This year, my 7th graders created Tagxedos as an “about me” first week of school activity. I like to have student work displayed at open house in September, so my 6th graders will have concrete poems to show off and my 7th graders can show their Tagxedos.

Tagxedo.com is similar to Wordle.com in that it creates a shape out of words. In Tagxedo, you can create many different shapes or even custom shapes. In Wordle, last I tried it, you could only create clouds. The cool thing that many people don’t know about Tagxedo and Wordle is that the more times a word is repeated, the larger the word appears. This makes it a cool trick to help discover themes in speeches, text, etc.

Start off by choosing the text for your Tagxedo. You can either create a list of words (or a sentences) yourself, copy and paste text, or use a website. Go to Tagxedo.com and click “load” to enter the text. For this example, I copied & pasted the text of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Here’s the default Tagxedo shape created with the text of MLK’s speech. Remember, the larger a word is, the more it was repeated in the speech. Pretty cool, huh?

Next, choose the shape. You can select one of their shapes or upload their own. The uploaded shapes work best if they are simple black and white images (not photographs). I couldn’t find a MLK photo that worked so I made the word “DREAM” into an image and uploaded that.

Then you can choose your color theme. The border of the theme is the background color. I made my students choose themes with white backgrounds to conserve printer ink. You can also create custom themes.

You are able to customize the fonts used and the layout. One of the interesting options in the Word/Layout options is seeing how many times each word is repeated. You can even remove words.

Once you’ve modified your Tagxedo to your liking, go to “save/share”. You can save as a JPG, PNG, or print. You can also create a URL.

Since I wanted my students’ Tagxedos to be about them, I had them start by creating a list of 25 words about themselves. Then I had them repeat the words that were the most important to them between two and five or six times. This makes the words they want to stand out larger and the less important words smaller. Then, they chose a shape. Most just chose a default shape, but a few got fancy and uploaded one. Here are some of their examples:

And here’s the one I made as an exmaple:

I made a video for my students to demonstrate how to make a Tagxedo and how to save it then upload it to their Google drive.
Tagxedo How-To Video

It was a fun and easy project and a cool way to decorate the room.

Have you tried a Tagxedo? I’d love to hear all about it!

Persuasive Techniques in Advertising Lesson

This past week was Illinois State Achievement Test (ISAT) week. There is no ISAT test for English, so I did not have to administer a test. Because the testing sessions in reading and math are longer than our normal class periods, we run a goofy schedule for the three days of those tests. During testing week, I try to do something ungraded and fun. I don’t have all of my students, and I don’t have them in their regular groupings. I also feel like they need a break from the vigor of testing. One year, we watched a movie and then they wrote an essay about it after testing was over, but I think what the kids really need during ISAT week, in their non-testing classes, is to be able to relax and socialize a bit.

This year, with my 7th graders, I did a persuasive techniques in advertising lesson. It is loosely based on this ReadWriteThink lesson: Persuasive Techniques in Advertising Lesson Plan. I am not going to outline the lesson in detail, but you can get an idea of what I do by looking at the Google presentation I use to teach it: Google Persuasive Techniques Presentation

Basically, we go over demographics and advertising techniques. Then, we watch a few commercials together on YouTube and discuss the demographic they were geared towards and the technique used. In groups, I have the students do the “Commercial Dig” worksheet (my modification here: Worksheet). They have to find six commercials on YouTube and analyze them.

Then, they choose one to share with the class. Before presenting, they explain the product, the demographic the ad targets, and the persuasive techniques used. After we all watch the video, we discuss if there are additional techniques used that the group didn’t mention. Some years, if I have time, I’ll have the kids create a commercial of their own with a group. This year, we didn’t have enough time so we left that part off.

The kids love looking at commercials on YouTube. They get really excited about showing theirs to the class. If we have extra time, they beg to show another. Obviously some teacher supervision is required here. I had to veto a few commercials, such as the Kmart “Ship My Pants” and a couple of alcohol ones. However, for the most part, the kids understand the boundaries of classroom appropriateness and find some great commercials.

Since I don’t watch much T.V., most of the commercials they showed were new to me. Here are some of my favorites that we watched:

Toyota Persian Cat Commercial (spoiler: the cat lives)

Doritos “Time Machine”

Evian “Roller Babies”

Doritos “Don’t Touch My Mama”

Radio Shack “In with the New”

We all have so much fun with this lesson, which is just what we need in the midst of testing! What is your favorite commercial? Link it in the comments! I love watching good commercials.

Collaborative Work with Google Docs

I’ve mentioned before that I often have my students work in groups when we do writing. They learn from each other, help each other, and resist writing less. Another benefit is it’s less grading and/or critiquing for me! My “old way” was to have the students write their final product on a transparency. We’d project it and discuss it as a class. Then, the 1980’s called and wanted their technology back.

Enter Google docs! It has taken some trial and error, but I’ve made some big improvements in using collaborative docs for outlines and essays.

First, let me explain the activity I was doing here. A big skill in Common Core writing is pulling facts from multiple sources and combining those facts to write an essay. It is hard for kids to find relevant facts, but it’s even harder for them to look at that big overwhelming list of facts and then organize them into paragraphs with a main idea. Before doing this assignment, we’d already practiced this skill once as a whole class and once in groups. What they had to do was read two articles from Scope magazine. Every month, Scope has paired texts, which are two different types of texts on the same topic. For the PARCC test, they will need to read 3-4 texts, and the texts will be much more complex (Scope is high-interest, low level), but this is a good activity to practice the skill. If I tried to practice this skill with difficult and/or not interesting texts, I’d lose them. With their groups, they had to take notes on both sources, decide how to sort the facts into paragraphs, and then create an outline. After I checked their outline, they were ready to type the essay. The essay itself actually doesn’t take that long because each group member only has to write 1-2 paragraphs.

Here are some problems I faced and how I solve them (most problems are not specific to computer work but group work in general):

Problem #1: Unequal distribution of work – Isn’t this the most common complaint of working in a group, both of teachers and students? (who are we kidding…it’s a common complaint in the professional world, too). With Google docs,  I can easily see who did what using the “revision history” feature. Each group member is assigned a color, which is listed next to their name in the revision history box. I can see who typed which cell. At this point, this group was taking notes on the articles. They gray cells were already filled in at the point of this revision; the colors are the changes made.

Once their facts were finished, they figured out what their paragraphs would be about and they were using Roman numerals to label their facts. The “pink” student was not helping here. By the way, I made this basic spreadsheet for them with the outline on it and they had to make a copy of it for their group.

Now, they are working on their outline. “Pink” is back in action.

Problem #2: Off-topic chatting. When we are working on a document, I have my students all have their own computer even if they sit together. This helps them all stay focused. For some projects, they never sit by their partner(s). For this particular assignment, they sat together the first day. The following days, they stayed in their own seats and used the chat feature to communicate. When you have more than one person in a document, a little “chat” icon shows up in the top-right. Here I am, chatting with myself between my school account and my personal account.

Of course, these chats need to be monitored. This is how I do it: one member of the group creates the document and shares it with the rest of the group AND ME. I save the link to each group’s document on a spreadsheet:

During class, I open all of the groups’ documents on my computer and leave them open. I don’t watch them much during class–I typically walk around. I do look over their shoulders at their chats somewhat, especially if I see too much text in the chat window and not enough on the document. When class is over, I scroll through each group’s chat to make sure it was polite and related to the assignment. On Tuesday and Wednesday this week, I was at a conference in Springfield. While at the conference, I opened all of their documents and watched their chats from three hours away. Teaching from afar!

Have you ever done collaborative work on a Google doc? Do you think you’d like doing a group project this way?