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Have you ever wished that you could change a PDF from printable to digital? Now you can with Teachers Pay Teachers digital overlay tool.

TpT has responded for the immediate increased need for digital resources and developed a new digital overlay tool. This new tool allows both the buyer and the seller to add a digital option to printable pdfs. The feature allows you to add text boxes and answer boxes right over the PDF, along with highlight and pen features.

How to Go from Printable to Digital

Any product on TpT that can be used with the new tool will have a red box underneath the price box in your storefront that says “Create Digital Activity.” This applies to your purchased items as well as any new items.

Both buyers and Teacher-authors have the option of adding digital overlay features to their eligible products. Many sellers are providing the overlay as another feature to their products. That leaves nothing for the buyer to do except to assign the resource!

Here is what Teacher-Authors see when creating a digital pdf:

Any of your eligible materials will be found under My TpT Listings. Choose a product to work with and click “Create Activity.”

I chose to work on my free Mitosis/Meiosis Comparison worksheet. I already know that there are pages in this resource that teachers wouldn’t want students to see. In fact, in this product there is only one student page.

Click Edit Pages in the top left corner. On the next screen you’ll select the pages you want and then click Save Changes in the top right.

The next screen is where you can actually start the editing process. The tools are at the top left.

  • Text boxes – add instructions or any other information for the students.
  • Answer boxes – placed anywhere the students are to input an answer.
  • Pen and Highlighter – the pen can have 3 different thicknesses and several different colors. Useful for drawing circles or other shapes. The highlighter is only in yellow at this time, but more colors are coming.
  • Select and Delete

Overlay Your Digital Pieces

You can see on this example how I’ve added answer boxes to the sheet. I like that they are a pale blue so that the students can easily see them.

Now is when you also will add any additional instructions or notes that students would need.

When you’ve finished, click on the Preview tab to see what it looks like from the student’s point of view. Go back and make any necessary edits.

Once you have it the way you want it, click the Publish tab. That makes it available to buyers. Your buyers can also edit it after they access it. They also still have the option of downloading the regular PDF from their My Purchases screen.

Buyers can assign the resource through Google Classroom. As of this writing Google is the only LMS this works with, but TpT is working on adding others.

Students turn in their work directly from Google. Teachers can then go in and view the work, provide feedback, and return to the student. This all takes place on the TpT platform, not Google Classroom.

So here are the highlights of the new tool:

  • You can easily remove any pages that you don’t want students to see.
  • Add additional instructions for students with text boxes.
  • Answer boxes are highlighted with a pale blue background to make them easy for students to see.
  • See what the activity will look like from the students’ perspectives by using the Preview tab.
  • At this time the tool only works with Google Classroom. TpT is working to add other Learning Management Systems as well.
  • Student work is only available on TpT, not in Google Classroom.
  • Teachers can correct students’ work using the same overlay tools that the students used. Add comments via text boxes, highlight, and use the pen tool. Return the work to students via the “Return” button when you’re finished marking.

Teachers Pay Teachers has created an excellent Google Slides presentation for both buyers and sellers. It takes you from start to finish in using the digital overlay tool. You can see it here.

There’s also a very handy video produced by TpT that creates a digital activity from scratch. It’s easy to follow along with as you create your own activity.

This new printable to digital overlay tool opens up a whole new avenue of resources to use with distance learning. Have you tried it yet? Let us know how it went in the comments!

Happy Teaching!


Will you be teaching science by distance learning for the 20-21 school year? Or will distance learning be used in a hybrid model of teaching, with some learning being face to face and some via remote teaching?

You may not be sure what model your district will follow yet. As of this writing there are many districts that are still deciding, my own district being one of them.

teaching science with distance learning

In my humble opinion, distance learning is here to stay, at least in some form. And when this pandemic is over, the learning technology will not go away. Many teachers/districts were embracing technology as an important addition to their teaching pedagogy even before the pandemic.

However, I think that we have a challenge that the other core subjects don’t … the fact that science is supposed to be hands on!

As science teachers, we love doing demos and engaging students’ curiosity. We love watching them having fun in lab and learning at the same time. We love using our interactive notebooks/binders and we love creating engaging lessons that are fun to teach and also fun to learn.

Is it still possible to incorporate all the fun stuff when you’re teaching science by distance learning?

I believe the answer to that question is YES … if we start thinking somewhat out of the box.

Teaching Science by Distance Learning

One of the biggest issues we have is figuring out how to do labs and hands on science activities. With distance learning, we lose that personal interaction and the ability to spot-check our students’ understanding of a concept. So finding ways to maintain personal connections with kids is paramount.

1. Get personal! One way to keep that classroom community and also do science demonstrations is to record yourself doing it. Today’s technology has made it very easy to set up. All you need is your cell phone and a tripod. Anything you can rig up to hold the phone at the right level will work. Then you do the demo and talk through it, just like you would with your students in front of you. Just make sure to have all of your materials ready and within reach. You don’t want to have to run off camera to grab some matches or a raw egg!

I can hear some of you cringing … honestly, it’s not that bad. I absolutely hate having my picture taken, but I was still able to produce videos that were personable and engaging. The more I did them, the easier it got!

There are several free sites where you can record your screen while you use it. This is really helpful if you want to make videos for a flipped classroom or blended learning lesson. You’re allowed the option of using your webcam with it, so you don’t have to show your face if you don’t want to! I do think that students like seeing their teachers’ faces though … it makes it much more personal. Check out Loom, Screencast-O-Matic, or Screencastify for quick and easy video recorders/editors.

2. Keep it simple, especially if you weren’t using much technology before the pandemic. There is so much out there for online instruction that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Just try one or two apps or sites that look intriguing and get yourself proficient with those. If you’re fairly tech-savvy you may have more options, but remember, the students have other classes besides yours. If all their teachers are using different online tools, that’s a lot for them to keep track of.

3. Get the basics online somewhere. Just like during the first week of school, you’ll need to establish your online class atmosphere. Whether it’s in your LMS, your class blog, or Google Site, you’ll need a “home base” to post your expectations for online learning, a clear routine, instructions, links, etc. That way students will know where to go if they have questions.

4. Set up synchronous and asynchronous instruction. This is something that you’ll most likely be working on throughout the duration of your online teaching. Good distance learning should maintain a balance between the two. That IS one of the benefits of online learning, right? Having the ability to learn and complete activities at their own pace when it’s most convenient for them, with flexible scheduling, will make your students more apt to engage with your material and get their work done.

There also should be times when students know they will be together with you online. Zoom has become the go-to app for teachers to set up their online classes. It has a lot of great features that make it easy to use.

5. Facilitate small group instruction. This may seem impossible to do with online learning. But Zoom and Google Meet (both free) have made it fairly easy to use “breakout rooms” where students interact online and can then meet back together with their teacher for discussions at a specified time. When you’re planning these breakout sessions, make sure that you have a clear and specific task for students to complete. It’s also really helpful to have roles for each student in the group. Just as in face to face teaching, knowing exactly what’s required of them cuts down on off-task behavior.

I hope you’ll find these tips helpful as you navigate this uncharted territory. If you have any other tips for teaching science with distance learning, please share them below. We’d love to hear!


You may have been using digital interactive notebooks in your classroom before the pandemic hit. Or maybe you’ve been using the paper version of interactive notebooks and would like to use something similar for distance learning. (Scroll down to see the FREE planning guide if you’d like to DIY!)

If you’ve suddenly had to move your teaching online, you might be wondering how you can get the engagement of an interactive notebook during remote teaching or distance learning. Is it even possible?

I’m here to tell you it is! Enter the digital interactive notebook!

image of digital interactive notebook

Digital Interactive Notebooks for Science

These digital interactive notebooks, or DINs, can be set up to look just like a paper notebook. There are tons of advantages in using these, so if you’ve been forced into online teaching, please don’t feel like your kids are missing out on anything, at least as far as the notebooks go.

For example, if you’ve been using paper notebooks, then you probably know all too well how much work they involve on the backend. Making all the copies and planning exactly how they’re going to look in the notebooks takes time, especially if you’re keeping a master notebook like I did.

Not to mention, the cutting and taping or gluing. When I started using interactive notebooks with my freshmen I assumed that they’d know how to cut things out. You know what happens when you assume! What I timed out as taking 5 minutes usually took more like 10 – 15. When you only have 42 minute class periods, that adds up to a lot of time wasted. They seemed to think of this task like it was social hour. No matter what I did, I could never get them all at the same point at the same time.

And of course, when you are cutting paper you have scraps. Everywhere. I swear that my floor was never totally scrap-free. I felt so bad about the scraps that I started bringing donuts in for the custodial staff!

Even with all of these problems, I recognized the value of interactive notebooks for engagement and higher level thinking. I really hated to get rid of them. Click to read my post about what I switched to before I went digital. I had already been using chrome books for blended learning and in-class flipped lessons. So it was an easy stretch for me to move into digital notebooks.

Advantages of Digital Notebooks

First of all, THERE’S NO PAPER! Sorry if I seem overly excited, but it felt so freeing to not worry about making copies and not having those darned paper scraps all over the place.

No paper means no time wasted in cutting things out. What used to take 10 minutes for the kids to get going was cut down to about 3 minutes, which is how long it took for them to grab their chrome books out of the cart and log into Google Classroom.

I was going through uncountable numbers of tape rolls and glue sticks with paper notebooks. Though I still occasionally did activities where those were needed, I was using so much less than before.

Most DINs are created in Google Slides. This is what allows them to be interactive. Students are asked to do different tasks, such as drag and drop, sorting, drawing, labeling, highlighting, and short answer questions. I think about the only thing you can’t do in a DIN is put Foldables in it. But even with that said you can find digital templates online that look like some of the Foldables!

If you’d like to create your own DINs, it’s really not that hard. There are plenty of free and paid templates on line to get you started. And they don’t have to have a ton of slides, either … start out with 3 or 4 activities for a specific topic, like sorting some vocabulary or labeling diagrams.

In fact, I’ve put together a free planning guide for digital interactive notebooks. The template is digital so you can type directly in it or print it out to write by hand. There are also suggestions and ideas for using the guide.

DIgital Interactive Notebook Planning Guide
Click here to grab your copy of my Planning Guide!

If you try making your own digital notebook I’d love to see it! Email me with a link … or post a pic in the comments below.

Happy Teaching!


Using Cornell Notes to Teach DNA

If you’ve ever thought about using Cornell notes to teach DNA structure and function, you’ve come to the right place! Or maybe you’re looking for a resource about DNA and clicked on a link that brought you here.

By far the topic I get the most questions about is Cornell notes. Teachers see this blog post and are looking for more information and specifics on how to use them. (Check out the link above for a free Cornell notes template!)

I’ve also been asked if I had any plans to create resources using Cornell notes. It sounded like a great idea to me!

My first product (of many) using Cornell-style notes is on the structure and function of DNA.

I wanted to make this resource as complete and usable as possible. To that end, I created two different types of Cornell notes. One set is Cloze-style for students that need a bit more structure in their note-taking. The other set has only the questions on the side, making it suitable for students that are more able to dig out important information.

Not only that, but I included two different sizes of notes. There’s a regular size 8 1/2″ by 11″ set for binders and a 7″ x 9″ set for interactive notebooks.

The notes follow along exactly with the Powerpoint presentation. Students should have no problem following it and completing the notes if you wanted to use this as a flipped or blended learning lesson. For distance learning, I also included a Google Slides presentation if you’re uploading it to Google Classroom.

This resource also includes a DNA labeling and coloring diagram, with some higher-order analysis questions. Perfect for homework or a station activity!

And of course, there’s an answer sheet, along with some suggestions for the teacher on ways to use the resource.

Some ideas I had for different ways to use this resource are:

  • use it in class as a traditional lecture with the Powerpoint or Google Slides while students take notes on the Cornell note sheets
  • put the notes under your document camera and write the notes along with the students, explaining as you go
  • assign the Powerpoint as homework … the students can take notes as they view it. Then the next day in class do the coloring and labeling activity.
  • use the different parts of the resource as stations in a blended learning/station rotation classroom
  • perfect for absent students … give them the answer sheet or let them view the Powerpoint on their own to get the notes

This resource really has everything you need to introduce nucleic acids by using Cornell notes to teach DNA. It’s basically print and go! Check it out in my TpT store by clicking the image below.

cornell notes structure and function of DNA

I plan on adding many more resources along the same format. If there’s anything in particular you’d like to see me work on, just let me know in the comments below.

Happy Teaching!


10 Ways to Use Padlet in Your Classes

Have you used Padlet in your teaching? If not, you need to read on to find out what this awesome app can do for you and your students.

Most teachers like office supplies. I personally love office supply stores! Sticky notes are one of my favorite tools, both in teaching and in my personal life. Think of Padlet as an online bulletin board where you can place all kinds of sticky notes! Not only that, but other people can see and add to your sticky notes, and you can organize them in different ways.

Especially in these uncertain times of remote teaching, teachers need every tool in their arsenal that they can find. Padlet is a very versatile tool that you can use for all sorts of teaching strategies.

How Does Padlet Work?

Padlet is an app that you can use on any computer, tablet or smartphone. Teachers can sign up for free, though the free account only allows you to make 3 padlets. Honestly, you’ll probably find it so useful once you’ve started using it that you’ll want to upgrade to the paid subscription, which is very affordable. At the time of this writing, teachers can pay $12/month or $99/year.

You as the teacher create the Padlet board. Then all you need to do is to provide students with the link. You can share it on Google Classroom or give them a QR code to scan. Anyone with the link can post on your board. One thing I love is that students don’t need an account to use it, and (ok … 2 things) they can post anonymously.

There are so many aspects of your board that you can control. For example, you can determine where on the board new posts appear, if you want to moderate posts, the background wallpaper and color scheme, and whether or not you allow comments on posts. You can also decide whether or not to grade posts or to let others like or upvote them. Perfect for using in a classroom or distance learning setting!

And it’s not just a straightforward bulletin board that you can use. There are 8 different options for the kind of board that you want. All of them can be very useful in a science class.

8 options for Padlet boards

One of my favorites is the Canvas board. Perfect for mind mapping! You can also use files or pictures in your posts.

Here is a new board that I recently started as a place to visually store my bookmarks.

Made with Padlet

10 Ways to Use Padlet in Science Classes

Start an Engage Activity. A great way to start a class, especially a remote class, is by starting a board for a writing prompt. Students can respond to your prompt, and depending on your settings, they can respond to each other as well.

Collaborate on a Group Project. Start a board for each group to contain all of their working ideas, links, pictures, etc. Also great for lab reports.

Have a class discussion. The “Backchannel” type of board allows for a streaming conversation among your students. You could pose a question and have students answer it and respond to each other. Here’s a preview of what that looks like.

Backchannel Padlet board example

Create a Mind Map. The “Canvas” board type allows students to post to different types of mind maps. You can use a tree map, a circle map or a flow map. Use it as a whole class or with small groups of students.

Stream your assignments and reminders. If you’re familiar with Google Classroom and the stream, then the “Stream” version of the boards will also be familiar. You can stream classroom assignments, lesson links, online labs, etc.

Current Events. Use the Wall board to contain articles on current events in your science topic. You could post one and have students comment on it, or the students could be responsible for posting them.

Parent Communication. Create a board using Stream and post any notifications, upcoming test dates, or anything that parents would like to know about. You can set it up to allow yourself to get email notifications whenever anyone posts on it. Just remember, anyone can see the board, so it’s not a place for personal parent communications.

Flipped Classroom or Blended Learning. Set up a board for part of a lesson during stations in class as part of a blended learning lesson or to let students post to it in class as part of a flipped learning lesson. Students would have watched a video or Powerpoint outside of class. Then they could collaborate in groups or as a whole class on answering some questions or posting reactions.

Notetaking. If you’re doing a presentation or demonstration, groups of students could post notes on their own wall.

Researching. What a perfect place to keep all of your resources for a research paper or project! Students could each start their own boards for this. Since you can place links in the posts, students could have all of their research materials in one, easily-accessible place.

So are you already a Padlet pro? Or just finding out about it now? Either way, share ways you’ve used it or an idea that you’d like to try. We’d love to hear about it!

Happy Teaching!


Boom Cards – Digital Task Cards

Have you heard of Boom cards? If you have, go ahead and grab my free deck on Food Webs and Food Chains. If you haven’t heard of them, keep reading for some great information!

pin image of photosynthesis and cell respiration boom cards

What are Boom Cards?

If you’re like most teachers, you’ve probably used task cards with your students before. They’re really versatile. I use them in stations, for review, for assessments, and for early finishers.

But … let’s be honest. They’re kind of a pain to set up, at least at first. First, you have to make the cards, or purchase them online. Then you have to print them, laminate them and cut them out. I used to put mine on rings, which meant hole-punching them too. Once you had them set you were good to go, but they’re pretty work-intensive at first.

Thanks to the wonder of technology, Boom cards have changed all that!

Boom cards are task cards … but they’re digital and interactive! The obvious advantages, of course, are no printing, no laminating and no cutting! And they’re even self-grading!

A set of cards is called a “deck.” Decks can have any number of cards in them. You’ll find decks for all grade levels, subjects, and topics, and the cards can be used on any mobile device or computer. You can preview 4 cards from any deck for free. Click here for an example.

As a teacher, you can set up a free account and download decks into your library to use immediately. You can also take it a step further and upgrade to a paid account. Click here to see the membership options.

Paid accounts, which are very reasonably priced, allow you to get reports on how your students are doing with the cards. This is a great feature if you’d like to use them for quick assessments.

Using Boom Cards In Your Classroom

There are really a ton of things you can do with a free account. One of the best features, in my opinion, is that you can assign decks to individual students in your class. How great is that for differentiation!

After you set up your account, you can do a search for free decks (there are a ton of them!) or purchase a deck. Once you download it, it will appear in your library. From there, you can:

  • assign the deck to your class or individual students
  • hide certain cards that you might not want to use
  • add the link to the deck into your Google classroom or other management system
  • set up a station with a few computers for students to play the deck
  • assign them as homework
  • use it as part of a Blended Learning lesson

If you don’t want to bother setting up a class and just want your kids to use the deck right away, you can do that too. Just share the link with your students and they can use the deck on their own devices.

If you do purchase a paid membership you’ll have access to the student reports. Here you can see students accuracy level, how many times they’ve played each deck and how long it took them. It’s a great way to quickly see which students are struggling with certain concepts.

There are a lot of videos on the Boom Learning website that will walk you through how to set up your classes, how to use Boom cards with Google classroom, how to use reports, etc. They also have a Youtube channel that’s called Boom School, where they have videos to show you how to do just about anything!

I’ve started creating Boom cards along with my other resources, both on Boom Learning and Teachers Pay Teachers. As I mentioned earlier, I have a free deck for you to try out on Food Webs and Food Chains. Just click the image below to download it!

image of boom card deck

Free Boom Card Deck

I hope you give these a try! I think your students will like them as much as mind do. 

Drop a comment below to let us know what you think of them.



Half-Days – Teaching Ideas & Tips

This post may contain affiliate links.

teaching tips for half-days

Oh, those dreaded half-days. How can we make them worthwhile and engaging?

The month of November in my school district is a teachers’ worst nightmare as far as planning lessons.

First of all, there is Veteran’s Day. Certainly a worthwhile holiday, but the first of many “off” days. Our county always schedules a Staff Development Day right next to Veteran’s Day, so that’s at least 2 days off for students.

Next, our first quarter finishes up around early November. That means we have an early dismissal for students … they get out at 10:30 am … and then teachers have to be available to meet with parents from 1:00 to 3:00 pm and then also 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm. Parents come to school to pick up their student’s report card and then are able to immediately talk with teachers who are all in the gymnasium.

On a half-day like that, we have the first 4 periods of the day and that’s it. During some of our half-days, students get out at 12:00 or 12:30 pm. On those days we schedule every period but they’re shortened (about 22 minutes each) AND out of order. We do this so that everyone isn’t eating lunch at 9:30 am! So you can imagine what chaos can ensue on those days!

Then, of course, there’s Thanksgiving break, which for us includes the Wednesday before and the Friday after the holiday.

Making Half-Days Worthwhile

My biggest issue with half-days is that I always strived to keep my like classes together. I wanted my Regents Living Environment classes to be doing the same lesson each day and I wanted the same for my Honors classes. So what can you do when you meet with only 1 or 2 sections of one course and not the afternoon classes?

Here are some ideas for you to consider:

  • Are there many students in the classes you’ll see behind in their work? Do many of them owe labs? If so, this could be a good opportunity to allow them some catch-up time. Give them the class period to work on things they might owe that you would still accept.
  • Set up some quick stations for review and reinforcement of current content. Or this can also be a great time for review of past content.
  • Use this time to discuss mindfulness with your students. There are tons of great content for this topic to be found online. My students loved to color some intricate mindfulness designs, especially if I broke out some of the new gel pens and colored pencils! Click here to print some free pages.
  • Let them play some games! Again, there are lots of science games you can purchase from some of the science supply companies. Or even board games such as Scrabble are fun. Sometimes it was okay with me if they weren’t doing science specifically, as long as it was some kind of learning game. Click here to see a great list of science games.
  • I always had puzzles available in my room for early finishers. Jig-saw puzzles, fractals … they love to have time to use these. And they’re great for collaborative efforts.
  • Of course, there are always videos. This can be tricky, though, because I always felt that if it was a good video to show I wanted ALL of my students to see it. Sometimes I could work it out so that my other classes had extra time in the coming days so that they could view it as well.
  • Sometimes I would use this time to give the whole class some more practice in a particular skill, such as graphing or writing CERs. Granted, it’s practice that the other classes didn’t necessarily get. But I feel that things like this always seem to balance out in the end. And I always made myself available after school for students who needed or wanted extra practice with content or skills.

How do you handle half-days for lesson planning? Share some of your ideas with us!

Happy Teaching!


Knowing how to introduce CER (Claim, Evidence, Reasoning) writing in science classes has become more important than ever. Of course, we all want our students to be good science writers. The NGSS and CCLS have made it imperative that we directly teach this skill and that we continue it all year long.

Introduce CER as a Stand-Alone Lesson

I’ve tried teaching CER in two different ways: incorporating it into my existing lessons, for example in a lab write-up, or teaching it as a stand-alone lesson.

I had the most success with the majority of my students by teaching it as a stand-alone lesson. Investing a class period or more into teaching this skill had the effect of showcasing its importance to the students. Not only that, since we were all focused on the same concept it was much easier for me to help students that were struggling.

Introduce CER early in the school year since this is a skill they will need to practice often. I wait until the students are feeling more comfortable and I’ve established some rapport with them. I want them to feel at ease in asking for help if they need it.

Introduce CER with lots of practice!

If students have a good working knowledge of hypotheses then they don’t usually have too much difficulty with the Claim part of writing CERs. Since the claim is just “the answer to a question,” students tend to have a good grasp of this part. As the year goes on, I tend to give them text or diagrams where the claim may not be so obvious.

Typically, text evidence is also not very difficult for the majority of students. Those with poor reading skills will of course have a harder time with this. For those students, Cornell notes can help them to sort out some of the keywords and context clues that they need to look for.

I like to have students highlight the evidence in their text, especially during the early practice stages. Doing this makes it much easier for them when they go back to write their reasoning statements.

When the evidence is presented as a data table, chart, graph, or diagram some students have a bit more difficulty finding evidence. Telling them to find a specific number of evidences sometimes helps. For example, I usually tell my students that if they have a data table, 2 pieces would be the minimum and 3 is better.

They need to be able to interpret graphs and diagrams in order to pick out the evidence to support the claim. As a class, have students read the captions, talk about the diagram and pick out key parts … show them that they need to look at ALL of it in order to understand it and pick out evidence.

The reasoning part is where I find that students tend to have the most trouble. They find it difficult to apply scientific principles (which many of them may not even understand) to the evidence they have. For this reason, I like to give them a few “sentence starters” to help them get started.

Starters such as “Based on the evidence we can conclude that ….” or “The reason I believe ______ is ______” can jump-start their thinking processes to help them connect the evidence to the claim.

I created a Powerpoint lesson and made a set of notes/practice to go along with it. It takes about a class period (mine are 42 minutes). It starts off with a really cute Youtube video of a commercial where a little girl tells us her father is an alien! It’s a fun way to introduce Claims and Evidence. At the end of the practice is a section where I ask them to “Pull It All Together” and write the Claim, Evidence and Reasoning from a single data table. Sometimes I assign this as homework if we run out of time.

As we work through the lesson, I have students work on the practice parts right in class, while I circulate around and provide help as needed. Then I like to call on students to share what they’ve done. Then they keep the sheets in their binders to look back at when necessary.

Here’s the product if you’d like to check it out at my store.

Introduction to CER

Keep an eye out for updates because I plan on creating CERs for many different biology topics! They will be great to use for exit tickets, formative assessments, quizzes or sub plans.

How do you teach CER in your classroom? We’d love to hear your ideas!

Happy Teaching!


Engage Your Students With Interesting Informational Text Articles

how to use informational text

I love using informational text articles in my classes. I rarely ever use a textbook, even though I have them. There are just so many interesting images and animations online that I much prefer to use technology in my instruction.

Finding interesting articles at the right reading level isn’t always easy though. My students find reading and analyzing a bit easier when they have actual paper to work with, so I like to find text articles that I can print out. That way, we can work together to highlight, underline, circle, and annotate to our hearts’ content!

These articles coordinate very well with Cornell notes. Read my blog post on how I use Cornell notes in my classroom. Sometimes I input the questions into the notes myself. Other times I write an essential question or “big idea” focus at the top of the note sheet and have students take notes based on that. These are also easy to differentiate for different classes or even individual students within a class.

What Can You Do With Text Articles?

  • One thing that I like to do with a class of low readers is to number each paragraph in the article before xeroxing. Then I group my students and assign each group one or two paragraphs to read. They’ll highlight the main idea, pick out one or two unfamiliar vocabulary terms, define the terms, and write a question that can be answered from their reading onto a sticky note.
  • The sticky note then goes up on our “parking lot.”
  • As they’re working I circulate around and make sure each group is on track. When they’re finished, each group goes up to our document camera in order of their paragraphs and shares all of their information with the rest of the class. This allows the whole class to get the gist of an article and makes it easier for lower readers to understand.
  • Each group then goes up to the parking lot to see if they can pick out the question that goes with each paragraph. I’ve found that it encourages the groups to write higher-order questions because they like to try to stump their classmates!
  • Another idea is to write some comprehension, or “detailed reading” questions to go with the text article. Again, these can be differentiated according to your groups’ abilities. They can work in pairs or individually to complete them.
  • I also like to do some sort of vocabulary activity with these articles. It’s usually something where they use context clues to predict the meanings of the words (I usually pick out the terms initially) and then define them to see how close they came in their predictions. Then I have them add any other unfamiliar terms of their choosing and do the same thing.
  • Some articles lend themselves well to having students draw. For example, they can draw timelines, sequential diagrams, bar graphs, cycles … in science especially this type of activity can really help students’ understanding.

I’ve often resorted to writing my own articles because I couldn’t find anything engaging at the reading levels that I needed. I found that I REALLY enjoyed doing this! So there’s a new product line taking shape in my Teachers Pay Teachers store providing fun, engaging informational text articles. I’m writing them on interesting animals, with some cool details that will help to hook your students.

These articles include activities including vocabulary work, comprehension questions, and extension activities. I put a fun QR code in each one that links to a short Youtube video (I also included the URL) with some questions that are answered from the video.

As of this writing I have 3 written … one on pistol shrimp, one on vampire bats and one on monarch butterflies. I’m particularly proud of these!

If you’d like to check these out, click the image below to see the one on Migrating Monarchs.

monarch butterfly informational text article

If you try any of these ideas, or have some that you’d like to share with us, please comment below. We’d love to hear from you!

Happy Teaching!


What Are The Benefits of Cornell Notes?

Have You Ever Used Cornell Notes With Your Students?

Getting my students to take notes … GOOD notes … was a struggle sometimes. Cornell notes were a huge help for them in terms of reading comprehension. In fact, they made such an impact that I made a template that I could use whenever I needed it. I’m giving it away in this article!

For Powerpoint presentations or other lectures, I always provided notesheets for my students. They were basically Cloze notes, but I added lots of diagrams, small coloring activities and writing prompts to them. So they were pretty interactive and I didn’t usually have issues with my kids taking notes during class.

However, when it came to trying to take notes from informational text sources, it was a different story. The students had a hugely difficult time picking out important information and knowing what to record.

Or, if I asked them to highlight important information they’d end up highlighting the whole page! Very pretty, but not real useful for studying.

An Accidental Discovery

I discovered how helpful Cornell notes could be one day totally by accident. I had to leave school early unexpectedly one day and needed an easy lesson plan for my last class of the day. Freshmen … with a sub … last period of the day. I knew I needed something engaging but yet I still wanted to make good use of my class time.

I found an article about our current topic online, and xeroxed enough copies for my class. Then I quickly took a piece of looseleaf paper and drew a Cornell notes template on it. I wrote 3 questions in the left sidebar that they would be able to answer from the reading.

When I got back the next day I looked over the Cornell notes that the sub had collected. I was really pleased to see how well the students had done with answering the questions. They were able to pick out the pertinent information from the article.

The sub had left me a note saying that the class went well and the kids had no trouble completing the assignment. I was really astonished because this class was full of IEPs and 504s … one student had a second grade reading level!

I couldn’t help wondering if I’d accidentally stumbled on a way to help my kids read a science information article and pick out what I wanted them to know.

The Benefits of Cornell Notes

For those who might not be familiar with Cornell notes, they are a specific note-taking system designed by a Cornell University professor back in the 1950s. He wanted a way for students to take concise notes that they could then go back and add memory joggers, diagrams or questions to help them review.

cornell notes

Divide a piece of notebook paper into two columns, one narrow one and then the main, wide column. Students take notes in the wide column. Then, immediately afterwards or later on, students go back and write questions that are answered by the notes, adding drawings, vocabulary … anything that will help them understand and remember the notes.

When I made my notes for my sub plan, I modified the idea. In the narrow left-hand column I wrote questions that I wanted students to answer or explanations that I wanted them to write down.

Normally in an assignment like this, I would insist on complete sentences. But in this case, since these were supposed to be NOTES, I left directions that students could use bullets, numbers, or check marks where appropriate to jot down their answers.

I think that simple change helped the students to write more complete answers. They were able to look at the question and find keywords and context clues to help them find the information in the text. Then they could write down the answers in NOTE form.

When these are used in the traditional way, Cornell notes are a way to take notes quickly. Students have been shown to retain the information better when taking notes this way.

More Uses

Once I discovered this happy accident, I started using these notes more and more.

I wanted to get my lower level kids to the point where they could actually use these the “right” way. I chose some lower reading level articles and filled in the notes in the main column myself … just enough to get them started. But I left the question area blank.

Then the kids read the article and fleshed out the main notes.

The students then worked in pairs to go back and read the notes to see if they could figure out what the questions would be. They may not have been worded the way I would have worded them, but the kids did a pretty darn good job at figuring out what they were taking notes on!

I modeled how to read a text and then use this method of note-taking too … one of the many uses of my document camera!

Cornell notes were so successful for my students that I started using them a lot. They really seemed to help with reading comprehension and the kids got better at note-taking. I didn’t abandon my interactive Cloze notes, but I used the Cornell notes a lot for informational texts. The kids even started using them on their own!

And it was a great motivator for students to take good notes when I would occasionally allow them to use the notes on a quiz!

I’ve started making products in my TpT store utilizing Cornell notes. So far I have one on The Structure and Function of DNA, with more related sets on the way. This blog post explains the product in more detail. They include two types of the notes … one set as Cloze-style notes and a set of open notes with just the questions on the side. These would be useful for students that are more able to pick out important information.

The notes are also in two sizes, so you can use them in a binder or a composition book for interactive notebooks. I wanted to give teachers lots of choices. There’s also a Powerpoint presentation to use with the notes, as well as a Google slides presentation if needed for distance learning. If you’d like to check it out in my store, click here!

Grab My Free Template!

So here’s the free template I mentioned earlier. It’s totally editable so that you can type whatever you want into it. Or you can always print it out and write in it by hand. I hope you find it as useful as my students and I have!

If you try it out I’d LOVE to hear what you think of it! How did you use it? Please let us all know in the comments below!

Happy Teaching!


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