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.




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The Fourth Grade Slump

Reading Book Symbol Dotted Line


In the first chapter of his book, James Paul Gee writes regarding a “strange fact about not learning to read.” The strange fact is that a majority of struggling early readers “are poor or come from minority groups whose members have faced a history of prejudice and oppression” (Gee, 2004, p.6). His argument does not suggest that these readers have lesser language ability; it is a call for differentiated instruction in the cultural learning process.

The ability to grasp and understand syntactic and semantic aspects of language is what separates children into the “fourth grade slump” (Gee, 2004, p. 13). He explains that despite the tendency to view English as one language only, there are several languages.

He differentiates the vernacular and the specialist languages to describe the difficulty some students have in school. While the vernacular is the language that we speak and use to write children’s books, the specialist variety is predominant in schools. Specialist varieties use different vocabulary and language structure according to the topic of discourse. Vocabulary background and understanding of how text structure conveys meaning are important for comprehension.

Many children do not comprehend or become familiar with the specialist variety despite its prevalence in schools. To some children, the language may be seen as a threat to the cultural language they have learned. To illustrate the different learning processes, Gee explains that there are three: natural, instructed, and cultural. While there is a place for the instructed process, “most deep learning works better as a cultural process than it does as an instructed process” (Gee, 2004, p.11). The author explains the environment in which children learn specialist language through a cultural process: “children interact intensively with adults and more advanced peers and experience cognitively challenging talk on texts on sustained topics and in different genres of oral and written language” (Gee, 2004, p. 14).

While children of poor families often experience complex language engagement at home, this does not always translate to success at school. Yet many of the stories students share at school may not be seen as language of the “academic variety” despite the depth and complexity. Gee shares the story of “Leona,” an African American first grade girl who came from a lower socioeconomic home. According to Gee, research shows that “teachers at sharing time are not listening for stories like Leona’s. Rather, they expect blow-by-blow narratives or reports” (Gee, 2004, p.39).

What does Leona’s story telling have to do with reading achievement? Storytelling can give teachers insight as to how children read and interpret at text. While her story is not in the form of a report, as some students may choose to tell it, Leona seems to tells her story in“free verse.” The author analyzes her story for its paradox and symbolism. Gee calls for acceptance of language variety; unfortunately, until schools change, we must worry about students like Leona who may fall into the fourth grade slump. However, careful consideration of cultural influences can help to more accurately assess comprehension “ways of taking.” I look forward to reading of Gee’s work in the next chapters.


Gee, J. P. (2004). Situated language and learning: A critique of traditional schooling. New York: Routledge.

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“Is the teaching reading the teaching of a specific skill?”

My response to a class discussion question:

Teaching reading is more than teaching a specific skill. While students need specific skills to learn to read, such as decoding, they must be able to apply those skills not just in isolation, but also in context of reading and comprehending. The ultimate goal of reading is comprehension, and as we read, we use multiple strategies to make sense of what we read. Yet, there is more to teaching reading than strategy instruction. We must teach students that they will “continue to grow as readers as their linguistic knowledge, subject-matter knowledge, strategic capabilities and their motivations expand and mature. This developmental perspective on reading extends beyond elementary years into adolescence and adulthood” (Alexander & Fox, p.22). We must also provide them with the time and reading experiences to show them that they can be successful.

Explicit teaching, as described in Rosenshine’s article, helps students to apply strategies through practice and gradual release. Students must be able to build on previous knowledge and strategies to truly benefit from this instruction. Some skills will no longer need to be taught. To illustrate, phonics instruction is a means to an end. However, students and teachers alike can always improve their reading comprehension.

Finally, readers have different “ways of taking.” In What no Bedtime Story Means, Heath illustrates the sociocultural factors that influence the way we read. Some students come to school with unique “ways of taking” that enable the learner to interact with the text in different ways. While some “ways of taking” may do more to prepare youngsters for school than other approaches, teachers can use the strengths of a child’s “way” to help them learn more ways to “take” from texts. Learners are enriched by understanding others’ “ways of taking”; thus, teachers should be careful not to prescribe a single approach.

So what is reading really all about? If I can get a student –who never had the desire to pick up a book— to crave reading and to want to do something in response, I have lit a spark of lifelong learning in a child.