Socratic Circles


Want to implement socratic circles this school year to your classroom? Unsure how to implement a socratic circle?

This is a handout designed to make your life easier and encourage students to have rules and expectations with socratic seminars. This handout is very useful when introducing the socratic seminar as a form of discussion in any class. I give this handout to my students when they read an article or a controversial reading as they write their own question for a socratic circle. It works best giving it to them for homework and then they are prepared for a socratic circle the next school day!

What’s included?

There is a general description on what is a socratic seminar, rules for participating, and some guiding questions to help frame your students questions.

How do I find out about and access new materials as they are posted?

Continue to follow me to get the notification emails of new products. Then, simply re-download the files and copy over the new items.


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The Top Ten Ways I Structure my AP Government Course

I recently had someone ask me how I setup my AP Government classroom. I figured I would write a post about it since it was just easier to explain. This is going to be my 7th year of teaching (wow how fast time flies) and my 5th year teaching AP Government and Politics. I finally feel comfortable with the content and preparation after my 4th year.


Warning: I make money off of this idea. 


The Top Ten Ways I Structure my AP Government and Politics Course

1. AP Government 1 Page Chapter Summaries: Last year I gave each chapter review page during the structure AP Government review time. This year I am giving these chapter summaries before every test and collecting them and placing them into a student file folder. At the end of April I will be giving the folders back to my students and they will already have the review sheets completed. The 11 chapter summaries are one page handouts that are very simple and graphically appealing, which include the most essencial information in EVERY chapter in AP Government. This would be a great supplement to do for AP review or to include as you learn each unit to make a study guide for the AP exam in May.


2. Free Response Essay Packet:  This is a 12 page document of all the AP Government and Politics Free Response Questions (FRQ’s) from the past 14 years. The document contains all FRQ’s from 1999-2013. FRQ’s are subdivided in unit and historical order. This is a VERY useful tool to have for an AP Government student. I plan on reviewing previous FRQ’s with my students before each unit test and during the structured AP review time.


3. How to Write a Free Response Essay Handout:  This is a handout on how to write a Free Response Essay on the AP Government exam. It has helpful tips and suggestions to write the essay.


4. AP Government Vocabulary List: This is a list of over 300 vocabulary words that are essential when learning AP Government and Politics. The vocabulary words are organized by unit (9 units total). The vocabulary words and definition are organized in alphabetical order. I give this packet out at the beginning of the year to help my students study and learn the material. We also play bingo before every unit test. My students fill in the words for the chapter to the blank bingo card and I read the definitions from the vocabulary list.


5. Socratic Seminar Handout: This is a handout to encourage students to have rules and expectations with socratic seminars. This handout is very useful when introducing the socratic seminar as a form of discussion in any class. I usually assign a controversial article related to AP Government and students must generate three socratic style questions for homework. My students then come to class ready to discuss the article through the socratic method.


6. Government Chapter Reading Questions: This is a list of 3-5 essential critical reading questions for each unit of government. This handout can be modified for any book or government course since the content is the same. I usually give this handout out at the beginning of the year and have my students read the chapter and respond to the questions in an extended response format.


7. Student Self-Evaluation for Classroom Participation: This is a student self-evaluation on their own level of classroom participation. I joke with my student’s that I have the final VETO say in their grade for participate but I do let them self-reflect and evaluate their own behavior.


8. Debate Assignment:  This is a debate assignment for six separate government debates. The debate structure, rubric, audience rubric, audience evaluation guide, and guidelines are included. My class does these debates in two teams of two for each topic. The rest of the class is the audience. These debates were specifically planned for one debate for each unit.

Debate topics:

1. Voting should be compulsory in our democracy
2. The American two-party system is so strong that voting for third party candidates cannot effectively influence public policy.
3. There should be term limits for members of Congress.
4. Direct popular vote should replace the Electoral College.
5. Americans would be safer without a constitutional right to carry a weapon.
6. Affirmative action programs are necessary to safeguard the opportunities of underrepresented minorities.


9. Participation in Government: Ever wish your students were more involved in politics in the community. This assignment requires them to attend one political event out of a list of events in the community. They also need to write a paper response with a series of question prompts. There is a grading rubric provided as well as sample community event options to participate with.


10. Current Event Blog Post:  This is the detailed assignment, rubric, and schedule for the current event blog post assignment. Students are assigned one week each marking period to write one current event blog post and give an in class presentation. Students must include a summary, analysis, visual, and MLA citation, and connection to the course.


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Save Time Grading with GradeCam!

Grading is one of my least favorite jobs as being a teacher. If done correctly it can take hours to grade, item analysis, and be reflective on the assessment. Grading this past semester was a breeze because of GradeCam. Last week I was very excited to meet one of the co-creators of GradeCam at ISTE in San Diego, CA.

GradeCam is a WONDERFUL program that saves teachers valuable time and district resources when grading tests, projects, and essays. Students take their test, quiz, essay, or homework assignment using the specially designed GradeCam format. When grading all you have to do is hold the answer sheet up to either a webcam, document camera, or scanner. The data is uploaded, automatically graded, and can easily be imported into your gradebook.


GradeCam was developed by teachers, with the idea to minimize grading time, easily managing student performance/assessment, offering students instant feedback, and correlated to state/national standards. Students and teachers can get instant reports to monitor student progress such as item or class analysis. It is affordable, easy-to-use, and after it grades every assignment, it puts the results into your gradebook. Forms can even be copied on plain paper. GradeCam blows Scantron out of the water!

Ways you can use GradeCam in the classroom: 

  • The past spring I even had my students scan their own tests. They enjoyed the instant feedback during the same class period! I even had them go back and look at their incorrect answers. One of my students said, ” GradeCam makes grading much easier for the teacher and we get our results quickly.” Another student said, “I liked it because it showed you what you got right away so I know how my grade will be effected as soon as I’m done the test.” 
  • You can easily transfer scores from GradeCam to your electronic grade-book.
  • You can even  generate standards-based reports in order to monitor student progress.
  • You can share assessments with other teachers/administrators and even run item analysis results by question, student, or class.
  • You can even use GradeCam with essays, classroom assignments, homework, behavior analysis, etc. Just attach a GradeCam form to any assignment and then enjoy freetime without the stress of grading.

Check it out today! It will change the way you give tests and monitor student assessment.

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Student’s Guide to Technology in My Classroom

These are tools I have my students download to make their academic life easier.  I thought I would pass them along to my readers.

  1. My Big Campus- Online learning environment where teachers can initiate class discussions and set up online learning activities for students. It is a secure social network designed specifically for educational purposes. All activity is carefully monitored at all times. Everything that is posted/created/uploaded is recorded and can be seen and printed at any time by system administrators and teachers. I make a point of going over the reports several times a week. Download the App and bookmark the website:
  1. Socrative Student– Socrative is a smart student response system (like clickers) that makes class more engaging and interactive bookmark or install the “student app” via smartphones, laptops, and tablets. Download the App:  Room #: 5638
  2. Evernote– is an easy-to-use, free application or website that helps you remember everything across all of the devices you use. Evernote lets you take notes, capture photos, create to-do lists, record voice reminders. Download the App and bookmark the website:
  3. QR Code or Bar Code Reader– Many devices already have this, but please make sure you have it on any mobile device that has a webcam: that includes tablets or mobile devices. Download the App: Go into the itunes store or google play and search “qr code reader”.
  4. EasyBib– It is a literacy platform that provides citation, note taking, and research tools. Download App and bookmark website:
  1. A Gmail email account – it would be a good idea to create an email account, if you don’t have one already. I recommend Google, simply for the use of other applications, like GoogleDocs, Google Sites, Google Drive, etc.  IMPORTANT:  you will want to create a professional email address, so that it can be listed on job and/or college applications.  Here are some tips:


  1. My Homework-Application or Website where you can manage everything about their school life. From classes and homework to before and after school activities, and so much more. Think of it as a planner on your phone. Download the App and bookmark the website: 
  2. SoundGecko– Takes an Internet website and makes it a PDF. You can listen to anything on the web while you go to the gym, travel to an away game, and so much more. Imagine “reading” an article for class through your headphones. Bookmark the website:
  3. Quizlet- It is a free website providing learning tools for students, including flashcards, study and game modules. Bookmark the Website:
  4. Dropbox: Is a free service that lets you bring your photos, document, and videos anywhere and share them easily. Free File Storage on the “cloud.” Never email yourself a file or lose a flash drive again! Website:
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5 Ways for Teachers to Make Learning More Interactive

One of the biggest challenges that many teachers face is trying to get students to participate, and it’s a problem that seems to grow as students get older and become more concerned about the judgment of their peers. Of course, there will always be a select few students that raise their hands for every question and delight in answering correctly. But the goal within any classroom setting is to ensure that all of the kids are engaged and that each one is receiving a solid Attentive-Classeducation. This is no easy feat these days, especially with limited resources and growing class sizes. But when teachers can find ways to make lessons interactive, then students have no choice but to play their role, enhancing the educational experience not only for themselves, but for the entire class. So here are just a few ideas that should help to get every student involved in the learning process.

  1. Cut back on lectures. Whenever you lecture a class full of students and allow them to sit by passively, taking notes, you are doing them a disservice. Although there are certainly occasions where you have to deliver a passel of data, consider how much of what you’re telling them may be garnered from reading or online research that you could give as homework. This should help you to temper your rote data dumps in the classroom setting and instead focus on interactive lessons designed to see if the kids are actually doing their reading assignments. Only by talking with them, instead of at them, can you figure out what they’re actually taking in.
  2. Test understanding rather than memorization. Nearly every child can memorize and regurgitate facts on command. This is the basic tenet of standardized testing. But as an involved educator you want to make sure that the kids in your classroom are learning not only how to absorb information, but how to put it to good use. In other words, you’re training them to think for themselves. So when you quiz your students in class, try to come up with questions that force them to think about what they have learned, approach it from different angles, and come up with a unique response. The brain is a muscle and we have to use it in order to make it strong.
  3. Put students in groups. If you question students one at a time you’re forcing the rest of the class to remain idle in the meantime. By creating small groups you can pose questions or problems for the entire class and allow the groups to discuss and answer them as a unit. This not only allows each student to interact with every question, but it also lets the students learn from and teach each other, potentially helping to solidify their own understanding of the materials covered.
  4. Electronic response system. Technology has allowed for a slew of new ways to make the classroom interactive, and one method that many teachers favor is the electronic response system. It’s a quick way to take a “vote” from the class and see how students are stacking up. For example, you can ask a question, offer three possible responses, and immediately see the percentage of students who got it right, helping you to determine where you should focus your teaching efforts. You might also use this gadget as a way to engineer lively debates on topics covered in class by taking polls of student opinions on a subject.
  5. Unorthodox seating. The way a classroom is laid out can definitely have an impact on the level of interactivity. For example, in a class that requires a lot of discussion, you might consider forming the desks into a large circle so that all of the students can see whoever is speaking. This face-to-face configuration encourages interaction and turns a discussion between teacher and students into an interactive experience that includes the entire class. Of course, there are certain settings where this strategy won’t work, like in a lecture hall with immovable seating or a program for a master of science in accounting online. But the creative teacher can find ways to make any setting more interactive.


Guest Post: Leon Harris is a freelance writer and editor based in sunny Southern California. In his spare time, Harris enjoys living a healthy lifestyle and exercising with his two Golden Retrievers. 


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Google Lesson Plans

Yesterday I learned about Google Lesson Plans from @KaelynBullock from the #engsschat discussion. Students’ need to be taught research skills and how to deal with the world’s content using the “Google a Day” challenge. Google A Day challenges help your students’ put their search skills to the test, and to get your classroom engaged using technology, to discover the world around them, and to become critical thinkers and learners.

Students’ need to be taught how to effectively use web-search tools and critically evaluate sources. Google has created lesson plans to help teachers educate their students about critical source evaluation.The literacy lessons help teachers meet the new Common Core State Standards and are broken down based on level of expertise in search: Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced.

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Future me: Send an email in the future

My very first teaching position was at a challenging district. Some of my kids in my first period/homeroom class were looking to graduate and some were hoping to get out of high school alive. It was a very interesting year and I learned so much from my first class. The very last day of school I had them write a letter to themselves in the future. These letters are collecting dust in a storage bin at the bottom of my bed in my parents house. I will mail them in the next month or so. I hope they achieved their goals and I hope the letters give them a chance to reflect on their childhood dreams. 

I discovered an interesting website called Future Me from the Kevin Hodgeson’s Blog Instructify. You provide the email address, add a subject line, write a note to your future self, and then choose when it should get delivered. You may designate your emails private or public, and there is a gallery of interesting public emails.

A great time to use FutureMe would be at the  end of the school year to write a letter to yourself when you are a senior in high school or about the graduate college. It may start some interesting discussions about the future!

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Socrative for Review and Sub Plans!

I NEVER in my wildest dreams would assume my student’s would actually be able to play a “review game” on their mobile devices with a substitute. I have a dream US history class period 1, which means they are still tired. The classroom culture is such that they do their work, every one of them contribute to the class, and meaningful learning happens. It is one of my favorite classes. I am not sure I could leave a review game for some of my other periods, but with that being said you have to know your students and ideally have a good substitute!


I use Socrative for review games all the time. I also love Infuse Learning. I use both programs (free) interchangeably because they have different features. On Monday morning I had a review day scheduled before their test on Tuesday. I attended a conference in the city and needed to leave sub plans. My first reaction was “oh no, what can I have the sub do with them? I can’t lose another school day” (we’ve had 2 snow and 4 hurricane days this year, so far). I already had a Socrative review prepared for my students and I figured I would continue with my plans. Being my school is a BYOD my students could partner up or each use any device they owned to play the “game.”

My sub plans said:

  1. Have the students go to their Socrative app or the internet to access the website
  2. Give them this random code ##### to play the game
  3. Have them play the review game alone or with a partner

I preset the questions to have student’s see if they got the questions correct as well as a “why” if they got the question wrong. My student’s did really well and enjoyed the review game. If you want to access other teacher’s review games using the socrative share code- click this link.


After they played the digital review game I had them use white boards in pairs. I gave each pair an envelop of four vocabulary words with the definitions that were going to be on the test. They had to draw their vocabulary word. They then took turns guessing each others word. They played this game for four rounds so they reviewed over 40 vocabulary words in the period.


I graded the tests on Tuesday and my students did fabulous on the assessment! I am so happy I did not lose and day and most of all meaningful learning occurred and reviewed WITHOUT me being there. I hope you can try something like this in your class.

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Use Smartseat to enhance your classroom

I have been using the app Smart Seat  for almost a year now. It is one of the best applications to keep track of student attendance, randomly choose students, and change assigned seating. Smart Seat is an app that provides teachers with so many features such as: changing the classroom layout, taking attendance, choosing student’s for class participation, making notes about students, and learning students names. As a teacher you can move students randomly or you can place students in particular seats. You can also generate a print-out seating chart with photos for your substitute. You can take attendance with the tap of a button using the absent, tardy, or excused feature. Classroom management and organization will never be the same with this app!

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Instill Student Ownership and Accountability with Class Participation

Ever since I have started teaching I have tried to instill student ownership and accountability on every student. Every teacher grades classroom participation a little differently. I take pride in that I am sometimes the exception, my students grade  their OWN classroom participation with a specific rubric I designed. They evaluate and justify “why they deserve that grade?” I always joke with them when I say I have the final veto and override power over their participation grade (I’m a history teacher so they always laugh at that joke).


I find they are more critical of themselves when ranking their participation then I would have been. Sometimes I need to increase or decrease a student’s grade on the rubric if I think their participation is different than how they graded themselves. A wonderful of colleague of mine suggested to have a meeting with any student whose grade is lower than their evaluation. That way they can see how I evaluated and encouraged improvement with their classroom participation.


Another strength of the this method of evaluation is how they justify their grade with the why section of the rubric. That way it gives them a chance to reflect on their behavior, attitude, preparedness, and accountability. 90% of the time they write how they can improve their class participation. Through this method of evaluation my students are reflecting on their behavior but more importantly suggesting ways they can improve themselves. Don’t we want our students to be reflective lifelong learners?

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Part 1: What is Evernote?


Hello, my name is Justin Stallings.  Melissa and I met through our Professional Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter and I recently became a guest blogger on this blog.  Before I go into my posts, I wanted to give a big THANK YOU to Melissa for allowing me to post on her blog.


For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a big fan of Evernote.  I discuss it a lot at my blog and I put together a Evernote Livebinder a few months ago that received a “Top 10 Livebinder of 2012” nomination.

When I started to look at the content I had for Evernote, I realized that there wasn’t much material that was “content specific”.  Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to discuss ways Social Studies teachers can use Evernote, beginning a series titled “Evernote for the Social Studies Teacher”.  Over the next few weeks, I would like to discuss ways in which Social Studies teachers (History, Government, Economics, etc) can utilize this great and free tool.

What is Evernote?

Before we begin to look at how Social Studies teachers can use Evernote, we need to first understand what Evernote is and what you can do with it in general.

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Need better organization?  Need a tool that you can create notes, clip articles, and have access to your uploaded documents from your computer, tablet, or mobile device 24/7?  With Evernote, all of this is now a reality.

Of course, the first thing that you’re thinking of is “How much does it cost?”  This is the best part of Evernote…it’s free!  With that being said, there is a paid version as well.  Here’s what you’ll get with the free version:

  • 100,000 Notes; each note can be a maximum of 25 megabytes (mb) for free users and 50mb for Premium users.
  • 250 Synchronized Notebooks (including Notebook Stacks). All 250 notebooks can be shared. There is no limit to the number of Local Notebooks (which aren’t synced) you can have.
  • 10,000 Tags.
  • 100 Saved Searches
Evernote on all of your devices
After creating a free account at, you’ll want to gear up your devices to use Evernote to it’s full potential.  You can download Evernote onto your PC or Mac for easier access and install the mobile app for your smartphone or tablet.
Evernote Web Clipper
If you do a lot of research on the web, you’ll want to get the Evernote Web Clipper:

The web clipper can be installed on internet browsers Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer.  Once you find a article that you like like, you can “clip” it into your Evernote account for future reference.  The cool thing about this is that it clips the article itself and not just the url of the page.

Evernote Mobile Apps

With technology becoming a integrated part of the classroom, it’s important to have a tool that goes with you, on any device you have.  Evernote provides apps for your IOS devices, Android devices, and Blackberry devices.  With the Evernote app, you can quickly create notes from your mobile device, access web clippings, and everything else you have in your Evernote account.


All this is just a start of what you can do with Evernote.  Next week, we’ll be looking at different ways a History teacher could use Evernote in the classroom.

I recommend to browse around at in the next few days.  The Evernote Trunk provides a exhaustive list of other applications that integrates Evernote with theirs, so Evernote provides a ton more uses.

Of course, if there is anything anyone would like to share, I’m always happy to learn new things myself!

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Teacher Kit can help you stay organized

Often teachers have little time during the school year and any app that can save you time is well worth the money. Fortunatly for you, Teacher Kit is a FREE application. It is a personal organizer to help you organize classes and students. It is very simple to use and it can help you with attendance, grades, and student behavior.


After playing with it a little it seems like it would be a very useful application to use in the classroom. As a teacher you can set up your classroom, seating assignments, grades, and save student information such as their names, emails, parent contact information. Everything is stored in one place! From the app you can even email students or parents with a simple click…. You can take attendance and monitor student behavior.

Not sure if this is creepy… but you can even take a picture of the whole class and the app recognizes faces and asks you to identify them and it can help you build a roster with names and pictures for attendance purposes.


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First Week Lesson Idea: The Danger of a Single Story

The Danger of a Single Story is an interesting first week of school activity that I plan to implement in my classroom. My students will start the lesson by writing three facts, stories, or generations OTHER people see or think about themselves on one side of the post it. We will then watch the TED Video called “Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story.” We will discuss the “single story” stereotypes and what it means in our society.

Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding. ” The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story,” Chimamanda Adichie. Lesson Conclusion: I will then have students write three facts, generations, or stories that most people don’t know about them on the post it. I am ideally encouraging them to challenge the single story in their lives. I will then shuffle the post it’s around and have students “guess who” the post it’s belong to. The end of the lesson will conclude with a discussion about stereotypes, prejudice, and the importance of understanding and learning a story before judging it.


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Create Awards with Certificate Street

As the end of the year is closely approaching, it is time to recognize and celebrate all the work our students have accomplished. It’s important to give students a reason and a drive to succeed; using awards and positive recognition is a great way to do just that. I was looking for a simple certificate when I stumbled upon Certificate Street.  The website has a ton of FREE certificates organized into different categories.


Each certificate can be downloaded in an editable PDF format for FREE with the companies watermark on it. You can pay to have the certificate free of the watermark. Once you download the PDF you can personalize the certificate with your students name and details. It’s time to recognize your student’s accomplishments. Check it out today!

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Have students write letters to themselves!

Asking your student’s to write themselves a letter is is a classic end of the year activity. Students can reflect on their year as well as their goals for the following school year or the future. But why not make it digital? There are two websites I discovered one website is called Future Me and another is called Letter 2 Future. Both websites offer users the ability to send an email in the future such as words of inspiration or goals for the future. You pick the date you want the email delivered and it is sent to your inbox! It is that simple. Getting a surprise from the past is actually kind of an amazing thing – just check out all the people on Twitter and Facebook that agree.


Application in Classroom: I usually give my students some prompts such as what is one important skill you learned this year in social studies, what is one thing you would like to improve upon next year, what advice would you give to your future self, where do you see yourself in five years or ten years.

My first year of teaching (5 years ago) I had my students write themselves a letter. I still have the letters sitting under my bed in my parents house. I plan on mailing them next year when they graduate high school. This year I plan on using the digital version of future letter writing. I have also heard of teachers mailing the letters right before the start of the following school year. What do you plan on doing for an end of the school year activity?

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