Save the Date! 9/29 NJCTE Fall Conference

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Be sure to save Saturday, September 29th for the NJCTE Fall Conference: Approaches to Writing! We are putting together a fantastic program of professional development and networking to re-invigorate you and help you grow in your practice. Look for a registration link soon at!

Follow us on Twitter with the hashtag #NJCTEFall18!

New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English

Save the Date! 9/29 NJCTE Fall Conference

Tech Tuesdays: Google Dictionary and Google Flashcards

Teaching vocabulary is always a popular discussion topic for English teachers. What is the correct way to instruct students in vocabulary? Some teachers still provide lists before students tackle a reading assignment. Some have followed the trend of students choosing their own vocabulary based on words they encounter in real life. Regardless of your personal strategy for teaching vocabulary, the extensions Google Dictionary and Flashcards for Google Dictionary are a helpful way to bring technology into the process.

The Google Dictionary extension, created by Google, allows users to define any word included in a Chrome browser. Once added from the Chrome Web Store, all someone has to do is double-click on a word and the definition will appear in a bubble on the screen.

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The bubble not only provides a dictionary definition for the word, but also includes a pronunciation guide. For those who might need to hear the pronunciation of the word, clicking on the volume icon next to the word in the bubble allows the computer to read it aloud. The “More” option transports users to a Google search of the word. For some Tier 3 vocabulary words, the definition may not register with the extension. Using the “More” option would allow a Google search to appear in a new tab for the user.

The extension has a few customizable features for users. In order to edit these options, users should right-click on the Google Dictionary icon at the top of their browser. Selecting “options” will bring users to the list of customizable features.


In the options page, users can select their native language. This feature is useful for English Language Learners. Rather than simply provide the definition of the unknown word, Google Dictionary will translate the word into the user’s chosen language, which could be extremely helpful for their comprehension. Users can also customize how their definitions appear, based on either double-clicking or hitting a particular keystroke. The feature takes into consideration user preference when providing the definition bubbles. The last feature of the options page is to track and save all defined words. If users want to check the words they have defined in the past or download this list, enabling this feature would allow them to do so.

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Flashcards for Google Dictionary works with the Google Dictionary extension. When both extensions are added from the Chrome Web Store, the user would complete the same process that they would if they were only using the Dictionary extension; they would click on an unknown word. However, instead of just receiving the definition and “More” option, a small box with the word “Save” would appear. If users select the “Save” button, the Flashcard extension would automatically create a flashcard with the term and definition. Creating and saving flashcards requires users to create an account. Students and teachers can simply use their school-associated email address.

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Once the flashcard is saved, it gets stored within the Flashcards extension. In order to access all of the saved flashcards, users should find their extensions on the top right corner of their browser. Clicking on the flashcards logo will bring up all of the saved cards. Users can view the term and click on the volume button to hear the word read aloud. Then, selecting “Flip” will cause the flashcard to turn over and the definition to appear. In addition to the definition of the word, the extension will also extract the sentence with the word in context. The sentence usually comes from the website where the word itself was found and saved. Users can then determine whether or not they “Remember” the word or “Forget” the word. Remembering the word banks it as a mastered term. Forgetting a word will put it back into the pile for further review.

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The benefit of creating an account when adding Flashcards for Google Dictionary is that users can sign into the extension on any device, so vocabulary lists can be transported wherever you go.

For teachers using personalized vocabulary lists where students find words from their reading, the pairing of these two extensions are perfect to integrate into the classroom. Students can effortlessly create flashcards to help build their vocabulary and practice them throughout the year. In addition, the fact that the word list can be saved through both Google Dictionary and Flashcards for Google Dictionary, it makes it easier for students to recall and use these words in future assignments. Using Google Dictionary in isolation could still be beneficial for students, as it could provide immediate definitions for words, which can assist in building comprehension about a text. Both extensions are simple for students and teachers to utilize, but can make a big impact in terms of vocabulary acquisition in the classroom.

New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English

Tech Tuesdays: Google Dictionary and Google Flashcards

NJCTE Student Writing Contest Gold Medalists and GAAE Honorees

We are happy to share the gold medal-winning personal essays, poem, and short story from the 2018 NJCTE Student Writing Contest. These student writers were also honored at the 2018 Governor’s Awards in Arts Education reception on May 22. Please visit the NJCTE website to enjoy these pieces and post your comments.

  • “Lost in Thought” by Kush Dungana, NJCTE Gold Medalist in Short Story
  • “Family Recipe – How to Make an Indian Thanksgiving Dinner” by Swathi Kella, NJCTE Gold Medalist in Personal Essay
  • “Communion Cake and Christmas Break” by Gillian Parker, NJCTE Gold Medalist in Personal Essay
  • “Aquarius” by Madeleine Song, Gold Medalist in Poetry

New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English

NJCTE Student Writing Contest Gold Medalists and GAAE Honorees

NJCTE Student Writing Contest Silver and Bronze Medalists

The silver and bronze medal-winning personal essays, poems, and short stories from the 2018 NJCTE Student Writing Contest are now available on the NJCTE website. (We will feature the gold medal-winning pieces here later this week.) Please visit the NJCTE website to enjoy the students’ work and post your comments.

Personal Essays

“Childlike Curiosity” by Elyse Genrich, NJCTE Silver Medalist in Personal Essay

“Rice Cakes Will Never Be Uncrustables – And That’s Okay” by Amber Leung, NJCTE Silver Medalist in Personal Essay

“Handstand” by Kathleen Parkhurst, NJCTE Silver Medalist in Personal Essay

“When Our Home Became Hers” by Lauren Hirschmann, NJCTE Bronze Medalist in Personal Essay

“A Tiger in Chinatown” by Sarah Lackey, Bronze Medalist in Personal Essay


“The Weight” by Isabella Gonzalez, NJCTE Silver Medalist in Poetry

“An Almost Something LoveFool” by Eloisa Sablan, NJCTE Silver Medalist in Poetry

“Beautiful” by Maressa Park, NJCTE Bronze Medalist in Poetry

“Breathe” by Stephanie Shue, NJCTE Bronze Medalist in Poetry

“Don’t Ask Why, Ask Why Not” by Madison Wade, NJCTE Bronze Medalist in Poetry

Short Stories

“Whole Again” by Hee Jae Jung, NJCTE Silver Medalist in Short Story

“Tears of Yesterday” by Vani Shankar, NJCTE Silver Medalist in Short Story

“The Nature of Resentment” by Camila Fang, NJCTE Bronze Medalist in Short Story
(Awaiting Author’s Permission to Publish)
“To Us, He is Eliah” by Su Min Kim, NJCTE Bronze Medalist in Short Story
(Awaiting Author’s Permission to Publish)
New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English


NJCTE Student Writing Contest Silver and Bronze Medalists

Tech Tuesdays: Alternatives to TodaysMeet

At the end of last month, longtime backchannel TodaysMeet announced that the program will no longer be available on June 16th. TodaysMeet allows a user to create a private chat and invite other users. The ease of use for students made it a popular tool. The announcement came as a surprise to teachers since the website was used as a way to extend class conversations for students and even for teachers to continue discussions after professional development. Now, in losing a favorite tool, teachers are looking for alternatives to TodaysMeet. The following are three tools that can attempt to replace the hole TodaysMeet is leaving behind.

Go Soap Box

Go Soap Box offers a variety of discussion options for teachers to create in the classroom. After creating a teacher account, an event must be created. Events house all discussions and questions posted by the teacher and students can join using an event code, as opposed to using their email.

Within an event, teachers can create a quiz, a poll, or a discussion question. The quizzes allow for multiple choice or open-ended responses. Polls with teacher-generated answer choices can be shared with students with the option to view the results in a bar graph or pie chart. Teachers can opt to allow students to see the results of the poll once their response is submitted, as well. Similarly, discussion posts can be created with the option to make student responses accessible to their peers. There is also a Social Q&A section, where students can ask questions. One of the most interesting features is the “Confusion Barometer” where students can anonymously indicate whether or not they are confused.

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When these tasks are initially created, they are locked by default. To unlock it so students can access the activity once they sign in with the code, teachers must click the padlock in order to unlock it. Through the “Moderate this Event” tab, teachers can control what activities are enabled for their students. Profanity blockers and name requirements can also be enabled in this area.


Similar Feature to TodaysMeet: The discussion part of the tool allows students to continue discussions after class with no email login required. Since a code is required for access, it is still private for classrooms.

Backchannel Chat

Backchannel Chat is a website designed for teachers in order to increase discussion outside of the classroom. While there are paid versions available, the free version puts a cap on the number of students able to interact at one time: thirty. Students do not need to sign in with an email account. They receive a code to a private discussion channel. The teacher maintains control over the classroom discussions, with the option to remove inappropriate messages and a profanity blocker. Through the settings tab, teachers can opt to moderate every post that is made on the channel, as well.

Once students enter the conversation, their chosen names appear on the sidebar. The settings icon next to their name allows the teacher to place the student in “read-only” mode if needed. If placed in this mode, students can only read the messages but cannot write a response. The “X” in the right corner of a post allows the teacher to remove the post from the channel. Students can “like” each other’s responses and teachers can pin insightful or important posts to the top of the discussion.


Similar Feature to TodaysMeet: Backchannel Chat allows teachers to create a private place for students to discuss their ideas following an in-person session. A code is provided to ensure no email logins will be used.

Class Pager

For teachers in classrooms without access to school-issued devices for every student, Class Pager incorporates personal student devices. Teachers create an account for their classes and provide their students with a phone number and a code to text to that number. Aiming for middle or high school, students would use their own devices to text responses back and forth to the teacher.

Once the classroom is created, the teacher can see which students have enrolled without having access to their personal phone number. The teacher can generate a question to ask the class or a poll to send. The students would receive the post in a text on their device and be able to respond. Responses are populated on the website for the teacher to view. The teacher could respond directly through the website to address individual concerns. While not ideal for peer-to-peer discussions, the tool does let students continue to ask questions once a face-to-face session has ended.

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Similar Feature to TodaysMeet: The concept of being able to ask questions following a class session is fairly similar to TodaysMeet. Students cannot respond back and forth to each other but can still discuss topics of interest or concern with the teacher without needing to be physically present.

Tech Tuesdays: Alternatives to TodaysMeet

Tech Tuesdays: Analyze My Writing — Making Student Revision Easier

The process of getting students to revise and edit their writing has always been difficult. In fact, it can be tough for anyone to return to a finished piece and continue to make corrections. In the classroom, this problem can lead to students submitting work without a second glance or making ineffective peer comments. There is a digital alternative that can make the process easier for students while teaching them different elements to look out for when revising. Using the free application Analyze My Writing can make a significant difference for students.

Once a student is on the website, they will immediately find the box to paste their writing.

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Underneath the box that holds the writing are a variety of focus areas for the student to choose. Each area allows the student to make specific edits to their writing and include basic text statistics, common words and phrases, readability, Lexical density, passive voice, and cloze text.

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Basic Text Statistics provides a numerical overview of the written piece. It shows word, sentence, character, and punctuation count, as well as the number of certain punctuation marks per 100 sentences. This area of focus also includes graphs of word and sentence length throughout the entire piece, showing the length of each on the horizontal access and the percent of items of that length in the entire text.

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The Common Words and Phrases area looks for words that are used the most frequently in the entire text. When selected, the default setting is the 50 most common words and pairs, but that number is customizable based on student need. The website ranks the top words used in the writing by showing their number of occurrences and the percentage of the total words. While the first few slots are usually dedicated to words like “the” and “and,” this tool is a good way for students to pick up on other words or phrases that may appear too frequently in their writing and provides the opportunity to revise with better synonyms. A word cloud of the most common words also appears for a visual representation to help the student make revisions to their word choice.

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Analyze my Writing also provides a readability index based on the complexity of the writing. A student, or teacher, could choose to look at these numbers to get a better overview of the quality and strength of the writing. Each score is averaged to generate one average and one median grade level for the writing.

  • Fry Readability Score: plots the number of syllables per 100 words on the x-axis and the number of sentences per 100 words on the y-axis; provides an estimation of grade level
  • Raygor Readability Score: similar to Fry, but looks at 3 100-word samples from the beginning, middle, and end of the text to gather the same information

Readability scores based on groups of 20 sentences are documented on one graph, including Gunning-fog, Flesch-Kincaid, SMOG, Coleman-Liau, and Automated Readability Index. Students and teachers can manipulate the Fry and Raygor graphs in order to look at a larger or smaller section of the writing.

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Similarly, once a piece of writing is pasted, the lexical density can be immediately measured, which focuses on the number of content words versus the total number of words. The percentage for the entire text is displayed, as well as the density for every single sentence in the text. Examples of lexical words and their overall density in the sentence are also broken down as evidence for students as they revise their writing. While this tool is interesting, one of the useful graphs it includes is the breakdown of parts of speech in the writing.

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The final two areas of focus, Passive Voice and Cloze Test, continue to provide focus areas for revision. For passive voice, the website extracts sentences that contain phrases in the passive voice. The sentences are available for student viewing on a single page, making it easy to review and make the necessary revisions. The Cloze Test is a final way for students to reflect on the difficulty of their writing. By removing certain words and putting blank spaces in their place, someone who is unfamiliar with the text needs to try to read the passage, filling in the blanks with appropriate words. Students are free to customize the number of words that are removed; the default is every fifth word. This test could be completed with a peer who has not read the student’s full text in order to show the student the true clarity of their writing.

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For a free resource, Analyze My Writing has a lot of interesting tools for students and teachers alike. It’s an easy way to accommodate students who struggle to revise and edit independently by providing focus points to make those parts of the writing process easier. The ease of use and data collected make it a useful tool for the ELA classroom or any writing assignment.

Tech Tuesdays: Analyze My Writing — Making Student Revision Easier

Tech Tuesdays: Verso — Discussions with Anonymity

Discussions are synonymous with English classrooms. Whether discussing opinions on current event articles or a class novel, students are expected to share their ideas with their classmates. It might be hard to imagine how technology could possibly fit into such an important face-to-face element in the classroom. However, Verso, an online application, is a great way to mix up class discussions with technology. It allows teachers to create opportunities for class discussions with both anonymity and accountability. Verso allows a teacher to post a question and allows students to respond to it while appearing as anonymous to their peers. At the same time, it requires the student make a post themselves before they can view the responses of their classmates.  

Verso can be accessed by both students and teachers through the website on any device. For Chromebooks, it can also be downloaded as an app from the Chrome Web Store (Chrome apps can now only be downloaded to Chromebooks). It allows for the ability to sign up with a Google account, Microsoft account, or another email. Once a teacher makes an account, different virtual classrooms can be created. Since Verso is “freemium,” offering both free and premium options, one classroom is the limit for the free account. Classrooms can be created by selecting “Classes” on the left sidebar and then choosing “+ Add Class” from the next page. Teachers are offered the chance to name their class, indicate their number of students, grade level, and subject. If the class status is labeled as green and “Open”, it means that students can continue to join that class.

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Once a teacher has saved their class, they will notice it appears on their “Classes” tab, which is accessible through the left sidebar of the website. Along with the title of their class, a short code will appear. When students reach the Verso website, they are prompted to select if they are a student or teacher. Selecting student allows them the place to input a class code. The teacher would provide this code, similar to how students join Google Classroom, so they can be part of the Verso class.

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By clicking the class, a teacher can create an activity for students to complete. Activities could simply be a discussion question to answer or could involve embedding other media elements for viewing, such as Drive files, recordings, and links. A title for the activity must be provided and teachers can provide further directions in the “Instructions and Questions” box. Before creating the assignment, the teacher must decide how many posts a student would be required to make before they can see the responses of their peers.

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On the student end, the question, directions, and any corresponding resources can be viewed. They will receive a box to write their response. Students are limited to 500 characters for their response. Once they select the blue button to post their writing, they can see anything their peers have said before them. Instead of seeing their names, they will only see the word “Respondent” and a connecting number. They are free to make comments on their classmates’ work or “like” it to show their approval.

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On the teacher end, all of the student names can be seen next to the posts and comments for accountability and monitoring. All student responses can be viewed on one screen. Data is also provided at the top of the screen. There is a number indicating what percent of students enrolled in the class completed the task, as well as the number of comments and “likes.” The number of students completed and students waiting for completion are also seen on the top of the task. Teachers can sort the responses by time, rating, and alphabetical order of student names.

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In order to stop students from continuing to work on the assignment, the teacher would have to select the pencil icon in the top right corner of the activity screen. Scrolling down to the bottom of the editing page, the teacher would find the section titled “Activity Status” and switch the button to read “Closed.” Once saved, the activity would no longer receive submissions from students.

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I have used this app in the past as a way for my quiet or anxious students to participate in class discussions. It gave them a voice that they didn’t feel comfortable using in face-to-face situations and allowed their commentary to be heard. For my classes that love to share their ideas, it gave them the opportunity to voice their thoughts without sacrificing class time going around the room to each person. For my students who jump at the chance to participate but often need to stop and think before sharing, it gave them a reflection period to consider their words before posting. The anonymity allowed authentic conversations to occur without worrying about judgment for their opinions.

My students just recently used this app as a pre-assessment for narrative writing. Each Verso activity was a different writing prompt. They were given five minutes to finish each prompt. It gave students the chance to not only write anonymously but to appreciate the writing styles and ideas of their classmates. Other uses could include discussions on articles read in class, reflections on a novel or short story, or a way to practice for a debate. Verso really offers a world of possibilities inside a humanities classroom and serves as a nice alternative to mix up traditional class discussions or ensure everyone’s voice is heard.

New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English

Tech Tuesdays: Verso — Discussions with Anonymity

Join the NJCTE Slow Chat on Twitter

For the next five days, NJCTE Board Member Joe Pizzo will be leading us in a Slow Chat. We hope our questions will get your ideas flowing and you will use this chat to help us think about what you want to see at our upcoming fall conference: Approaches to Writing.  We also hope that you might be inspired to submit a proposal yourself and share your best practices and ideas. Submissions are due May 15 at

You can expect a different question posted each day on Twitter. What answers do you have? What additional questions do our questions provoke for you? Please join in and respond to each day’s question. There are no time limits for posting a response. Be sure to post your response with A:1 at the front to respond to the first day’s question. Conclude your response with the hashtag #NJCTEFall18. For questions posted sequentially on subsequent days, use the appropriate day’s number (A:2, A:3…).

Again, we hope you join the conversation!

New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English

Join the NJCTE Slow Chat on Twitter

Teachers Are Writers, Too

by Patricia L. Schall

We’ve spent much of this week celebrating the winners of our Student Writing Contests; now, we want to encourage teachers to write too.

We know you have full and busy lives, but there are so many opportunities for you to make your voices heard too. We invite you to consider submitting a short article to Focus. It could be something as simple as a successful lesson plan you would like to share or a brief reflection on something that moves you about teaching and learning.

Don’t forget the six-word story requests we used to launch NJCTE Project Spark. It won’t take long to write six words describing what lights your teaching fires.

Need some advice? Check out “Office Hours,” our recently launched column on the NJCTE Blog. Ask a question. Offer some of your own suggestions in the comments section.

You might consider submitting an article to the New Jersey English Journal. The editors look for all kinds of submissions, from articles about practice to poetry to brief personal essays. Watch  for submission guidelines.

Even if you just comment on some of the blogs or news sources you follow or write a letter to the editor of a local newspaper, you are writing. The public needs to hear from teachers. Don’t let others do all the talking for you.


Share your ideas with others and keep your writing fires burning. Donald Murray, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer about writing, used to keep a sign by his desk stating, “Never a Day without a line.” Let’s hear from you!
New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English
Teachers Are Writers, Too

Register Now to Attend the 38th Annual New Jersey Governor’s Awards in Arts Education


Four of our Student Writing Contest winners and our Educator of the Year will be honored at the 38th Annual New Jersey Governor’s Awards in Arts Education for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts on May 22, 4-7pm.

Curtain opens at 4:00 PM / Awards Ceremony with Performances starts at 4:30 PM

Register Here


Patriot’s Theatre at the War Memorial
One Memorial Drive, Trenton, New Jersey

For additional information go to:

The Governor’s Awards in Arts Education began in 1980 to promote awareness and appreciation of the arts, recognizing the creativity, talent and leadership of the award winners. Each year, awards are presented to approximately 20 educators and 80 students. National and statewide organizations select the students for their exemplary work in creative writing, speech, dance, music, theatre and visual arts and the leaders for their exceptional commitment and contribution to arts education. The program also recognizes arts educators and arts education advocates, whose leadership has helped nurture the development of students in the arts across the state.

The Governor’s Awards event is a partnership of the Arts Ed NJ, the Department of Education, Art Pride New Jersey Foundation, the Department of State and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Additional support is provided by: the Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics; Art Educators of New Jersey; Art Administrators of New Jersey; Dance New Jersey; New Jersey Council of Teachers of English; New Jersey Forensic League; New Jersey Music Educators Association; New Jersey Performing Arts Center; Writer’s Theatre of New Jersey; Speech and Theatre Association of New Jersey; and Young Audiences of New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania. The cooperating organizations, award sponsors and individual members of the planning council dedicate their time to make sure that excellence in the arts is rewarded, and work tirelessly throughout the year to plan this special event. The Governor’s Awards in Arts Education ceremony are a major collaborative effort of the arts, education and state government.

New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English

Register Now to Attend the 38th Annual New Jersey Governor’s Awards in Arts Education