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.


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: Pechaflickr — A Twist on Narrative Writing

by Kathryn Nieves

I’m always looking for mini-activities to help engage my students during narrative writing. Narrative is usually the genre they are most excited about completing and they are usually eager to try mini-tasks and activities to extend their story writing practice. Pechaflickr offers a quick and easy activity to help students practice their narrative writing skills and can serve as an engaging “extra-time” challenge for your students.

Pechaflickr is a website that challenges students to make connections between images in order to create their own story. It connects to the photo-sharing website Flickr to choose random images. When you log onto the website, a student or teacher can type in a random keyword. Then, the website generates 20 random images connected with that search and rotates through them every 20 seconds. The concept of 20 slides in 20 seconds comes from the presentation strategy, PechaKucha. Pechaflickr allows students to practice their improvisational skills. As the pictures rotate, they can determine new twists and turns for their narrative, while still maintaining the original plot.

When you log onto the website, you can use the search bar to type in a random keyword or phrase.


Clicking “play” will open a pop-up window and the 20 by 20 activity will begin. The website goes through all of the tags on Flickr and chooses 20 random images that have that tag. Since this is freely available on the internet, once in awhile something unrelated may appear in the results based on the tag used. However, for the most part, the tags accurately reflect what is displayed in the image. As always, it’s good to be on alert in the rare chance that something inappropriate appears.


You can also customize the 20 by 20 rules. You can change how many slides appear and the amount of time that each slide is on the screen.


While a relatively simple tool, Pechaflickr could be a quick activity to get students thinking on their feet. For students learning vocabulary and language, it could also be a good way to determine the connection between images. It could also be a collaborative writing opportunity, where students have to work together to determine the connection between the images and compose a narrative. Even though Pechaflickr is not a new tool, it could be something interesting to bring into creative writing and narrative units.

Attention NJ ELA teachers: Would you like to write for the NJCTE blog? We would be happy to publish your ideas and insights about your practice or resources you’ve had success with, etc. We welcome original pieces or those that have been posted elsewhere. Please send queries and contributions to

Tech Tuesdays: Pechaflickr — A Twist on Narrative Writing

Tech Tuesdays: ForAllRubrics

Giving feedback can be a difficult process. Sometimes students receive feedback on their final submission of an assignment, which does not allow room for growth and revision. Sometimes teachers provide feedback throughout the composition process, but students do not take advantage of these opportunities for revision. It can be a struggle to provide effective and timely feedback while managing to engage students in the feedback process.

ForAllRubrics is a solution for grading and feedback. It’s a free website for teachers where class rosters can be uploaded and all student scores can be provided in a digital format. While many districts are bound by a learning management system (or even Google Classroom) that provides options for this process, there are some that do not have these opportunities. For those teachers, ForAllRubrics is an excellent solution.

Once teachers have created an account, they can provide their student with a class code to sign up. From the homepage, click on the “Admin” drop-down menu on the top right corner of the screen. Select “Manage Students.” Then, you have the choice of how you would like to import your students, such as from a file, adding them individually, or from a class code. There are a variety of other options for editing in the drop-down panel, as well.

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There are five options at the top of each screen that guide you through the website. “My Class” takes you to the page with all of your classes and students. “Design” allows you to build rubrics. “Library” has pre-created rubrics. “Analyze” allows for data analysis and student reports of progress. The “Help Center” offers tutorials for advice for using the website.


When you click on “Design,” you will see all of the resources you have created. For people just beginning, there will only be a sample rubric, badge, and checklist available. You need to select “Create” in order to begin building something new. You are allowed to choose from a checklist, badge, or rubric. Badges can be designed and created for students who complete different achievements and tasks. The checklist can be used by students for different assignments.

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Clicking on any text in the rubric will create a pop-up window that allows you to type your criteria. You can also change, delete, or add columns, point values, and names. Color-coding is also possible for the criteria by selecting the different color options at the start of each column.


Underneath each category, you can click the “Assigned Standard(s)” orange plus icon and select standards that connect to each evaluation area. Each item can also be weighted based on need. For example, the predetermined values are 1.0, but they can be clicked to edit. For example, some skills and items may be more difficult and deserve a higher percentage of the final score than others. This tool allows you to accommodate for that.

Once the rubric has been created, it is assigned to the class. Return to the “My Classes” tab to see the list of students currently enrolled in your class. Open the rubric you want by selecting the drop-down arrow next to “All Activities.” Select the rubric you want and all your students will appear on the list. Next to their name, select the orange plus sign and the rubric will open.

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In each item, you have the chance to not only select the score, but also to provide a comment, Drive file, or link to support students in the revision process.


Once finished evaluating the students, click the “Done” button to save the work and return back to the student roster. The student’s overall score will be available on the roster screen. Check the box next to their name and select “Publish” to send the score to the student. They will be able to see all comments and scores at that time. For schools without 1:1 devices, these reports can be printed to give to the students, as well.

Visiting the “Analyze” page will allow you to open a variety of reports about all your students and their progress, as well as individual students. Standards reports, grade averages, and item analyses are available to download, export as a PDF, or save.

ForAllRubrics is a simple solution for teachers who do not have the advantage of learning management system or other grading tools. While it’s not overwhelming in terms of website design, it offers a lot of simple and productive tools to make the grading process and progress tracking easier.

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

Tech Tuesdays: ForAllRubrics

Join Our Post-Conference Twitter Chat!


Let’s keep the energy and excitement of the NJCTE Fall Conference going on Twitter! Join Co-Chair Denise Weintraut this Tuesday, October 2nd, from 7:00-7:30pm for a sharing session on Twitter. Use the hashtag #NJCTE18 to follow the discussion. We’ll be asking the questions below. When you go to answer, just use A1, A2, etc., in your answer so that we know which question you are answering. Contact Denise with any questions. Her Twitter handle is @SmilingTeach, and you can email her at

Q1: What did you appreciate about the conference?

Q2:  What session was your favorite and why?

Q3:  What was the best thing you learned that day?

Q4: What will you share with your colleagues?

Q5: What else would you like to see next time?

Join Our Post-Conference Twitter Chat!

Book Review: Using Grammar to Improve Writing by Sarah Tantillo

ST grammar coverby Susan Chenelle

First off, the journalist in me requires that I state that this is not an unbiased review. I have had the benefit of Sarah Tantillo’s wisdom and guidance since the beginning of my teaching career, nearly ten years ago. That said, I would not have taken time out of the precious last days of my summer to write this review if I were not so genuinely excited about Sarah’s recently published third book, Using Grammar to Improve Writing: Recipes for Action.

Tantillo’s approach forefronts the critical why of grammar instruction, i.e., learning to write and express ideas well. As she emphasizes in her introduction, “How we frame grammar instruction matters. If you view it as ‘fixing incorrect sentences,’ you teach it that way. If you view it as ‘building strong, compelling sentences,’ you take a different approach.”

Tantillo’s first chapter, “What should we STOP doing?” goes after four dysfunctional yet common elements of grammar instruction, including having students copy down grammar definitions or rules, having students correct error-laden sentences, and over-editing students’ work. After clearing the decks, so to speak, Tantillo presents principles that will help teachers design lessons that engage students in developing their skills in noticing and wrestling with syntax and language choices and their effects, rather than memorizing rules by rote and trying to remember when and how to apply them. Instead Tantillo encourages teachers to use model sentences from the texts students are already reading to give students opportunities to imitate and/or expand upon them after acting as detectives to identify the grammatical moves each set of model sentences exemplifies and infer the writer’s intention in crafting them that way.

Tantillo grounds her clear, practical directives in research about grammar instruction and teaching best practices, synthesizing the ideas of educators like Constance Weaver (Teaching Grammar in Context), Doug Lemov (Teach Like a Champion), and Jeff Anderson (Mechanically Inclined). These references to such well-respected and well-known teaching texts make clear how Tantillo’s approach sits within the field. Her work, moreover, and her insights about opportunities to capitalize on, pitfalls to avoid, and ways to fit everything in also draw on Tantillo’s extensive experience in the classroom.

The book is structured in a straightforward, easy-to-use format; readers can absorb the fundamentals of Tantillo’s approach in part one and then dive into the specific section of part two relevant to the grade level(s) they teach. Tantillo also emphasizes the importance of teachers knowing the standards above and below the grade(s) we might teach so that we can meet our students’ diverse needs; this volume makes it easy to see the underlying skills or understandings to target when students are struggling with tasks specified for their grade level in the CCSS. Along with her breakdown of the standards for each grade, she gives concrete advice for how to teach each standard, complete with sample pitches for conveying the importance of each skill to students and “genre alerts” that highlight particularly effective opportunities to teach certain aspects of grammar with specific genres of writing (i.e., teaching interjections and verb tenses with narrative writing). The appendix offers a handy CCSS tracker and sample overviews of weekly grammar, reading, writing, and vocabulary routines based on the particular genre(s) being taught.

While I have already recommended this book to the English department at my school, I will be sharing two bits of Using Grammar with all of my teachers in September: 1) her reminder that “telling is not teaching” in chapter one, and 2) the strategies she shares at the end of chapter four for combatting learned helplessness in our students. As anyone who has attempted to teach grammar knows, persistence and effort are at the heart of revision in writing, but they are also at the heart of learning in general. Tantillo urges teachers to wage this battle by “encourag[ing] engagement and accountability,” “provid[ing] models for clarity, and “encourag[ing] risk-taking.”

These nuggets of wisdom exemplify the thorough, thoughtful support Tantillo offers teachers in this book. Teachers starting a new school year will find it a valuable resource that will help them begin with clarity and purpose.

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!

Book Review: Using Grammar to Improve Writing by Sarah Tantillo

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.”


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.


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: DocAppender–An Add-on for Conferences

by Kathryn Nieves

When teachers think of grading essays online, their mind usually goes to Goobric. However, this tool seems so final. It provides students with a final grade for their assignment, but what about informal feedback and conferences? While Google Docs comments have been a popular way to provide students with support through the writing process, a new tool might be the key to successful student-teacher conferences: DocAppender.

DocAppender is a Google Forms add-on that can be downloaded from the Chrome Web Store. When used, it allows teachers to create one Google Form to keep track of all student writing conference information and automatically populates it into the student’s Google Doc. If a student and teacher are working side-by-side on a student’s essay, the teacher and student could work together to determine areas of strength and weakness, using the Google Form to keep note of their discussion. Once finished, the teacher would use DocAppender to send the comments right to the student’s assignment in Google Docs to refer to throughout the rest of the writing process.

After DocAppender has been added from the Chrome Web Store, the next step is to decide what Google Drive folder you will be using with this feature. You have the option to select a folder that you have created for yourself in Google Drive or, if you’re using Google Classroom, select the “Classroom” folder and choose an assignment you have posted. Either way, you want to make sure the folder you are selecting has Google Docs stored inside of it.

After deciding what folder you want to use, create a Google Form. Use the name of the folder as the title of the Form. For example, I selected a Drive folder from a Google Classroom assignment called “Narrative Final.” It contains all of my first period students’ narratives. I made the title of my Google Form match the title of my Drive folder to make it easier to recognize.



Within the Google Form, you should add questions that will reference the discussion topics for your writer’s conference. The first questions should always be “Student Name.” You need to make it a multiple choice question. Leave the multiple choice answer blank, though. Later steps will show you why leaving the answer as a blank multiple choice is an important step in the process. The other questions can be anything related to your assignment. I included “Area of Strength” and “Area of Need” where I had multiple choice answers that referenced strategies from the assignment rubric. I also included a “Comments” section as a paragraph answer so I could fill in the notes the student and I discussed during the conference.


After you have created your Google Form, you need to activate the DocAppender add-on. The top toolbar in Google Forms has a puzzle piece icon that houses all of your add-ons for this program. Click on it and then click on “DocAppender.”


When the popup appears, you want to select “Open in sidebar” in order to perform the activation steps for the add-on. The first question for you to answer is about your Drive file. Since you are using an assignment already posted on your Google Classroom, you want to select “Pick from Drive”, as the folder you are selecting already exists. Select “Next” when you are finished choosing the folder.

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The second question asks you to decide which question will help the add-on determine which Google Doc in the folder to send the responses from the Form. For your Form, this will be the “Student Name” question. This question allows the add-on to know what student receives the comments you are filling out during the conference. You may have to “Refresh List” if you do not see your questions appear right away.


The next step is to select “Save and Populate Selected Question.” This button will take all of your Google Docs within your folder and populate the Google Form with their names. All of your student’s names and work will appear automatically in the Google Form. Select “Next” in the sidebar when you see all your student names appear.


The final stage in the preparation process is to select what questions will appear in the Google Doc. You can use the checkboxes to select what you want. I usually include the Timestamp, especially if we are conferring multiple times in the writing process. You can also choose to not to include certain areas, meaning the responses written in the Google Form will not be included in the student’s corresponding Google Doc. You can also select the format that you would like the responses in the Google Doc to appear. The format is a matter of personal preference.


When you are finished, select “Enable” and your Google Form with DocAppender is ready to use. From the Google Forms editor you are currently using, select the eyeball icon from the top toolbar, so you can fill out the form.


Keep this Form up while you are conferring with a student about their writing. Keep track of the comments you discuss together in the Google Form. When you are finished with the student, select “Submit” and the results from the Form will automatically appear at the bottom of their Google Doc.’


This Form can be used repeatedly throughout the course of an assignment in order to document individual student progress and needs. Students will have their notes from their conference directly on their work, so they can refer back to it as they rewrite or revise. Then, they can delete the feedback prior to submitting their work or leave it there as a reference for the teacher. Since you are the owner of the Google Form, you can also review all of your submissions for all students to see patterns of need or monitor the progress of each student. DocAppender definitely makes feedback and conference tracking easier for teachers.

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

Tech Tuesdays: DocAppender–An Add-on for Conferences

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: 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