My goal for my blog over the next few weeks is to share out as many resources that will keep education light, fun, and easy on everyone involved. Mad Libs is one of my favorite classroom activities. It’s a goofy review activity that sneaks in parts of speech skill-building too.
Therefore, I’ve created some super fun Stay-at-Home Mad Libs! Before you continue reading, stop and play the Mad Libs 🙂
These will surely be informative and give you a good laugh! Shoutout to the CDC for the content (no spoilers on the info, link is provided with your Mad Libs).
These Mad Libs can be played asynchronously or synchronously. It’s a perfect lighthearted just-for-fun activity or a good review of part of speech. If your students are already using Flipgrid, have them record themselves reading their Mad Libs to each other!
Let me know how it goes in the comments!
And, if anyone translates this into another language, please send it my way and I’ll link it in the post!
My most popular blog post is my Daily Check-in with Google Forms post, which includes a force-copy template of my daily check-in Form. Since then, I have received multiple emails asking questions about my Form, including: how to customize it, how to analyze the results, and how to share it with students. I realized there’s a need for a Google Forms basics post. For each of the skills below, I created screencasts
Start by going to your Google Drive > New > More > Google Forms. Then, play around with the question types. Remember to add in a question for “name” (unless you want anonymous results). When you’re done, preview your form (eyeball icon, top right corner) before sending it out to your students.
Sharing your Form with students
There are two ways I share Forms with my students. I either use a link shortener (bitly is my favorite; make a free account and you can customize your link ending) or share the Form on Google Classroom. When I post on Google Classroom as an assignment, the “turned in” count updates once students submit the Form. I’ve created a screencast to show you how to send out a Google Form with a link shortener and Google Classroom.
Analyzing the results in Google Sheets
After you create your Form and share it with students, it’s time to think about analyzing the data. Google Forms (purple icon) sends submission data to a Google Sheet (green icon). The great thing about Sheets is that it immediately updates with new submissions. And, if you edit or add questions to your Form, your Sheet will automatically update too.
I’ve blogged about Google Forms quite a few times. Here are some more ideas for using Google Forms in your classroom. All of the posts include templates! Please remember, if you’re going to share out these ideas beyond your classroom (e.g. at a staff meeting, at a conference, or on your blog), please point back to my blog.
School closure is stressful! This first week at home, I switch between worrying about my students and all of the what-if’s, and relaxing and enjoying time at home. My brain can’t figure out if I’m working or on break. I’ve been doing a little bit of both.
One thing I miss is feeling connected to my students. I’m following district guidelines and not assigning work; however, I have created some optional science home exploring resources for my students, if they want something fun and academic to work on. But, it’s just not the same!
By far my most popular blog post is Daily Check-in With Google Forms (October 2017). This post is consistently reshared; multiple people have told me how using this check-in routine has been a big classroom boost. When I was running a workshop in New York (I’m in California) in March 2018, a participant was customizing my daily check-in Form template at the beginning of my session. When I asked them where they got it, they said they learned about it in their last session. How cool is that? A presenter across the country found my blog and shared this resource! I tell you this because I strongly believe in the free sharing of educational resources that make our classrooms better.
There are so many different ways that teachers are checking-in with their students. Some are using district messaging platforms, Google Classroom, Flipgrid, or live Zoom video chats. There’s no right or wrong way to connect with your students (please first check with your district’s guidelines)–it’s important that they know we care through all this uncertainty.
School Closure Check-in
I created a school closure check-in (make a copy), loosely based off my daily check-in Form. I posted it on Google Classroom for my students to fill out. Even if students choose not to fill it out, they will still get the Google Classroom notification on their iPad, and they will know I’m thinking about them. I chose Forms because it is a familiar platform and routine for my students.
Additionally, my friend Ashley Prevo created her own quarantine check- in Form (make a copy). She regularly uses the daily check-in Form in her class, too. Ashley says, “I am currently teaching three sections of PE as well as ASB at the middle school level. I wish there were a better way to say this, but we are living in unprecedented times and, maybe now more than ever, our students need to be reminded that we care.” I love the questions Ashley asks her students, especially “name one thing you have done for yourself this week” and “name one thing you have done for someone else this week.”
I know this time is stressful for families too! I created a family check-in Form (make a copy) to check in with my students’ families too. I sent out this Form through our gradebook’s messaging tool. In my message to families, I also included information about free student meals during the closure and over spring break. A couple parents thanked me for checking in and asked for regular updates with regards to district decisions.
There are so many great ideas out there. Remember, you know what your students need the most!
How are you checking in with your students? If you have a resource or idea, please share it in the comments!
After the first few weeks of school, I struggle to keep the “getting to know you” activities going. In middle school, as much as I try to collect student information and spend time chatting with all of my students, it can be difficult to sustain this as we dig into content. Plus, my students are adjusting to middle school, and need a lot of energy and love guide them through this transition.
One of my favorite activities I did last year with my students was a getting to know you Quizlet Live game! When I first tried it, I had students write their name and something interesting, unique, or fun about themselves on a piece of paper. Then, I typed in all their answers into Quizlet. Luckily, I first tried it in a class of 16 students, where this was manageable. With my larger classes, I iterated and created a Google Form to more quickly collect responses.
What is Quizlet Live?
You may be familiar with Quizlet, an online flashcard making and studying tool. They also have a game called Quizlet Live! Students join the live game with a join code, then are randomly sorted into teams of 3-4. Everyone on the team is shown the definition, and they each have a list of 2-4 unique words. Only one person has the correct answer, so they must communicate. Don’t be discouraged if teams are frustrated during the first game, it takes a couple minutes for them to get the hang of it.
Setting up the Quizlet deck
After gathering fun facts about each student via Google Forms, I copied and pasted the names and facts into Quizlet to create a new deck (watch this tutorial video)!
My students had so much fun with this, they begged to play again! We ended up making a second set of trivia, and playing another couple rounds. Plus, it’s easy to squeeze this in over multiple days. Collect trivia as an exit ticket on one day, then play Quizlet Live during the last 10 minutes of the next day. It’s fast-paced, and requires very little set-up on the teacher end (bonus!).
To get started for your class, make a copy of this Form (view form). Since you’re just copying and pasting data, you can use this same Form for multiple classes. Just sort by class period, then copy just that class’s data.
If you’re an administrator, this would be a fun way to start the school year with your staff. Not only is it a fun getting to know you activity, but also it models a technology tool your teachers can try out in their classrooms!
Whenever we finish a task early, my students beg me, “Let’s play Kahoot!” They don’t care if it’s content-related or just for fun, they’re super competitive. Whenever we play, the top 3 winners in each round earn a prize–the prizes are usually the trinkets (pens, pencils, sticky notes, etc.) I pick up from conference exhibit halls. Or, if there’s only a couple minutes left in class, I’ll let the winners relax outside my room until the bell rings.
Back in March 2018, I wrote a post called Student-Created Games with Quizizz. At that time, Kahoot didn’t have an option to batch upload questions. Thankfully, Kahoot now has integrated a feature to upload a spreadsheet of questions too. My students like Quizizz when working on an early finisher assignment or stations rotation game, and prefer Kahoot when we’re playing with the whole class.
Using student created Kahoot games in class
Kahoot is a perfect platform for final exam review. To prepare for our upcoming final exams, I’ll assign different students topics, and have them write final exam questions. We’ll play their crowdsourced Kahoot in class. Inevitably, at least one student whines at how hard it is to write a question, a correct answer, and three convincing incorrect answers. Yep, welcome to teacher life!
6. Create a new Kahoot game. Upload the spreadsheet.
7. Play and have fun!
I created a video walkthrough to show you through the process. Having them template makes the whole process very quick!
Thank you Debra and Cesar for contributing trivia questions to the example set!
My students love the opportunity to create their own Kahoot games, and are thrilled when their questions are up on the screen. Student-created Kahoots are such a fun opportunity to get everyone involved in the learning!
One thing I appreciate about my district is our Teacher Leadership Book Study. This phenomenal professional development opportunity is spearheaded by Amy Illingworth, our Director of Professional Growth. For the past 2 years, we’ve had four book studies spread throughout the year–at each book study, we meet teachers from across the district, discuss the book, and reflect on our teaching practices. This year’s version allowed us to select from a list of books around a unifying topic.
One of my biggest takeaways from this book is “the power of seven seconds,” which Pete Hall describes as, “every morning, ever student who enters the school has a story…we don’t know these stories, and we can’t control what has already happened. But we can control our ability to say, ‘Good morning!’ right off the bat. The first seven seconds of our interaction with every student in our school should be brimming with enthusiasm, joy, compliments, or some sort of friendly banter” (Souers & Hall, 110). These relationships mean everything to our students!
A student walks into first period 10 minutes late. Instead of putting them on the defensive by grilling them for why they’re late, cheerfully say, “I’m so glad you’re here today! I was worried we wouldn’t see you. You’re just in time for our lab!” The students’ entire demeanor changes when they realize they’re being celebrated, not scolded.
Another big takeaway from the book is the concept of the downstairs brain (fight or flight reflexes) and the upstairs brain (empathetic response). It made me sit back and realize that when a student is in their downstairs brain and acting out or refusing to work, I need to stay in my upstairs brain and not get sucked into the frustrating back-and-forth with the student. I know when I’m frustrated with a student’s actions, I’m not the empathetic and caring listener that they need at that moment.
Here are some strategies I already use in my classroom:
Restorative practices: Restorative practices is a mindset where students are held accountable for their behavior in conjunction with a high level of empathy. The goal is to have students empathetically understand how their actions impact those around them, and take steps to repair any harm caused. This can be a whole-class strategy for discussing an incident, running a mediation between two students, or having a conversation with an individual student. In any case, we use the same three guiding questions: What happened? Who was impacted? What needs to be done to repair the harm?
Fidget box: I know my students come to class burdened with all kinds of trauma and stress. Some is the everyday middle school drama, while others are deeply rooted life experiences. I provide a fidget box that students can choose an item to help focus or calm down in class. In order to use the fidget box, students must first meet with me to discuss expectations. These expectations include trying out a few different fidgets to see what works, not sharing a fidget with another student (it quickly becomes a toy that way), and to select and return their fidget without distracting their peers. It has worked out great for my students!
Behavior log: When we do have minor incidents in class, I track these with a behavior log. It’s a simple Google Form a student fills out as the second chance in class (after a warning). The purpose is to reflect on what happened in class, and how they can make a change. After class or during work time, I’ll quickly conference with the student to debrief the incident. One new thing I will implement next year is behavior log cards; these will allow me to nonverbally ask students to complete behavior logs.
Each student and each class presents their own unique set of challenges and successes. I am grateful to support my students, no matter their circumstances outside our classroom.
Technology can take us on adventures, far and wide! Where will you go?
I love working with teachers from all over the country, and helping them find meaningful ways to integrate technology into their classroom. So often, I come in for a day or a couple hours and hope something sticks. Occasionally, I’ll receive an email or tweet from someone in a workshop, sometimes months or even a year later, sharing what they tried and how it went.
Back in November, I received this happy email from Norm Peckham, an edtech trainer in Mesa, AZ: “I already had a teacher at one of my junior highs call me and he’s changed his whole lesson plan about migration in science so that his students are creating a [Choose Your Own Adventure] story in the Google Form template you created, and I’m helping him and his students out on Monday!!…” He went on to share some resources and example Forms he created as models for his teachers.
Seriously, how cool is that! It’s the kind of email that puts a smile on my face for days!
You’ve probably already figured out that Google Forms is my go-to tool for just about everything in my classroom. However, I haven’t talked much about student-created Forms. These Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) stories are a perfect way to get students comfortable with building Forms, since the template is already done.
Last fall, I had my 8th grade AVID students create Choose Your Own Adventure stories to take us on a tour of a university. This required a lot of background research to create interesting and compelling CYOA campus tours.
Here’s how we did it:
1. Students first researched the university, including history, average freshman profiles, campus features, and interesting facts.
2. Students planned out their journeys using this CYOA Google Doc. This took a little bit of explaining on my part, to help them see how the doc would eventually lead to a branching Form.
3. Finally, students made a copy of the CYOA Form to take us through their adventure.
Once students were done, they presented their story and allowed us to choose two different adventure paths. Each student received peer feedback using, you guessed it, another Form!
Looking back, I wish I had an example to share with students before hand (I know, rookie move) so they could see the vision for the final product. Luckily, Norm created this awesome tutorial video and an example story, The Online Adventures of Mousey and Mickey. Huge shout out to Norm for allowing me to share these with y’all!!
How have you used Choose Your Own Adventure activities in your classroom? Share your best tips in the comments!
A few weeks ago, I blogged about Saving Sam, one of my favorite teamwork challenges. It’s one of the activities my kids talk about all year! And, it’s how we begin our discussion to build our teamwork foundation for the year.
In addition to the labs and activities in our science class, I also use Breakout Edu to have students interact with content and practice their teamwork skills. I have even had my classes create student-created Breakout Edu game.
So, how do we continue these conversations surrounding teamwork throughout the year?
Teamwork observations with Google Forms
I love having students observe their peers and evaluate how effectively they are working as a team. Early in the year, before we work in teams, we create our Teamwork T-Charts. This helps us develop common language around our teamwork conversations.
Then, I take my students’ T-chart responses, and put them into this form (make a copy). We use this form throughout the year for teamwork peer, group, and self evaluations.
Students evaluate themselves and their teamwork in different ways. Sometimes it’s through a fishbowl observation (see below), or I’ll set a timer and everyone must freeze and evaluate. Always, at the end of a lab or teamwork challenge, we reflect.
Talking about and reflecting on teamwork is great, although sometimes it’s hard to recognize the nuances of how we work together. When we really want to dig in and analyze how we work in teams, I use a fishbowl observation. This can easily be done as a whole class, or in multiple smaller groups. And, not only is it great for kids, it is also excellent for adult learners and professional development.
Typically, I use a 1:1 ratio, where half are working on a teamwork challenge, and half are observing. At the end of the challenge, students switch roles, and we begin a second challenge. Shorter challenges work best–I aim for short, 5 minute challenges. There are only so many boxes the observers can check, and after they’ve spent a few minutes observing, they may get distracted.
Always end with a debrief
As with any teamwork activity, it is essential to build in reflection at the end. No matter what, this is the most important part! It can be a quick exit ticket, or a more active walk and talk.
Try using these debrief cards as part of a walk and talk (make enough cards for size of class + 5), partner or group discussions, or as quickwrite prompts.
Teamwork is a growing and evolving process, and it’s essential for us to honor and cultivate this journey with our students!
Around my school, I have a reputation as the techy one. My friends look at me, and know I’m about to say something like, “we need to make a Google Doc!”
Somehow, within this reputation, there is a misconception that I already know everything, and I have nothing left to learn as a teacher. I walk into some colleagues’ classrooms for an informal observation, and they nicely wonder why I’m there and how I could possibly learn something.
I am grateful to work on a campus where informal observations and walking into others’ classrooms is welcomed and encouraged. I am always seeking to be a better teacher, and I have so much to learn! Each year, I set goals and growth areas, and constantly reflect on how I’m doing.
Over the last several years, I watched my teacher neighbor effectively use exit tickets at the end of every class period as he dismisses his class. I love how he signaled the end of class, was able to check in with each students, and had a quick formative assessment for each lesson. When I told him I appreciate his use of exit tickets and I was going to start using them in my classroom, he looked at me like I’m crazy for learning something new from him.
So, I’ve taken his exit ticket procedures and merged it with my favorite tech tool: Google Forms!
With about 5 minutes left in class, I project this Slide and have my students reflect on their learning for the day by filling out the daily exit ticket (make a copy). As my students are silently filling out their exit ticket, I also reflect on how I felt they day went, and what changes I will make for the next class.
Not only is this a way for students to reflect on what they learned, but also it’s instant feedback for me on how the lesson went, including many social-emotional factors, such as “today in class, I felt treated kindly by my teacher.”
Reflecting on the Data
I watch my students’ data come in on the response sheet to see if there are any students I need to check-in with after class. I have had students mark “disagree” to “I felt treated kindly by my teacher,” and it forces me to immediately reflect on our interactions in class that day, and how I handled a situation in class.
In the response sheet, I inserted a row below the questions to calculate the percentage of agree with each statement. [Formula: =(countif(I3:I, “Agree”))/counta(I3:I), then Format > Number > Percent]. I also use Conditional Formatting to fill “Agree” cells green and “Disagree” cells red.
As you can see, I’m getting my butt kicked for not challenging my class academically–we’re a month into school, and while we have been doing all the science basics, this tells me I need to build in some more engagement and meaningful work.
I am grateful for another way to reach my students, address their questions and curiosities, and receive consistent feedback on how we can make our class better.
How do you use exit tickets in your class? What kinds of questions do you ask?
Back to school is always an exciting time! I love preparing my classroom for my new students, thinking about how to best meet their needs, and anticipating the fun we’re going to have. I loosely plan out what skills I want to hit, but I don’t lesson plan until I actually meet my kids!
In my first year of teaching, I had the (mis)guidance of the teacher I was taking over for. They instructed me to talk about the syllabus on the first day of school, teach lab safety on the second day, then jump right into content on the third day. Even though I planned out fun first-two-weeks activities in my credential/masters program and talked extensively about building relationships, I assumed this strong-willed teacher knew what was best. So, I did what they told me.
Boy, was I wrong. While I did end up getting to know my students eventually, the class cohesiveness wasn’t there from the start and behavior was sometimes a struggle.
The one thing I did do well was a getting to know you survey (on paper). I used that information to learn about my students’ backgrounds, and incorporate their interests into some of our examples from class.
Fast forward to the present: My biggest strength and emphasis as a teacher are building relationships, and making sure each and every student feels welcome in our class. It’s not always easy, and there are plenty of ups, downs, and mistakes–and also many moments of joy!
This is the perfect first assignment on the Google Classroom set-up day. Students join the class, then immediately complete their first assignment.
The questions range from simple, such as birthday and interests, to more thought-provoking, such as “when I get mad, I …” I like having a mix, and seeing how my students choose to answer. For example, when I ask “What is something you are really good at?” not only am I asking for their strengths, but also I am checking for self confidence; when a student writes “nothing,” then I know I will need to intentionally search for areas of strength to share with them.
A hidden teacher agenda item in this activity: I can see who is able to focus on an independent and silent task for 10 minutes, and who needs constant refocusing.
After my students fill out the survey in class, I go through the response spreadsheet and highlight interesting and concerning responses. I make a note to follow up with students, bring up their interests in conversation, and share commonalities.
The getting to know you survey is one of the best parts of my first few weeks of school!
What types of questions do you ask in your getting to know you survey? Please share your favorites in the comments below!