Category Archives: Reading


I think that my brain naturally looks for trends.  Whether it’s on social media, in Flipboard magazine articles, or at education conferences, if I’ve heard about something more than a few times, my brain starts alerting me that I should try something new, already!

Newsela is one of those tools that kept turning up in educational discussions, and I finally decided to take the time to learn more about it.

One of the skills that needs some extra work at our school is summarizing non-fiction texts.  Finding relevant non-fiction at an appropriate reading level for students can be difficult.  This is where Newsela can be a huge help.

As a teacher, you can get a free account on Newsela, and set up an account with classes to which you can assign news articles for them to read.  If you are an elementary teacher, you can choose the option for the elementary version of Newsela which filters out articles that might contain “mature content.”

Once you have a class, you can have your students sign up for Newsela using your class code.  If your students have Google accounts, they can sign in using their Google credentials. (There is also a Chrome app for Newsela that you can add so students can access it more quickly.)

A teacher can find an article on Newsela, and then assign it to the class.  You can search for it by grade level and/or reading standard, or just type in a topic and see what you get.  Newsela also offers articles in Spanish.

After you select an article, you will see an option to assign it to a class at the top of the page.  When the students of that class sign in, they will find that article has been assigned, and be able to access it.

Newsela allows students to read the articles at comfortable lexile levels.  It also offers a writing activity for each article, as well as a quiz.

Another great feature of Newsela is its Text Sets.  These are collections of several articles that support many well-known pieces of literature.  For example, I found text sets for two books I read with my classes, Tuck Everlasting and The Giver.  You can also create your own text sets by using a button at the top of each article.

Newsela Text Sets

The free version of Newsela is limited, as you can’t track your students’ progress on the quizzes, whether they’ve viewed the articles, or annotations they’ve made.  Newsela Pro offers all of these options.  You can view the comparisons of the free and pro versions here. It does not list the price of the Pro version, as you must request a quote from them.  You can get a free trial for 30 days to try it out for yourself.

Newsela Pro


Mindset Parent/Teacher Book Study Reflection

The last couple of weeks have provided a few great opportunities for me to learn, and I would like to reflect on them in this week’s blog posts.

One of my grand ideas last year was to try a Parent/Teacher book study.  Having read Mindset, by Carol Dweck, I felt that it was the perfect book since it has advice for parents, teachers, and coaches. I applied for a grant from our PTA to purchase the books before the end of last school year with the plan to distribute them before the summer for everyone to read.  We would then meet together in person in September.

The first thing that didn’t go as I predicted was that far more teachers signed up than parents.  The teacher interest was probably due in no small part to the chance of earning professional development credit.  However, I gave the parents little incentive, and that was completely my fault.

During the summer, I sent out e-mails in an attempt to keep interest going.  These e-mails included links to SMORE flyers with book, music, and video suggestions.  There was also a link to a Padlet for feedback on the book.  Again, there was very little response.

As the meeting date closed in last week, I began to panic.  Few people had RSVP’ed and only 1/3 of them were parents.  I mentioned door prizes and childcare, which drew a couple more responses.  (However, it turned out that no one brought their child, after all.)

The meeting was from 6-7 PM. When the participants RSVP’ed, they signed up for 1 of 4 breakout sessions, and to bring snacks, napkins, or plates.  Out of the 40+ books I gave out, about 21 people came. We met in the library first, where I showed a couple of videos.  Then we pooled all of the snacks and supplies before going to breakout sessions.  Each session was in a different classroom with an iPad, and the participants shared out responses and suggestions to a Padlet for their session.  Here are some of their answers:

perseverancecommunity mindset Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 7.36.41 PM

One of my favorite quotes, from teacher Amy Huebner, was, “Prioritize your child’s learning over your time.”  She explained this to mean that we often do things for our children b/c it’s faster and easier when they could learn so much more by doing it themselves. Very true!

After coming back to the library to share the Padlets, the group played a Kahoot game on Mindset to compete for door prizes.  It was very competitive, and seemed to be a great way to end the evening! Of course, I messed up the whole experience by putting the wrong answer down for the very last question, so we had a bit of a discussion about learning from our (my) mistakes…

The next day, I sent out a form to everyone to gather feedback in case we ever try something like this again.  Only teachers responded :(  Kudos to them for taking the time b/c that was definitely not a required part of their professional development hours!

Here are some of the summaries:





I am very conscious of taking people’s time, so I was gratified to see the last responses.  It was also interesting to see in the comments that a few people thought it would be worth it to add some time to the actual meeting so we could have more breakout sessions and follow-up time.

One suggestion that also seemed like a great idea was to ask parents for a book suggestion next time.  Love that!

To sum things up:

  • I’m glad we did this.
  • I wish more people, particularly parents, would have participated. (We need to offer more incentives and ask for input before starting the next project.)
  • I think it would be a good idea to try this again, using the feedback from the first time to improve it.

If you would like more Mindset resources, take a look at this Pinterest Board for articles, video links, and much more!

Foster a Love for Reading with ConnectED Bingo

Dr. Brad Gustafson is one of the Engaging Educators that I have had the good fortune to connect with through Twitter and blogging.  This man is a social networking powerhouse who regularly dreams up unique ways to empower students and prepare them as global citizens comfortable with using 21st century tools to create and problem-solve.

image from Adjusting Course Blog by Dr. Brad Gustafson
image from Adjusting Course Blog by Dr. Brad Gustafson

His latest project was posted on his blog yesterday – just in time for February, which is “I Love to Read Month.”  Always the master networker, Brad asked a few of the members of his PLN to contribute activities to this “ConnectED Bingo” card, and the suggestions range anywhere from reaching out to authors on Twitter (suggested by @pernilleripp) to writing a poem based on the Daily Wonder at Wonderopolis (suggested by @JoEllenMcCarthy). If you look carefully, you might see a couple of other familiar names on the card;)

Head on over to Brad’s blog to download your own copy of ConnectED Bingo.  While you’re there, you might also want to check out his World Book Talk project, which ambitiously invites contributors to make 60 minute videos that Brad uploads to Aurasma so anyone can view the videos when they point the app at the book cover.


A few weeks ago, my daughter received a package in the mail.  It was a book, one that she has been really wanting to read.  What confused me was that it was from a “friend of a friend” and it wasn’t a gift for a special occasion.  No note of explanation.  Just the book.

I told her to contact the friend to find out why the friend of the friend was sending her a book and if this meant my daughter needed to send a book to someone.  We’ve participated in such book exchanges before and usually the book is accompanied by a letter explaining who should receive the next book.  My daughter was completely perplexed that I was demanding a book-giving motive.  To her, a child surrounded by books since she was born, receiving random books is not a problem that needs to be solved.

“Did you text your friend?” I asked the next day.



“I don’t need to do anything.”

“So, you’re telling me that this person just decided to send you a book for absolutely no reason?  That makes no sense!”

I made her write a thank you card.

Two weeks later she got another book – from a different friend of the same friend.  Duplicate M.O.

This.  Would. Not. Do.  People don’t just randomly send other people books, I thought.  There’s something weird going on.

And then I saw this Kid President video and felt pretty guilty. (But the “slides” made me laugh.)

So, there really are people out there who just send books with no strings attached.  And it’s a good idea!

What book has inspired you?  What book do more people need to read?  #bookitforward!

(By the way, if you like this idea of people sharing inspiring books, be sure to check out the Call Me Ishmael project!  Also, there are many more inspiring videos for students to be found on my Pinterest Board.)


Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us


Recently, one parent loaned me a book by Seth Godin.  Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us would probably not have taken me quite so long to read if I wasn’t stopping to take notes every 5 seconds! I found a lot of applications to teaching and learning that I definitely found valuable.

One of the popular conversations in education these days is the need to teach our students how to deal with failure.  I’m going to save my thoughts on that for another post.  But I found that Seth Godin had some interesting things to say about the tendency to fear failure.  According to him, “what people are afraid of isn’t failure.  It’s blame.”  He goes on to say that any thing that is really worth doing is going to generate conversation – and probably criticism.  He urges, “If the only side effect of the criticism is that you will feel bad about the criticism, then you have to compare that bad feeling with the benefits you’ll get from actually doing something worth doing.”  I think that’s a great message that we should convey to our students.

Along those same lines, Godin gives the secret of being wrong. I hope he doesn’t mind if I divulge that right now.  “The secret of being wrong isn’t to avoid being wrong!  The secret is being willing to be wrong.  The secret is realizing that wrong isn’t fatal.”

I deal with this in the classroom daily.  Students will be afraid to even attempt an answer sometimes.  I sometimes coax them into it by asking them to think of the worst thing that will happen if they are wrong.  Or I point out a recent incident (and trust me, there are many) when I was wrong and I surprisingly did not self-destruct. Invariably, I can convince the student to take a risk by using those techniques.

I have many other notes, but I will leave you with one last thought that I read near the end of the book.  As is often the case in my life, the timing could not have been more perfect.  You see, the day before I read this particular passage, I took my 5th grade class on a tour of Rackspace, a company located near us that has been named one of the top companies to work for.  In a section of Godin’s book called, “Ronald Reagan’s Secret,” Seth Godin gives the example of Graham Weston, executive chairman of Rackspace, who needed to convince his employees of the wisdom of a recent business decision. Instead of giving a speech to persuade them, however, Weston met with every single employee “who was hesitating about the move and let them air their views.  That’s what it took to lead them: he listened.”

So often, that is what our students need.  They just need someone to listen, to assure them that their voice has been heard.

Teachers like that, too – every once in awhile ;)



Last month, I saw a post about TED-Ed Clubs on Richard Byrne’s blog, Free Technology 4 Teachers.  Hoping to host such a club next year, I applied.  (According to the TED-Ed Clubs site, you may still apply.)

This post isn’t actually about TED-Ed Clubs, since Richard and the TED-Ed site have that pretty well handled.  I thought I would share with you a weekly tip that I got through their newsletter about a site called, “Diffen,” which allows you to compare and contrast two topics.  In their words, “Use Diffen to get your students talking and thinking about the overlaps and differences of various topics, and spark ideas they are passionate about!”

I decided to take a look.

The site is fairly simple.  Just type in a word into each blank, and choose “Go.”  It is certainly not perfect, but can definitely generate some interesting conversations!

My 1st grade class is doing a Mystery Twitter Chat with a class in Illinois today (thanks, Matt Gomez, for inspiring me!), so I thought I would do a comparison of Illinois to Texas.  Here is a partial screen shot of the results:



It seems fairly objective, so it could be helpful for research.  In fact, according to the site creators, “When you are faced with choices, you are looking for unbiased information. Diffen makes it a goal to clearly delineate facts and opinions. The community keeps content unbiased and fact-oriented. The ratings and comments provide outlets for opinions.”

TED-Ed suggested searching for a comparison between empathy and sympathy.


This is actually common question in my classroom, so using Diffen might be a good foundation for that conversation.  

I did some other comparisons that were not quite as fruitful – such as “truth” and “beauty” (this year’s Philosophy Slam topic).

Interestingly, just as on Wikipedia, you can add your own information to the tables. Of course, the source of the information on the site could generate some great discussions in your classroom as well – about the reliability of crowd-sourced reference sites, for example.  

So far I have not seen anything objectionable that appears on the site accidentally.  However, you should definitely check it out for yourself before sending younger students to this resource.  I would probably recommend that you use it for writing or discussion prompts, and that students know that it is essential to use several sources if they are doing research.


When Was the Last Time You Saw a Mountain Lion on YOUR Playground?

image from Alba on
image from Alba on

One of the sessions I attended at TCEA 2014 in Austin last week was called, “Global Collaboration in Elementary.”  It was presented by Matt Gomez (@mattBgomez), and largely featured Twitter interactions his kindergarten students had experienced with other classes around the world.

That’s right – Kindergarten.

I work with gifted students in K-5, and I have to say that it would not have occurred to me to try using Twitter with my Kinders.  But, then again, I didn’t see a use for Twitter for myself until about nine months ago.

Matt did an outstanding presentation on the value of social media tools like Twitter for students.  (Here is the link to his presentation handout.) By using a private account, and choosing other like-minded educators to follow and be followed on Twitter, Matt connects his students to children in very diverse regions.  Through regular Tweets, the students have learned about their differences and similarities.  For example, one thing that many schools have in common is recess.  And, sometimes children may suffer the crushing disappointment of being forced to endure indoor recess.  But indoor recess in Texas is generally not the result of a mountain lion being loose on the playground, as a class in Montana tweeted to Matt’s students.  Surprising tweets like these have generated interesting conversations.  The experience has promoted tolerance, geographic awareness, and research skills.

Another unexpected side-effect of the Twitter project, as Matt explained, was the development of empathy in the students.  They care about their “Twitter friends”, and are more aware of global events and their effects.  Matt’s school is in Dallas, and they received Tweets from their partners inquiring about their safety, recently, when Dallas was reported to have several tornadoes.

Matt’s class has also connected with experts through Twitter, such as astronaut Chris Hadfield and local weather reporters.  These experiences have also given the students some inside knowledge about careers that they probably would not find in library books.

The nice thing about Twitter is being able to view a stream of responses, as opposed to using e-mail or other written communication.  Also, it does not have to be “real-time”, as Skype or other types of video chats need to be.  You can set aside a time each day to check out the stream as a class and discuss the comments and questions the students may have.  It’s also a good way to summarize your day before the school day ends.

As a result of Matt’s session, I’ve decided that I definitely would like to try this with my first grade class.  In this class, my students are researching different countries, and I would love to have them connect with classes around the world.  If you are a classroom teacher reading this, are interested in joining our classes on Twitter, and live outside of the USA, please contact me at or @terrieichholz on Twitter to see if we can connect!

UPDATE:  Here is a link from Drew Frank (@ugafrank) with over 270 classes who are active on Twitter and interested in connecting.  You can also fill out the form on this page to add your class to the list!

UPDATE 2:  Here is another link from Kathy Cassidy (via @MattBGomez) of Primary classes that tweet.  For more Twitter resources, check out her page here.