Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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The Art of Revision

revisionRevision can be a scary process for anyone, and especially students. Stepping back from our writing and looking at it critically is not an easy task. How can you help your students, no matter what age they are, learn the process of revision and hone their editorial skills? The following resources from Annenberg Learner provide strategies and insights for teaching this essential writing technique.

Elementary School

Watch as Sheryl Block teaches her fourth graders strategies to elaborate on ideas in their writing in Inside Writing Communities, Grades 3-5, program 13, “Learning to Revise.”  Use the interactive What Do Revision Choices Reveal? on observing student revisions to make them better writers.

Students in Tatiana With’s class use multiple drafts to revise their prose in Teaching Reading, 3-5, “Revising for Clarity.” As the kids discuss the revision process, one student says “My hardest piece was the revising part. I usually have to write one, two, three drafts. I usually find it kind of hard to find all my mistakes and correct them without missing any of them.”

Middle School

Do you have students who are resistant to revising their writing? Watch as three teachers use multiple strategies and fun activities to motivate their students in Write in the Middle, workshop 8, “Teaching the Power of Revision.”

High School

The Developing Writers workshop for high school teachers focuses on developing writing communities in the classroom and includes revision techniques throughout each video. For example, in workshop 2, “A Shared Path,” students share their work and provide feedback to their classmates.  In workshop 4, students choose a genre for writing based on their purpose and mindfully edit their work using peer and teacher feedback, and self-reflection.  Share the Top Ten Myths of Writing to help your students appreciate their individual writing potential.


Share your tips for teaching students to revise their work in the comments.

Pearl Harbor Remembrance

BioofAm_22_wwii_screenOn December 7, 1941, a Japanese air armada attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, leading the United States to officially enter World War II the next day. The war ended in August 1945 after the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Historians discuss the Pearl Harbor attack and its aftermath in A Biography of America, program 22, “World War II.” This program also asks you to consider whether or not the wartime internment of over 100,000 Japanese Americans was appropriate.

Writer Lawson Fusao Inada, featured in The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High School, session 8, writes about his experiences in the wartime internment.  Read an interview with Inada, and listen to the author read poetry from Drawing the Line that explores themes of dislocation and American identity.

Celebrate Diversity in December: Teach Spiritual Literacy

SSinAction_CelebrationsofLightDecember, a time for holidays and observances of different faiths and cultural traditions, is also Spiritual Literacy Month. Broadening your understanding of religions and cultures from around the world and throughout history can give you a better understanding of students’ diverse backgrounds and help you promote respect in your classroom. Learn about the history and traditions of many religions and belief systems using the following resources:

Between 600 BCE and 1200 CE, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam continued to develop as their followers spread out to new communities. Bridging World History, unit 7, “The Spread of Religions,” discusses the political, cultural, and intellectual influences on these religions in motion.

In program 8, “Celebrations of Light,” of the Social Studies in Action K-12 Library, watch as Eileen Mesmer teaches her young students in Salem, MA the traditions of St. Nicholas Day, St. Lucia Day, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. Mesmer relates these traditions to a Cherokee legend about the winter solstice.

Compare early communities around the world and their spiritual and moral connections with nature in Bridging World History, unit 5, “Early Belief Systems.” Shinto, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, and the ethical and philosophical codes of Confucius and Greek thinkers are discussed.

More resources related to spirituality and cultural practices around the world:

Teaching ‘The Children of Willesden Lane,’ program 9, “A First Impression of Judaism

The Western Tradition, program 11, “Early Christianity”

Out of the Past, program 7, “The Spirit World” (Mayan culture and spirituality)

Art of the Western World, program 2, “A White Garment of Churches—Romanesque and Gothic”

Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: A Library of Classroom Practices, program 22, “Happy New Year!”  (Japanese New Year’s celebration customs)

Artifacts & Fiction, unit 8, “Ceremonial Artifacts” (Native American culture)

U.S. Thanksgiving Day: Historical Perspective

quakersimagenovupdateThe first Thanksgiving was celebrated by Pilgrims and their Native American neighbors and allies in 1621. While the holiday is often depicted as emblematic of the American experience, historical records tell a different story about relations between native peoples and European settlers.

The first theme in America’s History in the Making, unit 3, “Colonial Designs,” delves into the period between the 1580s and 1680s when European nations and trading companies competed to establish colonies in North America and define colonists’ relations with Native American tribes.

Learn about the early American settlers, including Puritans and Quakers, and their optimistic plans to create utopian societies in the New World in the video for American Passages, unit 3, “Utopian Promise.”

To spark discussion, questions about conflicting early views and persistent stereotypes of Native Americans can be found in the Context Activities section of this unit.

Authors covered in this unit include William Penn, William Bradford, and Anne Bradstreet.

You Don’t Have to Be an Adult to Write a Novel

notebook stack with coffeeWho says writing novels is just for the adults? November is National Novel Writing Month, when the nonprofit NaNoWriMo challenges adults and children around the world to channel their inner novelist to write that first draft by the end of the month. Students and educators may sign up through NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program. Online resources allow students to keep track of their word count and provide prompts and tips to keep creative juices flowing.

Add the following Annenberg Learner programs to your list of novel-writing resources:

  • Where do novels come from? After watching workshop 4 of In Search of the Novel, you will be equipped to create a lesson plan that helps students develop their own stories by connecting imagination, experience, and reflection.
  • It’s easy to think that professional writers just sit down and write a perfect piece on their first attempt. So why does it feel so hard when we (and our students) try to get something, anything, down on paper? One writing strategy is imitation. In workshop 7 of Developing Writers, students read works by different professional writers and then write by imitating the voices of those authors. This imitation helps students develop their own voice by building their confidence.
  • Younger students learn about the crucial elements that make up a story using the fairytale Cinderella in an online interactive. Students explore the function of characters, conflict, and resolution as they break apart this well-known childhood story.

Image: bluelela / 123RF Stock Photo


Why Do We Write?

The 2015 theme for the National Council of Teachers of English’s National Day on Writing is #WhyIWrite. We all write for different reasons, whether journaling for personal reflection; researching topics of interest; gathering information to inform or persuade others; sharing personal perspectives through stories of our lives, families, and communities, and more. The following resources provide lesson plans and strategies you can use to inspire your students to become life-long writers.


Elementary School Resources

Teach students to identify writing modes that best fit their ideas, and allow them to choose topics, like their community, that have personal meaning. See Inside Writing Communities, Grades 3-5, workshop 2, “Reasons for Writing.”

Teach young students how to respond meaningfully to their peers work and provide an authentic audience experience. See Inside Writing Communities, “Conversations Among Writing Peers.”

Middle and High School Resources

Middle school students are often focused on themselves, and the self can be a great starting point for motivating students to write. Teachers in Write in the Middle: A Workshop for Middle School Teachers, workshop 2, “Making Writing Meaningful,” start by encouraging students to share their personal stories in writing. Gradually, students expand their writing to reflect how forces in their communities impact them. See them in action here.

Have you wanted to try a multigenre project with your high school students but not sure how to start? After studying various examples (a list is included in the resource), allow students to create a multigenre piece around the theme of community. Go to Developing Writers, workshop 4, “Different Purposes.”

Hear famous authors like Leslie Marmon Silko, Ernest Gaines, and J. K. Rowling discuss where their inspiration comes from in In Search of the Novel, “Authors Notes: Part III.”

Share four videos from Reading & Writing in the Disciplines with students to show how professionals use writing in their specific fields. Hear from an epidemiologist, a biotech startup, a documentary filmmaker, and a sports journalist.

How are you helping students develop purpose in their writing?

Teaching About Columbus and the New World

Christopher Columbus, bust portrait: Published by W.H. Lowdermilk and V.G. Fisher c1892 (Paris), LC-DIG-pga-03191

In the United States, the Columbus Day holiday was created to commemorate Christopher Columbus’s landing in the New World in 1492. While this was an achievement, Columbus has also come to negatively represent conquest and colonialism. The following resources provide a multi-faceted view of Columbus’s New World encounters.

Global trade started with Columbus’s arrival in the New World. America’s History in the Making, unit 2, “Mapping Initial Encounters” details the trade practices that occurred between native peoples, Europeans, and Africans in theme 1 of the video. This unit also presents primary sources that illustrate different perspectives of these initial encounters.

Examine how archaeological and scientific evidence has changed the way Americans think about Columbus Day in Bridging World History, unit 2, “History and Memory,” video part 1, Commemorating Columbus. Columbus’s early image as an explorer and civilizer is contrasted with resulting conquest, colonialism, and the destruction of peoples and habitats.

American Passages, unit 1, “Native Voices,” Stories of the Beginning of the World presents the literary voices and oral traditions of Native Americans.  How did the New World encounters influence the lives of Native Americans?

A Biography of America, program 1, “New World Encounters,” looks at the beginnings of American history from west to east, following the first Ice Age migrations through the corn civilizations of Middle America, and the explorations of Columbus, DeSoto, and the Spanish.

Native Americans had established a rich and highly developed tradition of oral literature long before the writings of the European colonists. American Passages, unit 2, “Exploring Borderlands,” explores that richness by introducing Native American oral traditions through the work of three contemporary authors: Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo), Simon Ortiz (Acoma Pueblo), and Luci Tapahonso (Navajo).

In Social Studies in Action, grades 3-5, program 9, “Explorers in North America,” see Rob Cuddi’s lesson on the theme of exploration in North America. The lesson poses three essential questions: How have people in history affected our lives today?; How do the human and physical systems of the Earth interact?; and What role do economies play in the foundation of our history?

How to Incorporate the Arts in All Subjects

PuppetsArt is a valuable tool for students to learn how to express themselves, work through a process, work cooperatively, and gain respect and understanding for others. How can we teach the arts in all subject areas so that students benefit from the learning opportunities that art affords them? For more ways art instruction benefits students, read “Ten reasons why teaching the arts is critical in a 21st century world” by Elliott Seif.

Below are examples of the arts blended with other curriculum areas, helping students to draw out a deeper understanding and appreciation for both familiar and unfamiliar concepts.


See art as a tool to make meaning of our relationship with the natural world in Art Through Time, program 10, “The Natural World.”

Seventh graders combine science, dance, and language arts as they compare the anatomy of a frog and a human and then debate whether a frog can join a ballet company. Connecting With the Arts Library, program 11, “Can Frogs Dance?” has the video and student materials.


Mathematicians understand symmetry differently than the rest of us, as a fundamental aspect of group theory. Learn more in Mathematics Illuminated, unit 6, “The Beauty of Symmetry,” which includes a symmetry interactive. Students can manipulate a wallpaper design to practice common geometric motions such as rotation and reflection.

Language Arts

Students explore Greek myths using puppets in Connecting With the Arts Library, program 2, “Breathing Life into Myths.”

Artifacts & Fiction, session 1, “Visual Arts,” shows how visual art, paired with literature, can be used to enhance students’ understanding of the predominant culture and historical setting of a work of literature.

World Languages

Latin students learn the difference between translating and interpreting the language using music and literary works of Mozart, Vergil, and Cicero. See Teaching Foreign Languages K-12, program 24, “Music and Manuscripts.”

In Teaching Foreign Languages, program 29, “Interpreting Literature,” students discuss “Dos caras” (Two faces) by New Mexico author Sabine Ulibarri. They act out scenes and make comparisons to a painting by a local artist.

In program 27, “Interpreting Picasso’s Guernica,” students write and deliver radio newscasts interpreting the scene in the famous painting.

Social Studies/History

Fifth graders in The Arts in Every Classroom, program 6, “Teaching Visual Art,” view portraits, looking beyond the face for historical cues. They continue the lesson by creating new portraits that reveal clues to the lives of their subjects through clothing, expressions, and background.

Use the Focus In tool with middle and high school students to analyze photographs curated by topics such as “Protest and Politics” and “Economies and Empires” in Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum. Also, hear a photo editor at National Geographic and a professional photographer discuss their work in the video “Story.”

Music and Art

Start a music program at your school based on the El Sistema program or borrow ideas from the programs presented in our new series The Power of Music: P-5 Teaching Inspired by El Sistema. The El Sistema philosophy presents music making as a collaborative process—one that teaches individual self-confidence, creates caring citizens, and builds cohesive communities. The program includes ideas for teachers of all subjects, not just music.

Watch art, dance, and theater teachers use scaffolding as they help students gain knowledge and fundamental skills while fostering creativity and active self-directed learning in The Art of Teaching the Arts, workshop 2, “Developing Students as Artists.”

Additional Resources:

To learn more about why arts education is important and how to connect the arts with big ideas in other subject areas, view Connecting With the Arts, program 2, “Why Integrate the Arts?”  and program 5, “What Are Connecting Concepts?”

These ideas just scratch the surface of all they ways arts instruction can be incorporated in other curriculum areas. Please feel free to share more ideas in the comments.

Breaking the Mindset Barrier

123rf_guzhanin_Brain copy

Image Copyright: Dmitry Guzhanin

One of the staples of American storytelling is the tale of the underdog athlete who became a superstar through relentless practice. Countless magazines have told the story of Boston Celtics basketball legend Larry Bird, discounted in adolescence by coaches, dedicating himself to hours and hours of daily practice. Alone on a shabby outdoor court, Bird would shoot and shoot and shoot, day after day, week after week, month after month until—voila!—he became a superstar. Even after he was a pro star, Bird would spend hours alone in the Boston Garden practicing his shots—before team practice even began. This is what made Bird “Larry Legend.”

Bird’s not the only one, of course; we love stories about athletes who drill and drill from sheer love of the game and a burning desire to become the best they can be. We tell our own young athletes that they can achieve anything if they really want it badly enough. Before the U.S. women’s soccer team won the 2015 World Cup, their captain Abby Wambach made an inspirational video in which she repeatedly said that the team could win the cup if they wanted it: “we’ve just got to believe.”

…so why don’t we have the same approach to academics? Why don’t we tell students that they can achieve any academic goal they want, from understanding math to writing lab reports to analyzing literature, if they want it badly enough? Why don’t we tell them it will take hours and weeks and months and even years of practice and failure, practice and incremental improvement?

Instead, we tend to tell students, directly and indirectly, that school is not really designed to help them set and achieve goals through unlimited practice. We tell them that school is about doing a little practicing, and then taking a test that does two things: permanently end practice of the skill that was tested and put a permanent label (a grade) on the student’s skill level.

When we test students after limited practice, we’re telling them that they have a set ability in a certain subject that can’t really change much no matter how much they practice. When we study a unit for two weeks and then test students on it, we’re saying, If you can’t master this in two weeks, you have a problem. Everyone should be able to master this in two weeks.

Tests and test grades tend to send the message that everyone is somehow born with a set amount of academic potential—a mindset—and they need to spend the rest of their school years managing (or concealing) that limitation. It’s like an academic caste system: a few lucky students are gifted; the rest are “average” or “struggling”—and they always will be. The first few tests students take that seem to “confirm” that they are forever stuck at one skill level kill all initiative. While athletes can be made, we send a message that mathletes (and others) are strictly born. See “What does this mean for me?” at the Mindset website and Reading & Writing in the Disciplines: Big Ideas in Literacy for more on this harmful and unfounded message.

In the mindset system, school is not about working hard until you achieve a goal, no matter how long it takes. It’s about struggling to achieve a goal on someone else’s timeline. The whole point of our inspiring sports stories is that the athlete took things into her or his own hands: they decided how long to practice, when to practice, and, crucially, why they were practicing. They were tested only after they felt they were ready to present their skills to a coach or a team. As Bird put it, “I really don’t count my shots. I just shoot until I feel good.”

Unfortunately, school calendars and state standards don’t allow this kind of flexibility. Students have to show mastery of a certain (large) number of learning objectives and state standards by the end of each school year, each term, even each quarter. They can’t “shoot until they feel good” on that kind of schedule.

Students aren’t the only ones who struggle with this, of course; teachers have to teach on someone else’s timeline (the one assigned by their state standards). They are required to test their students regularly. Few teachers have the option to simply stop testing and allow unlimited practice. But there are ways to reinvent testing so that it is as much a part of practicing as it is an assessment of practice; see Neuroscience & the Classroom: Making Connections for a real-world test case.

The section gives one example of how testing and grading can become tools you use to help your students develop skills. They can become part of your ongoing formative assessment of how their skills are developing and part of your teaching process, rather than an interruption of teaching and learning. When students see that testing and grading are a measure of their existing skill level, they resist both. When they see that testing and grading are a prompt to their developing skills, they embrace them as part of a collaboration with the teacher that will help them advance. Test until you feel good!

Lessons for Teaching 9/11

MakingCivicsReal_7On the anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, use the following resources to address the many layers of meaning in the commemoration of the day.

What it means to be responsible for others — Watch as history teacher Martina Grant engages her students in a discussion about their own “universe of obligation” and how the priority order changes when people are faced with tragic events. Students posit reasons we don’t always act when we see a wrong and what it takes before we act. See Teaching “The Children of Willesden Lane,” program 7, “Introducing the Universe of Obligation.”

Balancing conflicting interests with public policyMaking Civics Real, workshop 7, “Controversial Public Policy Issues,” helps students build on their own opinions and experiences to develop a deeper understanding of key public policy issues. In this workshop video, JoEllen Ambrose leads her 12th-grade law class in studying the role of the government in protecting citizens while also protecting their civil liberties. Students also reflect on their feelings and experiences with racial profiling after 9/11 and in other situations.

Patriotism — A government class at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC designs a Museum of Patriotism and Foreign Policy. The student committees present exhibits that express, through their particular majors of dance, theatre, or visual arts, their understanding of the link between patriotism and foreign policy in the light of terrorism. Go to Making Civics Real, workshop 5, “Patriotism & Foreign Policy.”

National security yesterday and todayAmerican Passages resource archive contains an excerpt from the NSC-68: U.S. Objectives and Programs for National Security, written in 1950 during the height of the Cold War. Students can compare U.S. foreign relations of the past and post-9/11 and how these objectives and programs have changed.

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