Digilit Sunday: The Poem Farm and The Favorite Poem Project

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Digilit Sunday was created and is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche – join us and share your digital teaching ideas!

Every Thursday, my students unpack a poem and we share our ideas about how the poet used the elements of figurative language and beautiful words to craft poems we love to read.  Whenever possible, I love to share recordings of poets reading their own works, and speaking about how and why they came to write the poems they did.  Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s site, The Poem Farm, is a rich resource for us to draw from:

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We love the way Amy writes about how she grows her ideas into poems, and we love hearing her voice as she reads each.  We learn so much about word choice and line breaks just from hearing poetry spoken loud.

Another wonderful poetry resource is The Favorite Poem Project:

Favorite Poem Project Videos

The collection of 50 short video documentaries showcases individual Americans reading and speaking personally about poems they love. The videos have been regular features on PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and are a permanent part of the Library of Congress archive of recorded poetry and literature. They have also proven valuable as teaching and learning tools for a range of classrooms and ages. The videos may be viewed on this website. The video collection is also available in DVD format, packaged with the anthology An Invitation to Poetry.

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It’s a powerful experience for my kids to hear other kids talking about poems they loved so much that they memorized them and think about them all the time.  Poems can do that – they become the mentor texts of our lives in a very special way.  I would love for my students to feel about a selection of poems as their own, as I do, so that they can commit them to memory and have the pleasure of reciting favorite lines at will.

This year, I am thinking about curating a class video album based on the Favorite Poem Project – what a wonderful way of ending the year that would be!


Digilit Sunday: Trying out Animoto

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Digilit Sunday was created and is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche – join us and share your digital teaching ideas!


So, I am woefully late to the Animoto party, but I have seen such amazing things done with this video platform that I knew I’d eventually have to come around to trying it out.  Here’s a quick video I made to introduce my kiddos to the new marking period (which starts tomorrow!):

I’m thinking that I will offer this as a suggestion for our book club projects – my only concern? That the yearly membership is quite expensive, unless we can all agree that having the Animoto watermark (the price of the free trial membership) is something we will be happy to live with.  I loved the ease with which I was able to assemble this, and can see so many ways in which to use Animoto in my classroom: introducing ideas, books, essential questions, and more.  I’m so glad that Digilit Sunday motivated me to give this a try at last!


DigiLit Sunday: Historical Fiction and Digital Writing – Notes from #TCRWP

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Digilit Sunday was created and is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche – join us and share your digital teaching ideas

Our historical fiction unit of study has always been one of the most looked forward to events in my sixth grade classroom.  However, I always felt that there was something missing at the end, some element that needed to be present in order to make it feel like an unqualified success.   So it was with great anticipation that I attended Maggie Beattie Roberts’ session “Blending Research and Literature:Teaching Across Historical Fiction Book Clubs, Reading Like a Writer in Clubs, and Writing Digital Historical Documents” at yesterday’s TCRWP Saturday Reunion.  I always learn something smart and inventive whenever I visit Maggie’s blog (co-authored by Kate Roberts) Indent, so I was sure I’d have the same experience at her session. I was right…and here are three “big ideas” that I walked away with:

Using digital texts to preview historical fiction work:

As Maggie put it: “Reading historical fiction is entering a land you will never exist in” , so  examining digital texts is an effective way to prepare for that kind of reading.  We watched the first few minutes of Downton Abbey, and were tasked to work with a partner to take note of the point of view of the story and the artifacts we noticed.

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I was amazed at how much historical evidence we were able to pick up through this exercise, especially as Maggie cued us with focused questions as we watched: what kinds of technology was present? what was the point of view of the camera? how do we “meet” people in the movie? how are characters introduced? This would be such an interesting and engaging way to begin our unit, especially because it would allow my kids to see that, as they read, they need to be aware of all the signposts that point to the historical time frame and context of their story.

Next, we talked about the other elements of historical fiction that readers need to be aware of and alert to at the  beginning of the story.  This kind of breakdown is essential for our kids, and having the following charted and in their reading journals for reference would be helpful:

  • what kind of place is this?
  • who is telling the story? what is the point of view and perspective?
  • who is represented?
  • are there signs of trouble and change?
  • what is the main characters’ response to trouble?
  • who has power?
  • are there signs of resistance?

Forming “text circles” and shared texts to model thinking/discussing:

A shared text reading of Patricia Polacco’s Pink and Say allowed us to practice “text circles” – small discussion groups of four with each member tasked with a specific noticing:

  1. study the character traits – what are they like?
  2. how characters have/fight more than one problem or pressure
  3. how does the problem of the historical world match the characters’ problems
  4. reading ahead – what problems will the character face?

Maggie suggested some alternate ways to play with text circles:

  • each group could get envelopes with each task written on strips of paper – their “mission” for the next meeting.  I love this idea of changing things up for each of the four times we meet  for historical fiction book clubs.
  • doing a digital version of this on class book blogs, so kids could share their thoughts as they were reading, before their class meetings.  I think this would lead to richer conversations all around, since my kids will have had a chance to pre-think, and allow ideas to percolate.

Creating historical documentaries as an culminating project:

This was so exciting to learn about! So often, my kids want to know more about a topic that cropped up in their historical fiction books (yellow fever, after reading Fever 1793, for example).  Researching, writing the script for, and then “channeling their inner Ken Burns” to produce a short video about the topic would be the perfect culminating project.  Viewing the student example through a writing workshop lens, we could easily see all the elements of  informational writing beautifully executed:

  • engaging introduction
  • problem/solution
  • cause and effect
  • interesting characters/people to anchor the narration
  • varying types of evidence presented
  • usage of domain specific words
  • quotes from experts
  • a layered story to catch and hold the reader’s attention

Our historical fiction unit is weeks away…too bad, I feel ready to get going with it now, thanks to Maggie’s workshop!







DigiLit Sunday: Cowbird – a storytelling site

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Digilit Sunday was created and is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche – join us and share your digital teaching ideas

In my search for new digital writing platforms for both my students and myself, I discovered “Cowbird”.

Here is a little bit about it:

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I love the way this platform allows a synthesis between the written word, visuals and the spoken word.  Scrolling through the stories shared, I can definitely see that many are too mature in theme and content for my sixth graders, but I still think it would be a wonderful new way to create stories.  I might begin with an exploration of my own – just to experiment.  But, I think it would be a fantastic writing option for kids in high school and beyond. Here are some of the topics that have been written about/explored:


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Digilit Sunday: Tour Builder

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Digilit Sunday was created and is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche – join us and share your

digital teaching ideas

At a Google Seminar this summer, I was introduced to Tour Builder.  Here is how Google explains the site:

What is Tour Builder?

Tour Builder is a new way to show people the places you’ve visited and the experiences you had along the way using Google Earth. It lets you pick the locations right on the map, add in photos, text, and video, and then share your creation.

What inspired the creation of Tour Builder?

We originally created Tour Builder to give veterans a way to record all the places that military service has taken them, and preserve their stories and memories as a legacy for their families. But we also thought it could be a useful tool for anyone with a story to tell, so we made it available to everyone.

I’ve been meaning to experiment with it ever since, knowing that it would lend itself to new ways of making my Social Studies lessons more engaging for my students.  Well, I finally got around to creating my first effort for tomorrow’s lesson on the Magna Carta:


It’s just a start, and I know that teachers far more creative than me will be able to do amazing things with this site.  It’s definitely one worth playing around with.  Better still, it’s definitely one worth turning over to our students – they will amaze us!

DigiLit Sunday: Virtual Tours in Social Studies

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DigiLit Sunday is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche.  Head on over to Margaret’s blog to see what she and other teachers are doing with digital literacy in their classrooms.

For today’s DigiLit Sunday, I’m sharing a post I had written a long time ago about virtual tours in my Social Studies classroom.  There are many more such opportunities these days across different content areas, opportunities that lend themselves to rich cross-curricular learning experiences. 

Our sixth grade social studies curriculum spans the forming of the United States of America all the way to the end of the Civil War – there is a LOT of important and interesting ground to cover.  We meet and learn about  so many fascinating people, and I try very hard to make these figures from long ago come alive for my students. We study paintings, we read excerpts from journals, speeches and letters,  and we investigate what other people have thought of and written about Thomas Jefferson, or Abraham Lincoln or John Adams.
My sixth graders have become pretty adept at working with text sources, but our social studies class really comes alive when I introduce them to these virtual tours.  How better to learn about George Washington or Thomas Jefferson than to visit their homes, check out the things they collected and the way they chose to go about their daily lives?
The “General House Tour” at Monticello  is by far the most detailed virtual tour I have found.  Curator Susan Stein guides you room by room, stopping to explain details and point out the significance of artifacts.  Did you know, for instance, that Jefferson’s daughter mapped out the lay out and position of every painting and piece of furniture as placed by Jefferson himself?  And good thing she did: the Monticello we visit today looks exactly the way it did when Jefferson lived there because of this map!  A few summers ago, I “toured” Monticello virtually myself and created a trail map of things to take note of – this gives their visit some structure, although they are free to investigate further with a click on this or that item they find particularly interesting.  Thanks to Stacey Shubitz, I learned about Thinglink (a site that allows you to make your images interactive) during our March SOLSC, and I plan to have my students choose items of particular interest at Monticello to label with their thinking.Monticello Virtual Tour
One of our favorite activities is to get together at the end of our tours and write a letter to Mr. Jefferson, asking a question or two or commenting about something we were amazed about. The best part about this…he writes back!  No matter how much we’ve read about Jefferson, I feel that my students really feel they know him so much better, and find him so much more interesting, after this activity.
Mount Vernon, George Washington’s plantation on the Potomac River, offers  another magnificent virtual tour.  Although this one does not offer an expert tour guide, the captions are detailed and filled with interesting information.  Wide angle shots and panoramic views of each room allow students to study objects and paintings up close, and they can plot their own path from room to room and floor to floor.  For this particular virtual tour, my students create guide books of their own, describing and listing points of interest and note.  A  new program is now offered at Mount Vernon: a chance to video conference with “the people that lived with our nation’s first president.” How cool is that?!