Category Archives: Language Arts

3D Stanley

The long-suffering Flat Stanley no longer has to endure the indignation of postal journeys.  Karen Bosch and her students have developed a 21st century solution to Stanley’s travel woes.  They created 3D Stanley’s!  Download one of the .stl files from their site, and print the “Stanley” of your choice with your school’s 3d printer. Then take a picture of your visitor in its new environment and share the picture in a Tweet or through e-mail (@karlyb or via email to

This is a great twist on a popular school tradition, and I love that Bosch’s students even gave their characters short bios to make them unique!

Since I recently did a presentation on global collaboration, this gives me all sorts of ideas.  How about doing some sort of mystery print, where the students download separate pieces, print them, and then have to figure out to assemble them to make something?  Or tweeting pics of 3D Stanley’s in front of moderately famous landmarks and having classes guess their locations?

I hope that you can support Bosch and her students with their project.  Let me know in the comments if you have any other ideas!

For more information on 3d printing, including what you should consider before purchasing one, you may want to check out some of my other posts.

Add a New Dimension to Flat Stanley!
Add a New Dimension to Flat Stanley! Image courtesy of Jimmie on Flickr

Hexagonal Learning with Tuck Everlasting

When you can give students time to deeply discuss a text, you may be surprised by the connections and conclusions they make on their own.  This is the purpose of “Hexagonal Learning.”  You can read more about the origins and many uses of Hexagonal Learning in a blog post I wrote 4 years ago on the topic. (I can’t believe it has been that long!!)

When my gifted fourth graders completed Tuck Everlasting, I wanted to facilitate a rich and meaningful discussion about the novel.  Ahead of time, I visited Pam Hook’s SOLO Hexagon Generator and created 3 pages of terms from Tuck.  One sheet included a character’s name in each hexagon.  The 2nd sheet, printed on a different color, had one of the book’s themes in each hexagon, and the 3rd sheet, also printed on a different color, had symbols from the book.  I also printed a 4th sheet as a blank, so students could add more words to hexagons.

The task for the students was to connect the hexagons in as many ways as they could.  Having learned about tessellations, they already knew how easily several could connect together.  I explained that I was looking for “deep” connections, not something like putting two characters together because they were both boys.  Then, I split the students into small groups, and gave each group a set of the hexagons and a long piece of paper to slide them around on.  Then I “hovered” so I could listen to their conversations.

The first thing I noticed was that they stayed completely on task, and took the discussion very seriously.  They got very excited when they were able to put several hexagons around one central word.  When I worried that there wasn’t really a meaningful connection, they were quick to explain to me what I had been missing.  The groups had completely different conversations, and their final “hives” took on dissimilar shapes.

At the end, the students looked at each other’s collections, and asked questions to clarify.  Their faces would change from perplexed or slightly critical to understanding and, sometimes, even admiration for the unique connections.

I feel like this was definitely a better way for the students to make sense of the book we read than if I had lectured them about it.  In fact, I may have learned a few things about Tuck Everlasting from listening to them that I’d never considered before! (Click on images to enlarge.)

Word Sift

Larry Ferlazzo recently published a post on his blog about a site called Word Sift.  I decided to try it out with a text that I am reading to my 5th grade students, hoping to give it more meaning.

We just finished reading The Giver together, and Lois Lowry’s Newbery Acceptance speech for the honor received by this book is included in my edition only.  It is an amazing speech, and the students always become excited as the revelations are made that connect all of the pieces in the book to Lowry’s life.  However, I am regularly seeking ways to add some more interactivity to this oral reading and discussion.  This year, the students created mind maps with the book’s recurring themes (which we analyzed using LitCharts) as different nodes.  They are adding the relevant examples from Lowry’s speech to the nodes as I read. Word Sift might add another layer to this analysis with its visual representations.

I copied and pasted the text of Lowry’s speech into Word Sift to see the results.  Word Sift will not only give you word clouds, which can be modified in several ways, but you can also select words from the cloud to see them in context and images from the web that represent them.  There is also a connection to a visual thesaurus.

With the word cloud, you can highlight certain vocabulary, such as Marzano & Pickering words from the 4 core subjects.  You can also sort the words alphabetically or by how rare each word is in our language.

This tool would certainly be an asset for ELL’s, but it is a great resource for anyone who would like to examine a text more deeply, and to learn more about the words used to compose it.

Word Swift example using the text from Lois Lowry's Newbery acceptance speech for The Giver
Word Swift example using the text from Lois Lowry’s Newbery acceptance speech for The Giver



If you teach middle or high school literature classes, you really need to check out LitCharts.  This tool can really help your students analyze a text with a multitude of interactive infographics that can enrich their understanding of a novel in a unique way.

I came across LitCharts while I was looking for different way for my students to discuss the themes in The Giver.  My students are 5th grade gifted students, and the resources are a little advanced for them.  However, there were definitely some pieces I could use with my class.

One of my favorite tools is the “Theme Tracker.”  This page describes the major themes in the novel.  What is unique is that it not only describes the theme and its usage by the author, but it offers an interactive chart for each theme.  The chart allows the user to see immediately which chapters relate to the theme more than others. If you don’t remember the chapter very well, you can click on it to go the chapter page, which gives text evidence supporting the themes.  All of the themes are color coded, so you can see how certain passages support more than one theme.

LitCharts also gives breakdowns regarding symbols, characters, and quotes.  While you are browsing the site, be sure to look at the “Chart Board” for your favorite book, one of the most powerful infographics I’ve ever seen.

Because some of the books included happen to cover somewhat adult topics, be sure to thoroughly check out the LitChart coverage of the book before assigning it to your students.

I suppose some teachers might view this as a high tech cheat sheet, but savvy teachers will find many ways to use this to enrich the learning of their students.

example of a LitChart entry for one of the themes in The Giver - on the actual page, you can click on any chapter number to find out more
example of a LitChart entry for one of the themes in The Giver – on the actual page, you can click on any chapter number to find out more


SXSWedu – Deeper Game-Based Learning

To see my other posts on SXSWedu 2016, please click on:

Game-based learning is something that is mentioned quite frequently in educational discussions and articles.  It is, understandably, a controversial topic – particularly when the games being used were not specifically designed for education (World of Warcraft and Minecraft, for example).

The panel at SXSWedu on Deeper Game-Based Learning consisted of two teachers, the director of the Educational Gaming Environments Group, and the author of The Game Believes in You.

Paul Darvasi, a teacher at a private school, uses a game called, “Gone Home” with his high school English class.  Darvasi is a huge proponent of game-based learning, but he does caution, “Be judicious.  Think carefully about how you integrate games into your curriculum.”  The teachers who bring games into the classroom with the intent of enriching the curriculum content and engaging students will be much more successful than those who introduce games solely for the source of entertainment.

Peggy Sheehy, who uses World of Warcraft to teach about the hero’s journey in The Hobbit,  told us that it is essential to be transparent to gain parental support.  Once parents are invited to the classroom to participate in the lesson, they recognize the value and become her biggest champions.

Both teachers believe that game-based learning has transformed their classrooms into places where students have lost their apathy and are truly participatory in their own learning.  They also agree that it allows students to receive regular feedback, and to constantly improve their learning based on that feedback.  As Sheehy explained about traditional classrooms, “When you get a 60% it means you failed, but it should mean, ‘Wow!  I mastered 60%; now let’s see how I can achieve the other 40!'”

If you want to incorporate game-based learning in your classroom, take baby-steps, according to these two teachers.  And, make sure you elicit parental support early.  Sheehy says, “Teachers are saying, ‘How do we begin?’ not ‘I don’t want to do it!'”  To which Darvasi replied that we shouldn’t “fear something we don’t do well.  We need to change the mindset.”

To see more of Sheehy’s work, you can go here.  You can also download her curriculum for free here.

If you are an elementary/middle school educator, you may want to take a good look at Zoombinis, which was developed for tablets by EDGE at TERC. TERC is a non-profit organization that includes game designers, educators, and researchers.  They are very interested in hearing from educators and developing meaningful curriculum for using games in the classroom.  I’ve had a great experience so far with using Zoombinis in the classroom, and hope to share more about specific ways to tie it in to your math curriculum in the next few months!

You may also be interested be interested in using Minecraft in an educational setting.  I recently published a post on this from a session I attended at TCEA that may have some helpful resources.

To re-iterate Darvasi’s advice, while game-based learning should be done with deliberate planning in your classroom, do not feel like you need to know everything about it before you use it.  As with many thing in education today, sometimes we are better teachers when we aren’t the experts😉

The Game Believes in You by Greg Toppo
The Game Believes in You by Greg Toppo

Leprechaun Traps and Other Shenanigans (Reblog)

This is my St. Patrick’s Day post from last year.  I’m trying to post it in plenty of time so you can use it for the holiday if you like.

A couple of years ago I posted about the cute idea that I’d found on several websites of having students build leprechaun traps.   Since my Kinders were learning about Inventor Thinking around that time, we tried it out.  They were very earnest about creating efficient traps, and I’m pretty sure at least one of the students was disappointed that he didn’t catch his prey.  You can see our class blog posts from that year here and here.

Here is an updated list of St. Patrick’s Day links in case you want to try to capture your own leprechaun this year – or, better yet, his pot of gold:

Not enough?  Technology Rocks. Seriously has way more St. Patrick’s Day links.

If you’re looking for additional resources, I also have a St. Patrick’s Day Sudoku Packet ($1) and a S.C.A.M.P.E.R. Packet ($2) available for download on Teachers Pay Teachers.

image from: Sunflower Lily on Flickr
Leprechaun Trap image from: Sunflower Lily on Flickr

Novel Engineering

As many schools begin to realize the need to integrate more STEM/STEAM into the curriculum, those of us in elementary education who may feel a bit inadequate when it comes to lofty fields like engineering sometimes have a hard time incorporating it into our lessons.  Novel Engineering is a project that aims to show how engineering and language arts don’t have to be in separate time slots on your daily schedule.

From what I can tell the Novel Engineering project is open only to a few schools at the moment.  However, you can see what it’s all about in the video synapsis on the home page.  Basically, certain books seem to pose engineering challenges which are just waiting for a skilled design thinker to solve.  You can see several examples of novels that could be used here.  For example, Tuck Everlasting offers two potential engineering problems – how to hide the water that gives eternal life, and how to help Mae Tuck escape jail before the town discovers that she is immortal.

Even though it would be nice to have access to additional program materials and examples, I think that teachers can certainly get many ideas from the novels and their corresponding engineering challenges that are shared on the site.

image from armymaterielcommand on
image from armymaterielcommand on