Have You Tried To Slice?

Every March I participate in the Slice of Life challenge created and hosted by Two Writing Teachers.  It’s been a great push for me as a creative writer over the years, with some years being more successful than others.  Last year I started it with my students and am continuing it with this years class.  They often find it challenging and exhausting but exciting and energizing at the same time.

As part of this daily writing I write with them and follow the model that the fine ladies at Two Writing Teachers have set by inviting kids to try different things in their writing each day.  Sometimes it’s experimenting with a new format, other times it’s about honing their craft as writers.  Along with the “writing” lessons I’m also teaching lessons on digital communities (like how to leave thoughtful comments) and the ins and outs of using Kidblog. (We even get a few lessons in HTML coding thanks to Kidblog’s app)

Here are some thoughts from last year’s class.

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Since this year I wrote my first slice about the coffee shop where Kristin and I write our books I thought I’d share it with you.  (This is reposted from my personal Slice of Life blog.)

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The Kitchen Table

For the past year I’ve been spending most Saturday mornings at a little coffee shop on Damen Ave. with my writing partner Kristin.  Over the months our newest book has been taking shape fueled by massive amounts of coffee (what else?), the smell of bacon smoke in the air, occasional 80’s power ballads, and the general feeling that we’re trying to make a difference in the world.

Most of these mornings were spent on a big green leather couch stationed at the back of the room.  An ideal place for writing, people watching, and generally overseeing the goings on of the coffee shop.  One recent morning I walked in to find that the couch had been moved.

My first thought was “what the heck? why did they move the couch?”

My second thought was “what is in its place?!?”  There in the back of the room hogging the space that our beloved couch had once lived in was a retro reddish orange kitchen table.  I glared at it in disgust and distrust.

Our beloved green home had been moved to the front of the coffee shop, right in the middle of the chaos and was now joined by another couch.  It was an overall unwelcome change.  Now chaos abounded around us, other people invaded our space, and our writing mojo was thrown by the constant din of the door banging shut.

“The music is too loud.”

“The light is all wrong.”

“There’s a draft here.”

“It’s too far from the outlet.”

The next week I felt anxious walking in the door.  I trudged slowly to the back of the coffee shop and set my bag down tentatively on the table.  I unpacked slowly, hesitantly as if the table might blow up at any minute.  As I set up my computer I ran my fingers over the tacky laminate surface noting the old coffee stains, the scratches along the edge.  This table had history.  This table had a story to tell.  It was then that I thought perhaps it was fate, that this table was put here for a purpose.  A storytelling table for two storytellers.

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If you’re interested in finding out more visit Two Writing Teachers.  It’s never to late to get started!

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Try It Tomorrow: Online Safety with Image Stamping

Processed with RookieBlogging and providing my students an authentic audience of their peers and the world has been one of the most significant practices I’ve employed in the last few years.   As we’ve nurtured young bloggers we’ve made a commitment to our students and their families to keep kids safe online as they share their thinking and learning with the world.

We do that in a number of ways, but one practice we employ is to never post a child’s name and image in the same context. This is a simple way to add a layer of security to work that students share online. We teach this to kids as young as kindergarten and model safe sharing practices from day one. As we engage in conversations about what is shared online, who has access to work and how long it “stays” online, we lay a foundation for digital citizenship that we build upon across the years.

A number of blogging platforms that are available to students have a place for kids to display a picture of themself as the author of the blog. For developing readers and writers this image helps students quickly sort and locate their classmates’ blog. For older learners this image is another piece that signals the blog belongs to them. Many classrooms design their own avatars using an avatar creation tool like Gravatar or Voki. I prefer to invite students to create their own avatars using a simple drawing tool.

First, have students take a selfie. Then import the photo into a drawing app like Doodle Buddy or Drawing Pad. Both apps have the option to use a photo from the camera roll as a background image or piece of paper. Once the child’s photo is set as the paper, teach students to use it as a coloring sheet and select crayons, markers or colored pencils to draw over their image. Sometimes referred to as image stamping, this practice invites students to represent a likeness of themselves while also protecting their true identity. More so, it invites our kids to create–and when students are creating learning is personalized and differentiated, and most importantly, fun!

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This 3rd grade student created an avatar for his blog site using Drawing Pad.

Once we’ve taught kids how to create an avatar and use photos as coloring pages they can transfer this practice across the curriculum as they represent their work and the work of others in this protected fashion. Students can use famous pieces of art, favorite book characters and photos they’ve shot in class as background templates for their drawings.

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A student avatar is displayed when the child leaves a comment on Kidblog.
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A first grader creates an image of herself that she posts to her blog titled, “A gift to my mother.” Note how her real eyes show through the drawing (kinda creepy!).
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An excited student wants to share about her loose tooth online, but recognizes she should not post a photo of herself to her blog. Here, she uses Drawing Pad to cover her face but shows and labels her loose tooth.

In one simple lesson we engage students in creation, representation and digital citizenship. Best of all, its easy and fun so try it tomorrow and let us know what you think!

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Try it Tomorrow: One Little Word

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I first heard of One Little Word over at Two Writing Teachers.  What a wonderfully simple way to focus your energy for the year.  No messy resolutions, just one little word.

So I thought: why not try it with students?

I started by pulling a variety of exemplars and popping them into my favorite tool…Padlet.  This visual layout worked great in helping students see the variety of words and the visual/artistic element of the project.

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As they viewed it we talked about what we noticed and some things that we wanted to keep in mind as we made our choice.  I asked students to view the Padlet through two lenses.  1) word choice and 2) design elements.  Then students got to work, here is a photo of their hard work!

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They attacked this project with gusto.  (I’m sure it was sounding better than revising those pesky feature articles.)  Students used both traditional and digital tools to create their words.  Then they each took a picture or screenshot, posted it to their blog, and wrote a bit about why the chose the word that they did.

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It’s tempting to over schoolify things sometimes so I didn’t set any expectation for their writing other than to explain why you chose the word you did.  I took a big step back on this and just allowed students to do things however they wanted because I was hoping to encourage creativity and excitement.  By making the one little word their own and not a “project for school” I hope they take it to heart and use it to help make 2015 an amazing year.

It’s not too late for you and your students to find your one little word for the year!  Will you try it tomorrow and let us know how it goes? 

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Try It Tomorrow Follow-up: It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

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Such an exciting response on Twitter to the first Try It Tomorrow post! Thanks to all who shared this idea with friends and colleagues. A number of teachers took the Try It Tomorrow challenge and tested this practice in their classrooms. Several were gracious enough to share snapshots of their Padlet with us.  Take a look at how these teachers used Padlet to build a book buzz by clicking on the image:

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Many thanks to the following classrooms for sharing your thinking with us: @msclancysclass, @mslsclass, @mscassidysclass, @Burley5th302, @team4chapman, @edisongradeone, @MrsLaffin4, @skogstad_class

Please tell your students that we love learning from them!  Readers, make sure to add these teachers and students to your PLN! Connecting helps us all become better educators.

I look forward to hearing from other classrooms who Try It Tomorrow. As always, thanks for sharing your learning with us!

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Try It! Tomorrow: It’s Monday, what are you reading?

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Try It! Tomorrow is a new series of posts that we’re launching on the blog. The idea behind the Try It! series is that it’s EASY. Think: quick read, minimal prep and an immediate #Eduwin for students! Tune in as we share new tools or reimagine how to use familiar tools to amplify student thinking. 

It’s Monday: What are you reading?

A number of years ago, I saw people tweeting about, “It’s Monday, what are you reading?” I quickly realized that transferring this question to my students was a perfect way to start the week. Over the years we answered this question in many formats as students blogged, tweeted and backchanneled about their reading lives nearly every Monday across the the school year.

As this practice endures, recently I’ve been using the website Padlet.com as a small group activity to for students to post what they are reading each Monday. Padlet is a digital bulletin board that invites student interaction by simply double clicking on the wall to leave a post. Each week students share a #BookSelfie of their “right now” book and tell a little bit about the title they are reading.

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This Padlet reading wall serves as my status of class at the start of the week; quickly, I can view it to keep abreast of what my students are reading. It invites students to summarize and synthesize their current book and provides a platform to discuss their reading lives. When we embed this wall on a classroom website, students use the Padlet to obtain new book reviews. We layer interaction as students use the Padlet to write, read, and study images to gain information about the titles shared by their peers. Frequent posts and multiple recommendations for titles create what Donalyn Miller refers to as a “book buzz” as students celebrate, recommend and inspire their friends to read the books they love.

So as we gear up for the last Monday of 2014, see if you can find a way to incorporate Padlet into your day and ask your students, “What are you reading?”

It’s fun. It’s easy. You should Try It! Tomorrow.

It’s #5bookfriday! Won’t you join us?

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I recently wrote about ways to get students connected using Social Media, and one of those ways is to join #5bookfriday.  You don’t even have to be on Twitter to do this with your students, but it sure helps to have that connection and see what books are in students’ #5bookfriday bags.

What: 5 Book Friday, hashtag #5bookfriday

A book talk of five books that you are going to “sell” to your readers.

Why: I started this because I was having trouble making sure to get to a book talk everyday in addition to the teaching, coaching, observing, preparing, book conferences, and more.

How: Get a bag, any bag, fun and or silly works great.  Stash five books that you want to sell to your students.  Think about specific readers as you do so.  Who has been looking lost lately?  Who has been spending too much time searching for a book?  Who needs a just right book?  Who needs a challenge?  You might group them by author or genre. One week I even did all similar covers.  It might be five new books you just purchased or five classics.  It’s up to you.

Have students bring their reading interest lists to the carpet so they can jot down titles and authors.  You may also need to have a few waiting lists ready for very popular titles.

Then dramatically sell each book!

When you’re done snap a quick picture before the stampede and fighting begins.

If you have Twitter send out a picture of you five books using the hashtag #5bookfriday.

My students LOVE this little tradition now.  (To be honest they thought I was crazy the first time since I have a little jingle I sing, but they sing with me now.)  Your enthusiasm will be their enthusiasm!

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Creating and Composing in a Digital Writing Workshop

This post originally appeared on our blog Inquiry Live in the Classroom on November 5th, 2014.  We felt that the content and ideas were consistent with the message of our new blog and that it was important enough to repost.

Note: This post, co-authored by Troy Hicks and Kristin Ziemke, has been prepared in response to Nancie Atwell’s blog post about the role of technology in her classroom.


In her recent blog post Nancie Atwell opens up about the role of technology in her classroom. As a leader in our field of teaching writing, Nancie, suggested that:

I do think classrooms in grades four or five and up should have computers, so kids can experience and experiment with word processing, but I have concerns about them in the younger grades. In fact, I think the trend of iPads in the primary classroom is a mistake.

We’re grateful to Nancie for starting this conversation as districts across the country purchase more and more mobile devices without thinking about the pedagogical practices that must go hand-in-hand, if not lead, how we think about using these new tools. This dialogue is necessary and overdue. Nancie is one of the literacy leaders who has guided our thinking about student writing, the reading and writing workshop approach, and how best to frame our own thinking about the teaching of writing, both of us appreciate and admire Nancie’s work. We respect her opinions about what works in reading and writing classrooms.

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One of Kristin’s students composing both print and digital writing.

We agree with Nancie that many schools are using technology poorly; instead of embracing redefinition as Dr. Puentedura has advocated for, teachers are often misguided and use digital devices for sight word practice, prompted responses and (sadly) weekly assessment and test prep. We recognize that there are poor models of classroom technology out there. We also respect and acknowledge how Nancie employs technology at her school.

However, in this case, we humbly suggest that her opinion on students writing with technology is limited, and we feel compelled to offer a different vision of how students can become digital readers and writers.

First, in the upper grades, we feel that her insistence on computers for word processing is too limiting. Let’s unpack this assumption just a bit. First, though it can feel like our students have their noses stuck in screens for far too long throughout the day, technology is not the enemy here. In fact, word processing is just the beginning of what technology offers to writers. According to leading researchers in the field of K-12 writing instruction, Jill Barshay reports that:

In 83 percent of 30 studies on the use of word processing software, students’ writing quality improved when they wrote their papers on a computer instead of writing by hand. The impact was largest for middle school students, but younger students benefited, too. The theory is that students feel more free to edit their sentences because it’s so easy to delete, add and move text on a computer. The more editing, the better the final essay.

Steve Graham and Delores Perin shared these results in the 2007 Writing Next report, and — sadly — in many K-12 classrooms we still don’t see technology being used for revision and editing in this proven manner. Yet, word processing is just the beginning of what students can, and should, do with computers.

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Kristin’s students compose using a laptop.

Second, as we dig a bit deeper into Nancie’s claim about using computers only for word processing, we know that there is more to consider. Indeed, we know from our own research, teaching, and professional writing that computers — as well as tablets and smart phones — provide students with countless opportunities for reading and writing. And, when we say “reading” and “writing,” we are talking about both traditional alphabetical texts (books, articles, essays, poems) as well as digital texts including blogs, ebooks, and hypertexts. Our professional organizations — such as NCTE, IRA, and NWP — have been calling for a broadened view of digital literacy for well over a decade. We would hope that Nancie would consider doing so, too.

Now, to unpack the second part of her concern: that “the trend of iPads in the primary classroom is a mistake.” While Troy does not have the benefit of being in the classroom everyday with younger students, Kristin does. And, from this experience, she would argue that the primary grades are exactly where kids SHOULD be using technology as it transforms their ability to create, share their ideas and connect with an authentic audience beyond the classroom. In fact, it is essential.

Let us explain a bit more.

In the early childhood years, many students are challenged by the physicality it takes to produce a piece of writing. Ideas are often generated and lost before a young writer can transmit them to the paper. In today’s digital writing workshop, students can scaffold their own development by recording a video snapshot of the story they want to tell. Once the ideas are captured on video, the child can transfer the story to paper while going back to rewatch the video as many times as needed in order to remember and include all the parts of the story. Video recording tools allow us to meet the writer where he is and nudge him to become a more proficient writer and idea generator.

Using digital publishing tools like the Book Creator App or Little Bird Tales, we find new ways to celebrate active literacy in the classroom as students can draw, write, speak, listen, view and read all within a piece they create. The ease of which a child can add audio to their own book signals to the learner that each child has a story to tell and is the owner of that story. Embedded audio provides a window into the thinking and gives us a picture of what a child knows and is able to do, not merely what their fine motor abilities allow them to produce on paper.

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Screenshot of Kristin’s class interacting on Twitter with author Seymour Simon

Most importantly, technology expands our youngest learners audience as students publish their writing online. Enhanced eBooks, student blogs and classroom Twitter accounts invite primary age students to move beyond the writing wall in the classroom and into a writing world. Feedback from their families, blogging buddies and experts in the field inspires them to write even more. Students view themselves as important contributors to the global writing community and move beyond learning about writing to living life as a writer.

And of course, we provide balance and choice in all we do. We explicitly teach kids that tablets and laptops are tools that writer’s use, just like paper and pencils. We want kids to be intentional about how they choose the tool and think about how the tool enables them to revise, alter the layout and share the writing.

Moreover, these observations extend beyond the early grades. We can point to numerous examples where teachers in upper elementary, middle school, and high school are using digital reading and writing to support their students’ literacy development. As a point of reference for upper el and middle school, we would suggest that Nancie look at some really innovative educators who teach writing with technology such as Kevin Hodgson, Jeremy Hyler and Katharine Hale.

Finally, we suggest that the concerns Atwell suggests are less about her students’ abilities — as well as the capabilities of the devices — and more about her stance as a teacher. Certainly, we want students to feel positive about their reading and writing experiences: reaching fluency with the written word, providing opportunities to talk about books with one another, holding a well-worn novel or favorite pen in our hands. These are tactile, valuable experiences. As she notes, there are social reasons embedded in writing and reading that make these practices both pedagogically useful as they humanize our classrooms.

In this blog post, one of Kristin's students shares her "wonders" as a part of an inquiry project.
In this blog post, one of Kristin’s students shares her “wonders” as a part of an inquiry project.

However, if as teachers we discount the opportunities that crafting digital writing and engaging in digital reading can offer students, then we are doing our students more than a disservice. We are failing to prepare them for academic, workplace, and real life opportunities to engage in literacy practices. This is not about our personal preferences for or against technology. It is about the ways that we teach students to become literate.

We are grateful to Nancie as a thought leader and for her decades of work, as well as for her blog post in which she invites us all to reflect on the role of technology in our classrooms. However, we disagree with her stance that word processing is the only way to use technology in the writing workshop and encourage Nancie and others to rethink how we engage students as writers. We strongly believe the trend of iPads (or any tech) in elementary (or middle or high school classrooms) is, indeed, not a mistake, but a necessity.

Student Response on Twitter
Student Response on Twitter

Photos provided by Kristin Ziemke.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Inquiry Across the Ocean

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My fifth grade students have been growing connections with other fifth grade classrooms through Twitter.  One of our friend classes is @5bfish, a group of students based in Hawaii.  It was through their tweets that we discovered that there was an active lava flow threatening the village of Pahoa.  As you can imagine this is a rather foreign concept to my Chicago kids, many of who have never even see a farm let alone an active volcano.  As we began to follow their tweets and explore some of the news links that they sent us my students became more and more interested in what was going on.  We began to view media clips and images of the active flow, do research on the volcano itself, learn about the Goddess Pele and how the cultural traditions of the Hawaiians were impacting the response to the lava flow.  To tell you the truth it took on a life of its own.

I began searching out supplemental resources and sharing them via Edmodo.  Then students began doing their own research and sharing videos, link, and images with each other via our Edmodo group.

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When we sat down to discuss what we wanted to do with this information students grasped onto the idea of creating their own news casts so that we could raise awareness of the issue.  Then, we decided why no involve our Hawaii friends and ask them to join us as a sister news station in Hawaii.  So we collaborated via Google docs on some questions to send them and they sent recordings back!

My students are so energized and knowledgeable about this topic now, they are having a blast, and they are learning so many skills!  During this inquiry they have;

  • Read at least 15 different articles, websites, and books on the topic.
  • Viewed at least 6 different videos including interviews.
  • Examined a live volcanic rock set.
  • Tweeted questions to our 5BFish and other Hawaii sources and received responses.
  • Analyzed visual images.
  • Practiced notetaking and synthesizing skills.
  • Worked together to write a script including the most important parts of the topic.
  • Collaborated on filming and editing.
  • Practiced fluent reading from the vidoprompt app of their script.
  • Improved their public speaking skills by speaking loudly and clearly for the recording.
  • Collaborated on Google Drive to cowrite thoughtful follow up questions.

We are in the editing and revising process now, examining video from our Hawaii friends and working on editing the footage that we took in front of the Green screen.  I can’t wait until their newscasts are finished!  What a fun and friendly inquiry this has been so far.

What I love about this is that its homegrown, from the students, and following their passions.  It’s helping them raise their cultural awareness as we explore how culture and science sometimes collide.  Best of all, it’s helping them build global connections and meaningful learning partnerships with students halfway across the world.

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Getting Kids Into Global Blogging Communities

In the spirit of refreshing my own blog I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can help my students continue to find stamina and excitement for their blogging lives.  One of the things that keeps me blogging is connection with community.  When you feel the presence of your audience, or you are able to connect with others it gives you a sense of purpose in your work.  It’s not just about sitting in front of a screen and spouting off whatever ideas come into our heads, it’s about connecting to the hearts and minds of our readers.  It’s about inspiration.

I want my students to feel inspired by their blogs.  I wasn’t feeling that inspiration these last few weeks.  I was feeling like our classroom blogging had become stale, and in my zest to help them improve the quality of their writing I had put to much of myself into their writing.  This is why I not only redesigned our class blogging home, but I also decided to connect them to some of the global blogging communities out there so that they can feel the presence of their peers from around the globe.

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We started our first experiment last week by posting “It’s Monday What Are You Reading” posts.  Students read a few examples before getting started.  It worked well since it was Thanksgiving week, a very short week, and the format of the post was much shorter than what we had been previously doing.  Although there was less writing, students put some nice thought into their last several book choices and I used this as a jumping off point in my conversations about book choice with students.

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This week we dipped our toe into the Nerdy Book Club.  This start was a little more intensive as we needed to first read many posts on their blog to get a sense of what types of posts would fit, and we spent a good deal of time talking about the Nerdy Book Club community, who started it and why, and why it was important.  Students first posts were a bit tentative but they were excited by the freedom and choice that came with it!  As their teacher I was happy to see their zest but frustrated to see the amount and quality of writing decrease.  That will be something that we discuss together this week as we go back and revise posts, and it will be something that I will look carefully at to see where I can help students find the stamina to write long and strong.

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We also jumped into a less formal community that I’m calling Wonder Wednesday.  This is based on the Wonderopolis Website and the fact that it sounds really swell.  There isn’t really a blogging community per se but there is lots of great wondering going on on the Wonderopolis site in the comments section and on Twitter using the hashtag #wonderwednesday so I sort of launched a Guerilla style round up today to see what would happen.  Students read about wonders, left comments on my post, and added to our wonder wall.  In future weeks we’ll be taking wonders and doing some mini-inquiry to see if we can find answers!  So I’m anticipating some more authentic blogging opportunities there.  We also contacted a bunch of other fifth grade classes on Twitter and even got them to join us!

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Some upcoming communities we will participate in are the Slice of Life challenge in March, although I’m thinking of getting them started a bit earlier on this with some Tuesday Slice of Life writing sessions.  We will also be popping into Poetry Friday and Chalk-a-Bration at some point, but for now we’re just taking it a little bit at time.  I’m feeling pretty inspired and so are my students so I’d say overall we’re accomplishing our goal.

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Three Ways to Start Using Social Media In Your Reading Community Now

This year we’ve been working on harnessing the power of Social Media to build a reading community.  This community is both within and beyond our classroom.  Here are three ways you can start using social media to build reading community with your students today!

#1 Scrap your reading records, use Padlet instead

Instead of just keeping a list of books we’ve read I had each student create a Padlet instead.  This Padlet will hold a record of every book they’ve read this year.  So far it’s working great!  Students decide what and how much to write about each book and while some give a simple sentence and rating, others enjoy jotting more.  We have a bulletin board in the classroom with each students’ picture and a QR code.  Scan any student’s QR code and it will take you right to their Padlet.  When readers are looking for a new book they check out each others Padlets to get ideas for what to read from classmates that they know they have reading tastes in common with.

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#2 Join a Hashtag Community like #5bookFriday or #readergrams

Every Friday I pull out my special bag that has five mystery books for the week.  Instead of book talking every day which I’m bound to forget, I do my book talks on Fridays.  We even have a jingle worked up and the students buzz with excitement when they see the bag out.  They gather close to me as I sell each book and jot down titles on their books to read list.  Then we photograph it and Tweet it out to our followers using the hashtag #5bookfriday.  We would love for you to join us so that we can share amazing titles among classes.  My students love to see what books other classes have in their #5bookfriday bags.

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Or have students send a #readergram! I was super excited about this idea this summer when Katharine Hale (@KatharineHale) sent me an email talking about her idea for #readergrams.  Students send out tweets, recommendations, questions, and reading needs using this hashtag to help build a digital reading community.  We have found new titles to order for our classroom and made some great connections by participating in this fun Twitter community.

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#3 Blogging, Commenting, Connecting

If you don’t have your students blogging yet then start! Blogging is so powerful in connecting students with an audience.  We teach them to write thoughtful posts, give supportive and constructive comments, and then reach out to an audience outside of our classroom to connect with.

When students are aware of and connected to their audience they write more, they think creatively about how to construct posts, and they have more energy for their work.  This year I’m getting my class involved in some of the global blogging communities that are going around for adults.  But more on that later!

 

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Social media is a powerful tool for connecting and we can show our students how to use it in a way that makes their work more meaningful than ever.  So get out there and start connecting your kids today!

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