Activities for Interactive Whiteboards

Patrick at 2Touch IWBInteractive whiteboard redefine hands-on activity in the classroom, as students manipulate information on a giant digital display. They also bring teachers a new challenge: what activities can you use to make the most of this new technology?

Teachers on the Thinkfinity Community have been busy collecting answers. Theresa Gibbon suggests trying ReadWriteThink’s interactive Word Mover for “I Have a Dream” and Word Mover for Holes and asking students to rearrange the words on the whiteboard as a class experience. Find dozens of additional ideas on the Thinkfinity Community discussion board.

This post is the introduction from “August 10 to 16 on ReadWriteThink.” Read the rest of the post in the Thinkfinity Community site.

Teaching Students About Headlines, Titles, and Subject Lines

If you want your work to be read, you need a strong headline, title, or subject line for the text you’re writing. Readers expect a title to give them a short description of the contents in a way that piques their interest in the topic. When a title doesn’t, it’s possible that you won’t people won’t read any further. They’ll just skip on to something that is interesting.

Screenshot of the Writing page on Alltop.comIt’s important, then, to teach students how to write strong headlines, titles, and subject lines—and I have a great technique you can use, based on an observation Guy Kawasaki shared on Google+.

Kawasaki posted a screenshot from his blog indexing site,, and observed, “You can see who the good headline creators are when you see them side by side.” Indeed, you can.

Try the technique yourself by clicking on the screenshot above. It shows headlines from four blogs on the Writing page on Alltop. Even with the limited number of titles in the screenshot, you can see that some headlines are better at catching your attention than others. I want to go read The Other N-Words, for instance.

The blogs at the top of an Alltop page tend to be stronger, so there’s not an obvious dud in the image. If you visit the Writing page on Alltop though, you’re likely to find some headlines that don’t work. On the current page, for example, I’m uninterested in Exercise 9, 10, 11, or 12 from Aldys Fiction. Aldys Fiction may be a great site, but based on those headlines alone, there’s nothing to convince me to go read anything.

To show students how to write strong headlines, titles and subject lines, just customize this activity a bit. Here’s a basic outline of what to do:

  1. Choose a page on Alltop that focuses on a topic that students are familiar with. Alltop has pages for hundreds of topics, ranging from American Idol to Zombies, and from Anthropology to Zoology. Nearly any topic students are exploring can be found on Alltop. (That makes the site great for research too, but I’ll save that for a later post.) Be sure to review the page you choose to ensure the blog titles are all appropriate for the classroom.
  2. Print the Alltop page. You can work on the live website, but when you mouse over a blog title, more information from the post will pop up. Since you want students to focus on the titles alone, the live site isn’t the best option. Further, Alltop is updated hourly, so an inappropriate blog title may appear. Printing the pages avoids both of these problems. If you want a paper-free option, print to PDFs and work from the files rather than the live site.
  3. Pass out the Alltop page, and ask students to mark 10–15 blog posts that they want to read. Encourage students to move quickly through the options. The point is to make fast decisions. Give them two or three minutes.
  4. Next ask students to identify 5 blog posts that they would not read. Again, ask them to work quickly, as if they were scrolling down the list on a computer screen.
  5. In small groups, have students share their selections and note posts chosen by more than one person. Have them create a group list of approximately 15 blogs the group would read.
  6. Ask group members to compare the 15 blog titles and identify what makes the titles compelling. Encourage students to look for similarities. You might work through an example title to demonstrate features that typically make a headline stand out.
  7. Have students use the similarities to create guidelines for strong titles. Students can consider the 5 posts they each said they would not read to see how they violate their guidelines as well.
  8. Compile all the group guidelines into a class list. Groups can share their lists with the class. As a group shares its guidelines, note new ideas on the board. Work to group related ideas as the groups present their lists. Once all groups have shared, review the class list together and make any revisions.
  9. Talk about how to apply the headline guidelines to paper titles and subject lines. Add suggestions on how to adjust the information for different rhetorical situations.
  10. For homework, ask students to strengthen the titles on their texts by using the guidelines that the class has created. If desired, students can submit a before and after version of their titles that you review during the next class session.

As you go through the activity, you may find the opportunity to review the rules for using capital letters in titles. You can point to the guidelines in your class text. For a thorough review, point students to the details on Capitalizing Titles from Grammar Girl. For a bit of fun, you can try out the SongCase – the song title capitalizer.

So there you have it. It’s fairly simple, but it should influence the headlines, titles, and subject lines that you see after the class completes it. Do you have any tricks for teaching students about headlines, titles, and subject lines? Leave me a comment!


Companies Are Breaking the Rules on Google+

Break the Rules...Who Knows Where It Will Lead?This afternoon, Jeff Naslund posted a list of news companies that have added a presence on Google+. Everyone is getting on board. From NPR to Al Jazeera, everyone has created a Google+ profile.

Now setting up a profile for a company had occurred to me before I saw this list of news companies. I confess that as soon as the red invite envelope showed up on my Google+ page, I sent invites to myself for the two clients I do social networking for, ReadWriteThink and Bedford Bits.

Before I set up either profile, however, I found an article that said I shouldn’t proceed. The LA Times reported that Google asks businesses to stay out of Google+ — for now. The article explains that Google+ is for individuals only. Businesses, schools, clubs, non-profits, and everyone will use a business version of Google+ that will connect to Google products like Analytics and AdWords. The original post on the Google+ blog is coming up 404 as I write, but Christian Oestlien, who wrote the post, also recorded a video explaining the request for businesses to stay out of Google+:

So following the instructions, I filled out Google’s online form for beta testers. I was particularly persuaded by the last note in the LA Times article. Oestlien stated, “We just ask for your patience while we build it. In the meantime, we are discouraging businesses from using regular profiles to connect with Google+ users. Our policy team will actively work with profile owners to shut down non-user profiles” (emphasis mine).

I resolved to wait. After all, one interview suggested that the business profiles may be available in just a few weeks, though the video suggests, less optimistically, “later” this year.

This afternoon, however, I found that dozens of companies have ignored Google’s request and set up profiles anyway. Even companies like PC Magazine that reported the request for businesses to stay out of Google+ have set up a profile on Google+ anyway. Is Google likely to delete companies like NPR, Al Jazeera, and PC Magazine? Probably not. If non-user profiles are shut down, I suspect they’ll be small businesses and non-profits that don’t have the clout or ability to fight back.

This all looks like another case where following the rules and doing as you were asked means you’re left out. What’s the best wisdom here for smaller groups and companies that don’t have the firepower of those bigger companies? Do we add ourselves and risk deletion? Will the power of companies adding themselves overcome Google’s policy? I wish I knew the answers.


[Photo: Break the Rules…Who Knows Where It Will Lead? by BrentDPayne, on Flickr]

Writing with Wordle

Wordle for The RavenYou probably would have guessed that raven was one of the most frequently used words in Poe’s “The Raven,” but the Wordle word cloud on the right makes the impact of that word visually obvious. Wordle is a free tool that can make a word cloud out of any text that is pasted into a form or by using the text on a webpage. It includes some choices for formatting, so that you can change the color and layout of the words. You can also omit commonly used words. The final cloud can be printed or saved.

Last week, Edutopia shared some ideas for using Wordle in the classroom, as part of their New Teacher Boot Camp. In addition to checking out the Edutopia resources, take a look at these blog posts for more ideas on using word clouds for reading and writing activities in the classroom:


This post is the introduction from “July 11 to 16 on ReadWriteThink.” Read the rest of the post on Facebook.

Writing Effective Titles for Your Blog Entries

Women of WiFi, after CaillebotteHow do you write a title that makes people want to read your text? That was one of the major lessons of Chris Pirillo University (CPU): Writing for Google, an online seminar I attended last month. The on-demand version of the webinar is now available for rental on YouTube.

The session, led by Jake Ludington, covered writing titles, choosing keywords, using links, naming files, and including rich media—all the things that Google and other search engines pay attention to when they rank web pages. It’s what social media experts and marketing folks call Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

My blogs have a very specific audience of teachers and educators, so I’ve never thought much about SEO. I don’t write entries that the general person using Google or Bing is going to look for. Jake’s explanations of SEO made me realize, however, that I’ve been making a mistake by not paying more attention to my titles and the details in my posts.

I quickly realized was that I hadn’t been thinking about audience and purpose in the right ways when I was writing titles for my blog entries. I had fallen into the habit of using either titles that would fit a scholarly article or titles that relied on a pun or clever thinking to reveal their topic. Let me show you some examples, and point out what’s wrong with them:

  • Trying Out Some Tasty Blackbird Pie relies on an analogy related to the WordPress plug-in name. If you didn’t know Blackbird Pie was a plug-in, you’d have no idea what that post was about. I should have included keywords like WordPress and Twitter in that title.
  • Warning: Your Usage May Vary takes its title from an image in the blog post. The post is about usage and style, in particular as it relates to dialects and regional variation. Even though the title includes the word usage, I bet no one realizes what the entry is about. I should have been more descriptive instead of hoping the play on words would draw in readers.
  • No Yelling in the Food Court summarizes the underlying lesson of the classroom activity described in the post. Readers have no way of knowing, though, that the activity is a way to talk about audience and voice. Heck, they have no way of knowing the entry is about a classroom activity at all, and no teacher in the world who is looking for a fresh way to talk about audience is going to search for the phrase “no yelling in the food court.” I should have used a title that included the keywords and described the post better.
  • 100 Sticky Notes, or The Simple Way to Move from Observations to Composing is more like a title for a conference presentation than a blog entry. It’s far too long and the first part (“100 Sticky Notes”) doesn’t give a reader any idea what the entry is about. Even if you read all the way to the end of the title, it’s not going to be obvious that the entry is about a reader-response strategy. Using the words “Move from Observations to Composing” was a good start, but I needed to drop the cute stuff up front and be more specific about the point of the piece.

I liked all those titles when I wrote them, but I wonder now if I would have brought in more readers if I had used better titles. The webinar made me realize that good titles applied to far more than SEO. Certainly I want people to find my posts when they search for writing activities using Google, but writing effective titles for my blog entries also matters to RSS feeds, the Tweets I send out, and other ways that I spread the word about my work.

A well-written title makes a difference everywhere. How much of a difference? How about roughly 33% more visits? In the week before I attended the session on Writing for Google, my highest days in Google Analytics showed 86 and 96 visits.

After I attended the session and applied what I heard, my two highest days were 122 and 132 visits—and that’s all in the days before Thanksgiving. Having more teachers visit my site in the days before Thanksgiving is fairly unheard of. Most people are turning their computers off and forgetting about teaching at that point.

With that response to the change I made, I’m sold. Attending Chris Pirillo University (CPU): Writing for Google helped me write more effective titles (and posts), and I learned important information that I can pass along to students I work with. Who knew that a couple of hours could make such a difference?

If you want to learn more about writing effective titles for your blog posts, take a look at How to Make Money With Google on Chris Pirillo’s blog.


[Image: Women of WiFi, after Caillebotte by Mike Licht,, on Flickr] Bundles Simplify Sharing Links with Students

~dried and Bundles are about to simplify the way you share links with students and colleagues. Take any collection of links you want to pass along, and with Bundles you can share just one short web address. You’ll no longer need to pass out links individually.

I originally found link bundling in a post about from Jane’s Pick of the Day. Imagine my surprise when less than an hour later the same capability miraculously appeared on my Pro page. I’m a addict, so that’s the tool I’m reviewing here today.

Lifehacker has explained the tool and talked about how it can be handy to the general user. To demonstrate who I might use it, I created a bundle of links to the sites where I publish most of my personal work—links to Twitter, Facebook, and the blogs I work on. Bundles took the collection of six different links and simplified them into a single URL that I can easily share at a conference, in email, or even Tweet out to my followers:

[blackbirdpie url=”!/newsfromtengrrl/status/5737279511330816″]

Even better than just collecting the links on a single page, Bundles let you control how the links appear on the collection’s page. You can edit the titles and add descriptions or explanations to the links in your bundle. If a link in a bundle changes, or you want to add or delete it, you can edit the collection later. People who visit the bundle can add comments as well.

In educational settings, Bundles take care of two challenges:

  1. They let people see the target links before they click. The service allows for link shortening with transparency. There are no surprises behind the shortened URLs.
  2. They take care of the need to point to multiple texts without blasting a series of URLs or having to create an intermediary page.

It’s a smooth tool that makes sharing links much easier. Just pass out one address, and you’re done!

Not yet convinced? I brainstormed some uses to demonstrate the possibilities for using Bundles in the classroom. Create a Bundle to

  • gather a collection of articles on a current event for students to read.
  • point to a reading and to related discussion and criticism.
  • link to resources for a writing assignment (e.g., tip sheets, guidelines).
  • make sets for students you can use in feedback or tutoring (for instance, a collection on adding descriptive details).
  • share background information on an author or piece of literature.
  • collect information on campus or community resources for a project (e.g., the Writing Center, the reference desk, office hours).
  • distribute URLs to class projects.

And that’s just a beginning. Essentially any time you need to share more than one address, you can use Bundles to simplify the task.

Since you can edit the Bundles, they’re useful for collections you use in more than one class or more than one term. Collect your links in a bundle, and publish that URL in each course. The URL you share remains the same every semester. You simply return to the Bundle each term to make any updates.

To build community resources, like a student-assembled collection of links, I’d still recommend a social bookmarking tool like Delicious or Diigo, but for the collections that you create and find yourself reusing, Bundles are going to make sharing links a whole lot easier for teachers.


[Photo: ~dried and bundled~ by uteart, on Flickr]

Trying Out Some Tasty Blackbird Pie

I immediately liked the name of the new WordPress plug-in, Blackbird Pie. The nursery rhyme popped right into my head: Four and Twenty Black Birds, Baked in a Pie.

The plug-in makes this, essentially a jazzy block quotation:

[blackbirdpie url=”!/tengrrl/status/1348769496965120″]

You include the URL and get a very nice looking presentation of the Tweet that you are writing about. Twitter is behind the functionality, and you can create the links the old fashioned way at Twitter Media’s Blackbird Pie. The WordPress plug-in simplifies things by making it a matter of clicking the blackbird button when you’re in the Visual editing tab for your post.

One of the coolest features of the plug-in is the Search. Know you want to refer to someone’s Tweet, but don’t have the URL handy? Use the search in the plug-in to load up that person’s recent comments and just click the one you want.

Nice and slick. Only problem is it’s not working for me if I use a new Twitter link. You have to delete the #! from the Tweet’s URL to make it work properly.  It’s a minor bug though, and since I know how to fix it, I think I’ll keep the plug-in.

6 Reasons Blogrolls Are Dying

Cinnamon Roll by stevendepoloI posted a message to TechRhet this weekend that I thought would yield a fast result. I needed to gather a list of comp/rhet blogs for a project, and I want to make sure I didn’t leave anyone out.

I asked readers to pass along links if they had a great blogroll or knew of some wonderful blogs I should include.

The response? One message. That’s it. One message that pointed to one blog.

So I began searching for the links on my own, visiting friend’s blogs and scooping up links as I went along. I quickly observed that blogrolls are a dying breed.

  1. Fewer people have blogrolls. There was a time when everyone listed every blogger possible in the sidebar. Not the case any more. More than 1/2 of the blogs I visited had no blogroll at all.
  2. Blogrolls tend to be an unordered list, which makes their usefulness questionable. Presented with a giant list of blogs, you have nothing to go by but the blog name or the writer’s name. Sorted into categories or with tags, the list would be easier for visitors to use. As they stand on most blogs, they seem to be a simple list of friends and colleagues in most cases.
  3. The blogrolls I did find were not well-maintained. The lists were littered with broken links, dead blogs (i.e., the link works but there hasn’t been a new post on the blog in months), and links to old blogs, with pointers to a new home.
  4. Gathering a blogroll (and checking its links) is a time-consuming project. There’s a reason these things aren’t maintained. The only way to make use the blog links all work properly is to sit and click on each and every one.
  5. Blogrolls are suffering because blogs have more competition these days. Many colleagues are foregoing blogs for shorter status updates. On more than one blog, I found a note that indicated the person was going to update via Facebook or Twitter instead of maintaining the blog.
  6. Follower and Friend lists are replacing blogrolls. When you click follow or okay a friend, you create a list of colleagues that is quite similar to a blogroll—and which is infinitely easier to maintain. They take care of themselves. You never have to chase down the URLs or check for deleted accounts.

Ultimately, I collected a list of nearly 70 blogs. Feel free to copy it for your own site or send links to anything I left out. I just won’t promise you that I’ll maintain it for the long term.


[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by stevendepolo]

What Are Kidwatching, Microblogging, and Podcasts?

Writing a Podcast by Irish TypepadSoon NCTE will be launching an online site for members that will include many cool features, including an online glossary for English teachers.

My assignment this afternoon was to come up with 3 definitions to add to the collection as examples—and to make sure they were backed up in case they get accidentally erased. So here are my three rough drafts. What do you think? I’d love to hear suggestions to make them stronger!

Kidwatching Definition

Kidwatching, a term popularized by Yetta Goodman, is a way to record your students’ development by observing their behavior, strategies, and ways of making meaning. In the simplest explanation, kidwatching is exactly what it sounds like: watching kids—as they read, write, collaborate, and participate in your class—and taking notes on your observations of students’ effective use of skills, concepts, and strategies.

Observations alone can be useful; but what makes kidwatching a particular strong tool in the classroom is the step that teachers take to move beyond observations and note-taking to analysis and curriculum building based on on those observations and notes.

For more information, see O’Keefe, T. (1997). The Habit of Kidwatching. School Talk, 3(2). 4–5. [Available online at]

Microblogging Definition

Microblogging is an online publication method that allows writers to publish very short updates, typically in 140 characters or less. Tools used to post microblog updates include Twitter (the most popular tool), Jaiku, and Plurk. Status updates posted in Facebook can also be microblogs.

Microblog updates can touch many kinds of writing, from exposition to fiction and more. Twitter originally asked writers to post a response to the question “What are you doing?” The question has evolved to “What’s happening?” today. Microblog posts can include any of the following:

  • a status update on where you are and what you’re doing
  • comments and reviews on a book, movie, concert you’ve attended
  • links to pictures with short comments on their significance
  • pointers to websites, news articles, and other resources you’ve found valuable
  • questions and calls for suggestions (as well as related answers)
  • haiku (or Twaiku, as they are sometimes called) and other ultra-short poems
  • one-sentence stories

As far as the content is concerned, anything goes. What primarily defines microblogging are the length and its publication in an online forum.

Some teachers use microblogging assignments as part of their class activities, to share quick updates on class business and as a writing activity. See Profhacker’s Framework for Teaching with Twitter for additional tips if you decide to try microblogging with students.

Podcast Definition

Podcasts are serial audio or video recordings, posted regularly online. Some people call video podcasts vlogcasts. You might think of a podcast as a kind of blog that posts recordings (rather than webpages) on a regular basis. Some call any audio or video recording a podcast, but in the strictest technical sense, the word refers to episodic publications.

To listen to a podcast, you can either play it directly (streaming) on your computer or download the file and listen to it later (on your computer or on an MP3 player or smartphone).

Podcasts can be used for any purpose a text might serve—they can tell fictional stories, share and comment on recent events, inform listeners about a topic, and persuade listeners to take an action or adopt a stance. As a result, podcasts are valuable tools for teaching students to use spoken language to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

For more information on podcasts, see the ReadWriteThink strategy guide Teaching with Podcasts.


[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by Irish Typepad]

My Top 3 Tips for Teaching with Twitter

Blue Cartoon Bird by Lisa YarostSo you’re ready to dive in and try Twitter in the classroom. Let me share these tips that can make sure your classroom experience is a smooth and effective.

  1. Create separate logins. Audience and purpose shift from message to message. Set up different Twitter accounts to keep classroom updates separate from updates for family, friends, and others. There are tips to make managing multiple accounts easier. Encourage students to create a separate account for official class work as well. I actually post on four accounts:
  2. Use hashtags. Choose a specific and unique hashtag (# plus a keyword) to group updates from your different classes (e.g., #VTEngl10). See “How To Create Successful Chats on Twitter with Hashtags” for more suggestions. Lists can work too, but you have to set up a list. You can just search for hashtags.
  3. Use search creatively. Obviously you can search for those hashtags you’re using, but there are some more sophisticated search tools you can use to narrow down exactly what you’re looking for. Pair a search for your hashtag with filter:links to get just the Tweets that have URLS. That’s an easy way to find those links to an assignment students posted. The until: and since: operators can narrow down Tweets by date.

And one extra tip: you can always Make your own Twitter bird if you need to relieve some stress.


[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by Lisa Yarost]