Three Digital Nonfiction Text Features Activity Ideas

By the time students are in upper elementary (4th -6th grade), the standard for nonfiction text features requires students to be able to use text features to make meaning. One thing I’ve noticed with many of my own students is that they need to be taught to “read” the text features on more than a surface level and to give more focus to the captions, charts, or text features that actually require reading and not just the pictures. Students need to be taught how to gain deeper understanding and combine information between those text features and the text they are reading.

I’ve found several activities that students can be successful with, using digital books from GetEpic.com, Google Slides, and my computer’s snipping tool. These activities are always a hit in my class and I hope that you will be able to use the ideas to deepen your own students use of nonfiction text features. These are the three digital activities I’ve found to be most successful and beneficial.

Using Text Features to Make Predictions

Start with screenshots of book pages (from one book). Insert those screenshots, in order, in a Google Slides presentation. Use shapes to cover the text in the book and leave only the text features for the students to view.

I like sharing this presentation in Nearpod with my students. The discussion involves really analyzing what we see and read in the text features and making predictions about the content of the text. As we build on the pages and our understanding of the topic, predictions get a lot more specific. Students are totally ready to read the book once you’re done, but I like to use it again for the next activity to check our predictions.

Matching Headings to the Text

For this activity, I use the same book, another Google slide presentation, and this time I snip the Headings off of the pages and use them as movable, matchable objects. I also type out the text so that students can use the highlighting tool to show their evidence, but you could also just add transparent colored rectangles for students to use as a “highlighter” to stop yourself from having to type the text.

I like to use the same book as the predictions activity to allow students to check their thinking and for us to discuss the misconceptions and now new understandings about the topics once the text features and text are now together. As you can see, in the video above, the students copy the Headings to the correct page on the Google slides book presentation.

Matching Text Features to the Text

For the third activity, students must read each of the paragraphs given, snipped from a text and inserted into a Google Slide presentation, and match the text features (all removed from the page and inserted onto one slide together) to the text. I have my students copy the text feature and paste it onto the page with the correct text.

The discussions and level of critical thinking with these activities is always deep and meaningful, and I love that I can recreate these activities each year using different texts to reach the interests of my students and the content we are learning in our other classes. I also love that they’re free to create and can be used for virtual learning or in class. These activities can also be differentiated using different level texts with your small groups. For this reading teacher, that’s a WIN-WIN-WIN!

If you use any of these ideas with your own students, I’d love to hear about it!

Teacher Organization Resources for Blended Learning

I’m always looking for ways to stay organized and save time with my teacher professional duties. This year I needed resources to keep my blended learning lesson plans, resources, and grades organized. Almost everything about what we’re doing as a teacher has changed in some way this year, so of course this part of the job would change also. I knew what I didn’t want and I knew that I wanted to use my time more efficiently, and I knew that what I have always used in the past wasn’t going to work, but I didn’t have anything that seemed like it was going to work.

Lesson Planning

The paper planner books just weren’t organized for blended learning. Honestly, no template I found was organized for blended learning, at least not for the schedule that my students and I are on this year. I have an A and a B group. I see both of my groups two days a week and plan “At Home Learning” resources for their other three days of the week. I’ve also always only taught ELA for my grade level and this year my students are with me for all subjects.

It took a few weeks to figure out exactly what I wanted and needed the lesson plans to look like, and how to plan more efficiently. But I’ve found it and am so happy with it that I want to share it with you.

What I’m using is a digital chart in Google Slides. We have a separate slide for each subject, and each slide chart covers an overview for the entire week (both in class plans and at home resources on the same page). My teammates who have previously taught math and science for our grade level fill in the math and science weekly overviews, and I fill in the ELA overviews for each week. Our team shares the file each week and links all of the needed resources for each piece of the plan. It seems so simple right? That’s the beauty of it, it is that simple and you wouldn’t believe the amount of time and stress this lesson planning routine is saving me. You can get a free copy of this resource here.

Organizing and Grading Assignments

There’s a lot of assignments to keep track of for the blended learning model. I was drowning in the process of opening individual student assignments in Google Classroom and keeping track of what is complete and what is not. I knew I needed a space for all of the assignments, both in class and at home, to check them off, enter grades, and enter notes for whatever I needed to keep track of (parent contacts, absences, etc.). It also needed to be a shared document so that I wasn’t texting and calling my collaborative teacher on a daily basis to ask about assignments for our shared kids. (I’m sure she was getting tired of me.)

For this one, I used an idea I’d seen on Instagram (@aprimarykindoflife). It was simple (you know I love that) and so organized. I made separate Google Sheets for In-Class assignments and At Home assignments and we posted them to our Google Classroom (sent to a fake student) so that they are always easy to access. We just add assignments to the sheet as we go and check them off daily/weekly, and now that it’s a routine, it takes so much less time than the gradebooks I’ve used in the past. Click on the image below to get a free copy of my Work Log.

Google Classroom

We post our assignments in Google Classroom by the subject and week. All of my assignments are posted on the Classwork tab in my Google Classroom and organized by these topics: Morning Check//In, In Class This Week, At Home This Week, Daily Resources (everyday items not by the week), Old Assignments, and Technology Help. We drag all “this week” assignments to the Old Assignments topic at the end of each week to make it easier for our students to find their work.

Student Google Drive Organization

Not all of my students have internet access at home. For this reason, I have my students mark all of their At Home Work assignments (all in Google Apps) as “Available Offline” when they are in class at the beginning of each week. We’ve taught them how to download their instructional videos also. Once they’re at home, they can log into their chromebook and open and complete all of their assignments without needing internet. To get to their Google files, they go through their Drive and open the folder that our Google Classroom creates for them. The problem is, it does not create new folders for each week. So, as you can imagine, by the 8th week of school, there are A LOT of files in their Drive, and the students have a hard time finding the exact assignments they need for that day in the 100s of files in their Drive.

So what we did was had them add a Folder inside their Classroom folder on their Google Drive. The new folder is labeled Old Work. Once they complete an assignment, they move it to the Old Work folder. This way, when they open their Classroom work folder, they only see work they still need to complete. No more, “I couldn’t find my work” excuses for missing work. And now, because we took the time to organize (and learn how), no more making and posting missing work lists because, “If you can’t move it to your Old Work file, you must still need to do it.”

Classroom Lesson Slides

Finally, keeping your daily lessons organized is key to using your time effectively and fitting in as much learning as possible with this new crazy schedule. With your lesson and instructional materials all in one place, you’re not flipping through tabs or your drive trying to find your instructional materials. And better yet, you’re not repeating directions because it’s all there (unless you like repeating directions).

You can grab your own copy of these Classroom Lesson Slides here.

My Morning Routine for a Socially Distanced Classroom

We all know that a good morning routine can make a huge difference towards how your day will play out in the classroom. And this year, incorporating social emotional learning and social time for our students is probably more important than ever before.

In years past, my students’ morning routine consisted mainly of some kind of social choice activity. This is a time that my 4th and 5th graders love to just sit with their friends and talk, draw pictures, play games, and engage in other appropriate non-learning related activity with their friends. This social time is SO important to helping us build our classroom community AND to help students have a soft start to get ready for learning.

Because of COVID-19 safety requirements this year, that routine had to change. So, knowing that I wanted to make sure I included SEL (social emotional learning) into my routine along with some kind of distanced social choice activities, AND given the fact that our arrival time is lengthened this year because of staggered arrival for distancing requirements, I’ve come up with this plan. (And I hope that it helps you with your own morning routine plan.)

First, my students will fill out and submit a Daily Check In Form. This is just a few simple questions but will allow me to monitor my students’ emotional well-being and offer help when it’s needed. It also allows my students to ask for that help without having to speak their request aloud for other’s to hear. I’ve create a Google Form for this, so it can be completed whether they are in the classroom or at home. You can grab my check in form for free by clicking on the image below.

Next, my students will write/type in their Make Today Matter gratitude and growth mindset journals. Incorporating a time for students to focus on gratitude and goal-setting is essential. In this daily journal, students write three things they are grateful for, three small, attainable goals for the day, and three things they are proud of themselves for. The attitude transition this practice can make when made a routine in the classroom is amazing! This year I’ll use only the digital version, but I have a digital and print option available if you’d like to add this day-changing routine to your own classroom. Click on the image below to grab this classroom must have!

For the rest of our arrival block, after completing their morning jobs (ordering breakfast and lunch and downloading/preparing assignments to be worked on at home), students will have a variety of either digital or distanced social games to choose from. Digital game board choices will include tic-tac-toe, connect four, the dot-square game, digital checkers, and other easy to create game boards in Google Slides. Student pairs will share the game board slide with each other to play. Many of these games can be found for free in a Google search. For students who love to draw, they can share a Google Drawing page and create an image together, or they can play a distanced game of Pictionary using their individual whiteboards at their desks. I’d love for you to share your ideas with me for more social digital activities to add to these options! Send me a message or comment to share so that I can share on the blog!

This year may be different, but having healthy, happy students, is still my number one goal. I hope my morning routine plan can help you work towards that same goal in your own classroom.

Happy teaching y’all!

Digital Open House Night

Whether you are preparing for a full virtual Open House or an in-person Meet the Teacher, using a digital open house pack will help make your event run smoothly, contactless (i.e. safer), and successfully.

My school is currently planning an Open House Night with scheduled appointments for families. So to make my Meet the Teacher meetings quick, effective, full of information, and safe (SAFER, I mean!) I created an Open House Meet the Teacher Pack for Distance Learning and In-Person events. This pack has everything!

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Open-House-Meet-the-Teacher-Pack-Distance-Learning-and-In-Person-5811935

Class Information Presentation

The presentation Google Slides include a teacher introduction, teacher contact information, your schedule, class expectations, virtual learning information, lunch info, recess info, your procedures for snack and items from home, and so much more! These can be presented in the classroom on your whiteboard, inserted into a website, or generate a QR code (video tutorial in the product) for families to scan and view from the QR Poster Station signs included in the pack. Once parents have accessed the file, they can save to their personal drive or to their device for future reference.

Student Information Survey

Use this Google Form to collect important information, like birthdays, dismissal routines, addresses, parent contact info, and more. Send the responses to a Google Spreadsheet to have it all in one place and ready for quick access anytime you need it. I’ve included Key Ring Tags with a place for you to insert a QR code on the Student Information Tag so that you always have this information available (with use of your smartphone’s camera) when you need it! Again, families can access this via a QR Poster Station sign if you’re in-person, a link to the form can be inserted on a Google Site or on your Google Classroom, or you could even add a QR code linked to this form on your Student Postcards/Letters you send home before school begins.

Teacher Contact Cards

I’ll be handing these out to parents by request only, but these could also be mailed to families if you are virtual teaching. Included on the card is a place for email, phone, your website, Zoom link (or any digital link), and your Office Hours. These are completely editable for any of your needs and will help your parents stay in contact with you whenever needed.

QR Poster Station Signs

I’ve included these for in-person open house events to help create a contactless process. Poster options included are your Class Information Presentation, the Student Information Survey, a Class Website, and one Editable sign. All posters include directions for parents and a spot to insert a QR code linked to each of your Open House materials.

Open House and Blank Newsletter Templates

If you prefer using a Newsletter to convey your information, I’ve included an Open House template and a blank template to use whenever and however you wish. These files are in Google Slides, so it is easy to use these as handouts, to insert on a Google Site or your Google Classroom for families to view, or to send digitally.

Key Ring Tags

These are for you. I’ve found that having these tags on my teacher badge key ring is extremely useful and helps me save time. At the beginning of the year when you’re still trying to remember your schedule, student names, and ALL. THE. THINGS. these tags are a life saver! I’ve included tags for your class list, your schedule, student information (insert a QR code for quick access), dismissal info, pull-out service schedules, and one for common phone extensions like your nurse, admin, office, and collab teacher. These are all editable, so you can create a tag for whatever needs you have. These are also great for substitute badges, just not including the student information tag!

Website Banner Images

And for those of you creating a Google Site or other website for your virtual teaching, I’ve even included website banner images with the same theme. These come in six different colors, with text and without. The text on the images states, “Welcome to Our Class”.

I hope you’ll love using this Open House Meet the Teacher for Digital or In-Person resource for your Open House Meet the Teacher Day/Night whether you are hosting a virtual or in-person event. If you have any questions about the resource or how I’m using it for my own event, please let me know!

Grab this resource here!

Happy Teaching!

Digital Teaching Tips and Strategies for Success

For so many of us, this upcoming school year is full of unknowns and new teaching requirements. It’s also very likely that it is already bringing about a lot of stress and anxiety for you. As teachers, we plan and prepare. We spend our summer reflecting on the previous year and brainstorming and preparing to make the next year even better. And while it’s hard to feel like we can fully prepare with so many unknowns, one thing I know is that this year will require virtual teaching in some way or another, whether we like it or not. For that reason, I have some suggestions that can make your virtual teaching a lot more successful. Here are nine digital teaching tips/strategies I’ll be implementing to be the rockstar my students need me to be. I’m suggesting these digital teaching tips for every situation or school reopening plan, whether you are teaching fully digital, using a hybrid plan with some in-class days and some virtual learning days, or if you are reopening fully in class. As you read and begin thinking about how you’ll implement these tips and strategies, please know that I am of the mindset that I want to be prepared for whatever changes and learning possibilities arise this coming school year. While I am preparing for a hybrid opening, I also want to make sure that whatever I put in place at the beginning of the year can be used if we end up with a change in that plan as the year progresses.

1. Organize ALL the things. I’ll be using Classroom Lesson Slides to manage and organize my daily in-class and digital lessons. This is where I’ll display and/or link all of my instructional materials and assignments for each day. Why is this so necessary? Using one presentation method for your lessons, whether you are in-class, digital, or both, allows your students to navigate your lessons more easily. With it all in one place, students who miss a lesson or are absent can use the lesson slides for that day to access the material. If you are teaching digitally, your recorded virtual meetings could be linked to that day’s slides for students who missed. If you are teaching in class, you may want to consider recording the important (new material) lessons or the modeled part of your lessons to link to your slides for students who miss. They are easily sharable to your Google Classroom and/or to your website, or student’s emails and Drives. I’ll also be using my Student Data Trackers to keep all of my students’ assessment data, conference information, goals, parent communication, and all other important data in one place.

2. Be flexible. Have a back-up plan. Be prepared for possible problems. Thinking ahead about what possible problems could occur when teaching digitally is important. You can’t be prepared for everything, but having an idea of what you may do to adjust your lesson, if necessary, is a good idea. Technology doesn’t always work. One thing that I’ve started working on is creating short screencasts of myself working through the lesson or activity to give directions and guidance and finding other instructional videos (like on YouTube) to share for flipped instruction. These screencasts and videos can be linked to my lesson slides, which will be shared with the students each day, and can be used to help with digital instruction just in case there are problems that don’t allow the group or single students to participate in a digital lesson that day (not ideal, but at least it’s not an entire day of instruction lost due to technology issues).

3. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate! This is SO IMPORTANT! Parents are doing so much more with the students with remote learning, so communicating progress and concerns with your parents is key. If you’re starting your year in-class, you should also consider frequent communication updates to keep them in the loop. As we learned last year when school were closed for COVID, we can’t take for granted that we will remain in the classroom just because we are currently in the classroom. (Like I said, I’m preparing for whatever the possibilities are and I want any transitions we must make to be smooth and seamless.). If they don’t know, they can’t help you with it. Along with frequent communication, be sure to respond to any emails, phone calls, etc. quickly. You may want to set up a schedule just for “office hours” each week and/or day. Giving your students and parents frequent progress updates and establishing a routine for when you will be available to respond to questions and be available to help with daily “things” will allow for more progress and help you build positive relationships with your families. Make sure you begin by sharing positive updates. Be kind, share love, and give respect. This will make it so much easier if and when you have to have the more difficult conversations. I use Class Dojo and Google Classroom comments for most of my communication, but for parents who require other methods, I also give my personal cell number and use email. Sending home weekly newsletters is a great way to keep up communication for remote learning. You can also get a Google number if you don’t feel comfortable giving out your personal number for text messaging.

4. The best virtual lessons are fast-paced and interactive. Games are a great idea. You can supply your students with manipulatives like dice, bingo chips, print/cut materials or use virtual manipulatives, like what you can find on toytheater.com. You can find ways to gamify almost any lesson, like adding a connect four board or any other game board to your lesson to increase engagement. If games aren’t possible, remember to keep your lessons quick, stop to give time for questions and participation. Nearpod lessons are great for interactive lessons that can’t be gamified. Edpuzzle is a great resource for interactive videos that are self-paced for independent assignments.

5. Keep set hours. When students are working online at home, their work hours may not be the same as the set school hours they would have in an in-class situation. Just because they are doing school work at 6pm does not mean that you must be available. Keep set hours where you are available for questions and to help, and stick to them. For your sanity and your family’s, it’s important to not be working all the time. And you don’t need to feel guilty about it. Establish set hours, add it to the schedule you give to your students and families at the beginning of the year, and stick to it.

6. Social Emotional Check-ins. When we’re not with our students every day, it’s not always easy to know how they’re doing. We all know that matters. If you’re working on building a relationship with your students, they need to know you care. One strategy that you may want to implement is having them fill in a daily check-in form. This is a great routine to start at the beginning of the day, whether it’s arrival time in-class, or a form they fill in at home. These are really easy to create in Google Forms. It gives the students a chance to document their emotional “space” for the day and ask for a time to talk with you individually. In the classroom, you can quickly make adjustments for your students when they need it. Online, it’s harder to make that judgment call without some kind of check in. Having them submit this form first thing in the day before your lessons can give you the opportunity to check in with them before your class meeting if you need to, or be ready to make that adjustment (like schedule a smaller group meeting with them) if necessary.

7. Self-care. My favorite self-care practice is my Mindfulness of Gratitude practice. It’s crazy the difference ten minutes of peace, balance, and thoughts of gratitude can do for your teaching mindset. My favorite time to practice is in the morning, right after my first hot cup of coffee, but really any time is perfect. I also do a shorter 2-5 minute practice before transitioning to home and mom life after my day of teaching (online or in class) or whenever I notice I need to reset and refocus. If mindfulness isn’t your thing, do whatever works for you. Just be sure you are taking time for yourself to reset each day.

8. Practice Gratitude. It’s really easy to get into a negative space. We’re not doing what we love the way we want to be doing it, or at the caliber we want to be doing it. Being intentional about taking note of all the small moments throughout your day that you are grateful for and that bring you joy can help strengthen your positive vibes to keep you going and to help keep your students going. Savor that hot sip of coffee, or sweet/smooth taste of chocolate, the birds chirping, etc. You’ll notice a huge difference in your mindset if you make this a constant practice.

9. Model everything. Obviously, you are not there to help guide each step of the work process when your students are at home. What is simple to you may not be simple to your students or their parents. Creating quick modeled “how-to” videos of your expectations can save you a lot of time in the long run. Imagine, if your parents and students can watch the video, they will not need to send you questions about how to complete the work, meaning you will not spend as much time responding to questions you thought you already answered in the written instructions.