The Earth Friendly Classroom: Tips for Going Paperless

Your bank wants you to go paperless. You child's report card is paperless. Retailers want to email you receipts rather than printing them at the register. Your students want to use their mobile devices for everything. So what about your classroom? How are managing your teaching lessons? Are you paper or tech? Blended or 1:1? For ideas and tips about going digital, check out my blog post on Creating a Digital Classroom.

Whether you are all in for going paperless, you plan on it, or you just can't seem to head in the paperless direction, Earth Day is typically the time when we all think about our environment, energy, recycling, preserving our resources, and eliminating waste. That's where our English language arts blog link up comes in.

Using technology in your classroom will definitely cut down on your trips to the copy machine. Sharing an assignment with your students via a cloud storage system (Google Drive or One Drive), an educational app (Notability, MS OneNote, Edmodo) or a learning management system (Canvas, Google Classroom, Microsoft Classroom, Blackboard, Schoology) will allow you to explore auto-grading, self-calculating rubrics, opportunities for student collaboration, and increased student engagement. In my own classrooms, I use my SMARTePlans digital lessons with Google Classroom.

Paperless classroom facilitation is also very low-prep. Teachers are saving prep time by not photocopying or filing endless stacks of paper. Wouldn't all teachers love that? We've put together a collection of blog posts to give you some Earth Day inspiration for your upcoming lesson plans.


Generate Authentic Classroom Conversation with Google Forms

There’s nothing I love more than Google Forms. Okay, that’s not true. I love my husband, my children, and Bordeaux candies from See’s Chocolates way more more than I love Google Forms, but when it comes to generating authentic classroom discussion, Google Forms ranks supreme. I also love how using Google Forms in the classroom helps me save paper!

One way I use Google Forms in my classroom is for class review. If my students have an important test or quiz coming up, I’ll create a Google Form with multiple-choice, review questions. I’ll instruct my students to quickly complete the class review form, which is essentially a quiz in itself. (One of the benefits of this activity is that I get to see the real value that this review has by comparing students’ review scores to their actual quiz scores). Completing the review question Google Form is not the review though. In fact, I prefer if students complete the form quickly and choose the answer that they first think is correct. The real magic for this review begins when I project a summary of the answers on the overhead.


Right after students complete the form, they get to see the colorful charts and graphs that contain all of the data from every single student’s Form. Projecting these graphic on the overhead, I will then discuss with my students why some people answered the way they did (usually asking for evidence to support their answers) and why the correct answer is indeed the correct answer. This review strategy is amazing because not only does it prepare students for an upcoming test or quiz, but it models test-taking strategies for the students and generates a content-rich classroom discussion. Just look at the amazing graphics you can display in your classroom!

Another way I use Google Forms in my classroom is as a pre-reading anticipatory activity to survey my students and get them thinking about the various themes and issues we will read about in our next book. Before using Google Forms for this, I would use a single piece of paper for every single one of my students. And seeing as how I have roughly 150 students, that is a lot of wasted paper. However, saving paper isn’t even the best perk about using Forms for this type of activity. The most significant advantage Google Forms provides for a pre-reading anticipation activity is the ability display the students’ answers on the projector.


Once my students are done answering the anticipatory questions on Google Forms, I display the summary responses on the board. This provides students with the opportunity to see the class’ answers as a whole, which also leads to great classroom discussions. And since students can see that they might not be the only person who feels the way they do, they are much more open to sharing their ideas aloud. One of my pre-reading anticipation guides that generates some of the best classroom discussions is my SMARTePlans Night Pre-reading Anticipation Guide.


Sure, Google Forms is great because using Forms saves paper and it can serve as a self-grading quiz, but when taken to a deeper level, Google Forms provides students with data-rich, visually stimulating graphics that cultivate authentic classroom discussion. Students see all of the responses on the board, and instantly gain more confidence in their own thoughts and beliefs. Before they even volunteer to contribute, they know people will support their answers and opinions.


Read more about using Google Forms, using less paper in the classroom, and creating a digitally-supportive classroom in the classroom in these blog posts.


Make Poetry Fun with Blackout Poetry

Blackout poetry project for middle school and high school students
Even though I incorporate poetry in my instruction throughout the year, whenever I teach my poetry unit, students always seem to moan and groan. It seems as if many students don’t like poetry, so I end my poetry unit with a fun poetry project that students love: Blackout Poetry.

If your students have never encountered Blackout Poetry before, they will love this assignment. I incorporate this project with literature we’ve previously read in class. Since my poetry unit coincides with National Poetry Month (April), I find online PDF versions of the novels and short stories we’ve read in class and print those out. I print out several different pages from each novel so that my students have a variety of options from which to choose.
Blackout poetry project for middle school and high school students

Before they begin working on this project, I help them out by telling them to first skim the page. As they skim, I have them look for words that pop out at them. Once they have some words that they want to use, I then have them add in more words from the text to create their poem.

I only dedicate one day in class for this assignment, and the rest is completed at home. I tell my students that the minimum requirement is that the poem is blacked out, but I encourage them to make their poems more artistic and to incorporate an image. Students love this assignment, and they truly churn out some amazing work.
Blackout poetry project for middle school and high school students

Blackout poetry project for middle school and high school students

Blackout poetry project for middle school and high school students

To wrap up this project, I dedicate one day in class to present their Blackout Poems. For their presentations, I have students state where the original text came from and why they chose that piece, discuss why they gravitated to the words they chose, explain the poem’s message or theme, and talk about the poem’s aesthetics. This is a great way to have students work on their public speaking and presentation skills as well.

Instead of individual class presentations, you can also complete this assignment with small-group presentations or a gallery walk.

If you are planning your next poetry unit, here are some resources that might interest you:
Annotating Poetry Made Easy
SMARTePlans Digital Poetry Notebook
Academic Vocabulary: Words About Poetry
FREE Blank Verse Project

Teaching the Essay Outline

Writing is a process, and one of the most crucial steps in the writing process is brainstorming and organizing, so it only makes sense that I spend a considerable amount of time with my students on brainstorming and outlining their essays. Students need to know how to think of ideas, gather information, and organize their thoughts in a logical manner. Once our students are in college, professors will expect them to know how to do this for much larger and more comprehensive papers, so it is essential that we take time to break this process down for our students and make it a more manageable task.

In my classroom, I use this essay outline with my students. Not only does this essay outline break down the essay into manageable pieces, it also provides students with detailed descriptions of what they need to do for each part of the essay. For example, for their introductions, the outline includes a space for the hook, background information, and thesis statement. Body paragraphs have designated spaces for topic sentences, quotes, and explanations. This essay outline also includes a cover page that provides students with an overview of the essay outline as well as a dedicated space to write important due date information.

When I have my students outline their essays, I require that they include their full thesis statement, complete topic sentences, and all of their quotes (or other pieces of evidence/concrete details if quotes are not required). It may not sound like a lot at first, but outlining their essays like this is, in my opinion, more difficult than actually writing their essays. They have to know exactly what their paper is about, how they will present their evidence, and which quotes will best support their argument.

This typically takes one or two full class periods (two if it is an argument essay, because the counter argument takes more time to explain). Generally, plan to spend more time than you think on the essay outline in the classroom. Once students have their essays outlined and organized with relevant examples and quotes, it is much easier for them to complete the rest of the writing process.

As they are outlining their essays, I make sure that I tell them several times that this is one of the most difficult parts of the writing process. I tell them that they are putting in the hard work now, so that it will all pay off once they draft their first draft.

After spending more time in class with my students on their outlines, I’ve seen their essays improve tremendously! They have more confidence in their writing, their essays are logically organized, and they stay on topic!

In addition to the essay outline featured in this post, I also have a free essay outline available in my TpT store.

Grading Writing: My philosophy to help students become better writers

Grading Writing: My philosophy to help students become better writers. Secondary ELA. Teaching writing to students.
If there are two things my students know, it is that I assign paragraphs often, and that I grade them rather harshly -especially in the second semester. It’s not that I want them to fail, or that I have a fear of passing too many students stellar marks, but moreso, this is because I want them to succeed.


Students need to master how to write a paragraph before they can tackle an essay. I want my students to be able to write a defined and well-supported paragraph when they leave my classroom so that they are more confident when they need to write an essay. Also, as students get ready to take high-stakes standardized tests, they need to be able to respond to a prompt, provide evidence, and support the evidence in their writing.


I typically assign a paragraph every week in my class. The paragraphs are related to what we studied, and I follow a traditional Jane Schaffer format. I expect that my students can produce a clearly-defined topic sentence, related evidence, and supporting commentary and explanation. Their paragraphs are typically worth 20 points each. Students receive 5 points for their topic sentence, 5 points for their evidence, and 5 points for their commentary. The remaining 5 points are given based on grammar, cohesion, mechanics, and overall if students truly demonstrate their understanding of the topic. Even if the paper is filled with grammatical mistakes, the most I take off is 5 points. One reason why I do this is because many of my students learn English as a second language, and I believe that assigning punitive grades for grammar does them a disservice. When I grade harshly, I am looking primarily for content and ideas.
Grading Writing: My philosophy to help students become better writers. Secondary ELA. Teaching writing to students.

If the student is missing a topic sentence, or if it is off-topic, they do not receive the 5 points. If the student is missing evidence, if their evidence is not related, or if their evidence is too generic, they do not receive the 5 points. If the student is missing the commentary and explanation, they do not receive the 5 points. If the student does not answer the writing prompt, they receive zero points.


In order for this to work, I make sure that I provide my students with detailed comments and I provide them with an opportunity to redo their paper for full credit.
Grading Writing: My philosophy to help students become better writers. Secondary ELA. Teaching writing to students.


When I write comments on papers, I try to be as detailed as possible. When students need to be more specific, I prompt them with questions that will help them be more specific. If students need to include better commentary, I begin the sentence for them or provide them with different routes to take. Once students receive their paragraphs back, I allow them to redo the paragraph for full credit because this is where I believe the real learning takes place. Providing students with the opportunity to learn from their first drafts, revise their writing, and resubmit for a better grade encourages students to work all the way through the writing process. It also shows the students that you care about their learning.


While thoroughly grading 100+ paragraphs takes quite a bit of time, this strategy will pay off in the long run. Ever since I started grading paragraphs with a critical eye, I’ve seen improvements not only in their paragraphs, but also in their essays. This is something that transfers from paragraph writing to essay writing. I’ve also noticed that the more paragraphs I assign, the less time it takes to grade as the year progresses. As my students learn how to write better, I find myself writing more checkmarks (my sign for “yes,” “great point,” etc.) on papers instead of detailed comments.

Toward the end of the year, it is so rewarding to see a student who routinely scores a 10 or 12 out of 20 consistently earn a perfect score.

Here are some teaching resources that might interest you: