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144: 3 Flexible ELA Units for an Omicron Winter

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I’m hearing from so many folks that their school is going online for a while, or it might be about to go online, or they need to go online but they don’t know if they will (and a whole lot of kids are out for quarantine).

This omicron wave is affecting everything, but this time we’ve got a lot more experience for how to handle remote learning.

Today on the podcast, I want to offer you ideas for flexible units you can plan for right now, and use whether your students are all in class, all at home, or a mix of both. That way you’re not waiting, wondering, and planning at the last second (which is too stressful!).

We’ll be exploring digital poetry, making tiny podcasts (don’t worry, I’ll explain what I mean), and adapting the genius hour format for this moment. By the end of the show, you should have lots of engaging, creative ways to guide your students through this omicron winter.

You can listen in to today’s episode below, or on the player of your choice. Or, read on for the full blog post.

I suggest you lay out your digital units as hyperdocs, with links that go to your videos and activities. Then, if your students are in class, you can simply follow the plan you’ve already laid out for yourself. And if they’re at home, you can grant them access to your hyperdoc and have them move through the same activities you were going to do in class. And if it’s a mix of both, you can send out the hyperdoc to kids at home, and move your in-class learners through the same steps.

Digital Poetry Unit

So many engaging poetry activities lend themselves well to a digital spin. You could easily fill a surprise remote learning week with a wonderful digital poetry unit that stands alone, then return to your regular schedule when students come back to school.

Why not anchor your week with strong performance pieces (click here for a slideshow of five wonderful clips). Performance poetry is a helpful way to get your students connecting with poetry, as it so often brings up themes and imagery that they can really relate to.

Next, try a digital poetry tiles project. Students simply move the tiles around on a Google slide background, just as they might on a refrigerator, and surprise themselves with their creativity. You can sign up for a free gratitude poetry kit below, or find all my digital poetry kits right here on TPT.

For another great poetry workshop, try book spine poetry. I was inspired by Jane Mount’s beautiful book spine artwork to create this poetry activity. Students simply drag the books into the margin of the slide to create a poem that reads on the spines moving downward, then delete all the other book images and move their poem into the middle. Click here to make your copy of the activity.

Of course, I’ve got to mention “I am from” poems, one of my favorite activities for any poetry unit. If you’re not familiar with this poetry workshop option, check out this post with tons of ideas for how to use it. You can easily have students create a Google slide with their final poem, adding graphic design elements or photos along the margins.

I bet you’re already thinking of more activities for a digital poetry week. You could include a day focusing on Amanda Gorman’s new poem, “New Day’s Lyric,” do a blackout poetry workshop, or incorporate any of your favorite canonical poets with these modern voices.

Tiny Podcast Project

Have you been wanting to try podcasting with your students, but never quite have the time? Or maybe you’re worried about the tech? Make it simple and try a tiny podcast project for one week. Start by having students check Gretchen Rubin’s episode series, “A Little Happier.” Click here for six curated shows you can let students choose from, or play over the course of the week.

Next, invite students to create tiny podcasts of their own, just one to two minutes. Your goal here is to introduce the podcast format, get them (and yourself0 comfortable with the most basic tech options, and have a fun, engaging week in the midst of a difficult time.

You can give them a topic, or let them choose anything of interest. Here are a few show ideas that could be fun:

#1 Best book to read when you’re home during a pandemic

#2 Greatest way to spend a day at home

#3 One life lesson they’ve learned so far

#4 One way to give someone a pleasant surprise during a pandemic

I can feel you worrying about the tech, but don’t! There’s a free online recorder called Vocaroo, in Chrome. Students just click the record button, record, and then download their sound file. It seriously couldn’t be easier.

Next up, you can have them create a cover for their podcast, which is a really fun part of the process. They can use the free podcast cover design tool in Canva if you have previously used that platform with them, or they can just create a square Google slide and design right there.

Finally, I suggest you create a collaborative Google slideshow where each student can place their cover, then make it link to their podcast. Here’s how:

Start by creating a slideshow and giving all your students access. You can label each slide with a student name if you think it will make it smoother, or just ask students to choose a blank page to put their cover on.

Ask students to upload their sound file to their Google drive, and set the permissions to public, so that when they link it from the collaborative slideshow, other students can listen.

Finally, each student can put their cover on a page of the slideshow, and link it to their now public sound file. From here, you can invite students to choose several to listen to and comment on, have small breakout groups listen to their episodes together and talk about their process, or even play through them all in an online class meeting.

If you’d like to have the full curriculum for this created for you, you can find it here on TPT.

Mini Genius Hour Project

Last but not least, a week at home is a great time for a short-and-sweet genius hour project. Are you familiar with genius hour? It’s basically a chance for students to dive into something of great interest, explore it, and document it. The ELA portion comes in with the documentation, and normally you can have students document however you wish (blog, podcast, Instagram, video, journal, etc.). However, to keep things short and easy for a mini project, I’d suggest you do an Instagram-style journal. Every day have kids add a photo and a well-written one paragraph caption to document their progress.

For a short genius hour project, I’d suggest you ask students to pick one small goal – something they’ve always wanted to do. Maybe it’s learn the guitar chords. Or bake the perfect chocolate chip cookie. Or learn basic yoga or how to meditate. Each day, start class with a short check-in, then invite them to spend the middle of class working toward their goal. But they should save ten minutes at the end to share their progress with the short one photo / one paragraph check-in in an ongoing doc. When you return to school, spend the first day hearing about everyone’s genius hour project.

You can learn waaaay more about genius hour in this post, “The Ultimate Guide to Genius Hour in ELA.”

Alright, there are a few options to consider, and I bet you’re already thinking of more engaging, similar units. I’m rooting for you in this stressful time, and sending so many good wishes your way.

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I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!







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