Sunday, November 27, 2016

Choose Your Own Adventure Stories with Google Docs

For a long time I have shared resources on how students can create “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories using Google Slides. However, these styles of stories can be created with a wide range of digital tools. Basically any tool that allows hyperlinks or some sort of branching can be used. This would include:

  • Google Slides - with hyperlinks to other slides in the presentation
  • Google Forms - with branching from multiple choice questions to different pages of the Form
  • Google Sites - with hyperlinks to different pages on the Site
  • YouTube videos - with Annotation links or End Screen link to other videos
  • Google Docs - with hyperlinks to headings on other pages

Each of these methods has its own benefits, challenges, and reasons why you would use one tool versus another. However, if you are looking for ease of use, in my opinion using Google Docs is one of the quickest and easiest ways to create a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story. Some of the benefits of using Docs for this purpose include:

  • Most students are more familiar with Google Docs that any of the other tools.
  • Docs makes it easy to add text, images, and formatting.
  • Linking is easy using headings.
  • It looks and feels like a traditional book.

See the rest of the blog post below for a sample “Choose Your Own Adventure” story in Google Docs, as well as directions on how your students can use Google Docs to create their own.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Emoji Writing Prompt Generator with Google Sheets

In an earlier blog post, I shared a “Google Sheets Writing Prompt Generator” that randomly combined nouns and adjectives to give students inspiration for writing projects. In this post we are going to take a twist on that idea … with emojis!

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If that is so, then emojis should be able to bring even more meaning and ideas and inspiration than just words alone. Giving students a random set of emojis could be a great way to help inspire their writing, as the student tries to find a way to work each image into their story or poem.

There are several great reasons for using emojis as writing prompts:

  • Since emojis are images, they can be used with students of any age, language, or reading ability.
  • Also since they are images, they can provide a wide range of ideas since each student will have their own interpretations of the pictures.
  • Emojis are very popular with students, so they will likely have familiarity with the images.
  • They are fun! And writing should be fun. And learning should be fun. And school should be fun!

To create an emoji writing prompt generator, I used Google Sheets. Even though we usually think of a spreadsheet containing numbers, Google Sheets actually supports images including all the standard emojis. See below for directions on how to get your own copy of the spreadsheet, how the tool works, and how your students can use this in their writing projects.

Note: Emojis appear differently on different operating systems. Because of this, the images may not look the same on every device. If you are using any modern computer or device (Chromebook, Android, iOS, Mac OS, Windows), the emojis should display well. However if you are using an older version of Windows earlier than Windows 8.1, the emojis do not appear in color and many may be missing.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

10 Alternatives for the Readability Extension

Recently I had to say goodbye to two big comfy chairs. The first one was an actual chair that no longer had a spot in our house and had to get offered up as a “curb alert” on Craigslist. The second one was a digital comfy chair ... the wonderful Chrome web extension called Readability.

Readability is one of my favorite Chrome web extensions, and is always a "go to" I use when introducing teachers or students to the idea of extensions. Basically it is (was) a tool that cleans up a web page to make it easier to read, by removing ads, comments, and other unnecessary page elements, so all that is left is the content of the main article in an easy to read format. This is a powerful tool to help students of all ages with reading comprehension and focus. I have referenced Readability multiple times on this blog in previous posts (here, here, and here)

Back in September Readability announced that they would be shutting down their bookmarking services but “the vastly more popular Readability Parser API, which extracts article content from web pages, will continue to run and will improve." Unfortunately they seem to have changed their mind on that and have now edited their announcement to read “The Readability Parser API for developers will shut down December 10, 2016.” At the moment the extension is still working, but it sounds like that will stop in early December.

So if Readability is shutting down, what alternatives are available? Thankfully there are many other extensions that do the same task or some similar version of it. Below are 10 Chrome web extensions you may want to consider as options in place of Readability. I would encourage you to try these out to see which ones may be a good match for your students (and yourself) to help make the web more readable.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

18 YouTube Channels for Elementary Math

A while back I shared a post with a list of 20 great YouTube channels for Social Studies that I curated for a teacher inservice I was leading. Recently I had the chance to do the same thing again for a group of elementary math teachers.

Once again I searched for great YouTube channels that these teachers could use with their students to teach new content, provide extra review, or explain math topics in a different and engaging way. Some of these channels and playlists are created by talented teachers sharing their classroom creations with the world, while others are made by companies, TV shows, and more.

Below are 18 of the channels I found that are worth checking out for your classroom if you teach elementary level math. For my training I was shooting for grades 3 through 5, but many of these cover lower elementary grades or extend up into middle school.

I am sure there are many more channels beyond what I have listed, so I would love to hear about others. Please use the comments section at the bottom to share links to your favorite YouTube channel or playlist for math.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Improve Reading Comprehension with Google Docs "Black Out"

Some key goals for literacy are reading comprehension, being able to identify main ideas, and summarization skills. There are many excellent practices that can help students develop these abilities.

Recently I came across a creative technique called “Text Reduction Strategy” (see the article here by Andrea Heick at TeachThought). I really liked the idea, but also felt it could be made even better with a Google Docs technology twist.

The original idea goes like this…

  • Students are given a magazine article and a black marker.
  • They are instructed to read the article and decide what text is critical to the main point of the article and what text is not.
  • Next they use the marker to black out any text that is not critical, leaving behind just the main ideas.

The benefit of this activity is that students do not have to come up with their own words to summarize the article. Instead all the words are already there, and they are just using their critical thinking skills to determine what is most important. This can be a helpful stepping stone to improving their reading comprehension while working toward better summarization skills.

As much as I love the idea, I thought it would be great to take it a step further and use technology rather that physical paper magazines and black markers. This activity works great in Google Docs, and even picks up a few added benefits by going digital. See below for full directions on how to do this.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Google Drawings Chess and Checkers for Students

Earlier this week I shared a post about Battlesheets, my Google Sheets version of the classic tabletop game Battleship. Building on that topic, I am sharing two more Google versions of classic games in this post. This time I have created online interactive versions of Chess and Checkers with Google Drawings.

As mentioned before, tabletop games, board games, card games, and such can have great educational value for students. One great way to learn more about the benefit of gaming in education is to listen to the podcast "Games in Schools and Libraries". The show is hosted by Donald Dennis who "works in the Georgetown County Library system where he is the Teen Technology and Games Librarian." Donald also helps host another favorite podcast "On Board Games" which covers tabletop gaming in general.

Although there are many modern games (which I love) Chess and Checkers are classics that are both accessible and educational for students. They both also happen to translate very well into digital format using Google Drawings. See below to get your own copies of my Chess and Checkers games, as well as some tips and tricks for playing them online.

Sunday, November 6, 2016


By now most everyone knows I am a Google Geek, and that I have been an educator for 25 years. But did you know that one of my other passions is tabletop board games?

That’s right. As much as I love technology, I also love holding physical cards in my hands, or rolling dice, or moving plastic meeples around aboard. Some of my favorite tabletop games (currently) are Sushi Go, Codenames, Forbidden Island, Dragonwood, Settlers of Catan, Snake Oil, and Hanabi.

Although gaming is fun, it can be more than just that. Tabletop games can be a powerful tool for learning, helping students to develop critical thinking, problem solving skills, collaboration, communication, and creativity.

Sometimes all three of my interests intersect… education, technology, and games. Such is the case with Battlesheets! A couple years ago I recognized the similarity between the classic game Battleship with the rows and columns in Google Sheets, and decided to create a playable version inside of Sheets. The end results was Battlesheets, a Google version of Battleship for your students to play, develop critical thinking skills, and learn about locating points in a coordinate system.

See below to get your own copy of Battlehseets, as well as detailed directions on how to play, and additional resources on the spreadsheet tricks used to make the game work.