Category Archives: Reading

Read Write Think: a great timeline app!

I’m always excited to find an app that works really well – without any hiccups! The free timeline app from Read Write Think was one of those gems!


I worked with Courtney O’Connor and her grade 9 English classes. They had just finished individual novel studies, so I introduced her classes to the timeline app to share their novels. I began by demonstrating how the app worked (adding images, text, saving, and sharing). Next, we had the students outline the narrative elements of their novel, and then work through a paper sketch of the information they planned to put on their timeline. The students were given two classes in the Learning Commons to complete their assignment.

After their timelines were emailed to their teacher, the class returned for a third class to participate in speed booking. This gave them an opportunity to share their novels with each other. We gave them an activity sheet to fill out while participating in the speed booking (this kept them focused and help them track the books that they might be interested in reading next). At the end there was a project rubric you are welcome to use or revamp.

This app worked so well that Courtney used it again with her SS class to do a timeline on the Industrial Revolution.  The Read Write Think timeline app was a fun way to share their books with their teacher and with each other, and it was easy to use! What are your favourite apps for novel study? I would love to hear about them?



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The Magic of a Memoir: a stations approach

Memoir isn’t the summary of a life; it’s a window into a life, very much like a photograph in its selective composition. It may look like a casual and even random calling up of bygone events. It’s not; it’s a deliberate construction.

~William Zinsser

These activities were designed for Ms. Pederson’s Writing 12 class, and we decided to arrange the activities as 5 stations. Her class came to the Learning Commons for a week to complete all of the activities, our goal was to better prepare them for an upcoming assignment where they would be asked to write their own short memoir. Classroom discussions around the difference between autobiographies, biographies, and memoirs, took place before we started these activities.

First, we started by explaining the first three activities, and then the students had the first two classes to work through the stations in any order.

The first three activities were:

Station 1: Writing Territories: learning more about me

Station 2: Pg 1 The Smell and Sound of Words – article written by Alexandra Fuller, and Pg 2 deconstruct and writing activity

Station 3: My World in Black and White: a photo memoir

Debrief stations 1-3:

After everyone had a chance to finish, we discussed what new things we learned about ourselves, and what things were the hardest to write about. A few students read out their writing activity from station 2, and some of the students shared their photo memoirs (those who were comfortable sharing).

Next, we introduced activities four and five. Again, the students could work through these two stations in any order.

Station 4: Mystery Memoirs

Station 5: The way I see it… 

Debrief stations 4-5:

After everyone had a chance to finish, we debriefed the results of the mystery memoir activity. We revealed the books hidden in the brown bags, I book talked a few of the titles and read a short senopsous of other titles. Some of the students also shared their photo memoirs (those students who were comfortable sharing). Some of the memoirs we used for our activities are on this list, but there are many great memoirs to choose from. The only activity that we would revamp next-time would be the Smell and Sound of Words; it was far too easy for the students so we would find a more sophisticated passage. Overall, the students had fun with the activities, and some discovered memoirs they wanted to read. How do you teach students to embrace the Memoir? I would love to hear your ideas!

 “Each of us is a book waiting to be written, and that book, if written, results in a person explained.”

~Thomas M. Cirignano

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Vlogging a great book!

It has been a while since my last post, primarily because of moving to a new school. It takes time getting to know a new staff and build relationships. But change can be fun and invigorating. So, now I’m enjoying teaching, learning, and sharing with a terrific group of teachers from Elgin Park Secondary. This project was done in collaboration with Ms. Rosemary Rollins – an amazing English teacher at Elgin Park.

Class #1

In her classroom, Rosemary introduced her students to some children’s classics (titles from the Vancouver Sun Classic Children’s Book Collection). She then brought her class into the Learning Commons and we discussed the benefits of reading a classic. The students had made a list of 3 titles they would be interested in reading, they then had time to look through the titles and choose one for their novel study. The students had three weeks to finish reading their book.IMG_4597


A few weeks later, the students returned to the Learning Commons and we had a lesson on Vlogging – what it is, and why it’s become popular. We also looked at examples of some YA Teen Vloggers who have a large following on Youtube and Instagram – they LOVED this!

Next, I introduced them to a free app I installed on our iPads called Knovio. It’s a great tool for uploading images and recording a students voice and  face. It also has a feature where you can type notes so the presenter can have cue cards in view when recording. If a student is uncomfortable recording their face, then he/she can shut off the camera and record voice only to accompany their slides. We spent a few minutes and reviewed some recording tips to help make a more polished presentation, and I showed them how to use an app called Skitch (which allows you to write text on any images, or add an arrow to highlight an area of an image). After our lesson, the students completed a handout as review and started working on their storyboard sketch.IMG_4775


A few days later we invited Ms. Miller’s grade 7 class to join us from Chantrell Creek Elementary. I gave the grade 7’s a short introduction to Vlogging before the 9’s came down, and then I gave them a worksheet they would work through with our grade 9’s.  After the grade 7’s completed their interview, the pairs worked together looking for images to add to the presentation. The grade 9’s had been asked to focus on one particular narrative element for their vlog – so images needed to reflect their focus. IMG_4781


For the 4th class, our grade 9’s came to work in the Learning Commons alone. They worked on completing their final recordings, and then emailed a link to their teacher, teacher-librarian, and grade 7 buddy. Their Vlogs will be evaluated using this rubric and some vlogs will be shared with the class. Vlog Shot

This project was fun and not a big headache in terms of technology. We used Knovio, Skitch (by those who wanted to add effects), and a Gmail app that I installed on our iPads. The Gmail app made it easy for students to sign into their Gmail and copy/paste a project link for sharing. We warned all of the students in advance to have a Gmail.

The students enjoyed working with the Knovio app, and they really enjoyed learning about vlogging and watching the YouTube clips of teen vloggers. Most had never heard of vlogging, and most had never read any of these children’s classics. I think we forget, that even with all the Disney adaptions, these stories are often new for many students – especially our ELL students.

So, how do you promote the classics in your schools? I would love to hear about it.  A classic never goes out of style! 🙂

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To eRead or not to eRead, that is the question?

This year our PAC bought us 7 Kobo Arcs for the Learning Commons. These beautiful colour tablets were purchased the weekend of Black Friday for $99 – not bad! The leather covers were ordered online from Amazon for $8 each, and the plastic pouches were ordered from a dollar store for under $5 each.  With the Follett and Overdrive apps installed, the students can easily download books from our database or from the Surrey Public Library. An app lock was also installed so student would not download other unwanted apps onto the device, and a permission form must be signed and on file before a loan takes place.  Now our students now have the opportunity to try an eReader and many of them are excited, yet others have the preconceived notion that they won’t like using one.

There are many arguments around the pros and cons of using eReaders, but the bottom line is this: give the students the opportunity to try one and let them make up their own mind! It’s all about choice; it’s all about personal preference.

Love them or hate them an eReader can offer us:

  • Selection – ereaders provide a library on the go with a great selection of e-books, and some have special features like built in dictionaries to decipher hard words
  • Convenience – they are extremely portable and lightweight – easy to carry, hold, or pack
  • Affordability – e-books are cost effective and it’s often cheaper to purchase ePubs than hard copies, and access to free e-book downloads are available from school libraries, public libraries, and apps

As a teacher, I love having more copies of the Classics available when the senior students are doing their big unit. As a traveler, I will never travel with a hard copy again. With that said, I do like to hold a real book in my hand while sitting at home on a lazy afternoon. So how do you feel about eReaders? Do you Love them, hate them, or are you on the fence? I’d love to hear!

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Does Fiction Matter?

During the past week I have been focusing on fiction, and promoting Canadian Library month and Drop Everything and Read on National School Library Day, October 28th.

The big question...

The big question…

I invited the English 8 classes into the Learning Commons and we attempted to answer the question: Does Fiction matter?
We started with a brief discussion on the difference between fiction and non-fiction. Then we reminded them about using descriptive language in their writing, and the 5 “Ws” they should think about when writing a short story (this had been previously discussed in class).

Story Prompts

Story Prompts

I then held up an example of a story prompt (from a series of wordless photos), and together we brainstormed ideas for good opening sentences.

Their classroom teacher divided the students into groups of three, and we began the Flash Fiction Writing Carousel. I had 9 stations set up that included one colour photo, one numbered station card, one pencil, and a piece of lined paper with 2 paper clips on top.


The first sentence of the story was the hardest, and it took the most thought and group discussion. The students were instructed not to turn the paper down to hide their first sentence, but to wait and hide the top sentence when they finished their 2nd story (so one line is only visible). We also told them to leave a space between every sentence to make the folding of the paper easier. When the groups completed all 9 stations we read some of the stories out loud (some we saved to be read out later in their classroom by their teacher).

Answering the question

Answering the question

Working together!

Working together!

Building the story

Building the story

Next, the same groups were given a sheet of paper and asked to answer this question: Does Fiction Matter?

It seemed easy for the students to write down one or two ideas, but then they really had to start thinking a little more. After 15 min we shared some of our results, and it was fun to see how passionate some student became about the need for Fiction.

I finished our sessions with a Book Talk on the 8 nominated titles for Surrey Teens Read and other new arrivals in the Learning Commons. The students had a quick book exchange, and they were all very excited to get their hands on some of the books I introduced to them.

Group brainstorm

Group brainstorm

Book Talk

Book Talk

So… by the end of the two classes did the students answer the question?

The students said that fiction is interesting because it tells a story and it entertains us. Fiction takes us to places, and it makes us feel something – that could be terror, joy, or sadness, but it transports us into someone else’s world, and they thought that was exciting. They told me reading would be boring without fiction, and they even came up with another question. Without fiction, where would all the great movies come from? Yup, stories are a powerful thing, and who doesn’t love a good story?

 “Without a doubt the two best words in the English language are The End”        Ken Scott

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Drop Everything and Collaborate!!

Collaboration: working together for a common purpose, sharing, participating, and hopefully engaging. Sounds simple, but not always as easy as we would like.

The problem: teachers are busy, students are busy, and interrupting classes can make you feel like a pest! But… when teachers are willing to collaborate with each other and with our students, then magic can happen! The doors to classrooms open,  students get creative, and teachers get inspired! Some teachers even give up hours of prep-time because their having so much fun! #mrbeggrocks
Daryl, you may be the next young Steven Spielberg, and young Monica you sing like a bird – so be loud, be proud!
This tune may not be original, but the spirit is one of a kind! Eagle Spirit all the way!
Drop Everything and Read!
National School Library Day – Monday October 21st, 2012


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