Ed Tech Ideas

Tech Integration for Busy Teachers

Category Archives: RLA

Using High-Interest Media to Improve Literacy

The Literacy Shed is a fantastic site for creative writing ideas that will definitely help reluctant writers. The site aims to provide teaching ideas coupled with relevant media that students will love. This week’s resource, for example, is a writing activity using “La Luna” Pixar’s awesome animated short that has been nominated for an academy award. There are currently 23 different “sheds” on the site, each one focused on a different learning theme, such as Poetry, Adventure, Picture Books, Fantasy, and much more.


Seussville for Educators

Seussville for Educators is a section of the Seussville kids site that has activities and ideas which incorporate the great books of Dr. Seuss. There are a lot of  printable activities,  lesson plans, an author study section, and much more. The Educator’s Timeline (shown below) is a great place for teachers to get ideas of theme specific lessons and activities to use throughout the year.

Give it whirl and see what you think.

A Sure-Fire Way to Improve Reading Fluency

Telling your students that they need to become fluent readers is an abstract concept that will help neither you nor your students. You can give them examples of what fluent readers do, model reading in a fluent way; but they will not truly understand the idea until they experience it themselves.

Learn by Doing

To get this first-hand experience, I had a fifth grade class bring in a book they were currently reading. They recorded themselves reading 2 pages of the book using Audacity and exported the file as an Mp3. The next lab session, they opened up the file and listened to themselves, and while they were listening, they rated their fluency using this Fluent Reader Self-Eval checklist.


Some things the students found out about their reading fluency from this activity were:

  • Pace – some found they read too fast or too slow
  • Expression – hearing themselves enabled them to decide whether or not their expression conveyed meaning
  • Punctuation Signals – a lot of students forget to pause at comas and periods
  • Voice Inflection – when reading narration or dialogue, it’s often difficult for students to change their voice. When they hear themselves reading, they really pick up on this.

Other Possibilities

You don’t need to use Audacity to record your students. Portable voice recorders can be used. Another idea is to have the students record their voice directly in a PowerPoint presentation and use the check list to add details about how their fluency can improve.


PowerPoint Voice Recording (v.2003)

PowerPoint Voice Recording (v.2007)

Fluent Reader Checklist

Audacity Tutorial

5 Upcoming Writing Competitions

Having an audience for kids is a motivator. Winning a prize for your writing is huge motivator. Here are five writing contests just around the corner:

  1. Young Writers and Illustrators Contest
    A creation of PBS Kids and Reading Rainbow, this is a contest for all kids in K-3rd grade who want to write & illustrate a story and submit it for judging for a chance to win local and national prizes. Everyone who enters gets a Certificate of Achievement.
    Deadline: PBS Stations will hold local PBS KIDS GO! Writers Contests during February and March. In late January go to pbskids.org/writerscontest to find your local PBS station and Contest deadline as well as to print the Entry Form and Rules.
  2. The Betty Award
    A writing contest for kids ages 8-12 where kids can win up to $300.
    Deadline: All entries must be postmarked no later than May 15, 2010. Winners will be notified by July 15, 2010.
  3. Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award
    International writing competition for writers age 13 and above. Amazon and Penguin are seeking the next popular novel. Each winner will receive a publishing contract with Penguin, which includes a $15,000 advance.
    Deadline: Entries must be submitted between January 25, 2010 at 12:01 a.m. (U.S. Eastern Standard Time) and February 7, 2010 at 11:59 p.m. (U.S. Eastern Standard Time).
  4. Writer’s Digest 79th Annual Writing Competition
    GRAND PRIZE: $3,000 cash and a trip to New York City to meet with editors or agents. Writer’s Digest will fly you and a guest to The Big Apple, where you’ll spend three days and two nights in the publishing capital of the world. While you’re there, a Writer’s Digest editor will escort you to meet and share your work with four editors or agents!
    Deadline: May 14, 2010.
    Add $5 per manuscript or poem to Entry Fee(s) on all entries submitted after May 14.
  5. Kids Can Do It Essay Contest
    Ongoing essay competition where kids can win $50, an autographed book from Sandra McLeod Humphrey, and an award certificate to hang in the classroom.
    Deadline: Ongoing. Next contest begins January 1, 2010.

This list just scratches the surface of the writing contests out there. A word of caution though: there are several scam contests looking to take advantage of young writers. Here are some articles you should read before entering any writing competition:

Do you have other contests to recommend? If so, please share.

Top 3 Free Synonym Sites

I had a teacher I work with wanting to purchase a thesaurus program to use for her English language learners and my principal was wise enough to say no. With Microsoft’s built in synonym finder and a plethora of online word sites, why would anyone want to spend money on something you can get for free?

So here are my top 3 synonym sites:

  1. Free Thesaurus is a clean, googlesque site that provides over 2.5 million synonyms. Simple to use and no frills. I challenge anyone to find a more user-friendly word finder than freethesaurus.net.  
  2. Wordsmyth is a great, free, easy to use online synonym finder. With a free registration, educators can not only look up words for definitions and synonyms, but also create quizzes, glossaries, and get help on anagrams and crosswords. There’s also a children’s dictionary section that states the following:

    Wordsmyth proudly introduces the first real Web-based dictionary made expressly for elementary-school-aged children. This new electronic dictionary from the Wordsmyth Collaboratory features over 30,000 entries and an array of multimedia, including spoken pronunciations, animations, and colorful illustrations.  

  3. When right-clicking for synonyms doesn’t meet your needs, WordsLike, a similar word finding site might just do the trick.
    WordsLike.net is a free service that allows you to find words and phrases that are similar or related to each other.
    Type in a word or a phrase and Words Like.net will come up with a list of related words and their corresponding definitions.
    Thanks to Free Technology for Teachers for finding this one.
  4. Bonus: Not really related, but interesting nonetheless is this site:  Connecting Mathematics.  Connecting Mathematics contains brief explanations of mathematical terms and ideas in English, Danish, Finnish, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Polish, Slovak.

Got others? Add them in the comment section.

Virtual Book Reviews

shelfariOne of my fantastic 5th grade teachers and I were talking the other day and he brought up Shelfari (www.shelfari.com) and asked if I’ve ever used it for students as sort of class book review portal. I hadn’t, but I thought it sounded like a brilliant idea so we decided to give it a go. Shelfari is dubbed as the “premiere social network for people who love books,” and the concept is to create a virtual bookshelf of all the books you’ve read or are reading and then you can meet others in the community who have read the same books and have similar reading interests.  Sort of like have a book club, but you don’t have to leave your house.

The way we used Shelfari with 5th graders was to create a classroom bookshelf of all the books the students and teacher have read during the year, give a rating to the books, write a review, and give the books a tag or two (non-fiction, mystery, biography, etc.). 

The teacher creates an account with his email address as the username and a password (making sure it’s a password you don’t mind sharing).  Then, each student logs on with the same username and password (there dshelfari2oesn’t seem to be a limit as to how many users can log in at the same time – I had 22 logged into the same account at the same time). They then search for the book she or he has read, adds it to the shelf and then begins the review.

shelfari3Students first show their book status by checking either, “I plan to read;” I’m reading it now;” or “I’ve read it.” If they choose I’ve read it, they can then enter the date of completion. Next, the student gives it a rating, 1-5 stars and writes a review. For my classes, I have them enter their initials and studshelfari4ent number at the beginning of the review so that the teacher and other students know who gave the review.  The “My Edition” section I have the students skip as it’s just details of whether they own the book, loaned it to a friend, etc.  For the tags section, they are required to enter at least one, and they usually shelfari5end up entering several.  Finally, in the last section students can read other reviews by other members, learn more about the book, and also learn about other books that Shelfari suggests may be enjoyable for the reader.

shelfari6I’ve noticed the reviews my students write when they are on Shelfari are more thought-out, poignant, and well-written. When students know that others will be reading what they’ve written and there is a real audience, the end product becomes much more polished with less impetus required from the teacher .

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