being a teacher, collaboration, global, skype, student voice

Mind Your Skype Manners – Tips for Better Skype Calls

For the past many years, my students have Skyped with classrooms around the world as we have tried to let others into our class.  We have shared our love of books through the Global Read Aloud, we have guessed their location through Mystery Skype, and we have asked questions as we did market research for projects we are doing.  Skype is a part of our classroom and I would not want it any other way.  But every year I have to remind my students how to act while Skyping, to mind their Skype manners as we proceed.  Not because they are poorly behaved but because for some, this is the first time they have worked with others in this way and there are things they may not be aware of.

So what follows are our tips for minding your Skype manners.

Make your purpose meaningful and clear.  We not only discuss how we will be Skyping but why and what the expected outcome should be.  This small discussion allows my students to see the potential of the experience they are about to have, rather than just roll with it and assume it will be great.

Have roles or questions prepared.  For Mystery Skype, each of my students has a job that they have picked and are held accountable for, for other Skype calls they have prepared questions in advance.  They write them on notecards and hand them to me and I hand them back when it is time to ask it, at the end we always leave time for extra questions to be asked that have popped up as we listened.

Have a way to introduce yourself.  I usually give students this job and some time to prepare something about our class.  This also serves as a reminder of what the purpose is of the call as they restate that.

Brief the audience on body language.  I have a wide lens camera when we Skype which means a lot of the kids can be seen in the background.  We therefore discuss what our body language should look like and also what is visible on camera.  The students know that if their shoulders are slumped or head is down, even though it is just because they are realizing, it may send a message of disinterest to others.

Mind your tone.  My 7th graders are pretty funny but sometimes their sense of humor does not translate well via Skype.  We therefore always a have a discussion of tone and the words we choose before we Skype.  A gentle reminder is often all that they need to be aware of how they sound and to speak in a way that suits our audience.

Introduce yourself always.  The students always start out by saying their name and then maintaining eye contact throughout.

Stay while listening.  Often the natural reaction of a student is to ask their questions and then sit down, however, we think it is important to stay and listen to the whole answer then thank the speaker.

Give them a task during besides just listening.  I have had students doodle during a class, take notes, or even have a backchannel on Todaysmeet.  This is not just to share our learning but to focus students in.  Even the most exciting Skype call can wear a kid out, so having them do something while they are listening helps them stay engaged and will make the call more meaningful.

Debrief.  After the call we tend to just move on, yet, part of the magic of Skype is discussing what you learned.  After our Mystery Skypes the students debrief in an attempt to get better.  Other calls can be debriefed via conversation, small group aggregation of information and then crowd sourcing information into a Padlet or Google doc.  Do something after the call to acknowledge what just happened rather than just move on.

Finally, don’t be afraid to end a call.  I have only  had to end a call once in our years of Skyping but I am so glad I did.  My students were trying to be funny but were really coming off as rude.  I simply told the other teacher that due to their behavior we had to end the call.  We then discussed as a class what to do better next time.  It was a great lesson for the kids, particularly when the tables were turned a few weeks later and they felt the other class was being rude to them.

If you are looking for great Skype opportunities, join the Skype in the Classroom site or become a member of the Global Read Aloud Facebook page, you can post requests on both.


being a teacher, collaboration, global, Literacy, MIEExpert15, picture books, projects, Reading, skype, student choice

Our Epic Nonfiction Picture Book Project Take 2

For the past few years, my students have written nonfiction picture books for younger audiences around the world.  Last year, I decided to share the lesson plan to serve as inspiration for those who wanted it, and this year I thought I would do the same.  While the foundation is the same, the process has been tweaked a bit for a more meaningful experience for the students.

The goal of the project is rather simple; create a 15 to 25 slide/page nonfiction picture book meant for a 2nd or 3rd grade audience on anything you wish to write about.  Throughout this project we have been able to successfully marry tech tools with writing, as well as use Skype, Padlet, Twitter and other interactive tools.

Why this project?  Because within it we have been able to work on:

  • How to take organized notes in a way that works for them.
  • How to write a paragraph and all of the myriads of lessons that are attached to that.
  • Grammar!  Spelling!  Punctuation!
  • How to find legal images.
  • How to cite sources, including images, books, and websites.
  • How to uncover reliable sources (yes, there is a place for Wikipedia in our research).
  • How to search the internet better.
  • How to conduct market research using Skype to ask 2nd or 3rd graders what they want to read and how they want to read it.
  • How to rewrite information in our own words.
  • How to do design and layout on a page to make it inviting.
  • How to create good questions.
  • Exploring our own interests.
  • How to write assessment rubrics.
  • How to work as a peer mentor group.
  • How to monitor self-engagement.

So a few details about the project:

  • This is a 3-week long project, anchored by a 10 or so minute mini-lessons every day and then work time the rest of class.
  • Mini-lessons have centered around how to take notes ( I showed them 3 different ways), how to research well, how to write paragraphs, how to rewrite information, and anything else we have had to address.
  • Students were able to ask questions to 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms via Skype to do market research, and incorporate that feedback into their project.
  • I am using this blog and Facebook to find classrooms that will assess the final product.  If you would like to be one, please fill out the form at the end of the post.  Those that sign up to give us feedback, fill out this Google form.
  • Students create their books in Google Slides for easy access for all (we check out Chromebooks), as well as easy design and layout.

Major Changes for this year:

The addition of Google Classroom.

This year we have been using Google Classroom to post tools, create the project, as well as use as a gathering point.  This addition has made it much more manageable as far as giving students the information they need, as well as seeing where students are.  If you have not looked into Google Classroom, this is a great project to use it for.

The Peer Mentor Group.

Students are in peer mentor groups as of today.  These groups are meant to be support groups that also help hold each other accountable.  Students gave me three names; a friend they know well, someone they kind of know, and a name for someone they would like to know.  I then made the groups puzzling out their requests.  Groups are between 2 and 4 people are will be used almost every day as an informal check-in.

The shortened timeline.

Last year we did this project for 6 weeks and although the students stayed fully engaged, we shortened it to 3 because we realized we could achieve the same deep engagement with a shortened product.  It also means the students are using their time better because they know every minute counts.

The actual lesson plan:


  • Finished product should be a 15 to 25 page book, created in Google Slides,  that not only includes 4-5 or so “chapters/sub-topics” but also has a glossary, table of contents, works cited, front and back cover, as well as an about the author.
  • Font size of text should be at least 20.
  • Students will use at least one print research material and supplement with reliable internet sources.
  • We will use the website to cite all of our sources which will be done in conjunction with tech tools.  Cross collaboration is a great idea here.
  • We will spend time in class researching, writing, as well as sharing our work.  Students should be able to finish this in class if time is spent wisely.  

Sample:  Will be shown in class and linked to here.

Modifications/Support provided:

  • Some students will be invited to work in small groups with me and/or support teachers.
  • Graphic organizers and templates can be provided for those who need to follow a format.  To access them, please go to this Google presentation and make a copy as needed.

Mini-Lesson Materials:

Every day, we will focus on a mini-lesson meant to bolster the skills and needs of the students.  The following mini-lessons will be taught (in order):

  1. Exploring NF picture books; what are their text features and why are they important?  Template for this discovery can be found here.
  2. What do you want to teach the world?  Narrowing down topic and finding research materials.  Brainstorming research questions to guide their reading.  
  3. Who is your audience?  What do we know about 2nd and 3rd graders? Preparing for our market research Skype call.  Creating a Padlet with what we think we know about 2nd and 3rd graders reading preferences.  An example can be seen here.  Students also meet in their peer mentor groups to share their topics, their questions and what they are excited about.  
  4. Skype call to classrooms, during the call students will take notes for themselves and afterwards we will update our Padlet with what we know now.  Research time reading their books.
  5. Taking 3 column notes in notebook or Google docs.  Example template can be found here.  More information on this type of note-taking can be seen here
  6. Taking notes on notecards and providing graphic organizers for the notes.  (I glued 6 envelopes into Manilla folders and then laminated them many years ago.  These work well for students because they can use them to organize their notes in sub-topics and can write on the folders using dry erase markers.)  Here is what I share with them as an example.
  7. Using Diigo as a way to take notes (refresher from Tech tools).
  8. Unscrambling a paragraph – parts of a paragraph  (example taken from here)
  9. Fill in the main idea and conclusion – found here
  10. Informal to formal paragraph – found here Alternate is writing a sample paragraph
  11. Teach to your partner, checklist can be found here
  12. Table of contents – what does it do, what does it need?
  13. Glossary – what does it do, what does it need?
  14. Self-assessment, peer edit if they want to and review, checklist can be found here
  15. Turn in 

That’s it, pretty much.  Feel free to modify/adapt/share.

If you would like to receive some of our finished picture books to give feedback on and your teach 4th grade or younger, please fill out the form.  Picture books will be shared at the end of December and you will have until mid-January to provide the feedback.


collaboration, connections, projects, skype, Student-centered

So You Want to Do Mystery Skype?

Mystery Skype is one of those ideas I wish I had thought because it just so fun but instead I was lucky enough to hear about it from Caren MacConnell.  The concept is simple:  classrooms Skype call each other and try to guess where the other classroom is located either in the United States or in the world.   There are many great resources out there but for my own sanity I am creating one list for future reference:Before the call:

  1. Sign up – there are many places to sign up and some are even grade level based.  I signed up a couple of places but also tweeted it out; the response was immediate as a lot of people are doing this.  If you would like to sign up:
    1. 4th Chat Mystery Skype
    2. 6th Chat Mystery Skype
    3. Mystery Country/Mystery State
    4. The Official Mystery Skype Community from Skype
  2. Decide on a date and time – don’t forget to consider in timezones.
  3. Prepare the kids
    1. We wanted to know facts about our own state so that we would be ready for any question.  We therefore researched the following questions: climate, region, neighboring states, time zone, capital, famous landmarks, geographical location.  All of this gave the students a better grip of what they might be asked.
    2. We also brainstormed questions to possibly ask.  We like the concept of the questions having to have yes or no answers as it makes the game a little harder and has the students work on their questioning skills.  Questions we came up with included whether they were in the United States, whether they were east of the Mississippi, Whether they were West of the Rocky Mountains, If they were in a specific region, whether they border other countries, whether they are landlocked etc.
    3. Give jobs.  I think it is most fun when the kids all have jobs, so this was a list of our jobs:
      1. Greeters – Say hello to the class and some cool facts about the class – without giving away the location.
      2. Inquirers – these kids ask the questions and are the voice of the classroom.  They can  also be the ones that answer the questions.
      3. Answerers – if you have a lot of kids it is nice to have designated question answerers – they should know their state facts pretty well.
      4. Think tanks – I had students sit ina group and figure out the clues based on the information they knew.  Our $2 whiteboards came in handy for this.
      5. Question keepers – these students typed all of the questions and answers for us to review later.
      6. Google mappers – two students were on Google maps studying the terrain and piecing together clues.
      7. Atlas mapper – two students used atlases and our pull down map to also piece together clues.
      8. Clue keepers – worked closely with answerers and inquirers to help guide them in their questioning.
      9. Runners – Students that runs from group to group relaying information.
      10. Photographer – takes pictures during the call
      11. Clue Markers – These students worked with puzzles of the United States and maps to remove any states that didn’t fit into the clues given.
      12. Problem solver – this student helped students with any issues they may encounter during the call.
      13. Closers – End the call in a nice manner after guesses have been given.
    4. Note my students have since then tweaked these jobs – here is a link to our new Mystery Skype jobs

During the Call:
During the call you just have to step back and trust the kids.  My students were incredible, both with their enthusiasm and their knowledge, I think I was more nervous than they were.  I did have to fact check some of their answers so I did stay close by but otherwise it ran pretty smoothly.  We decided which class would go first with their first question and then there were two options:

  • Yes answer: They get to ask another question.
  • No answer – Other team’s turn to ask a question.

Students were allowed to guess whenever they thought they had a great answer (and it was their turn).  In the end, both classes were able to guess each other’s location.
One note; Don’t allow kids to use the Internet to try to google the other class – it spoils the geographical purpose of the challenge.

A list of questions as created by my students to help you start.

For our preparation for this, I showed the kids this video on Linda Yollis’ blog – it really gave the students a concrete example of what to expect and they got very excited. Also Mr. Avery has a great discussion of jobs he had students do during the call.
Jerry Blumengarten also has a nice collection of links on one of his many pages that was helpful to me.

Here is a video of our first call with Joan Young’s class

We are already excited to try it again!