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Kara Fehring has always underscored her kindergarten lessons with hands-on activities. But after 16 years, it gets a bit difficult to dream up new ways to teach the same thing. So this year, when it was time to teach “sink or float” in science class, Fehring turned to BrainPOP Jr. The site, known widely for its videos, also has a section for educators to share lesson plans. Fehring found just what she needed—a food-based activity her students loved.
“Cereal floats, but a lot of candy doesn’t. So we’d say, ‘Okay, let’s see if this Snickers floats,’” says Fehring, a teacher at St. Mary’s School in Mayville, Wisconsin. “The kids were definitely interested!”
Lesson-sharing sites such as BrainPOP Jr., Share My Lesson, Teachers Pay Teachers, Buy Sell Teach, and, of course, Scholastic.com are a great boon to time-strapped teachers. The sites offer fully fleshed-out lesson plans, games, worksheets, and digital resources (some for a price), as well as an opportunity for teachers to expand their pedagogical prowess.
Curious to learn how lesson sharing works and how it might spice up your lesson plans? Here are six ways these sites can invigorate classroom instruction.
Differentiate With Ease
Don’t have time to create materials that address the varying needs and ability levels of all your students? Lesson-sharing sites are loaded with differentiated materials to teach the same skill. Miriam Uvsitzky uses Buy Sell Teach for this purpose, and more.
“As a teacher, it is challenging to come up with creative center activities that are geared to different levels,” says the first-grade teacher from Los Angeles. “I want to appeal to all of my students and meet them on their own levels. Buy Sell Teach is a gold mine of resources for finding creative and stimulating lessons.”
Once you’ve identified the topic or skill, use the search options and filters on a site to quickly and easily find level-appropriate content. Because sites like these provide the resources, you can spend more time working with your students.
Incorporate Current Events
Capture your students’ interest with lesson plans centered on current news events. “We have ‘Today’s News, Tomorrow’s Lesson’ on Share My Lesson. We’ve created ready-made lessons for the news events of the day,” says Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, about the AFT-associated lesson-sharing site.
The site includes lessons on topics that range from extreme weather to international events. For example, lessons appeared on the site when news spread about Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and Nelson Mandela’s death. Many lesson-sharing sites can provide you with grade-appropriate lessons that connect your students to the world around them.
Conquer the Core
“One of the things I now have to teach at the beginning of kindergarten are the number words: o-n-e is 1. Before, I never had to do that until the end of kindergarten,” says Fehring, who has used lesson-sharing sites to download traceables to reinforce number words. “That makes sense, because they now start with story problems right away in first grade. So I look for Common Core–aligned lessons and activities to help me meet the new standards.”
Stumped by how to best teach a particular standard? Some sites, such as SMART Exchange, allow you to search by standard. Click on Common Core State Standards, then choose math or language arts. From there, you can select a specific standard and quickly reveal aligned lessons and activities. Less than two minutes of searching brought up a SMART Board unit that uses “The Star-Spangled Banner” to teach vocabulary and meet ELA Anchor Standard 4.
Share My Lesson features a wealth of Common Core–ready units, thanks to a collaboration between the AFT and teachers throughout the United States. “[Teachers have] written and uploaded entire units,” Weingarten says. “They’ve spent time really thinking about how to put these standards into practice, and those lessons are online for use.”
Reviewing and working with high-quality, Core-aligned materials from the Web will help you better understand how to create and adapt your own lessons to the Core, too.
Find Creative Solutions
Every classroom contains students with a wide variety of learning styles. But creating content for kinesthetic learners, for instance, can be a challenge if you’re an auditory learner, because we all tend to default to our areas of strength. You can use lesson-sharing sites to find lessons and activities for all kinds of learning styles—and in the process, learn how to adapt your own content to various learning styles.
“I use a lot of language-arts task cards that I found on Share My Lesson because they get the kids up and moving,” says Maria Reierstad, a third-grade teacher in Rolling Meadows, Illinois. “I post them around the room and the kids walk around to find the right card. I can make up worksheets, but I don’t always think of things like that.” Since she started working with the task cards, though, Reierstad feels better prepared to creatively adapt lessons to meet the needs of her students.
Increase Your Efficency
The best lesson-sharing sites allow you to spend your time on the things that you truly enjoy, instead of laboring over tasks you have little interest in. A teacher who loves literature but isn’t very interested in creating crafts, for example, can use these sites to quickly find holiday and unit-appropriate crafts—and devote the bulk of her time to pulling together a top-notch reading collection. She might even use her time to develop lists of nonfiction books that meet Common Core standards, and upload that content to a lesson-sharing site to share with other teachers. Win-win!
Learning From the Best
Lesson-sharing sites connect you with motivated, creative teachers across the country. Many teachers report networking with other educators via the sites, then continuing the relationship (and professional learning opportunities) across other mediums. “A lot of people who post things on lesson-sharing sites also have their own blogs, where they share ideas, lesson plans, and
projects,” says Fehring.
Rachel Lynette, a former teacher and top seller at Teachers Pay Teachers, recommends following the websites, blogs, and Facebook pages of your favorite content creators. “That way, whenever the creator comes out with something new, you know about it. Plus, a lot of us do contests and giveaways on our blogs and pages!
Tips For Would-Be Sellers
Don’t expect to get rich. Teachers Pay Teachers has paid out more than $47 million to teachers since its inception. But most teachers who sell content on the Web are making extra pocket money, not send-my-kid-to-college or go-to-the-Bahamas paydays. According to Teachers Pay Teachers, 364,200 contributors made about $1,000, while just over 16,000 contributors earned more than $50,000.
“A common mistake people make is that they think they’re going to get rich quickly, or that they can just slam their lessons up there as they write them and make money. That’s not the case,” says Teachers Pay Teachers top seller Rachel Lynette. “Your lesson plans need to be really polished if you want other people to buy them.”
Know the site—and your market. Become familiar with the layout, offerings, and audience of paying lesson-sharing sites. Which lessons are most popular? How are they set up? Do you see an unsatisfied need? Most sites have a ton of ELA content and lessons for younger students. They need more science and arts-related lessons, as well as content for older students.
Respect copyright. Don’t try to sell content that belongs to someone else. “You can’t use characters or pictures of people who are famous, and you can’t use huge amounts of other people’s words,” Lynette says. When in doubt, leave it out.
Create a professional-looking product. “Unless your lessons have a cover page, clip art, and teacher instructions, people aren’t going to buy them,” Lynette says. Create a user-friendly package.
Specify an age range. Teachers are looking for content that will work with their students. Help them find your content by specifying a realistic age range. “Sometimes people will say, ‘1st through 12th grade,’ and that’s ridiculous for most products,” Lynette says.