Monday, August 25, 2014

NEWSELA + Google Docs = Differentiated, Collaborative Reading!

This is a guest post from Beth Holland of, an advertiser on this blog.

Whether you teach elementary, middle, or high school, a common challenge exists: finding non-fiction content at reading level. This is an especially pressing concern for teachers incorporating the CCSS Standards into their curricula. Given that varied reading levels may exist within a single class, it can seem virtually impossible to have all students access the same content in a way that allows them to comprehend the material. Creating differentiated reading groups may seem equally unrealistic since it is impossible for a teacher to work with multiple students or groups all at the same time. To quote Jennie Magiera (@MsMagiera), we also need a means to “clone the teacher.”

Solution: NEWSELA + Google Docs = Differentiated, Collaborative Reading!

NEWSELA solves the first dilemma by providing teachers with a database of non-fiction articles. Additionally, each article can be adjusted by Lexile for up to five different reading levels, and some articles include comprehension quizzes.

Sample NEWSELA article

Though it is possible to create classes and push out content from within NEWSELA, by incorporating Google Docs, we can address the second challenge of allowing teachers to virtually be in multiple reading groups, and with multiple students, all at the same time. By disseminating the content to your students as a Google Doc set to Comment Only, you create collaborative, leveled reading experiences!

With Google Docs, you can leave comments as reading prompts to which your students can reply as well as give them the opportunity to highlight and comment on the text themselves. As a teacher, you can then take part in all of the virtual conversations as well as see what connections your students are making to the content.

Sample Google Doc with Comments
Sample Google Doc with Comments.

In fact, you can experience this as a student by responding to my comments in this Google Doc. I adjusted the NEWSELA article, Baby elephants born in zoos celebrated, and presented it at the lowest available Lexile (750L). Note that with NEWSELA, the available levels adjust depending on the intended audience of the article.

Even if students do not have Google accounts, this activity is still possible by setting the sharing permissions to Anyone who has the link can comment and asking the students to visit that link in order to participate in the activity - just like I did with the sample Doc.

Set-Up Process

From a teacher’s perspective, here is how to make this all happen.
  1. Find an article from NEWSELA that you would like for your students to read.

  2. Create Google Docs for your desired reading levels.

  3. Copy & Paste the contents of the article, at reading level, into the Docs. IMPORTANT - don’t forget to model good digital citizenship for your students and cite the original article.

  4. Share the Docs as Comment Only.

  5. Watch your students start reading from any device (laptops, Chromebooks, iPads, even smart phones)!

As an added bonus, if you have your students are working on computers or Chromebooks, they can install the Read & Write Chrome extension in the Chrome Browser to hear the documents read out loud. From an iPad or iPhone, students can comment using the Docs app and use Speak Selection for that text-to-speech feature.

By combining these two FREE tools, it is now possible to differentiate your instruction, provide your students with a new way to connect to content, and clone yourself all in one!

To learn more ideas like this one, EdTechTeacher will be hosting two FREE, live webinars in the coming weeks: Back to School with iPads and Back to School with Google. Registration is Open!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Interactive History Posters and a Dictionary of Historical Terms

The beginning of the school year is when a lot of history teachers find themselves explaining why the study of history matters. (Likewise, teachers of other subjects find themselves explaining why the study of their content area is important). offers a couple of explanations and examples in the form of interactive posters for students.  Doing History is Like Solving a Mystery is an interactive poster for elementary school students. The poster uses images with notes to guide students through the process of developing good research questions and recording their ideas. History is an Argument About the Past is an interactive poster for middle school and high school students. The poster walks students through identifying primary and secondary sources of information then using that information to create an argument.

One of the struggles students have in learning any new subject is learning the key vocabulary. History Today offers a good glossary of history vocabulary. The History Today Historical Dictionary contains hundreds of concise entries. You can search for explanations of terms and events or search for mini-biographies by entering your query into the Historical Dictionary search engine. You can also browse the dictionary in alphabetical order. Each entry includes links to related entries and further reading suggestions.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Try the New ViewPure for Distraction-free Viewing of YouTube Videos

ViewPure is a service that allows you to watch and project YouTube videos without seeing the related sidebar content typically seen on ViewPure offers a free browser bookmarklet that you can use to clear the sidebar content while viewing a video on YouTube.

ViewPure has been around for a four or five years. Recently, the site was updated to offer helpful search tools. You can now search for YouTube videos through the ViewPure website. When searching for videos through ViewPure you don't see sidebar content, you only see videos. You can choose to use strict filtering while searching through ViewPure.

Applications for Education
The ViewPure website and ViewPure browser bookmarklet are great tools for teachers who want to show a YouTube video in their classrooms, but don't want to risk displaying "related" sidebar content. To be clear, ViewPure is not a work-around if your school blocks YouTube and it is not a tool for downloading YouTube videos. (Downloading YouTube videos is a violation of the YouTube terms of service).

The Week in Review - The Most Popular Posts

Good morning from the Free Technology for Teachers World Headquarters in Woodstock, Maine where a light fog is hanging in the valley. As the summer winds down and the school year begins I just want to say thank you to all of you that subscribe to my blog and visit it regularly, you are the reason that I write every day. This blog wouldn't thrive without you, thank you. I hope that everyone has a fantastic 2014-2015 school year.

Here are this week's most popular posts:
1. 20 Good Map Creation Tools for Students
2. Two Good Random Name Selection Tools
3. How to Embed Remind (101) Messages Into Google Sites
4. Activities for Teaching Students How to Research With Google Books
5. Use Google Drive to Share Videos Privately
6. Word Sense - See the Connections Between Words
7. The Public Domain Review - A Good Place to Find Public Domain Media

Would you like to have me speak at your school or conference? Click here to learn about my keynote and workshop offerings. 

Please visit the official advertisers that help keep this blog going.
Practical Ed Tech is the brand through which I offer PD webinars.
IXL offers a huge assortment of mathematics lesson activities.
Typing Club offers free typing lessons for students.
Discovery Education & Wilkes University offer online courses for earning Master's degrees in Instructional Media.
MasteryConnect provides a network for teachers to share and discover Common Core assessments. is a provider of free educational games for K-5.
The University of Maryland Baltimore County offers graduate programs for teachers.
Boise State University offers a 100% online program in educational technology.
EdTechTeacher is offers professional development workshops in Boston, Chicago, and Atlanta.
StoryBoard That is a great tool for creating comics and more.
BoomWriter and WordWriter are fantastic tools that help students develop their writing skills.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

ClassDojo In the High School Classroom

This morning on the Free Technology for Teachers Facebook page someone asked about using ClassDojo in the high school setting. I admit that when I first saw ClassDojo I didn't think it would be a great fit for high school classrooms. It had a very childish appearance due to the cartoon avatars and the default behavior recording categories. A couple of months after I had put ClassDojo into the "K-8 only" I spoke at a conference in North Carolina where a couple of high school teachers (unfortunately, I don't remember their names) explained how they were using ClassDojo.

ClassDojo allows you to create your own standards to record in your class rosters. For high school students you could set standards for participation in classroom discussion be creating a standard like like "use of evidence in argument" or "thoughtful consideration and reply to opposing viewpoints." If your students are working in groups you could create standards like "efficient delegation of tasks" or "makes effort to include all group members."

The video below demonstrates how to add behavior standards to ClassDojo.