Tech Tuesdays: Two Fun Narrative Tools for the Classroom

Narrative writing has always been one of my favorite units to teach. It’s usually the unit where my students feel the most comfortable, and they are usually very invested in the process. Something about the idea of crafting a full story with a plot, characters, dialogue, and description always appeals to them in a way that no other unit does. This week, to kick off 2019, I have two fun, engaging technology tools to bring into your narrative writing unit.

Prompts by Story Wars

Prompts by Story Wars is a Google Chrome extension that allows students to continue pre-existing stories. While there is a premium option, the rest of the extension is free. Once the extension is downloaded from the Chrome Web Store, students can open the extension from their Chrome task bar and select the genre of their choice. The extension will open in a new window and bring them up to a random story that another student began in that genre.

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The student can choose to read and analyze the previous writer’s work and then add to it if they wish. Students can submit their work for feedback. The story continuations all are eligible for voting, which means other users from around the world read the sample continuations and vote on their favorite. The version with the most votes gets added to the story and the process starts over again. These sections are called chapters and most stories have multiple chapters written by different people in many different places.

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It’s an interesting way to consider narrative writing. Students get to write for an authentic audience, collaborate with others around the globe, and analyze the tone and other story elements of someone’s writing simultaneously. The only downside is that some of the stories have mature content, so students need to be aware of those situations. This extension would make a great extra activity to continue to practice narrative writing for students.

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Story Speaker

If you’re a fan of using voice assistants in the classroom, Story Speaker is the perfect add-on. Without coding, students can create their own “Choose Your Own Adventure” story. By following the add-on’s easy-to-use template in Google Docs, students can write their own narrative. It allows them to pause to add the listener to choose directions, the way a CYOA novel normally world. It’s fully customizable and students can make the story as in-depth as they would like.

The fun part about this tool is that it is interactive with the rest of the class. By building in those “choice” moments into the narrative, it is able to be completed by a student’s peers. Story Speaker connects with Google Home to allow for voice interaction. The Google Home reads the story and then pauses when it is time for the reader to make a decision. The writer has already programmed the question that needs to be asked, such as “Do you go right or left?” or “Do you say yes or no?” The class gets to speak their answer aloud and the voice assistant automatically knows what direction the story goes.

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Story Speaker offers a unique way for students to share their work, aside from traditional publishing. It’s an engaging way to bring the whole class into the celebration process for a student’s work, while simultaneously embedding educational technology into the process.  

Tech Tuesdays: Two Fun Narrative Tools for the Classroom

Tech Tuesdays: Talk and Comment

EVENT ANNOUNCEMENT: Coffee Klatch at Panera Bread, West Orange, NJ, on Thursday 9/20/2019, 4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m., to launch the 2019 School Writing Contests. All are invited.

Illusion and Reality:   How have these shaped your life for good or for bad?   – This will be our theme.  The prompt based on this theme will be posted shortly.  Start thinking….

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by Kathryn Nieves

The beginning of a new school year always brings the challenge of finding new tools to support the needs of each student. For me, that means there is always one or two students that have a need that my list of extensions, websites, and tools, do not support. This year, as I was planning to introduce text annotation to my sixth graders, I thought about my students who struggle to type their words or need speech-to-text tools. How could I get them to annotate on a webpage? Then I found Talk and Comment.

Talk and Comment is an extension for Chrome browsers that allows students to make voice comments on any webpage. Typically, my students use Diigo to highlight and make comments on their reading, but for my students who need the voice typing support, this provides another alternative.

Once added from the Web Store, Talk and Comment requires approval to use the device’s microphone. After approval, the tool is immediately ready to use.

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The logo on the toolbar at the top of the browser allows you to toggle the extension on and off based on usage and preferences. When the extension is activated, the logo will appear in a circle in the middle of the browser scrollbar. Clicking on it allows you to begin recording immediately.

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Clicking the X will stop the recording from saving. Selecting the check mark will cause a popup window to appear with the URL to the recording that can be copied and then pasted to a variety of places.

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The notes can be copied and pasted onto social media websites, like Twitter or Facebook, and they will immediately turn into a recording file that can be played.

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In addition, the comments can be pasted into Google Docs, providing similar results. Students can keep all of their recordings in one Doc as notes and then share the notes with a teacher or peer for them to listen. Pressing the play button allows you to listen immediately within the Doc.

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If the transition from URL to recording file does not occur right away, highlight the URL and press Ctrl + K to move the process along.

For students who do not have access to Chromebooks or laptops with a Chrome browser, this tool is also available on Android phone devices from the Google Play Store. It functions in a similar method as the extension but appears in the corner of your device’s screen as opposed to on the scrollbar, which allows for recordings across apps.

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Talk and Comment is an easy-to-use tool that doesn’t have a lot of overwhelming features, which makes it perfect for struggling students in an ELA classroom. Students can use it to record their ideas, comments, or even feedback in peer review, and then share it with others through the URL. The fact that the other user does not even need the app or extension to listen to the recordings makes it ideal for classroom use.


Don’t forget to register for the NJCTE 2018 Fall Conference: Approaches to Writing, K-12! Featuring keynote speaker NCTE President Jocelyn Chadwick, the conference will take place September 29 at Kenneth R. Olson Middle School in Tabernacle, NJ. Register today!

Tech Tuesdays: Talk and Comment

Tech Tuesdays: Organizing the Classroom Library with CheckItOut

by Kathryn Nieves

Tech Twitter Chat

Date: August 22nd

Time: 8:00PM

Next Wednesday we will be hosting a Tech Twitter chat. Start thinking about and sending in your technology questions so we can discuss them together. Please post your questions as a comment below.

CheckItOut

Classroom libraries are staples of both the elementary and secondary language arts classroom. Having opportunities for students to self-select books for their reading definitely has its benefits when it comes to building motivation. However, setting up a check-in and check-out system can be difficult for teachers. There are a variety of apps that offer ways for teachers to set up their classroom libraries and the Google Forms add-on CheckItOut is one tool to consider.

As an add-on, CheckItOut only works within Google Forms. Once it is added, it is ready to use within the program. Open a new Google Form and fill in your title. Then, add a question asking for a person’s name. Make sure it is a short answer question and that it is required in order to submit the Form. You can also add a question for class period if you want to separate your classes.

Next, you need to enable the CheckItOut add-on. You can do this by clicking the puzzle piece and selecting “CheckItOut.”

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From the pop-up window, select “Add/Edit Question Set.” You can edit the check in/out name to “Book” and select the type of question you want. There are a few options you can choose from. If you select “Multiple Choice,” it means that the students can only select or take out one book at a time. If you select “Checkboxes” it means that students can check off more than one book at a time.

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When you are finished, select the blue “Add” button and the appropriate questions will be added to your Form. From there, you will have to input all of the titles from your library into the “Check out Book” section. If you do not want a huge list of books, you could always create separate Forms based on genre bins or the organizational system of your library.

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Adding titles is the most time consuming of the entire process. This list can be edited at any time. As new classroom library books are procured, you can edit or rearrange the list.

Once you are finished, you can test your Form by clicking on the eyeball icon on the top of the page.

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Enter a name and check out a book in order to test your Form. Then, you need to refresh the page and you should see that the book you checked out has been removed from the “Check out” list and instead is added to the “Check in” list.

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You can view the statistics of your classroom by going back to the Form editing section (or clicking the pencil in the top right corner of the Form). You will see a second tab which indicates a numerical count of how many responses the Form has. Clicking on the “Responses” tab will provide a breakdown of the frequency to which each student checks out a book. You can see which books have been returned and are still checked out, as well.

If you want to view this information as a spreadsheet, click the Google Sheets icon at the corner of the “Responses tab.”

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In the spreadsheet, you will see the student’s name, the book they took out, and the instance when they turned it in. You will also have a timestamp for when the book was checked in and out.

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This tool could be used throughout the year to keep track of books in the classroom library and also to see what types of books students are reading. When the year is over, you can clear the responses and start fresh for the following year without needing to redo the entire Form. To clear responses, go to the “Responses” tab and select the three vertical dots next to the Sheets icon. Choose “Delete all Responses” to start off the new school year.

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While the process of adding all the titles from the classroom library might seem cumbersome, the ease of using CheckItOut for classroom libraries outweighs this issue. The Form can be used year after year in the classroom and, with more schools going 1:1 with devices, is a great way for students to keep track of their signed out materials.

Tech Tuesdays: Organizing the Classroom Library with CheckItOut

Tech Tuesdays: GradeProof–An Add-On Supporting Revision

by Kathryn Nieves

When it comes to integrating technology into the classroom, it’s best to give students a variety of options. You want to have several tools to accomplish similar tasks in order to give students a choice of which they like the best. If a student dislikes a particular app or tool, which happens frequently in my classes, they are less likely to use it. As a result, having a few back-ups for them to try is helpful until they find their favorite.

GradeProof, a Google Docs add-on, provides another option for students when it comes to revising and editing their work. It uses artificial intelligence to generate feedback on writing. Similar to other revision tools, it focuses on several key areas and users are able to look through the comments and make corrections.

Once GradeProof has been installed, it can be accessed from within a Google Doc. You should open a Doc you want to revise and click “Add-Ons” from the toolbar. Then select “GradeProof” and “Start.”

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A sidebar will appear and GradeProof will run through the entire Doc, tallying the number of errors or areas for feedback. GradeProof will immediately give you the number of errors in each of the categories, including spelling, grammar, phrasing, and eloquence.

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In addition to the areas of improvement, GradeProof also considers readability of your Doc, where the higher the score, the easier it is to read your work, and grade level, which lists the number of years of education a person would need to understand your work. Basic statistics like syllables per word, word count, character count, and words per sentence are also listed. Another interesting factor is reading time, where GradeProof averages how long it would take a person to read the Doc in its entirety. Speaking time is also listed for those looking into how long it would take the average person to read the Doc aloud.

When you are ready to start making corrections, return to GradeProof’s sidebar and select “View Suggestions.” A pop-up window will appear, requiring you to create an account or sign in. Once signed in, you will be able to move through the categories and find areas GradeProof considers as an error.

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By clicking on each of the underlined words and phrases, you can see the suggestion GradeProof is making. Then, you can choose to ignore it or make the change. In most cases, GradeProof will also provide a brief explanation of why the change is necessary.

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You can also opt to have GradeProof automatically fix all the errors in the Doc. If you select “Apply Changes,” the changes will automatically populate within the document.

The nice part about using GradeProof in the classroom is that it separates the different types of errors, so students can focus on one piece at a time for revision, and it gives them a little description so they can avoid these errors in future writing pieces. GradeProof is an easy tool for students to use and can serve as another option for the revising and editing part of the writing process.

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

Tech Tuesdays: GradeProof–An Add-On Supporting Revision

Tech Tuesdays: WriteWell Online

by Kathryn Nieves

For struggling students in English classes, writing can be a daunting task. Even getting started with an outline can be challenging. WriteWell Online is a resource that can be of assistance to these students or any students looking for a little extra guidance in writing.

WriteWell Online is an app from the Chrome Web Store. It is also accessible through the website. It is a freemium app, so there is a free option for classrooms, but there is also a paid version with more features. If you are on a Chrome browser, the app can be found after downloading by either using the website URL or clicking on the “Apps” tab in the browser.

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WriteWell requires an account to be created before using. Once an account has been created, you will have access to different writing templates to help guide you through the writing process. Click on the “Create New Document” to begin the process.

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You will enter the template library, where a variety of resources are available to use for writing. The left sidebar shows categories to filter the template options. WriteWell offers templates geared toward middle and secondary courses, as well as college applications. Hovering over the templates will cause a pop-up window to appear which provides more details about that option. You can also preview a template before selecting it.

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Once you choose a template, a space to begin your written piece will appear. It has steps on the left side for you to follow. Each step is met with sentence starters and ideas provided by WriteWell. These ideas can help form each stage of the writing process. It includes tips and tricks for composing the section.

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You can actually delete the sentence starters and type your own answer in that text box in order to compose your essay. Formatting tools, similar to ones available in Google Docs and Microsoft Word. You can also edit the section tip on the left side if you want to include specific notes. This space could be edited by students to include tips that you provide as the teacher.

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The templates are completely customizable. The order can be dragged around to support the student’s needs or the requirements of the teacher. Extra sections can be added based off of student ideas if needed.

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Once you have moved through all the steps in the left sidebar, there are two additional options. You can add Grammarly to provide a grammar-checking feature. You can also preview all of the work you have written. Once the sentence starters are replaced by your writing, the preview will place all of the writing together.

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When you are finished writing your piece, it can be exported as a Google Doc, Microsoft Word document, or email attachment. It can also be shared directly with emails.

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WriteWell Online allows for five free documents to be created. This number decreases if a document is deleted, so students can delete their draft once they have submitted an assignment. While it may not be a tool that every student would need to use in an English Language Arts classroom, WriteWell Online could help struggling students organize their ideas and begin the writing process. It’s a good website to keep in the technology toolbox to provide students, if needed.

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

Tech Tuesdays: WriteWell Online

Tech Tuesdays: VoiceIn Voice Typing

by Kathryn Nieves

Google Docs’ Voice Typing feature has been a staple of student modifications for awhile. Students and educators alike use the feature in order to use their voice to dictate their responses within a Google Doc. The updates from the past year, which expanded the speech recognition software and opened up more possibilities of voice command, have only cemented the tool as a must-use in classrooms. However, one of the biggest downfalls of Voice Typing is that it is only accessible within Google Docs.

VoiceIn Voice Typing, a Google Chrome extension, brings the accessibility of Voice Typing to any webpage. Accessible within the Chrome browser, users are able to use their voice to type responses. It even uses the same speech recognition as traditional Google Docs Voice Typing. Once added from the Chrome Web Store, the extension logo will appear in the browser’s toolbar in the right corner of the page. The logo appears as a black microphone.

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Before using VoiceIn Voice Typing, you have to make sure the microphone in your computer is activated. Click on the extension’s logo in your toolbar. A popup will appear on the screen asking you to approve the microphone’s usage. You would click “Allow” and the microphone would be activated. Your Chrome browser may restart the first time you select this option.

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One the microphone is activated, the extension is able to be used on any website where a typed answer is required. Some examples include social media sites and Google Forms short and long response questions.

When you are ready to begin writing with your voice, place your mouse cursor in the place where you want the typing to begin. Then, you right click with your mousepad. A pop up will appear and you will select “Start Recording.”

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You can also activate the recording by clicking on the logo of the black microphone in your browser’s toolbar.

You will know the VoiceIn Voice Typing extension is recording because the logo in your browser toolbar will turn red. Then, simply begin speaking and the extension will pick up your words. You will have to indicate punctuation, as the extension does not automatically insert it.

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When you are finished, you can stop the recording the same way in which it was started. You can either click on the now red microphone logo on the toolbar or right click and select “Stop Recording.” You can go back and physically edit any capitalization or add any punctuation when you are finished.

This extension is great for struggling students who need assistance with their writing. It opens up the speech-to-text possibilities beyond just typing in Google Docs. Now, their short answers on Google Forms can be verbally written and submitted or their responses on any website that requires a short or long answer. For blended or online learning environments, this tool would be an easy way to modify discussion post assignments for students. Even though it would be really beneficial for students who may struggle with writing, the tool could be useful for anyone.

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

Tech Tuesdays: VoiceIn Voice Typing

Tech Tuesdays: PDF Mergy–Making Printing Easier

by Kathryn Nieves

Most educators are moving toward using Google Classroom or other learning management systems to accept and distribute their classwork. Despite the switch, there are many educators who still prefer to write physical comments on papers and like the pen-to-paper feedback. However, once assignments are uploaded by the students, it can be difficult for teachers to open and print all of the files they need to grade.

PDF Mergy is a Chrome extension, which means it works within the Google Chrome browser. Its function is to open all assignments within one PDF for easy printing. Once added from the Chrome Web Store, it is immediately available for your use. It can be found at the top of your browser and can be easily identified by the red and orange logo.

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In order to use PDF Mergy to print copies of an assignment for all of the students in the class, click on the newly installed logo. A new tab will appear that will guide you through using PDF Mergy. Users have two options: selecting files from Google Drive or their device. Choose the option that best represents the way your assignments are stored, whether in a folder on your device or a Google Drive folder.

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If you choose “Select Files from your Computer,” a popup window will appear that will allow you to find and select the files you have saved. If you have all of your student files saved in a folder, for example, you could choose the folder and select “Open.”

If you choose “Select Files from Google Drive,” the popup window will appear differently. You will be asked to sign into the appropriate Google account. You would select the account that you used to create your Google Classroom or other learning management system. Your entire contents of your Google Drive will appear once you have signed into your account.

You have the option to either browse through the folders in your Drive or search for a specific assignment. The easiest way to grab an assignment from your Google Classroom is to find the folder labeled “Classroom.” Then, you scroll through the assignments and find the one you want to have printed. Each assignment you have created will have its own separate folder.

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Double click on the assignment folder to open all of the student responses. If you want all of your student assignments to be printed, you should select Ctrl + A on your keyboard. This shortcut will highlight all student files in blue. If you only want to choose a select few student files, you would hold the Ctrl key on your keyboard and click each student file you want to have printed. Then choose the blue “Select button at the bottom of the popup window.

All of the selected files will appear on one page. If you find you have accidentally selected a file that you do not want to be included in the printing, you can hover over the file name and click the trash can.

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Once the list is finalized, select the blue “Merge” button at the top of the page. While your computer is processing the files to make one, you will receive the following loading message from the extension.

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You will receive a new message from the extension on the webpage when your PDF is ready. Then, you have the option to either save the PDF to your Google Drive or open it for printing.

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If you wanted to share the files as examples for your students, saving your merged file to your Google Drive would be beneficial because you could then post it on Google Classroom as a reference for your students. There are a variety of possibilities that could come from saving the PDF to Google Drive as opposed to simply printing it.

For teachers that prefer handwritten feedback on essays and assignments but still appreciate the students typing their work, PDF Mergy is an excellent tool to make the printing process easier. No longer do teachers have to open each file and print it individually, so a lot of time can be saved. It’s a simple tool, but can be really helpful in the grading process.

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

Tech Tuesdays: PDF Mergy–Making Printing Easier