recorded voice on the Nook read to them. In addition, there are tons of similar FREE and low-cost children’s books available for download through the B&N Nook app and the Kindle app.

Grade: 3-5
Subject: Writing
Objective: The student will be able to plan, draft, and write a story based on a prompt.
Original Post: iPad Dream at Realistic Price: the $250 Android Tablet

Have students use the FREE version of the Thinking Space app to create a mind map for a writing assignment. When they’re ready, have students draft their product on Google docs or on their student blog.

Grade: 3-12
Subject: Reading
Objective: The student will be able to describe a character’s behaviors, values, and beliefs.
Original Post: Turn Social Networks into Learning Networks with Edmodo

Anyone who has taught in a K-12 classroom knows that no matter what subject you teach, you teach reading. Reading comprehension is ingrained in nearly everything we do as adults and, as such, is embedded into every K-12 subject.

But, often, teachers complain to me that technology is destroying reading and, specifically, reading comprehension in 21st century students. Kids are so used to immediate gratification — to getting everything in snippets, to 120-character tweets, to Google synopses, and to Facebook status updates — that 500-page novels are a bore. “Can’t we just watch the movie?” they’ll ask. (I think this last question has been around a bit longer than the internet; I remember my own peers asking it 20 years ago.)

It’s true that technology has changed the way we process information, including the way we read. There’s a plethora of recent research studying how these new technologies have affected the way we interact, process, and analyze. There are studies suggesting that, as a society, our very brain chemistry is changing. Good or bad, this is happening. As teachers, there’s virtually nothing we can do to stop our students from having Facebook accounts or using their cell phones. But our job is still to teach them to read, understand, and appreciate tons of different writing — literature, science journals, historic papers, daily news, math proofs, websites, etc.

Frankly, it’s never been easy to get most students to love The Odyssey. But now, technology has given us a golden opportunity — a chance to hook most of our students into reading novels, textbooks, newspapers, and virtually anything else. We just have to do what great teachers do best — get a little creative.

Reading is all about empathy. If we feel for the people we’re reading about, if we can imagine what they’re feeling and thinking and hoping, if we can relate to them, we’re hooked. And social networks can help students become empathetic. They can allow students to walk around in someone else’s skin, virtually.

Say, for example, that your class is reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Assign each student a different character in the book. The student’s assignment is to pay particular attention to that character — their beliefs, actions, motivations, voice. Everything. And then, to become that character. Have each student create an Edmodo profile, posing as their assigned character. Then, as you read the book throughout the semester, students must post updates, comments, related links, videos, etc., on the class social network. They are to become their assigned character, interacting on a social network. (It’s great if the teacher takes on the role of a character as well.) What link would Ron Weasley share with his peers? How would Draco Malfoy react to it? These are all high-level questions students will have to ask, think about, and answer through the class social network. Best of all, they can be funny or ironic or touching — all motivation to try their best at the assignment. Your class Edmodo wall might look something like this:

harrypotter-edmodo

Grade: 1-6
Subject:
Science and English Language Arts
Objective: The student will be able to communicate the procedure of a science experiment.
Original Post: Timelining for Every Classroom

When I taught 4th grade to mostly English language-learners, it was always difficult to get my students to write out the procedure of a science experiment, even right after they had completed it. We spent a lot of time learning to read and write directions in class, and a timelining tool could have helped with that process.

To start, a teacher can tell students they’re going to do an experiment as a class and record the steps. The teacher can take photos of the students completing each part of the experiment and then display them, out of order, on a projector. The teacher can then ask students to work as a class to organize the images and write step-by-step directions for what the class did in each step.

The teacher can use a simple timelining tool, like TimeToast, to record the students’ directions and can post each step with the corresponding image. Afterwards, students could work alone to complete a similar assignment (older students could create TimeToast timelines, while younger kids could emulate this in their notebooks).

Middle School Classrooms

Grade: 6-12
Subject: English Language Arts
Objective: The student will be able to make corrections based on teacher feedback.
Original Post: Reverse and Improve Your Instruction with Screencasts

Feedback is one of the most important — and most time-consuming — pieces of a teacher’s job. Ideally, we would have regular conferences with all of our students going line-by-line through their writing. However, this isn’t possible. So instead, we collect their essays, grade them at home, and return them, along with comments that we hope will help the students improve.

Unfortunately, research shows that when students see both a grade and a comment on their work, they only look at the grade and ignore the comment. But screencasts can help.

Go through grading students’ papers as you normally would. However, use a document camera connected to your computer OR a video camera to record the paper and your corrections, along with your voice explaining the corrections. Stop and re-start the recording between each paper, so you’re creating a separate video for each student’s paper. Upload these videos on a website like YouTube or Vimeo, which give you the option to make them private. Share the video ONLY with the student whose paper is being graded.

Now, instead of only receiving a marked-up essay, your students can have a virtual conference with you. If they have any questions, they can add them as a comment to the video, which you can reply to. These dialogues are now recorded, and you can use them during parent-teacher conferences or special education proceedings, if needed.

Grade: 4-8
Subject: English Language Arts, Technology
Objective: The student will be able to find and understand information from a variety of sources, including the Internet.
Original Post: Search Engine Scaffolding: Free tools help your students become search engine experts

Introduce students to SortFix. First, use it as a class to research a topic. Explain that, sometimes, computers need extra clues to understand your questions and, by giving them additional words, it helps computers answer our questions. Have students use the site as they work on research topics.

In their notebooks, have students record their original searches and their searches after they added and removed power words. After several weeks, once students become accustomed to using SortFix, discuss what SortFix teaches us. Tell students you want to know what jellyfish eat, so you’re going to type “jellyfish” into Google. Ask students to help you refine your search, without using SortFix. Ask them to predict power words and infer how you would add or remove words from a search, using Google rather than SortFix. Invite students to start using SortFix strategies on more general search engines, like Google, as they research future topics.

Grade: 4-8
Subject: English Language Arts
Objective: The student will be able to use reading comprehension strategies, including inference, to understand a text passage.
Original Post: Search Stories Give Reading Assignments a Fresh Twist

Create a search story for students (or use one of those already published on YouTube), and have them write a story that fills in the blanks. If you want to extend the lesson, have students make their own search stories, based on previous creative writing assignments. Then, other students can write their own stories, using their peers’ videos as prompts. Students will have fun comparing the original stories with those written based on the videos.

Grade: 6-8
Subject: English Language Arts
Objective: The student will be able to effectively communicate his or her ideas using a strong, unique voice.
Original Post: Use What Their Mamas Gave ‘Em: Students’ Cell Phones in Education

Digital storytelling is the perfect extension for any reading or writing assignment. Rather than publishing original poems or stories on paper, students can create digital stories to express themselves. Highly engaging videos and slideshows are likely to get a lot of attention on the Internet, so students learn to create presentations for an audience larger than just their teacher. Multi-media presentations also give students more channels to express themselves — from film-making to photography.

Plus, the presentations help students understand concepts like voice and mood. My students published their poems as podcasts, and used music to communicate the mood of their pieces. Here’s one sample from then-fourth-grader Sylvia.

When it comes to reading, classic novels can become a lot more exciting and relevant for students when then create movie trailers for the books, like this one for The Book Thief:

Grade: 5-8
Subject: English Language Arts
Objective: The student will be able to write a story using strong voice, plot structure, and literary devices.
Original Post: Wiki-Wiki What?!?

Any wiki gives students the opportunity to showcase, and thus improve, their writing. But several teachers have students create wikis entirely as a writing project.

Australian third- and fourth-grade students used a wiki to write a choose your own adventure book. It’s a brilliant idea — students can work collaboratively to finish several versions of a story. And, since wikis make creating links so easy, it’s the perfect layout from a reader’s perspective.

One of the most difficult concepts for many students to understand is the importance of editing. Wikis are a great place to demonstrate this, though. Since students all have the ability to edit one another’s work, lower-level writers will see how others’ editing improves their work before it’s published for the public.

Grade: 3-12
Subject: Reading
Objective: The student will be able to describe a character’s behaviors, values, and beliefs.
Original Post: Turn Social Networks into Learning Networks with Edmodo

Anyone who has taught in a K-12 classroom knows that no matter what subject you teach, you teach reading. Reading comprehension is ingrained in nearly everything we do as adults and, as such, is embedded into every K-12 subject.

But, often, teachers complain to me that technology is destroying reading and, specifically, reading comprehension in 21st century students. Kids are so used to immediate gratification — to getting everything in snippets, to 120-character tweets, to Google synopses, and to Facebook status updates — that 500-page novels are a bore. “Can’t we just watch the movie?” they’ll ask. (I think this last question has been around a bit longer than the internet; I remember my own peers asking it 20 years ago.)

It’s true that technology has changed the way we process information, including the way we read. There’s a plethora of recent research studying how these new technologies have affected the way we interact, process, and analyze. There are studies suggesting that, as a society, our very brain chemistry is changing. Good or bad, this is happening. As teachers, there’s virtually nothing we can do to stop our students from having Facebook accounts or using their cell phones. But our job is still to teach them to read, understand, and appreciate tons of different writing — literature, science journals, historic papers, daily news, math proofs, websites, etc.

Frankly, it’s never been easy to get most students to love The Odyssey. But now, technology has given us a golden opportunity — a chance to hook most of our students into reading novels, textbooks, newspapers, and virtually anything else. We just have to do what great teachers do best — get a little creative.

Reading is all about empathy. If we feel for the people we’re reading about, if we can imagine what they’re feeling and thinking and hoping, if we can relate to them, we’re hooked. And social networks can help students become empathetic. They can allow students to walk around in someone else’s skin, virtually.

Say, for example, that your class is reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Assign each student a different character in the book. The student’s assignment is to pay particular attention to that character — their beliefs, actions, motivations, voice. Everything. And then, to become that character. Have each student create an Edmodo profile, posing as their assigned character. Then, as you read the book throughout the semester, students must post updates, comments, related links, videos, etc., on the class social network. They are to become their assigned character, interacting on a social network. (It’s great if the teacher takes on the role of a character as well.) What link would Ron Weasley share with his peers? How would Draco Malfoy react to it? These are all high-level questions students will have to ask, think about, and answer through the class social network. Best of all, they can be funny or ironic or touching — all motivation to try their best at the assignment. Your class Edmodo wall might look something like this:

harrypotter-edmodo

Grade: 4-8
Subject: English Language Arts
Objective: The student will be able to identify and communicate the mood of an original writing piece.
Original Post: Digital Storytelling for Beginners

After a poetry or personal narrative unit, have students record their original poems or portions of their narratives on UJAM. Allow them to select a ‘style’ that appropriately conveys the mood of their piece. After they perfect their piece, have them download the mp3.

Assign one student as the MC. Have him/her record introductions for each piece. Then, burn all the completed mp3s, in order with the proper introductions, onto a CD. You can give the CD to students at the end of the school year or sell it for a fund-raiser.

High School Classrooms

Grade: 6-12
Subject: English Language Arts
Objective: The student will be able to make corrections based on teacher feedback.
Original Post: Reverse and Improve Your Instruction with Screencasts

Feedback is one of the most important — and most time-consuming — pieces of a teacher’s job. Ideally, we would have regular conferences with all of our students going line-by-line through their writing. However, this isn’t possible. So instead, we collect their essays, grade them at home, and return them, along with comments that we hope will help the students improve.

Unfortunately, research shows that when students see both a grade and a comment on their work, they only look at the grade and ignore the comment. But screencasts can help.

Go through grading students’ papers as you normally would. However, use a document camera connected to your computer OR a video camera to record the paper and your corrections, along with your voice explaining the corrections. Stop and re-start the recording between each paper, so you’re creating a separate video for each student’s paper. Upload these videos on a website like YouTube or Vimeo, which give you the option to make them private. Share the video ONLY with the student whose paper is being graded.

Now, instead of only receiving a marked-up essay, your students can have a virtual conference with you. If they have any questions, they can add them as a comment to the video, which you can reply to. These dialogues are now recorded, and you can use them during parent-teacher conferences or special education proceedings, if needed.

Grade: 9-12
Subject: English Language Arts
Objective: The student will be able to comprehend various texts and synthesize his/her knowledge in order to communicate the main idea and supporting details to others.
Original Post: Search Engine Scaffolding: Free tools help your students become search engine experts

Introduce students to Qwiki. Start a discussion about what Qwiki can and cannot tell users, guiding students to the idea that Qwiki is mainly for basic facts (main ideas), rather than in-depth information. Invite students to create a Qwiki based on a text they’re reading in class. Explain that they’re only communicating the main idea, supporting details, and main themes of the text; nothing more. Using a movie-making program (MovieMaker, iMovie, or PiTiVi), have students use image, videos, and their own narration to create a 30-second Qwiki.

Grade: 9-12
Subject: Any subject
Objective: The student will be able to comprehend various texts and synthesize his/her knowledge in order to communicate the main idea and supporting details to others.
Original Post: Search Stories Give Reading Assignments a Fresh Twist

Instead of asking students to write brief summaries of reading assignments — whether they be textbook chapters, articles, or poems — have them create a search story. Students can share their stories with one another, small groups, or the entire class. Then, they can assess whether other students’ stories do a good job of listing the main idea and supporting details of the text.

Grade: 9-12
Subject: Social Studies, Science, English Language Arts, or Art
Objective: The student will be able to communicate the beliefs and motivations of a historical figure, based on research.
Original Post: Harness the Power of Social Networking in Your Classroom, Safely and for FREE

In social studies, students research leaders of countries. In science, they learn about famous scientists. In English language arts, they study remarkable writers. And in art, they learn about artists.

For each of these tasks, teachers can have students choose a specific famous figure. Through research, the students become experts on their subjects. Then, the role playing begins. Using a social networking site, students create profiles in the guise of their subjects. They update their status, leave comments, and post questions that their subject might actually post. (Wouldn’t it be great to post a status update as Emily Dickinson every day for a month? “I’m nobody, who are you?”) They interact with other historical figures – have conversations and debates – in the role of these subjects.

Teachers can create rubrics for this assignment as they see fit – for example, the profile must include the figure’s birthday, childhood details, photo, and beliefs about government. Each student must update their profile at least once a day and must comment on at least three other students’ profiles each day.

Grades can reflect how often a student contributed to the class network, as well as how accurate his/her statements were.

Grade: 3-12
Subject: Reading
Objective: The student will be able to describe a character’s behaviors, values, and beliefs.
Original Post: Turn Social Networks into Learning Networks with Edmodo

Anyone who has taught in a K-12 classroom knows that no matter what subject you teach, you teach reading. Reading comprehension is ingrained in nearly everything we do as adults and, as such, is embedded into every K-12 subject.

But, often, teachers complain to me that technology is destroying reading and, specifically, reading comprehension in 21st century students. Kids are so used to immediate gratification — to getting everything in snippets, to 120-character tweets, to Google synopses, and to Facebook status updates — that 500-page novels are a bore. “Can’t we just watch the movie?” they’ll ask. (I think this last question has been around a bit longer than the internet; I remember my own peers asking it 20 years ago.)

It’s true that technology has changed the way we process information, including the way we read. There’s a plethora of recent research studying how these new technologies have affected the way we interact, process, and analyze. There are studies suggesting that, as a society, our very brain chemistry is changing. Good or bad, this is happening. As teachers, there’s virtually nothing we can do to stop our students from having Facebook accounts or using their cell phones. But our job is still to teach them to read, understand, and appreciate tons of different writing — literature, science journals, historic papers, daily news, math proofs, websites, etc.

Frankly, it’s never been easy to get most students to love The Odyssey. But now, technology has given us a golden opportunity — a chance to hook most of our students into reading novels, textbooks, newspapers, and virtually anything else. We just have to do what great teachers do best — get a little creative.

Reading is all about empathy. If we feel for the people we’re reading about, if we can imagine what they’re feeling and thinking and hoping, if we can relate to them, we’re hooked. And social networks can help students become empathetic. They can allow students to walk around in someone else’s skin, virtually.

Say, for example, that your class is reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Assign each student a different character in the book. The student’s assignment is to pay particular attention to that character — their beliefs, actions, motivations, voice. Everything. And then, to become that character. Have each student create an Edmodo profile, posing as their assigned character. Then, as you read the book throughout the semester, students must post updates, comments, related links, videos, etc., on the class social network. They are to become their assigned character, interacting on a social network. (It’s great if the teacher takes on the role of a character as well.) What link would Ron Weasley share with his peers? How would Draco Malfoy react to it? These are all high-level questions students will have to ask, think about, and answer through the class social network. Best of all, they can be funny or ironic or touching — all motivation to try their best at the assignment. Your class Edmodo wall might look something like this:

harrypotter-edmodo

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