Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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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

What Immigration Stories Teach Us

LOH_PAPER SON_lowI love immigration stories. I love reading them. I love teaching them. And, I love writing them.

When I was teaching fourth grade at a school in Southern California, I wanted to teach about Angel Island. Chinese immigrants played an important part of our nation’s history, especially California’s history. Yet, there was a dearth of children’s stories about Chinese-Americans being detained at Angel Island. My fourth graders had no idea that Chinese immigrants were unfairly victimized by the Chinese Exclusion Act; they didn’t know that Chinese laborers suffered from overt racism and discrimination. They also didn’t know that Chinese immigrants built cities, railroads, and industries. As such, I was inspired to co-write Paper Son: Lee’s Journey to AmericaI’m proud to mention that it has been nominated for a California Young Reader Medal Award. It’s an immigration story about a boy who has to endure the interrogations and long detentions at Angel Island.

Considering the upcoming U.S. presidential election and the refugee crisis, immigration issues seem to be at the forefront. We have not always treated immigrants well. Immigration stories and teaching about immigration allow teachers and students to view immigrants and refugees from a more humanistic viewpoint. (Read “Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy” in Scientific American to learn how reading fiction improves our ability to understand others.) In April 2016, I attended the National EdTPA Conference in Savannah, Georgia. I had the pleasure of listening to Dr. Pedro Noguera speak. He noted that immigrant kids keep our communities functioning. He said, “We always gain from immigration. History shows immigration has always been good for America.”

To help students understand the complexities and nuances of immigration, teachers need to recognize that immigrant stories are rich and powerful. Immigrant stories need to be analyzed and studied, not just read. In The Expanding Canon, session 4, learn how to apply inquiry-based instruction, which can be employed with immigrant stories to help students dig deeper. For example, find lesson plans featuring Tomas Rivera’s And The Earth Did Not Devour Him and Esmeralda Santiago’s When I Was Puerto Rican. In the plan, students were asked to interview Mexican immigrants, conduct research, engage in dramatic readings, and write their own memoirs. One of the questions that students were asked to think about is: How did the U.S. government feel about immigrants? This question forces students to consider historical, social, and political contexts of immigration.

In Teaching Multicultural Literature, workshop 7, “Social Justice and Action,” students are asked to examine Alma Flor Ada’s My Name is Maria Isabel, Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Esperanza Rising, and Paul Yee’s Tales from Gold Mountain. Students are positioned to be agents of change and are charged with writing persuasive letters to raise public awareness.

Look for additional works to support Paper Son in Teaching Multicultural Literature, which features several Asian-American immigration stories and explores historical and contemporary immigration issues. The workshop has students reading An Na’s A Step From Heaven about a Korean immigrant, Laurence Yep’s Dragon’s Gate about a Chinese immigrant, Pegi Deitz Shea’s Tangled Threads: A Hmong Girl’s Story about a Hmong immigrant, and more.

So, why are immigration stories important? Because we all benefit from immigration, we’re all affected by immigration, and we can all learn from immigration.

Teaching Multicultural Literature: Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month 

AmPassMaxineHongKingstonDuring Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, explore Annenberg Learner resources to discover the rich history, cultures, and personal stories of Americans of Asian and Pacific Island heritage.

Students come to understand the plight of Japanese-Americans in World War II as they read poetry by Lawson Fusao Inada in the The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High School, “Critical Pedagogy: Abiodun Oyewole and Lawson Fusao Inada.”

New York City students explore “dual identity” by reading the literary works of authors Gish Jen, Tina Yun Lee, and Lensey Namioka. As students discuss the works, you’ll see effective teaching strategies, including peer facilitation circles, in action. See “Engagement and Dialogue” of Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades.

Maxine Hong Kingston, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, writes stories that explore balancing cultural values with the expectations of American society. Read about her life and works in American Passages, “Search for Identity.”

Share additional resources in the comments.

Develop Your Students’ Love For Reading

ELL BOSTON4May is Get Caught Reading Month.  Looking for inspiration for readers young and older? The following Annenberg Learner resources will get you started.

Observe 5th-grade teacher Bileni Teklu teach her students to make connections between what they read and their own experiences. The young readers then discuss what they enjoy about reading. Build a strong community of engaged readers using the classroom examples and ideas in Engaging With Literature, A Video Library, Grades 3-5.

Why do you read? Conversations in Literature, for middle school and high school teachers, will inspire you to revisit your passion for literature. Inspire the same love in your students by helping them identify their own effective reading habits. For example, readers “step in” to a text by sizing up the characters and the atmosphere the same way they would in a social situation. See program 3, “Stepping In.”

Glimpse the appeal and power of great literature as celebrities, academics, and people who just love to read talk about their fascination with The Epic of GilgameshPopol VuhOne Hundred Years of Solitude, and more in Invitation to World Literature.

Watch authors Katherine Paterson, Leslie Marmon Silko, and J.K. Rowling discuss literary works that inspired their own writing in the Author Notes, Part III of In Search of the Novel. Scroll to the bottom of this page and click on the VoD.

More resources for Get Caught Reading Month:

Making Meaning in Literature, Grades 6-8 Library

Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades

The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High School

American Passages: A Literary Survey

Literary Visions

Latino Books Month: Celebrate Great Authors With Students


Bobbi Ciriza Houtchens uses a cultural studies approach to help students understand Graciela Limón’s novel Erased Faces about the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico (from The Expanding Canon).

Celebrate the perspectives and writing of great Latino authors with your students during the month of May using the following resources:

Americo Paredes collected “corridos,” songs that narrate the struggles of Mexican heroes against Anglo oppression, and wrote the novel, George Washington Gomez, about a Chicano growing up in the borderlands.  Gloria Anzaldúa’s stories challenge traditional racial, cultural, and gender boundaries.  Both writers are featured in American Passages, unit 2, “Exploring Borderlands.”

Julia Alvarez’s essay “I Want to Be Miss America,” from Something to Declare, describes her Dominican family’s reaction to the pageant and the cultural and racial issues the pageant raised for them. See Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for Middle Grades, workshop 1, “Engagement and Dialogue.”  In the video, watch teacher Carol O’Donnell’s students discuss the work, then share their own writing about a family cultural practice. See summary #7.

Students read and discuss Graciela Limón’s novel Erased Faces about the Zapatista uprising in Mexico. See this cultural studies approach to interpreting a text in The Expanding Canon, session 5, “Cultural Studies: Ishmael Reed and Graciela Limón.”

“I was a different person in Puerto Rico from the one I became in the United States. Not better, not worse – different,” said writer Esmeralda Santiago. She was born May 17, 1948 in San Juan, Puerto Rico and moved the United States when she was 13 years old. Her memoir When I was Puerto Rican has started a discussion of cultural identity and the immigrant experience among her readers. The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High School, session 4, “Inquiry,” suggests using various approaches to reading the text with students. Find the full lesson plan here.

In A Biography of America, program 26, “The Redemptive Imagination,” Esmeralda Santiago is a voice in the discussion about the power of storytelling in the context of history.

For a short video clip of Santiago discussing her passion for writing and the influence of reading on her life, see the Learner Express: English Language Arts module for Esmeralda Santiago.

More resources for Latino Books Month

Invitation to World Literature, program 11, “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez

American Passages, unit 12, “Migrant Struggle,” includes authors Rudolfo A. Anaya, Alberto Ríos, Tomas Rivera, and Helena María Viramontes.

American Passages, unit 16, “Search for Identity,” includes authors Sandra Cisneros and Judith Ortiz Cofer.

Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for Middle Grades, workshop 7, “Social Justice and Action,” includes authors Alma Flor Ada and Pam Muñoz Ryan.

The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High School, session 1, “Reader Response,” My Own True Name by Pat Mora and session 3, “Inquiry,” Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

National Poetry Month: Grab Your Quills and Start Writing

POETRY123rfIt’s Poetry Month! Grab your quills (or laptops) and start writing. When the Academy of American Poets started National Poetry Month in 1996, one of their goals was to assist teachers in bringing poetry to their classrooms. Find activities and resources on the Poets.org site.

Start laying the foundation for young writers by encouraging them to keep a writer’s notebook. Students learn to record their thoughts about their experiences and choose the formats (including poems) to deliver those thoughts. See Inside Writing Communities, Grades 3-5, workshop 2, “Reasons for Writing.”

Teach students to distinguish between poetry and prose. One way to do this is to have students write in layers of drafts until a poem starts to emerge. Find this 5th-grade lesson plan in Write in the Middle, workshop 3, “Teaching Poetry.”

Use poetry to help students connect personal experiences and feelings to themes they are reading about. In a technique called “copy-change,” students follow the form of a published poem, and insert their own words, ideas, and emotions. View the lesson in this classroom video for Teaching ‘The Children of Willesden Lane.’

In program 12, “A Sense of Place: Setting and Character in Poetry,” of Literary Visions, hear readings and discussions of Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach, and listen to Maxine Kumin discuss capturing New England landscapes in her poetry.

Emily Dickinson used her science training to write poetic observations of nature. Her life and work are discussed in Voices & Visions.

Students can compare how poets use images of a city to describe the human condition. See question 5 in American Passages, Context Activities for unit 10, “Rhythms in Poetry:” How do Eliot’s London, Sandburg’s Chicago, and Hughes’s Harlem all represent particular interpretations of the city and the modern condition?

For additional poetry resources:

The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High School, session 1, “Reader Response: Pat Mora and James Welch

Engaging With Literature: A Video Library, Grades 3-5, program 3, “Starting Out

Image Copyright: pixelsaway / 123RF Stock Photo

Using Poetry to Facilitate Discussions


Poet Nikki Grimes talks with students. Click on this picture to watch the classroom video in Teaching Multicultural Literature.

If you present poetry as if it were castor oil, no one will be interested. Instead, teachers can approach it as something fun, and also explore poetry that connects to the students and their lives (as opposed to choosing poetry that they feel “should” be studied).” – Nikki Grimes, in Teaching Multicultural Literature

Poetry is a type of genre with which many students have a hard time engaging. In fact, it’s also a genre that many teachers struggle to teach, as a result of its complexity and form. I, for one, am one of those teachers. Helping students to decipher lines, tropes, and the meaning of poems, while at the same time keeping the lesson engaging was a struggle for me. Consequently, I was a little worried before the start of a poetry unit that my students would be disengaged from the lesson. As a result, I decided to ask students to bring songs, lyrics, or poems that they enjoyed and that conveyed a special message or meaning to them.

To my great surprise, while many students opted to bring song lyrics, a large number of them shared poems that they liked and that resonated with them. One particular student shared Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman.” As she read it, she started tearing up making for a very emotional read.

I asked her about what made her tear up. She answered me with the following, and I will never forget it:

“We’re always put down by society, men, and sometimes those who love us. It’s why I have this on my mirror, it gives me strength every day to walk into the world as a black woman.”

Maya Angelou’s poem resonated with my student and many students who heard it that day, because it touched on what it means to be a woman of colour in society. The poem challenges traditional notions of beauty constructed by society and elevates the beauty of a woman to which we can all relate.

For this lesson I learned three things.

  1. Never underestimate the interest of students in a certain subject area. It might not be a popular subject or theme or unit, but what students might share may allow us to get to know them and understand them.
  2. Poetry, just like literature, has the power to start an open conversation about issues that students care about and that directly touch students’ lives.
  3. By giving students a choice to bring their own examples, I opened room for discussions about topics that are relevant to them. Our particular conversation taught my students about what feminism means and that everyone, not just women, shares a responsibility in advocating for women’s rights.

Facilitating a conversation by teaching poetry began with sharing selections and samples. To help my students start the conversations, I asked them: Why did you choose the piece? What was so special about it? What resonated with you? From there on it’s crucial to build on that conversation through more questioning, inquiry, analysis, and reflections.

In Teaching Multicultural Literature, workshop 2, “Engagement and Dialogue,” read an interview with writer Nikki Grimes about teaching poetry to students. Also explore methods of teaching poetry to help students engage in the work. Find strategies for helping students to connect with the texts they read, and instructions for how to host an open mic event with students.

The most important thing to remember is to enjoy the experience of teaching poetry and learning with and from students.

Frederick Law Olmsted: Urban Planning as Art

Frederick Law Olmsted / engraved by T. Johnson ; from a photograph by James Notman. LC-USZ62-36895

Frederick Law Olmsted / engraved by T. Johnson ; from a photograph by James Notman. LC-USZ62-36895

In 1857, Frederick Law Olmsted (b.4.26.1822) and Calvert Vaux designed Central Park in New York City as a work of art, a space distinct from the urban life. Learn how this park was deliberately designed and constructed with a sensitivity to nature in Art Through Time, program 10, “The Natural World.”

See the “Lagoon Bird’s-Eye View” photo of Olmsted’s design of the Chicago World’s Fair site in Activity 2: Campaign for World’s Fair 2010 of Primary Sources, workshop 5, “Cans, Coal, and Corporations.” Consider how this city design and the design of Central Park have inspired future urban landscape plans.

Frederick Law Olmsted was also a writer. He wrote about the differences between Northern and Southern societies during the 1850s, and critiqued the slave labor practices of the South vs. the paid labor of the North. Watch the video for A Biography of America, program 9, “Slavery.”

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