Category Archives: Teaching Tips

Thursday’s Tip: Engage Students with Animated Avatars – Voki

Voki is an online tool that lets users create personalized, talking avatars for free. The site provides an easy to navigate, step-by-step process to help you to create your own avatar in minutes. You can easily embed the personalized, animated avatar in your website, blog, email, or use them in your profile on many sites. See the Voki blog greeting I created here under the “Helpful Hints Blog” title.

Voki has been around for some time now but has just become a bit more classroom friendly and advertising free with the addition of Voki for Education. Accounts are created using an email address and the tool is very student friendly. The site now offers a Teacher‘s Corner (discussion board) and Lesson Plan database section to help you to start using Voki with students. They do suggest using Voki with kids 13 and over but teachers can use Voki to engage and excite students of all ages.

Some suggestions for using Voki in the classroom include create a class mascot that talks to visitors to the class, using a Voki to make announcements, weather, reports, tell stories, and so much more. Please share your ideas for using Voki by leaving a comment.

Brooke Higgins is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center. You can read more of her blog posts at Higgin’s Helpful Hints Blog.

Tuesday’s Tools: eBooks in the eMINTS Classroom

A goal in all eMINTS classrooms is to make lessons relevant to students by having them create products and solve problems that are based on real life issues. One profession that lends itself to standards that many teachers teach is the job of an Author. Oftentimes teachers include writing a book as an end product in the Elaborate portion of the Constructivist lesson plan form. Having students write and publish original works requires students to think at higher levels including synthesizing information to create real world, authentic products.

There are tons of websites that allow people to create printed books for a cost, but what many don’t know is that some allow users to produce them electronically as well. Electronic books (or e-books as they are known) allow authors to embed code or link directly to the online story, thus eliminating the need to pay for a printed copy.  Here is a short list of some of these sites including the designer’s descriptions:

  • Snapfish Create books from templates using your photos.
  • Shutterfly Create books from templates using your photos.
  • My eBook Create and share dynamic books. Site needs to be previewed by teacher and possibly start projects to avoid interaction with some content. Shared in previous post
  • UDL Book Builder Use this site to create, share, publish, and read digital books that engage and support diverse learners according to their individual needs, interests, and skills.
  • Mix Book Photo books that are free and easy to create and share.
  • Story Bird Short, art-inspired stories you make to share, read, and print.
  • Story Something Allows users to add kids names into books, save to their computer and share with kids – good Early Childhood resource.
  • Story Jumper A place to create and discover stories for kids. Free to create/publish but cost for printing hardback book.
  • Big Universe Get a free 14 day trial – see what other kids are writing and create project to see how you like it.

Whether you look at “new Bloom’s” revised by Lorin Anderson or the works of Benjamin Bloom, writing original works would be considered CREATING which on both hierarchies is a higher level intellectual behavior important for learning.

Written by: Brooke Higgins & Julie Szaj, eMINTS Instructional Specialists
Image by: alless&ro

Thursday’s Tip: Preflection

One of the great things about working for eMINTS is that you are constantly exposed to some great teaching and facilitation ideas. Today’s tip comes from PD4ETS participant Delyn Bogle of Cameron, MO. Delyn calls his idea “preflection.”

A “preflection” is a reflection one writes for one’s future self. Delyn suggested that after a year of professional development training, it would be interesting to have teachers reflect on all their accomplishments over the year. He suggested using an online tool such as Google Calendar or to send a message containing one’s preflection. The preflection is a sneaky way of getting teachers to set goals for the coming year. The online tools insure that the teachers are able to revisit these goals in a year.

The same can be done for students at any point in a school year. Google Calendar could work, but FutureMe sometimes contains some adult content. So, be aware. You can always have your students write their preflections the old-fashioned way as a letter on paper and put them away to be opened at a later date.

What other possibilities do you see for preflections? Are there other online tools that could help in sending preflections?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.

Thursday’s Tip: Cabinet Making is Not Just for Carpenters

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Do your students ever ask about how the U.S. President keeps track of all of the information simultaneously occurring in the United States and around the world? He assembles a Cabinet of highly experienced leaders in each of the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury and Veterans Affairs. As Presidents’ Day approaches, let’s help students take a deeper look inside the decision-making process of the presidency. Here are a few resources to help you get started:

Students’ understanding of the decision-making process in Washington D.C. typically centers on elected officials and their roles in the three branches of government. They often fall short of understanding that there are many un-elected officials who greatly influence the decisions made in Washington. Taking a deeper look into the members of a President’s Cabinet can reveal a lot about why the President makes certain decisions. Students can gain a deeper understanding of our democracy, the process of decision-making, the impact of decisions, leadership qualities, and the interdependence of each department. Students can also gain a deeper understanding of the impact Cabinet Members have had throughout history. For example, they might investigate and debate the strong criticism the Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff, received during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. There are numerous interdisciplinary units that can be developed around this topic. This might even lead to students reflecting on their own process for decision-making and who they should select to be a part of their Cabinets.

Cara Wylie is an area instructional specialist for the eMINTS National Center.

Thursday’s Tip: Top-10 Ways to Use Social Media in the Classroom

Created at Wordle.

For this week’s tip, we’re bringing you a list of top-10 ways you can use social media in your classroom.

10. Social bookmarks like Delicious (still around), EverNote, and Diigo are great ways for groups of students researching a topic to gather and organize their resources. You can set up an account for an entire class, a small group, or one for individuals who share and follow their peers’ research.

9. As mentioned earlier this week, there are many new uses for YouTube (and other social video sharing sites like Vimeo). Channels can be created. Response videos and creative annotation and tagging can add another interactive level to the video sharing process.

8. Google Reader (H/T Brooke Higgins) can be a great way for teachers and students to follow particular resources as well as share in a community. A teacher can create a bundle of important resources to which he wants his students to subscribe. There is also the share feature where students and teachers could share interesting articles or blog posts they find in their own readings. The comment and search functions can also come in handy with Google Reader.

7. The new Groups on Facebook make it even easier to communicate with students and parents without having to give up privacy via friending. There are many more privacy safeguards for the new Groups, but there are also several new features that make Groups more community-friendly. Now, when comments are made on the new Groups’ walls, that same content shows up on every member’s feed and sends a notification. This insures that every member sees all the wall posts. Also, there is a group chat that allows more than one participant at a time, great for online class discussion. Documents, pictures, videos, links, and events can all be managed in one place.

6. Teachers and schools often complain about the cost of out-dated textbooks that don’t match student needs as closely as they should or are limiting in their scope. A great way to combat this is to write our own textbooks using wikis. Not only could a wiki be used to display a teacher’s notes, but there are multimedia capabilities as well as commenting options. Even better, students can be involved in writing their own textbooks. A wiki-created text could be revised and edited from year to year without the cost of a new textbook series eating up valuable space in a school’s budget since wikis are often free or very cheap for premium, ad-free packages. Oh, and there’s a wiki out there with directions for writing a textbook.

3.-5. Google Docs provide several great options for collaborative classroom work. Here are three:

  • Google Docs has its own presentation feature, much like PowerPoint. In fact PPT files can be uploaded to Google Docs and converted to an online presentation. Students working from different computers or locations can easily contribute to the same presentation. When presented to the class, students can chat during the presentation and the discussion shows up on a side panel.
  • Collaborative writing has never been easier than with Google Docs. Using the word processing feature, students can contribute to the same document, insert comments, chat about the direction of the document, and access older drafts. Plus, the document can easily be converted to a PDF or website.
  • Data collection and online tests quizzes are easier now with the addition of Google Forms to the Docs suite. A form can be set up to gather any data (surveys, quizzes, blog submissions 😉 ) and it’s all gathered in a tidy spreadsheet that can be easily converted to charts and graphs. Plus, multiple users can gain access to the results, as with any Google Doc.

2. Photo sharing sites such as Picasa and Flickr offer great opportunities not only for sharing and commenting on one another’s images, but also several other useful features. Tagging and/or annotation images is a great way to demonstrate understanding and to encourage contributions. Both offer some editing features and allow video uploads.

1. Blogs. Well, what else would you expect from a blog? Blogs are a tremendously underused social media tool. Collaborative writing, online publishing, interactivity between readers and writers, easy to manipulate HTML code with multiple options for embedding media… The possibilities for blogs is endless. Plus, blogs can be used alongside many of the tools already mentioned above.

How do you use social media in your classroom? Feel free to comment below or link back to this post.

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.

Thursday's Tip: Teach Black History Year-Round

Image part of public domain. Source: Wiki Commons

Black History Month celebrates the accomplishments and contributions of African Americans. That history is part of the greater American history and a month is just not enough time to give this part of our history its due attention. There are some things one can do to insure that Black History is more than one month and a part of your regular history curriculum.

A great way to make history come alive for your students in general is to highlight a historical event for each day. provides a searchable calendar of African American history. One can search by date or keyword. Within this calendar you will find important achievements, difficult struggles overcome, and great leaders in Black history. By default, the site displays an interesting fact for the current day, but one can scroll down and search the entire calendar.

One struggle teachers have is staying true to history and not allowing our own casino online biases or lack of knowledge to interfere with the information we provide our students. A great way to combat this is to use primary sources. Loads of primary resources can be found at the Library of Congress website. Many of the featured sections include links to resources that specifically address Black history.

A major theme of Black History Month is the fight for change and justice in the face of institutional racism. Social justice is a theme that can run throughout the year and doesn”t have to be limited to just 28 days (or 29, depending on the year).  Great professional resources are available for educators to help make social justice a part of any curriculum. Rethinking Schools Online is the website for the highly influential educational journal by the same name that focuses on social issues in education. Teaching Tolerance is another journal with a similar focus. Teaching for Change is an organization that provides publications and professional development for educators looking to make social justice a part of their curriculum year-round.

What do you do in your classroom to insure that Black history is a part of the entire year and not just one month?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist for the eMINTS National Center.

Thursday’s Tip: The Classroom Blog – An Instructional Tool

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I have heard a lot of teachers ask “Why should I blog?” and “Why should my kids blog?” In response I often say “So you want to know why you should write?” …..that is really what blogging is all about. A blog has simply taken the old journal or “Author’s Chair” to a new level….a global level. No longer are students and teachers thoughts and ideas meant for only them to hear, think about, and learn from. Now the world can read them and respond to them and everyone can learn. So when it’s time for writing in your classroom, don’t say….”let’s blog” say “let’s write”!

Edublogs has put together a Teacher Challenge for blogging, a 30 day free professional development challenge to help teachers increase their blogging skills while collaborating with a global teacher community. For more information check out the Teacher Blogging Challenge.

Other sites that may help you improve your class or teacher blog include:
Do you have a class or school blog?
Blog Ideas

So good luck and start writing!

Thursday’s Tip: What’s Your Style?

I look at the faces within my classroom. Each face is different, filled with individuals. Then, as an educator, I need to remind myself that each individual student has a strength and weakness in how they learn. Understanding how a student learns and applying a variety of learning opportunities in the classroom opens the door for all students to achieve success.

Digging for ways to apply the theory of multiple intelligences and learning styles within classroom lessons can take time and effort for the teacher. Time is something we cherish and are not always willing to give up. So, how can I use my time effectively and still open the door to helping students achieve through their strengths?

It would be good to refresh my understanding of multiple intelligences (body, linguistic, spacial, intrapersonal, interpersonal, musical, naturalist, and logic) and learning styles (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic & tactile). What does each mean? How does each type of learning transfer into a classroom situation?

To help save time throughout the year, I created a list of possible products. Each product is generic enough that it could be used within any area of study. This list will change into a checklist as I decide which multiple intelligences and learning styles are evident within the product. Writing a short note to each intelligence or style, explaining why each connects to the product, will help as the product is more refined later to a particular lesson and subject.

A student working within a cooperative group can create a skit. This project could include the learning styles of: interpersonal, body, and kinesthetic & tactile. Logic could be added if the student needed to organize information gathered.

As a teacher, it is so important to consider each of my students. I need to take into account the different ways each student learns and then apply that in formation within my lessons. It is important that each student has the opportunity to achieve success.

Using All Your Smarts
How to address multiple intelligences in the classroom

Michele Smith is an instructional specialist for the eMINTS National Center.

Thursday’s Tip: Graphic Organizers

All of us use graphic organizers with our students to organize and compartmentalize their thinking. The trouble is that we typically get stuck in using the same old graphic aids and for the same old purposes. Below are some tips for mixing up the kinds and purposes for using graphic organizers in your classroom:

  • Consider using graphic aids as assessment. A summative assessment might demonstrate all the content a student has gathered over a unit of study, but relationships between concepts can take that learning deeper. Formative assessment can also be aided throughout a unit as a way to check in with students’ understandings.
  • Here is a great rubric for graphic organizers. Graphic organizers like most any product students create in class can have specific guidelines to follow while still maintaining an open-ended possibilities.
  • Sometimes it’s great to have a large collection of graphic organizers to print out an allow students to freely use in order to organize their thinking. Teacher Vision provides a rather comprehensive collection of graphic aids you can print out and have at your disposal. (Also, see Holt.) If you want to personalize your graphic aid print-outs, try Teachnology’s collection of generators.
  • Would you rather save paper? There’s always software such as Inspiration or SMART Ideas, but there are also some online options. There’s Webspiration,, Cacoo, Gliffy, or Grapholite. If you like free like the previously mentioned web apps but would prefer a download, try Cmap. These tools and many others can be found at Lee’s Summit (MO) IT page for graphic organizers.
  • A great way to use graphic organizers in an inquiry-based classroom is to create the graphic without labels. The students can use some deductive reasoning in order to define the parameters of the graphic aid. For example: Place a list of spelling words with similar patterns in two different circles. Have the students figure out what the rule is for each group and why the words are separated.
  • Provide students with multiple graphic organizers from which to choose. Then, have them justify their choices as part of the learning process.
  • It is important to remember that graphic organizers can be useful to all types of learners. Higher order thinking can be involved as students purposefully consider the relationships between concepts. Graphic organizers can also be a way to make more complex ideas clearer for struggling learners. Plus, graphic aids can be a pleasant alternative for those students who are more visually-inclined.
  • Check out eThemes for more resources on graphic organizers!

Remember that graphic organizers can be used in a multitude of ways for all grade levels and subject areas. How do you use graphic organizers in your classroom?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.

Friday 4ALL: The New Year Resolution with Fly Lady

New Year’s Resolutions!  You hear it on TV and on the radio.  What is yours?  Is it to lose weight? Read more? Eat healthier? Exercise regularly?

Well mine is to keep my office organized.  It is so easy to come home from a meeting and drop everything on my desk or in a pile and leave it.

For my personal decluttering I have been using a website.  It is known as the Fly Lady. She sends out an email everyday with tips for you to keep your house decluttered.  Her motto is that you can do anything for 15 minutes.  Yes!  I can do anything for 15 minutes!
Fly Lady sets up zones in the house.  For example the zone for this week is the entry, and dining room.  I have decided to zone my office and work space.  It is the same idea only I tweaked it to fit my red zone.  Zone 1 is the desk top!  If I can keep it organized and decluttered, then I can work more efficiently and I will be more productive. Zone 2 is a side table that I seem to use to dump all of my materials when I return from a meeting or training. Zone 3 is the book shelves where I keep books and files.  And Zone 4 is now the rest of the room that seems to accumulate things that go in other parts of the house.  Last but not least is my computer desktop, it will be Zone 5.  So now Monday through Friday has a zone.
Hmmm….   “I can do anything for 15 minutes!”  Here it goes…

I set the timer for 15 minutes and I am off to work on Zone 1. (This technique could be easily tweaked for use in a classroom.)

Stephanie Bengtson is an area specialist for the eMINTS National Center.