Posted in common core, informational text, social studies, uncategorized, writing

Using Thinglink to Engage Students in the Inquiry Process

In grades K through fifth, social studies is incorporated into the reading standards. The standards require students to read informational text in social studies and engage in the inquiry process. Community, state, national, and global studies help students to understand current and past events. The standards also require students to use maps as well. This project explores some ways elementary students can use technology to learn more about social studies content and write to learn from informational texts.

I created an interactive map of the country of Norway using Thinglink *. The map can be used as a model for students doing a study of particular countries or other types of regions. Before I explain its application in the classroom, I will describe my writing process with this project.

*Thinglink has greater capability on the iPad or iPhone.

The process

At first, I did not do any prewriting for this activity. Though prewriting is a part of my ‘normal’ writing process, the exercise is especially helpful when using Thinglink because it crashed a few times. When I started to redo the project, I revised details or added new tags. This, I think, is one example of how the writing process and its instruction is recursive. I show my students my own writing process so they can see the recursive nature of writing and the strategies that writers have in their toolbox.

Note about Thinglink: each time you add something to an image, you create a “tag.” The tags look different depending on what information you include on the map.



The result (click on the map to see the tags)

Note: you must be on the blog page to access the icons.



 This project model is most applicable to sixth grade standards. To see what else can be done with Thinglink, refer to their website or search Google for more examples.

In creating this project, I used information from the CIA World Factbook, Random Facts, YouTube, OpenClipart, and Pixabay.


Classroom application

Common Core State Standards: Social Studies in Grades 1-6

Grade Content
K Community
1 Community
2 Local to international
3 Town of Connecticut
4 United States Geography
5 United States History
6 World Geography


Students can create an interactive map of the United States, an individual state, an individual country, and even their town or classroom. Students might do the fact-collecting in groups to make the project more manageable. Having the students read a portion of a text aloud and record a video is one way to make the project more manageable for younger students. Of course, this will need modeling so students know how to select their favorite facts to share.


The inquiry process

Students need to see the process of making the project, but it is also helpful and inspiring to see what can be created with this technology. Here are some suggestions for implementing this project in the classroom based on experience:

  • Show students your inquiry process as you Think-aloud and ask questions about your region of study. Later, have students try out a quick version of the project and have students ask and answer their own inquiry questions. For some learners, it may be helpful to use a KWL chart as an instructional strategy and whole-class activity. What students already know about a particular place can be a part their interactive map. What students want to know can help with the inquiry process.
  • Show students your pre-writing process as you think aloud, plotting the key points on a blank map.
  • Show students your construction process as you rework your prewriting guide and transfer the information to the technology.
  • Think-aloud helpful reminders such as, “Don’t forget to save!” Show students that you are excited about using this technology. It may not be easy for all students, but modeling self-regulation strategies may help students to see “failure-as-enhancing.”


Just a few ideas for the inquiry process:

  • What is the topography in this region like?
  • What are the major imports and exports?
  • What sports are valued the most in the region?
  • Who are the leaders of the region?
  • What type of government is in place?
  • What major events do the people of this region look forward to?
  • What unique plants and animals thrive in this region?
  • What inventions came about in this region?
  • Who are some famous people from this region?
  • What scientific discoveries where made by people of this region?
  • What do scientist like to study in this region?


Technology tips:

  • Have students create a back-up document with all the links and images that they will be using for their map. An electronic copy can make it easy to copy and paste links when adding tags to the map.
  • Save, save, save! The app may crash a few times, but it keeps everything you save. From my experience using the technology, it has never crashed while I am adding a tag.
  • Prior to the lessons, compile a list of resources for your students to use for their internet search. Consider whether your students need guidance or information for finding credible sources.




  • Here are some suggested guidelines students can follow:
    • Specify the number of tags required.
    • Label the major cities or sites.
    • Include 1-3 videos no longer than 6 minutes length (Four minutes or less is ideal).
    • Present your Thinglink to a classmate or the whole class. Share your project with a sibling and guardian or ask an expert on the region for advice.



I hope to have the opportunity to use Thinglink with my students. I enjoyed creating the map and I think students would also like the activity. has some more ideas for using the application. Additionally, Teachers can use Thinglink to present information to students in an interactive way. Younger students might enjoy creating a Thinglink as a whole-class activity.




Posted in education

Stories of Learning on the Web

Social-Media-2After reading the post and  watching interviews on Guiding Students as they Explore, Build & Connect Online, I feel compelled to share some of their ideas. W. Ian O’Byrne shares the voices of those who seek to “not simply understand the web but to empower adolescents to build a better open web.”


Garth, a high school student who creates and edits videos for gamers, shares his expertise with others online. He encourages educators to use students as a resource for implementing technology in the classroom. He notes that many students do not like school. Teachers can help students to “make something out of what they learn.” In doing so, Greg McVerry suggests that we can teach students to “remix” and add to what others have to say online. Thus, our students become not just consumers, but also producers online. He states that we cannot expect that everyone will have the same passion for technology, but we can “allow kids’ passions to drive how deep they get into web literacy.”


Laura Hilliger also shares her thoughts on education. She describes the Open Web in a way that makes sense to me, even if I consider myself new to the concept. Open culture, open web, open mind. For her, “education is about preparing people to be able to participate in the world in their own way as their own selves and have compassion and empathy for the world around them.” You can view this part of the interview here.


I also think her discussion of fear is interesting. As educators, when do we hide knowledge from our students? Knowledge is power. It makes sense when we are figuring out their background knowledge, but there are definitely times when hiding knowledge seems to be withholding power. We need to empower our students. As teachers, we are students as well. We seek information from others, but we must also teach students to do the same. We build off other’s ideas, so students must learn to do that as well.


The interviews described above told stories of learning. This conversation resonated with me and brought me back to some writing I did as an undergraduate. In reading the Harry Potter series, Great Expectations, and Mister Pip, I found myself believing even more in the power of stories. For the characters in the novels I read, stories reveal that the knowledge acquired through stories is powerful, essential for  personal growth, an escape to another world, and not just necessary for survival. The teachers in the novels are facilitators of knowledge and the characters tell their own stories of learning. They build off other’s stories of learning. In Mister Pip, Matilda learns about Pips  and his story from reading Great Expectations. His story helps her find her way when she leaves her own home in a war-torn country: “Pip is my story, and in the next day I would try where Pip had failed. I would try to return home” (Jones 256).


Jones, Lloyd. Mister Pip. New York, New York: Dial Press Trade Paperback, 2006. 1-256. Print.



Ian O’Byrne’s blog post on Three Steps to Becoming a Digitally Agile Educator

For Digital Storytelling



Posted in comprehension, informational text, vocabulary

Background Knowledge and Comprehension Instruction



Students begin reading informational text as early as the first grade, although group reading of these texts starts in Kindergarten. Learning requires the ability to learn new content through reading content-area texts (Sousa, 2011). In “Essential Elements of Fostering and Teaching Reading Comprehension,” Duke et al. stress the importance of building disciplinary and world knowledge. The authors illustrate the relationship between comprehension and content knowledge: “knowledge begets comprehension begets knowledge in just the sort of virtuous cycle we would like students to experience” (Duke, Stratchan, Pearson, Billman, 2011, p. 55).




The Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading study suggests that “reading, writing, and language (e.g., vocabulary, discourse) are best developed when they are put to work as tools to help students acquire knowledge and inquiry skill in a specific domain” (2012, p.57)



In How the Brain Learns, Sousa describes the process of transfer. Working memory helps to combine the new learning from the immediate memory and the past learning from long-term storage to result in new learning. This process has implications for the comprehension of texts students are currently reading and related texts they will read in the future.

Fisher and Frey offer three ways to scaffold the reading of informational texts:

  1. use informational texts as an “extension of close reading” (p.350).
  2. to preview future reading.
  3. to address skills needed by specific students.


In addition, KWL charts  can be used a discussion tool and to help level the playing field of information that students bring to the text. Constructivist practices “question student understanding before sharing teacher knowledge” (157). This is important to facilitate discussion and provide the framework for building on student knowledge. Even if it comes from the perspective of another student.


Sousa suggests that we “conquer vocabulary” before having students read (2011, p.213). Vocabulary instruction allows students to develop their background knowledge as well.



Duke, N., Pearson, D., Strachan, S., & Billman, A. (2011). Essential elements of fostering and teaching reading comprehension. What research has to say about reading instruction, 51-93.

Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2014). Scaffolded reading instruction of content-area texts.The Reading Teacher, 67(5), 347-351.

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. Washington, DC: Authors.

Sousa, D. A. (2006). How the brain learns (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin.

Posted in tech ed

What’s your Affinity (Space)?

Semantic Social Network by edycop

In reading Situated Language and Learning, I have learned about affinity spaces . Gee contrasts traditional schooling with affinity spaces and describes its characteristics.


In a study cited by Gee, students learned more through discussing with peers than with authority figures. During peer-to-peer interactions, there was more “reflective discourse” and “empathetic engagement.” Affinity spaces are  portals in which students can participate in many ways and there is no divider between those who are more knowledgeable or less knowledgable. Basically everyone has access to the same information from various perspectives.


Many of the aspects of affinity spaces could help to improve student learning in traditional schools. However, these affinity spaces do not come without challenges and there is much work need to be done in determining how exactly these affinity spaces can work in the schools and how to increase student access to material and people without compromising safety.


Here are a few ideas I am thinking about:

  • Creating a school-wide or district-wide site where students can discuss and participate in various topics of their choice. This could possibly be open to community members whom the school  grants temporary access to post on the site; in a sense, it would be a virtual visit.
  • Creating a educator version that would allow teachers to discuss ideas, share resources, and discuss current issues in education.
  • Showing students how to annotate texts and discuss what they read through website like I am a proponent of teaching students to annotate, especially for high school students. As Gee argues, we learn best through a cultural process or learning through doing. Annotating texts through allows students to be active in the reading process without the expense of replacing books with markings in them. This would likely require some funds on the part of the district for access to the texts in electronic format. Of course, students should not rely on peers’ comments; otherwise, they might not be critically engaging with the text  and forming or informing their point of view.

These are just some thoughts, and maybe something like this exists somewhere out there.

Posted in comprehension, genre study, writing

Teaching Text Structures for Comprehension and Writing


The chapter on Essential Elements of Fostering Reading Comprehension provides teachers with several questions for reflection . The following question made me think about my experiences teaching students in elementary through high school:


“Based on your experience in schools and classrooms, which of these elements are most neglected, and what factors do you think contribute to their neglect?” (Duke, 2011, p.85).


Based on my experience, I think that instruction in sentence-level text structures is most neglected. Instruction in text structures includes the teaching of structures at the sentence level, paragraph level, and text level. Examination of structures at all levels can be especially helpful for student writing because problems at the sentence level may also occur at the paragraph and text level. Upon reflection, I think my teaching needs to include a wider range of the different text levels. While we cannot or should not teach every text structures for every genre, students need to know two things:


  1. Text has a structure and
  2. How to analyze text structure as a part of a genre or meaning of a text

(Duke, 2011, p. 71).


Genre study  is one way to incorporate study of text structures from the word level to the text level. One of the benefits of genre study is that it supports many of the other essential elements described in the chapter. In genre study, both implicit and explicit teaching are at hand: students are immersed in the works of the genre and, with teacher support and scaffolding, they make conclusions about the genre. At the sentence level, sentence combining is an effective teaching practice. A useful resource is Bruce Sadler’s  Teacher’s Guide to Effective Sentence Sentence Writing (2012). It is filled with exercises that help to practice different sentence structures.


Schools are providing students with more texts from different genres; student access to a range of texts is one of the ten essential elements listed in the chapter. This shift is promising because skilled readers are experienced with texts from different genres. Yet “reading success does not necessarily transfer between different genres” (p. 59). Explicit teaching of text structures should help students to read different texts differently. Moreover, this should help students with genre writing.

Posted in tech ed

“The Other” Slump


In Getting over the Slump, James Paul Gee discusses factors contributing the fourth grade slump. Essentially, there are two slumps. The first is that students are not prepared to read in the upper grades especially when it comes to content area topics in math and science. The second is that students are not prepared to use technology in ways that enhance learning. Students need the access to “well-designed learning systems and mentorship built around new digital technologies” (Gee, 2008, p.12). The most interesting point to me is that these two gaps “interact with each other” (Gee, 2008, p.12).  As technology becomes more complex, students are required to have greater technical skills in order to develop digital literacies. Additionally, students’ ability to read specialist language (such as content in math and science) is required to benefit from educational technology.

Learning to blog has made me think of something that we do as readers and writers: make text-to-text connections. The literature calls these intertextual connections. On the web, intertextuality goes far beyond the typical ‘text’ you would think of referring to in offline writing. I see this happening as I am writing this post. I have the capability of not only referring to text, but also making other texts a part of this one. In doing so, I am inviting my readers to travel the pathways of connections I see. This is one thing I like about blogging. Bloggers can share resources, and the connections we make to other material come into clearer view. With all this in mind, it becomes important to teach students to navigate these pathways and critically assess all texts involved.

Highway view of Seattle, Washington
Students need to be able to find the “roads” that will take them to other sites and be able to get back on the highway to the original text.

As technology advances, it becomes increasingly important for teachers to evaluate and incorporate new technology that is up-to-date with the ideas, vocabulary and topics of the day. One resource I have found helpful is the Common Sense Media website. This is a website that provides reviews of anything from apps to movies. It gives an approximate appropriate age or age range. It also gives parents some a heads up on things like consumerism and violence.




Gee, J. P. (2008). Getting over the slump: Innovation strategies to promote
children’s learning. Retrieved from


Posted in comprehension, spelling, visual supports, vocabulary

Vocabulary and Teaching: Top Five things “on my mind”



The above image makes me think about what not do when teaching vocabulary: copying lists and dictionary definitions. Thankfully, research lets us know that vocabulary instruction does not have to be boring! There are many opportunities for student-centered instruction through word study, student-written definitions, and student friendly definitions. I envision my classroom looking more like the image below:



  1. The relationship between vocabulary and comprehension is “almost perfect”—a correlation of .97, according to Elfrieda Hiebert. This is why I teach vocabulary before, during or after reading. I have given students a Vocabulary Inventory I created based on Dale’s levels of word knowledge.
  1. Students need to know that words can have multiple meanings. Studying idioms and homographs are two ways that students consider multiple meanings.
  1. A “generative approach” gives students tools to figure out unknown vocabulary.  Students need to expect that there will be many words that they do not know in a complex text; thus, teachers equip students with the tools or strategies to comprehend the words they read.
  2. Assessing student spelling patterns gives teachers information on how a child interprets the orthographic system. In the upper grades, studying spelling-meaning patterns is crucial for academic vocabulary growth, according to Bear et al (2010).
  3. Students need exposure to words in a variety of contexts. To quote Alfred Korzybski, “Words don’t mean, people mean.” One can argue that people place meaning on words through speaking and writing. This means plenty of independent reading, structured read-alouds, and visual supports.



Bear, D. R., Flanagan, K., Hayes, L., Invernizzi, M., Templeton, S., & Johnston, F.

(2010). Words their Way (1st ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.

Hiebert, E. (Writer). (n.d.). 77sec on core vocabulary [Video file]. In YouTube.

Retrieved from