Tech Tuesdays: Engaging Students in Vocabulary with Pear Deck

When Pear Deck was first introduced to educators, it was an interactive way for students to participate in class lectures. It went from the students being silent observers during a slideshow to actually contributing to the lesson. Pear Deck’s latest feature continues its mission of student engagement. The Vocabulary & Flashcard Factory offers a new way for teachers to help students practice and build their vocabulary skills in the classroom. Its easy-to-use interface makes the program easy for teachers of any grade level to integrate into the classroom.

The first step toward using the Vocabulary & Flashcard Factory is creating a teacher Pear Deck account. Once logged in, the dashboard will immediately prompt the user to choose between creating a Pear Deck presentation or a vocabulary set. Choose “Start a Vocab List.”


Users will be transported to a new page, which allows a list of vocabulary terms and definitions to be created. One of the nice built-in features from Pear Deck is the integration of the Google Dictionary. When a user types a term on a flashcard, they can select the “Find Definitions” button. Google Dictionary will automatically populate options for definitions for the word. In most cases, the word will have one definition that can be inserted, but some vocabulary terms will have multiple options that a user can choose.


As users begin to make their list, Pear Deck begins to generate related terms. These words are usually similar in topic to the words that are already included on the vocabulary list. For example, adding a Tier 3 vocabulary word, such as “thermodynamics”, to the list caused the program to brainstorm other words that fall under the same scientific topic. Users can select these related terms to help build their vocabulary list for students.

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Transferring Lists from Other Places

Users are not limited to simply typing in all their vocabulary words, though. Pear Deck offers another option to avoid retyping lists over and over again. Lists can be copy and pasted from other websites and documents. For example, Quizlet was previously a popular tool for students practicing their vocabulary and terms independently. If a teacher already has a list of vocabulary created on Quizlet, they can easily transfer it over to use in Pear Deck.

Users should open a Quizlet set. Then they need to find the three horizontal dots button located underneath the title of the set. They should select “Export” and a pop-up window will appear on the website. It provides a text-only version of the flashcards from the set. Users should select “Copy Text” to have all of those terms and definitions immediately copied.

Pear Deck 2

Once copied, users should return to their Pear Deck vocabulary list. They simply need to click on the new flashcard as if they are creating one card. The cursor should be in the “Term” text area. Then, to import all of the terms and definitions, users should hit Ctrl + V on their keyboard. All of the terms will immediately become their own flashcard with the corresponding definitions below it.

Pear Deck 3

A similar process can be repeated with vocabulary lists in Google Docs or Word documents. Users just need to make sure the term is written first and the definition is beside it, with one Tab in between the two.

Once the list is completed, users should scroll back to the top of the list and select “Play Flashcard Factory” in the top right corner of the website. Users will need to make sure they are connected to a projector in their classroom or that the students can see the screen in some way. Pear Deck will generate a code for students to use to enter the game. Students will access the game via They will have to select their school email account to provide the game with their name and will then be prompted to insert the unique game code.


While students are waiting for all of their classmates to sign in, they can review the directions of the assignment. “Clock in!” should be selected by the teacher once all students have joined the game. The game will automatically set up partners and split the class into two teams: Day Shift and Night Shift. The partner aspect adds teamwork and collaboration to the experience while the two teams ignite friendly competition and increase motivation. When ready, the teacher will select “Let’s Play.”

On the student end, they will receive their terms with their partner. One partner will be responsible for drawing an image to reflect the term and the other will write a sentence for the term. These responsibilities shift between terms, so partners get an equal chance to both draw and write. A variety of colors are available to make the images more impactful. In the collaborative spirit, the partners can review each other’s work and provide feedback prior to submitting it to the teacher.


The completed cards move across the conveyor belt on the screen. All the teams can see these cards as long as the teacher has connected their laptop to their board. Students continue the process until all of the terms on the vocabulary list have been completed.

Then the teacher moves to the next phase, “Quality Control.” This step can be completed with the class or by the teacher independently. All of the flashcards will be reviewed and either given a seal of approval or a stamp of rejection. Approval means the sentence and image accurately reflect the vocabulary term and definition, while rejection means they did not. To add a game element to the activity, Pear Deck keeps track of how many approvals each team gets. If a card is approved, a point is awarded to the team that created it.


While it is recommended that the teacher has the final say in which terms get approved, it can be interactive to allow the class to contribute to this discussion. The members of the class can discuss whether the sentence and image appropriately represent the term and would be beneficial in helping the students actually understand the term.

Once the approval and denial process is complete, the final phase is “Shipping.” Teachers have the option to export their list to Quizlet so students can continue to use the cards they made. Clicking “Export to Quizlet” will bring up a directions screen for the teacher. The set of flashcards must be named and a password-protection option for the set is optional, so only students in the class with the password can access the resource. Once the directions are completed, the teacher received the URL for the flashcards and has the option to immediately share the link with students in Google Classroom. If teachers do not use Google Classroom, they can simply share the link to the Quizlet with their students. Each of the Quizlet terms includes the vocabulary word, the teacher-added definition from the Pear Deck list, and the approved example and image from the students.

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Pear Deck’s Vocabulary & Flashcard Factory is an engaging, collaborative activity for all grade levels that can both inspire students to practice and apply their knowledge of vocabulary terms and give them a self-created resource to use to practice.

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

Tech Tuesdays: Engaging Students in Vocabulary with Pear Deck

Summer Professional Development Opportunity

We are sharing the following as an opportunity that might interest NJCTE members and other NJ educators.

NJAMLE is offering three half-day morning PD sessions this summer in the north central, and southern part of NJ. Middle level teachers and administrators from all disciplines will have the opportunity to learn from some of the best middle level educators who will share their best practices. In addition to workshops sponsored by NJ Literacy Association,  NJ Future Ready Schools, and NJ Schools to Watch, teaching tips, strategies, and resources will be explored in the areas of coding digital literacy, student choice, differentiation, and more. In addition, NJCTE Board Member Joe Pizzo will share his 44 years of classroom experience as he demonstrates various methods to blend fun with the fundamentals in ELA classrooms through cross-curricular and skill-specific activities.  Learn, connect, and share this summer with other Middle Level educators. Come spend the morning discussing hot Middle School topics such as:

  • NJ Literacy Association
  • NJ Future Ready Schools
  • NJ Schools to Watch
  • Google Tools & Tricks
  • Computational Thinking & Coding
  • The Student-Centered Classroom
  • Math Instruction in the Middle
  • Formative Assessment Strategies
  • Digital Literacy & Connected Reading
  • Improving Literacy with Text Sets
  • Empowering the Struggling Learner
  • Student Choice through PBL
  • Integrating STEM Throughout the Curriculum
  • Positive Behavior Supports in School (PBSIS)
  • Technology Integration & Application Ideas
  • Differentiation Strategies that Work

These workshops will be held throughout New Jersey during July and August. There is no cost for NJAMLE individual members, for faculty at a school that has a membership, and for pre-service teachers. Non-members will be charged $20. For more information, go to

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

Summer Professional Development Opportunity

Office Hours: Dr. Patricia L. Schall Is In

June 12, 2018

Dear Doc,

What should I do if a parent or other member of the community objects to a book I am teaching?


An Inquiring Educator Feeling Challenged

Dear Challenged,

Ah, objecting to books is a surprisingly common dilemma! Many teachers assume challenges to books happen somewhere in a dark and dismal place far, far away; but they are more frequent than you might think, even in what we assume are progressive areas to live and work. The prevalence of challenges led me to teach a whole segment on censorship in my literacy education college courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

To prepare for a challenge, I would first advise you to check your school policy manual for guidance. I served two terms on a board of education and was on the committee that revised an older manual, which had a policy on challenges to classroom and library books. I suggested that in the revised manual, we include challenges to pedagogy too, since that happens as well.

My guess is that your school policy manual will contain a policy with procedures to follow. It is always best to know what has been approved for your school and follow the guidelines. Good policy books will include or tell you where you can locate actual forms (sometimes called “reconsideration” forms) for challengers to use when they object to books, materials, or methods. Often the process of completing the forms will slow down or halt the challenge. Still, viewed in a more positive light, these forms could create an opportunity for genuine dialogue, a chance to listen to what is bothering the challenger. Many times challenges are not based on reason, and discussions fail to be productive. Still, they initiate an opportunity for talking and listening that can be enlightening for both parties, and you can be confident that a democratic process has been followed. Be sure to write a brief report on any meeting you have with a challenger. The report, shared with the challenger, will be useful if he or she persists.

Second, once you familiarize yourself with your school policy, be sure to report the problem to your supervisor to avoid surprises. Parents and community members often like to run the problem up the flag pole and hit school leaders and board members before they even have a conversation with the teacher. Ask for guidance from your administrators. Before you meet with the challenger, I would recommend that you invite a colleague or supervisor sit in on the meeting. A witness is necessary.

Third, and in many ways this recommendation is foundational to all the others, since it addresses what should be done before any challenges occur, and that is to have written rationales for every book in your curriculum. I would also have rationales for pedagogy, since some teaching strategies could seem alien to parents who never experienced them in school. You want to be transparent about the decisions you make for your classroom.

The rationales can be succinct, and there are plenty of models and other resources available from professional organizations like NCTE and the American Library Association. Your school librarian can serve as a knowledgeable resource and partner for you if a challenge ensues.

It is wise to have rationales in place prior to teaching a book or trying a new strategy. Don’t assume that a book is too old or established for controversies. Some of the same books appear on censorship “hit lists” year after year, and they include classics of adult and young adult fiction like Of Mice and Men, Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Giver. When I was teaching high school, a student objected to reading The Grapes of Wrath on religious grounds. We had a private, honest talk about it, and we resolved her objection, though challenges can persist and defy easy solutions.

In addition to writing rationales, some teachers organize book clubs and other reading-themed events for parents and community members. These activities encourage participants to read, and they give them an opportunity to discuss books students are reading and enjoying. Some of these reading activities could be done online or in person, but I recommend holding at least some of the meetings in person because gatherings of this nature can promote community esprit de corps and support family literacy. Reading clubs or events are especially helpful when you plan to introduce a new book into your curriculum. In fact, you could demonstrate new teaching techniques in the same kind of format. Elementary school teachers have more typically hosted events of this nature, but they could be adapted to middle schools and high schools too.

P-12 teachers might be surprised that challenges to reading could even occur at the college level, though academic freedom is more widely recognized and observed at the post-secondary level. As a college professor, I once received a call from a parent who complained about books his daughter was reading in English courses—too many titles about under-represented groups, especially those addressing LGBTQ issues. We discussed the purpose of the readings and their role in preparing his daughter to teach in a diverse world. We chatted about the role of books as “mirrors and windows,” giving readers insights into themselves and others. I don’t think I convinced him, but we had a civil discussion and the complaint stopped at my desk. No calls to the dean!

Classroom libraries, which I highly recommend to promote independent and small-group reading, can become a concern too. Remember, books and materials that constitute a formal part of your curriculum must be reviewed and approved by the board of education. The books in a classroom library are not necessarily part of the board-approved curriculum, so they pose a greater legal risk for you. Know what is on your shelves, and be prepared with rationales for the titles and an explanation for how you use them. Even if you do not have a rationale for every book in your classroom library, you should be familiar with each book and have a general rationale for maintaining a classroom library so parents and community members understand how you use these books to promote lifelong reading for information and pleasure.

While writing rationales sounds like a lot of work, it could be a great opportunity to meet with colleagues to discuss what you do and why you are doing it. Articulating your professional choices provides an opportunity to reflect on your practice. Try to view the collaborative work positively as a professional experience. Perhaps you could even use time allotted for professional development for this purpose. Invite your administrators to some of these sessions so you keep them in the loop and so they too are prepared to deal with challenges if they occur.

Finally, recognize that you are not alone if you experience a challenge. If you have prepared well for challenges, you should be able to count on the support of your colleagues and school leaders. Furthermore, your professional organizations, like NCTE can help. Remember too, that if your school has well-defined policies and you adhere to them, if the challenge ever went to court, you and your school would win. Courts do not typically intervene in curriculum matters.

I hope this advice helps, and feel free to contact us at NJCTE if you experience a challenge. We are your state NCTE affiliate and are here to help.

I invite our blog readers to contribute their tips and experiences with challenges in the comments section of this blog post.

Professionally yours,


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

Office Hours: Dr. Patricia L. Schall Is In

NJCTE Board Member Susan Chenelle Receives NCTE 2018 High School Teacher of Excellence Award

NJCTE is thrilled to announce that the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) has awarded the 2018 High School Teacher of Excellence Award to Susan Chenelle from University Academy Charter High School in Jersey City, New Jersey. Chenelle is one of 14 high school teachers nationwide honored by NCTE this year.

Established in 2001 by the NCTE Secondary Section, this award recognizes and celebrates high school classroom teachers who demonstrate excellent practices and contributions in the classroom. Chenelle will be recognized as a recipient of the NCTE High School Teacher of Excellence Award at the Secondary Section Luncheon on Saturday, November 17, during the 2018 NCTE Annual Convention in Houston, Texas. For more information about the NCTE High School Teacher of Excellence Award, including past winners, see

Chenelle is currently Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction at University Academy Charter High School in Jersey City, New Jersey, where she taught English and journalism for several years. She is the co-author of the Using Informational Text to Teach Literature series from Rowman & Littlefield with Audrey Fisch, with whom she has presented about informational text and cross-disciplinary collaboration at schools around New Jersey and conferences across the country. She earned her master’s degree in urban education from New Jersey City University, and she is now pursuing a doctoral degree at Montclair State University in Teacher Education and Teacher Development. Chenelle was the recipient of NJCTE’s 2017 Educator of the Year Award and currently serves on the NJCTE board.

For more information about NJCTE’s Educator of the Year Award, please see We highly encourage English educators in New Jersey to nominate their colleagues for this award and to consider nominating early career and pre-service teachers for the M. Jerry Weiss Early Career Teacher Award and the Marcia Holtzman Pre-Service Teacher Award. Help us honor the excellent work of our colleagues in the field!

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

NJCTE Board Member Susan Chenelle Receives NCTE 2018 High School Teacher of Excellence Award

Tech Tuesdays: SAS Writing Reviser

I have offered different tools in past weeks that can help students with the revision and editing parts of the writing process. SAS Writing Reviser is another tool to further help students in these areas. Like other technology tools, it can be beneficial for teachers to present a variety of options and have the students select the one that is best for them.

SAS Writing Reviser, a Google Docs add-on, is a free resource from Curriculum Pathways. Once the add-on has been added from the Chrome Web Store, users need to open their Google Doc and select “Add-ons” from the toolbar. Click “SAS Writing Reviser” and then “Open Writing Reviser” in order to activate the tool. The first time around, users will be prompted to create an account and select their role in the classroom: student or teacher.


After the add-on has been activated and the account has been created, users are met with five areas to edit their writing: Sentence Economy, Sentence Variety, Sentence Power, Sentence Clarity, and Support Tools. Each area has subcategories that users can choose. Sentence Economy focuses on making the writing more economical while Sentence Variety focuses on how to mix up sentences to make writing more interesting. Sentence Power emphasizes strong word choice and Sentence Clarity works on making sure all the writing is understandable. The Support Tools focus on the statistics of the document, such as statistics, bar graphs, and a sentence list. When selected, the add-on will run through the Google Doc and highlight areas of concern.

For example, if a user is making revisions to their work and wanted to find a way to make their writing more concise, they would select the “Sentence Economy” tab on the add-on. They would be prompted to choose from several subcategories, including wordiness, prepositional phrases, passive voice, relative clauses, and repeated words. The user would then click on the subcategory that best fits their needs. The add-on would go through the Doc, searching for evidence of each subcategory. Once finished, all of the evidence would be highlighted in blue. In the case of prepositional phrases, the add-on would turn any prepositional phrases blue so the user could see them easily against the rest of their text.


In addition to the add-on automatically highlighting the area selected by the user, it also provides guidelines for how to properly edit their work. For most of the subcategories, a blue button can be found near the top of the sidebar. When clicked, it provides students with an explanation of the category to enhance their understanding or help them review concepts. In this example, guidelines for strong and weak verbs can be found. Users will receive a popup window with this information when they click the blue button in the sidebar to learn more about that revision area.

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In some cases, such as the “Strong Verbs” category, users get to read different examples in order to properly revise their own writing. In other cases, strategies for revision can be provided. In the instance of “Run-On Sentences,” among other categories, users will receive a breakdown of how to grammatically fix their errors.


In addition to the blue button, users receive a set of directions to make the revision process easier and help guide them through the steps. There are a series of questions for users to ask themselves when making revisions. They can choose to leave their sentences as they were originally written or go into their paragraphs to make corrections.


Once the user has made all of their revisions for the subcategory, they need to select the “Back” button on the sidebar. This selection will bring the user back to the main page with the five main areas. It will also remove all the blue highlighting while still maintaining the edits made.


With five areas of focus and twenty-five subcategories to consider, SAS Writing Reviser is definitely an add-on to give to students for the revising and editing process. The fact that it allows students to consider one area of revision at a time helps with focus, which people often lack when fixing their writing. In addition, the built-in support system that provides students with mini-lessons, review opportunities, and questions to consider when revising makes the add-on very user-friendly and helpful for all learners.

Tech Tuesdays: SAS Writing Reviser

NJCTE Recognizes Susan Reese and Millie Davis as Emeritus Members

The NJCTE Board is proud to announce our recognition of our latest emeritus members, Susan Reese and Millie Davis.

Susan Reese served as president of NJCTE from April 2015 until April 2018. Under her guidance, we revised our constitution, welcomed many new members to the board, and continued to run wonderful fall and spring conferences. She has overseen our high school writing contest and helped launch a new middle school writing contest. She leaves the organization in good standing, with recent awards for New Jersey English Journal and e-Focus (our newsletter, which she co-authored). We also won the NCTE Affiliate of Excellence Award.

Susan has stepped down from the presidency, but not from the board. She continues to contribute actively to the organization’s mission: to serve teachers of English. We are thrilled to affirm her status as an emeritus member of NJCTE.

In recognition of her work for the National Council of Teachers of English, for NJCTE, and her roots in New Jersey, the NJCTE board also voted to recognize Millie Davis as an honorary emeritus member of NJCTE.

Millie Davis is Director of the Intellectual Freedom Center at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). She works with leaders in NCTE’s affiliates and assemblies, with the NCTE Research Foundation with educators experiencing challenges to texts, and with other organizations that espouse intellectual freedom. Davis is a lover of writing and reading, a smart phone photographer, and a former high school English teacher and adviser of an award-winning literary magazine. A teacher consultant from the Capital Writing Project in Richmond, Virginia, she has taught writing at J. Sergeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, Virginia, Parkland College in Champaign, Illinois, at the Danville, Illinois, Correctional Center, and the Osher Livelong Learning Institute of the University of Illinois.

Millie grew up in Metuchen, New Jersey, where she was taught by at least two NJCTE past presidents: Marcia Holtzman as her English teacher and Teresa Snyder as her modern dance club coach.

We are lucky, in New Jersey, to have benefitted from the contributions of these two outstanding educators and to welcome them to the esteemed ranks of our NJCTE Members Emeriti.

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

NJCTE Recognizes Susan Reese and Millie Davis as Emeritus Members

Welcome New NJCTE Board Member Katie Nieves

Please join us in welcoming our newest NJCTE board member, Katie Nieves.

Katie Nieves is a special education language arts teacher at Sparta Middle School in Sparta, New Jersey. She is a Google Certified Trainer and Educator and has traveled all over the country training teachers about technology integration in the classroom. She is an advocate of differentiation and believes that all students should have instruction that meets their individual needs. Katie has published her ideas in Edutopia and has published a case study in the Google Transformation Center, focusing on the benefits of using technology to provide modifications and accommodations for students. Katie is currently finishing her Master’s degree in Educational Technology at New Jersey City University.

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

Welcome New NJCTE Board Member Katie Nieves