Give Millennials a Chance!

Are you familiar with the term “millennial”? It refers to the young, upcoming generation–loosely defined as anyone born between 1982-2000–who have grown up in the midst of new technology. Millennials are accustomed to having computers, cell phones, and internet at their constant disposal, and therefore can be mocked by the older generations as unable to function without electricity. If you are a middle school or high school teacher, it’s likely that you are teaching a classroom full of millennials, so it’s important to understand them and how they operate.

If you want to know how “millennial” you are (which isn’t necessarily contingent upon age), you can check out this quiz created by the Pew Research Center.

One of the biggest things to keep in mind when you’re teaching millennials is that there is a lot of technology out there competing for our students’ attention–during school time and in the evenings during homework time. With so many easy distractions and so much to keep our kids awake all night (unlike my dad’s generation who, according to him, used to watch the television test pattern once the programs were finished for the day), it’s no wonder that it’s more difficult for Millennials to be focused and successful. I think we need to keep this in mind when we’re planning lessons (and assigning homework), and use technology in our instruction and delivery rather than trying to compete with technology.

Just think of all of the websites and social networks out there that could creatively be incorporated into our instruction to help our students further their thinking and learning. Even a video sharing site like YouTube could be used to enhance instruction. It has become very trendy to post (and watch!) how-to videos on YouTube, and they are becoming more and more prolific. It seems that there is a how-to video available for just about any topic imaginable! I think that we could be utilizing videos like these for tricky concepts in the classroom to help students who “can’t remember the steps” when they get home. If there isn’t a video available for the topic that we need, it would just take twenty or thirty minutes after the school day ends to film a how-to video for the math concept taught that day or a review of the history lesson that was packed full of facts. We could also get our students involved in producing videos like these! How exciting would it be to have a YouTube channel devoted specifically to our classroom (with written parental permission to get our students on video and publish it to the internet, of course)! I think creating an ongoing class project like that would harken back to what Alan November was saying about having students identify a problem, create a solution, and publish their work to benefit not just their classroom, but the world. It would certainly be a great motivator and a great way to engage students in their class work!

I also think that we need to be forgiving of our students’ attitudes—and perhaps lack of ambition. According to Kelly Williams Brown (author of the bestselling satire Adulting: How to Become an Adult in 468 Easyish Steps) we need to stop “collectively wringing our hands over young people acting young,” and try to remember what our thoughts and dreams were when we were that age. I have included an excellent TED Talks lecture from Kelly Williams Brown (also satirically titled)–“Millennials: Why Are They The Worst?” She is funny, but she also gives her audience a lot of great insight and reasons to appreciate millennials for their unique awesomeness. 🙂


Are we using Wikipedia too much?

Is there anyone left out there who hasn’t used Wikipedia? As a casual reference–let’s say, “How many seasons was Friends on the air?” or “When/why did Borders bookstore go out of business?”–Wikipedia can be a great tool. When you search a question or topic on any popular search engine–Google, Bing, or Yahoo–Wikipedia is generally one of the top hits listed on the results page. According to Wikipedia (haha–yes! There is a Wikipedia page about Wikipedia), the free-access internet encyclopedia is the “sixth most popular website” on the internet and it gets “nearly 500 million unique visitors each month.” But should we let students use Wikipedia as a research tool in the classroom? The answer, surprisingly, may be “yes.” I may have lost some of you naysayers at this point. You know who you are–many of you still proudly display your leather-bound sets of Encyclopedia Brittanica on your shelves, and you wouldn’t be caught dead pulling up Wikipedia on the library computers on your university campus. But hear me out…

Argument #1 against using Wikipedia for “formal” research: Wikipedia can be edited and “vandalized” by literally anyone using the internet.

It’s true–anyone can add material to a Wikipedia article. There aren’t designated authors out there; we are all authors. However, my husband and his friends tested the limits of Wikipedia several years ago while they were in college. They played a joke on one of their friends by writing an entry all about their poor victim and his…ahem…bathroom habits. They screen captured it and printed it out as proof that it existed. However, in a matter of minutes–minutes!–their entry was deleted. While there are no professional authors out there, apparently there are some pretty serious Wikipedia editors that watch the servers very closely for new information being added to their site. The Wikipedia Wikipedia article (I’m running out of clever ways to reference this) describes their bureaucratic system in extraordinary detail, explaining the process of becoming a site administrator and referencing the Wiki page that details policies and guidelines for editing. Just the idea that it only took minutes for my husband and his hooligan friends’ false article to be noticed and deleted is pretty impressive–and this was years ago, long before Wikipedia was being used on smart phones and tablets. I’m sure the turnaround rate for what Wikipedia terms as “vandalism” is much quicker now–it may only be a matter of seconds for false material to be detected and disposed of. I would also argue, from a teacher’s perspective, that Wikipedia’s editability (is that a real word?) could be an asset to the classroom. Imagine assigning your students to write research papers not just to be turned in and graded, but to be published online to Wikipedia? Our students will take a great deal more care with properly citing their sources and editing spelling and grammar if they know that they are writing an article for Wikipedia. Their writing will be published online as a source for other people to use for years to come–how exciting!

Argument #2 against using Wikipedia for “formal” research: The content included on Wikipedia is not always strictly academic.

Your Encyclopedia Brittanica probably doesn’t have an article about the life and career of Kim Kardashian. Most printed encyclopedias are mindful of their page count and restrictive with their content. Wikipedia is much more open about the type of material it includes, and it’s one of the reasons that it’s become one of the most widely-used reference tools on the internet. You will find science articles right alongside pop culture biographies, with up-to-the minute updates on noteworthy events almost as soon as they occur. That is one major advantage that Wikipedia has over a traditional printed tome–it avoids the lengthy publication process, so the information it provides is never out of date. According to the WW article (again), “50% of US physicians have consulted Wikipedia.” That either promotes your confidence in this vast online resource or it undermines your trust in your family doctor. 🙂

Argument #3 against using Wikipedia for “formal” research: The information it presents simply isn’t as reliable as the information in a published text.

I would have made this same argument several years ago. However, Wikipedia has changed quite a bit over the years, and the organization and administrators behind the scenes are working hard to make it just as reliable as any published reference tool. And, to reference the WW article again, “a 2005 survey of Wikipedia published in Nature based on a comparison of 42 science articles with Encyclopedia Britannica found that Wikipedia’s level of accuracy approached Encyclopedia Britannica’s and both had similar low rates of “serious errors.” Again, part of what makes Wikipedia more error proof is its changeability. A printed encyclopedia contains out-of-date information as soon as it hits the shelf–it’s inevitable. However, Wikipedia is constantly being updated and improved. It’s a living, breathing document, and one that contains far more (increasingly reliable) information than a printed text. One of the other things that I like about Wikipedia is that authors are required to cite their sources. We don’t have to take their word for it if we don’t trust them–we can simply check out the works that they cite at the bottom of the page, usually printed in hyperlink form for easy access. That means that when a student uses a Wikipedia page as a research tool, we (as teachers) can have them also use the works cited in the article. The Wikipedia article could theoretically be a springboard to searching even more (and more reliable, a skeptic might argue) sources like government sites and university databases. In this way, Wikipedia can provide a powerful blueprint–a “start here” guidemap–to more in depth research on any given topic. If the works cited on an article look a little slim, that may also be a good indication that very little is known about the topic being researched, and it might guide the student to choose a topic that’s a little more researchable.

Argument #4 against using Wikipedia for “formal” research: If we don’t set some boundaries, students won’t stop at Wikipedia–the next thing you know, they’ll be searching Twitter for their research papers!

Perdue OWL (Online Writing Lab)  is one step ahead of you–they’ve already explained a way to accurately quote and reference a tweet in MLA format. So if you’re worried that Wikipedia is just the beginning, your fears are founded. But really, I don’t think you need to be afraid. After all, what the internet boils down to is simply information that we’re accessing from our computers, laptops, tablets, and smart phones. Introducing and permitting Wikipedia to enter our classrooms is also a great way to springboard into teaching our students how to determine which web resources are reliable and which are not–a skill that they will likely use for years to come. So embrace the change! Or endure the fate that ICT teacher Nigel Willetts mentions in his quote: “When faced with a steam-rolling technology, you either become part of the technology or part of the road!”

Did Somebody Say “Free Textbooks?”

Jake Meme

Open Educational Resources (acronym “OER”) have been gaining in popularity over the last few years, but they are also a source of debate and contention in some school districts. Here’s the breakdown:

What are OER? 

OER stands for “open educational resources” and it denotes any classroom-ready resource available under an “open” license (which means that a teacher who wants to copy or redistribute materials in the classroom doesn’t need to worry about copyright infringement laws). Not all OER materials are free, but many of them are, making them more accessible to a wider community.

How is OER changing the landscape of education today? 

Previously, classrooms mainly centered on a physical textbook—generally a hardback tome that was a relatively expensive purchase. These textbooks needed to be replaced every few years (to account for physical wear and tear on the book or outdated information inside of the book). OER and Creative Commons changes that traditional platform for learning by digitizing curriculum materials and making them available to print and re-distribute, oftentimes for free (something that generally couldn’t legally be done with a print textbook). Classrooms that take advantage of OER are providing their students with the most up-to-date information at a fraction of the cost. Those teachers are also participating in massive online sharing communities where they can garner lesson plans and curriculum resources from other teachers across the globe and adapt them for their own use.

What are the implications of OER to your work as an educator? 

I’m familiar with sites like Teachers Pay Teachers in which educators from around the country can “sell” their lesson plans (usually complete with ample handouts and worksheets) to other teachers for a small fee. I’m also not ashamed to admit that I’ve Googled free resources to use in the classroom before, and I generally end up being disappointed at the quality of the selection presented in the search results. Using a legitimate OER database sounds like a very different experience from either of these. OER share sites also offer the opportunity for collaboration among educators, which means that I don’t necessarily just go on there to download a ready-made lesson plan; I can also alter or annotate it and share my edits with the OER community. OER are not set in stone—they are not copyrighted worksheets from 1978 that have been scanned into a computer somewhere—they are living, breathing documents that have come to life as a result of collaborative effort. This means that if I’m using an OER, I’m not just taking and printing—I’m also adding and leaving my mark on the face of education. The lessons and activities that I create could potentially be used (and altered and rewritten and used again) by teachers across the globe for years to come!

What do you think about OER – is it a good thing or a bad thing or??

I think it’s great that Creative Commons is providing a way to publish resources that can be used more freely among educators; however, OER has limits. As Todd Finley points out his Edutopia article “A Tour of High-Quality Open Education Resources (OER) For Writing,” not all OER are quality materials that a teacher would want to use. An educator using an OER database still needs to be discriminate when perusing the search results and determining which materials would be the best fit for his or her classroom. Most legitimate published textbooks are written by teams of educational researchers with doctoral degrees and years of experience studying what works and what doesn’t work. Meanwhile, OER documents could be written or edited by anybody. Asking if OER should completely replace the traditional textbook seems equivalent to asking if Wikipedia should become our new go-to source for research projects. It’s widely used and very convenient, yes—but not quite as reliable or high quality as a legitimate published text. OER are an interesting concept (and something that I need to spend more time exploring before I come to a definite opinion about whether they’re “good” or “bad”), but I don’t think Glencoe or Harcourt Brace are going to be put out of business by OER anytime soon. I think that if I use OER in my classroom in the future, I will continue using them in conjunction with a published, hardback textbook.

Where can I find OER for use in my classroom?

I was hoping you would ask that question! Here are a few places to start:

  • : This flexbook library provides free and open textbooks for secondary level students. Most of the books cover math and science, but limited texts on other topics are available as well.
  • : This is an open courseware site providing online classes on just about any topic!
  • : This site provides free and open digital texts to accompany college-level courses! Great news for those students who are stretching pennies just to afford college tuition.
  • : After the success of Open Stax College, Open Stacks was born–meeting the textbook needs of high school students across the globe.
  • : This site contains hundreds of lessons written by top-rated ELA teachers to meet Common Core standards.
  • : Using this site, you can access lecture notes and course materials from MIT courses for free! Check out this open courseware site to peruse the course catalogue.
  • : Written in North Carolina but adaptable to anywhere, this site contains top-notch history lessons to use with your students as well as professional development for educators.
  • : Another open courseware site providing college-level courses to anyone who is interested, free of charge.

Evaluating My Digital Estate

Of all of the matters to take into consideration when a family member dies, I think the term “digital estate” would probably be one of the last. However, this idea of leaving behind a legacy on the internet is becoming increasingly prevalent. We’re investing more and more of our time into social networking, online banking, and other electronic profiles. What happens to all of those things after we die? If you’re interested, you can learn more about digital estates in this video from PBS Newshour:

All of this got me thinking about the different websites that I have become heavily invested in. How much of a presence do I have on the internet? Also, how can I go about purposefully enhancing that presence to improve my professional life and help me better reach my students?

I decided to evaluate my digital estate by taking an inventory of the social networking tools that I currently use, and reflecting on how I can use them better to enhance my instruction.


I actually have three different blogs on, though I’m only currently maintaining two of them. I kept one blog ( when my husband and I moved to China for a year, and I wrote about our experiences and culture shock there and posted quite a few pictures. This blog had 50 followers, most of whom were people I had never met, and as of today (September 8, 2014) has been viewed 10,679 times.

When we returned to the United States, I “finished” this blog and started a new, more general one where I could write about everyday life (  This blog, while not quite as exciting as stories about life in China, has 98 followers and has been viewed 6,900 times. Because I have been enrolled in graduate school and I had a baby in May of this year, my posts have become more and more infrequent, dwindling from once every week or every other week down to once a month or so. I’ve also cut down on the number of blogs that I follow—cutting down from eight to just three (because that is all I can manage to keep up with these days. When I follow a blog I am “all in.” I read every post word for word and I comment on or “like” just about every post. I really want the author to know that I am there, reading their material).

My third blog is this one–an educational-themed site. Though it has been sitting dormant for quite some time, I am starting to post more material to it (for the purposes of a New Media and Literacies course that I am enrolled in for graduate school) to bring it back to life again. Because this blog has been largely inactive, it is by far the least popular; it has only four followers (though I still think it’s exciting that I have followers on a blog that I just started as a school project). However, I am surprised to see that WordPress is reporting that this blog has been viewed 4,428 times, which is not far behind my much more active blog!


I have been avoiding Twitter for a while because from what I’ve gathered, the feed is much more fast-paced than Facebook newsfeed, and I am not sure that I am ready for the kind of commitment it would require to keep up with that. I joined Twitter for the sake of this class, and I was surprised to see that because I created the username ReadingRachelD (a reference to the nickname I had during my reading specialist internship because there were one too many Rachels on staff, and they used “Reading Rachel” to distinguish which Rachel they were referring to) a few up-and-coming/self-published authors have started following me on Twitter—perhaps in the hopes that I will read their books! So I suppose that people are using Twitter not just as a social networking tool, but also as a marketing tool; I’m not sure how I feel about that. I probably haven’t been posting (or reading through my feed) quite as often as I should be—perhaps once a day or once every couple of days.


I’m not sure that I’ve been using Diigo correctly either. This site is completely new to me—I had never even heard of it before my graduate class started. I’m so accustomed to reading an article all the way through and then making a general comment on it at the end (the same format that many online newspaper articles and blogs use); however, I am not really used to annotating as I read, or highlighting specific quotes from the author to comment on. I’ll keep working on it! I would say that I’ve been visiting the Diigo site about twice a week. This could potentially be a great tool for me to use in the classroom once I’m on the teaching side of it again!


Facebook is the first social networking site that I ever joined, and the one that I’ve been a member of for the longest time. (I have used other sites that have since died, like MySpace, LiveJournal, and Xanga, but they didn’t have nearly the staying power that Facebook does.) I joined in 2004, and I’ve become more and more active as the years have gone by and the website has developed and added more features to occupy users’ attention. Even when I first joined the site, I was fairly active, frequently updating my status (which I perceived, for all intents and purposes, as an “away message,” having been a frequent user of AOL instant messenger) and creating groups for my friends to join (which I recently realized, much to my embarrassment, still exist out there in the Facebook universe). At this point, Facebook also contains a detailed photographic history of the last ten years of my life, cataloguing my college (undergrad) years, my dating relationship with my husband, our wedding, and now the birth and month-by-month growth of our baby. If Facebook were to suddenly crash, and all of that photographic history lost, I would be pretty upset because many of those photos are only stored on Facebook and not backed up on my laptop (which unfortunately died a few years ago). It took quite a bit of getting used to when my family members started showing up on Facebook, along with the students that I teach! I was so accustomed to it being a social networking site exclusive to college students. However, I’ve grown used to it now, and I’ve adapted with the many changes and transformations that Facebook has been through over the years. I use the Facebook app on my phone (which makes it convenient to check even while I’m feeding the baby or rocking him to sleep), and I would estimate that I look at Facebook several times each day.


LinkedIn is another website that I just recently joined for the purposes of my graduate class. My husband has been a member of LinkedIn ever since the website first gained popularity, but I haven’t really explored it or created a profile until now. I am interested to see how useful this website becomes once I am back in the job market searching for a teaching position! I have realized over the years that in this very competitive job market, connections are just as or more important than credentials, so I wonder if LinkedIn really aids in providing the connections needed to get noticed by an employer. So far I’ve been on there a handful of times to tinker with my profile/resume.


I’ve been using the same Gmail address for the last seven years now, and it’s really been nice to keep the same email even when I switch to a different internet provider. I move around a lot, so my email address has stayed constant even though my physical address has not, which provides a great way for distant family and out-of-touch friends to reach me when they need to. I also enjoy the Google chat feature. Even though text messages have become so prevalent, my husband and I still chat with each other on Gmail while we’re at work (because typing on a computer at work is much more discreet than “swyping” on a cell phone while at work).

I also recently used Google Docs as a way to collaborate with a classmate on a multimedia presentation in real time rather than saving various versions of the same document and sending them back and forth. It was a very efficient way to complete a group project, and I really enjoyed using the chat feature on Google Docs so that we could ask questions or make comments to each other while we worked. It’s a very nice alternative for people who don’t have (or can’t afford) the Microsoft Office Suite.

I am new to Google Hangout (I just joined for the purposes of my grad class), and I’m not sure that it’s a site I will use all that often. Only a handful of my friends are using Google Hangout. It seems like a copy of Facebook with some features that have been slightly tweaked. For example, I do like the fact that I can have different circles of friends, and only share information with certain circles (unlike Facebook, in which I generally share the same information with all of my friends). However, until Facebook dies, I just don’t anticipate my Google Hangout account getting very much use—it just seems redundant.

Aside from Google Hangout (which I’ve only really logged onto twice) and Google Docs (which I’ve used a handful of times), I would say that I use some sort of Google application every day, several times a day (such as Gmail or the original Google search engine). Because both my Gmail account and a Google Search app are on my phone, it makes it much more convenient to consult them often.


I have been using Pinterest for the last two years, and I would say that my use of the site is very irregular. I’ll spend a few days creating a new board and pinning things to it, and then I might not use the site for another month or two before something catches my interest and I’m back on there pinning again. Pinterest isn’t quite as social as some of the other sites that I’ve used. For example, I pin things that I know I’ll enjoy and add them to my own personal collection (or board). It doesn’t bother me if no one “repins” my pins or comments on them—that’s not really the purpose of creating a board (for me, at least). It’s very different from Facebook, where I might get discouraged if I wrote a status update and no one made any comments or “likes.” I don’t use Pinterest to connect with people or see what they are pinning—I’m very selfish in my Pinterest use, and simply focus on what I like. I have 14 boards with 235 total pins. I have 100 followers and I am following 123 people (though, like I said, I’m not following them very closely). Perhaps it’s because I’m not using Pinterest to connect with other people that my use of the site is so sporadic. However, I did find it interesting that when I searched “Rachel DeAngelis” on Google Images, pictures of things that I’ve pinned showed up most frequently on the first few pages of search results.


Honestly, I don’t feel like I’ve ever been a digital “native.” Technology is something that I have to work at—it doesn’t really come naturally to me, and it generally tends to intimidate me.

One thing is becoming clear after examining this inventory of social networking sites—it seems that I used to be a digital enthusiast many years ago. Every time a new website craze came along, I jumped in headfirst. That has changed a lot for me in the last 10-15 years. I’m not sure if it’s because I used to have more time to play with social media sites (when I was in high school and undergrad—before I had a full time job or became a mom), or if social media sites are just more abundant and cropping up faster than I can keep up with, but these days I find myself resisting new crazes.

However, I’m too young to start lamenting that I’m having trouble keeping up with the times or that I just don’t understand how to operate that [insert device here]. One thing that is becoming increasingly clear after spending only two weeks in my New Media and Literacy course is that I’m going to need to stay current and use cutting edge technology in my classroom to truly meet the needs of my students. During my first year teaching (in 2008), I was offered a classroom that had a smart tablet (for use in conjunction with the projector) and a class set of remote controls for students to use. There were so many things that I could have done with these gadgets to make my classroom more interactive and engaging for my students; however, because I didn’t understand how to use them (and felt so overwhelmed with other first-year-teacher responsibilities that I didn’t take the time to learn how to use them), they sat on a shelf collecting dust all year. And I conducted class by giving lectures and writing notes on the chalkboard. What a shame!

But of course,  using technology in the classroom is not just about having fancy gadgets. It’s about teaching students how to access information, think critically about it, and do something important with it. Now, with the Common Core standards being adopted in most states (and being more rigorous than ever), it’s so important to use technology to challenge students’ critical thinking skills and help them develop multi-modal literacy.

Having technology as such an integral part of the classroom makes me uncomfortable, because it’s not how school was done when I was growing up, and I am inclined to teach using what is familiar rather than what is cutting edge. It makes me uncomfortable now, as a grad student, to try to stay on top of multiple social networking sites at once—it’s a little scary and overwhelming at first. But like anything, if I continue practicing at it, it will become more familiar and less scary. And it won’t just be a benefit to me to tinker with all of the digital tools and websites that are out there—it will be a benefit for my future students as well. It will help me prepare them to enter the 21st Century workforce (whereas before I was preparing them for, perhaps, the 1950’s workforce). If I provide them with the tools they need, I can help them not just function as citizens there, but as leaders who stay ahead of the curve.

TED Talks: Alan November

I recently watched this YouTube video of TED Talks featuring Alan November as speaker. In the video, he addresses the way that technology should be used to build a classroom community and curriculum from the ground up, and the impact that it can have on students when a teacher really pulls it off.

In the video, Alan November said, “This is not about adding technology. It’s a fundamental shift in relationships and roles and the feeling of empowerment that students have.” This is a really great way to sum up my prior misconceptions about technology in the classroom. I was always looking for a way to “add in” technology, almost like an afterthought, to fulfill state standards. Generally, I ended up using technology to do something that the students could have easily done without it (composing papers on a word processor rather than on a notebook page or giving lectures with a PowerPoint rather than writing my notes on the board). However, it’s obvious after watching this TED Talks video that embracing technology should mean so much more than that—it should be the driving force behind what we’re doing in the classroom (rather than an afterthought), and it should empower students to take charge of their own learning in a way that they couldn’t without technology.

I also really like what he mentions about using technology to give students a global voice and a means to enact social change. Students should use technology to enhance their problem-solving skills by identifying a problem and using web tools to find a solution to that problem. Plus, when students are able to publish that information to the internet and share it with the world, their classroom activities are no longer “busy work.” Suddenly, students are in charge of their own learning and pushing themselves farther than their teachers ever dreamed possible.

Ten Additional Strategies

ABC Brainstorm–a pre-writing or pre-discussion strategy. Students are either provided with or create a list of each letter of the alphabet, and then they are provided with a topic. They must come up with words and ideas related to that topic, and they must correspond to each letter of the alphabet. Students can work individually or in groups. *The teacher will want to make sure that the topic provided is broad enough that students can list many possible terms.*

ABC Brainstorm

Carousel Brainstorm–a pre-writing or pre-discussion strategy. Students are put into groups of three or four and given a piece of chart paper and a topic. Each group is equipped with a marker of a different color, and they are given a short amount of time (maybe thirty seconds) to brainstorm words and ideas related to the topic on their page. When time is up, they must pass along their paper to the group on their left so that that group can add ideas to the paper. Each group’s paper should make a full rotation to each group before returning to its original group. At the end, ideas will be scattered all over the paper in different colors like graffiti. As an extension to this strategy, the teacher can have the students in each group circle the three most central ideas to their topic, and perhaps create a definition using those three terms. *The teacher will want to make sure to add additional time for each rotation while students are still adding ideas to the charts. Once all of the obvious choices are taken, students may need to think a little longer to come up with ideas to write on the paper.*

Carousel Brainstorm

Carousel Brainstorm

Concept of Definition Map–a vocabulary strategy. This strategy helps students move beyond one-dimensional defintions to gain a more robust understanding of the meaning of a term. It asks students to define its category (“What is it?”), its properties (“What is it like?”), and illustrations (“What are some examples?”).


History Frame–a social studies comprehension tool. This strategy is a modern-day take on the story map commonly used in English class. When students study historical events, they’re asked to explain many of the same elements that they would look for in a story, such as:

  • When and where did this event take place?
  • Who was involved?
  • What were the problems or goals that set this event into motion?
  • What were the key events?
  • How was it resolved?
  • What’s the reason that this event matters?


This type of framing or mapping can also be used in science class to complete an experiment or lab report: Story Mapping Across the Content Areas

Inquiry Chart–a research tool. This chart offers a planned framework for examining critical questions by combining a student’s background knowledge with information found in several sources. On any given topic, a student will have to answer a few key questions (found in the header of each column) and record answers to those questions based on background knowledge and information pulled from different sources. There is also a space at the bottom for students to record a summary of their findings. This would not only make a great planning tool for a research paper, but it would also help students with internal citations and the works cited page at the end.


Opinion-Proof–a pre-writing or pre-discussion activity. This chart is a variation of Cornell notes. Students are great at putting forth opinions, but the idea here is to get them to back up their opinions with facts, concepts, or research. Teachers can either assign students an opinion that they must prove, or allow them to form their own opinion. Those opinions are written in the left-hand column. In the right-hand column, students must support that opinion using citations from a text, video, newspaper, story, or other source. This is great tool to prepare students for a debate or a persuasive essay. It is very easy to design, but a graphic organizer (as well as a partially completed example) has still been provided.


Opinion-Proof example

Power Thinking–a note-taking strategy. This is a familiar, traditional format for outlining notes in a hierarchical nature. All of the information that the students write down from the lecture or the text they are reading is categorized into main ideas, subtopics, and then supporting details. This method of note-taking really challenges students to classify which concepts are most important, and which concepts are secondary.

Power Thinking example

QAR–a question/answer strategy. This is a format for teaching students to strategically answer questions by identifying the type of question that was asked. There are four basic question/answer relationships:

  • Right there: The student can physically point to a single sentence or phrase in the text to find the answer word-for-word.
  • Think and search: The answer is in the text, but it is scattered around among different sentences. The student must grasp ideas that extend across multiple paragraphs.
  • Author and you: The answer is not in the text, but you still need information that the author has given you, combined with what you already know, to answer this type of question.
  • On my own: The answer is not in the text, and in fact, you don’t even need to read the text to form an answer to the question.


QAR example

Questioning the Author–a critical thinking strategy. This strategy offers a series of questions that the reader can ask the author to evaluate the author’s intent and success in communicating it. This is not merely an invitation for a student to “challenge” or “critique” the author. If a passage is difficult to read, it may very well be because the author has done a poor job of writing it. However, if a student points out the fact that a passage is poorly written, he or she should be required to improve it and re-write it. Questions for the author include:

  • What is the author trying to tell you?
  • Why is the author telling you that?
  • Does the author say it clearly?
  • How could the author have phrased it more clearly?
  • What would you write instead?

Questioning the Author

3-2-1–a comprehension strategy. This strategy gives students a chance to summarize key ideas after reading a text, focusing on the ideas that are most important to them, and pose a question about ideas that are still confusing. This is a a great alternative to assigning the questions at the end of the chapter, and a good way to informally assess students’ understanding of what they’re reading. Using this strategy, students identify: 3 things they found out, 2 interesting things, and 1 question they still have. Of course, this is a simple, general version that can be used across content areas. Subject area teachers can modify this strategy to use with more specific content. For example, a history teacher could modify 3-2-1 by asking for 3 difference between feudalism and nation-states, 2 similarities, and 1 question they still have.


Reading Across the Content Areas

Reading is not an activity that should be limited to English class. Rather, it should be embedded in content area curriculum in a way that sharpens students’ literacy skills and their subject-area knowledge simultaneously. Some content-area teachers may feel that it is counter-productive to focus on literacy in their classrooms; however, studies have shown that students who learn specific reading skills for content-area materials (i.e.–strategies for reading historical documents, science texts and lab studies, and/or convoluted word problems in math) will not just become better readers. They will improve in each of those subjects as well! Their sharpened reading skills will help them become better overall learners, and help them to better read their textbooks and improve their grades across the board. Here are some materials that may be useful for integrating reading into the content areas:


Marvelous Math by Lee Bennett Hopkins–Poetry that links to different mathematical concepts (lower level).

 marvelous math

Math Talk: Mathematical Ideas in Poems for Two Voices by Theoni Pappas–A great way to integrate math curriculum with reading fluency.

math talk

The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure by Hans Magnus Enzensberger–The narrative of a young boy’s Alice-and-Wonderland-esque adventure through a numerical, mathematical landscape.

The Number Devil


We the People by Bobbi Katz–Poetry about American history, spanning from “The First Americans” to “Imagine,” a poem about the future ahead of us in the twenty-first century.

we the people

Lives: Poems About Famous Americans by Lee Bennett Hopkins–Great for giving a more intimate, personal perspective to biographical history lessons.


The Brother’s War: Civil War Voices in Verse by J. Patrick Lewis–A good accompaniment to a study on the Civil War; helps students to see the perspective of both sides.

the brothers war

War and the Pity of War edited by Neil Philip–An anthology of poetry written about the horror and heroism of war, spanning in time from 11th century B.C. to present day.

war and the pity of war

Remember the Bridge: Poems of a People edited by Carole Boston Weatherford–A striking collection of poems and photos that cover over 400 years of African Americans struggling for freedom.

remember the bridge

I Never Saw Another Butterfly edited by Hana Volavkova –A collection of poems and drawings created by children in the Terezin concentration camp from 1942 to 1944. This is the legacy of an estimated 15,000 children who passed through this camp on their way to Auschwitz.

I never saw another butterfly

Eyes of the Emperor by Graham Salisbury–A piece of historical fiction detailing a young Japanese American’s account of the Pearl Harbor attack, and the prejudice that he endured from his fellow Americans during the aftermath.

eyes of the emperor

Hiroshima No Pika by Toshi Maruki–A piece of historical fiction detailing a Japanese woman’s account of how she survived the bombing on Hiroshima.

hiroshima no pika

The Man From the Other Side by Uri Orlev–A novel based on the true story of a Polish boy living in the 1940’s named Marek who hated the Jews, until he ends up befriending a Jewish boy his own age and helping him hide from the Nazis.

Man from the other side

Red Moon at Sharpsburg by Rosemary Wells–A piece of historical fiction detailing the life of a young Southern girl named India and her perspective on the Civil War that threatens to destroy her family and her Virginia home.

red moon at sharpsburg


My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States by Lee Bennett Hopkins–A collection of 51 poems written by 40 different poets. A literary exploration of geography, climate, and people across America.

My America

Got Geography! by Lee Bennett Hopkins–A collection of poetry written by a variety of well-known authors who are enamored with the idea of travelling the globe. These poems are great for pulling out to introduce a unit on a particular geographic region.

got geography

A World of Wonders: Geographic Travels in Verse and Rhyme by Patrick J. Lewis–A book of fun, quirky poems about exotic destinations and fun geography trivia.

world of wonders


Redwoods by Jason Chin–A picture book may seem juvenile; however, this book is packed full of facts and trivia about Redwood trees that can be appreciated by all ages.


Ubiquitous: Poetry and Science About Nature’s Survivors by Joyce Sidman–This book pairs well-researched scientific facts with poetry to celebrate the micro-organisms and other “underdogs” of evolution who have managed to thrive throughout time. Sidman is the author of several scientific poetry/picture books that are suitable as introductions and/or supplements to science units.

Ubiquitous  Celebrating Nature's Survivors


Heart to Heart and Side by Side edited by Sandra Jordan–Two compilations of poetry written about seeing and reacting to famous works of art.

heart to heart  side by side

Talking to the Sun by Kenneth Koch and Kate Farrell–Another poetry anthology in which poems are matched to corresponding paintings.

 talking to the sun


Vocab Rock! Musical Preparation for the SAT and ACT (with CD) by Keith London and Rebecca Osleeb–The audio CD that accompanies this book is full of hip hop and alternative music that makes use of difficult vocabulary words in its lyrics. Activities and worksheets to guide the students’ understanding of the new words and their contexts is provided in the book. What a great way to study for a standardized test!

vocab rock

Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss–A witty argument for the continued use of proper punctuation, and the hilarious consequences and shifts in meaning that occur with punctuation is neglected.

eats shoots and leaves