Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Who Am I? Help Students Explore Their Identity

57188443 - brand new green shoes from above on asphalt with who i am sign

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.

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.

What does great teaching look like?

TM K-4 students1

from Teaching Math Library, K-4, program 46 “Buffalo Estimation”

Are you new to teaching? Do you want to refine your teaching strategies after reflecting on your practice? One of the best ways to improve is to watch veteran teachers guide their students in the learning process. We encourage you to observe teachers in your school and to look to Learner.org for great classroom moments you can watch on your own time. Take ideas from our workshops that show real teachers effectively engaging with their own students. Here are a few highlights with additional resources listed below by subject:

Making Meaning in Literature
shows teachers facilitating discussions to create a literary community in their classrooms. For example, in program 4, teacher Tanya Schnabl’s students develop discussion questions and connect their experiences with the dilemmas in the assigned texts as they explore “government limits and personal freedoms.”

See examples of every step of an inquiry-based lesson, from fostering a learning community, to designing how students will explore the materials, to collecting and assessing data, in Learning Science Through Inquiry. In workshop 6, “Bring It All Together: Processing for Meaning During Inquiry,” watch the teacher draw out meaning from students’ observations of their soil decomposition experiment. Shuffle to 8:42 in the video.

Find ideas for teaching about civic engagement in Making Civics Real.  Teacher Matt Johnson leads his Constitutional Law 12th graders in applying what they’ve learned to new hypothetical cases that mirror actual students’ rights cases presented to the Supreme Court in workshop 8, “Rights and Responsibilities of Students.”

Other examples of effective teaching:

Language Arts and Literature Classrooms-

Reading & Writing in the Disciplines

Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades

Write in the Middle: A Workshop for Middle School Teachers

The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High School

Mathematics Classrooms-

Reading & Writing in the Disciplines

Teaching Math: A Video Library, K-4, 5-8, 9-12

Insights Into Algebra 1: Teaching for Learning (high school)

Science Classrooms-

Reading & Writing in the Disciplines

Science in Focus: Force and Motion (K-8 teachers)

Reactions in Chemistry (high school)

Foreign Language Classrooms-

Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: A Library of Classroom Practices

Social Studies/History Classrooms-

Reading & Writing in the Disciplines

The Economics Classroom: A Workshop for Grade 9-12 Teachers

Social Studies in Action: A Teaching Practices Library K-12

Arts Classrooms-

Connecting With the Arts: A Teaching Practices Library, 6-8

The Art of Teaching the Arts: A Workshop for High School Teachers

Differentiated Instruction By Subject


A blended learning approach to instruction allows students to collaborate using technology. See Reading & Writing in the Disciplines.

As you plan for the new school year, think about how you structure your classroom and lessons to engage all students and meet each learner’s needs. While differentiating instruction can be daunting, it can also be a lot of fun. Differentiation involves recognizing individual student’s talents, interests, and challenges. It also involves varying ways you present content and use the classroom space. Below are examples of teachers differentiating their classrooms. Jump to the subject you teach or read them all. For a deeper look into what differentiation is and how to recognize the potential in all students, listen to the “Differentiated Instruction Works: How and Why To Do DI” podcast on the ASCD website.

Arts and World Languages

Tap into students’ love for the arts. In The Arts in Every Classroom, program 2, “Expanding the Role of the Arts Specialist,” watch how dance, visual art, and theatre teachers coordinate with teachers of other subject areas.

Use the arts to teach students how to express their ideas in multiple ways. In Connecting With the Arts, program 12, “Finding Your Voice,” middle school students use music, art, and dance to explore the concepts of conflict and protesting.

Students are most engaged when they are talking about what they know. In Teaching Foreign Languages, K-12, “Comparing Communities,” students compare community life at home and abroad while practicing language skills. The video is captioned in English for all language teachers.

English and Language Arts

In Teaching Reading, K-2, workshop 6, “Differentiating Instruction,” learn what flexible grouping looks like and apply examples to your own classes.

Think outside of the essay and use your students’ kinesthetic and creative skills. Watch middle school students explore characters in literature by creating ceramic place settings in Connecting With the Arts, “Revealing Character.”

Vary methods of communicating with students using technology to give feedback. Jen Roberts uses Google Tools to collaborate with her students on their work. Watch “Blended Learning: Acquiring Digital Literacy Skills” from Reading & Writing in the Disciplines. Under the video, see the Differentiated Instruction paragraph to learn more about how Ms. Roberts scaffolds the lesson to meet different students’ needs.

History and Social Studies

In Social Studies in Action, program 4, “China Through Mapping,” Ms. Norton offers multiple entry points into a lesson on Chinese culture and history. Elementary students create salt-dough maps, sing songs, and complete a group mystery puzzle using printed maps of China. At 20:24 in the video, Ms. Norton explains how she assigned the roles for group work.

Try lesson plans that use photographs to hook visual learners and students interested in photography. The Essential Lens video, “A Closer Look,” explains the Focus In strategy for examining the meaning and point of view of photographs. Browse several photo collections connected to activities and big ideas that can be used in the social studies classroom. Themes include “Economies and Empires” and “Change and Resistance.”

Ms. Ambrose’s students discuss racial profiling as they develop an understanding of constitutional law and criminal law in Making Civics Real, workshop 7, “Controversial Public Policy Issues.” One of her students reflects “… if she sees that something is boring us, if something’s not working, she’ll get at the problem. She’ll change it to make sure that we’re always interested, so that we’re always learning something. As soon as you lose interest, you stop caring, you stop learning.”


In Teaching Math K-4, video 17, “Choose a Method,” the teacher provides multiple learning experiences for exploring problem-solving methods with her fourth graders. Two groups work independently, one on computers and another on puzzles and games. The teacher and students in a third group investigate different computational methods, including base-10 blocks, calculators, mental math, or paper and pencil.

A blended learning approach to instruction allows students to collaborate using technology. Math students evaluate arithmetic sequences and share work on a Smart Board. While some students also practice speaking and teaching skills, other students focus on concepts. Watch “Blended Learning: Using Technology to Learn Math Concepts” in Reading & Writing in the Disciplines.

In “Creating Opportunities for Mathematical Discourse” from Reading & Writing in the Disciplines, Ms. Langer lets students choose from different types of classroom materials to explore content, provides scaffolding to students as needed, and allows students to work in groups or independently as they study graph theory.


Young kids love animals. Bring the outdoors inside to young citizen scientists with Journey North. Students answer the essential question, “How do animals in different parts of the world respond to seasonal change?” while completing activities in the viewing guide and watching animal cams by Explore.org of bears, birds, and more.

Use photographs to hook visual learners and students interested in photography. The Essential Lens video, “A Closer Look,” explains the Focus In strategy for examining the meaning and point of view of photographs. Browse several photo collections connected to activities and big ideas that can be used in the science classroom. Themes include “Processes of Science,” “Energy,” and “Genetics and Bioengineering.”

In Reading & Writing in the Disciplines, “Creating a Culture of Collaboration,” learn how Mr. Berryman develops students’ understanding of scientific terms in multiple ways, from using an interactive web app, a word wall, drawing activities, and more.

Teaching About the First Atomic Bomb, Dropped August 6, 1945

Nagasaki, Japan under atomic bomb attack / U.S. Army A.A.F. photo [9 August 1945], LC-DIG-ds-05458

Nagasaki, Japan under atomic bomb attack / U.S. Army A.A.F. photo [9 August 1945], LC-DIG-ds-05458

In the early hours of August 6, 1945, the United States dropped the world’s first atom bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, killing over 120,000 Japanese citizens as a result of the blast and the after-effects of the fallout. President Harry S. Truman justified the use of the bomb, saying that there would have been a much greater loss of life had the U.S. invaded Japan by land.

In A Biography of America, program 23, “The Fifties,” try the You Decide; The Atom Bomb? interactive to determine if President Truman made the correct decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the goal of ending World War II.

Read “Living with the Atomic Bomb: Native Americans and the Postwar Uranium Boom and Nuclear Reactions” about the cultural and human consequences of the nuclear weapons race of the 1950s in American Passages, “Becoming Visible.”

The discussion of controversial issues can promote critical thinking skills. John Allen Rossi’s article “Creating Strategies and Conditions for Civil Discourse About Controversial Issues” raises questions about the decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima. See Making Civics Real: A Workshop for Teachers, “Controversial Public Policy Issues.”

Mathematics Illuminated traces the origins of game theory to the work of Hungarian mathematician and physicist John von Neumann, who worked on the Manhattan Project, the top-secret plan to build the first atomic bomb.

More resources for teaching about World War II and the atomic bomb:

Reactions in Chemistry, workshop 3, “Energetics and Dynamics

The Western Tradition, program 48, “The Second World War

Share additional resources on this topic in the comments section below the post.

Lessons for Independence Day

Chemistry_fireworksAs you are enjoying your holiday picnics, parades, and fireworks, reflect on the history and science behind Independence Day.

Revolutionary Perspectives,” of America’s History in the Making, reveals the political wrangling that led up to the Declaration of Independence and other state constitutions.

Watch A Biography of America, “The Coming of Independence,” to see how English-loving colonists were transformed into freedom-loving American rebels. Program 5, “A New System of Government,” presents the outsized personalities that came together to hash out new systems of government for the American people.

Do you know the lyrics for the Star Spangled Banner beyond the first stanza? If not, find the words and an audio clip in the American Passages Archives.

What causes the different colors of light in fireworks that make us ooh and aah? Find out in Chemistry: Challenges and Solutions, unit 3, “Atoms and Light.”  Click on the video link and start at 12:05 to see a colorful demonstration of various metals throwing off different colors of light when burned in The Flame Test segment.

What’s On Your Summer Reading List?

Bookstackbylake123rfYou deserve to relax a little. What better way to relax and escape than by reading about what interests you? It is hard to find time to pick up books just for fun during the school year. Kick back with that book that has been calling your name all year, or choose one from the programs below.

Escape into exotic worlds of fiction by reading books like The Tale of Genji and One Hundred Years of Solitude. Watch Invitation to World Literature to hear how artists, dancers, and others connect with their favorite reads. Go to the Connections section to find modern popular interpretations of these stories.

Take emotional journeys and visit landscapes of the mind with some of America’s greatest poets in Voices & Visions. Elizabeth Bishop lived both in Brazil and Maine, and captured the spirit of these places and their people in her poems. Feel the pulse of land and water in “The Map” and the murmurings of old people in “The Moose,” in program 1.

Langston Hughes evokes the rhythm of the people and the landscape of the African continent in “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” in program 6. Stream the video or play the audio while closing your eyes and seeing the words paint the images.

Brush up on American history and culture while reading works by great authors. Visit American Passages to find an extensive list of writers and to explore writers and their works by themes such as “The Spirit of Nationalism” and “The Search for Identity”.

If math and science are more your speed, peruse the bibliographies from Mathematics Illuminated and Physics for the 21st Century. For example, in Mathematics Illuminated, “Geometries Beyond Euclid,” the bibliography list includes Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory and Lederman and Hill’s Symmetry and the Beautiful Universe. Also, find book suggestions in the “Further Reading” sections of each unit in Physics for the 21st Century.

Read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and learn about her contributions to the environment on our blog.

What books will you read this summer?

Image copyright: perhapzzz / 123RF Stock Photo

It’s Over Already/Finally? Reflecting on the School Year

93rd st school classsmsqSummer is the perfect time to pause and look back at the school year. How did it go? What challenges did you face? What improvements can you make for next year? Is there anything new you would like to try with your students next year and how can you prepare this summer? The following resources offer guidance with your reflections.

What is your teacher metaphor? As a teacher, are you more of a conductor or an air traffic controller? Have you ever tried to define your teaching? The Metaphorically Speaking interactive in The Next Move workshop spurs you to think of a metaphor to describe your teaching to others, and also to help you develop a focus. Read what other teachers have used as metaphors for their own teaching. Share your own metaphor and how this metaphor influences or guides your teaching in the comments section!

Did you struggle with keeping your students’ attention or motivating them? Neuroscience & the Classroom  shows how brain research can inform instructional practices. Learn to effectively manage a variety of learning styles and attention spans. Use the course’s search function to find the topics you want to explore.

Connecting With the Arts, program 8, “Reflecting on Our Practice,” provides strategies for solo and group reflection to improve curriculum and refine lesson plans.

How can you encourage literacy in the home? How can you better support your English language learners? How can you work on comprehension skillsTeaching Reading Workshop, K-2, offers reflection worksheets for each session. Glean ideas from these reflection sheets, and adapt them to other subject areas and grade levels.

Consider creating informal professional learning communities over the summer or build your case to develop them during the next school year. Critical Issues in School Reform, videos on innovation in professional collaboration, outline group reflection activities (like the Tuning Protocol and the Consultancy) that examine student work and classroom instruction.

Image copyright: ljupco / 123RF Stock Photo