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!

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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. 

Frozen? Let it Go! (And teach symbolism!)

Still frozen? Wow, we got a lot of snow this week! Sonja got 20 inches and Dana got 15! With all that snow, why not embrace an old classic- “Let it Go!” This song, popular in 2013, was a huge hit with students. Why not use this well-known song to teach symbolism?  Students of all ages can do this rigorous work with a digital text like “Let it Go!” Similar to our post about using the commercial with the miniature horse, students can engage with this digital text in a new way. They can read through the lens of symbolism.

Symbolism– “Let it Go!” is incredible for teaching symbolism! Try these 3 exercises with your students:

Strategy #1- Read the text with purpose. Ask your students to notice important objects that are meaningful to the character while watching the clip.  (Glove, crown, staircase, snowflakes, cape etc.)

Strategy #2- Have students think about these objects. What is the function of a glove, a cape, a crown, a staircase? (Protection, royalty, a climb?)

Strategy #3- Ask your students about these objects and what they might symbolize. Think about their function first and then discuss what it might symbolize. For example, a staircase might symbolize a climb or journey: the crossing from one place to another. How might this relate to Elsa’s situation?

In the work sample below, you can see that the student is thinking about the objects in the clip. Next, she thinks about their characteristics. Last, she considers what they might represent. We’ve found great success using this digital text and graphic organizer with our students to teach symbolism. Let us know your thoughts.

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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. 

Sonja Cherry-Paul is a member of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Committee. She has been immersed in reading wonderful books created by authors and illustrators who address themes related to social justice. The best part of this process is sharing these incredible books with her 6th graders and the insightful conversations they spark.  She is co-author of Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning and Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach. 

QR Codes Pt. 2: Adding QR Codes to Your Handouts

Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 5.51.05 PMIt’s been awhile since I wrote QR Codes Part 1, and I wanted to circle back and reflect on ways that I use QR codes in my classroom. 

What are QR codes? I tell my students that QR Codes are like “Portkeys” from Harry Potter. They are portals to online resources. Students can scan the QR codes with their smart phones and access online resources so they can practice concepts or get more information.

Why would you put a QR code on a handout? Let’s say you have a spelling practice sheet. The purpose of this practice page is to help students internalize a particular spelling pattern. However, you know that you have some students who learn spelling best if they hear the word and see the word. To help support all of your learners, you can add a QR code to the practice page that will take them to an online game. (See the photo to the right.)

You can add QR codes to any handout! Perhaps a history handout with QR codes to teacher-approved websites with additional information? A math worksheet with a QR code to a flipped lesson? Or a writing workshop handout with a QR code to your class’s blog page of writing tips (a digital writing center!)? The possibilities are endless.

So how do you create a QR code? Here’s how to create handouts with QR Codes.

  1. First, identify the purpose of your QR Code. Are you interested in attaching an online game to your handout? Perhaps a spelling game? Or maybe you want your students to learn more facts about pollution, and the QR code can link to a safe website with information about pollution? Or perhaps you want to add a flipped lesson to your handout?
  2. After choosing the online website, COPY the website address.
  3. Go to and paste the website address in the box under “Step. 2”
  4. In about two seconds, you will notice the QR code to your right change form. You now have a QR code!
  5. Choose your QR code color. (I prefer black, but if you intend to hang the QR code up in your classroom, choosing a color is fun.)
  6. Download your QR code or take a screenshot of it. It will appear on your desktop.
  7. Drag the QR code onto your handout and resize it as necessary. Or, print it out and tape it onto your handout.
  8. Copy your handout and now you are all set! You have a handout that provides online resources to your students!
  9. For your students to access the QR codes, they must download a “QR code app” on their smart devices. These apps are free.
  10. Enjoy!

I use QR codes on word lists (for games, spelling practice, Quizlet, etc.), study guides (online practice quizzes, flipped lessons), book club handouts (blogs, book links, author sites), and nonfiction reading (websites, historical documents, primary sources). The potential is endless!


Typically found wearing mismatched socks, Dana Johansen spends her time teaching fifth grade in Connecticut, negotiating with her yellow lab about doggy dinner options, and plopping down on the floor in bookstore aisles to find new reads. 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.

Symbols in our Everyday Lives

Well-Known World Brand Logotypes

Sonja and I are always thinking about ways we can strengthen and deepen our students’ understanding of literary elements such as symbolism. In our book Teaching Interpretation we discuss the various ways we can teach our students to identify symbols in texts and interpret their meanings. This work can be challenging for students because it is abstract. Sonja and I are constantly discussing the way that we can concretize this work and scaffold it for students.

Sonja and I like to meet at our favorite Panera Bread each weekend in order to discuss our challenges and successes in the classroom. One topic that we consistently discuss is the use of digital texts (such as the image above) to concretize and scaffold the abstract work of interpretation. After discussing this work and trying it in the classroom, we found that this minilesson helps teach students about symbolism:

Symbols are everywhere! One way to make your study of symbolism concrete is to show your students a collage like the one above. Ask your students if they can identify the symbols in this image. They are logos. They are images that represent companies and brands. This is the important part- this is an image, however, it represents something more.

Talk about the ways these symbols play a role in our everyday lives. Choose one symbol from the collage and discuss its deeper meaning. What do you think of when you see this image? A feeling? A desire? A time in your life? Next, have students try this work. Again, continue to reiterate that this image represents more than purely what it is. This will help strengthen your students’ understanding about symbols and how they represent more than what they are. For example, the Coca Cola symbol might literally represent a soft drink company, however, it might conjure up memories of summer camp, picnics, or sitting on the front porch with a grandparent. It symbolizes more.

This is a great way to kick-start your discussion of symbolism or strengthen the work your students are already doing in the classroom. This work transfers beautifully from digital texts like the image above to print-based texts like chapter books and picture books where the characters have special objects that symbolize more.


Typically found wearing mismatched socks, Dana Johansen spends her time teaching fifth grade in Connecticut, negotiating with her yellow lab about doggy dinner options, and plopping down on the floor in bookstore aisles to find new reads. 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.

Bacon! (and Persuasive Writing)

Bacon! Recently in the news, the bacon debate is a terrific topic for persuasive essay writing.

If you’re teaching persuasive essay, this is the perfect topic to use as a whole-class topic or as an individual topic. Oftentimes, I begin my persuasive essay unit by writing a model persuasive essay with my class. This whole-class essay serves many purposes. It models how to write introductions, thesis statements, counterclaims, and rebuttals. The list of potential minilessons can go on and on. Create a fun topic like “Is bacon okay to eat? Guilty? Or wrongly accused?” This is a great way to increase student engagement in the writing process. Students will enjoy reading articles about bacon and the different sides of this debate.

Create a digital bin on the topic with the following links. Always preview the links prior to allowing students to use them, as ads may pop up or the content may not be appropriate for your age group.

Great Promo to Get Your Students Jazzed About the Topic:

America’s Bacon Obsession ~ 1 minute promo by Washington Post

Articles/ Web Links:

Bacon Causes Cancer? When Pigs Fly ~ New York Post

Meat is Linked to Higher Cancer Risk, W.H.O. Report Finds ~ New York Times

WHO Says Hot Dogs, Bacon Cause Cancer: Does this Mean We Should All Become Vegetarians? ~ Washington Post

Bad Day for Bacon: Processed Meats Cause Cancer WHO Says– NPR

The Science Behind How Bacon Causes Cancer ~ Time Magazine


Typically found wearing mismatched socks, Dana Johansen spends her time teaching fifth grade in Connecticut, negotiating with her yellow lab about doggy dinner options, and plopping down on the floor in bookstore aisles to find new reads. 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.

Teaching “Symbolism” Digitally- La Luna

DSC00888I like to think about ways I can teach my reading minilessons with technology and multimedia. A personal challenge of mine is to find ways to teach any reading minilesson with technology. Not that I want to use digital texts all the time, but I like to think creatively about how I might use them and if they offer less, more, or equal value to my minilessons. Ultimately, I like to think about “How can technology support and enhance my reading workshop?”

When I first saw La Luna, a DisneyPixar short film, I knew it would be an awesome text to teach symbolism. First, it doesn’t have any words, making it is accessible to all students. Second, after teaching a quick strategy for finding important objects, students can identify symbolic objects easily in the film. Last, it has a lovely, heartwarming message. I LOVE using it and my students do too!

I usually do this lesson as my third or fourth symbolism lesson- that way students are already familiar with the idea of symbolism. I say something like, “Today we are going to look for symbolism in a text and create interpretations about it. In order to do this, I am going to teach you a strategy for finding symbols. The strategy is to look for objects that repeat over and over OR seem very important. We’re going to try this today.”

Try this together using La Luna. Create a T-Chart and have students list repeated or important objects they see in the short film. (A completed T-Chart is provided toward the end of this post.)

As students watch La Luna, you may want to model creating a list on the whiteboard or chart paper along with them- especially at first. I like to pause the film at different parts in order to model jotting initial thoughts about what the objects might symbolize. For example, you might pause to discuss the symbolic nature of the boat, ladder, hats, or brooms.

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la luna

Have students share their ideas with a partner or with a small group.

At this point, I would stop the lesson— but only for the day. I would want students to go off and try this strategy with the books they are reading. I would circle back to their ideas the next day and teach a new strategy for creating deeper interpretations about the symbols they found (and possibly uncovering themes, too!)

You can use this strategy with other digital texts. This lesson also works well with Disney’s “Let it Go” song from Frozen. OR with Disney’s Mulan