Content Area Focus Learning

The Writing Process

Clear, articulate, concise writing is important for our students. The mind of a middle schooler may often be anything but clear, articulate and concise 🙂 (and that is OK). What strategies can we use to help students acquire and integrate learning of the writing process?

Better Answers is a writing program we are working on here at Heim. It is a structured writing response model that builds on the strategy of cues, questions and advance organizers. The “Better Answer Sandwich” graphic sums it up best (click to enlarge):


Using this organizer, students are directed through the writing process using specific, direct organizational ideas. The program has been used in lower grades in the past, and is now being rolled out across the school.

How might technology support this process?  One way is with a new web resource we are piloting, the Glencoe Online Essay Grader. Teachers can assign essay topics to students, and students complete the essay online. In my first looks at the resource, there are tools that can be provided to students to formulate answers very much like the sandwich model. Additional supports (if desired) for students in this environment are sentence structure advice, spell and grammar check, and sentence diagramming.

Other technology resources to support the writing process include:

  1. Create a template in a word processing document that includes the steps of the Better Answers process. Students download and complete an essay using the steps as a framework.
  2. Use brainstorming and organizing software (such as Inspiration) to have students graphically complete the steps of the process, and then convert the graphic diagram to a word processing document.

Better writing is always a goal, and there are many technology tools to support it.

Content Area Focus

Content Tech: Google Lit Trips Followup

Content Tech
Ideas for Technology Use in the Classroom

A few weeks back in Content Tech we looked at Google Lit Trips as unique way to study literature through geography. In Mrs. Calandra’s English 9R class, we used the Lit Trip as part of their study of The Odyssey by Homer. Reading this book can be a daunting task, and the Lit Trip was a great tool to help students’ understanding. The project went very well, and here is what Mrs. Calandra has to say about it…

“The Google Earth Lit Trip was really awesome! Not only was it cool and interesting for the students, it also genuinely increased their comprehension of the text, as evidenced by the very high final test scores. The Odyssey is a challenging piece of literature, both in terms of its language and its content; using the Lit Trip enabled students to understand Odysseus’s journey much better. Overall, benefits of the project included learning to use the technology effectively, better comprehension of the story, and increased understanding of the time period, culture, and geography of that area. I wouldn’t want to teach The Odyssey again without using the Google Earth Lit Trip!”

Each student was assigned a book (in The Odyssey, each chapter is called a book) and the product each created was a placemark in Google Earth which included:

  1. A synopsis of the book
  2. Responses to higher-level questions regarding the book
  3. A picture selected by the student to represent the book (selected from Creative Commons Flickr images through FlicrStorm)

Specific directions for how students accomplished the above are in a wiki page (a link to that page is later in this post). The best way to see the student work is by downloading the .kmz file which contains all of the placemarks they created. You’ll need Google Earth installed on your computer to view this file. Click on the file below, choose to open it with Google Earth, and enjoy their work.

9r-odyssey (click to download file)

Additionally, this was my first time ever reading The Odyssey. I was enjoying the work the students did so much that I took some time to create a movie interpreting their work. The words and pictures in the video are from the students and the audio and sequencing was selected by me. Check it out…

Get the Flash Player to see this content.

So how did we manage the project? Students read 1-2 books per day in class and for homework. I created a wiki page with directions (click here to see that wiki page) and then worked with the first 4 students on creating a placemark. Those students then showed the next group how to do the placemark, and so on. So over the course of 2-3 weeks, the group helped each other create their own version of The Odyssey Lit Trip. Mrs. Calandra began each class with a review of the Lit Trip in Google Earth, and then a presentation of placemarks by students. The final product is a very rich experience that really helped the students understand The Odyssey at a whole new level.

I’m looking forward to embarking on more Lit Trips in the future!

A big hat tip to David Jakes for his workshops that helped push me to bring this project together.

Content Area Focus

Content Tech: Google Lit Trips

Content Tech
Ideas for Technology Use in the Classroom

Mrs. Calandra’s English 9R class is about to embark on a journey in Google Earth as they read The Odyssey by Homer. Google Lit Trips are very interesting and a new way to teach literature, incorporating the geography of the book. We’re planning to have students create their own placemarks in Google Earth along the way, to demonstrate their understanding of the book.

Check out Google Lit Trips for other titles to see how they look (there is a small but growing list of popular titles). The Google Earth files (.kmz files) download to your computer, and open up in Google Earth (which is on all school computers).

Google Earth is becoming an incredible resource, and applications such as these Google Lit Trips are presenting new and unique ways to teach and learn in many different content areas!


Image citation:
“Mediterranean Odyssey.” Map. Google Lit Trips. Ed. Jerome Burg. 11 Apr. 2009. 22 Apr. 2009 <>

Content Area Focus

Content Tech: 5th Grade ELA

The 2007 5th Grade listening section had a very cute story about a photographer who encountered a rare lioness:

Lion Story

After 2 readings, the following questions were asked:

Lion Questions

Two of the questions have reasonably tricky distractors, and the question asking for supporting details from the story could be a stumper if not paid attention to while listening. Students are directed NOT to take notes the first time they listen – I understand why but to have them cram notes the second time only – yikes.

Anyway – what to do, and how to support it…

No Tech (which is how students take the test)
Teacher reads a variety of stories of a similar nature, directing students to listen and take notes as they would on the exam.

Some Tech
Teacher records story using recording software (Audacity), and also has one or two other adults record the story, so students can get used to a variety of oral deliveries. Students listen and take notes as they would on the exam.

Total Tech
Teacher records story using recording software (Audacity) and posts it to the WITS class notes page. Using the discussion forum, students listen to story and take notes in forum as they listen. Students then review notes taken by other students to compare and gain ideas for listening cues. Teacher posts readings done by other adults as well, to provide a range of oral deliveries.

Document and Image citation:
Elementary/Intermediate State Assessment. New York State Education Department. 16 September 2008. <>.