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.

Student Products

Join Me at #TCEA23 for Digital Differentiation!

My colleague, Amy Chandler, and I will be presenting for TAGT, Digital Differentiation:10 Tools That Will Help Your Gifted Learners at TCEA in San Antonio next week. You can see us on Monday, January 30th, at 1 PM in Room 225C, in the Convention Center.

Here is the summary of our session: “Learn about a myriad of digital tools, most of them free, that will allow you to create lessons in your classroom that will empower gifted learners to leverage their own interests and abilities. Work smarter, not harder, to include every student in every lesson.”

As many of you know, I like to make sure that my presentations include tons of free resources teachers can access immediately, and this one is no exception to that rule. Additionally, Amy and I will share examples of these tools being used in the classroom and offer ideas that will hopefully be new to you. In fact, we just added a couple of last-minute “surprise” tools that should be fun! Of course, I also like to keep my presentations interactive so you will have the no-pressure opportunity to offer some of your own suggestions as well.

Are any of you planning to present and/or attend TCEA? Email me ( or DM me on Twitter (@TerriEichholz) so we can try to meet up!

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

10 Ideas for Early Finishers

This is definitely not the first time that I’ve written about this topic. In 2014, I posted an article called, “It’s Not Enough,” where I admitted that I had resorted to the same plan that many teachers use for students who finish quickly — let them read a book or help other students. I understand that many teachers are in survival mode right now, so those options are even more attractive. But this does a disservice to those students who have demonstrated mastery of the material (possibly before you even taught it). Students who are careless and rush should receive guidance on how to improve their work, while students who don’t need more practice should be challenged.

Having dealt with these situations many times over my 29 years of teaching, I am the first to admit that it’s a difficult balance to keep students challenged without doing what Lisa Van Gemert calls “moreferentiation”, but if you are not in a situation where students can test out of doing grade level assignments and move to more advanced work here are some ideas I gleaned from a Twitter thread asking for advice last month.

  • Students who finish early can design a game (can be digital like Kahoot or just questions on index cards) for the class to play that reviews the concepts.
  • Twitter user Chris Clark (@clar1344) has this “Coming to a Consensus” idea:
  • Jigsaw puzzle table and/or building center (Legos, Magnatiles, Keva Planks Challenges, etc…)
  • An “I’m Done, Now What?” choice board, similar to this one from Megan Balduf (@MBalduf) I also have Choice Board collections on this page.
  • Similar to choice boards, JC4Ed (@JC4_ed) suggests, “digital enrichment folders with content/related games and virtual field trips”
  • Puzzle of the Day, such as one of these Wordle Variations or these other brainteasers and puzzles, or possibly even an interactive Sudoku Bulletin Board or station like this one from Jocelyn Lawrence (@HFFifthGrade):
  • Sonia Karmily (@KarmilySonia) has this recommendation:
  • Create with a purpose as this teacher suggests:
  • Prepare a presentation for a PowerPoint Party
  • Ask students to make suggestions. Depending on ability level, they could each have their own customized list of things to do when finished.

I’d like to thank Gretchen (@offgridteacher) for originally posing this question on Twitter. You can go here to see her question and read the thread of responses.

P.S. I do want to make a note here that I deliberately did not include Genius Hour in my suggestions. In my experience, it was difficult for students to work on Genius Hour projects when they finished early because there just wasn’t enough time for them to “get into it” before we were moving on to the next activity. Genius Hour always worked better in my classroom when it was allotted its own time. However, quite a few people did mention it in the thread, so it must work in some classrooms.


Choice Boards and Menus

One of the most popular free resources that has been used by teachers in the last year has been Flipgrid. Kathi Kersznowski (@kerszi) recently tweeted an incredible choice board she had created for ways teachers can use Flipgrid, “Flipgrid Madness.”

I like the look and interactivity of Kathi’s board, which was created with Genially. Another example of a Genially choice board, this one more directed toward students, is this interactive Tic-Tac-Toe style board for To Kill a Mockingbird. Erin Klein wrote this post on designing choice boards using Genially.

Of course, Genially is not the only digital tool you can use to make choice boards and menus. There have been plenty of articles published on using Google Slides, Docs, and MS Word. I’ve tried to collect as many how-to’s as I could find into this Wakelet on How to Design Choice Boards and Menus.

If you don’t want to start from scratch, SlidesMania has nice-looking templates here and here. I’ve also tried to collect some more subject-specific ones in a K-8 Wakelet and a Secondary Wakelet.

Choice boards and menus are a common strategy for differentiating by student interest and/or ability. The best ones are carefully planned with specific goals, but I’ve seen many that are improperly used to give students busy work. As always, clearly defined expectations, well-communicated relevancy, and regular feedback will be important if you are using this strategy.

K-12, Teaching Tools

Top EdTech Tools for Digital Differentiation

My latest post for the Neo Blog is, “Top EdTech Tools for Digital Differentiation.” You may recognize some of the tools I recommend, such as Newsela and the one I blogged about yesterday, Immersive Reader. But you might be surprised by some other gems that are less ubiquitous right now.

One of the messages I hope that gets across with my Neo post (and everything I include on my own blog) is that differentiation should be happening for all students, not just the ones who are struggling. With technology, we can help all students to learn more, and teachers can have more time to give children the personal attention they need.

My previous NEO articles have been: From Normal to Better: Using What We’ve Learned to Improve Education, Applying Universal Design for Learning in Remote Classrooms, How Distance Learning Fosters Global CollaborationHow to Use Design Thinking in the Classroom, and How to S.T.E.A.M. Up Distance Learning.

Next month’s post for Neo will be, “How to Facilitate Meaningful Discussions in the Hybrid or Virtual Classroom.” If you have any advice, I would love to hear it!

Students at Sutton Middle School use online research to answer questions during a lesson in history class. Photo by Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action