english language arts

Fluco Toolbox: Power Thesaurus Extension

Welcome to Fluco Toolbox, a series of posts that showcases potential edtech tools for the Fluvanna County classroom. Each post will discuss the tool, the type of problems it can help solve, and how it can be used in the classroom. If you’re a Fluvanna County staff member and want to learn more about using the tool in your own classroom, please schedule to see your ITRT and we will develop professional development based on your needs. If you’ve stumbled upon this post and you’re not part of the district, no worries! Feel free to use the information provided to jumpstart your own research.

Have you ever been browsing online and needed access to a thesaurus without all the bells and whistles, and without needing to go to a new webpage?

Today’s Fluco Toolbox tool is: Power Thesaurus

First, the basics:

Name: Power Thesaurus
URL: Link
Cost: FREE
Problem this tool solves: Quickly look at antonyms and synonyms while browsing online by simply selecting a word

Power Thesaurus is a very simple tool, but very handy. This particular website has created an extension for Google Chrome that allows the user to view synonyms and antonyms for a word while browsing online.

First, install the extension from the Chrome web store. Provide any necessary permissions for it to run. Once installed, it will appear as a blue P icon among the other installed extensions.

To use Power Thesaurus, simply select (or double click) a word. A sampling of synonyms and antonyms will appear. The user can change the settings by clicking the gear icon on the lower left of the pop-up. This small preview will not show every antonym and synonym, but it will tell how many of each there are. Click on the blue “View All” link to be taken to the website to see all of the results.


This tool doesn’t have many bells and whistles, but it is handy to have installed as an extension for research and browsing purposes.


Technology-Infused Socratic Seminar, Round 2

If you’ll remember from this post, I worked with a group of 2 teachers to add some technology into the Socratic seminars they held with students every so often. It went over well, but I had some things I would have done differently upon reflection. Thankfully, I was contacted by two other teachers and had the chance to implement some new changes.

This time I had the pleasure of working with Virginia Staton and Theresa Scruggs, as well as their collaborative teacher, Janet Hunter. They had observed the work I’d done with the other two teachers and wanted to implement it with their own classes. I was more than pleased to assist, and they wanted my input because this was something out of their comfort zones. I assured them it was no problem, and that we’d take the risk and jump together.

Before I sat down with them, I sent them my observations from the previous seminar. Our first meeting consisted of them giving me insight on their classes, and me providing my thoughts and ideas. I wanted to change a few things from the previous time. I wanted to introduce just one new technology tool to the students, and I wanted to make sure they were introduced to it prior to the Socratic seminar. I wanted to also have smaller groups using this tool at a time so that the teachers facilitating each group could really focus on instruction with those students.

I felt that the benefits of Backchannel Chat were better for our first Socratic seminar over Padlet, so we focused on that tool. We would be completing the Socratic seminar on All Summer in a Day. Once our tool was selected, I focused on teaching it to each of the teachers and we had some practice chats during that training. Along the way, we discussed how to introduce the tool to students in the classroom to give them practice.

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It was decided that some time in class a few days prior would be spent introducing the tool to the students. I would assist where needed between classes. I would introduce digital etiquette and link the chat to digital citizenship, touching on how academic discussions are different than just chatting with friends. Then students would rotate in groups to get hands-on practice.

I had a chance to lead some of these groups. I usually had about 5 students at a time. We did a short refresher on what had been introduced to the entire group, and then we did a chat full of ice-breaker questions. I used the time to explain how students could answer or add more detail to comments, and also how they could continue the conversation. Each of these little sessions took 10-15 minutes.

On the day of the chat, the library was set up with the Socratic seminar table in the center, with two tables on either side of it for observers. Off to the left of that was the Backchannel tables. We had two tables, one for each group. Finally, in one of the mini computer labs, we had a research station. Since students would be reading All Summer in a Day, we wanted them to research on the real Venus vs. Bradbury’s Venus, and use that in their discussions. The rotation was as follows: Research, Backchannel Chat, Observation Table, Socratic Seminar. One of the teachers had gone a step further and made sure to add discussion starters/prompts to each Backchannel table. She had also given each spot at the Socratic seminar table a number placard and then assigned a matching placard to each spot at the Observation tables. That way, there would be no confusion over who was observing whom during the activity. It seems like a very simple touch, but it made a large difference.


Each station was led by someone. Kate McDaniel, our librarian, and I led the Backchannel groups. Mrs. Hunter led the research team, and then Mrs. Staton and Mrs. Scruggs led the Socratic seminar groups. Teams had no problems rotating through stations, and students were able to implement the work from one station to the next. For example, students used the information gained during the research session in the Backchannel discussion, and then students used information from the Backchannel discussion for their turn at the Socratic seminar table.

Looking back through each group and their Backchannel discussions, I feel that the preparations we did in advance paid off. These students were able to give detailed discussions and even added to answers that classmates gave. While I worked with each group, I listened to the Socratic seminar sessions in the background and heard them using key points from the discussions we’d had in my group.

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Transitions were fantastic between groups, and while Socratic seminars were in session, groups were quietly engaged with each of their tasks. I was very pleased with the outcome, especially after looking over the transcripts. I had one group who gave very detailed answers, and they kept working on adding to what other members of their group. I would have loved to have had them longer just to have seen where their discussion would have led.

At the end of the day, I spoke with all involved, and we agreed that the first Socratic seminar had been successful with the students. In the future, we’d love to integrate Padlet, and then rotate the two tools in and out so that things are switched up. We are planning to do at least one more seminar this year and then plan on deciding how to begin using Socratic seminar earlier next year. I’m super excited!


A Technology-Infused Socratic Seminar

I spent most of my time yesterday with a team of 6th grade English teachers. These students were beginning their first Socratic seminar sessions in the library. Two classes come together. In the past, these classes have followed the traditional format for Socratic seminar where groups come together to discuss a text in a round table discussion setting. Some students were also along the sides taking notes as the discussion progressed, and others were observing the current session to provide feedback to classmates. The teachers were observing in the background as well, only stepping in to redirect if necessary.

This semester, the two teachers, Dawn Baber and Melanie Kennedy, wanted to change a few things with their seminars, and they wanted to add in some technology. They wanted to be able to assess student work after the task, and document student thought processes in terms of understanding the text. This would allow them to design further learning experiences for the students, as well as take notes for future instances where the text is used.

The first step was changing how the students took notes on the seminars that they were observing. Instead of taking pencil and paper notes, these teachers wanted to try using Padlet instead. Padlet would allow the students to see each other’s notes, and would also allow them to comment on each other’s replies to add to student notes. After the session, teachers can have students look back to these notes and add additional comments to keep the discussions flowing. It also becomes a way to review for any content quizzes or exams.

The second step was adding a backchannel chat option to the seminar. Originally, students in this section were observing and taking turns switching in to ask questions during seminars. The teachers had found an option for this called Backchannel Chat. They really liked the setup of this site, especially since students logging into a chatroom could have that login tied to their Google accounts. Students would be unable to create goofy names, or be anonymous with comments. Teachers could also remove comments or set the chat to moderated, even with a free account.

Originally, it was decided that Backchannel Chat would be used for students to post questions as they listened to the seminar in the center. However, when we implemented this, it did not work as well as we wanted. Students were so busy asking questions that they weren’t really focusing on the seminar in progress. Instead, this became an online discussion where students could ask questions and answer back and forth. I typically started the discussions with a question, and the students would take over after a few minutes.

We ran sessions every period, implementing these tools, and learned a lot along the way. There was definitely a lot of risk involved, and some failure along the way, but that’s how trying something new works. Things don’t always go as planned, and sometimes it takes seeing the lesson in action to see the failure.

Based on both sessions, we realized that every class period needs a separate Padlet. The students were putting on short notes, which in turn added to the amount that had to load on the page. While Padlet can have unlimited users, it struggles to load massive boards, and our students encountered traffic jam error messages. I would also like to look at having students take notes in just one post on Padlet, versus every time they hear something new. It might make things a little easier. We also may look at removing it from Socratic seminar sessions, as it may not be the best tool for the job, and we don’t want to use it just to be using it.

Backchannel chat went over pretty well. We had issues with one of the groups in the last block of the day not being able to handle it, but otherwise students picked it up very quickly. It was nice to have a chat room that students cannot log into without their G Suite account. I could also mute students who were having trouble responding, and students were also able to “like” comments in chat.

Often, I started the chat with a question, and students began by answering that question. From there, they would discuss and ask more questions about the text. If I felt that things were a little quiet, I would through out another question based on the text, and that would help things pick up. We did have some students who did not respond, but they were engaged and following along with the chat. I think that with a few more sessions, these students will do much better.

The one group I mentioned above did have issues with chat. They were not ready to handle it in a group that size (about 10 students), and would often spam chat with ridiculous hashtags or unneeded information. The good thing was that I could remove comments and warn them first, then switch them to read only if they continued. With this group, I would try again with a smaller amount of students.

The best positive from using Backchannel Chat as the session the groups would attend before doing a Socratic seminar in the center of the room was that they were able to prepare better. They could pull from questions they had asked in chat, and continue discussions from chat. We noticed an improvement in the conversations that took place once we were using Backchannel as an online discussion tool instead.

The other great positive with Backchannel was that we set a Chromebook by the seminar leader at the center table. When they couldn’t think of a question, they could pull one in from chat and use it. Of course, students with me were pleased when they heard their question used in the discussion.

Overall, a lot of positives occurred, but so did a lot of failures. We are using these failures to redesign and rethink the next session so that we see more successes. Who knows what Socratic seminar will look like next time?

Lesson Plan: Hero’s Quest – The Psychological Journey from Middle School to High School

Part of me has always wanted to create more resources for teachers that were beneficial without being pricey. I’m a big fan of teacherspayteachers.com and teachersnotebook.com. So many teachers out there have created great ideas, but sometimes the money is a factor when looking to buy something. Actually I don’t think I’ve ever spent much at all on either site. I preferred to browse the free stuff and download what was necessary.

A couple of weeks ago, there was a post on the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE Facebook page about creating resources for others and utilizing teacherspayteachers to share the resources. Some comments lamented the fact that cutesy was seen to be a selling point, and not so much the content in the case of some of the content. I do have a few things on teacherspayteachers myself, but I forego the need for any cute clipart. That’s not me. I wanted to get a lesson plan out there without all of the bells and whistles of cute and attractive. Honestly I wish I could have posted more free stuff on the site. What I do have on there is marked as low as possible and I only make 29 cents from the entire transaction.

To me, it’s not about the money at all. It’s about making that one lesson plan that a teacher needs, and having all of the needed parts to make it successful. I’m hoping as time passes to be able to post more lessons for others to have. Time will tell.

Today we have a lesson developed for an 8th grade ELA classroom. It could certainly be adapted to a higher level, but the big focus of the lesson is on the transition between middle and high school. A summary follows, and then the link to the lesson plan itself. The lesson plan includes an in depth explanation of all parts, and an assessment rubric as well. Standards listed are based on WV, but can be adapted to other state standards. Once I gather the rest of the student samples of work from doing this lesson in a classroom, I’ll share those results.


Students will take the concept of the hero’s quest and apply it to their own personal
experience of the soon to be transition from middle school to high school, focusing on the psychological experience. Students will use Storybird.com to create a poem that demonstrates the emotional turmoil of this transition. They will then summarize the poem based on the speaker. Once this has been doing, students will take turns reading each other’s poems, making their own interpretations and connections.

Lesson Plan: Link

Teacher Resource: Todaysmeet.com

There has been a bit of an epidemic of sorts going around at my middle school. We recently had the OEPA team to visit, and one of the team members had a terrible cough that he had caught from his own students. Wednesday was calm…but Thursday found the school with 10 teachers/staff out sick. Yesterday was even worse, with 17 staff out total. We had all kinds of issues getting coverage from classes. The superintendent got involved, and had HR pull me from my TIS job to act as a sub that day. It was the English classes that needed a lot of coverage, so I picked a fellow colleague that I often collaborate with. I would cover the second half of her first block, all of 2nd block, and both ½ block afternoon classes. Her plans were very simple to follow. Since I had often worked with this teacher’s classes, I decided to try something new with technology that I had been wanting to test out. Cue my resource for this post: todaysmeet.com

This website acts as a chatroom. It’s great for back channel discussion, or hosting discussions in the classroom when the teacher wants to try something different. It is meant for educators, but anyone can use it. An account is free, and necessary so that the teacher can delete comments that do not contribute to the conversation, grab a transcript of the chat, and keep the chatroom open for up to one year. The teacher can also password protect the room, or require that anyone joining the room also has an account.

This website can be used when the teacher wants to mix up discussions, or get everyone involved and engaged at one time. It will cut down on one person always speaking out when questions are asked, and give more students a voice. It can be added to any lesson plan. I wouldn’t recommend it all of the time, as oral discussions are important in a classroom, but when students need something a little bit different, this works perfectly.

First, materials:

1 laptop or tablet for every group (no more than 5 to a group)
1 piece of literature (preferably readable in the span of 20 minutes)
1 set of discussion questions for the literature
1 laptop or tablet for the teacher
1 teacher account on todaysmeet.com

When it comes to materials, laptops are preferable for students, as they may not be proficient at typing with fingers on a tablet screen keyboard. A laptop would also be preferable for a teacher if they have this same issue.

Teacher should have logged into todaysmeet.com prior to class and created a room for the class. For example, I created one called ELA45. Then just input the web address with the name of the room onto each computer. Groups will need a nickname or name for the chat. It only accepts names without any spaces. I used Group1, Group2, etc. to get around this.

Next, students should read the text that is going to be used for the classroom discussion. Teacher may also have had the students read the text prior to class. Teacher should have the list of discussion questions ready to input in the computer when the activity is ready to begin

Divide students into groups. No more than 5 to a group, as more than that would most likely find students not as engaged. Groups should be spread out in the classroom, and each group receives a laptop. Make sure all groups are aware of each group’s nickname for the room. That way, during the chat they’ll know who they are responding to for the questions.

Now, you are ready to begin. First things first- the first item the teacher should post in the room is for all groups to list the members of each group. This makes it easier to read the transcript later on so that the teacher can identify participants.

Once all group member names are shared, then the teacher types in the first question, and groups watch the screen. They read the question and then respond. If they don’t provide evidence, teacher can post in the room asking for evidence. I would often ask why in response to student answers. As groups were participating in the room, this left me free to listen and watch their conversations. I noticed all group members participating, and chatting back and forth. They would even go and review the text, and show members what they meant. It was nice to observe.

Once it seemed like the students had discussed a question thoroughly, I would move on and post the next question. I would also make sure to announce it to the room, so that they were aware and looked at the screen. They would refocus and then move on to that one.

Here are some examples from the transcript for 4th and 5th period. The class read “Stolen Day” by Sherwood Anderson. It came from one of the textbooks, and for this chat, I used the analysis questions that the teacher wanted, as well as asked a few questions based on the students’ responses.


This particular class finished discussing this story, and then had to read “A Day’s Wait” by Ernest Hemingway. The goal was to compare and contrast the two texts, which they did.

The class period flew by. At the very end of the chat in both classes that I did this activity, I asked students what they thought of it. Here are the responses from both groups:

4th/5th period:


7th period:


Overall, it was very successful. As I mentioned in the beginning, it’s not an activity to do with every literature discussion. However, it’s a great way to shake things up a little bit, and get every student engaged in the discussion. If you have a 1:1 classroom, it would work nicely individually, but do keep in mind that with many students replying at once, the chat will move very quickly, and it may be hard for some students to keep up.

I emailed the teacher about all of the activities, and how they had gone, along with the transcripts. She now wants to try the activity again in a couple of weeks so that she can see it in action and see how the students respond and work together. I can’t wait!