Language Arts, Teaching Tools

Using #ChatGPT for Differentiation

With all of the recent debates among educators regarding the AI tool, ChatGPT, it was no wonder that we would find sessions about it during this week’s TCEA Convention in San Antonio. I’ve been playing a lot with it since I first wrote about it in this post a few weeks ago. Because I was going to be presenting on Digital Differentiation with my colleague, Amy Chandler, I decided to test the limits of ChatGPT when it came to offering differentiation ideas — something that can really be time-consuming for teachers. I’d already seen demonstrations of it doing lesson plans and IEP’s, so coming up with Choice Boards or Learning Menus seemed like an obvious extension.

I won’t go through all of the iterations that I tried before landing on some substantial suggestions from the AI tool, but suffice it to say that if your first attempt yields gibberish, you may need to refine your wording. It did not escape me that I was trying to generate activities for the novel, The Giver, in which the fictional dystopian community places such a high value on precision of language as I kept correcting and adding details to my initial prompt. In the end, though, this is what I was able to coax out of ChatGPT:

In my estimation, this was not bad, perhaps needing a few tweaks here and there, but certainly far better than I could have come up with in an hour, much less the 5 minutes it had taken me and the tool to arrive at this point.

From there, I wanted to make the menu a bit more “palatable” for student consumption, so I turned to Canva where I found a free menu template, copied and pasted my activities from ChatGPT, replaced a couple of images to go with the theme, and was done in less than 15 minutes total from start to finish. (Want a free, editable Canva template of the menu below? Be sure you’ve subscribed to my newsletter!)

Andi McNair (follow her in Instagram @a_meaningful_mess!), one of my Genius Hour heroes, was in the audience, and decided to play around with it, too. She had the tool generate a Choice Board, which she posted on Instagram as you can see below.

Today I decided to push my boundaries a bit more, thinking it would be nice to have the choices on my Learning Menu somewhat correspond to ability levels. Here is what I got for Tuck Everlasting:

Again, not perfect, but I can definitely see differences in difficulty levels for the tasks. As Andi pointed out when we were discussing ChatGPT over lunch, it is basically gleaning information from all over the internet, so we are going to find that much of the wording is familiar to things we’ve seen in the past. ChatGPT is like a hyperfocused internet search that filters out all of the things you don’t need to give you as close to what you specify as it can find.

Now, keep in mind that this tool is not going to stay free. And, yes, there are plenty of ways it can be abused. It’s not perfect, and we still need humans, of course. But when we can get machines to do the time-consuming tasks that will then allow us to to do what we do best — guide, teach, and empower our students — why not take advantage of those tools? We can be thoughtful and critical thinkers and manage the resources available to us at the same time.

a young girl holding her toy microphone while singing
3-12, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Language Arts, Student Products

NPR Student Podcast Challenge

Way back in the early 2000’s, I convinced my then-principal to purchase a MacBook for my classroom. Another teacher (shout out to Diane Cullen at Fox Run Elementary!) and I sponsored a media club after school designed for 5th graders who were struggling in their classes. Our goal was to get them excited about school by getting them excited by creating for authentic audiences. Our little group started playing around with Garage Band, and began producing podcasts for the school. Those, along with their iMovie commercials, not only entertained and energized all of us but also helped to build school community. It was probably one of my first experiences seeing how producing something to be heard, seen, or used by others (Design Thinking) can be a powerful motivator.

I had no idea back then how popular podcasts would become. We had no resource materials when we started, fumbling along as we learned on our own. But now there are plenty available, and the tools for production have expanded way past Garage Band. I detailed many of these resources in an article for NEO almost two years ago on “Podcast Pedagogy.” I also recently blogged about “International Podcast Day“, which occurs annually on September 30th of each year. I still think that Smash, Boom, Best is one of the best gateways to podcasting for younger students.

Now I’d like to bring your attention the NPR Student Podcast Challenge. And before you dismiss it because you don’t think your students are ready to enter a contest (submissions are being accepted until April 28, 2023, possibly March 24th according to the Podcast Guide for Students?) or they are not in the age range (grades 5-12), I would still like to recommend taking advantage of the educational resources provided. You can listen to past winners and even a podcast about student podcasting. There are free downloads for teachers and for students that are useful for helping students to prepare, plan for, and produce podcasts. Don’t worry if you’ve never done this before. In fact, according to the NPR Podcast Guide for Students:

We don’t expect you to be experts. In fact, we expect that most of you are putting a podcast together for the first time.

And even though this is a contest, it’s also about learning new skills in a fun way. We want to make that learning easier — so we’ve put together a guide to help you along the way.

NPR Podcast Guide for Students

It can be daunting as a teacher if you have no experience, but it’s a good opportunity to model a growth mindset and learning along with your students. You could start by giving the option to a small group of advanced students and expand from there, or do one all together with the caveat that I always used, “I have no idea how this is going to go, but I love to learn new things even if it’s from my mistakes, don’t you?” Even if students design podcasts just for practice to begin with, there are so many useful skills students will learn such as researching, summarizing, outlining, and writing for an audience. Podcasts are just one of many great choices to give students when differentiating products so they can demonstrate learning (which my colleague, Amy Chandler, and I will be presenting at TCEA this year), so I encourage you to give it a try!

Link to Downloadable Poster Can Be Found in Teaching Podcasting: A Curriculum Guide for Educators
3-12, Creative Thinking, Language Arts

Weird Gift Reviews by Matt E.

Today I’m going to do something that I don’t usually do (except for in my Gifts for the Gifted posts), which is to recommend a resource to you that isn’t free. I’m breaking this rule because:

  • it’s the last week before break for many of you, and I completely remember the insanity of that week as well as my desperation
  • it’s funny and I could totally see middle schoolers and up enjoying this activity
  • you can sneak in some writing practice while they are enjoying this activity

“Weird Gift Reviews” is a lesson idea shared by Matt Eicheldinger recently on TikTok. (And, yes, I also noticed that our last names are somewhat similar, but alas we are not related.) Matt is the published author of Matt Sprouts and the Curse of Ten Broken Toes. He also teaches middle school, and he swears by this lesson that he uses every year around this time. In the lesson, students look up weird gifts on Amazon and write their own reviews. You can purchase Matt’s digital package for $2.00 here, but in his video he also gives you all the information you need to craft your own version quickly, even the idea to crowd-source the weird gifts by having the students submit them through a Google Form.

@matteicheldinger I wouldn’t share this with teachers unless it works 100% of the time. This is the first thing I’ve shared ever on TikTok besides humor…enjoy! #teachertip #holidayactivities #teacherlessonplans #teacherconfessions #weirdgifts #teachertips @Amazon ♬ Quirky – Oleg Kirilkov

Of course, I am the Queen of Piggybacking on Ideas, so I immediately thought it would be funny to also provide students with some unusual reviews of products and have them guess what the products are. For example,

You could have the students draw what they think the mask would have looked like, and then reveal the actual product.

I found the above quote in this CNET article, and decided (since not all of the products or quotes are appropriate for school) to make a quick Google Slides presentation to share with you for doing this version of the lesson. Either print out the slides or add each slide as a background to Google Jamboard so students can use context clues and their imaginations to draw products to match the reviews. So, look at that, a bonus freebie for you!

Click here to download the, “What Could it Be?” presentation with 5 mystery products.

I’ll be adding this post to my December Wakelet in the Creative Activities column, where you can also find my Winter S.C.A.M.P.E.R. and Snowglobe lessons.

selective focus photo of pile of assorted title books
3-12, Books, Games, Language Arts

Bring Your Own Book

A couple of months ago I bookmarked a Tweet from TCEA sharing this article from @LindsayAnnLearn. I finally got around to reading it, and I found tons of ideas for learning games to use in an ELA secondary classroom. (If you do Socratic Dialogues in your classroom, I recommend taking a look at how she uses playing cards to spice it up.) Some of the games are sold commercially, but could be adapted easily for upper elementary. One of them is, “Bring Your Own Book,” from @DoBetterGames, and the good news is that you can download your own printable cards and instructions FOR FREE if you subscribe to their newsletter. Scroll down to the part of this page until you see, “Print & Play/Mailing List.”

There are four sets of rules: Classic, Democratic, Royale and Cutthroat. For any of these version, the players sit in a circle, each with a book of his/her choice. Cards with different prompts are turned over (one for each round), and the players need to try to find a quote in the book that matches the prompt. The main difference in the versions is how it’s determined who wins each round with the “best” match, for which that player wins a card. Once a player has obtained 4 or 5 cards, depending on the number of players, they are declared the winner. Here are some examples of prompts in the printable version:

Click here and scroll down to subscribe and receive your own printable cards and instructions.

You may need to remove some of the prompts depending on the ability levels of your students. The free download also includes blank cards so you or the students can add your own. I love the idea that you could do this with self-selected books that students are independently reading or even assigned class novels.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that there are also some free add-ons in the email you will receive, like these samples from the “Christmas Revelers” page:

If you’re looking for more game ideas, definitely take a look at Lindsay’s post. Also, here is a post I published for NEO on using talk show games in the classroom, and I’ll be adding this post to my Wakelet of Fun Stuff.

Books, Critical Thinking, K-5, Language Arts

Gifts for the Gifted – Guess The Three-Letter Words

Several years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually (except for 2019) every November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, including my 2021 list, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. 

The stats from my blog show me that word games are still pretty popular as people are still regularly visiting my post on different versions of Wordle and my article about the word ladder game, Fourword. With that in mind, I thought I would test out a book called, Guess the Three-Letter Words, Logic Puzzles for Kids, for this week’s gift recommendation.

In recent years, I’ve tried to link to author sites or independent bookstores when I give book recommendations. However, this book seems to be only available on Amazon and does not appear to have an author (listed only as “Learn & Fun.”) When you click on the link for “Learn & Fun,” you’ll be directed to this page, where other puzzle books are listed. I’m guessing “Learn & Fun” books are self-published, but I suppose that doesn’t really matter if they have the content you’re looking for.

In this particular book, there are 100 puzzles, divided into “Easy” and “Hard.” Each puzzle resembles a Wordle, except that these are all 3-letter words and two out of three responses are shown. Using the information you get from those two responses, the solver should be able to figure out the final, correct answer. There is an alphabet grid next to each puzzle, so the solvers can use the process of elimination to help them out. There is also a legend, similar to the one in Wordle, to show which letters are completely wrong, which ones are in the right place, and which ones are correct but in the wrong place.

This book would be good for younger students who are beginning readers/spellers. It’s probably not very challenging for anyone over 8 or 9 years old. However, some of the puzzles do have more than one correct answer. Usually, some of those options are not traditional primary school vocabulary, so as a teacher I would definitely ask students to come up with all of the options to see if some of my high achievers can uncover the more rare possibilities. And, of course, they could then attempt to make some of their own puzzles — possibly with more letters.

This would make a nice stocking stuffer if you know a young wordsmith, or you might want to check out the other books by this company to give a child a bundle they can work on while traveling or when you want them to put away their screens.

boy in red sweater wring on notebook
K-12, Language Arts, Math, Social Studies, Student Products, Teaching Tools, Writing

10 Retrieval Activities + 1 Choice Board

You may recall my mention of retrieval practice in my post about the +1 Visible Thinking Routine. To briefly recap, scientific studies show that retrieval practice done in intervals can help learners to retain more information. These activities are like short pop-quizzes in that you are asking students to recall as much as they can without referring to notes or texts. But, while a pop quiz is used for the teacher to assess, the purpose of retrieval practice activities are to help students learn, so they should not be attached to grades. Ideally, they are woven into your teaching day and can take the form of games, classroom warmups, and even exit tickets. The +1 Visible Thinking Routine is one way to do retrieval practice, but I recently discovered some more ideas on Twitter.

It started when I noticed a Tweet from Brendan O’Sullivan (@ImtaBrendan) where he shared a choice board of “settler” activities. Now, I don’t know about you, but the word, “settler” makes me think of dying of dysentery on the Oregon Trail or getting obliterated by my family when we play Catan. Once I found out from Brendan that these are a term for activities used “to get your class settled, to give them focus and moving towards learning,” the board made a lot more sense to me. (This is the fun thing about Twitter. Brendan is from Ireland, so I appreciate him helping us non-Europeans learn a new term!) Brendan’s choice board is a nice way to have students do some retrieval practice when class is getting started.

Settler Choice Board from Brendan O’Sullivan

I then noticed a Tweet from Liesl McConchie (@LieslMcConchie) where she shared a link to her mini-book of “10 Retrieval Activities to Boost Student Learning and Retention.” Although it is math-focused, you can easily do the activities in any classroom. For example, I could see using the “Quiz, Quiz, Switch” activity in any grade level or subject (possibly using pictures for students who are pre-readers).

Retrieval Practice example from Liesl McConchie in her mini-book, “10 Retrieval Activities to Boost Student Learning and Retention

You can download more free mini-books from Liesl on her website.

By guiding students with retrieval practice activities, we will not only help them to retain more important information, but we are teaching them a valuable skill they can continue to use as lifelong learners.