Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Incorporate Writing Across the Curriculum

Writing is a crucial skill we rely on daily. We write to communicate, entertain, inform, and persuade. Finding ways to include writing, revising, and sharing in and outside language arts classrooms can be challenging. The following resources support teachers who want to incorporate writing across disciplines and grade levels, and give them tools to create writing communities in their classrooms.

One of our newest resources Reading & Writing in the Disciplines shows multiple opportunities to engage students in middle and high school classrooms in writing across disciplines. In a 10th grade math class, students use writing to prove the Pythagorean theorem. Science students write a scientific report assessing hydraulic fracturing on New York City’s watershed. Watch students in a journalism class create seven-minute podcasts for This Reading Life, which is loosely modeled after the radio program This American Life. Students in a social studies class learn how to write about cause and effect and complicated issues in a unit on the Crimea conflict. Find the full list of purposeful writing activities here.

In Teaching Reading K-2 Workshop, session 5, “Teaching Writing as a Process,” learn why it is important to allow students to create their own writing topics.  Also, watch as a kindergarten teacher models the use of an illustration as a writing prompt.

Inside Writing Communities: Grades 3-5, “Activities,” prompts you to examine your attitude towards writing, analyze lesson plan ideas, learn to generate writing ideas, and develop writing schedules that allow students to write about any topic.  Session 7, “Learning to Revise,” provides tools on incorporating revision and shows why revision is fundamental to the writing process.

In workshop 1, “Creating a Community of Writers,” of Write in the Middle, learn how to turn your classroom into a safe place for students to share their writing. Watch teacher Jack Wilde explain how he uses read-alouds to encourage mutual support among students.  In workshop 5, “Teaching Multigenre Writing,” 7th graders prepare a portfolio of multi-genre pieces based on personal experience.

Developing Writers: A Workshop for High School Teachers, workshop 6, “Providing Feedback on Student Writing,” shows teachers how to give feedback that helps students grow as writers. Create your own feedback form with the “Build a Rubric” interactive.

Habitable Planet, when used as a classroom resource, includes many topics that can inspire student writing. In unit 10, “Energy Challenges,” Professional Development Guide, essential questions, such as “What are the benefits and drawbacks of current energy sources?”, serve as great prompts for students to access prior knowledge and for you to assess what they have learned after the lesson.

More resources for teacher writing:

Teaching Math: Grades 3-5, session 2, “Communication” Students use writing to expand their understanding of mathematical concepts.

Social Studies in Action: A Methodology Workshop K-5, session 5, “Using Resources”  Kindergarteners write advertisements after reading a book on making pasta.

Literature” interactive What makes a good short story?

Elements of a Story” interactive for elementary students

Bill of Rights Enacted (December 15, 1791)

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In 1791, three-fourths of the States ratified the first ten amendments (authored by James Madison) to the U.S. Constitution that now make up the Bill of Rights. President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed December 15 as “Bill of Rights Day” in 1941, marking the 150th anniversary of its ratification.

Start by having your students read the Bill of Rights, found in America’s History in the Making, unit 6, “The New Nation.”

Try the critical thinking activity in Democracy in America, unit 4, “Civil Liberties: Safeguarding the Individual,” to learn about what happens when the exercise of our rights infringes upon the rights of others.

Watch as Wendy Ewbank and her students engage in two simulations – a press conference and a town hall meeting – examining the role of the Supreme Court in sustaining individual rights. Social Studies in Action, Grades 6-8, “Landmark Supreme Court Cases,” also includes ideas to try in your own classroom.

More resources for teaching about the Bill of Rights:

Democracy in America, unit 5, “Civil Rights: Demanding Equality

Making Civics Real: A Workshop for Teachers

Image Copyright: Marti157900 / 123RF Stock Photo

Teaching Veterans Day (November 11) 

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On Veterans Day, we honor and thank those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. The Department of Veterans Affairs website includes useful materials for teaching about Veterans Day.

Also, the following Annenberg Learner materials are available online for use in your classroom:

Professor Donald Miller gives a personal view as he describes what life was like for soldiers and their families in program 22, “World War II,” of A Biography of America.

Psychiatrist Daniel Shay connects the experiences of American soldiers returning from war to the return of Odysseus to Ithaca following the Trojan War in Invitation to World Literature, program 3, “The Odyssey.”

Postwar Tension and Triumph,” unit 19 of America’s History in the Making, takes a look at the realities that veterans faced when they returned home from World War II.

Hollywood has used war as propaganda both in favor of and against the use of American troops in foreign conflicts. See the role of government and media in how combat films have evolved in American Cinema, program 6, “The Combat Film.”

Image Copyright: karcha / 123RF Stock Photo

Who Am I? Help Students Explore Their Identity

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Being an English language learner, in middle school, was a really difficult experience. I had many questions about my identity, and who I was as an individual. This was a result of the language shift, but a culture shift played a huge role in this complex narrative that played in my head as well.

As a result of this experience, it was so important for me (the teacher) to create a safe classroom culture where students can explore, discuss and more importantly, express their identity. One of the important benefits from being able to discuss one’s identity is for students to feel confident in who they are as individuals. At the same time, identity exploration in the classroom can help students to also develop an appreciation for diversity in their communities and ultimately be more empathetic for others.

A teacher can help to facilitate an activity in the classroom that focuses on identity expression by using prompts to get the conversation started. For example: ask students to explore some theme questions that deal with identity, such as “Who am I?” “What do I care about?” “What do I want others to know about me?”.

One of the hardest things for many of us to answer is “Who am I?” Help students explore this question by having them do an Ingredients of Me activity. We did this in my class, and my students’ answers looked a bit like this. This activity helped my students explore what they care about, who is in their immediate life, and what they do on a daily basis.

Sharing our answers with a small group allowed students to understand who their classmates are, and what responsibilities they had outside of the classroom. However, what’s so special about this activity is that students started to see how many things in common they had with their peers. They started to have side conversations about their interests.

Exploring identity in the classroom should be practiced regularly throughout the year. The teacher can take the above activity and extend the conversation by asking other questions focused on the theme of identity and knowing oneself. Examples of questions to explore with your students include:

  • “What was the hardest thing you’ve ever encountered? How did you deal with it? Who helped you along the way?”
  • “What inspires you? What drives your motivation to keep going?”
  • “What is the most important thing in your life?”
  • “What are the most meaningful relationships you currently have in your life?”

Here are additional resources for teaching about identity:

Watch a middle school class explore the theme of identity as they read and respond to the cultural and social experiences of characters in a variety of texts in Teaching Multicultural Literature, workshop 1, “Engagement and Dialogue.” Students learn to define their own identity and share their personal stories as well. Also, in workshop 8, students examine media representations of various cultural groups and how writers and artists from those groups represent themselves in their works. Students then represent themselves using photography and essays, and exhibit their work to the community.

Another way to discuss identity is to explore how people define themselves through their possessions. In Essential Lens: Disaster and Response collection, see the “Belongings from Home” activity. Students use the activity to analyze photographs of relocated farmers during The Great Depression. Some of the encamped people have musical instruments because this is a core of their identity, for example.

It’s important for students to explore their own identities in a safe learning environment, as this will help them to be more empathetic towards their own peers. Exploring identities in the classroom can dispel stereotypes and perceptions that we often have about specific groups of people, and instead allows us to build stronger relationships with each other.

Share your experiences, as well as additional activities and resources, on this topic in the comments.

Image copyright: badmanproduction / 123RF Stock Photo

Columbus Day: A Multifaceted View

encounterIn 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 multifaceted 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?

More resources for Columbus Day:

A Biography of America, program 1, “New World Encounters

American Passages, unit 2, “Exploring Borderlands,” author Christopher Columbus

Social Studies in Action, grades 3-5, program 9, “Explorers in North America

What Does it Mean to Lead a Worthwhile Life?

Students develop argumentative and writing skills while working on a unit on ethics and justice. From Reading & Writing in the Disciplines.

Students develop argumentative and writing skills during a unit on ethics and justice, from Reading & Writing in the Disciplines.

We hear from many teachers who are thinking about how to engage students in their communities and how to develop their students’ sense of citizenship. One way to do this is to ask students to identify issues they see in their communities and propose solutions. Another is to highlight professionals who work or have left a legacy of work for the advancement of social justice and community development as inspiration. Also, at a more personal level, teach students to consider how they may act positively and respectfully with other people both online and in face-to-face situations. Look to the following resources for ideas and activities to develop your students’ sense of community and agency, their problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and to introduce them to career paths that contribute to the greater good:

Start with a discussion about our behavior and attitudes towards others. In preparation for reading “The Children of Willesden Lane,” a memoir about a young pianist’s journey on the Kindertransport, history teacher Sheila Huntley engages her students in a discussion about what it means to be an outsider or outcast, and how the students’ actions and words can affect people. Students posit reasons we don’t always act when we see a wrong and what it takes before we act. Watch and read about the lesson in the series Teaching “The Children of Willesden Lane,” “Introducing the Universe of Obligation.” If not reading the book, you could structure this discussion around your content instead.

In Teaching Multicultural Literature, workshop 7, “Social Justice Action,” students read immigration stories, and participate in a discussion about social justice and taking action for change with the author. Students then develop a sense of agency as they write and revise persuasive letters to raise public awareness about the issues they’ve examined.  

In Making Meaning in Literature: A Video Library, Grades 6-8, program 6, “Dramatic Tableau,” watch 7th graders envision how they might respond in the situations that the characters find themselves in as they read The Watsons go to Birmingham, 1963. “Helping them to look at characters as people and try to personalize and make connections is something that I have found really is helpful and I know is an important thing to do.” –Dr. Jan Currence

In this lesson from Social Studies in Action, “The Individual in Society,” students are asked the following question: What role can an individual play in creating a just society? The teacher sets up a dilemma – a fictional nation on the verge of racial and ethnic strife – and students must ponder solutions using the viewpoints of different philosophers they have studied.

Democracy in America, program 5, “Civil Rights: Demanding Equality,” looks at guarantees of political and social equality, and the roles that individuals and government have played in expanding these guarantees to less-protected segments of society, such as African Americans, women, and the disabled.

The video for Reading & Writing in the Disciplines, “English in the Real World: A Sports Journalist,” demonstrates the interactive relationship between content knowledge, literacy practices, and social justice action in the workplace. Students often wonder how the work they do at school relates to their own lives and ask questions such as “How is this relevant to my life?” or “How can English be used to change the world?” Also see examples of math, social studies, and science applications. These videos can help students answer these questions and consider the types of careers that will inspire them and perhaps have a positive impact on the world and their community.

Explore the story of human resilience and perseverance. In the Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum video “Lives,” meet five people who illuminate the lives of others through photography.

Common Sense Media has K-12 curriculum for teaching digital citizenship skills. Students can build skills around critical thinking, ethical discussion, and decision making that they can apply to their online activities and relationships.

We welcome additional links to resources and ideas on this topic in the comments section.


athyumbqt_j410wsirlegk9b13neuqn1yz-50ygfnuqgofjoeaah__dq94qmepxpzxsgnqs190Annenberg Learner is pleased to partner with StoryCorps and to announce The Great Thanksgiving Listen. 


On Thanksgiving weekend 2016, the acclaimed oral history project StoryCorps will work with U.S. history teachers across America to ask their students to record an interview with a grandparent or another elder using the free StoryCorps app. With permission from the participants, each of these interviews will be uploaded to the StoryCorps archive at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Also, download the free The Great Thanksgiving Listen Teacher Toolkit to find program details, including guidelines and recommendations that can easily be made into lessons that address state standards for social studies or history curricula.

The Great Thanksgiving Listen will use near-universally accessible smartphone technology to foster meaningful connections within families, communities, and the classroom while also creating a singular and priceless archive of American history and wisdom. This 2016 event is expected to result in the single largest collection of human voices ever gathered.

The Great Thanksgiving Listen 2016 follows StoryCorps’ highly successful inaugural effort in 2015. More than 100,000 participants took part in the drive to preserve the stories and voices of an entire generation over the Thanksgiving weekend. In a 2016 TED Talk, StoryCorps founder and president Dave Isay addressed a global audience to talk about the 2015 pilot, sharing some of the stories it generated and the lessons it taught.

Watch David Isay, the founder and president of StoryCorps, talk about The Great Thanksgiving Listen!


Watch Steve Inskeep, host of NPR’s Morning Edition, provide useful tips for students who are conducting interviews.


Founded in 2003, the nonprofit organization StoryCorps has given more than 100,000 Americans the chance to record interviews about their lives, pass wisdom from one generation to the next, and leave a legacy for the future. StoryCorps shares edited excerpts of these recordings with millions each week through popular weekly NPR broadcasts, animated shorts, digital platforms, and best-selling books. StoryCorps helps us recognize that every life and every story matters.2015_05_01_StoryCorps_012

Dave Isay, founder and president of StoryCorps, is the recipient of the 2015 TED Prize, awarded to an individual with a creative, bold vision to spark global change. With the proceeds of the TED Prize, StoryCorps released an app that walks users seamlessly through the StoryCorps interview experience, from recording to archiving to sharing their story with the world. The StoryCorps app, and its companion social media platform at StoryCorps.me, make a large-scale and historic undertaking like the Great Thanksgiving Listen possible for the first time ever.


Read about the impact that storytelling has on students and teachers in “How telling stories can transform a classroom” by Amy S. Choi on TED Blog.

What’s in a Debate

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Copyright: hafakot / 123RF

It happens every four years. Just when you think you’ve had it with the political campaign season, with the endless ads and diatribes, the presidential debates come along and breathe new life into the process. The debates offer a departure from scripted party-speak. Although the candidates strive to remain “on message,” responding to an opponent’s comments requires a good measure of spontaneity and wit. We watch and listen in the hope that it is our candidate who will deliver the zinger that will long be remembered.

Presidential debates make for fascinating viewing; they are also a launching pad for introducing students to a host of topics. From history to current events, civics to media literacy, debates–presidential and otherwise–provide teachers with endless possibilities to enrich learning.

Television: Altering Perceptions

In 1960, television changed forever how Americans would perceive presidential candidates. In America’s History in the Making, unit 20, “Egalitarian America,” you will find photos of Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, who starred in the first televised debates. The photographs underscore the impact that visual images can have on communication. How can appearance and body language influence the message a candidate hopes to deliver?  Those who watched the debate on television thought that Kennedy won the debate; those who listened to the debate on the radio thought Nixon was the victor. What accounts for these differing reactions? Do the photographs offer clues?

You may want to conduct a similar activity in your classroom. Pick a short segment of a recently-held presidential or vice presidential debate. First, have students listen to the debate. Who won and why? Now, have students watch the segment on television. Have any opinions changed? Why or why not?

Examine History

There are many historical topics your students can debate. One helpful feature in the America’s History in the Making series is found under the Interactive tab. In the Balancing Sources exercise, you examine events from major eras of American history. You then select several sources to represent different perspectives of the historical event. For example, examine issues related to the transcontinental railroad. In what ways does the summary reveal the many issues related to the expansion of the railroad? How might you use this kind of activity to help students prepare a debate for and against expansion of the American railroad system?  Can this approach be used for all debate topics?

Activate Students’ Learning

Use the debate format in the classroom to give students opportunities to defend their positions on an issue. In preparing for debates, students must research and organize information. They also hone their skills in critical thinking, persuasion, public speaking, and teamwork.

In Teaching Multicultural Literature, workshop 7, “Social Justice and Action,” Laura Alvarez, a teacher at Melrose Elementary School in Oakland, California, uses debates to help her students grapple with issues that affect their lives. Alvarez helps her students conduct their research and gives them a five-step, debate-prep list:

  1. Identify the problem.
  2. Identify someone who could address this problem.
  3. Write a thesis statement that states your opinion about the problem and its solution.
  4. Brainstorm arguments to support your opinion.
  5. Brainstorm counterarguments.

Alvarez understands that many of her fourth- and fifth-grade students may have strong opinions about the issues they discuss, but she ensures that students learn to support their opinions with logical evidence. Take time to review the instructional strategies most appropriate for middle school students who prepare for a debate. In what ways do these strategies help ensure that students are fully engaged in learning?

Constitution Day: Opening the Door to Civic Understanding and Engagement

35288847 - american constitution and us flagThe law establishing September 17th as Constitution Day was created in 2004 with the passage of an amendment proposed by Senator Robert Byrd to that year’s Omnibus Spending Bill. The law renamed the observation formerly known as “Citizenship Day” and before that as “I Am an American Day.” Whatever its moniker, the day is devoted to celebrating the signing of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787. The 2004 law not only renamed the day, it also mandates that all publicly funded educational institutions provide instruction on the history of the Constitution on that day.

I doubt that anyone would argue that one day is sufficient time for achieving full understanding of the four-page Constitution crafted in secret by 55 men during a hot Philadelphia summer. However, it could be just enough time to instigate further explorations that lead your students to understanding the document’s historical context, and its connection to current issues and events. That’s an excellent step toward civic engagement.

Annenberg Classroom, presented by The Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics, offers several points of entry to hook your students on the Constitution. For example, the first segment of the video Key Constitutional Concepts is a lively look at the state of the nation in 1787 that led the Framers to that stuffy hall in Philadelphia. It explodes the heroic mythologies that have grown up around the Constitution’s authors and portrays them as ordinary people who were trying to resolve ongoing conflicts within our new nation that the Articles of Confederation failed to resolve. The states were at odds over issues such as state sovereignty, taxation, land claims, and slavery. States threatened each other with war and behaved as sovereign nations. The Federal Convention participants went into Independence Hall thinking they were going to do a bit of tinkering with the Articles to make them more durable. Instead, they essentially threw out the existing, failing government and, through statesmanship and compromise, developed the document that defines our current system of government.

Another approach is to look at the Constitution within the context of current issues. A Call to Act: Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. tells the story of Lilly Ledbetter, who sued her employer when she discovered that she had for years been receiving lower wages than her male counterparts. Her fight for equal pay is a compelling case study of the three branches of government. During the 2012 election campaign and the Democratic convention, Ms. Ledbetter spoke at the convention and the law that has her name on it–the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009—was frequently cited as a victory for Obama’s first term in office. (Editor’s Note: According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “in 2015, female full-time workers made only 79 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 21 percent.”)

Constitution Day is a good time to involve students in current conversations on Constitutional issues. Annenberg Classroom’s Speak Outs feature provides blog posts on topics from who decides where refugees settle to whether or not our primary election system works. The blog posts provide background on controversial topics that are making news or being considered in the courts. Students are then invited to share their views. Many of the student posts could serve as models of expository writing for your students.

Search learner.org for even more resources for Constitution Day. Your students might enjoy diving into an aspect of the Constitution that keeps judges, pundits and the rest of us up all night—the vague language that is open to interpretation and fuels ongoing arguments about immigration reform, gun control, and health care reform. Many of today’s court rulings, Senate debates and Facebook rants are based on how individuals interpret the language in the Bill of Rights and other Constitutional amendments. View the first segment of Democracy in America, program 2, “The Constitution: Fixed or Flexible?” with your students about what American society might look like if our Constitution was not open to interpretation.

Constitution Day can be the day your students begin lifelong study of and participation in civic life. What will you do to get them started?

Image Copyright: larryhw / 123RF Stock Photo

Six Ways Learner Can Support You This School Year


Teachers learning together at the 2016 Annenberg-Newseum Summer Teacher Institute.

Welcome back for the 2016-17 school year. Time to start working on those new ideas that have been brewing all summer. While we hope that many of you have spent part of your summer relaxing, we also know you participated in professional development workshops (like the Annenberg-Newseum Summer Teacher Institute) and developed new strategies and curricula for your students. In the Learner office, we have a big year ahead of us. We are excited for a year of partnerships and community-building, all to support your hard work in the classroom. Below is a reminder of resources we provide to charge your teaching batteries throughout the year.

1. Monthly Update E-Newsletter

Do you receive our monthly newsletter? If not, you can subscribe here. We look forward to connecting you to our free online ad-free resources and letting you know when new resources and PD opportunities are developed. Stay tuned each month for more from Annenberg Learner.

2. Resources for Lessons

Complement your textbooks with streamed videos in social studies, science, math, language arts, world languages, and the arts. Click on “View Programs” on the homepage to see a list of all our resources.

3. Interactives and Lesson Plan Search Functions

When brainstorming for lesson ideas, search the interactives database for online activities to enhance and improve students’ skills in a variety of curricular areas.  Search the lesson plans database for plans in all subject areas and grade levels.

4. Learner Express

Learner Express provides short video clips in math for Common Core and science for STEM curriculum.

5. Blog and Social Media

The Learner Log blog highlights specific teaching strategies and subject area resources from Learner.org and other educational organizations. It also provides a forum to discuss them with your peers. Tell us what topics you would like to see in the blog at blog@learner.org.

Our social media links provide instant connections to resources related to topics in the news, current events, and historical dates. Check us out on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and Youtube.

6. Graduate Credit and CEU Opportunities
Advance your career, sharpen your teaching skills, and update content knowledge in the subjects you teach with the following graduate credit and CEU opportunities for Annenberg Learner courses from PBS TeacherLine, Colorado State, and The University of San Diego.

PBS TeacherLine provides certificates of completion and partners with many colleges to offer graduate credit for five Annenberg Learner professional development courses. Search Annenberg Learner to see what is available.  For general information, including pricing, see the main PBS TeacherLine site.

Colorado State University (CSU) offers graduate credit for Annenberg Learner professional development and content courses, as well as continuing education units (CEUs) for a selection of reading, education, math, and science courses. Register for either graduate credit or non-credit continuing education units on Colorado State’s Online Plus website.

K-12 educators (and some courses are applicable toward community college level instructors) looking to earn credit for time spent on planning for the successful implementation of a new idea to enhance student learning and/or school improvement can take courses online through The University of San Diego.  View information about the Annenberg Learner Implementation Planning Series here.