I Scream, You Scream, The Students All Scream for Gimkit!

Have you tried the hottest learning tool in the edtech universe, Gimkit?  Fellow Language Arts teacher Jeanne Rountree first put this technology on my radar during preplanning in August, but I didn’t actually try it with my students until November.  According to Gimkit’s creator, high school student Josh Feinsilber, Gimkit is:

“…a game show for the classroom that requires knowledge, collaboration, and strategy to win.  Students answer questions on their own device at their own pace. Throughout a Kit, each student will get exposure to the questions multiple times to ensure mastery.  I built Gimkit to be the game I wanted to play in class! While working on Gimkit I developed a passion for making learning memorable. I graduated in June, 2019 and kept working on Gimkit because of the positive impact I know it can have for teachers and students.”

In addition to generating an insane amount of energy and excitement about learning, Gimkit has these additional awesome features:

I like that Gimkit can be used in many ways in the classroom for a live learning activity or as a homework/independent learning assignment; I think it would be fun to use the assignment features on a station rotation day.  In addition, Gimkit features a help center for educators.

I tried Gimkit as a way of creating a fun and engaging review of some of the short stories we had read in early November.  I thought my students were going to lose their minds (in a good way) when I announced we were playing a review game for those stories in Gimkit and that we would be in team mode.


While the game was tremendous fun, the data from the game also helped me to see gaps in understanding that we could tackle the following day in class.

I was so impressed by the student response to the game that I purchase a year’s subscription to get the extra features and unlimited kits.   It takes a LOT these days for any technology to impress me, so for me to invest in a professional subscription says volumes.

Last week, we spent several days doing a variety of learning activities on tone (blog post coming soon on that topic).  I created a kit on tone with a variety of difficulty in the questions, and students very much enjoyed the holiday theme and music that are available this month in live games.


If you want to learn more, I encourage you to try the free version yourself.  Here are some awesome blog posts and online reviews that will also give you ideas on how and why to use Gimkit!

Playlists with Stations Are Music to My Ears—Best Ever First Days of School FTW!

In my last post, I shared a preview of my playlists with stations first days activity.  We used the first three days of class to engage in a variety of literacy learning tasks to engage students in classroom community building, engage in some reading and writing, and knock out some beginning of the year tech tasks.   I am happy to share that the playlist oriented activity was a huge success—students were engaged right off the bat, and they did a fabulous job working through the stations at their own pace during our first three days of class August 7-9.

Just to recap from the last post (you can also get a video tour of the stations in that post), here are my stations on the playlist:

  • Station 1: “One Word” language and art activity
  • Station 2: Brainstorming positive behaviors to help us learn and brainstorming behaviors to avoid that get in the way of learning. (free signs via TPT)
  • Station 3: All About You as a Reader/Writer Survey (Google Form)
  • Station 4: Critical Reading and Constructed Response in Canvas (see below)
  • Station 5: Silent Conversation Response Activity on What Makes a Great Book or Read
  • Station 6: Sign up for NoRedInk
  • Station 7: Syllabus Station
  • Station 8: Writing Skills Wishlist
  • Station 9: Partner Work Brainstorming Ways to Care for Our Classroom Materials and Workspace
  • Station 10: Putting the U in Language Arts Survey: (purchased on TPT here as part of a bundled purchase plus a free version)

A few reflections that I’d like to share about my first ever go at using the playlist strategy:

  • Using the playlist strategy with stations really upped the accountability piece for students, and it provided me ten different opportunities for quick formative assessments in different areas with my students.  I cannot stress how insightful this was for me, and how much the playlist aspect helped keep students on track with very little direction from me.
  • Active learning experiences and structures as well as station work in a variety of formats are staples of classroom for my 8th graders.  Using the playlist with stations helped establish the tone and expectations I wanted for the beginning of the year.
  • Observing students in action was instrumental in giving me a sense of students as learners—who works well independently, who might need just a bit of coaching, who works well with partners, how well students can follow written instructions, and how well students manage their learning time.
  • The check in with the playlist helped me learn names much more quickly the first few days!

I was very fortunate that my tech-oriented stations worked well since our hardware and software applications were ready to go for Day 1 along with student log-ins.  I must give props to our media specialist Tracey Kell, school technology specialist Terrie Hudson, and our district tech gods/goddesses for all their work over the summer and behind the scenes prior to pre-planning that helped us be tech-ready—with hardware, student log-ins, and software apps via our Launchpoint portal– on Day 1.  I am also pleased that the time I put into designing the stations and getting everything set up paid off because students were able to navigate the stations very easily and with minimal assistance from me.

The first days of the school year are the best I’ve had in many years—maybe ever!  My 8th graders are going to be a terrific group to teach and learn with this year, but I do feel the playlist with stations helped establish the right notes on those first days.  I am grateful for our assistant principal Libbie Armstrong for showing and modeling this strategy with teachers during pre-planning, and I know many of my fellow teachers across multiple grade levels and subject areas utilized the strategy with great success as well.

A Playful and Powerful Twist on Stations: Playlists

Today was our first day of preplanning, and we engaged in three breakout meetings to tackle beginning of the year topics.  Our administration divided faculty and staff into three groups, and we completed three rotations of 45 minute session.  The first session I attended was led by Assistant Principal Libbie Armstrong ; she introduced a teaching and learning strategy, playlists, as a medium for us to cover and address the following topics on procedural expectations:

  • Lockers
  • Cell Phones
  • Backpacks
  • Agendas
  • Hallways/Bathrooms
  • Grading
  • PLCs
  • Teacher Handbook

What are playlists?  Caitlin Tucker says:

The playlist concept stems from the Individual Rotation Model in which each student works from an individual playlist of activities. I’ve used playlists for formal writing, grammar, and projects. The goal of the playlist model is to allow students some control over the pace and path of their learning.

Playlists may include both face to face as well as digital learning activities and opportunities to respond.

We began by reading over the instructions and then picking a “learning path” as an entry point.  Even though they were numbered, we could actually do them in any order as long as worked through them and then did the appropriate checkpoint with Ms. Armstrong.  Our tasks were both individual and collaborative, and every teacher was highly engaged.  We recorded responses on chart paper, at table group areas, and on our individual response sheets.

After Tweeting about the activity this morning, fellow educator Brittany Griffin shared this guide she created on playlists!  Additional resources to browse:

We all left the session extremely jazzed about this approach and were sharing ideas about different ways we could use this strategy in our different subject areas.  I’m so excited to design my own for my 8th graders later this month.  Have you used playlists?  If so, what tips and best practices can you share?

Hat tip to my AP Libbie Armstrong for teaching this awesome strategy plus helping us tackle a wide range of important topics in a fun and engaging way!

Introducing Claims with Task Card Walk Goodness

Last Wednesday, we began our formal exploration of claims, counterclaims, and rebuttals, some core concepts I felt needed to frontload with my 8th graders based on the results of a survey they had completed about 10 days earlier.

One of my favorite ways to use task cards is for an gallery walk style learning experience.  I purchased an excellent set of task cards on Teachers Pay Teachers, printed them, cut them up, and placed them around the room.  After introducing claims with some notes and guided practice together, students participated in our task card walk to identify the claim statement in the paragraphs on the task cards.  Students could complete the walk in any order they wanted, and we followed our usual rules of quiet work during the walk and no more than 2-3 people per task card area at a time.  Whether they chose to work with a buddy or approach the task card walk independently, my students excelled at this activity:

Once students completed the task card walk, they turned in their answer sheets and used the remainder of class to read their choice library books.  The following day we swapped papers  and went through each task card answer choice together as a class; this “check and correct” review activity gave us a chance to see patterns or gaps of understanding and to talk about the reasons as to why a statement was indeed a claim.

This activity is simple, but I find my 8th graders enjoy task card walks and are engaged as they contemplate their learning challenge on each task card.  I also love this kind of activity because it gets students up and moving, something I think it is important to incorporate into my classroom at least once a week.

How do you incorporate task cards into your instruction and classroom?

Annotations + Rhetorical Analysis + Document Camera= Learning with Joy and Relevance

Last week, my juniors read “Gettysburg Address” (Tuesday for A day classes; Wednesday for B day classes) and then Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?”  (Thursday for A day classes and Friday for B day classes).  I paired the texts back to back so that students could analyze the use of rhetorical devices in each speech as well as the SOAPS (speaker, occasion, audience, purpose, and subject.  For “Gettysburg Address”, we watched a few short clips from the Ken Burns PBS series Civil War that gave students context of the speech as well as a professional reading of the speech.  We then engaged in rhetorical analysis using a copy of the speech from Common Lit with students annotating the text and marking rhetorical devices they saw in each paragraph.  We then did a large group share of our findings.

For “Ain’t I a Woman”, I began to think about how I could kick up our analysis work a few notches and build on thes strategies from Tuesday/Wednesday.  Again, I utilized Common Lit to provide my students a copy of the text that they could keep and annotate (note:  the version that appears as of this blog post publication is a different and shorter (original) version than the one that was available just a week ago).  With my A day classes, we watched two videos:  first, a short biography that I followed with a reading of the speech by Alice Walker.


We then did a quick review of key rhetorical devices, and I kept them projected on the board as students than did individual annotations and rhetorical analysis of the speech.

Once again, we projected the speech on the board as a PDF and worked our way through the speech exploring the rhetorical devices with students volunteering to lead the discussion for each paragraph and our class engaging in a collaborative large group exploration of the speech.  However, for this round of text analysis I asked students to then  work with a partner to do some additional reflection questions on the speech.  While my classes did a fantastic job digging into and reflecting on the text, I wondered if there was not a way for students to actually show their annotations  and thinking to the rest of the class as they took turns leading the conversation.  I began to think about how to make this “visible thinking” happen the next day on Friday.

Initially, I thought about having the speech blown up into posters and doing a sort of gallery walk approach to the annotations and letting students then present from each station.  However, this idea was not very practical due to the lack of time or ease of access to a poster printing machine.  I suddenly remembered a training we had on new document cameras prior to our holiday break last semester; I messaged our media specialist after hours and asked if she could reserve one for me the next day.  Not only did she do so, but we also have enough of these document cameras for teachers to keep them through the year (click here to see our marvelous model ).     It is much smaller than it appears in the photo below; you could easily fold it up and put it in your purse or tote bag.

This document camera model is by far the best I’ve used in the last 10 years.  It is petite, lightweight, super easy to set up, and focuses quickly.  The image resolution is also superb.  Most importantly, it was easy for the students to use.

I repeated the same initial steps of the activity with the video on Friday, but I then had students work in pairs and trios to do collaborative thinking and come up with collaborative annotations of the text as they talked it through together.  I was so inspired by the rich conversations I heard as I walked around the room and heard students really talking to each other and debating the use of rhetorical devices in the speech.   Even my quietest students were suddenly rather animated and participating in the discussion with a partner or partners.   One student was almost in tears as she told me how moved she was by the words and how she was realizing through her work with her two partners how beautiful the speech was.  She exclaimed, “I love Sojourner Truth!  This speech is amazing!”  I am sure there is not a standardized test to measure that kind of learning and growth!

After having about 12-15 minutes to work together, groups could then volunteer to lead discussions and share their analysis and show us their work with the document camera.  As soon as the first group presented, hands were up and students eagerly volunteering to come up to the document camera (which connected to my laptop via USB and that I placed on a student desk for ease of use by groups).    I saw an enthusiasm and level of engagement I have not seen from some of my classes, and I think the ability of the document to suddenly make visible and public the students had done with their partners was the game changer.  Several students told me how much they loved the activity and hoped we’d be using the document camera again (we will!).

I am so excited to have found a way to make a good learning activity BETTER and that elevates student work, talk, and ownership of the conversation to a higher level.   Suddenly, rhetorical analysis and annotation have new depth, meaning, and purpose for my students, and I’m truly eager to see what else we can do the rest of this spring.