Using Social Media to Demonstrate Reading Comprehension and Content Mastery

If you are an avid user of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms, there is a good chance your students are either using or aware of them as well. Students are using these tools creatively in my class to show their understanding of a literary text. There are also possibilities to apply these activities in any classroom where explaining thinking is required. In ELA I am able to assess if students understand plot, character motives, relationships, etc. all by reading their “texts.” In social studies, students could have discussions between world leaders and/or historical figures across time. This is especially relevant if those figures lived in different eras. Across content areas, students could create the Facebook pages, text screenshots, Snapchats, etc. for inventors, scientists, historical figures, book characters, mathematicians…regardless of time of barriers like language, lifespan, or location. The possibilities are endless.

Screenshots of text messages between book characters

Cinderella's phone Prince-Hey it's the prince, Cinderella-what's up, Prince-I think I found your shoe, Cinderella-Where, Prince-on the steps outside my house, (image of a glass slipper), Prince-Is this yours?, Cinderella-Yes! I must have dropped it when I ran out! I missed my curfew!
Screenshots of fake text message exchanges between literary characters.

In the article, Creative Lessons with Fake Texts, Tweets, Facebook Pages and More by Nick LaFave, the author discusses several  links to social media simulators that you can use with your students. This is not an exhaustive list of what is available, but offers a great place to start! All sites should be thoroughly explored by an adult first. Have fun creatively using social media in your own classroom, without many of the worries of social media access!






Think Outside the Screencast Box

What’s a Screencast?

I love screencasting. I discussed screencasts in my post: Screencasts-A Doorway to Possibilities, but felt an update was due to reflect new ways I am using them with students. In that earlier post, I stated,  “Screencasts allow us to get first person tutorials as if we were sitting at the computer with the person teaching it. They offer video of the screen of the instructor as they go through the steps of a given task in real time, often with recorded audio for oral instructions throughout the process.” A screencast is an easy way to create a tutorial for something my students (or peers) need to do. However, screencasts can do more than just teach steps. Screencasts can also be used to solve problems, deliver content, and demonstrate understanding within the classroom.Using your devices camera, screencasting allows you to record your screen, yourself, or a combination of both.

What Screencast Creators Are Out There?

I have used both Screencast-o-matic and Screencastify to create screencasts, but there are multitude of options available.

Screencastify is a chrome extension that allows users to save their videos to Google Drive, upload to Youtube, or download to their computer’s hardrive.  In her YouTube video, Screencastify Tutorial, Lauren Newman gives a great overview of Screencastify’s features and uses. It works very well in classrooms that are primarily using Chromebooks, but I have used it with any computer (MAC or PC) that can log in to Chrome, download and access apps and extensions in the Chrome Web Store.

Screencast-o-matic is a cloud-based service that allows you to create and share screencasts online. It does not require Chrome, but does require a login. You can also download it and run it outside of the internet. Screencast-o-matic has a tutorial  video that gives a quick overview at Welcome to Screencast-O-Matic.

Get Yourself a Learning Platform

I use screencasts in my classroom in several ways. Let me preface this by saying that my class uses technology as an every day tool. We are 1:1 this year, but most of these would also work in a rotation station. I use a learning platform for delivering online instruction. It gives a central location where students can go for copies of notes, links, online assignments, and turn in work digitally.  I use Google Classroom, but this would work with any learning platform (like Edmodo, Canvas, Blackboard, etc.).

Tip for success: Make going to the learning platform for activities and instruction routine. Students will keep that routine even when you are not directing them. Even when I post things on the board, I post them on the learning platform as well. Students know to go to the learning platform for copies of notes, classroom and homework instructions, vocabulary word lists, video tutorials, turn in instructions, links etc.

Screencast Outside the Box

Videos of the whole group lesson

When teaching the whole group lesson, I often record a screencast of myself delivering the lesson. You can upload them to a private YouTube channel for absent students, for students needing reteaching, or for flipped learning. You can teach your main lesson in a screencast, have students watch it at their own speed, and start the independent work. As they work on independent work, students can request help as needed.

Video mini-tutorials by the teacher

I film brief tutorials for how to complete a given task so students can use it when they need help, are learning something new, and/or are absent and need to catch up. This especially helpful for complicated tasks or activities with multiple steps. All of my students use these videos, but they are especially helpful for students who need repeated directions or need to chunk complicated tasks into smaller parts. I post the video with a list of timestamps to create “chapters.” Paired with a checklist, this really helps students who need it stay on track.


  • Step 1 (00:22)
  • Step 2 (00:47)
  • 00:14 Instructions
  • 02:37 How to cite your source

Sub plans

Post a screencast of the learning and behavioral expectations for the day. Then, explain directions and provide information for any expected challenges. Include instructions for how to access this information in the sub plans (make your screencast link less secure so the sub can go to it). Post it so students can access and refer to it during class. Something about hearing the expectations from their regular teacher helps my students stay on task. It might have something to do with the fact that, in the screencast, I also tell them the rewards and consequences expected for their behavior in my absence.

Video tutorials by the student

When a student has trouble with an online task, I help that student and have them create a quick screencast showing someone else how to proceed. In the beginning this takes a bit of guidance. By the middle of the year, the students start doing it on their own. Teaching someone else is a great way to show mastery!

Demonstrate understanding of the content (for formative and summative assessments)

Go beyond paper, pencils, and paragraphs. The possibilities here are somewhat endless, but a few ideas may include:

  • Have students create podcasts in response to a text read, as part of a literature circle, or to present an on screen presentation with narration.
  • Have a digital poetry slam where students pick appropriate pictures to display as they say they recite their poem (with or without including video of themselves).
  • Have students explain as they annotate a text online
  • Make a video of your response to a question instead of writing it
  • Check fluency by having students screencast themselves reading a text (whether the text is online or offline).

Human reader for tests, quizzes, worksheets, etc. and read along videos for texts

Models of fluent and expressive reading are important. Use a digital version of the text, and read portions of it out loud in screencasts. Struggling readers can follow along to a well-read model.

I also include a screencast of many written materials for students who require verbatim reading of text. This includes my quizzes/tests with a specialized link (so I can modify access to between classes to limit cheating) and lengthy texts. I record it once and use it for all students who need it. Students like being able to rewind. They also like the independence of being in charge of the pace


The usefulness of screencasts are only limited by your (and your students’) imagination. They can be much more than simple tutorials. Screencasts can be used in every part of instruction from introduction to follow up. Now go forth and screencast!

Reaching Multilingual Learners with BrainPop and YouTube

As a teacher in a school with a high population of diverse learners, I am always looking for ways to support student understanding of concepts. I know I am not the only educator who strives to get my students to “get it.” I am lucky enough to have had students who received special education services, students who received ELL services, students with highly able plans, students considered below grade level and students who were well above grade level. In the inclusive classroom, you have to find a way to reach everyone.

Before I begin, let me say I do not work for BrainPop or YouTube.

In the past, I have used BrainPop like many teachers have. My school provides subscriptions to our students. I head to and have my students explore or watch a specified video and complete the quizzes or other activities. In that capacity, it is a great resource. However, using BrainPop in that way just scratches the surface of its capabilities.

I work in a school with a high population of students who receive ELL services, most speaking Spanish. Contrary to what many believe, most of our teachers do not speak Spanish, including me! I teach STEM, science and social studies. All subjects are rich in content vocabulary. One thing I like to do is find coordinating videos through Brainpop and Brainpop Español.

In an upcoming economics lesson, I will be teaching about supply and demand. I will introduce the concept through BrainPop videos. Through a quick Google translation, I was able to figure out how to say “supply and demand” in Spanish. I then found the cooresponding videos on Brainpop (Supply and Demand) and Brainpop Español (Oferta y Demanda). (Note: You will need to log in to your BrainPop account to watch these movies).

First, the entire class will watch the video in English. Then, the class will choose to watch it again in the language of their choice (English or Spanish) rewatching, pausing, and rewinding as needed and taking notes to understand the vocabulary words (like:  supply, demand, consumer, etc.). In the past, I have noticed that my native Spanish speakers will write the English and Spanish translations next to each other. Sometimes they will also annotate my notes or worksheets with the Spanish translations of vocabulary.

Videos that took me a few extra minutes to find, allow me to scaffold my instruction in a way that helps to reach my learners in a meaningful way.

BrainPop is a pay services and I know that every school doesn’t provide for it’s use. YouTube on the other hand is free. Another method that I use to support student understanding is to change the language on my closed captioning on YouTube videos.

I try to always choose videos on YouTube that have closed captioning. This allows me to play the closed captioning on the screen as students view the video. This is helpful for student comprehension (especially for students who need to see the words to understand or need help spelling new vocabulary words). I then give students the option of watching the video again with English or alternate subtitles (like Spanish or French if those languages are represented in your class). This may mean having alternate “watching stations” in the classroom. I have created a 2 minute video that explains how to change the closed captioning on YouTube videos. It is super easy to do and offers an easy way to support learners who are literate in another language.

The video Fabulous Food Chains: Crash Course Kids #7.1 was not created by A. Dahl. It was created by Crash Course Kids. 

Flubaroo: A Method to Use Google Forms for Assessment

Over the last few years, I have seen a more widespread use of Google Forms occur. It seems to be the go to method for professional development evaluations. I have also incorporated its use in my classroom for exit tickets on occasion. I have just under 60 students and have found the task of individually scoring students using Google Forms to be a daunting one when percentage scores are needed. In the past, I manually tallied student responses or used the summary of responses feature to get an overall picture of classroom understanding. To individually score 50+ assessments was time-consuming, especially if more than five assessment questions were used.

The grid below shows typical data for a four question assessment taken by 10 students.

spreadsheet of 10 student responses generated by Google Forms
Spreadsheet of ten student responses generated by Google Forms
If I were to use Google Forms to assess more students, with more questions, the task of analyzing the data could become much more tedious and overwhelming. Due to that limitation, I did not use Google Forms for assessment very often this year.

Tonight in class, I learned of a much easier method of gathering data using Google Forms and the prospect of implementing it is promising.  I was so impressed by the Google add-on, Flubaroo, that I feel it warrants sharing with all of you. Flubaroo allows you to score assessments and mine data from the responses with ease.  It allows the program to “grade” for you! Please watch the short video below (created by Lisa Stamper) for a tutorial on how you can use Flubaroo for your own data needs.

When I applied the Flubaroo add-on to the data from the spreadsheet above I was pleasantly surprised by the ease of use.

After downloading the add-on as illustrated in the video, I clicked on “Flubaroo” in the pull down menu and chose my grading options.

Selecting the point values in the Flubaroo window
Selecting my grading option
Then, I chose the answer key I created by completing the Google Form myself and putting in all the correct answers (I called it “Teacher Answer Key.”

Choosing my answer key from the menu of responses
Choosing my answer key
Finally, I clicked on the “grades” tab at the bottom of the sheet and received my students’ scores!

Spreadsheet with percentile scores generated using the Flubaroo add-on for Google Forms
Scores generated by the Flubaroo add-on for Google Forms
Goodbye tedious individual grading, hello efficiency! Within 5 minutes of finishing the assessment, I can have student scores at my fingertips. Anything that makes our jobs easier is worth taking a look at. While this method will not work for student essay responses, there is an option not to score those portions of assessments using Flubaroo (so that they can be individually evaluated). Still, the benefits of using Flubaroo, in my opinion, outweigh the drawbacks. Try it for yourself, and share your opinions. If you come up with an innovative way to use Flubaroo, be sure to share that too!

Plickers: Budget-Friendly Formative Assessment Technology for the Classroom

The use of technology to enhance instruction and engage students in learning is a wonderful thing. Being able to use technology as a means of assessing student understanding and gathering data is part of current trends in the education of today’s learners. A few years ago a wave of student response device (clicker) purchases began at schools around my county.

The devices came in kits of about 18-24 devices with a hub to plug into your computer to act as the receiver for student responses. They were neat…and expensive! Within a year they were obsolete, when new versions that had all of the missing features teachers wanted were rolled out (but far too expensive to buy new sets). Nearly five years later, those kits are rarely used, replaced by apps and bring your own device (BYOD) capabilities in classrooms which allow students to use their smartphones as makeshift clickers.

What do you do if your school does not have individual classroom response devices for students to use or you serve students who do not have smart devices of their own?

In his article, Clickers and Classroom Dynamics, Derek Bruff does a great job explaining the pros and supportive research of using clicker devices in the classroom. However, the cost of said devices is often too high for individual teachers to purchase and outside of the budget of many of today’s schools as well.

A possible solution to this problem comes in the form of an app that I have just learned about called Plickers. Plickers has the potential to be used in place of expensive clicker devices. All that is required is the use of a smart phone or iPad (just ONE) with a camera (there are versions for both Apple and Android) and a set of cards you can print out for student use.

This tweet from @HaleyKayTurner does a great job of explaining the features and highlighting ways to make it work in your classroom:

After watching, I was so impressed, I had to let her know!