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With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

10 Favorite Online Teaching Tools Used by Educators This Year

By Larry Ferlazzo — November 08, 2020 11 min read
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Most of us have been teaching in environments where we have been online more than ever before, whether we’re doing full-time distance learning (as I am—for now, at least) or if you’re in a hybrid situation.

This two-part series will share a number of recommendations, including many from readers.

Today, Theresa Wills, Ph.D., Laurie Manville, and Cristiane Galvão, Ed.D., “kick off” the series.

Before we get to their contributions, though, I’d like to briefly share my favorites (apart from all things Google and Zoom, of course):

Quizizz is a free online learning game site that is incredibly easy to use, has zillions of already-made games on just about every topic that are fun activities for reinforcement and formative assessment, and has recently added a simplified Nearpod-like feature (for those of you familiar with that popular tool) called student-paced “Lessons.” My students love playing Quizizz games in teams divided into separate Zoom breakout rooms. Unlike other game sites, students can see the question and the possible answers on the same screen and don’t have to split them into two.

Baamboozle is another free online game site. Its main advantage is that it’s set up so that students can play online in teams, but they don’t have to go into different breakout rooms. In other words, students can select a question to answer and talk among themselves in front of others to determine the correct answer (other students are waiting for their turn to choose another question). If that explanation is a bit confusing, it will be very clear once you go to the site itself.

Quill is a free and amazing site where students can learn grammar in a nonpainful way. I use it with my English-language-learner classes, but students of all English-proficiency levels would find it helpful. I love that after periodic “diagnostics,” it recommends which exercises students should move onto for additional practice.

You can read more about how I use these tools, and others, in my recent post, First Quarter Report on What I’m Doing in Full-Time Distance Learning & How It’s Going.

Now, it’s time to move on to responses from today’s guests...

Online math tools

Theresa Wills, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of mathematics education in the School of Education at George Mason University, where she works with in-service mathematics specialists and preservice elementary and secondary teachers. Theresa has taught synchronous online classes and webinars since 2010 and researches teaching practices that are adaptable to the online environment. She is a former classroom teacher and math coach who still volunteers weekly in K-12 classrooms. She is the author of the forthcoming book Teaching Math at a Distance, Grades K-12: A Practical Guide to Rich Remote Instruction.

My go-to tools this year are grounded in collaboration, interaction, and student voice. They provide equitable opportunities for students’ access to the same kinds of mathematical reasoning, thinking, and discourse while learning remotely that they would if they were learning face to face. Here are three examples.

Google Slides - This quintessential, simple, and free tool gives teachers the security and flexibility to create interactive activities while releasing ownership to the students. By inviting students to the shared slide in edit mode, and practicing netiquette norms, students can type ideas into text boxes, paste images that express their opinions, manipulate game pieces, and insert screen shots of their work from third-party apps. The pedagogical magic is revealed when teachers and students can observe and modify each other’s responses, in real time.

Math Learning Center - This virtual manipulative website is a staple in mathematics classrooms where students interact with familiar manipulatives such as base 10 blocks. Teachers can customize the site by creating problems, saving templates, and sharing private links with students. The best part is that the tools encourage flexible thinking as students explore multiple ways to model their understanding.

Using this template, two students show unique ways to use the tools to solve the problem.

Student work #1

Image by Theresa Wills
Student work #2

FlipGrid - You might be familiar with this website’s ability to capture short videos of students’ responses, but what puts it in another league is the ability for back and forth video dialogue between students.

This gives access to more students and opens possibilities for collaboration. A kindergarten student can count toys over video, and their friends can ask follow-up questions such as, “How many are pink?” and then upload a video response. English- and world-language learners can practice new speaking skills while previewing and editing their video responses as they master pronunciation. This tool gives students the ability to engage in rich peer-to-peer collaboration.


Laurie Manville is an ELD/AVID Excel teacher and ed- tech virtual tech-team coach at Brookhurst Junior High, as well as a 7th grade ELA teacher with Cambridge Virtual Academy, both in the Anaheim Union High School district in California. She enjoys helping her students figure out what they are meant to do in life and guiding teachers in lesson-design creation. In her free time, you will usually find her backstage (or near a stage) assisting with line memorization, costumes, or concessions; analyzing a screenplay; or at home journaling or mastering PiYo.

Laurie Manville blogs with Dr. Alva Lefevre at L&M Educational Consulting on their Facebook page and their new website Educators in the Know:

One of my top “go-to” online tools would have to be Peardeck.

Peardeck -- is one of the mainstays of my synchronous classes. Engagement is in real time and responses from all students are immediately visible. The add-on tool is available in Google Slides, and Peardeck tools may be added to individual Slides. Another great feature is that the Peardeck platform saves class sessions. Teachers may revisit student responses and use them as formative assessments.

If you are new to Peardeck, students log in through joinpd.com and with a code created for each deck. After all students have logged in, the teacher clicks “start lesson.” The students respond using various tools like polls, drawing tools for matching, multiple-choice answers, and free response fill-in-the-blank. Students’ names are anonymous, but teachers may check student names later in the saved Peardeck session on the Peardeck site. (In a synchronous lesson, the Peardeck is screen-shared.)

One of the ways I used Peardeck recently with my ELD 2 (high intermediate students) was in a real-time class with a Google Slide word bank about our class mascot, my cat Bubba. (Bubba visits my at-home work space very often and has become quite a virtual celebrity.) On this particular Peardeck response, ELD students created short paragraphs with a focus on compound sentences and FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)—coordinating conjunctions.

As students wrote for 3-4 minutes, a screen-shared musical electronic timer counted down. My student timekeeper unmuted herself and called time. Then, also while screen sharing, I revealed the “hidden” sentences that students wrote and analyzed each one with the class responding either in the chat box or on mic. I asked questions like: “Do you see a FANBOY?” or “Why is this sentence correct?” “What is the grammar rule?” “How can we connect these sentences?” “Why is this a good example of a compound sentence?” As we “talked,” we gave feedback to the different writers, and students revised or corrected any errors on the Peardeck slide in real time for all to see.

(Included in the Peardeck link above (please make a copy) is my entire slide deck with the Peardeck Bubba word bank, which includes the slides I use to intro each synchronous class and a follow-up Peardeck slide of student-generated Bubba sentences. We corrected those the next day.)

“Keeping things simple”

Dr. Cristiane Galvão holds a master’s degree in applied linguistics from the University of Taubaté, Brazil, and a doctorate in higher education leadership from California Lutheran University, in Thousand Oaks, Calilf. She has taught ESL for 20 years and has offered professional-development courses to language teachers from all over the world:

Back in March, when the pandemic closed the schools, I had to learn about so many websites and online tools for “remote learning” that it felt overwhelming. A simple lesson plan became a one-thousand-piece puzzle. So, to make life a little easier, it became important to rethink how I would plan my lessons and make better use of my time.

Keeping things simple, I decided first to use whatever material I already had available, such as flashcards and books. Second, I limited the number of websites and online tools that I would use, creating a special bookmark in my computer with all the websites that I could access to teach ESL anytime and for different levels. Then, I created another bookmark section just with the “go-to” resources that I would definitely be using to teach my students. I knew that using familiar tools and resources would streamline my organization and facilitate my students’ learning process.

After careful evaluation of the available resources and how they applied to my students’ needs, I opted for three online tools: Kahoot, Wordwall, and Padlet. These platforms share features that allow me to use them in the classroom as well as for teacher training. They are adaptable for fun and interactive learning for both students and teachers. I do not need to use them for every class, but if I need to complement my lessons with the school’s adopted material or to the material that I create, these websites are my support.

Padlet allows users to collaborate, create, and learn from each other. Padlet also allows the teacher to upload content and give feedback to the students, all on one platform. It can be used for vocabulary practice, reading, and listening. One of the features that the students like on Padlet is the image search option. It is a great tool to create a visual dictionary.

During live sessions on Zoom, students can work on Padlet during breakout-room sessions. I like giving students time to discuss a topic in breakout rooms, so Padlet is great because students can create a visual board highlighting the topic of their discussions. They can also write sentences and include images using new words they have learned. Teachers can post images and ask students to write sentences about the images, which is a great activity for beginner ESL students.

Kahoot can be used to wrap up a session of teacher development or an ESL lesson. When I use Kahoot during teacher-development courses, I am also demonstrating the platform in a practical way. Teachers become familiar with Kahoot and are ready to use it in their classes. I think it is important that teachers experience the tools that students will use to gain familiarity and anticipate anything that can be added to their lesson plans. ESL students like Kahoot because it is fun and competitive. Students also like its sounds, which give movement to the activity.

Wordwall, just like Kahoot, is loaded with content, which can be used anytime by the teacher and the students. I like using both platforms during live sessions with the students. They can also be used as reinforcement activities or homework. English-language learners (ELLs) can benefit from interactive activities within Wordwall. My ESL students always enjoy the Random Wheel game, but I believe that for teachers, the great feature of the platform is its flexibility. It allows teachers to use the same content in different ways. Teachers can click on the options, accessing different types of language games using common content. Teachers can also create their own activities and share with the students. As practical tools for remote language teaching, Kahoot, Wordwall, and Padlet are the three resources that provide the extra material that I can apply to my lessons.

Thanks to Theresa, Laurie, and Cristiane for their contributions!

(This is the first post in a two-part series.)

The new question of the week is:

What are your up to three “go-to” online tools this year? Please explain in detail how you use each one, including linked examples.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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