Classroom Strategies, Technology

Daily Check-ins with Microsoft Forms

It is well-documented that I am a huge Google Forms fan and user! I have published numerous blog posts on how I use Google Forms in my classroom. Recently, I was asked to present an social-emotional learning (SEL) session–using only Microsoft tools. Therefore, I had to re-create my daily check-in Google Form using Microsoft Forms.

I will admit, I am overcoming an irrational and unfair bias of Microsoft tools. I get frustrated that it does not feel as easily collaborative as the Google tools. But, as I have used some of the tools, I have been pleasantly surprised with a few tools, especially Microsoft Teams. There, it’s in writing: I love using Teams for communication! In all honesty, I am determined to keep an open mind when it comes to creating with Microsoft tools. So far, so good!

Let’s try it!! Before you continue, fill out the Form here!

For those of you new in the Microsoft world, you will be happy to know that Microsoft Forms is very similar to Google Forms. I was pleasantly surprised and relieved that the workflow felt very similar.

Why do I use a daily check-in Form?

A daily check-in Form is an essential component of my classroom. It provides a much-needed routine for both my students and myself. This has been a routine that carried over to online learning–the first five minutes of class are dedicated to our warm-up. While my students are completing their warm-up, I am taking attendance and making sure everything is ready for class. The responses double as a way to verify attendance, in case I make an attendance mistake and need to correct it later.

Additionally, I am able to provide students with an opportunity to let me know how they are doing. The SEL questions are essential for addressing students’ needs. My students share all kinds of things in the “anything else I need to know” question. Responses range from silly things to academic questions to more serious life events; in most cases, I address these individually and privately with the student.

SEL Check-in Questions on our Daily Warm-up

What do the daily logistics look like?

I use the same Form every single day. In the response spreadsheet, I hide the previous day’s rows (click on the first row, shift + click on the last row you want to hide, right click, hide rows) so I can easily access the current responses.

Lately, we have been using our first two questions as content-related questions and our third question as some sort of silly question. We’re a huge fan of “would you rather” or “what is your favorite” questions. For example, “would you rather eat pancakes or waffles?” It is a fun way to carry the getting to know you activities throughout the school year.

Ready to try it? Here is a Template!

(Using Google tools? Here is the Google Form post & template!)

I am excited to hear how you use the daily check-in with your learners!

Classroom Strategies, Technology

Promoting Student Response Sharing in Pear Deck

I absolutely love Pear Deck! I have been using it in my classroom for years, and consistently find it as an excellent way to make students’ learning ap-pear-ent.

One awesome thing during distance teaching has been working with student teachers. I know that supporting student teachers while also teaching 100% online comes with a whole set of challenges (the topic of a future blog post), but it has been a great experience for all of us.

My amazing student teacher, Ms. Cortez, and I noticed many of our 8th grade students were hesitant to share or participate out loud and in the chat, but actively participated in the Pear Deck questions. We wanted to figure out a way for students to volunteer to share their work, without adding additional stress or complications. We created a system where kids would draw a green 🙂 or a red 😦 on the top right corner of their Pear Deck response based on their willingness to have their answer shared with the class (see image below).

Example Pear Deck slide with student sharing 🙂 or 😦 option

Students took to this system quickly! When we use Pear Deck in class, we review the responses in the teacher dashboard (we are lucky to have the premium version at school), then star the responses with a smiley face to only show those responses. Students have the option to unmute to share their response, elaborate or claim the response in chat, or allow us to anonymously review their response with the class.

Starred responses on the Pear Deck teacher dashboard

We only do this for some responses, mostly drawing questions. For text questions, we do this same system by asking students to start their response with a green or red emoji. Other times, we do not give students an option and show all of the responses.

Here is a template (or see this example on Slides and Pear Deck) to help you get started! We hope it helps encourage your students to share their work with the class.

What are some ways you get your students to actively participate on Pear Deck?

Classroom Strategies

3-2-1 Waterfall!

We all have our go-to classroom strategies. During in-person learning, I had structures and routines in place for students to Think-Pair-Share: students would think, then turn and talk to their partner, and finally either volunteer or be voluntold (random name picker or popsicle sticks) to share their or their partner’s answer. Sometimes this would be pre-planned and other times it was spur-of-the-moment when I realized students had been sitting and listening to me for too long.

When the world stopped and we moved to online learning, it took me a while to find ways to engage students in sharing their ideas during our class video chats. Many of my students felt too shy (or had louder learning settings) to unmute and share out loud. Even now, a year later, most are not willing or not comfortable to unmute to speak. But, all of them are able to participate in the chat! Cue the waterfall!

I learned about the Waterfall strategy in a mandatory district professional development just before the start of the school year. I have heard others refer to this strategy as “flood the chat” too. Regardless of what you call it, it is easy to teach students (or adults!), simple to setup, and does not take a lot of time.

How it Works

The waterfall setup is simple:

  1. Ask a question
  2. Students answer in the chat, but do not click send
  3. Teacher calls out “3-2-1 Waterfall!”
  4. Students all press send together for a cascade of answers!
Student directions for the Waterfall

After all the answers come in, I review key points or common patterns with students.

When to Use It

I have used the waterfall as a beginning of class question, as a check for understanding, and as an exit ticket. Sometimes it is a silly or simple question, like “what is your favorite animal?” and other times it is more academic-focused, such as “give an example of ways humans have positively or negatively impacted the environment.”

Example SEL Waterfall question

Since my district does not pay for Google Enterprise, we do not have breakout rooms in Meet. This has been one way we have efficiently gotten students participating in class!

Why a Waterfall?

This strategy is quick, informative, and encourages participation. I love that it allows all students to participate. For some questions we ask online, the first few students are willing to respond, then a few others trickle in once they see their peers’ responses. With the waterfall, students are able to feel the anonymity of answering in the large group and may not feel like they stick out, whether they don’t know the answer or are simply hesitant to be the center of attention.

Student Directions

Use these Slides (template) to structure a waterfall for your students! I place a waterfall clipart in the top right corner to remind myself and my students of the question type and procedures.

What are some ways you will use the Waterfall in your online classroom?

Classroom Strategies, Goals

Setting Goals for the New Year

This post was originally written for and published on KidsDiscover on January 7, 2021!

Celebrating the new year, whether it is in January, the start of the school year, or turning one year older, it is so much fun to set goals. It is important to model how to be a reflective human, set goals, and encourage ourselves to be our best selves! 

Here are three ideas to help students set goals for the new year! All three can be used as either digital or analog activities, and are perfect for virtual, blended, and in-person classes. 

Future Me

Have students write a letter to themselves using FutureMe! Students do not need an account and it is free. I have had my students write themselves letters to be delivered at the end of the school year, at the start of the next school year, or even at the start of their senior year of high school. 

If students do not have a school email address, have them use your teacher email, then give the student their letter once it arrives to you. 

For analog options, have students write themselves a letter, collect them, then return them to students on a specific date. If you have funding available to purchase stamps and have access to students’ current addresses, mail the letters to your students (remember to alert them ahead of time that you will mail this and/or give them the option to opt out–they may want to be more selective of what they write if they think an adult will open it before them).


Have you seen people share their #OneWord on social media? Try this same idea with your students. It’s simple: everyone picks a word that will represent their goals, hopes, and aspirations for the year to come. Many people prefer to use this in lieu of a New Year’s resolution. Use this template with your students as either a digital or analog (print it out for each student–I printed 2 per page to save some paper and cut down on wall space used when hanging them up) activity. 

If you’re doing it as a digital activity, have students post their final product on Padlet! For the analog option, it is awesome to hang these up on the wall, in the hallway, or in the windows as a reminder for each student. When I have done this as an analog activity, I pass them back at the end of the school year; it sparks awesome conversations with my students about how their OneWord has represented their year so far. 

Where I’ve Been, Where I Am, & Where I’m Going Reflection

Finally, try out this more in-depth reflection activity: Where I’ve Been, Where I Am, and Where I’m Going. I first participated in this type of reflection in college during Resident Advisor training; we used it during a week-long workshop on diversity and inclusion as a way to process what we had learned and what we would learn for the upcoming day. I have repurposed it as my own yearly reflection! 

Use this template to have students fill in their own reflection. It pairs well with soothing background sounds (like these ocean waves!) and some deep breaths. 

Happy New Year! No matter your teaching situation as you start 2021, remember that you matter to your students! 

Classroom Strategies

Improving Quality of Peer Feedback with TAG Feedback

I previously blogged about using Google Forms for peer feedback, and briefly mentioned TAG Feedback. I am excited to share an entire post dedicated to my favorite peer feedback strategy.

Early on in my teaching career, I had my students do a project that included a peer feedback component. After getting students into pairs, I instructed them to give each other feedback on the assignment, then sent them outside to spread out to work. Are you surprised to hear it didn’t work? Students were confused or left comments like “good job,” “I like it”, and “bruh” (no joke!). I very quickly realized I needed to provide some structure to the feedback process.

Thanks to Google, I found several examples of TAG feedback. I am not sure where this idea originated (if anyone knows, let me know and I’ll link the creator!); it has been one of my frequently used tools in my classroom. Whenever I need my students to provide each other feedback, I pull up the TAG Feedback ( for easy access during class!) slide.

And, a huge shoutout to my friends Hildur (Icelandic), Dominique (Spanish), Aubrey & her grandma (Chinese), friends of Hildur (Russian), and Hildur & family/friends (German) for creating the translations!!

TAG Feedback process

First, students tell their peers what they liked about the work. This is usually the easiest part of the feedback cycle.

Then, students ask a thoughtful question. This takes a bit of modeling, especially for my 7th graders.

Last, students give a positive suggestion to improve the work. Often during feedback, my students write that there is nothing that needs to be changed. The TAG Feedback sentence frames help to guide students for how they can provide constructive suggestions.

TAG Feedback ideas

Try TAG Feedback in the following ways:

  • Comments in a Google Doc or Google Slides presentation
  • Oral feedback in pairs or small groups
  • Class/peer feedback using Google Forms
  • Gallery walk with mini sticky notes or pieces of paper
  • Virtual gallery walk on Padlet (enable comments on posts)

Not only have I found TAG Feedback useful for my students, but also I use it myself when I am providing feedback to my peers. I use the sentence frames to help me leave better feedback!

Do you speak a language not represented in the TAG Feedback slides? Email Mari to contribute.

Classroom Strategies, Technology

Handfuls of Thanks!

Gratitude is a wonderful practice. I try to end my day by thinking of 3 things I am grateful for from that day. Some people like to write this down–I have used the monthly calendar pages in my Passion Planner to record my thankful thoughts. Most of the time, it’s something I think or say out loud, but don’t actually write down.

Thanksgiving is coming up and I am excited to practice gratitude with my students. Each year, we take time to be thankful by creating paper hand turkeys. Yes, we do arts and crafts for fun in middle school too!

This year is a little different since we are currently 100% remote and we do not have the whole week for Thanksgiving off. We’re trying to play fun and light activities that build community, rather than heavily focus on content.

Also, it goes without saying that this year has been very stressful. However, we all can count at least 5 things to be thankful for.

First, let’s try it:

Join me in a quick Blog Community Hand Turkey collection!

My students and I will be taking Wednesday to make digital hand turkeys! I made templates in Jamboard (view | make a copy) and Google Slides (view | make a copy). Both will work great for classes of any age, either synchronously or asynchronously.


Analog option: project the first slide for instructions and have students trace their hand and do it on paper.

Enjoy this fun gratitude activity! I am using it around Thanksgiving time, but it can easily be used or adapted for any point in the school year.

Classroom Strategies, GSuite, Technology

Collaborative Drawings in Jamboard

Jamboard is the exciting new edtech tool craze, have you tried it yet? It’s like a cross between Google Slides and Padlet. It’s a great place to have students brainstorm, collaborate, and create. The Jamboard (product) is an interactive whiteboard and Jamboard (app) is a free digital whiteboard app.

Getting Started with Jamboard

To access Jamboard, head to your Google Drive > New > More > Google Jamboard. If you don’t see it, check with your school/district educational technology department–they may have to make it available for you.

The Google Teacher Center has some great getting started tips and lesson ideas. My friends Ro and Mo (The Tech Fairies!) shared 10 Google Jamboard Activities.

I’m going to share an awesome activity that has been a huge hit in teacher professional development and with my students: collaborative drawings in Jamboard!

A collaborative sketch of a house created in Jamboard. There is a house with an apple tree on each side.
Collaborative house drawing created by one 7th grade science class

How it Works:

This fun collaborative challenge is perfect for fully online or blended classes. The premise is simple: collaborate to draw a house.

This activity is very simple to set up:

  1. Make a copy of this Jamboard (view it here)
  2. Meet your learners and have a quick conversation about digital citizenship. We reminded students to be kind and to please please please avoid the clear frame button.
  3. Post the Jamboard to your students:
    1. Change the sharing settings to “anyone with the link can edit”
    2. Or, post the Jamboard as an assignment on Google Classroom as “students can edit”
  4. Sit back and watch the fun! (about 10 minutes is perfect)
  5. Download final image: 3 dots in the top right > Save frame as image

Protip: After you’re done, change the sharing settings back to view only to prevent any unwanted edits.

Have Fun!

The best part about teaching 100% online is that students had to rely on digital collaboration skills–some students added comments in our Google Meet chat while others added in sticky notes or writing directly on the Jamboard.

A drawing of a house with an apple tree, a person saying hi from the window
Collaborative house drawing from a recent professional development for teachers in Montreal, Canada

Enjoy this super fun activity! I’d love to hear how it goes!


Classroom Strategies

Creating a Welcome Virtual Classroom Environment

This blog post was originally published on KidsDiscover on September 9, 2020

Back to school looked and felt a little different this year. The usual hustle and bustle of a new school year was replaced by worry over how to best create a welcoming and productive classroom for my students–100% online

Even with the big changes in our classroom format and the uncertainty over when we will return to the classroom, there are many things about teaching that remain the same. Most importantly, my focus in the first few weeks of school is how to create a welcoming environment for my students. 

Our current online schedule includes six 90 minute block class periods (three classes per day). Teachers are expected to meet synchronously with students for 30-45 minutes, then provide 30-45 minutes of asynchronous classwork. During the asynchronous time, teachers can support students and answer questions. 

Like every other year, I had the first day of school jitters. However, unlike all other years, I couldn’t pop into a friend’s classroom for a little excited pep talk. My colleagues and I texted throughout the morning to share our successes and encouragement. My students were also nervous–first day of middle school and they showed up to school all online! 

We started our class by going over our video chat norms. I don’t usually start the first day of school with rules; in this case, it was important to ease anxiety for students on what will be expected of them when we are online together. Most importantly, I want my students to know that, while their participation is required, they do not have to turn on their camera or microphone during class. 

Our community expectations

Building Routines: 

Much of the first few weeks of school starts with building and practicing classroom routines. Teaching online is no different. In my classroom, I have established routines for how class will begin and how students will use the online space for interactions. We begin each synchronous class with a warm-up and a review of our norms. As we have launched into more content in science class, I have used tools like Peardeck and Padlet to give each student a voice and an opportunity to share their learning. 

Activities for Creating a Welcoming Environment: 

As with every other year, it is essential to create a welcoming classroom environment. In the first two weeks of school, I spent time getting to know my students, their interests, and making sure they are represented in our classroom community. 

The first activity we did was a Flipgrid Name Intro. Students recorded a 30 second introduction to the rest of the class, including their name and a little bit about them. Not only is this essential for getting to know students, but also it is important for me to learn how to pronounce each name as the student says it. Unlike other years where I get plenty of name practice, this year this has been my only opportunity to match a name to a face (cameras, during synchronous class sessions, are optional). 

The second activity we did was a Getting to Know You Survey. I have iterated on this survey over the years; thanks to Ace Schwarz (Teaching Outside the Binary), I added in better-worded questions asking about students’ names and pronouns. I use the survey data to find ways to structure our class that value my students and engage them in authentic learning experiences throughout the year. 

Third, I had my students complete a quilt square for our Classroom Quilt. Instead of an artifact hanging on a classroom wall, I turned this into a banner for our Google Classroom. The final product turned out amazing! My students and I love opening up each class and seeing each member of our classroom community represented in the header! 

I am looking forward to this school year and whatever adventures will bring! I am grateful to work with amazing students who are flexible and willing to try new things! 

Classroom Strategies, GSuite, Technology

Create a Community Quilt Google Classroom Banner

Back to school is an exciting time! Back to school during a pandemic where we are teaching 100% online is exciting, but in a completely different way!

As we head back to school, I am trying to find as many ways to connect with my students and build community in the online space. We have already done our Getting to Know You Survey and our Video Chat Digital Citizenship lesson. I will continue to do some fun class team building games during our synchronous class meetings too.

Creating a Community Quilt

My friend Megan Rowen does an amazing getting-to-know-you activity with her students every year called the Community Quilt. Each student makes a square that represents their interests, hobbies, personality, family, and friends (see our examples here). She hangs up each square on the all–it’s an amazing collage of the students in each class. She leaves it up all year as a reminder that each person makes up a unique and important part of the whole.

As we were planning for this year, Megan mentioned she wanted to continue to do that assignment, but she wasn’t sure how to continue it for the online space. That’s where my nerd brain went to work and suggested we turn the quilt into a Google Classroom banner image. In the past, I’ve taken a class photo and uploaded that as our header image–this is a fun alternative where all students are represented! Megan agreed and I set to work making the templates and instructions.

Sample classroom quilt (With only 3 students’ work. It’s much prettier with a whole class represented.)

Here’s how it works: (watch this video)

  1. Post the Community Quilt assignment on Google Classroom so each student gets their own copy.
  2. After all quilt squares are turned in, open each assignment to slide 2, then File > Download > JPG or PNG.
  3. Open the Google Classroom banner template and upload all the quilt square images to the Google Draw. Arrange the squares within the banner and customize the welcome text.
  4. Download the completed quilt: File > Download > JPG.
  5. In Google Classroom, open the class period to the Stream. On the bottom right corner of the banner image, click “Upload Photo” and select your classroom quilt!

Not using Google Classroom? Consider having students post their quilt square to Padlet!

In our online space, any little thing we can do to make our classroom feel like a shared community space is important!

Classroom Strategies, GSuite, Technology

Getting to Know You Survey with Google Forms

I always start my school year with a student survey. In my first few years of teaching, this was a paper survey. Later, this turned into a Google Form. A couple years ago, I blogged about my getting to know you survey. (Here’s the original post.) I am constantly iterating on my class resources and activities, including this one.

Since starting to use this Google Forms survey a couple years ago, I have improved some of the questions, particularly asking students about their pronouns and name. Huge shoutout to Ace Schwarz for their phenomenal website and blog, Teaching Outside the Binary! (And thank you Ben Kovaks for sending me their way!) Based Ace’s resources, I modified the way I have asked some of my questions, specifically asking who I can use names and pronouns around.

Here is my updated getting to know you survey! I also added/changed some questions to better reflect our current remote school situation. Just for fun, fill out this one so I can get to know you!

Name question on the updated getting to know you survey!

I add names and pronouns to my printed (yeah yeah, I know, but sometimes paper is way more efficient) attendance rosters. It’s important to start using names and pronouns right away, and online is no exception. Our kids are counting on us to be their allies.

My students need to know I see them in every way possible. We will also be doing class introductions on Flipgrid; not only is this a fun beginning of the year activity, but also it is a chance for me to learn how my students pronounce their names.

What questions do you ask your students at the beginning of the school year?