25 Tech Tools for English Teachers

These edtech tools (apps and sites), grouped by category but not ranked, may assist in the teaching and assessing of reading and writing in the ELA courses of secondary education teachers. Most are free. Those which require payment for "premium" versions are accompanied by a dollar sign ($). Click each name to learn more.

  1. I Write Like

  2. Hemingwayapp

  3. Draftback

  4. Expresso

  5. Grammarly ($)

  6. SAS Writing Adviser

  7. new MLA Style

  8. The Graide Network ($)

  9. NoRedInk ($)

  10. ProLogo English Verb Flowchart

  11. CommonLit

  12. Books That Grow ($)

  13. Safari Reader

  14. Librivox

  15. Genius

  16. Goodreads

  17. Call Me Ishmael

  18. Podcasts (Serial, Revisionist History)

  19. TED Ed

  20. Lynda ($)

  21. PollEv

  22. TodaysMeet

  23. Kahoot!

  24. Quizziz

  25. Quizlet Live

Modeling Curiosity: You interested in that? Then contact who made it!

Others have written on "grit" in education -- that combination of "consciousness and perseverance" -- that could lead to depth of curiosity and mastery learning in an otherwise task-switching culture.  When students exhibit intrinsic interest (a real pop of joyful intrigue), teachers jump at their enthusiasm and try to drum up a sort of hysteria of inquiry.  Ooh, you like medieval history? Have you seen this virtual tour of the weapons museum? Oh, you like choose-your-own-adventure tales? This open-source software lets you make your own digital text-based adventures. Often, however, I have seen student interest peter out exactly at the moment when I do encourage a student to dig deeper (i.e., go the second page of the Google results).

To model research grit, recently I told students the origin of a lesson plan I gave them on privilege.  After students read articles by Robert Jensen (1998) on white privilege, I wanted them to feel what privilege was -- something more immediate and physical. I borrowed this kinesthetic activity from a Buzzfeed article by Nathan Pyle, who writes that he "once saw a high school teacher lead a simple, powerful exercise to teach his class about privilege and social mobility." I was curious to learn more about this exercise during which students tossed balled-up paper from various parts of the room into a recycle bin near the front. Students couldn't choose their seats; luck did, and so students could quickly ascertain that privilege is unearned and access to the American Dream, at least within this symbolic model,  is not always evenly distributed.

I asked Mr. Pyle on Twitter if he had the contact information for the teacher who devised the activity.  Minutes later -- I later told my students -- Mr. Pyle replied that he had emailed me separately. I opened my email to find that Mr. Pyle, a Buzzfeed writer whom I'd never heard of hours before, was now sharing with me the origin story for this useful lesson plan.  He, in fact, was the teacher who devised the exercise while previously a high school teacher himself.  I shared this email correspondence and this revelation with my students and tried to point out how my own curiosity had led to research, which, in turn, lead to communication, which then lead to conversation and additional resource exchanges, which lead to depth of understanding and finally dissemination of knowledge.

On a whim, I Tweeted at Mr. Pyle, a BuzzFeed writer, and he responded within minutes.

While grit may ordinarily describe longterm efforts, even momentary grit -- a seeming oxymoron -- is something I want to teach my students daily.

Other examples of modeling curiosity in my classroom have included...

Whether we're "unpacking" an excerpt from McCarthy's The Road or "peeling back the layers" during a close viewing of Jaws, I think modeling curiosity is one of our greatest strengths and duties as teachers.

When a student says, "That's cool," follow up with, "Hey, what did the originator of that video game, film, story, blog, 3D printed marketplace, etc., say when you Tweeted at them?" Make the pursuance of curiosity the new status quo.

Students compete for meme rights to a Remind text alert

They'll ignore it (sometimes) if a teacher made it

Believe it or not, I think I found a way to make students ignore yet another stream of communication coming from adults and teachers.  We thought they read our emails. They don't. (Or at least not thoroughly.) We thought they read the e-newsletter. Nope.  We thought they read the announcements or the daily bulletin. They power-browse those. Maybe.

We thought that sending texts to their smartphones, even in a safe, easy way like Remind, would keep them informed of upcoming events, club meetings, assignments, and schedule changes.  Turns out students (after my 1,000th message over three years) may be swiping those away, too.  Remind alerts so conveniently pop up on their phones as SMS messages or notifications, but I'm still competing to get students' attention.  I know this because Remind lets you see which subscribers actually open an attachment (document, image) you send along with the text.  And they are not looking...in large numbers.  I thought I knew what students valued in a Remind alert, but I'm still learning. 


Sometimes I send messages to 130+ subscribers and only see (next to the little eyeball icon) 10-20 viewers.

They'll open it if they (or their classmate) made it 

So there's hope.  Lately, I've been encouraging students to send me animated gifs, memes, and other-student generated content that I can attach to Remind messages.  As cute narcissists, students will create when they know they'll have a peer audience.  As a result, the touch-through rates are on the rise. In other words, the number next to the eyeball icon is increasing.  Here's a meme I sent that serves as a NoRedInk homework reminder. It leverages a classroom inside joke related to the infamous video of Allen Iverson discussing "practice."  (46 of 92 recipients viewed the image.)

This homework reminder went to 77 students and 15 parents. 46 clicked through to the image.  Messages sent with student-created attachments tend to get more views than those with teacher-originated attachments.

Some Internet memes have staying power. The "honey badger" trope helped the Remind alert below garner 57 views.  The double sideways carrot ( >> ) helps, too.  Giving credit to the meme-maker within the message itself also seems to create mini-celebrities in class and competition for future Remind real estate.


Sometimes still images aren't enough. After I posted a few student-created memes, the gifs started rolling in.  This feverish typer related to many a late-night Membean forgetters in class.

They'll open it if it mentions "extra credit" or contains cats.

LOLCats for the win!  Sometimes students are unpredictable. Who knew that a picture of cats from the iPad game Type:Rider would yield a 55% click-through rate?

They'll open it if their work is being publicly praised

This Remind alert went to 52 recipients. 16 clicked through to view the attached image, an AP-style essay written by a student that earned a 9 on the College Board scale. 

They'll open it if it (ambiguously) promises a worthy punchline...

This still from an animated gif portrays an awkwardly ecstatic Brad Pitt. Students appreciate awkward ecstasy. 

They'll open it if money is involved

This poster announced an accessible writing contest with prize money.

They'll open it if they are instructed to use a "stamp" to answer a question

I usually reserve all caps to command students to STAMP a Remind alert to show they've interacted with an attached image. Here the pretty colors mesmerize them into believing they are learning there grammar.  NoRedInk.com's metrics disagrees.

Have you used student-generated content to engage other students through Remind or other communication tools?

5 Things your Literary Magazine can do besides Publish an Annual Magazine

At the annual Arizona Interscholastic Press Association fall convention at Arizona State University on October 27, 2014, I gave a talk to high school literary magazine editors about ways to engage their campus communities all year long.  The presentation below, "5 Things your Literary Magazine can do besides Publish and Annual Magazine," highlights the ways the Brophy Literary & Arts Magazine has tried to make itself ubiquitous on campus. We...

On the Edge of their Seats: Using polls, backchannels, and games in student response systems to create durable student engagement

Last month I delivered a presentation at Educator Day 2014 for the Diocese of Phoenix Catholic schools.  I wanted to convey that with so many student response systems available for free, teachers always have a way to give students a voice during each and every lesson.  The presentation below, "On the Edge of their Seats: Using polls, backchannels, and games in student response systems to create durable student engagement," provides case uses for the following edtech tools:

  1. PollEverywhere
  2. TodaysMeet
  3. Socrative
  4. Kahoot!

UPDATE: These tools change frequently. Since this presentation, PollEverywhere, for example, has added a "discourse" feature that allows students to see each other's free responses and "up" or "down" vote them (like on Reddit).

Use Storify to capture a retrospective of your professional development timeline from Twitter

Today I realized that Storify could be used to represent a timeline of my professional development activities on Twitter.  Since my school requires a teacher portfolio that tracks classroom goals, teacher observations, technology implementation, student evaluations, etc., I think the addition of a timeline of the semester's PD goings-on would supplement the portfolio nicely.  By viewing the last several months of my posts on Twitter related to NoRedInk, Membean, Socrative, PollEverywhere, I can see how I've connected with other educators and developed relationships with edtech companies.

With easy account creation, Storify allows users to curate a retrospective of the Web, and I simply entered my @MrJohnDamaso Twitter handle and was presented with a stream of my Tweets and Retweets. I loaded a few hundred of them and captured them as a Storify that I can easily insert into my portfolio, Tweet out, or include here.