Host a One-Pagers Fair at your School



There are science fairs, art fairs, National History Day fairs... why not English fairs? Maybe it's time to add a special school-wide event promoting literacy, artistry, and imagination at your school.

What am I talking about? A one-pagers fair! Since I first blogged about the concept of using templates to help students explore literature with one-pagers over a year ago, thousands of teachers have introduced this project in class. I love seeing the amazing results all over social media and in my inbox too. What creative work our student are doing! Let's go on a quick tour of a few examples over on Instagram..

5

Literature Circles for Big Kids: A Blueprint


You hear it right and left these days, choice gives students motivation in their reading.

It makes sense, really. Who doesn't want to pick out their own book? When I go to the library, I love walking down the aisles, grabbing colorful books whose covers pull my attention or books by authors my friends have recommended.

Our students want the same thing. That's why literature circles can be such a great idea. You provide your kiddos with a variety of books to choose from, get them into groups based on their choices, and let the magic happen.

Except... the magic doesn't always happen. Literature circles aren't the easiest to get right.

My first year as a teacher, I knew I didn't have time to fit both The Sun Also Rises and The Great Gatsby into my year, full as it was on either side with all my curriculum experiments - poetry slams, play performances, Transcendental village projects, and creative writing festivals. I knew I could just pick one, but my heart broke a little at the thought of abandoning either Hemingway or Fitzgerald. Who could split up such close friends?

So I pitched both books to my students and let them pick the one they wanted to read. We ended up split about half and half. I had them assign the reading to themselves over the days we would spend on literature circles, and then I introduced them to the traditional literature circles roles (similar to these). They each had a role to prepare for and then present each day, and I collected those role prep sheets to give them credit for their work throughout the unit.

It was OK.

I liked that it pushed them to be independent with their discussions, but I didn't like not being able to rescue both groups at once if they were really struggling.

I liked the concept of the roles, but I didn't like how the prep felt like busywork.

I liked the good work the groups did together, but I felt like it got a little repetitive meeting day after day to do the same general thing.

Earlier this year I asked the amazing teachers in my Facebook Group, Creative High School English, for their best tips on using literature circles well. Crickets. Soon someone chimed in to say that no one was responding because literature circles just don't work.

Well, you know me, I love a challenge.

So this winter I have been designing a new literature circles concept. I call it, literature circles for big kids.

Here are the guidelines to help get you started. (By the way, need book sets before you can do literature circles? Check out this guide to using Donors Choose effectively for funding.)

#1 Start with a Book Tasting

Opening your literature circles unit with a book tasting will allow your students to "sample" each book and find out if they like it. It's a simple activity, but requires a bit of muscle. Pull your seating together into little cafe-style tables and, if possible, throw some tablecloths over them. Set the mood as much as you can with vases of flowers, a little background music, maybe some snacks. (Check out some photos for inspiration in this fun article over on We Are Teachers).

Then spread your literature circles book choices out over the tables. Have students move from table to table, previewing the books and jotting down their reactions on a piece of paper (some kind of a menu or book review handout that you create). By the end, they should have a clear favorite or two.

At this point, you can have them turn in a list of their top three choices, or you can try to sort things out in person by having them move to different parts of the room representing different books. If you've got enough books for everyone in their first choice group, then you can skip the step of collecting preferences and assigning books. If you don't, you can ask people to try to shuffle a bit in new directions (pitch hard for the book that's getting no love!) or just move right into collecting preferences. Assign the books and move forward from there.

#2 Let Students Assign their Reading over a Select Few Meetings

This is a key adjustment with this literature circles for big kids program. It's HARD to keep the momentum going for independent group meetings if you slowly wade through the books a chapter at a time.

So instead, embed your literature circles work inside some other unit, so you can spread out their group meetings (and they can schedule their reading) over the course of about a month. Maybe you're working on real-world argument and vocabulary, or doing an ELA makerspace unit, or blogging, or trying out genius hour for the first time on the alternating days.

Just print up a basic schedule for the month for your students, and ask them to assign their own reading so they can finish the book in segments for your meetings. Here's an example calendar (below) to give you the idea.

Alternatively, if your kids really struggle to complete reading outside of class, you can alternate meeting days with reading days.


#3 Give Groups Creative Activities to do during their Meetings

Now here's another key switch. Instead of making each meeting the same, with every role offering a short presentation on the work they've brought in, followed by a discussion that will only be as good as the enthusiasm each group member brings to it, make each day a different activity, as you might with a whole class novel.

Tons of different types of activities would work, but the ones I brainstormed for this unit are: silent discussions, open mind character analysis activities, book-themed Instagram posts, one-pagers, lightning theater versions, and making video book trailers. For each activity, you can assign a short homework that goes with the reading and helps them prepare for that particular type of activity. So before a silent discussion, you might have them brainstorming discussion questions and circling their favorite. Before a lightning theater version activity, you might have them create timelines of five key moments in the reading so far.

With everyone doing similar activities, you'll be able to let groups share out at the end of the period or even do full gallery walks or performances in the next period if you want to. Students will be interacting with allll the books being read and hopefully getting interested in other titles.


#4 Wrap it up with a Group Share

To finish your literature circles unit effectively, have students do a final project that leads to a shareable product - like Youtube-style book trailer videos or a Literary Food Truck Project (click here to visit a post all about literary food trucks and pick up a free curriculum set).

Make the finale of your unit the enjoyment of this final product in a special class event, and let students vote on their favorites so you can give out awards. This way, every student is exposed to the themes and ideas of every book. Then your next move can be to set up all your literature circles books in your independent reading library, so everyone can branch out and try more from your set as part of your choice reading curriculum (don't have one yet? Sign up for the 5 Day Choice Reading Challenge here!).

Hopefully you're feeling ready to design the Literature Circles unit of your dreams. Empower your students with choice, but keep things from dragging and give them lots of creative ways to interact with their reading with this fun blueprint.

If you'd like a hand prepping your materials, you can find my new full curriculum for Literature Circles for any Booklist right here on TPT.


3

057: Creative Tech Tools for ELA Teachers, with Jennifer Gonzalez

(This post contains affiliate links. I'd only recommend something I really believe in. In fact, this is the first time I've ever included an affiliate link in a post). 

While I consider myself reasonably techy, having started my own podcast, made a serious friendship with Canva, and even gotten the hang of basic video creation, today's guest, Jennifer Gonzalez, takes it to a whole new level. 


I'm betting you already know about Jennifer's website, Cult of Pedagogy, and her podcast by the same name. It's an incredible source of information for teachers at all grade levels and in all disciplines. 

Each year she spends two months updating and revising her tech guide for teachers, then puts out a podcast featuring her favorite new tools for the year. She's even put together an online course for teachers interested in maximizing their creative use of technology in class, JumpStart

My legs fell asleep as I laid in bed last night, glued to the pages of her 2019 Teacher's Guide to Tech, finding thing after thing I had been wishing I could get my hands on as I clicked through its hundreds of colorful hyperlinked pages featuring virtually every useful tech tool available to teachers. 

An explanation for those little QR code squares I see everywhere and how I could actually use them in class? Yep. 

An explanation for how on earth these #Twitterchats I'm always hearing about actually work? Finally.

Tools for helping students with their writing? There were actually six separate CATEGORIES full of tools for just this.

More than just telling me what I've been wanting to know, the guide also told me about lots of things I didn't even know I wanted to know.

Like how to use Noisli to create my own happy place wherever I'm working. Maybe I'm sitting by the cute paper snowman in the hall outside my daughter's preschool, trying to cram in ten minutes of work before I get to hug her. Now I can be playing coffee shop sounds with hints of a roaring fire in the fireplace and a light rain outside into my earbuds. I MEAN COME ON! How cool is that?



So you can imagine I was excited to sit down with Jennifer and ask her to focus in especially on technology for creative ELA teachers. And it was just as much fun as I thought it would be. 

Get ready to learn about some great tools for you to use in class immediately, innovative ways schools are building learning spaces around tech, and how to get students started with curation projects and podcasting. This episode is FULL of ideas you can incorporate into your curriculum, no matter what you're teaching. I can't wait for you to hear it. 

You can read the full transcript here,  listen below, or tune in on iTunesBlubrry, or Stitcher. Read on for the written highlights. 



The Best and Brightest New Tech tools for ELA Teachers

We started our conversation by focusing on some of the newest tools Jennifer discovered this year that would help creative ELA teachers.

Equity Maps: This is a discussion tracker you can use to see who is participating and how. You plug in your students' names before the discussion and then observe and mark down what each student is contributing.

"Whether it's to disagree with a classmate or to bring up a brand new point," said Jennifer,  "or to build off of something that someone else is saying, or even if they're not there derailing the discussion completely or just being distracting, they mark all of that down and then they have this map of who participated, how much, what kind of quality contributions did they make, and so on. It's just a really neat idea in terms of - you know - figuring out how much your students are participating."

Once the conversation is finished, you can all look together at the results. Everyone is bound to learn something about their own contributions.

"I think it's really good to encourage students who aren't participating very much to show them how little they really did, and it also can work the other way for those who tend to dominate the conversation," said Jennifer. "It can show them how often they really were participating. It can also just help the teacher in terms of balancing out who they call on."

Microsoft Translator: If you've got students in your classroom who speak very little English, this tool may be your new best friend. 

"It translates people's conversations while they're having them, and it's kind of amazing technology," said Jennifer. "It uses artificial intelligence to guess what you're saying. It's an app that you can put on your phone, and it works both ways. Students can ask you questions and it gives you a written transcript of what you're saying. I could be talking and I could maybe have a student come in from China, and they can program it so that while I'm talking, they're getting a written transcript of what I'm saying in Chinese."

This tool can help language learners in partner discussions and small groups, as well as in conferences with you. 

Webjets: This is a mind-mapping / curation tool that will allow students to gather information, websites, videos, podcasts, images, and anything else they can find online into a virtual workspace. 

"This is like Padlet on steroids," said Jennifer, "because you can collect things on to this sort of bulletin board online. It can be links to websites, it can be videos, the videos will be embedded and playable right there on the board." 
The program is useful both for creatively teaching material and for giving students an option to present their ideas back to you. "I could see it being a really nice format for teachers who wanted to share a flip lesson or just a collection of things for students to look at and read," said Jennifer, "and it can also make a great format for the final submission of a project. If the student has a multimedia project that they were doing that had maybe a video component, maybe a podcast, maybe some images, and then also some text. You can even embed a working Google doc inside this board and actually go in and edit it right on the board. It's just really flexible and an interesting." 

A Successful Tech-Based Program to Inspire

Next up, I asked Jennifer to share a story from one of her many interviews and collaborations, of a school that is successfully using technology in a unique and inspiring way. She shared the story of one school in Ohio, that revisioned it's library from a space with only books, to a space filled with moveable furniture, freestanding whiteboards, and various movable tech tools students could use to collaborate on group projects. (Plus, the books are still there...) Almost like the Google Garage for high school. Now they call it the learning center.

"In some ways this idea is very similar to the way we have always rented out iPad carts, Chromebook carts, computer labs," said Jennifer, "we reserve those, but it's all in this big space. There's a lot of other types of technology in there now that really get kids to collaborate now, instead of everybody just being on their own devices. They've even got a system to where teachers can just send small groups or individual students down to work on their own projects and take advantage of all of this technology that's in there. They've increased their student use by over a thousand percent, where they would maybe get nine kids a week would come in. Now it's one-hundred-fifty kids coming in."

Classroom Project Idea: Curation

Curation is a relatively new type of classroom project. It involves students gathering a range of sources on a topic and putting them into a collection, with commentary on each aspect of the collection which shows why they've included it and perhaps analyzes it, depending on the assignment.

"I feel like curation-- I'm kind of tired of the expression --- '21st-century skill,' but I really do feel like curation is one of the most important skills that we need to have right now with all of the information available to us. Teachers and students, all professionals really need to learn how to filter through all the information that's out there and collect stuff for a specific purpose, and then deliver it in a way that your audience, whoever that is, can consume it in an enjoyable way," said Jennifer.

Jenn suggested elink as a particularly helpful option when it comes to curation. This tool will allow students to pull a web link and see the URL and picture from the site, then add their own text to explain its relevance to the project. It's a lot like making a Facebook post, so it's quite intuitive for most of our social-media attached teens.

Example of an elink I created for Jenn's blog post about Curation.


Jennifer had lots of fun suggestions to get us started thinking about how to use a curation project. "I think a teacher could do something that's like a literature review that people do in academic research where you talk about all that's come before this, and here's what this person says about that, here's what this person says, maybe here's an example of something that's not well researched. We're really bringing in the evaluation level of Bloom's taxonomy where students are judging something for quality as opposed to just saying, 'Here's the information that I got.' ...There's a lot of different ways that we could do this. We could do a ranked collection, for example. Maybe if we've been doing a lot of self-selected books throughout the school year, a nice end of year project would be for students to collect the top ten quotes from the books that they read that year, and they gather those up in some way. If we're doing a grammar type of an assignment, for example, they could be looking for some real-world examples of hyperbole."

Aren't you excited to try this out?

Classroom Project Idea: Podcasting

Perhaps since Jennifer and I are fellow podcasters, I felt we could have stayed on this subject for an entire show. There are so many fruitful ways you could use podcasting in class, once you get over the initial tech hurdles (that are really not so bad!). 

Let's start with some steps for getting students started effectively, and then look at a few different ways to use podcasting in class. 

1. Begin by exposing students to a range of different appropriate podcasts. "I would not let them loose," said Jenn,  "but let them see all the different kinds because there's so many that are really, really specific. There's just baseball podcasts, and there's just podcasts that are about a TV show. I think if students realize all the different kinds of topics they could actually do a podcast on, they would get really excited because there really is something for everyone."

2. From there it's time for students to think about what they'd be interested in talking about. "I think the harder thing about podcasting is figuring out what you want your content to be and then actually planning that out, and also getting over the idea of hearing your own voice recorded," said Jennifer.  "It surprises me actually because I've got an online course for teachers called Jump Start. It's ten modules, and it's for tech integration in the classroom. The last module is just basic podcasting, and they have to make four audio recordings. A lot of people talk about struggling hearing their own voice."

3. Once students have an idea for a topic, it's time to think about the style of their show and their audience. Will they record on their own? Do interviews? Incorporate lots of research? At this point, they can map out maybe five short five minute shows.

4. Jennifer recommends cutting through the stress of trying to record in a sound editing program to begin. Simply have students record audio into one of their devices, or use something like the Google Chrome "Simple Audio Recorder." Once they have their series of audio files, they can pull them together on a Google Slide to present.

5. For students who want to take it further, Jennifer recommends using Garageband or Audacity to dive into the process of actually editing and mixing sound files, and then using the highly accessible platform, Anchor FM, to go live to the world.


OK, so if you're really interested in diving into podcasting deeply with your students, here are some more ways (beyond a stand-alone podcast unit) you could build it into your curriculum.

Podcasting sure could make a great elective...

Research Paper Option

As an alternative to writing a research paper, you could let students record a research podcast. "One of the best podcasts I've listened to lately is called Teaching Hard History which is all about slavery," said Jennifer. "It's done by Teaching Tolerance. There is some academic depth to this podcast. It is definitely not people just sitting around shooting the breeze. For kids to listen to that and see how much research really goes into that, having a having a podcast or a podcast series would make a really nice option for kids who prefer to talk instead of write. Especially, if there is some really rigorous academic criteria that's going to be applied to the grading of it."

Genius Hour

If you're interested in trying a genius hour project with your students, in which they pursue a personal interest in class throughout the year, a podcast - like a blog or a Youtube channel - would make a great outlet for them to document their work. They'd be using their ELA skills to process what they are learning as they explore what truly interests them.

Curation Project

This could make a great project for students even before (or after) diving into making their own podcasts. Let them look around for a series of podcast that fit a theme they are interested in, whether that's a certain niche topic or style. Maybe they'll share three podcasts about technology that are interview-style with well-mixed music. Or maybe they'll look at three popular teen podcasts with three different production styles and what makes each one work.

Four Pieces of Advice for Keeping Tech Anxiety at Bay 

I saved this question for last, because I wanted us to be inspired by all the options before we talked about the anxieties that can come up with tech. Luckily, Jennifer has a ton of good advice for helping us overcome those anxieties.

Mindset: "If you go into it expecting that you're going to have problems, then that's actually a good thing, as opposed to going into it just crossing your fingers and praying that nothing goes wrong. Go into it with the attitude of, 'Okay, sooner or later something is probably not going to work, so I am going to ride that wave when it comes, and that's okay.' Just knowing ahead of time not everything goes right. With that in mind-- and I guess when I say that I don't mean that you're going into it pessimistic, you're going into it loose and realistic, like, 'Things could happen, and I'm going to be okay with that.'"

Start Small: "Starting with something really small like, for example, when I'm talking about the podcast, don't try to have them do a full-fledged learn the audio editing and everything. Get a simple audio recorder, tell them you can re-record but you can't edit, it's like voicemail, and then don't mess with all that crazy difficult stuff. Just do the first step first and figure out the simplest way of handling it, and then you're going to get the bug and you're going to want to try something harder. Start with small projects that are low risk."

Do Trial Runs: "If you're going to use a new app with your class, don't walk in first period and just start. I'd say two days before, get five kids to come in at lunch and try it with you first and see where are the bugs, what are the questions that the kids are going to have, what piece of it did I completely forget about that I need to remember. Do trial runs either with your very smallest class, or with a group of people after school, or just yourself. I sometimes, I'll have my own children try something out with me that I want to test because I'm not sure how it works or whatever. Most teachers have those couple of kids, or a nephew, or something where they can test something out before you're looking at losing a whole class period to something."

Always have a Backup Plan: "Always know, 'What am I going to do if the internet goes out?' or if, 'This thing suddenly locks us all out we can't do this.' What is your analog plan? Is it to just do it on paper or to just not do this activity right now and move to something else. As ELA teachers, the kids have a book, just read your book. 'Everybody, just get out your independent reading book and that's what we're going to do while I figure this out.' It's good to have a backup plan so that you don't end up freaking out if it doesn't work."

Well, I think you're ready! Time to go try out all these awesome ideas, and then share all the amazing results over in our Facebook group, Creative High School English

Connect with Jennifer Gonzalez




By visiting the website, Cult of Pedagogy, you can spring out to her podcast, blog, videos, and store.

Check out her 2019 Teacher's Guide to Tech here.

Learn more about her technology course for teachers, JumpStart, here. If you're a department chair or curriculum coach, check out the group licensing options. You could launch the course with a group of interested faculty at your school.


I am an affiliate for Jennifer's Guide and course. I asked her if I could recommend them here, because I think it's awesome. As an affiliate, I receive a small commission if you purchase her guide or course through my links. So your purchase from this site helps support the work I do here at Spark Creativity. I would never affiliate for a product I didn't believe in. In fact, this is the very first affiliate product I've ever shared here on my site. 



6

The ELA Teacher's Guide to Storyboarding Success


In the era of Netflix and Youtube, you know your students are interested in video. They consume it daily and often create it themselves. Whether or not they realize it, they know a lot about different ways of showing visuals, and how different styles and choices can affect viewers.

Ready to tap their interest in/obsession with video to help them with literary analysis?

Storyboarding is a great tool to get students visualizing what they read, and using their critical thinking to make choices about how to represent the text.

What are storyboards, you ask? A storyboard is the tool folks in T.V. and film use to show how each visual scene will be shot. It looks like a comic book, and it works as a guide to show the composition, lighting, angle, camera movement, etc. for each scene.

 

This is a really helpful video to show students how storyboarding is used by filmmakers. Consider playing it in class when you introduce the concept.

Once you introduce your students to storyboarding, you can start using it as an activity with any novel you are reading.

Example of a Student Storyboard from The Great Gatsby

Here are a few examples of how to build it into your curriculum:

  • When you finish a section that is particularly dense with meaning, you can ask students to storyboard several pages into visuals as if they were going to produce a film clip. Then have students trade and share why they made the choices they did. 
  • When you finish a novel, you can divide it up into critical moments and assign them to students or pairs. When everyone finishes their storyboards, you can gallery walk your way through a speedy film version of the entire novel, seeing everyone's interpretations and talking about their differences. 
  • You can use a storyboard as a final project, asking students to be very deliberate in their interpretive choices and turn in a reflection paper with their storyboards that explains how those choices reflect the text.
  • You can ask students to create sixty second film versions of a novel or play, first storyboarding their videos and getting a clear sense of how their video choices will reflect their interpretation. 

But, you might be wondering, how do you make sure students' storyboards really reflect INTERPRETATION of the text, and not just ILLUSTRATION?

It's important to clearly explain that each shot in their storyboard should reflect specific, deliberate choices. Here are some of the important elements they should be considering:


Camera angle (high, low, eye level): What do you want to convey about the relationship of one character to another? How do you want the audience to see your characters or a particular character?

Camera distance (close-up, medium range, long shot): How much information do you want to include? What details need to be seen and which can be blurred?

Perspective: Whose eyes are you seeing through? Whose perspective do the audience members have? Or is the scene objective?

Composition: How do things within the shot need to be arranged to put the focus in the right place? 

Length of shot: For how long do you need to show this? How quickly should you move to the next scene? 

Sequence: In what order are you presenting information? Will the audience know everything it needs to in time for key events?

Lighting: Is the moment bright? Shaded? Dark? Are there spotlights? Floodlights? Is there moonlight? Firelight? How will the lighting change the viewer's focus and the mood of the scene? 

They can show some of these things with their illustrations, even if they are simple stick figures. Other things they can show with captions on their storyboards. 

Example of a Student Storyboard from The Great Gatsby (great use of stick figures + captioning)

Some students (always!) will be intimidated by the artistic element in storyboards. Encourage them to think creatively. They can try an illustrator tool on their devices, find a way to create storyboards using collage, or just draw very intentionally with stick figures, as in the example above. The important thing is to make creative interpretive choices that make sense and reflect a strong understanding of the text. 

If you make this a substantial activity, do consider assigning a reflective paper to go along with the storyboard. Ask students to support the choices they've made with clear arguments and connections to the text. 

To make it easy for you to get started with storyboarding, I've created a free curriculum set for you to try. It includes two student examples of successful storyboards, guidelines for creating a storyboard, and two templates students can try out. Sign up below for Friday e-mails featuring my best blog posts, podcasts, and teaching resources, and this will be the first activity I send to your inbox. 



Storyboarding is really a great addition to your toolbox. As you get comfortable with it and your students get the hang of it, I'm sure you'll find many more uses for it. 

If you've got a question, please feel free to drop it in the comments below. Or jump over to my free Facebook group, Creative High School English, and share it with the five thousand plus creative teachers collaborating over there! 






2

The Dos and Don'ts of Donors Choose for Teachers



So you've heard whispers about Donors Choose online. Seen smiling faces across the hall as new tech or school supplies were delivered. Wished you could figure out this weird system that seems like it COULD give you just what you need if only you knew how to work the controls. 

And boy, there are things you need. A new class set of The Hate U Give. An iPad for Facetiming with a classroom partner across the world. Bright yellow stools for your dream dry-erase writing workshop bar. 

And there are things you want. Ten new YA novels for your reading library. A resource room where students whose home lives are in chaos can retreat for an hour of quiet and sit on a couch. A membership at Breakout EDU so you can reach your most apathetic students with escape room activities. 

Maybe you've tried to put up a project and given up. Maybe you got one partially funded but lost it. 

If you wish you could crack the code and use Donors Choose to get you all those little things that would make such a huge difference in your classroom, this post is for you.  

Did you know 1,330,612 projects have been funded for teachers at Donors Choose? Hope you're getting excited. 

Lets start with how the site works on a basic level, then jump into the top tips for playing this  important game successfully. 

This post is also available as a podcast. You can listen below, or on iTunesBlubrry, or Stitcher.


According to Donors Choose ((FAQ here), it should take you just thirty minutes to put up a project. You basically shop through their linked libraries of resources at places like Amazon and Lakeshore Learning and choose what you want, then title your project and explain to donors why it matters. 

Your project can then stay listed on their site for four months as you try to get it funded. Seventy percent of all projects DO get funded (not bad, eh?). When your project gets funded, they send you your shopping list and you send back photos of happy students and some thank you notes for your donors. 

If you'd like to scan an example of a successful, fully-funded project, check out Dave Stuart Jr's "A World Class Library for World History Students."

It IS important to be sure your school is cool with you using Donors Choose. Check in with your administration or your district before you dive in, so you can be sure no one will be upset with you for doing all this good work. 

Now, let's dive into the top tips for how to be successful with your project.

#1 Keep your project cost low

This is perhaps the most important piece of advice. Keep your project under $500. Many teachers get LOTS of projects funded, so don't worry about asking for everything at once. For example, let's say you think a gorgeous independent reading library would make a world of difference to your students. Do one project to get a beautiful library bookshelf and a can of marigold paint($100). Get it into your room, take pictures, and start stocking it with whatever books you have laying around. Then put up a project for the top twenty YA titles you think your students would connect to. Add them to the shelves. Next up, add some Yogibo beanbags, a lamp, and a few literary quotation prints. Just keep going! You'll have a much better chance of building what you want one step at a time than by putting up a $3000 library project and hoping for a huge funding surge. If you want to read more about this strategy, you can get the scoop from some Donors Choose success stories here.

#2 Write your Project with DONORS in mind, not other teachers (advice from Dave Stuart Jr.)

You'll write a relatively short blurb for Donors Choose when you submit your project. Remember that this blurb is for an audience of donors who may not know much of anything about your classroom, your students, your district. Make things easy to understand. Show them the benefits of what you want to do for your students and your school clearly and without education jargon. Also, be sure to proofread! Donors may think you aren't too serious about your project if the description has errors in it.

#3 Write a Fabulous Title for your Project (advice from Genein Letford)

Titles are a very big deal on the internet. Write a bunch for your Donors Choose project, and then pick the best. You want it to convey the project and its benefits clearly to your potential donors. Clarity over catchiness. But a little catchiness doesn't hurt.

#4 Be the First (Small) Donor (advice from teacher Sarah Koss)

Projects that have many donors are more likely to get highlighted by Donors Choose on the site. If you and a few of your close family and friends are willing to donate $5 right away, it can help your project get noticed.

#5 Start your own Social Media Campaign (advice from teachers Sarah Ray, Kristina Holzweiss, Ali Stewart, and Michelle Ramos)

Got Facebook? Instagram? Twitter? Use the free tool Canva to upload a fun photo that goes with your project and add a clear descriptive title like "Help my students collaborate with students in the Ukraine by contributing to our Donors Choose project. We're $100 away from a classroom iPad." You can also use Canva later to make pretty thank you images for your donors once you get funded. Just upload pictures of your happy students using their new stuff and add your message.

Remember that most people are on social media in the evening, so that's the time to make your post. Also, add a request for your friends and family to hit that "share" button so they can share your Donors Choose Project with their social network as well. The more people see your post, the more likely you are to reach folks who would like to help.

The social media algorithm will only show your post to some people in your network, so don't feel bad about posting again after a while. You'll catch some new people and remind others of their good intentions. The perfect time might just be when you hit your halfway point on funding, so you can show your project is gaining momentum and encourage people to help you get all the way there.



#6 Use E-mail to your Advantage (advice from Cassey Tien, Michelle Ramos, and the Donors Choose Site)

There are a lot of ways to use e-mail to support your project. Start by e-mailing a few people you know that you think might want to support the project, and explain why you think they might connect to it. Then e-mail your wider network (including student parents if you can) and explain the project. Let them know you know they might not be able to donate money, but they can help by sharing the image for your project and the link on their social media.

Another, more low-key option, is simply to include a short description of your current project and the link to Donors Choose as part of your e-mail signature during your campaign.

#7 Take Advantage of Matching Fund Offers (advice from teachers Sarah Ray and Jennifer Koss)

Sometimes companies and philanthropists reach out to Donors Choose and offer to support projects. You can check out the Match Offers Page here. Not only will you want to take advantage of them, but it makes sense to let your network know these offers exist, as it will make them more likely to donate if they know their donation will be doubled by someone else.

While this isn't exactly an example of a matching fund offer, you'll also find fun things like this on the Match Offers page. If you play a free internet safety game with your students at the time I'm publishing this post, you can get $100 towards your project. Not bad!
#8 Don't be Shy with your Thank-Yous (advice from teachers Jennifer Koss and Amanda Profili and the Donors Choose site)

When someone donates to your project, thank them right away on Donors Choose. It shows that you are paying attention and that you care about your project and the people who support it. Thank your friends and family too, either via social media or in a quick email. The great thing about thanking them on social media is that it will also work as social proof to remind others that you have this wonderful project and people are supporting it.

So there you have it, some tips and tricks to help you get just what you've been wanting (and needing) for your classroom. While I hope it goes without saying that I wish your district would just BUY what you need for you and the government would just FUND schools adequately, this is a workaround that really does work.

And if you need some ideas for your next project, here's a little list to get you thinking!
  • Art Supplies for One Pagers, Sketchnotes, etc. plus a system to organize them
  • Theater corner bookshelf and props, costumes
  • Independent Reading Library Elements
  • Flexible Seating Elements
  • Subscriptions to Education Websites like Breakout EDU
  • Escape Room Padlocks, Lockboxes, etc.
  • Cozy Classroom Elements: lamps, couch, plants, food, etc. to make students with hard lives feel safe
  • Google Garage-esque Moving Parts: whiteboard paint, chalkboard paint, butcher paper, rolling stools, etc.
  • Writing Makerspace Elements: foam board, post-its, Sharpies, legos, play doh, etc.
  • Literature Circles Book Sets
  • Class Sets of New Books
  • Money to host a school Poetry Out Loud or a grade-level poetry slam
  • Money to put on a local TedX Event
  • Money for TPT Curriculum
  • Graphic Novel Versions
  • Audiobook subscriptions
  • Apple TV
  • Class iPad 
Have you joined my five day challenge to help your students fall in love with reading yet? 
Sign up below to get five action-packed e-mails with free resources and tips that will have your independent reading program flourishing in no time. You're going to love hearing your reluctant readers ask for "just a few more minutes of reading time, please?" 






1
Back to Top