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 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.