Monday, September 28, 2015

Why mELTing?

Here's a quickie!

Art with Jennie K started a great linkie where TPT educators share what the background behind their logo is.

About two years ago I shared a blog explaining why I changed my name. My blog used to be called Trying to Teach, and I made the leap to mELTing Activities to show the attitude of the blog was changing.

My hope was, and always has been to share activities that other people can "melt" and make their own. BONUS there's an ELT (English Language Teaching) in the name, which makes it super convenient.

I am still going through the process of changing everything over to one name (Blog, Facebok, Twitter, etc.) but for now I really like my logo :)

Check out the other linked up authors at this InLinkz Link-up

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sunday Funday- imPress nails

There are lots of options at my local Target
 I recently received some packs of imPress Powered by BrandBacker to try out and share with you for a Sunday-Funday post :)

To start a bit of background: One my first day of teaching in Spain, my Dutch boyfriend clucked his tongue in a disapproving fashion, "You can't go to school like that?" he declared. "What?" I looked myself over in the mirror. My skirt was appropriate, top showed no cleavage, hair was brushed, what more did he want? "Your nails, they're all chipped!"

Really? Really? I was about to teach preschoolers and primary students in Spain (my oldest class was first grade) and he was worried about my nail polish?

I am an amazing teacher. Will anyone be looking at my nails?

That boyfriend is now an ex (not because he insulted my nails I assure you though it was probably indicative of other issues) and I did just fine.

Can you guess my school colors?
That being said, I do find that as a teacher a LOT of people are looking at my hands. I am pointing to specific passages, pointing to cell phones, writing sample sentences, spelling words, and through it all students stare at my hands.

I LOVE nail art, but I don't normally do that much of it. I'll try to do my nails for homecoming at school or to match a spirit day, but I am awful at taking my polish off and it quickly looks like my three year old niece did my nails (it isn't a far off guess, she does do them sometimes).

Nails via my niece
With that in mind, I decided to give imPress nails a try. They seemed easier than painting, would take less time, not require steady or artistic hands, and literally require nothing.

My first imPress set
Unlike fake nails from the nail salon these are easy on AND easy off. Just clean your nails, push back the cuticles, prep the surface and voila. They're on. When you're done with the look, pop them off and there's no sticky residue.

I wasn't used to fake nails, so I found myself feeling a bit awkward with my fingers at times, but overall they were fun to wear for a bit. I stuck with a neutral matte you can see on the right (although it also included sparkly silver accent nails I may break out for homecoming). The price is definitely right. At my local Target they vary from $4.99-$7.99 for 24 nails! I think I saw them at Walgreens for just $5.99

In short, if you're looking to get the approval of my ex-boyfriend, or you just want to have some easy fun, trying out these nails may just be your ticket. They come in tons of shades: whacky prints, glittery solids, or neutral classics.  Pick some up the next time you're out and tell me if your students notice your nails when you're pointing something out. I know mine did!

Checkout more information at

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Understanding the Author's Craft by Writing

My school has started a Data Team that is in charge of analyzing the data that we receive from exams and letting us know what we should try to focus more on in our classes. I am not going to lie, this scared me a bit when they started (am I just going to be teaching to the test?), but for the most part, what they have told us are things I focus on anyways, now I just have to add a note to my Haiku saying, "We are focusing on __________ because of _______________."

One of the areas they feel students need more exposure is analyzing the author's craft. I am pretty excited because I have wanted to justify using the National Novel Writing Month's Young Writer's Program, commonly known as NaNoWriMo YWP, in my classroom and now I can.

NaNoWriMo is so easy it is almost hard to explain. Essentially, it is an idea that anyone who wants to write a novel can sit down and do it in a month. For the adult's program, on November 1, participants start writing with the goal of hitting the 50,000-word mark by 11:59 PM on November 30.

NaNoWriMo also has a Young Writer's Program specifically for students!! For students, they can set their own word limit, making it achievable at any age.

My NaNoWriMo
There's a teacher's kit you can buy / get for free (depending on their supply and your location) that comes with
  • An awesome poster for your classroom where students can chart their novelling progress
  • 35 stickers that say "Contents Extremely Imaginative" (great for laptops or binders)
  • 35 "I Novel" NaNoWriMo buttons 
  • One Writer's Emergency Kit (Fun for speaking activities and downtime in class)
But that's not all! There are some different workbooks (for different school levels)  you can download for free or purchase for $10. It goes through some fun ways to introduce your students to plot, setting, characters etc. They also have some lesson plans developed for Kindergartners through High School Seniors.

I won't be using these exactly. I'll be adjusting them so that we can use them to discuss the characters we have read about and analyze how the author has used the skills and methods we are learning about (as well as use them on their own).

I contemplated doing this on Haiku, but I think I will be using the website they have set up where my students can sign up, get motivational speeches, and track their word count. I can also give them announcements etc.

The best part, if your students meet the goal, then they get a voucher to get free copies of their book published and mailed to them. AWESOME motivation.

This will be my first year rocking it, but I'll be sure to post any amazing lessons I come up with while this goes on, and expect a post in December about how it went.

If you've ever done this before or have any pointers, comments below! If you're a newbie like me and you also teach high school, maybe our students could Skype or otherwise collaborate?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Peer Reviews with Technology

Picture By: Brett Gosselin
Peer reviewing is nothing new. I've been doing it since I was a child and using it with my students since my first year of teaching. However, I get asked a LOT from many teachers, "How do you do it?" I've done it many different ways over the years.

In the past students would have to come into the class with two copies of their paper. I would randomly pass out the papers to the students. If they didn't bring in copies, they didn't get to participate and instead would sit in an "essay writing corner" working on their essay. There would be a worksheet of questions passed out, or maybe the questions were displayed on the overhead. Students, armed with colored pens would then answer the questions as they reviewed the essay. Sometimes this would include specific directions (highlight the thesis, underline the opinion, etc.)

There's nothing wrong with doing it this way (and I could go into more details about it if anyone is interested) but now, like with a lot of things, technology has changed the way I do this.

Before we get into that, let's start at the beginning.

Editing is something that teachers often take for granted. Since we know how to spot mistakes, we assume students can do this as well. After all, if they have learned what we taught them, shouldn't they be able to catch mistakes other students make?

Well, maybe. But for the most part students require some coaching in this matter. Modeling is an easy way to do this, as is having students practice in small groups. Here are some technological tools I use to help my students refine their inner editor (at the end of each suggestion I also give a brief low-tech/no-tech option). I am assuming you are at least vaguely familiar with these sites. If you aren't or are interested on a post on the basics of one of the sites I mention, leave me a comment and I'll put something together for you.

I strongly encourage using "real" examples from students (past or present) as it has really made a difference with my students.
Take a screen shot of a sentence (or make a PowerPoint slide and upload it as a graphic) and use it in Kahoot as a picture. Have the question be identifying the error. The answers would be different possibilities. For example, my students are working on thesis statements, so some issues may be: Using personal language, Not being specific Not having an opinion, Not having an explanation.

Alternatively, label different sentences (1,2,3,4) and have students pick the best thesis statement. Be sure to have the, "automatically move through questions" turned OFF. You want to use the time immediately after questions to have students explain why they selected what they did and why.

No Tech? Years and years ago, we did the exact same thing with teachers who would have these paragraphs on overhead projects, now you can make a PowerPoint game, if you are low-tech, or a packet for no-tech.

Most teachers I know use Socrative for quizzes or the Space Race. Those are both really awesome tools, but not my favorite part of Socrative is the "Quick Question"

Simply select, "Quick Question" and then "Short Answer." Write an essay prompt in the question blank. I want each student to write only one response and I want their names (so they are held accountable). You can also have them work in small groups and have each group submit one thesis statement. As the results start coming in, you, as the teacher, can monitor and remove any that may seem inappropriate.

Once the time is up (or all students have submitted their attempt) then click "Start Vote" At this point the students will be able to see all of the thesis statements and vote for the ones they like best. Once the vote has closed discuss why the class selected the winner as the winner. Find the one with the least votes, what was wrong with it? This requires very little prep and is anonymous (to the students) so you tend to get authentic responses.

No Tech: Have students write sentences on the board and then discuss them after.

Haiku Discussions
Different options for Haiku discussions
I use Haiku because my school provides it to me, but any discussion board would work find (BlackBoard, etc.) Haiku does offer a free solo teacher plan! You get five classes. More information here

These are great because you have options. You can put students in pre-assigned groups (this can be a great way to differentiate), as a whole class, or individually.

Depending on how you have it set up, you can post a sample paragraph and have students critique it. Then they can take it the next step and re-write it. This is nice because if you are putting them in small groups or as a whole class, the shyer students can "speak up" without actually needing to speak, and the students who don't quite get it can go at their own pace and see what everyone else wrote first (unless of course you want them to take a guess first, in which case click the "Require students to post first" button).

You're also taking it past just identifying issues and seeing if students can actually fix them. Often at this point it is helpful to have a checklist of sorts students can go through to find errors.  This list should probably change depending on what you are focusing on, but I know some teachers who keep the same list throughout (normally elementary when they are focusing on key skills). The list can be mechanics, grammar, or specific to whatever you are teaching. I tend to encourage a mix of question types: Yes/No, Scale, and Open Ended. You'll be surprised at the answers sometimes.
  • Does every sentence start with a capital letter? (Mechanics)
  • Does the first sentence grab your attention? (Essay Format)
  • Does the essay make sense to you? Why or Why not? (Opinion)
  • What suggestions could you give the writer? (Really Open Ended)
Sidenote: Haiku Discussion boards are also really easy to grade. After the discussion closes I just pull up the list and I can see (by student) who wrote what. Normally I give a flat participation grade (they did it: full points), but I do make sure to skim to point out particularly good comments.

No Tech? You can of course do this in small groups as well without the technology. Pass out copies of the paragraph have them set the tables together and answer a set of questions as a team. Share their answers with the class, and then write a fixed version of the paragraph individually

PeerMark / TurnItIn

Two years ago I posted about free plagiarism checkers. That's how most people know TurnItIn. However, as much as I do use TurnItIn now, I actually LOVE them for their PeerMark grading. Never used it? You should check it out!

This is the "bigger" assignment. The first time we do this I jump in with full essays, though you can always have students start by just reviewing paragraphs or even sentences if you want!

There may be free versions out there (if you know any leave a comment, and I'll add it here), but I've only ever used Peermark.

Students turn in their papers the night before or morning of. You CAN have them turn the papers in the first thing in class, and just select, "randomly assign." Peermark will randomly give your students different essays and you're set. However, I prefer having some time to look over them.

You also have the option of going through and assigning them. For example, I teach many ESL students. In most cases I want students looking at the paper of someone who doesn't speak their language. For example, Spanish speakers to look at Chinese speakers' essays. This helps them because speakers of the language tend to make the same mistakes. Sometimes they even use words that they think are OK, but really don't exist. Just the other day I had a student tell me, "I hope you understand my Chinglish." So when I get to pick the pairs I can make sure the student will get the most help possible.

Depending on the student I may also want them to grade the paper of someone who write really well. This way they get to see a good model, and it tends to be easier for them to mark (less errors). 

I can also exclude papers. For example, in the class I'm teaching right now one of my students has completely copy and pasted his entire essay from the website online. I don't want anyone else to peer review this.

Finally, my FAVORITE part of using PeerMark. When I did these on paper if you didn't come in with your essay, you didn't get points. You also didn't review another student's paper. I LOVE peer reviewing and think it is a GREAT learning experience. With PeerMark I just need to check the box, "Allow students without a paper to review" and I am set! They don't miss out!! Though they don't get the help of having their paper peer edited.

As for grading, you can make this as hands off as you want or fairly specific. I make a list of questions my students go through as they grade. As with the list mentioned in the discussion boards, it changes a bit with each essay. This is shown on the screen as the students mark. In this example to below, the questions are mainly scale based (5 being awesome, 1 being needs a lot of work). Students answer the question and then leave comments on the paper if needed. For example, in this one I asked a question about the "Author Work Tie" and "Does it mention the author, title of the work, type of work, and how it connects to the thesis statement?" This student-editor gave the student-writer a 2/5 and then left a comment about how the summary was too long. She also answered #5 "Overall how good is the introduction" by saying, "the introduction does tells [sic] me what the rest of the essay is going to be about but the Author, work, tie is very confusing"

I love peer editing. I really really do. Students learn to see what they're seeing in other papers on their own. Its really easy for me to say, "okay don't do that, this, or the other thing," but students don't usually learn that way. I can take it up the net step, "Let's all do this together. What did we do wrong?" But when students actually have the question in front of them and then can find the examples on their own it really takes them to the next level on Bloom's Taxonomy.

It makes them think! They also catch a lot of little things that I always find interesting. There is also an option I really like to use which is having students do self reviews. As a teacher, when you create the PeerMark assignment, you can decide how many papers you want a student to peer review (I suggest at least two) and if you want students to complete a self review as well.

If you choose this I strongly encourage you (and students) to do it AFTER they have done the peer reviews. This way they have seen how other students do it and have the chance to reflect on their own work. Basically they can say, "Okay well now that I've seen other peoples essays what do I think about mine?" This is a really awesome opportunity for them to point out anything they might have learned and it's especially interesting to compare it to the results they will get from students.

I try to give students two days to look over the suggestions made by their peers before having them turn in their paper to me. This means that the first time I grade it they've gone over it and two other students have gone over it. Not only does this mean they learned more it also typically means my grading is a little bit easier because some of the bigger mistakes have already been caught.

This post ended up a LOT longer than I anticipated, and I could go on, but I'll stop. If you use peer reviews in your class, share how you do in the comments, and if you have any questions just let me know!
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