Friday, October 14, 2011

Writers' Workshop Works Better with Paperrater!

Teachers know how difficult the editing and revising stages of writing can be. Along comes to help students improve their writing skills. With this free resource, students upload their writing and checks it for plagiarism, style, grammar, spelling, word choice and overall quality. offers specific suggestions for improvement, and assigns a grade to writing. even offers a printable writing summary report with a detailed explanation, tip and/or suggestion for improvement for each of the different writing traits analyzed.

Regardless of grade level or subject matter, I definitely see how teachers could assign students to upload their writing to before holding individual or small group writing conferences. Students can bring their writing summary report to a writing conference with the teacher or writing workshop with peers to discuss the suggested editing and revisions. has the potential to save teachers a lot of time, and obviously students benefit from the specific feedback. Students can submit the writing summary reports with their papers, and teachers can identify common needs to design specific writing mini lessons; teachers can also use the feedback on each student's summary report to pair up students according to writing strengths and weaknesses. Students can also make revisions, resubmit their writing and compare initial and final drafts to demonstrate growth. 

What other uses can you generate for

Unlike other online writing analysis software, there is nothing to download, is absolutely free, and has a higher degree of accuracy because not only does it use artificial intelligence, the site is also maintained by linguists who have developed according to "a core Natural Language Processing (NLP) engine using statistical and rules based NLP to extract language features from essays and robustly translate that into statistical models."  So, it's ok to trust when they identify a fragment, a misspelled word, or wordiness because the site is run by writing experts. I tried using this particular text, and here are is my printable summary report.  

I guess a B ain't so bad...(I mean isn't)!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Student Writing Soars With Storybird!

Soar to new heights with, a site that allows students to create, collaborate, read, and share their own stories. has thousands of art pieces arranged by themes. Students select a theme or piece of art to inspire them to write a story.

Students can invite collaborators to share the writing of a story. also has a public library for visitors to read stories others have created. 

Students can create reading lists of their favorite Storybird stories. 

Best of all Storybird serves as a publisher! Students can publish their stories privately or publicly online or in hard copy. The site is entirely free, but for a reasonable price, parents can order soft or hard cover of books their children create, or you can order a PDF version of a story to read on an e-reader or iPad.

Storybird encourages collaborative writing and supports all aspects of the writing process. Its features are easy, intuitive and safe. There are endless possibilities for using Storybird to support reading instruction as well. Regardless of age or grade level,'s art work inspires anyone to be a connected reader and writer!  

Storybird Quick Tour from Storybird on Vimeo. Here is a story I wrote about technology using! Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed creating it! The Purple People and the Elephant by firstclasstutoring on Storybird

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

One Word Enhances The Journaling Experience!

When I was a kid, I hated walking into my English class to face the drudgery of the daily journal topic the teacher’s pet had written sloppily on the chalkboard. I loved writing, but boy, did I hate the routine of journal writing day in and day out. I hated the dumb prompts, the lack of follow-up with a discussion...there was no such thing as discussions back then...,and I knew my teacher never read a single word I wrote. I didn’t mind being asked to write, but I didn’t like that we had to write on command every day for 180 days at the same time about the same irrelevant topics without any type of engagement.  So, I vowed that one day when I became an English teacher, I would not resort or depend on the daily journal topic so I could take attendance and tend to other housekeeping duties. My students would have different writing experiences everyday at different times throughout a class period, and for the last 20 years I have tried my best to keep that promise.  

I have had many discussions with other educators about the effective use of the daily 15 to 20 minute “journaling” conducted at the beginning of a class period. For me journaling should not be forced, and definitely not scheduled so a teacher could tend to clerical responsibilities. I have always felt that journaling must be as spontaneous as possible, and if not, should be prompted from thought-provoking readings, current events, or any other inspiring written or non written text.  I believe students know when we assign journaling to keep them busy, and it’s a crime when students are forced to "journal" 180 days of the year, yet have no opportunity to share their writing, or give or receive writing feedback.  

Today, web tools make the academic or personal journaling experience exciting and meaningful for all students, and offer the most important tool of all, the ability for students to share their writing with a community of writers, and the opportunity for feedback from diverse readers, not just their teachers. The comment and share features web tools offer have redefined feedback.  Students are motivated to learn this valuable skill as they strive to join writing communities. is a great web tool that allows students to practice a myriad of writing skills, specifically free-writing, and sharing with an online community if they choose to join the site. Users sign in free and see one word at the top of the screen; they have sixty seconds to just write about that one word. Students can choose to add their writing or keep it private, but if they add it, they will see the variety of responses for the one word prompt. Teachers can even use other contributors' responses as opportunities for revision and editing exercises. The learning opportunities are endless since students could analyze how other writers use different writing traits, such as figurative language, active vs. passive verbs, imagery, punctuation, and more. supports so many different writing mini lessons from grammar to literary elements, to a writer’s voice and diction. is not the only web tool in cyberspace that supports the writing process and journaling.  Of course there are blogs, wikis, and digital diaries like,, or  All of these options enable students to join a community of writers, provide opportunities for self-expression and creativity, and offer opportunities to practice revision and editing. The only disclaimer is that many of these tools are open to anyone so teachers have to be careful with inappropriate content kids could end up reading. 

Here are some examples of safe web tools all students could use for journaling:

Ever thought of using as a type of Dialogue Journal. Students upload a thought-provoking image or video, and each student adds his/her written and/or verbal reflections. can be used effectively to build Literary Journals focusing on reflecting or answering prompts about specific genres, themes, characters, conflicts, plot events, and other aspects of written or non-written texts.

How about using or to create Subject Journals? Students not only add text and images, but all types of multimedia and widgets to explore one particular subject.  

Electronic journaling can satisfy every student’s need for self-expression or kill creativity if not used effectively. Journals can take many shapes, but whatever the purpose of the journal, students today are lucky to have tech tools that spare them from the monotony of the daily journal topic, and help them improve their writing skills. 

Take a look at a sample sharing page from After having 60 seconds to write about the one word of the day, students have the option to post their writing to the community of writers.  

Saturday, October 8, 2011

How Fake Facebook Profiles Support Reading Instruction and More!

Teaching author's perspective, author's purpose, tone and mood, characterization and other literary elements are some of the most difficult reading skills for students to untangle. Because of time constraints, teachers often ignore discussing an author's life experiences as part of front-loading a text to be read. I have always been a proponent of less is more, so I make the time to let kids learn aboout a writer's life before we read his/her book, and we research the historical period in which the book was written. Both the author's life experiences and the historical period provide an invaluable insight that helps readers understand themes, allusions, plot events, characterizations, conflicts and other literary elements. Of course, now more than ever technology can facilitate teaching all of these reading concepts.

Using, students can create a fake profile page `a la Facebook to explore the life of an author, a character, a historical figure, an idea, a process, an animal or anything students would like to personify. 

Using Myfakewall to teach Author's Purpose
Teachers can assign students to create profiles and posts that reveal the author's purpose, i.e., why the author wrote a piece: to entertain, inform or teach, persuade or convince. Students can add "friends" such as other writers or people who influenced the writer to write a particular piece, or even characters, and have those influential "friends" post questions or comments on the writer's wall so the posts and the writer's responses to the posts reveal the author's purpose for writing.

Using Myfakewall to teach Author's Perspective
The concept of author's perspective can also be taught in the same manner by having students write posts revealing the writer's feelings or beliefs and how these views prompted the writer to create a particular piece of writing.  High order skills are at work because students apply what they learned after reading a biography or autobiography about the author's life. To write thought-provoking posts and comments on the page, students must analyze and evaluate the author's life circumstances, choices, and beliefs and synthesize a post using texutal examples to reveal how and why an author incorporated his/her life views in his/her writing.    

Using Myfakewall to teach Characterization, Historical Events, Tone and Mood, Connotation and more
  • Of course, Myfakewalls do not have to be just about a writer's life. Students can create fakewalls about characters to learn characterization. Posts could feature the characterization strategy S.T.E.A.L., which focuses on analyzing a character's Speech, Thoughts, Effect on Others, Actions and Looks
  • Other fakewalls to challenge students to use critical thinking skills and textual support would be profiles for historical figures with posts that explore a famous or infamous decision, its repercussions, and the historical figure's controversial thoughts and conversations with his/her associates, friends or family.  Imagine how primary and secondary sources could also be used to incorporate textual support on all of these pseudo profile pages.
  • As difficult as it is for students to identify the tone and mood of a piece, can support teaching this concept if students are asked to create a profile using particular textual examples that reflect a specific negative or positive tone while comments could show reader's positive or negative mood after reading these text examples. could even be used to reinforce connotation if students create fake posts using negative connotations sharing them with fake users to see the effect words have on other readers and writers. supports so many different critical thinking activities that allow students to step inside the mind of notable figures, use textual examples, primary and secondary sources, and their own creativity.

Whether students create fake pages that are serious or funny, they will be engaged in creating original content.
I would love to see what profiles students could create to explore the minds and lives of scientists, mathematicians, artists, and other noteworthy individuals or ideas. 
Please check out these Myfakewall page profiles!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

"Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish!"

RIP Steve Jobs!

Nook or Book, That is the Question?

I grew up a 20th century student reading physical books. I wrote in my books, dog-eared pages, spilled tears on breathtaking passages, borrowed them, and lost many classics to friends. Now, technology has asked me to rethink the efficiency with which I read introducing e-readers to contest my reading status quo.  I struggle to make up my mind, and abandon one for the other because I love the reading experience they both can offer.  But, as a non digital native, I’ve realized that today's students haven’t had the same reading experiences; therefore, they cannot have the same nostalgia for physical books like I do because they spend more time using digital products than paper ones. They were born into a society with an entirely different delivery system of information. It is the non-digital natives, like me, who will need to embrace new technology, like e-readers, if we are to fight illiteracy and aliteracy.

Ironically, the first e-book I read on my e-reader was Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other. While reading this e-book, I was actually more connected to people than I ever was when reading physical books.  My e-reader made it easy for me to adapt and for my students to engage with text.

E-readers allow readers to:
  • instantly share pages, short passages or quotes with anyone via Facebook, Twitter or email. 
Books obviously can’t compete with these features! 

E-readers also let readers instantly:
  • rate and post an online review of a book
  • share a reading status with friends on Facebook and Twitter so they know how far along readers have read.
  • bookmark pages
  • add notes about a page or passage
  • highlight key sections while the e-reader keeps track of it all.
  • search for keywords
  • touch a word to look up its meaning
  • adjust the size of the text or the lighting 
Although e-readers’ features empower reading experiences, why do so many of us non digital natives still long for physical books? 

We long for physical books because they are and were a part how information was presented to us to process and learn. Our brains got used to this type of delivery system of information.  The 20th century learning experience lacked the level of stimulation and engagement that tech like e-readers offer today. Today’s students rarely engage with paper products, and the printed word in a physical book, no matter how well written, does not offer the degree of stimulation students are used to receiving through other media.   However, just because we, as non digital natives, are not used to this delivery system, we cannot hold our students back from the benefits this technology offers them to improve their reading skills. 

If your school happens to have e-readers, here are some ideas that could help change students’ attitudes toward reading:
  • Create a Class Facebook or Twitter page.  This can be done safely giving access only to students and parents. As students read class wide or independent selections, they can use the e-reader’s Facebook and Twitter share feature to post their favorite quotes and thoughts to discuss texts with each other. (If students need coaching on how to select significant passages and write effective FB and Twitter posts, then I recommend modeling how to do this first using a high interest text all students will enjoy.) Schools could even connect with grade levels or other schools inviting them to add to the Facebook and Twitter feeds uniting students nationally or even globally in their reading experiences.
  • E-readers may even motivate students to take the time to look up unknown words while they read because the dictionary feature makes it virtually effortless. Students just tap on the unfamiliar word to see a definition in a pop-up window. 
  • E-readers also reinvigorate the concept of the “book report” because the book review feature is limited to 3500 characters or less. Students benefit from learning how to write a succinct book review. Although there’s no guarantee an e-reader motivates students to write book reviews, the connectivity aspect of writing a review for an online community may attract more students to use this feature since they know they will be writing to a real audience of fellow readers.  Determine what your students like to read: humor, mysteries, sci-fi, romance, etc.  Allowing them to read books they like may encourage them to use the book review feature without a fight. 
  • E-readers even facilitate annotation because it takes seconds to highlight a passage of interest and add notes to it.  No more lost sticky notes, or illegible marginal notes.
  • Students can also lend each other books through the e-reader, and there’s been talk of apps enabling e-borrowing from local public libraries.
E-readers are not the panacea of illiteracy or aliteracy, but an e-reader’s features definitely offer a level of engagement physical books cannot. E-readers connect readers to each other in a way physical books cannot. We’ve tried using traditional strategies to fight illiteracy and aliteracy, and many of these have failed. Why not try the technology of e-readers where students not only interact with the text, but can also connect with an online community of readers.   

Saturday, October 1, 2011

It's A Black Tie Affair With Tagxedo: List 5 Tech Terms All Teachers Should Know!

Smarten up with http:/, and turn vocabulary lessons into a special occasion! is not your ordinary cloud generator. Students can upload websites, blogs, or any type of text, then choose the shape of their word clouds. There are over a hundred shapes to choose, and dozens of color schemes, fonts, and layouts.   Primp your vocabulary with's stunning visuals that turn words into works of art! imitates art! Word clouds can be saved as JPG or PNGs, and shared on Twitter and Facebook.

Again, I used to create List Five to maintain consistency with the way the lists look and can be accessed.  What vocabulary tech tools do you know about? Let's chat to compare teaching experiences with these tools.

Click on the link to see List Five or email or tweet me at, and @trendingteacher, and I'll send you lists directly.

Here are my own works of "word art" using List 5 of Tech Terms All Teachers Should Know! 

List 5 Tech Terms All Teachers Should Know! Word Cloud I created adding my Twitter feed @trendingteacher!

Vocabulary Lessons Are Special Occasions With Tagxedo!
A Few Ideas for Using Tagxedo Word Clouds!

  • Teach annotation. Add a significant passage from a particular text being studied, and choose an appropriate shape revealing text's meaning. Use another web 2.0 tool to add music to the word cloud suggesting text's theme.
  • Teach tone and mood. Add text, and choose colors and shapes that reveal the text's tone and mood. Use another web 2.0 tool to add music revealing tone and mood of word cloud.
  • Teach synonyms, antonyms, homonyms. Choose one key word and create word clouds featuring synonyms, antonyms of that word. Create homonym clouds too listing words that sound the same but are spelled differently.
  • Teach connotation. Choose one word or phrase and create a word cloud with the word or phrase's multiple connotations.
  • Emphasize connotation of words by creating positive, negative and neutral words clouds. Choose colors and shapes suggesting each effect. 
  • Teach literary terms, figures of speech, or idioms by creating word clouds containing definitions and examples.
  • Summarize a text. Have students write a summary, upload the summary and choose appropriate color and shapes to match text's meaning.   

Tagxedo's opportunities to dress-up language arts lessons will make-over your vocabulary instruction, making it versatile and memorable! 
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