Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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How to Build Motivation in Your Classroom

Ican'tSometimes, as teachers, we have a tendency to blame the student for a lack of motivation. Have you ever checked off “lacks motivation” or “lacks effort” on a progress report? Yet we all experience times when we just are not willing to do what is being asked of us. The following resources will help you understand what enhances and hinders motivation to learn.

Failure and fear of it saps motivation. Nobody likes to fail, but an optimistic attitude helps us learn from a poor performance. In Discovering Psychology, program 12, “Motivation and Emotion,” discover how optimists are more likely than pessimists to succeed in challenging situations because they tend to reflect and try again. Teach students to understand that sometimes disappointment and failure are part of the learning process.

Another obstacle to motivation is perceived irrelevance of the topic. Neuroscience research tells us that we learn best when we are interested in what we are learning and see a connection between our studies and our lives. Find out why in unit 2, “The Unity of Emotion, Thinking, and Learning,” of Neuroscience & the Classroom.

Our environment also plays a role in how we feel and act. Create classroom environments that engage students using tips from The Learning Classroom: Theory Into Practice, program 12, “Expectations for Success: Motivation and Learning.” Watch how teachers ask questions instead of dispensing information, invite students to investigate and arrive at their own conclusions, provide opportunities to work on real-world problems, and involve students in helpful competition using cooperative grouping.

What does motivation look like in your classroom? Share in the comments.

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Black History Month: We Celebrate Women Writers

During Black History Month, we pause and reflect on the contributions of great African Americans. The theme of this post is “Black Women in American Culture and History.” In this space, we provide resources to help you teach about women who have made significant contributions to African-American literature. American Passages features several writers who have contributed to and commented on American culture and history.

Read the remarkable stories of educated enslaved woman such as Phillis Wheatley and Harriet Jacobs.  Phillis Wheatley became a published poet writing about Christianity and liberty. Unit 4, “Spirit of Nationalism,” tells how Wheatley’s mistress recognized her intelligence and oversaw her education. Harriet Jacobs, another enslaved woman who was taught to read, escaped from the plantation and eventually fled to the North. She wrote about her own experiences of exploitation and escape in order to bring awareness to the mistreatment of enslaved women. Read about her in unit 7, “Slavery and Freedom.”

Provide your students with different perspectives of the black experience in America by introducing them to writer Zora Neale Hurston. Much to the dismay of her peers such as Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, who wrote about the oppression and degradation of black people, Hurston wrote to promote a vision of “racial health – a sense of black people as complete, complex, undiminished human beings.” See unit 13, “Southern Renaissance.”

Develop your students’ critical thinking skills using the Author Questions for Gwendolyn Brooks. You can find questions such as “What do Brooks’s poems suggest about the special challenges of being an African-American poet in a time when many other genres and media compete for attention?” and additional activities for this author in unit 14, “Becoming Visible.”

Alice Walker meaningfully uses images of quilts in several of her works, including “The Color Purple” and “Everyday Use.” After examining the literary purposes of this household object in Walker’s work, guide students in their own search for identity using activities that discuss family heirlooms. For information on Walker, read American Passages, unit 16, “Search for Identity.” Click on Author Activities to find activities for teaching about Walker and her story “Everyday Use.”
Hear a reading and discussion of her poem “Revolutionary Petunias” in Conversations in Literature, workshop 6, Objectifying the Text” (35:08 minutes in).

In 1993, Toni Morrison became the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize. Read about Morrison’s work in American Passages, unit 16, “Search for Identity.” Use activities and discussion questions provided to teach her short story, Recitatif, which challenges the human urge to categorize people.

The program In Search of the Novel, “Ten Novelists,” provides links to biographical information about Morrison.

Physical Geography: Examining Earth’s Lithosphere

globeundermicroscopeDestructive earthquakes and volcanic eruptions often make headlines and prompt humanitarian relief efforts, though the forces that cause these events are, in fact, mundane and constant. Explore the physical processes operating in the lithosphere, the outer part of the earth that is the base of our continents and oceans. Dig into the following resources to learn about the role of plate tectonics in natural events such as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, and how humans respond to the risks related to these events.

First, understand the workings of the tectonic plates. Students can study the structure of the lithosphere and plate tectonics using the Dynamic Earth interactive. Find maps of tectonic plates and explore how an earthquake in one area of the world can cause a tsunami in another.

In Earth and Space Science, session 4, “The Engine That Drives the Earth,” join scientists and students as they explore the forces behind volcanoes and earthquakes.

Next, examine humans’ relationship with the land. Witness how the small fishing island of Heimaey, Iceland saved its port from an erupting volcano in 1973. Watch the second half of program 6, “Challenges in the Hinterlands,” from The Power of Place. Start at 14:05 in the video.

Geographers study Tungurahua, a volcano in Ecuador, in order to prevent future tragedies after eruptions. Watch this case study in the second half of workshop 2, “Latin America,” of Teaching Geography. Start at 28:40 in the video.

Additional resources for teaching about the lithosphere:

Earth and Space Science, session 5, “When Continents Collide

Earth Revealed, program 6, “Plate Dynamics” and program 13, “Volcanism”

Learner Express, 40 short video clips with accompanying text. Ten videos on volcanoes and 13 on plate tectonics.

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Let Us Help You With Your Resolutions!

NewYearsResolutionsYou’re quickly approaching the 100th day of the school year, and you’ve decided to refine and refresh your teaching methods as you enter the long stretch from January through June. So far, many of your students are coming along nicely, but others are struggling. So you resolve to make a few changes to get all of your students excited and invested in learning. What resolutions will you make?


Can’t think of any? Using our resources, here are a few ideas you can try in your classroom:

Grade writing papers more efficiently.

Grading is often a tedious task. Resolve to make it a faster and more useful exercise. In Developing Writers: A Workshop for High School Teachers, Dr. Robyn Jackson outlines how to use color-coded rubrics. This format is faster for teachers because they spend less time writing the same comments and grading becomes more objective. Students can also immediately see which components of their writing need improvement.  Shuttle into 15:16 of the video program to watch this rubric in action.

Differentiate instruction.

How do you meet the needs of diverse students in your class? Literacy expert Dorothy Strickland discusses key elements of effective instruction that build on student diversity in session 7 of Teaching Reading 3-5. In session 6, “Differentiating Instruction,” of Teaching Reading K-2 Workshop, you will learn how to apply research-based principles in early literacy.  Studying multiple writing genres? In workshop 5 of Write in the Middle, Mary Cathryn Ricker explains her philosophy on teaching multigenre writing so that it engages students: “I know that there are some students at the middle level who are very nervous about poetry, downright scared of poetry, and I want to make sure that they have a style of writing or a form of writing they’re going to be comfortable with.”  Also, watch as Jane Shuffelton customizes a lesson for different levels of learners in her high school Russian class.

Incorporate standardized test questions into routine assignments.

With more and more teacher performance ratings tied to standardized testing, it’s no wonder that many teachers resort to teaching to the test. But that needn’t be so. You can easily tie standard test questions into your regular class assignments. In workshop 4, “Research and Discovery,” of Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades, Kathryn Mitchell Pierce explains that when students engage in critical reading beyond just literal recall of what happens in a book, they have skills which give them confidence to correctly complete a standardized test.

Communicate more often and effectively with parents.

You can do this by setting up a parent listserv for your class and by sending a weekly newsletter about what’s going on in your class, including specific projects, instructional practices, and materials that your students are engaged in throughout the year. There’s a good template for a parent newsletter in session 8 of Teaching Reading K-2 Workshop.  In Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades, workshop 7, “Social Justice and Action,” Laura Alvarez talks about keeping parents informed by involving them in the actual lesson.

We’d love to hear about your resolutions for your classroom in the comments below.

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Lessons for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Beyond

Bio fo Amer_24_KingMartin Luther King, Jr. championed human rights in the United States and encouraged Americans to use nonviolent protest to help solve social problems. Congress designated the Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday as a national day of community service. Before you and your students plan service activities, revisit Dr. King’s legacy.

Examine the struggle for civil rights in the U.S. from the 1940s to the 1970s and the influence of mass media documenting political events in “Egalitarian America,” unit 20 of America’s History in the Making.

Learn about the social movements of the 1960s and the work of Dr. King in A Biography of America, program 24, “The Sixties.” This program covers King’s leadership in both the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War protest.

In the language arts classroom, use literary circles like Latosha Rowley does with her 4th-, and 5th-grade students to read literature about Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement. Allow students to choose text pairings, and learn how to prepare discussion guides that help students stay focused on their reading in Engaging with Literature: A Video Library, program 6, “Building Community.”

The Hindu holy book, The Bhagavad Gita, a classic work of world literature, inspired the non-violent civil disobedience of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement. Learn more about this text in Invitation to World Literature, “The Bhagavad Gita.”

International Creativity Month: Invite Your Students to Play

artisticlightbulbThe beginning of the year is a time for resolutions and reflection. January is also International Creativity Month. Make a resolution to incorporate opportunities for students to flex their creative muscles into your lessons. Let them write, paint, dance, compose, brainstorm, and most of all, play!

Start from the beginning by learning why creative play is so important to a young child’s healthy development. Watch The Whole Child: A Caregiver’s Guide to the First Five Years, program 11, “Creativity and Play” to learn about the connection between creativity and self-worth and self-expression.

If you’re familiar with the link between music and mathematical ability in children, gain more insight with the documentary “Surprises in Mind,” which looks at children’s innate mathematical creativity and how a specially designed math program boosted students’ confidence in their mathematical ability and enjoyment mathematics.

Brain researchers have found a connection between creativity and dreaming, as explained in the brief clip “REM Sleep and Dreaming,” program 15 of The Brain: Teaching Modules.

Creativity is essential to teaching, just as it is an integral part of students’ learning in subjects across the curriculum. In Looking at Learning…Again, Part 2, workshop 5, “Infusing Critical and Creative Thinking,” Dr. Robert Swartz discusses the role of creative thinking in the learning process. Then see examples in the footage of Virginia Williams’s 4th-grade science class in Brookfield, Massachusetts.

Find ideas for creative learning experiences in the following resources:

Art Through Time explores creative expression through different cultures and historical eras. For example, program 7, looks at functional art used in domestic life around the world. Have students watch the video and then design and/or make their own useful art.

High school arts teachers will discover new ways to foster creativity with The Art of Teaching the Arts: A Workshop for High School Teachers. In workshop 5, watch how teachers foster respect and build confidence in students in a variety of arts lessons, including improv.

Draw ideas from Dr. Judith Ortiz Cofer’s interesting creative writing exercise based on truth and lies in Developing Writers.

The documentaries of American Cinema can serve as the basis for creative writing assignments. Students learn all about screenwriting in the related Cinema interactive.

See models of creative integrated arts units at the middle school level in Connecting with the Arts: A Teaching Practices Library, 6-8. In “Can frogs dance?“, a science teacher and a dance instructor ask students to compare human and frog anatomy.

How are you adding creativity to your lesson plans this year?

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How to Teach Global Awareness

Globe in palmAs world populations become increasingly connected, teaching global awareness is becoming more important. Many jobs focus on issues that affect global communities and require mindfulness about the similarities and differences of life experiences around the world. Prepare your students for participation in our international community now by integrating global awareness into your lessons using Annenberg Learner resources. Teaching global awareness in your classroom should feel seamless, no matter what subject you teach.

Literature and Language Arts

Part of living in a global community is learning strong conversational skills that include valuing each other’s strengths, listening well, and explaining thinking clearly. Ms. Bomer models these behaviors as she guides her 5th graders in thoughtful discussions of the text they read. See Engaging With Literature, program 2, “Voices in the Conversation.”

Find teaching strategies for reading works by American authors with diverse ethnic backgrounds in Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades.

Enhance students’ understanding of literary texts using cultural artifacts that provide background knowledge for the stories they read in Artifacts & Fiction.  For example, in workshop 6, “Cultural Geography,” students compare photographs and excerpts from Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street to understand cultural divisions in contemporary Chicago neighborhoods.


Fourth graders in a bilingual classroom use a Valentine’s Day card exchange to work on mathematical concepts and problem solving skills in Teaching Math: A Video Library, K-4, program 42. The students respectfully communicate in Spanish and English during the lesson. Use the cards as an opportunity for students to share expressions in their native languages.

Talk about genetic resistance as a global issue, and provide case studies. Against All Odds: Inside Statistics, program 29, “Inference for Two-Way Tables,” focuses on the research of the series host Dr. Pardis Sabeti. She uses statistical tools to examine possible genetic resistance to deadly Lassa fever in West Africa.

Integrate global awareness into lessons exploring the mathematical concepts of connectivity and networks, from Mathematics Illuminated, unit 11. This unit provides insights into various ways life is connected, from social networks to ecosystems. The video starts with 16th century poet John Donne’s concept that “no man is an island entire of itself.”


Essential Science for Teachers: Life Science, session 7, is about energy flow in communities. Define community and examine energy flow within a community.  Take these lessons a step further by providing students opportunities to explore energy flow among organisms in communities around the world.

Read about our earliest common ancestors to learn what makes us all human in Rediscovering Biology, unit 9, “Human Evolution.” Anthropologist Ian Tattersall explains how modern humans developed and migrated from Africa to populate the globe.

Teach students how demographers study human population dynamics by tackling questions on how population growth affects the environment and whether or not urbanization is a threat to humans’ quality of life. Go to The Habitable Planet, unit 5, “Human Population Dynamics.”

More resources from our collection that can be used to support global awareness in your lessons:

Art Through Time: A Global View

Invitation to World Literature

Bridging World History

The Economics Classroom, workshop 5, “Trading Globally

Economics U$A, unit 27, “International Trade

Human Geography: People, Places, and Change

Social Studies in Action Library, grades K-12

The Power of Place: Geography for the 21st Century

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Resources to Teach Financial Wellness


Students learn basic personal finance in The Economics Classroom, workshop 4.

Learning how to balance a budget and manage credit are both crucial life skills. Prepare your students to handle their finances with the following resources:

The Math in Daily Life interactive, “Savings and Credit,” explains how interest works and how to manage credit card use.

Connect students to meaningful economic experiences using the activities in The Economics Classroom, program 4, “Learning, Earning, and Saving.” Use “The Chessboard of Financial Life” activity to illustrate the power of compound interest. Start at 28:20 in the video and find lesson resources. This program also includes a stock market simulation activity.

Teach students factors that influence consumer behavior, and how consumer behavior affects supply and demand using unit 3 of Economics U$A: 21st Century Edition.

Meet the Women Behind the Women’s Suffrage Movement

WomensSuffrageStampThe 19th Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing all American women the right to vote, was introduced in January of 1878 but took until 1920 to be passed by Congress and ratified. Teach your students about the women at the forefront of the suffrage movement. We have gathered the following resources to help you plan your lessons:

Illinois suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt, who became the president of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association, had it written into her marriage contract that she be allowed a certain number of days each year to campaign for suffrage. Learn more about Chapman Catt and women’s suffrage in A Biography of America, program 19, “A Vital Progressivism.” Start at 21:41 in the video.

Place yourself in 1851 at the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio when you read Frances Gage’s account of a speech given by Sojourner Truth, abolitionist and women’s rights activist. Go to America’s History in the Making, resource archive to read the speech.

Examine why it was so difficult to amend the Constitution to allow women the right to vote. Democracy in America, program 2, “The Constitution: Fixed or Flexible?,” discusses efforts of suffragists such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Start at 16:50 in the video.

Read Abigail Adams’s “Remember the Ladies” correspondence (1776) to her husband John Adams while he served in the Continental Congress. See America’s History in the Making, Resource Archive.

Search the archive of American Passages using the term “women’s suffrage” to find photos of the movement’s leaders and political cartoons from the era.

The Historical and Cultural Contexts interactive includes a historic news article, “Suffrage Wins in Senate; Now Goes to States.” Students become detectives as they work their way through questions about the primary source document.

Find additional related resources, including primary sources, on the Women’s Suffrage Movement Artifacts Pinterest board curated by Newseum Education and Annenberg Learner and on the National Women’s History Museum’s “African American Women and Suffrage” page.

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Why do Humans Migrate?

humanmigrateWhy don’t humans stay in one area? The following resources look at the causes of both early and more recent human migrations related to climate, economics, and cultural and political conflict.

Let’s start from the beginning with Bridging World History, unit 3, “Human Migrations.”  What do archeological and linguistic studies tell us about how early humans moved across Africa, Eurasia, and the Americas?

See this animation that explains Human Migration Hypotheses in Rediscovering Biology, unit 9, “Human Evolution.”

Teaching Geography looks at population growth and how cooperation and conflict influence movement across the Earth.  For example, workshop 5, “Sub-Saharan Africa,” features case studies on human migration in Kenya and South Africa.  Workshop, 2, “Latin America,” looks at how both cultural conflict and physical geography influence migrations across Guatemala, Mexico, and Ecuador.

The Power of Place includes several programs on human migration throughout the world. Unit 1, “Introduction: Globalization and World Regions,” Boundaries and Borderlands asks you to consider how the physical location of border towns, economic development, and U.S. border policy help shape human migration between the U.S. and its neighbor Mexico. Unit 10, “North America,” Cityscapes, Suburban Sprawl examines why Boston is full of different ethnicities and how the middle class flight from inner city to suburbia has affected farmland around Chicago.

The full list of regions covered in The Power of Place can be found on the website homepage.

Share other resources and activities you use to teach about human migration in the comments below.