Quick Tip: Thinglink and Screencastify

The 21st century tool of the month for June is google apps. This is a quick app-smashing tip about a free google app add-on from the chrome web-store called screencastify and a free program called ThingLink.

Screencastify is a web 2.0 recording tool that gives you the option of embedding a video web-cam in the bottom right hand corner as you record your screen. ThingLink is a multi-media program that you can access on the computer or the iPad. You can use a picture of any background you choose and add  a little bullseye that contains words, videos, or links to other videos anywhere on the screen.

Here are 2 quick lesson ideas for using these tools together:

If you use Daily 5 in your classroom (or any type of reader’s workshop model), then you probably have all the students in your class create goals around a reading strategy that they are focusing on such as Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, Extend Vocabulary. In the video above, I used the “rate graph” from the book Balanced Literacy 2nd grade (a book published by Kagan). ThingLink is the perfect program to use when graphing progress over time. Because it embeds links, video, and words, you can actually record a portion of a student reading and embed the little bullseye on the correct place on the graph. This would not only give you and the student a record of their reading rate, for example, but it would also give you and the student data of the change in his/her reading fluency over time. A video placed on the scale in the appropriate place would give the student a better understanding of what it means to be a 2 or a 3 on the rate graph. When the student has 5 points of data that have been collected over time, then he/she can use screencastify to record a self reflection on his/her change over time in the area of focus.

This self-assessment strategy would work well for all reading goals or areas of focus. The Balanced Literacy book has more graphs for different aspects of fluency such as phrasing, expression, rate and accuracy. Linda Dorn has wonderful rubrics for comprehension in her book Teaching for Deep Comprehension that I have used with students, and my favorite vocabulary rubric is Vocabulary Rubrics, Templates, & Graphs for Common Core Instruction from Hello Literacy in the TpT store.

Hello Literacy has a great activity on TpT called Describing & Inferring Details with Picture of the Day: Reading Photos “Closely”. Using this idea of practicing inferring with photos, I used ThingLink and screencastify to record my thinking. This is a great way to make thinking visual! Students could record their thinking with these tools in independently or in small groups during literacy stations.

Thinglink is a cloud-based program that creates a url, which means it can be turned into a QR code. Screencastify can be saved directly to google drive or youtube, both of which create urls as well that can be turned into a QR code. By turning teacher modeling or student thinking into a QR code, you make it visible to others as well.

Hope this quick tip was useful! Please leave a comment on how you will use these 2 programs.

Get Your Lesson Plans Organized This Year!

It’s July already? Seriously?! I guess that means I have to finish cleaning my house so I can start planning ahead for the new school year (sigh). We start back Aug. 5th.

Instead of featuring a new picture book today, I decided to feature my new lesson plan book! Like most of you, I like to make goals for myself each year. Last year I focused on my room environment and did a complete classroom makeover (click here for to for some tips on how I did it)! To keep that organization going in my room this year, I want to focus on organizing my lesson plans.

This is what usually happens with my lesson plans (don’t tell!) . . .

August: brand new plan book labeled in best handwriting or with printed labels in a cute font

September: Lessons documented with thought put into the order in which specific skills are taught, which books will be used, etc.

October (when report cards come out): One word chicken scratches that vaguely resemble words are scrawled across page

November: One word chicken scratches that vaguely resemble words scrawled across every other page

Decemember: Where is my plan book?

Sound familiar? If you were blessed with that organization gene, it may not sound familiar to you. But if you were born without that particular gift (like me), you may have great lessons and wonderful learning happening in your classroom, but no documentation of it! And I have to admit that once January rolls around, my lessons are not usually as structured as they should be. After reading Debbie Diller’s book Literacy Work Stations, I made a goal that my ILAs (Independent Literacy Activities/work stations or centers) would not just be a list of things for the kids to do, but a purposeful reflection of the mini lesson I gave that day. But how will I make sure that I stick with my good intentions? Here is my plan . . .

  I decided that I needed a quick and easy way to organize, record, and track the skills I was going to teach to be sure I continued to do it throughout the year. At the website ‘A Teacher’s Plan,’ I found these great math lesson plan templates that were organized based on Debbie Diller’s new book Math Work Stations (and I just had to have them!). It gave me a great idea!

  I was inspired to create my own plan book that was more like a check list so it would be quick, easy, and efficient. I started with my morning meeting. Every morning I write a letter to my students with important things that I want them to know such as birthdays, assignments, upcoming events, etc., and I include errors that they have to correct. This is a more authentic way of doing Daily Oral Language. (Research shows that doing Daily Oral Language activities out of context is not beneficial to students.) I try to make mistakes in my letter that I see the kids make in their writing, but I realized that it could be much more purposeful if I kept track of which skills I had them practice in my letter each day.  After reviewing the new standards (again) I created a checklist of skills that needed to be taught. Now I can just check off that concept and be sure that students practice those skills in my morning message.

Then I created a lesson plan (check off list style) for Reader’s Workshop. It has a place for me to check off the skills we focused on during the mini-lesson, ILAs, and how I will structure the closing using Kagan structures (see Debbie Miller’s book Reading With Meaning and the Balanced Literacy book for Kagan structures). It also has a quick check list for the running records I would give each day during Independent Reading, which Guided Reading groups I would see, what book we’re reading, and the skill we’re focusing on (I use a more detailed form for writing out my guided reading lesson plan).

I also have good intentions of giving each child a running record regularly to monitor their progress and add to a body of evidence. Unfortunately, at the end of the year, I usually look back and say, “Oops!” Only the 3 or 4 students I was worried about had running records given regularly! But now I have a plan. When I began my doctorate in primary reading instruction a few years ago, I had a lot of research compiled that helped me decide how often students should be given a running record based on their reading development. I used this to create a schedule that will help me decide where each reader is developmentally, so all I have to do is plug them into the right color on the schedule and try to stick to it! The schedule is designed for a classroom teacher to give 2 running records 4 days a week. The nice thing about the schedule is that it allows a lot of room for flexibility, so if something comes up and you weren’t able to give any running records that day there is plenty of room to make it up later. I’m especially excited to use this one!

I also made a class schedule overview page so I can write in my daily schedule and keep track of the upcoming events for each month. I don’t always look ahead to see when we have special events or days off, but with this page I can’t miss it! I think I will also post this on my classroom website because it’s cute, and parents can use it to see our schedule too!

Now I’ve got all my pages in a 3 ring binder with tabs separating my plan book pages, class list, etc. so I’m ready to start filling out my lesson plans! Now if only I had my house clean . . .


I thought that if I had a hard time documenting my lessons in my plan book all year long, that I probably wasn’t alone. I just launched my website called ‘Teacher Stuff,’ and I have begun selling some of the lessons and materials I have created. These lessons are made for teachers (who don’t get paid enough to spend a lot of extra money), so my intention is not to get rich and quit my day job (I love teaching way too much anyway!). I just wanted to share things I thought might be useful to others. Because of the time and effort it takes, I needed a little incentive to keep creating, so I am charging a small, reasonable fee. I had to pay for the really cute graphics that I use in most of my lessons from http://www.thistlegirl.com, and I had to buy a reseller’s license to share them with you, so I am hoping to earn my money back. Because I use these lessons and resources in my classroom too, getting my money back would be a bonus for me!

The pages above are part of the ‘Teacher Toolkit for Literacy’ which includes many more pages for $6! So please check out check it out at Teachers Notebook!

Featured Book Friday: Owl Moon

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen


If you’ve ever looked forward to a special day with your father, this story will bring back the thrill that only a young child knows. Written in the voice of a girl who is going “owling” with her father late one night, the beautiful pictures and language in this story put you into the forest as you hear your “feet crunch over the crisp snow” with “heat in your mouth from all the words that are not spoken”. You’ll see the “black shadows stain the white snow”, and “feel someone’s icy palm run down (your) back” as you listen for the whoo-whoo-who-who-who-whoooo under an owl moon.

~Teacher Stuff blog review written by Emily Stout

FREEBIE: You can download some lesson resources for this book by clicking here:

Curriculum Connections

by Emily Stout

  • Comprehension strategy: Visualizing
  • Author as Mentor: write using 5 senses

1. Read the story Owl Moon to your class. I recorded myself reading this book ahead of time, and I used sound effects to help the students visualize the story better. For example, the story says, “A farm dog answered the train, and then a second dog joined in.” (Click the sentence and download “Owl Moon snippet” to hear a part of the recording.) I used sound effects to give the story the same eerie feeling of a forest late at night. Soundbible.com has a great collection of free sound effects. (I would share my recording with you, but I believe that would break copyright laws.) If you have older students, you can let them make a recording of the book using sound effects. (I recommend Garage Band–it is the easiest way for you or your students to record books.)

2. This story is full of beautiful language that paints a picture in your mind. Use ‘Round Table Consensus‘ (See Kagan Structures below) to sort the words and phrases from this story into 5 senses. The “Visualizing with 5 Senses” cards (print from link above) has sentences and phrases from the story your students can use.

3. Once your students have spent time sorting the language used in Owl Moon, they can use the author, Jane Yolen, as a mentor to write their own poem focusing on the strategy of visualizing. Have students write about a time that they went camping, swimming, or did something outside. Have each team agree on an outdoor event to write about, then use the structure “Jot Thoughts” (see Kagan Structures below) to help students brainstorm good visualizing words and phrases to put in their poem. First have students use their sticky notes from “Jot Thoughts” to create a team poem, then have students write their own individual poem.

  • Kagan Structures

– Round Table Consensus:

1. Each team needs a “Visulizing with 5 Senses” sorting mat and Owl Moon cards.

2. The first person takes one card, reads it aloud, and decides where it goes on the sorting mat.

3. Teammates show a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to show if they agree or disagree. If there are any thumbs-down, the team needs to discuss the answer. If the team cannot agree, everyone raises a hand so the teacher can help.

4. When the team agrees on the answer, it is the next person’s turn to draw a card.

-Jot Thoughts Poem:

1. Each team needs sticky notes for each person.

2. As a team, decide which topic you are going to focus on i.e. camping, swimming, etc.

3. When the teacher starts the timer, write as many visualizing sentences or phrases as your can about your topic. Write one phrase or sentence for each sticky note. Try to cover the table with your ideas. Use all 5 senses.

4. When your time is up, use the ‘Round Robin’ structure to read all the ideas your team came up with.

5. Arrange your sentences in an order that sounds pleasing.

Example: Camping

Crickets chirping

stars sparkling in the sky.

The hot dry smoke

burns my eyes when I

squeeze them shut.

Marshmallows puff out

their cheeks

as the orange fire dances under them

turning their fat white

cheeks brown.

The spongy center doesn’t

always slide off the stick

when I pull the soft, gooey filling

into my mouth. Yum!

Don’t forget to send me your curriculum connections! Click here to share your favorite book.

Featured Book Friday: Not A Box

Not A Box by Antoinette Portis


This delightfully simple book was awarded the Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award, New York Times Best Illustrated Book of 2007, An ALA Notable Children’s Book, New York Times Bestseller, Publisher Weekly Bestseller, and Nick Jr. Family Magazine “Most Imaginative” picture book 2006. Perfect for beginning readers, this book highlights the creativity of children as an ordinary box is transformed into a race car, a burning building, a pirate ship and much more!

~Teacher Stuff blog review written by Emily Stout

Bonus!! If you send a submission for a featured book by June 24, 2011, I will send you the materials I created for this lesson! That includes cooperative learning roles name plates with what each job does and says, Roam the Room form, Carousel Feedback form, and more! Click here to submit a Featured Book.

Curriculum Connections

by Emily Stout

  • Social Skills/Rules: Use this book to teach children the life skill of creativity. This book is the perfect example of ‘thinking outside the box’–literally!
  • Writing/Kagan Cooperative Project: Use this book to introduce the cooperative learning project “Not A Box” that will become a creative writing prompt.

1. Collect boxes of all different shapes and sizes from refrigerator boxes to ring boxes.

2. With students in cooperative learning groups, they will use the structure ‘Spend-A-Buck‘ to choose a box that they would like to transform into something creative. Use the structure ‘Jot Thoughts‘ so students can generate ideas about how to transform their box. (See ‘Kagan Structures’ below for directions on these cooperative learning structures.)

3. Using the structure ‘Team Project,’ assign cooperative learning roles (see Kagan structures below) to each student in the group. First, the students will plan how they will transform their box. The recorder will sketch the group’s vision for their final product. The materials monitor will make a list of the materials that they need, collect all the supplies on the list and distribute them to the team. Each team member is responsible for creating part of the box design. The designer will decide how each team members’ design will be incorporated into the box design, and the attacher will decide how to attach each design to the box creation.

4. Use the ‘Roam the Room‘ structure (see Kagan Structures below) so each team has an opportunity to see other projects and discuss ideas for additions and improvements to their own projects. When the team is finished with their project, the materials monitor returns all supplies and leads the team clean-up.

5. Use the ‘Carousel Feedback‘ structure (see Kagan Structures below) for teams to share their “Not A Box” projects.

6. Have students write their own “Not A Box” story independently, or use the ‘Continuous Round Table’ structure to have teams write a creative cooperative story about their projects. Teams could “stand on the shoulders” of Antoinette Portis and write a story following the pattern of Not A Box (recommended for beginning writers), or each team could create their own unique story that somehow includes their team box.

  • Kagan Structures

Spend-A-Buck: “To make a team decision, teammates use funny money and “spend a buck” to vote on their top picks. The option with the most bucks is deemed the team decision (p.6.35, Kagan 2009).” Each team member is given 10 fake dollars. The team chooses 4 different sized boxes to vote on for this project and writes or draws them on separate pieces of scratch paper. Each team member puts $1 on each choice to validate all the choices. Then they put their remaining money on their favorite choice(s). For example, one student may put all his/her remaining money on one choice, and another student may split his/her money between 2 or more of the choices. The recorder counts the money, and the choice with the most money is the winner.

Jot Thoughts: “Teammates ‘cover the table,’ writing ideas on slips of paper (p.6.28, Kagan 2009).” Give the students 30 seconds to think about how they might transform their box into something creative. With sticky notes or scratch pieces of paper, the students write down as many ideas as they can (one idea per piece of paper) in 1 minute. As soon as they finish writing an idea, students place their paper (without overlapping) in the middle of the table and try to cover the table with their ideas. When the timer goes off, the team reads all the ideas on the table and decides which one to use for their “Not A Box” project.

Team Project:

1. Project goal: Teams must transform a box into something creative.

2. The students are assigned the following cooperative learning roles:

recorder: The recorder sketches the team’s vision for how their box will look when they are finished, and he/she writes a list of materials the team will need.

materials monitor: The materials monitor is responsible for collecting, distributing, and putting away all materials that the team needs. He/she is also responsible for making sure the team cleans up when they are finished.

designer: The designer decides how each part of the box design created by individual members will fit together in the team “Not A Box” project.

attacher: The attacher decides how to attach the design together once the designer decides how it will look. The attacher will need to determine if he/she needs to use glue, a glue stick, tape, staples, etc. to attach all pieces of the design.

3. Students work in teams to create their “Not A Box” projects.

“Step 2 is what distinguishes Team Projects from group work. The teacher does not just say, ‘Work on this project in your team.’ This would violate the principles of good cooperative learning. There is nothing in unstructured group work that guarantees individual accountability or equal participation. Students could work together in harmony without any structure, each contributing their own fair share. But then again, one student could do most of the work . . . (p.13.5, Kagan 2009).”

Roam the Room: “Once students have made visible progress on their project, the teacher says, ‘Everyone, please stop working and stand up. Roam the room.’ Teammates may go from project to project together, they may break into pairs, or everyone can go their own way. When they return, they discuss what they learned and what they want to integrate into their project (p.13.9, Kagan 2009).”

Carousel Feedback: “Teams rotate from project to project to leave feedback for other teams (p.6.25, Kagan 2009).” When every team has finished their “Not A Box” project, they set it up on their table with a feedback form. The teacher sets the timer as teams rotate to each project, discuss it, and write comments on that teams’ feedback form. When teams have rotated through all the projects, they go back to their table and read the comments that were left on their feedback form.

Continuous Round Table: “Students take turns generating written responses . . . to a project. (p.6.34, Kagan 2009).” One teammate begins with the paper and pencil. When the teacher starts the timer, the first student writes the first sentence in the story, then passes the paper clockwise to the next student. That student writes the next sentence in the story then passes it on. This continues until the timer goes off.

Variation: If you have young students who struggle with writing, you could use the ‘Continuous Round Robin’ structure which works the same way as ‘Continuous Round Table,’ but students share their sentence orally instead of writing it.


Kagan, Spencer, Dr., Kagan, Miguel, 2009. Kagan cooperative learning. Kagan Publishing; San Clemente, CA.

Balanced Literacy by Sharon Skidmore & Jill Graber

Balanced Literacy Grade 2 Through Cooperative Learning & Active Engagement by Sharon Skidmore & Jill Graber

Appropriate for grade 2 (Books available for grades K-5)

This 500 page resource is packed with valuable lessons that every second grade teacher uses. Centered around the cooperative learning structures that define Kagan, this book provides lessons, activities, and materials that are based on the components of Balanced Literacy: Comprehension, Word Study, Fluency, and Writing (with Vocabulary sprinkled into the Comprehension and Word Study sections). This easy to navigate resource has a table of contents that is broken down by balanced literacy components and Kagan structures, so the right lesson is always at your fingertips.

~Teacher Stuff blog review by Emily Stout

Personal Connection: I recently took a 4 day  Kagan workshop, and it was incredible! Although I’d heard about Kagan before, and even had a few ‘Kagan Structures’ cards, I’d never been to a workshop where I got to see it all come together. Now I’m hooked!

I was in a place in my teaching where I was doing well with what I knew how to do. I knew I could make improvements (we can ALWAYS get better), but I didn’t know what I didn’t know. This was exactly what I needed to take that next step in my teaching. I’m so grateful to my friend, Gina, who signed me up for the class so she wouldn’t have to go alone. I feel energized and ready to jump back in with my new ideas! (Well . . . I’ll take the summer first, then I’ll be ready to jump back in!)

One of my favorite lessons from this book is teaching students about non-fiction text features using the structure ‘Showdown.’ With students in cooperative learning teams, the group gets a set of team cards that is in a pile face down in the middle of the table. Each student gets a set of individual student cards that they hold in their hands. When the Showdown Captain turns the first card on the pile over, students independently check their hand for the answer that matches the card. When everyone signals that they are ready, the Showdown Captain says, “Showdown!” and everyone puts down their answers at the same time. If everyone was not correct, teammates coach then celebrate.  Here is an example of the ready-made resources for this activity:

If you haven’t taken a Kagan class, I highly recommend it. This book is fantastic, but without an understanding of the training that goes with it, you may not use it to its fullest extent. And if you’re still not convinced . . . they give away GREAT prizes! Every person in my class of 30 got a prize, and a few people got two. That’s my kind of workshop!