Using Padlet to Create Discussion Groups

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • Nov. 11, 2020, 9:40 a.m.

The tech tool Padlet might be a great fit for silent discussions. Padlet is an online bulletin board that can be used in many different ways. It is free to sign up; however, you can only make three Padlets before you need to upgrade to a monthly or yearly subscription. Teachers can get a 30-day free trial before upgrading to the monthly or annual plan.I definitely think it's worth the monthly subscription. I use it to streamline communications with learners.

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Distance Learning Engagement Ideas

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • July 13, 2020, 12:44 p.m.
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ELAR Resources for Elementary Teachers

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • March 17, 2020, 6:11 a.m.

Looking for texts for elementary-age readers?  Check out these free (or almost free) websites for engaging, content-rich texts.  There's no reason to read boring texts!

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ELAR Resources for Secondary Teachers

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • March 17, 2020, 5:56 a.m.

As you create learning experiences for your students, here is a list of reading and writing resources to use for ELAR learning in the secondary classroom. 

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Discussion Circles are Powerful!

  • by Randi Anderson
  • March 9, 2020, 9:58 a.m.

Written by Randi Anderson

Throughout the past year I've spent extensive time talking, collaborating, and brainstorming ideas all focused on classroom discussions circles. The research around discussion circles is astounding for student growth. In fact, classroom discussion has an effect size of .82 which translates to a TWO YEAR gain in student achievement. See Hattie's Effect size chart for reference.

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Using Poems to Get Students Analyzing

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • Nov. 11, 2019, 8:20 a.m.

A great way to get students thinking at the analysis level is by using a song or poem of the week! Each day students will read and dive into thinking about the text through a different lens than before. Each time they reread, they grab another piece of new thinking and learning to add to their schema.

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Ideas to Get Students Thinking About Their Thinking

  • by Randi Anderson
  • Oct. 11, 2019, 11:08 a.m.

As an educator, one of our universal goals is to teach our students to have metacognitive strategies. Here are some ideas to get kids thinking about their thinking.

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Classroom Discussions Drive Thinking

  • by Randi Anderson
  • Oct. 11, 2019, 11:02 a.m.

The art of conversation is a life skill that must be taught to students. This past month, I worked with intervention educators on reading and writing strategies for high school students. 

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Two Truths & a Lie

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • Sept. 9, 2019, 10:47 a.m.

A fact is anything that can be proven or disproven. It's the readers' responsibility to distinguish fact and fiction.

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What's Your Weekly Theme Song?

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • Aug. 13, 2019, 8:52 a.m.

Have you heard the song High Hopes by Panic at the Disco? This is 5 year old Whitten's favorite song right now. He begs for it to play on repeat. I am so glad he did, because after listening to it, it became my theme song to kick off the year! The message is ageless and the vocabulary is amazing. Students will be surprised when their teacher plays this song the first week of school!

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Information Circles

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • March 13, 2019, 1:59 p.m.

Students need to constantly build schema, or background knowledge, that will help them connect to new topics and ideas about the world. Reading nonfiction is one of the best ways to help students do this. It is important to note however, that informational texts can often be one of the most difficult genres for students to comprehend. Because of this young readers need to spend a lot of time processing informational texts. One way to immerse students in nonfiction texts is to invite them to participate in information circles.

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Word Clouds

  • Dec. 10, 2018, 8:54 a.m.

A word cloud is an image composed of words or phrases. Individually or as a team, students create an image in which the size of each word or phrase indicates its importance to the overall meaning of the topic or text. Word clouds can be created for concepts, characters, events, and themes across content areas.

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Making Inferencing Fun!

  • Dec. 6, 2018, 3:33 p.m.

Teaching students to infer is essential to becoming a proficient reader. When we really dig deep into the strategy of inferring, we notice that it is a skill students (and adults) are already doing each and every moment of the day. Making an inference is making a decision or claim about something using the evidence we are seeing or hearing. Whether we are deciding which food you want off the menu (based on what sounds appealing), or deciding if someone is a good friend (based on their actions and words), we are making inferences all the time! Here are some fun activities to engage students in making inferences throughout the school day.

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What is Literary Nonfiction Exactly?

  • Nov. 6, 2018, 10:03 a.m.

Literary nonfiction, also known as narrative nonfiction, is one of the best genres for getting students to engage in large quantities of reading. But what exactly is literary nonfiction? We hear the word nonfiction and instantly think informational, which is only partly true. The word literary means "narrative" and nonfiction means "accurate". So literary nonfiction is essentially a true story. And who doesn't like a really good true story?

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Productive Struggle

  • May 4, 2018, 2:48 p.m.

Did you know that the first antibiotic, Penicillin, was discovered from a productive struggle that Dr. Alexander Fleming was in? Yes, a productive struggle is what lead to the discovery of the life saving drug in 1928! Dr. Fleming discovered mold growing in petri dishes after returning from summer vacation and said that the mold had contaminated his study. He later discovered that the mold actually stopped bacteria from growing.

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End-of-Year Reading & Writing Activities

  • May 4, 2018, 2:46 p.m.

The end of the year is upon us. Just in case you are running out of steam, here are some ideas for May/June to keep students engaged in reading and writing.

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PB & J Partners

  • April 10, 2018, 11:46 a.m.

Students need lots of time to collaborate with each other in order to develop vocabulary, learn content, process new learning, and the real world skill of conversation. Starting in partner groupings, students use accountable talk to learn how to have a meaningful conversation in which they take turns sharing ideas and listening.

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April: Poetry Month

  • April 10, 2018, 11:45 a.m.

Let's celebrate this month by reading a poem-a-day to our students. Hearing the rich language and imagining the vivid images described in poems develops schema and extends vocabulary. Here are a few ways to enjoy poems this month.

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Using Passages to Get Kids Thinking

  • March 1, 2018, 10:43 a.m.

As state assessment time approaches, I see lots of test practice passages being utilized in classrooms. While I'm not a fan of these passages, I do understand the need for students to read short texts and practice reading strategies needed for success on the test. Here are some ideas for using passages in authentic ways.

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Accountable Talk Matters

  • Feb. 6, 2018, 10:10 a.m.

"Please , don't stop talking!" This is a phrase I thought I would never say in my first few years of teaching, but, as my philosophy of learning has evolved, I've revised my thinking on just how much students need to be talking.

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3 Ways to Spice Up Your Book Talks

  • Dec. 7, 2017, 3:11 p.m.

Book Talks are a great way to create excitement and motivate your students to read! Educators can create even more excitement when they too create a book talk. Here are 3 ways to perform book talks for your students to get them excited about reading.

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Teaching Children Executive Skills

  • Sept. 10, 2017, 3:59 p.m.

While at the International Literacy Association Conference this summer, I attended a session that focused on helping struggling readers develop executive skills for academic success. Kelly Cartwright, author of Executive Skills and Reading Comprehension, A Guide for Educators, made a research-based case that many students are not experiencing success because of underlying issues. These executive function issues are not evident of the surface, but can easily be identified and addressed. Her research has found that executive skills begin to develop early and are a good predictor of proficient reading in grades two and beyond.


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Building Meaning....Literally

  • Sept. 9, 2017, 3:58 p.m.

Have you ever struggled to find the right words or explanation of something? Most of us have been there once or twice. Students struggle with this, too. So, why not build something to represent your thinking? Constructing a model of what you are picturing or thinking can help to solidify conceptual understanding. Using legos, building blocks, or play doh, students build to represent an idea or understanding of a concept. This can be a less intimidating option for students to show their understanding or thinking about ideas or topics.

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Celebrate Poetry Month!

  • May 17, 2017, 3:49 p.m.

Next month, April, is National Poetry Month. National Poetry Month officially started back in 1996 by the Academy of National Poets. The month is dedicated to celebrating, reading, and writing poetry of all forms. Here are some ways to celebrate poets and their poetry in your school or classroom!

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Literature Circles Fundamentals

  • May 8, 2017, 3:48 p.m.

Literature circles are meant to be a student-led way of practicing ALL essential reading skills, fluency and comprehension. Students get together to discuss the meaning of a text that they have read independently.

Here are 4 big ideas that will lead to successful literature Circles.


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Shared Reading in the Balanced Literacy Classroom

  • May 7, 2017, 3:46 p.m.

Shared reading is a dynamic practicing strategy for all students learning how to understand the meanings of texts. Using short texts that can be read in five to ten minute practice sessions, teachers can read with students to scaffold practice in thinking within, beyond, and about a text.

This guided practice technique helps readers understand and apply good reader thinking and fluent, meaning-making reading. The teacher's role is to model and closely monitor student thinking and oral reading. Teachers should gradually release the thinking to students as they practice the mental processes for efficient reading. Texts should be read several times for specific purposes.

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The Power of Readers' Theater

  • April 10, 2017, 3:45 p.m.

Readers' Theater is a great tool to use year round, but ESPECIALLY this time of year! Students are in the midst of reviewing and practicing for end of year assessments. They may need ways to boost their fluency and comprehension. Reader's theater is an instructional strategy that does both!

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Literature Circles Tip

  • March 15, 2017, 3:37 p.m.


One important component of literature circles or book clubs is student choice! Having students choose or vote on the circle or club they would like to join is a strategy that will motivate and engage your readers.

Voting Day

One way that I incorporated student choice in to literature circles was by hosting a "Voting Day" to kick off a new round of circles. I would have 4-5 texts that I had pre-selected for circles. I would introduce each text with either a book trailer from Youtube or a quick book talk. My goal was to create excitement about the books or texts. Students would cast their vote for their top two text picks. All of the voting was confidential.

The next day when they returned to school, I announced who was in each circle. I tried to grant students their first text choice, but sometimes their second choice was a better fit. This was always an exciting day in our classroom!


For more tips or information on literature circles of book clubs, attend one of our literature circles seminars this May! Click Here for more information!

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Super Bowl Commercials in the Classroom

  • Feb. 14, 2017, 10:15 a.m.

Super Bowl commercials are not only one of the best parts of the Super Bowl, they are great to use in the classroom! I love to use commercials in the same way that I would use a text during a lesson. Commercials are great catalyst to teaching and practicing metacognitive processes, such as summarizing, inferring, and making connections. Here are some funny commercials to use with your students this month!

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Genre Knowledge

  • Jan. 4, 2017, 3:50 p.m.

One of the most frequently asked questions that I get from educators is 'What is the best way to teach my students to read critically?' The answer is complex and deserves a full day, week, or year discussion. The best place to start with your students is to make sure your students use genre knowledge to process texts. Yes, genre knowledge is the foundation of comprehension!

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Text Suggestions for November

  • Nov. 6, 2016, 3:46 p.m.

When we choose texts for our students to read, we should choose texts that require students to use the metacognitive strategies in our learning targets to process the text and capture students' interests! Texts can and should be used more than once. Think of how many times you have watched your favorite movie. Each time, you discover or learn something new. It's a great time of the year to use texts that focus on our American traditions and history while having fun reading various types of texts.

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Spooky Reading & Writing Activities

  • Oct. 2, 2016, 4:43 p.m.

October is a month full of spook & treats! Incorporating student interests into your reading and writing block is a win-win for students and educators. Here are some fun ways to get students excited about reading and writing in October!

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First Up: Help Students Develop & Use Genre Knowledge for Strategic Reading

  • Sept. 5, 2016, 4:41 p.m.

Why is Genre Knowledge Critical?

Start the year off building the students' knowledge of genre in order to think more critically about every text they encounter this year. Good readers use genre knowledge to get beyond surface-level comprehension. They orient themselves to each text and select comprehension strategies based upon the demands of the text. For example, you would think about character actions in a fiction text and key ideas in an expository text.

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Back-To-School Activities

  • Aug. 2, 2016, 4:39 p.m.

The beginning of the year is all about building RELATIONSHIPS and ROUTINES. As educators, we must build relationships with our students before they will trust our instruction and dive deep into learning. Here are several relationship building activities to do the first couple of weeks of school that will get your students reading, writing, and moving!

Scavenger Hunt / I Have, Who Has

The goal of this activity is for students to find out something special about each of their classmates. They will discover that they have many things in common and a few differences. This is a great opportunity for students to get up and move around the room too!

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Are You Playing Pokemon Go?

  • Aug. 2, 2016, 4:37 p.m.

Pokemon Go has become a global phenomenon in just a few weeks. I decided to play to learn with the intention of investigating any potential for classroom use. So, I will start with a confession: I'm addicted.

First, I love how the game is making me aware of how I can direct my own learning. I had to seek out the critical knowledge needed to play the game. Quickly, I found and applied the basic rules of the game. At one point, I unexpectedly ran out of Pokeballs and had to figure out how to get more. Of course, I googled it!

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Teaching A Growth Mindset

  • July 31, 2016, 4:36 p.m.

The beginning of the year sets the tone for you and your students' entire school year. Educators have the task of creating a positive learning environment and setting the attitude and perception of their classroom. What are you doing to help your students establish or continue to have a growth mindset?

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Questions Please!

  • March 30, 2016, 4:35 p.m.

Learners who are invested in the learning naturally question as they process new ideas or concepts.  They ask interpretive, literal, evaluative, and universal questions. 

Whoever asks the questions, does the learning. 

Here are some ways to scaffold your students’ thinking over time so they become more aware of the act of questioning to learn. 

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Spring Lesson: The Rigorous Bunny

  • March 6, 2016, 3:32 p.m.

Using Youtube in the classroom is a powerful tool for student engagement and authentic instruction. I love to use Youtube with adults and students to increase the complexity of thinking in a unique way. Here is an example to use in your classroom this spring!

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Strategy Focus: Close Reading

  • Feb. 10, 2016, 3:31 p.m.

Close reading is the act of careful and purposeful reading (and rereading) of a text. We reread texts several times to focus on comprehension, text structure, elements, rhetorical devices, and author's craft. The students' knowledge of genre is crucial for close reading. Texts must be brief because the amount of thinking and reading is heavy and their focus needs to be narrowed.

"Repeated reading improves comprehension." -Doug Fisher

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The Academy Awards of Reading

  • Feb. 10, 2016, 3:30 p.m.

It’s that time of year again! The Academy Awards are coming for the best books in your classroom library! Have your students nominate the best books, articles, poems, and authors they have read this year.

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Close Reading FYI

  • Oct. 20, 2015, 4:24 p.m.

Close Reading has certainly become a BUZZ word in the reading education world. Here are 3 essentials to know about Close Reading.

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Teaching Genre Knowledge

  • Sept. 10, 2015, 4:22 p.m.

The reading and writing standards call for students to think and understand author's craft when reading texts in a given genre. Here are a few ways you can help your students develop a deep understanding of the demands of each genre.

When teaching reading and writing, start by having students explore the genre and then teach the genre characteristics. Proficient readers use genre knowledge to make predictions, ask questions, summarize, and dig deeper into meaning.

Here are 3 ideas on how to immerse students in a particular genre.

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Using a Song of the Week to Practice

  • Feb. 27, 2015, 3:21 p.m.

Close reading is the practice of reading carefully and purposefully in order to understand the author’s message. Students need a lot of varied practice using reading comprehension strategies in order to become proficient at close reading.

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Making Inferences

  • Jan. 18, 2015, 3:21 p.m.

Teaching students to use metacognitive reading skills to understand an author’s message can be challenging if instruction and practice isn’t carefully planned.

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What's the Word? What's the Topic?

  • Nov. 29, 2014, 3:20 p.m.

A few weeks ago, during a small group reading observation, I watched a group of five learning-disabled students struggle with key vocabulary in a reading passage. While the goal of the group was to develop comprehension, it was clear that these learners needed a strategy and practice for decoding new words. Here is an easy-to-implement strategy that can be used to warm-up for reading group.

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Just One Thing-Students Ask Questions

  • Oct. 19, 2014, 4:19 p.m.

How many questions do you ask each day? How many questions do your students ask? Most teachers ask the majority of the questions. One little thing that you can do to help students process new learning is to turn the questioning over to the learners.

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Summarizing Nonfiction

  • Feb. 2, 2011, 4:03 p.m.

Are there crickets chirping in your classroom? Don’t know what I mean? Just ask a struggling reader to summarize that piece of nonfiction text, name the key point, or list the supporting details… most of the time, they are at such a loss for words that all your hear is crickets. So, what can you do to help that reader navigate through an extensive piece of nonfiction and sift through the facts to uncover what’s most important?

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Reading is Thinking!

  • Nov. 8, 2010, 4 p.m.

The most important skill students need to learn is how to think! If students can think about their own thinking and determine the strategy that he/she needs to use in any given situation, success in that situation can happen. As educators and parents, we must be explicit in teaching thinking by modeling our own processes out loud and then providing opportunities to use thinking strategies with various levels of scaffolding. We must take students from concrete situations to sensory-type situations that use different learning modalities to reading texts that require higher level thinking. In Tanny McGregor’s book Comprehension Connections (2007), she provides tangible examples that demonstrate effective practices for the classroom and home. I’ve created a quick chart that lists research-based meta-cognitive strategies, definitions, and activities that start at the concrete level and take students to the abstract use of the strategy.

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Summarization Strategies

  • Nov. 4, 2010, 4:58 p.m.

Asking students to summarize reading requires them to think at the level of analysis and synthesis. In order to become fluent summarizers, many students benefit from graphic organizers that scaffold or guide thinking about what is important in the text. Simply having a structure for organizing thinking can greatly increase student success.

For narrative texts in which characters have problems or conflicts, the most effective strategy for summarizing is the “Somebody-Wanted-But-So-Then” framework. Start with the graphic organizer on a poster board or white board and the discussion of a familiar movie or TV show episode. For example, using Shrek (the movie), I complete the chart by thinking aloud.

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