One of the hardest things to drive home for students is that learning doesn’t just occur in the four walls of our classroom. School is school, and life is life. Sure, you can build lessons that are real-world, or create an entire project-based learning scope and sequence that gives students real-world problems and solutions. But breaking down the barrier between “school skills” and “real life skills” is something we should be working towards. My students treat me with a lot of skepticism when I try to show the real-life examples of skills we’re working on. I’m just the dumb teacher, what do I know?
So, I looked for ways for students to “accidentally learn” things in the “real-world.” Ways to insert a little bit of ELA/Social Studies in to student’s daily lives, using platforms and tools they were already looking at daily. I tried to avoid the obvious ones, like Khan Academy or any web apps that students would be more aware they were doing “school” stuff, instead of using apps and media with which they already interact.
*Disclaimer: Some of these may be inappropriate for younger students, but you know your kids.
1. The YUNiversity Instagram/Twitter Account:
A group of great grammarian ghostwriters. (Okay, that word’s a stretch!) The YUNiversity Instagram/Twitter/Tumblr mini-media empire can inspire students to better vocabulary, clarify odd rules of the English language, and more! They often use memes and real-world examples to teach common topics such as when to use “which” versus “who. If you have students who spend HOURS scrolling “the gram,” show them this profile. Especially if you have students who are obsessed with K-Pop, often their examples come attached with K-Pop examples!
2. Twitter is Lit(erature)!
Two other Twitter accounts that deserve micro-learning shout-outs are the Sparknotes and Merriam-Webster ones. The Sparknotes account takes classic literature and applies it to memes in ways that are hysterical, and occasionally really helpful for students! Lately they’ve been on a “Good Place” kick, which I can’t complain about.
The Merriam-Webster account tweets out a #WordOfTheDay every single day, and it’s a fun way for students to informally build their vocabulary over a long stretch of time. Especially if they are already on Twitter, they won’t even realize they’re learning new words!
3. Snapchat Publisher Content
We know our students are on Snapchat. While I personally have massive reservations about 8th graders being on the service, they are often on Snapchat with their parents (occasionally blissfully ignorant) blessing. I NEVER recommend Snapchat to a student, but if they’re already on it, I figure maybe I can leverage this power for good? Numerous news sources such as CNN, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Telegraph, National Geographic, and more publish engaging stories and the day’s top headlines to Snapchat. If students subscribe to those publishers, they can get those news stories directly in their feed!
Speaking of CNN, did you know that CNN has a kid-friendly breakdown of the daily news and fun features called CNN10? Each episode is around 10 minutes long, and most cover the previous’ days headlines in an unbiased and accessible format. Each episode ends with a “10 for 10” segment that follows a viral video or funny situation. While it occasionally focuses too much on special-interest pieces (they spent four days on the ten year anniversary of Facebook, for example), it is a great way for students to see the news and how stories are shaped over weeks and months. I show CNN10 nearly every day, but you could also have students watch at home for a variety of purposes!
5. Google a Day
Teaching internet literacy is such a struggle and obviously requires more than a quick game. However, if you have an interest in teaching students how to search for stuff online, Google-a-Day is a phenomenal resource. In a gamified experience, Google presents three, trivia-style questions. The faster you can type in the correct answer, the more points you get. While it doesn’t keep track from day to day, or save any major stats (you could have your students do this independently for bellringer work or something similar), it gives students “real-world” examples of searching skills, and the running clock puts a fun cognitive pressure on students in a low-stress environment.
If you have students constantly riddled with writer’s block, Pobble365 is a fantastic place to start. You can use this as a center station, or simply send the link to students to practice in their free-time! It gives a large, thought-provoking, school-safe image. This image is attached to not only a narrative short story writing prompt, but some fun grammar exercises related to the image, journal prompts, and recommendations for future activities!
There is an entire platform where students an submit writing to you so you can assess, but there’s a front-facing webpage that allows students to access all of these materials without even logging in! Grammar and writing instruction is always better in a real-world context, and students can build background knowledge and practice in creative ways.
7. Google Assistant Subscriptions
I look up unknown words with my Google Home speakers all the time. However, with “Subscriptions,” you can have your smart speaker, or any mobile device with the Google Assistant app installed, send you a new mini-learning opportunity once a day. My phone alerts me once a day with a new idiom and definition every morning. My smart speaker tells me a fun fact every evening before going to bed.
The Google Assistant has nearly a million actions, and while not every one of them is subscribe-able, many are. These are tools that students are already using on their phones, in their homes…etc. Students can learn a little bit each day!
Websites that are a quick and semi-educational way to kill a few minutes, but aren’t “accidental” in any way. Great for those last 5 minutes of class, but students will have to make some effort and interact with these things.