How to Use Social Media in a Low-Tech Classroom


Sarah Varland uses Twitter to show multiple character perspectives from the same play in her 9th grade classroom at Schurz High School, 2014.

No tech? No problem. Even if you’re teaching in a low-tech school, chances are your students know the basics of popular social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. As an ELA teacher looking to engage struggling and reluctant readers, I have been able to use modified versions of social media in the classroom without any technology at all. Here are a few ideas:

1) Facebook Profile Printouts

What they are: Empty graphic organizers in the format of a Facebook profile.

Linking to Common Core: Assess understanding of characterization by having students use textual evidence to complete one of these. You can also assess basic comprehension of a biographical article by attaching one of these organizers as an accompaniment.

What to do with them: Though many of my colleagues have created their own, there are many options already available online! When creating a character portfolio or scrapbook, these are a fun addition. I have also seen them posted on walls with yarn showing which characters are “friends” with one another within a given text. I have used them in non-fiction units, too, when students researched a political leader to compare and contrast with a leader in Lord of the Flies. It was much more interesting for students to compare and contrast the created profiles of Jack Merridew and Fidel Castro than to simply complete a Venn Diagram.

2) Tweet Sheets

What they are: Slips of paper with space for a username and 140 characters, meant to simulate a tweet.

Linking to Common Core: Assess understanding of summary or theme by having students use their own name as the username and “tweet” a summary or theme of what happened in the text. You can also have students use character names as usernames and post character feelings and reactions from that character’s voice to assess characterization, point of view, tone, or how elements in a story interact.

What to do with them: One of my creative colleagues, Sarah Varland, posted the tweets (pictured above) that best fulfilled the objectives on one of her whiteboards that was sectioned by character. This helped her students visualize character experiences side by side, which was extremely helpful during Romeo and Juliet. Instead of students struggling to remember major plot points from day to day, they could simply look at the “feed” on the whiteboard for a helpful and engaging reference point.

3) Instagram Tableaus

What they are: In hard copy form, this could be a sketch of a scene or a posed photograph followed by writing space with a 2,200 character limit. If you were to go paperless, you could have groups of students tableau, or pose for a still image, while one student reads the caption aloud.

Linking to Common Core: Assess understanding of summary or main idea by having students create tableaus and posts determining the major plot points in a reading. Have students use character names as usernames and thread their feelings and reactions onto other students’ posts using that character’s voice to assess characterization, tone, point of view, or how elements in a story interact. Assess theme by having students create a series of posts and comments that are all thematically connected.

What to do with them: Like the Twitter feed can be posted in the classroom, I posted my students’ Instagram tableaus on the walls of my own. From there, students can post comments on post-its, add on using the same hashtags, or like the posts. This can work when students use their own created usernames and interact with events of fiction or non-fiction, or this can work when students interact by embodying a character and using a username based on that character. In my classroom, we posted as ourselves reacting to the events and characters within A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Though I only used examples from ELA, there are so many possibilities of modifying these activities to reach other content areas. To all of you looking to engage your learners without technology, happy modifying!


Don’t Take It Personally

cell phone

I refuse to participate in the online dating scene. Here’s why: Imagine you’re at a bar, and your blind date is running late. You sit awkwardly at the bar swiping through Instagram posts and old text messages in an attempt to look less lame.

Why are you really fiddling with your phone? You don’t have any new Instagram updates and (let’s be real) no one has texted you. This habit is a coping mechanism, something to make you feel less weird and to help you put up with the uncomfortable emotions you are experiencing during your wait.

Well, it is the same with kids. In the classroom, your kids also display a range of coping mechanisms for the awkward, uncomfortable, strange, frustrating, anxious, and unfamiliar situations they encounter every day. I can fondly remember a number of coping mechanisms that my students displayed during my time in the classroom: head on the desk during a difficult lesson, relentlessly vying for my attention or asking to go to the bathroom, or—my favorite—slamming the door with every ounce of their strength after being asked to step in the hallway due to a behavior infraction.

In the moment, all of these behaviors can make your blood boil because of their conspicuous and seemingly confrontational nature; however, I’m here to tell you—don’t take it personally. In general, these performances are manifestations of the reality that in some social situations, under certain stresses, and when encountering unfamiliar emotions, we often don’t know how to embody our feelings.

For instance, last year, on the first day of classes, when I looked over a student’s shoulder as he completed coursework, he yelled in a very angry tone, “Don’t look at my paper!” However, I knew not to take the offense personally. I leaned down to the student’s desk and replied, “I apologize. Next time, I will ask before looking at your paper.” (Of course, I had to explain to the student why his tone was inappropriate for addressing a teacher, but that’s another article.)

When I debriefed with other teachers, they cited the student’s behavior as inappropriate, offensive, and disruptive. I had another view. After observing the student throughout the class period, I noticed he expressed anger on his face every time the teachers moved to the next slide; it was clear he hadn’t finished writing down the necessary information.

It became apparent to me that contrary to the outburst being a personal attack, the student was expressing the uncomfortable emotion of feeling frustrated because he couldn’t keep up with the pace of the class. He didn’t want to seem like he wasn’t trying his best. His reaction was not a mischievous act, but a call for help.

In this way, whenever interacting with students, always remember to distance your emotions from their actions. Give them the same grace you give yourself when you turn to coping mechanisms like texting at a boring party, twisting your hair when you’re talking to a cute guy, or chewing your fingernails when you’re stressed: Don’t take it personally.

Shameless Optimism: Are You Nurturing or No-Nonsense in the Classroom?


As a first-year teacher, I struggle, along with many others, to find a balance between being no-nonsense and nurturing in the classroom. How do you show your students that your high expectations are meant to help and not hurt them?

I learned late last year that a teacher’s tone is just as, if not more, important than narration and relationship building. Previously, I thought firmness equaled harshness and muffled anger. I even believed that I had to sound angry in order to get my point across.

Recently, I’ve discovered these four ways to be both firm and fair in the classroom:

  1. Speak Less: Don’t waste time trying to explain the value of obeying your rules. It can be very counterproductive and students may resist more. Talking is a good thing but the more you “nag” or “complain” about their behavior, the less likely they are to change it.
  1. Give Emotionless Consequences: Don’t bother being angry; nobody wins. The last thing you want to do is take misbehavior personally. The best way to show students that you mean business is by setting clear consequences and being consistent. When they realize there are consistent consequences for misbehavior, they will change their behavior (even if it takes a while).
  1. Have a Heart to Heart: If you find yourself getting angry by yelling for misbehavior, follow up with a calm heart to heart. Assure the student that, even though you may have raised your voice, you were not angry but disappointed because he/she was not living up to his/her true potential.
  1. Smile a Lot: Rewarding students when they are doing the right thing is just as important as consequences when they aren’t. A smile is often a nice reward for your students because it shows them that you are happy to be in school with them and that you appreciate when they work together to create a comfortable environment. Be firm in your expectations of students to create a joyful environment when they are at school and encourage them to be kind to others.

Tell us in the comments: How do you strike a balance between no-nonsense and nurturing in the classroom?

Shameless Optimism is a new column by Deniann Grant about keeping calm and maintaining a positive attitude in the classroom.

5 Effective Ways to Teach Writing


The first time I taught writing as an English teacher was a complete disaster. The district was collecting an ACT writing sample from each of my students in early October, so I assigned a short paper for practice. The few papers I got back were a mess, teeming with run on sentences and stream-of-consciousness ramblings. When the sample scores came back, my students had averaged 3.37 out of 12.

I started making a list of errors and marked little tallies every time the issue recurred. Over the next few weeks, I designed a persuasive writing unit that responded to the specific issues found in my students’ writing. In December, shortly after the writing unit was over, my students were re-tested for growth. This time, they averaged a 4.2. My students had grown by almost a point in just two months! Looking at my student data made me realize that the kinds of things students need to improve their writing can be taught and learned quickly.

Here are five ways to improve your students’ writing:

  1. Get Back To Basics: One Page, Indented Paragraphs, Capitalization, Periods, and Commas. It’s not a waste of time. No matter the level of the student, reviewing writing essentials is key to helping students learn standard essay structure.
  2. Teach Students to Annotate Writing Prompts. Ask students to underline each potential argument, restate confusing language in the margins, and circle the question they are being asked to respond to.
  3. Model Brainstorming and Outlining. Although teacher talk time should be as short as possible, modeling thinking with the prompt is crucial.
  4. Have Students Write In Class. Every. Single. Day. My expectation is that students will write at least one paragraph for their exit tickets every day. This is a great way to find widespread writing issues and correct them with quick mini-lessons and practice.
  5. Show Students How to Manage Their Time. I actually display a ticking pie-chart clock, divided into increments, based on where students should be in their responses.

How do you practice writing with your students?

Why Laughter Is Healthy in the Classroom

laughter classroom

Years from now, if my students forget how to make a green screen on Final Cut Pro and the definitions in our Typography unit, or how to use specific software to edit their videos, that’s okay. Every day when I walk into the classroom, I make it my personal mission to make every student smile. Through my behavior and leadership in class, I try to promote positivity and embody an energy that brings happiness into the classroom.

I always tell my students that if I can be silly and make a fool out of myself in the front of everyone, they can feel comfortable being their silly selves, too. In my classroom I believe that the more smiles and laughter there are, the more enjoyable, accessible, and encouraging the learning process can be. By me just being my quirky self, whether it be when I dance, sing parts of my lesson, or crack jokes, I strive to create and model a learning environment where my students feel comfortable, less stressed, and just happy.

When I think about the teachers who left a positive impact on my life, from my 12th grade Government & Politics teacher to my 8th grade U.S History teacher, I don’t remember much of the content they taught me, the grades I received, or the assignments we completed. Instead, I remember the positive leadership they demonstrated, the motivation they provided, the inspiring and comforting words they shared, the advice they gave me, and the laughs and smiles I had while learning in their class. This is the impact I want to have on my students. Because like Maya Angelou famously remarked, “People will never forget how you made them feel.”

In my five months of teaching, the smiles and laughter I have helped spark in my students—even if just for a little bit—have made my teaching experience more positive, impactful, and memorable than I ever thought possible. I’ve learned that the more unafraid I am to be myself in front of my students, the more open, accepting, and fearless our classroom environment becomes. Years from now, I hope my students can look back and remember not just the content I taught, but also the smile I may have put on their faces.

12 Easy Ways to Organize Your Classroom in the New Year

Right behind exercising and eating right, getting organized tops the list of many new year’s resolutions. Teachers are champs at organizing their classrooms, but we could all use some helpful hacks to make sure everything’s in its right place in 2015. An organized, clutter-free classroom means happy kids and stress-free teachers.

Check out these 12 ways to stay organized in 2015.

1. Binders Full of Binders


There are countless binder tutorials out there, but LuckeyFrog’s how to create a teacher’s binder in five easy steps is one of our favorites.

2. Easy Access Markers

marker holder

Keeping supplies organized means having a place for everything. Get instructions for this cheap and easy marker holder.

3. Printable Weekly Planner


weekly planner free

Put pen to paper after you download this free printable planner from Thyme Is Honey.

4. Labels for Classroom Supplies

labels bins organize

Check out these 21 resources for printable labels and tags from Teach Junkie.

5. Paint Stirrers for Libraries

library organizers

These guys are free at most hardware stores. Stock up and keep your books organized. Via Pinterest.

6. Pallet Chalkboard Shelf

pallet chalkboard

We love upcycled pallets! Get detailed instructions on how to make  one.

7. Shelf Storage System with Wire and PVC

pvc wire shelf storage

Who loves PVC? This storage system can hold paint and other supplies. Learn how at Mad in Crafts.

8. Crate Shelves

crate shelves organize

Crates are ubiquitous and, with a little paint to spiffy them up, can make great shelves. Via Hometalk.

9. Homework on the Board


Keeping weekly homework expectations on the board is a great reminder for students and teachers alike. Via reddit.

10. Upcycled Tin Can Wall Organizers

tin can wall organizer

Tin cans make great organizers for all your classroom bits and bobs. Get instructions–a bit of glue is all you need.

11. Quirky DIY Recycle Bin

recycle bin robot

One teacher created a quirky robot garbage bin to maintain order in the classroom. Get instructions.

12. Peg Boards Take All

diy pegboard

Peg boards, how we love thee? Let us count the many, many ways…that we can use thee. In this example from Kidsomania, create more storage or add students’ names and papers as a sort of 3-d bulletin board.

Happy organizing!

Science Says Your Classroom Needs More Dance Parties

dance party classroom

Perhaps it’s the Ron Clark in me that loved a good classroom dance party during my time as a teacher and TFA corps member. On a bad day, happy day, or any day really, there was something therapeutic (for my students and for me!) about blasting the Kidz Bop version of some popular rap song and busting a move. Some of my happiest memories with my students are the moments we spent dancing…on our chairs, around the cafeteria, and occasionally, past the principal’s office.

Dance parties were a big part of my classroom for a laundry list of reasons. They served as a powerful incentive for my students—and a free one, at that! They breathed life into my ELA block on rainy days. They improved my classroom culture. I could go on and on, but it wasn’t until after my time in the classroom that I discovered the science behind why my students seemed so much more engaged after we got our hearts pumping.

Dr. Laura Chaddock-Heyman, research scientist at the University of Illinois-Champaign, specializes in how exercise and fitness relate to the developing brains of children. Her research is ground-breaking because in addition to looking at the academic performance and cognitive ability of children, she has used functional MRI (fMRI) to look at how physical activity changes the structure, communication, and neural functions of kids’ brains.

According to Chaddock-Heyman’s research, physical activity actually causes the brain to light up differently when looking at fit vs. unfit kids. As a once-educator, I find her research astounding. Little did I know that all of those Kidz Bop dance parties were actually causing my students’ brains to function more efficiently, leading to improvements in focus, cognitive control, and performance.

Laura’s research is extensive, but here are three highlights from her studies that prove your classroom needs more dance parties:

  1. Brain structure. Higher fit children have larger brain volumes in the hippocampus and basal ganglia, which relate to superior performance on tasks of memory and cognitive control, compared to their lower fit peers.
  2. Structural integrity. Higher fit children show greater white matter structural integrity, which is associated with faster and more efficient communication of signals throughout the brain.
  3. Brain function. The brain scans of fit vs. unfit kids show differences in brain activation during activities requiring concentration. The scans showed how the brain “lights up” differently while more active children performed the same activities as less active children.

So why not increase physical activity inside of our schools, inside of our classrooms? This research makes the case to fight for recess, P.E., and in-classroom physical activity breaks (AKA brain breaks).

To learn more about Dr. Chaddock-Heyman’s research, check out the Neuroscience for Teachers series on the GoNoodle blog. And whether you’re the dance party type or not, check out GoNoodle for a wide variety of brain breaks that make it simple for elementary teachers to bring more movement (and more brain power) to the classroom in five minutes or less. Sign up for free at

Welcome Baaack: 4 Ways to Tackle Your Return from Break

school exterior

It’s time to dust off those cobwebs, teachers! To kick off 2015 right, we’re revisiting one of our favorite posts from the TeacherPop archives about returning from Winter Break. Teach For America alum Maggie Dahn gives you some great pointers for making the first days back to school a little bit lighter. 

One of the biggest mistakes I made in my first year of teaching was neglecting to plan for that first day back to school. I figured that my students “already knew” the expectations and would “remember” classroom procedures. I thought perhaps they had matured over break and would come back with a renewed sense of responsibility.

In. my. dreams.

The only major difference between winter and summer break is that over winter break they’re expected to remember what happened before the new year. They come back to the same classroom with the same teacher (you). What they did in December has become a distant memory. Wait, I have to do my homework every night? What do you mean I have to raise my hand? And…who are you?

You can prepare yourself for the inevitable (second) first day. Treat the first few days back to school in January just like your first few days in September.

Here’s how I would do it:

Refocus students on their goals. This is the single most important thing you will do when you get back to school. You can frame their goals by first talking to your students about New Year’s Resolutions. As a class, you should revisit your class goal or have students look at their individual goals for the year. Is there anything they want to change? Is there something they can add to make it better? January allows for students to have a fresh start in some ways, and you can help them by making the time to reflect on the most important things. (Bonus: this is good for you, too!)

Build and sustain culture. You set the tone in your classroom. How do you want your students to treat each other? How will they resolve conflicts? How do you want students to define themselves? You could frame each day for that first week to focus on a part of your students’ identities. Monday could be “I am a leader.” Tuesday is “I am a friend.” Wednesday would be “I am a rock star student,” and so on … Create mini-lessons that help students explore these ideas in a meaningful way and have them post their work in the room so they remember come April. Help your students form positive perceptions of themselves as leaders, friends, and students.

Add some polish. Is there a new seating arrangement you’d like to try? Do you have an awesome idea for a bulletin board or visual tracker? Jazz up your classroom a bit. Don’t go back before your first day to do this, but make it fresh for yourself and for your kids during that first week back. My new obsession is baby food and mason jars to hold pencils and erasers on the tables. Although I was nervous of mixing glass and first graders, they totally work and the kids even commented, “This is pretty!” And I’m buying tiny plants for each table. The environment teaches the students almost as much as I do, and I want to create a beautiful space where they want to be.

Focus on the little things. Now is the time to get things all the way right. If your students are having a difficult time transitioning from lunchtime back into the classroom mode, fix it now. You can do this by explicitly teaching how you expect them to reenter the classroom before it is time for them to make the transition. Then, as with anything, you need to practice. Do it again. Do it again. And then do it again (despite the moans and groans) until it is right. And if you don’t get it 100% right the first day back, do it again the second day.

Here’s to a happy, productive 2015!