Keeping Students Engaged via Backchannels!

Today’s post focuses on a website that I can’t live without. I decided to focus on websites that are perfect for back channeling.

What’s a backchannel, you ask?




Backchannel is the practice of using networked computers to maintain a real-time online conversation alongside the primary group activity or live spoken remarks. The term was coined in the field of Linguistics to describe listeners’ behaviors during verbal communication,

Think Eric Think

It’s a kind of parallel discussion, a collectively shaped comment on some ongoing conversation. An alternative channel, often with a different conversational modus.

Lee Lefever

It’s a little like passing notes in class- except via the Internet. Wireless Internet connections at conferences and lectures are allowing people to use laptops and other tools to communicate in real time during presentations. These communications occur in what is called the “backchannel”.

How can I use a backchannel, you ask?

Anytime you want to get immediate feedback from students.

  • Skype Sessions – During our Skype sessions, we use a backchannel to document what’s going on.  This allows everyone who is participating to show their perspective.
  • Book Study – While participating in the Global Read Aloud with Out of My Mind, I added polls and discussion questions to students while we were reading.
  • Greek/Latin Root Study – When students are studying new roots they share words that use that root and the definition.  We use that information to vote on our Root of the Week.
  • Checking for Understanding – While learning new content, students can post questions and/or extend the discussion without interrupting the facilitator.  I can also ask questions about the content and receive immediate feedback from EVERYONE!
  • Watching a Video – While watching a video, students type in their reactions to what they see and I’m able to answer questions that show up as they watch the video.

What backchannel should I use, you ask?

I’m going to share with you my Top 3:  Today’s Meet, Socrative, and GoSoapBox.

Today’s Meet 



  • Free
  • No account necessary


  • Little control
  • Fewer features
  • You have to send out a link – it’s too difficult  to have kids type in the entire web address
  • It’s difficult to focus the conversation.




  • Students don’t need an account, they simply enter the “Room Number” (which teachers can custom create) when the teacher has the activity open.
  • Easy to create a quiz and you can even use their excel template to create a quiz then import it into the app
  • Changing order of questions is easy
  • Can share quizzes with other teachers


  • You can’t add images to questions
  • Students have to do questions in order. They can’t skip a question and return.
  • Explanations can be given after the question (I see this as a disadvantage as I have wanted to add a hint prior to students answering a question, not after)
  • If you’re doing a quick multiple choice or true/false question, you can’t type in the question.  You either have to continue to repeat it or write/type it somewhere that the students can see.




  • Works equally well with cell phones, iPods, iPads, laptops and desk top computers
  • Allows multiple choice and short answer quizzes/tests
  • Allows polling
  • Allows discussions with and among students
  • Allows back channeling during lecture,  films, presentations, discussions
  • Can require students to sign in to use the site and have their name show up with the comments
  • Free for up to 30 users at a time.
  • More than 30 users costs $90/year.  

If you are looking for a way to engage students, this is definitely a way to go.  Try it out and let me know the results!  

Until the next time,

My Brain Is Breaking! {20 Day Blogging Challenge}


As a middle school teacher I stopped short when I saw the blog post about brain breaks/indoor recess.  I’m thinking, we only have 60 minutes….we don’t have time for brain breaks!  But I did a little research and I’ve actually seen some things that are applicable to me.  As I was looking I thought, “This is a great way to keep students motivated, so I’m linking this post with my friend Joanne over a Head Over Heels for Teaching for her “Spark Student Motivation Saturday” party!


During standardized testing, we take brain breaks about every thirty minutes….we stretch, wiggle, roll our necks, etc.

The Happy Teacher has a great blog post about it.   Students pull these ultra cute craft sticks from a mug when it’s time for a brain break.  If you’re interested, click here to read more about it. 

Courtesy of The Happy Teacher

Courtesy of The Happy Teacher

In 60 minutes we have about 3 different changes.  I’m going to implement a brain break during those transitions.  I love to dance, so I think my brain breaks will involve a couple of line dancing songs…..Cha Cha Slide, Wobble, Cupid Shuffle, etc.

 I’ll let you know how it goes…..

Until the next time,


Jefferson’s Bucks…A No Cost Money System {20 Day Blogging Challenge}


Jefferson’s Jam!

It is my belief that children desire a well structured environment.  A well managed classroom is imperative in children being successful in your classroom.  You can be a wealth of information, have creative ideas, and amazing lesson plans – but none of those things will benefit anyone if the children are running around the classroom like wild animals.  And although we all think that the rewards for learning is a smarter brain – that just doesn’t cut it for all of our students.  Enter Jefferson’s Bucks!

Check Register

With Jefferson’s Bucks my classroom runs smoothly, my children are well behaved, and they know the “cost” for being unprepared.  Students that are on task and follow instructions are awarded incentive money.   I don’t have students take out money for inappropriate behaviors, but I do charge students for needed materials.

Say a child doesn’t have a pencil or paper or forgot their homework in their locker….you know what I’m talking about, right?  Instead of going on a tirade about how this is school, their job, and they should come to their job prepared…..blah…blah…blah…. I just hand them a pencil/paper/eraser/etc. and tell them to take money out of their account.

I hear you asking, “Isn’t that costly?  Spending your money to buy materials that parents should buy?”  Nope!  Parents donate these items and their children are paid for their donation in Jefferson’s Bucks.

At the end of the quarter I host a Jefferson’s Jam – the coolest party on the planet that has food, music, and games.  Plus, students get a chance to miss a class to participate!  And that costs me nothing either!  Parents donate items for the party and their child is compensated.

It’s a Win/Win situation!  And it makes for stress free days! 🙂

Until the next time,



The Backwards Writing Design {20 Day Blogging Challenge}


I think I’m a pretty good writer.  I don’t love to write – but I can and will.  I absolutely despite teaching writing.  I think it’s unfair to expect me to teach reading AND writing in a 60 minute block.

I’ve noticed that despite the fact that I’m sure all teachers have preached “prewriting….prewriting….prewriting….” not much of that gets done.  This week as we began our persuasive writing I only had one student out of ninety-seven begin their writing with a graphic organizer…..ONE!  I knew that would happen, so this week I planned for us to use the Backwards Writing Design model to show my students the importance of prewriting.

After they’d written their rough draft, I shared with them an exemplary paper.

Facility Exemplar Writing

We then used colored pencil to highlight the key components of this paper:  Hook, thesis statement, topic sentences of body paragraphs and supporting details.  When you teach four classes, sometimes your last class gets the best of you, or they get the worst of you, if you know what I mean.  This time, my last class got the best of me.  I was able to tweak my lesson each period so that by the time 6th period ran around it was definitely a well oiled machine!

After we highlighted those key elements in each paragraph, we used my writing graphic organizer to see what this person’s pre-planning looked like.

Writing Graphic Organizer

They then had to take their writing and complete blank graphic organizer.  I heard so many “Oh man, I have a lot of work to do!” and “My graphic organizer is blank! I don’t have enough details!” and “I forgot to add my ___________ (insert word here)!”

I’m really excited with what I’m hearing. Come back tomorrow to see how what I have planned to finish it up!

Until the next time,


I’m Going to Stop Procrastinating…..Tomorrow {20 Day Blogging Challenge}

2013-12-28 12.02.05

Today’s challenge topic is to share ONE thing I wish I were better at.  That would definitely be my difficulty in staying focused on a task – or rather not even getting started on work that needs to be done until the last minute.

For example, here I am working on blog post #5 for this challenge when I have a crate full of papers that need to be graded. The upcoming week will be the last week of the second quarter and grades will be due. Ugghhh.  I just don’t want to do it!

I went out to school Thursday and Friday and I was able to clean up my classroom, get lesson plans done, and make copies for the week.  I’ve carted that crate to and from work both days without even touching it!

This picture describes me perfectly……


Courtesy of Tumblr

If I could kick this procrastination habit there’s so much I could do!  Consistently blog!  Upload numerous items to my TpT store! Kick some of this stress!

I know I can do it!  I’ll get it together…..tomorrow!

Until the next time,



Making The Pieces Fit {20 Day Blogging Challenge}



Today’s blogging challenge asked me to give a tip about assessments.  The best tip that I can give is that they be frequent and give feedback as soon as possible.  Remember, an assessment is not always a test.  We can break assessments down into three major categories:  Formative, Interim, and Summative.  Check out the image below from Scholastic.

typeof assessments

I assess my students in a variety of ways.  During direct instruction I give students information in chunks and then immediately check for feedback.  That’s why I love our Promethean devices so much.  With ActivInspire and our ActivExpression devices, students can put in answers to questions and we receive feedback as soon as the last person answers.  That way I know right away whether they’re getting it or not.  Whether we’re moving on….or I’m reteaching.


For all paper multiple choice assessments (formal or informal), I use Edmodo.  That way students know their score immediately as well as what questions the missed (there is a way to turn the immediate feedback option off).  Plus with Edmodo, I know at a glance the class percentage of each question and can immediately do a data analysis.  I make sure that the appropriate indicator is attached to each question.

Students also take a quarterly benchmark 3x’s a year and we do MAP testing 3x’s a year.  After each benchmark we look at how each class compares against the other and focus on questions that less than 60% of the students got correct.


Before we take MAP, students and I conference and look at where they were the last time and where they need to be this time.  Students fill out a MAP data sheet after they finish with their data and a reflection.

Frequent and immediate feedback.  There’s no use discussing the information if it’s been 3 months since they’ve last seen it.  And it’s not enough for us to look at and then put in a folder to never discuss again.  Although I don’t think standardized tests are the end all/be all, they’re here.  And probably never going away.  So it’s my goal to dual prepare my students.  They must be prepared for the end of the year standard that they will be judged by – but they must also be prepared for what the real world will expect of them.  Students who are readers and critical thinkers.

And believe you me, it’s a donkey of a job doing both.

Until the next time,


I <3 Google! {20 Day Blogging Challenge}


It’s unbelievable all of the resources that are available through Google!  I’ve had a Dropbox account for at least four years now and I used that primarily for online storage.  I mean, who doesn’t love the fact that you can sync across any platform you want?  I’d leave my computer at school, work on whatever I needed to at home, save it to my Dropbox, and viola!  It would be there when I got to school in the morning.  I could share files with my teammates making emailing documents a thing of the past.  What more could a girl ask for?  Well, I’ll tell you!


With a Google account, you get much more than just storage space.  There’s Gmail, Goole Calendar, Google Drive, Google+,  and YouTube!  

First of all, within your Google Drive space you can continue to share documents….and you and your team can work on them at the SAME TIME!!  No more is there a necessity to have to sit down face to face to work on everything.  Or you having to repeat yourself multiple times so that the “recorder” can get the information written correctly.  Plus you can access your files anywhere, especially now that they’ve added the Google folder for your computer. YES!

No more creating a survey through some pre-made survey program.  You can create a Google Form that has whatever YOU need.  We assign our students lunch detention for inappropriate behaviors.  In the past, each teacher would assign a child lunch detention and email it to our Data Clerk.  She would then have to print out each email, type it into an Excel document, make sure that the duplicates were moved over to another day, and then email it out to us.  About 10 minutes before lunch began, she would have to call out the names over the intercom – interrupting instruction time. And if she were absent… put us a day behind. This year, I created a Google Form to handle all of that.  The responses go into a spreadsheet that we each have access and we call out the names right after the bell rings.<3 it!

Lunch Detention


My students all have Google accounts through Google for Education and it is the best way to share information between us!  With my principal’s approval, I purchased a domain at GoDaddy for $2.00 and used it to create our accounts.  It was very simple.  Before we left for Christmas break, students created a nonfiction book report video.  Once they finished they just uploaded it to our shared Google Drive folder and I had it immediately!  I use Evernote to grade projects and once I finish, I just email them a copy of their graded rubrics.

You can even create quizzes for classes through Google Forms as well – which you can set up a formula for it to grade itself….HELLO!

No need for Skype with Google Hangouts….I mean how can you not love this…..everything you need is right at your fingertips.  

I was even able to create a YouTube channel where I upload work that student’s have done, as well as videos of them working and playing.  

Click here for more idea of how to use Google Drive.

If you’re a fan of SATC like I am you’ll understand me when I say…”And just like that Google kicked my Dropbox’s sweet little a**!”

Until the next time,





The Watsons Go To Birmingham -1963 {20 Day Blogging Challenge}

How can you ask a Reading teacher to discuss one book that they love to share or teach????  Really, just one?  Well, since I’ve had so much difficulty thinking of things to post, I can do a couple of these! 🙂

Today I’m going to share with you my favorite hurt yourself laughing (and crying) book, The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963.  Once you read the first chapter even the most reluctant reader will want to delve into the amazing book by Christopher Paul Curtis!

Watsons Pic

I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but in the first chapter the oldest son gets his lips stuck to the rearview mirror after trying to kiss his reflection.  Can you say hilarious??

I’m always amazed at how most of my children are aware of the Civil Right’s Movement, but not really, do you know what I mean?   So to introduce the book, I show them clips from the “Eyes on the Prize” series of what Birmingham was like in 1963.  They are always amazed at the violence and hatred.  So am I.

One of the 5th grade teachers at my feeder school also loves this book, and despite the fact that it’s on the 6th grade list – they “teach” it every year. 🙁  So, lately Ive been using an excerpt to teach Author’s Craft (focus on Flashback).






I searched everywhere and can’t find any pictures of the kids working….I know they’re somewhere.  But I can tell you, by the time we’ve finished that chapter, if they haven’t read it….they’re begging to!

Until the next time,