4 Tech Tricks to Teach in English Class

What if we told you that a few careful clicks could help students turn in higher-quality work, and therefore save YOU some precious grading time? 

The following technology hacks are short, doable skills that any English teacher can (or, perhaps, should?) teach. Even if you don’t have a strong background in technology, these are skills that students might not get elsewhere and definitely enhance outcomes in an ELA course. They’re a win-win!

Writing with me today is Shana, a tech guru (and my Google Educator inspiration) who blogs at Hello, Teacher Lady.

1. Use CTRL+F to find word choice & grammar errors

Sara: I’m obsessed with using this shortcut to find punctuation mistakes, such as searching for commas and then making sure the comma didn’t create a comma splice. I’ve also had students search for the words “I” and “you” during formal writing to avoid using personal pronouns!

I typed up an Epic Editing Checklist that includes a lot of specific CTRL+F search tips for my student writers when I see them this fall, and I can’t wait to see how it transforms their revision process. 

Shana: I love showing my students how to use CTRL + F to find and replace “dead words” in their writing. We use that term to identify unnecessary and/or generic words like “very” and “got” — words that make our writing less effective and should be eliminated or replaced. It can be difficult for students to break the habit of using these words in formal writing, so luckily there’s CTRL + F to the rescue. At the beginning of the year, I share a master list of dead words with students in Google Classroom so they’re able to reference it throughout the year. As an added techie bonus, I also show them how to split their screen (simply drag the application window to the far side of the screen and it’ll snap into place), so they can view the dead words list and their writing side by side.

It’s also worth noting that students can use this feature in Google Docs on a mobile device as well. Instead of clicking CTRL + F (because the CTRL key doesn’t exist outside of actual computer keyboards), press the three dots in the top right corner of the Google Docs app, then select “Find and replace.”

2. Teach *better* Google Search strategies

Sara: One of my biggest takeaways from the Google Level 1 training was all the search modifiers and shortcuts to get more accurate search results faster… and I guarantee my kids don’t know these already. I’m adding these to my to-do list when we teach research and finding credible sources. 

Shana: My favorite Google search trick involves Google Images. Tired of students endlessly scanning and scrolling the image search results page when looking for a specific image? Simply have them click “Tools” underneath the images search bar to reveal a variety of useful filters, such as size, color, type, date and usage rights. Not only can filtering image results save students time, but it can also help ensure the images they use are available for public use. 

3. Make Videos and/or Narration

Sara: I use the flipped classroom to teach grammar, so students are accustomed to my videos, but I love asking THEM to create that content (when possible). Even if you can’t use advanced video editing software, it’s valid for students to learn how to use Screencastomatic (or something similar) to record their voiceovers with Google Slides. For example, in the past, I’ve had students create their own instructional grammar videos that were often comical. Click here to learn more about that project. 

Shana: I love to use Google Chrome extensions like Screencastify and Nimbus to record my screen while demonstrating a particular task. For example, I created a screencast showing students how to format their essay in MLA in hopes of cutting down on questions like, “Wait, how do I insert a page number again?” and “Does this HAVE to be double-spaced?” This is another resource I always share with students at the beginning of the year so they’re able to pull it up in Google Drive whenever necessary. And because it’s a video, they can watch it as many times as they need.

On the flipside, I LOVE when students create their own videos as well. I’m constantly looking for ways to incorporate more video publishing opportunities in my middle school classroom, and tools like Adobe Spark allow students to create professional-looking videos in a matter of minutes. Click here to read more about our adventures with Adobe Spark in the classroom.

4. Design MODERN Slideshows

Sara: Have you noticed that TED talk slides have minimal text and heavy use of images? They’re the total opposite of old school “death by PowerPoint” presentations (which promote reading-off-the-screen too much, anyway). I’ve started emphasizing a more modern design approach to students when they’re doing presentations and limiting how much text they’re allowed to use per slide, especially when we do our Mock TED unit.

(Side note: I’m also gradually teaching students how to use clickers to advance their slides and become comfortable moving around the room instead of being “chained down” to the laptop they’re presenting with.)

Shana: Another great way to help students enhance their presentation design is through the use of templates — but not just any ol’ template will do. Sites like SlidesCarnival offer a variety of free, eye-catching templates to help students organize their slides in a more professional-looking way. Students will also notice these templates generally place a stronger emphasis on images and icons, which can help them ditch that pesky habit of overloading slides with (gasp!) paragraphs of text.

What other tricks should we teach?
Tell us in the comments!

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