Using Padlet

We’re having a great conversation on our Facebook Book Club about the many uses for Padlet in our classrooms! Join us!

If you’ve never tried using Padlet, then you’re like me! I’m excited to learn how to use it so I can try making some Padlets with links to flipped lessons and digital texts. In our conversation on Facebook, our group has come up with many great uses for Padlet in the classroom including:

  • Exit Tickets
  • A collection of flipped lessons (so no child has to go to YouTube)
  • Entrance Tickets
  • Group Discussions
  • Digital Bins
  • Question of the day

Come join the discussion! Padlet is totally new to me, and this chat has really helped! This is my first Padlet ever: I’m trying to figure it out, and it’s really fun!

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 7.22.23 AM


Flipped Learning and Small Group Work

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 12.04.30 PM

Are you like me? Do you sometimes struggle to form and manage small groups of writers in the writing workshop? I feel confident conferring one-on-one with my students and teaching the minilesson, however, when it comes to small group work, I can struggle. This is an area that I’ve worked on a lot in the past three years, and I’ve found that flipped learning has helped a lot.

Why do I continue to try to teach small groups during writing workshop when I find it challenging to manage? I believe that learning is a social process and that students learn best when they talk about a strategy together and bounce ideas off each other. Small group work can be less structured than the formal class minilesson, and 2 or 3 students can work together to talk through their writing plans. Above all, small group learning switches the focus from the teacher to the students. The teacher takes a coaching role during small group sessions and students work together to tackle writing challenges. Flipped learning is perfect for small group work because it empowers students to take what they’ve learned and try it out and ask questions. Catlin Tucker, author of Blended Learning in Grades 4-12, wrote a blog post of using flipped learning in small group work and work stations ( She says:

“Then students can watch that video in a station where they can still pace their learning by pausing or rewinding the video. Once they’ve seen the video, they can engage in a collaborative task attempting to apply the information from the video as a group.This is a great way to take the benefits of the flipped classroom and embed them into the station rotation model.”

~Catlin Tucker

Here are 2 scenarios in the writing workshop that illustrate the benefits of using flipped learning in your small groups.

Example #1: I’ve just taught a minilesson about a new strategy for elaboration in a persuasive essay. My goals for the remainder of the workshop time are to confer with 3 students and run two small group lessons. The first small group of learners need to learn strategies for writing the opposing viewpoints and rebuttals. The second group of learners need to review a previously-taught lesson about paragraph structure. Prior to using flipped learning in the writing workshop, I might have mismanaged my time by trying to juggle these two small groups of learners, and I would not have had time to confer individually with students.

However, with two flipped lessons ready to go, I am able to form the two small groups and help them access flipped lessons about the topics. This way I can confer with one student while the small groups are accessing the flipped lessons. Then I can meet with the small groups to answer any questions they might have and see how they are applying what they learned. After meeting with both small groups, I still have plenty of time to meet with 2 or 3 more students one-on-one.

Example #2: I’ve learned from Kate Roberts, co-author of DIY Literacy and Falling in Love with Close Reading, that a great strategy for managing small groups of writers in upper elementary and middle school grades is to write 2 to 3 small group topics on the white board and encourage students to sign up for one of those topics. For instance, I might write “Making your thesis statement stronger and arguable,” “3 Strategies for Elaborating,” and “Transitional Sentence Starters” on the board. Students can choose which topic to sign up for during class that day, or they can choose not to participate in a small group.

Flipped learning helped me manage these small group sessions. In the past, I would have struggled to provide enough small group options for all of my learners. I know myself, and I know that trying to run 3 small group sessions is challenging in a writing workshop period. Instead of trying to teach all of the sessions, I write FL next to a session title or titles that have flipped lessons online. This way my students can access the flipped lessons on their own, at a time of their convenience, or with a small group of students in the workshop.

Flip Your Writing Workshop


We are so proud to announce that our new book, Flip Your Writing Workshop, comes out today! In this new book, we teach you how you can successfully flip your writing workshop.

No matter where you are in the process of flipping, we’ll teach you the strategies and techniques you need for creating a flipped writing workshop lesson. If you’re new to flipped learning, no problem. If you’ve been flipping lessons for a while, no problem. We provide examples of flipped lessons that use simple technology and lessons that use more sophisticated technology.

Also, we walk you through how you might use flipped lessons throughout a writing workshop unit. From generating ideas to celebrating your students’ final drafts, our book can help you envision how you might use flipped learning in your writing workshop.

Our book offers advice on:

  • How to use flipped learning to enhance your writing workshop
  • Differentiating your instruction for individuals and small groups
  • Creating engaging flipped lessons
  • Assessing flipped learning
  • Answering administrators’ and parents’ questions about flipped learning
  • And a lot more!


Flipping Without Flipping Out

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 6.02.09 PM

When Sonja and I first began writing our new book, Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach, we kept referring to it as our “Flipping Without Flipping Out” project. We believe in fostering a balanced blended learning approach in our classrooms, but when we first began flipping lessons, we had some moments of panic. However, instead of flipping out, we supported each other and embarked on this journey together.

This Thursday our new book will be released. Many of you, who know us and have read our blog before, know that we love talking about our passion for digital texts and teaching our students to think critically and interpret texts through multiple lenses. We also love talking about our favorite ways to inspire our students to read and write and the challenges we’ve faced in our classrooms. This week, we will chronicle our journey with flipped learning in our writing workshops. We will take you through the good, the bad, and the ugly so that you can see what we’ve been working on and what it’s really like.

Today, we will begin with one of the reasons we began flipping lessons in writing workshop: REASON #1: INDIVIDUALIZED LEARNING

Sonja and I get together on Saturday or Sunday morning at our favorite Panera Bread Restaurant in New York. We sit at our favorite table (the one near the electrical outlets) and begin typing away. We also chat about our classrooms and what we’re working on. Oftentimes, our conversations turn to the strategies we’re using in our rooms to help our students grow as readers and writers. “I’ve found this great digital text,” I might say to Sonja. And she might respond, “That’s perfect for a chart I’ve been thinking about.” We love our discussions about the ebb and flow in our workshops. We also talk about how we’re constantly trying to meet the needs of all our learners. How can we best differentiate our lessons?

A few years ago, we began talking about the different ways we could use the technology in our classrooms to help differentiate our curriculum. Flipping lessons seemed like a great way to help our students review material as well as move forward at their own pace. We never set out to create flipped lessons for homework. We wanted to flip lessons in order to differentiate. We wanted to create lessons that our students could access at home and at school that would move them forward at their own pace.

Example #1:It can be hard to learn a new writing strategy as quickly as everyone else sometimes. Occasionally, students need more time to let concepts sink in. We all wish we could hit rewind sometimes! Students who need more time developing an important skill will love flipped lessons. With a few flipped lessons at the ready, students can learn from them as many times as they need. They can work at their own pace.

Example #2: Say you have a student who is new to your school and is already familiar with persuasive essay writing. This happens each year in our classrooms. With a few flipped lessons about some advanced strategies for writing a persuasive essay, this student can move forward independently.

Individualized learning is just one way that we’ve used flipped learning inside and outside the writing workshop. Tomorrow we’ll talk about the second reason we turned to flipped learning in our blended learning writing workshops.

Are You Committed to Digital Learning?

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 3.13.11 PM.pngHappy Digital Learning Day! Digital Learning Day is a day to pause, reflect, and discuss our instructional methods with technology, equity in access to technology, and growing as digital learning edcuators.

We all need to commit to digital learning. Digital learning educators embrace change, continue learning, listen to others, ask questions, and collaborate.

Years ago when I began teaching using the reading and writing workshop model, technology looked like a turquoise iMac desktop computer on a solitary table. Remember those? Its only function was word processing. Over the years, I have adopted a balanced blended-learning style of teaching in my classroom, and we use Chromebooks. My balanced blended-learning teaching style did not happen overnight. It evolved and continues to evolve each day. It continues to grow and change with each new app, website, or tech tool I try. Although it isn’t always easy or intuitive, I push myself to learn and explore new possibilities with technology. We can all be digital learning educators in our school communities.

Are you committed to digital learning? 

1. Do you try new digital tools?  When I first tried flipped learning, my first lesson was a flop. But I was so happy that I tried! I felt proud of myself. It was outside my comfort zone, but I learned a lot and the next lesson was a success. When you try a new digital tool you are learning. You are taking a step in a new direction and trying something new with technology. This is what digital learning for educators is all about.

2. Do you explore new websites and use them in your classroom? How often have you heard about a new online site and you checked it out? This is how I found Wonderopolis, Kahoot, Nerdy Book Club, and just yesterday- Stormboard– a site similar to Padlet that has virtual graphic organizers for brainstorming ideas. Try it out. See if it might work for your students. When you explore new sites and bring a fresh, new digital site to your classroom, you are being a digital learning educator. Share your knowledge too! Bring your new find to a faculty meeting, a grade level meeting, or blog/twitter post.

3. Do you do professional development through social media like Twitter? Join twitter and get involved with online professional development. Not only will you learn about so many awesome new digital tools to use with your students, you can meet some many new people who share your interests and passions. You become a digital learning educator when you connect and share with others via technology. Be brave! Join a chat or get started with #NT2T, a chat for New Teachers To Twitter.

4. Do you learn about technology from your students? Teachers and students must learn together, from each other. I have many students who know a great deal about technology.Just yesterday, I learned about the app, It is an app that helps create music videos with cool effects. I learned about this app from my fifth graders at lunchtime. I am never surprised that they know so much more about technology than I do. I see it as my job to do some investigating to see if their new tech interest can help us in the classroom.

5. Do You Ask for Help? A digital learning educator knows that he or she should ask for help when stuck. I’ve googled, yahooed, and youtubed my way through many mishaps with technology. It’s the first thing I do. If it breaks or I don’t know how to use it, I google it. But when all my troubleshooting options are used up, I ask for help. Everyone knows that they don’t know everything and will have to ask for help. This is how we learn. Don’t be afraid to ask your tech support staff, colleagues, or students for help. A digital learning educator asks for help. Just never give up!

I’m sure that you answered YES to one or more questions above. This means that you are a digital learning educator. Digital Learning Day reminds us all that we can learn, grow, and improve our instructional practices with technology at our schools. I need to remind myself of this more often and keep moving forward. A leader with technology doesn’t need to be a computer science expert. He or she just needs to persevere, try new tools, and be willing to change as the technology changes. As technology continues to change rapidly, it is more important than ever that we act as digital learning educators in our school communities.


Dana Johansen spends her time teaching fifth grade in snowy Connecticut, reading on the couch with her yellow lab, and getting excited for the new season of House of Cards to return. Dana is the co-author of the new book, Flip Your Writing Workshop, due out in April. She believes in balanced blended learning and uses digital texts, flipped lessons, and all things Google to differentiate, be time efficient, and increase her students’ autonomy in the workshop. She has taught elementary and middle school for fourteen years. Dana is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University where she studies blended learning in reading and writing workshop. 

Why I Chose to Flip

The day I discovered that my interactive whiteboard could record my lessons was the day I began creating flipped lessons. At that time I was teaching fourth grade and I wanted my students to have access to math lessons during math centers. I began to create two kinds of lessons- ones that reviewed previously-taught concepts and ones that previewed new material. My students loved the lessons, and I was excited. Flipped learning was helping my students review and move ahead at their own pace.

Next, I began flipping grammar lessons. This freed up a tremendous amount of time! I used my iPad to create these lessons using the app, Explain Everything. I created flipped lessons about prepositions, fragments, and commas. I found that my students and I had more time during class to do the type of word study work that Katie Wood Ray describes in her book, Wondrous Words. After this experience, I wanted to do more. I wanted to learn more about my software options and how I could bring the benefits of flipped learning into reading and writing workshop. I learned how to use different types of software such as Camtasia (love!), Screencastify from Google (convenient!), and Zaption (so fantastic!)

Flipped learning isn’t about homework. I realize that many people focus on the use of flipped lessons for homework; however, I’ve found that my students access the flipped lessons during the school day just as much as they do at home. It is about my students learning at their own pace and having more time for what really matters- reading and writing.

Here is a sample lesson that I used this year with my fifth graders. It helped my students understand how to use sticky notes in their book. This is a simple, quick lesson, and I used Explain Everything to create it. What I like about having this lesson in my collection of flipped lessons is that my students can refer to it at any time during the school year in case they need a refresher about annotating with sticky notes. I can also reuse it again next year. See what you think and leave me a comment with your thoughts.

Originally from Pennsylvania, Dana Johansen is hoping that Punxsutawney Phil will not see his shadow on Feb. 2 and there will be an early spring. In the meantime, she spends her time teaching fifth grade in wintery Connecticut, sitting with her yellow lab on the couch reading YA Lit, and watching the tv show, The Big Bang Theory. She has taught elementary and middle school for fourteen years. Dana is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University where she studies blended learning in reading and writing workshop. She is the co-author of the books Teaching Interpretation and Flip Your Writing Workshop. 

5 Ways to Build a Reader with Minecraft

Do you receive book recommendations from I am on their mailing list, and I enjoy reading which books they are selling to their teacher club members. Over the weekend, I read an email about books they recommend for children ages 9-12. I wasn’t surprised to see Minecraft books listed half a dozen times. Amazon is pushing these books because they are the books that many children want to read. Minecraft is HUGE for many of our students right now and we need books that relate to their interests.

Why Minecraft? Why do our students like reading these books? Over the summer, I wrote a post for the Nerdy Book Club about Minecraft books in the classroom and their potential to engage readers in the reading workshop. If you’ve ever played Minecraft, then you get it. It’s a sandbox game that has endless possibilities. It is a game that can go on forever. Plus, it incorporates building, problem-solving, and magic. What could be better?!

Minecraft can be used in the classroom in many ways. Andrew Miller wrote an article for Edutopia called “Ideas for Using Minecraft in the Classroom.” In addition, this link will take you to a great YouTube video about Minecraft in the classroom.

Here are 5 Ways that You Can Build a Reader with Minecraft:

  1. 516P5jSg5HL._AA160_Grab Reluctant Readers’ By Creating an Appealing Display – Fully embrace Minecraft! Your students’ faces will light up when they see a Minecraft display in your classroom. Whenever I put out Minecraft books, they are all gone by the end of the day! These displays are a huge draw for many of my reluctant readers who are fans of Minecraft.
  2. Get Some Minecraft Manuals for Minecraft Hacks– This is the first type of Minecraft book that my students ask for. They want to read the tips and tricks for how to play Minecraft. Students quickly move from these tip books to Minecraft novels.
  3. How’s it Going? Confer with Students about their Minecraft Reading– Many students who love Minecraft enjoy talking about the characters, the worlds that they are building, and the choices they are making. You can leverage students’ affinities with Minecraft and discuss the main character’s motivations, feelings, and development/change. You can also discuss setting descriptions and how the setting shapes the character’s decisions.
  4. Write about Minecraft in Reading Notebooks – Students will love writing in their reading notebooks about their Minecraft reading! All that great reading will lead to some good writing!
  5. Get some Minecraft Novels– My students love to read Minecraft books during reading workshop. I recommend getting some Minecraft books for your reading workshop. I’ve found that I have many reluctant readers who gravitate toward these books. You can find these books in the children’s section of bookstores. Be prepared. These books will fly off your shelves! Here are some books that I have on my shelves:

Screen Shot 2015-12-20 at 7.08.35 PM



Getting ready to do some good reading and writing over the holiday break, Dana Johansen spends her time teaching fifth grade in Connecticut, negotiating with her yellow lab about not chewing on the Christmas tree, and playing the app, Cookie Jam. She has taught elementary and middle school for fourteen years. Dana is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University where she studies blended learning in reading and writing workshop. She is the co-author of the books Teaching Interpretation and Flip Your Writing Workshop. 

Re-Imagining the Book Report – Part 2

It’s the week before the holiday break and my students are ready to spend time with family and friends. This can be a challenging time for teachers as we try to harness enough energy in our classrooms and maximize our teaching time before we reach the finish line! In a previous post, I discussed the benefits of re-imagining book reports as book trailers and how this work can energize reading workshop.

The book report is a reading workshop staple that offers important learning opportunities for students. Book trailers do as well. Many of the same goals we have for our students when we assign book reports can be accomplished through digital literacy. The creation of book trailers helps to broaden our students understanding of literacies from a static, conventional, print-based conception to an appreciation of literacies as a shifting, evolving, and dynamic force.

So here’s how I get students started!

It’s important to show students a good model of a book trailer. Here’s one I show to my 6th graders on a book they’ve read and loved: The Crazy Man by Pamela Porter. It is a good model of the type of work I hope they’ll do.

After viewing it, I asked students to brainstorm some of the essential elements of book trailers that they think should be included in their work. In addition to stating literary elements such as setting, mood, and theme, my students noted that the most important element of a book trailer is to persuade the audience to read the book.

Below are a few Trailer and Tech Tips that help students make awesome book trailers:

Trailer Tips

Tech Tips

Plan! Use a Book Trailer Storyboard Outline to plan the format and order of your trailer. Which parts of the book will you feature? What images will you need to find? Plan! Collect images. Save them as jpeg’s in a Google Folder that can be uploaded later.
Content! Use literary elements to convey the storyline. Present parts of the book that help to show mood, setting, and theme. Pique interest without giving away too much of the book, particularly the end. Software! Select user-friendly software such as WeVideo, Photostory 3, or Movie Maker. View a tutorial to understand how it works. Ex.


Production! Use the cover of the book with the title and author. Select images and music that match (not distract from) the story. Speak clearly and at an appropriate pace during voiceovers. Production! Layout first! Once each scene is in place, then experiment with special effects such as music, movement, color, etc. Remember to focus on the purpose of this work. The trailer should persuade the audience to read the book!


There is no one right way to make a book trailer. Focus on the goals you have for your specific learners and what you’d like them to be able to demonstrate as readers. As mentioned previously, other important learning opportunities for students include: enjoying the creative process, appreciating each other’s strengths and talents as they work collaboratively with their peers, and discovering how to advocate for their needs by seeking help from teachers and digital sources.

So next week, on the last day before our break, we’ll be enjoying the fruits of our labor… with popcorn, of course! I’ll be sure to post an example of my students work. And I look forward to sending my students off with books in hand that they are excited to read!




Sonja Cherry-Paul has been an educator for the past 17 years. She is a middle school English teacher and co-author of Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning and Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach. Sonja is a Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards committee member who is committed to celebrating authors and illustrators who address issues related to social justice.



Re-Imagining the Book Report


Tired of assigning book reports? Me too. And guess what? So are our students! Spice things up by asking students to create a book trailer. Many of the same goals of a traditional book report can be accomplished in a book trailer. The difference is, this digital format is highly engaging work students WANT to do. Also, there are numerous benefits to doing this work. Here are four:

  • Re-energizing Reading Workshop – We’re several months into the school year now. Our reading workshop routines are in place and my students are looking for a new, fun challenge. Creating book trailers fits the bill and the excitement in the room is palpable. There’s a positive and productive buzz in the room as students focus with great intent on their creations. Of course laying some essential ground rules is key. Students are engaged in the process, and it’s so much fun to watch and listen in on genius at work!
  • Collaboration – We can tell our students to cooperate until we turn purple. But some lessons are best learned by experience. Students truly understand the meaning of collaboration as a result of creating a book trailer. They learn to negotiate power, to listen to ideas different from their own, and that creativity thrives in spaces that are nurturing and positive. Also, they experience the meaning of the Mayan proverb: Many hands make light work!
  • Rereading – Looking for authentic ways for students to revisit a text? Setting specific goals and requirements for their book trailers will help you to accomplish this. Remind students that movie trailers are created from a finished (or mostly finished) product. The creators of these trailers pull from this product to give a sample of detail about characters, setting, and theme that will persuade viewers. These are the literary elements students should think about as well when creating their book trailers. To do this well requires revisiting and rereading key parts of the book to powerfully, accurately , and persuasively portray these elements.
  • Excitement For Books– Looking to get students excited about reading a new book? Book trailers are created by students, for students, about books they love. What better way to get more books into the hands of students?

Worried about the Tech? Don’t be! There are several manageable, user-friendly options to choose from. In my next post, I’ll share some Trailer and Tech Tips for helping students make awesome book trailers!


Sonja Cherry-Paul has been an educator for the past 17 years. She is a middle school English teacher and co-author of Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning and Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach. Sonja is a Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards committee member who is committed to celebrating authors and illustrators who address issues related to social justice.