Practical tips for using LearnZillion Lesson Plans in the classroom

Learn how to use LearnZillion Lesson Plans in your classroom.

Teachers across the country are using our lesson plans to streamline their planning process.

In this recording Shana Lindeman, a 7th grade math teacher and 2013 Dream Teamer from North Dakota, shares how she uses LearnZillion Lesson plans for anchoring/structuring whole class instruction, providing students with opportunities for practice, and supporting differentiation for students who struggle with lesson content.

Give our lesson plans a try, and realize the benefits that one administrator articulated so beautifully,

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Writing, aligning, and sequencing text-dependent questions

This webinar, the second in our “Close Reading” series, models a proven strategy for crafting text-dependent questions and follows up on our earlier “Text Talk” webinar and our 6 step guide to crafting great text-dependent questions. Enjoy!

Download the resources referenced in this webinar here, including:

Like what you see?

Sign Up for the next webinar in our series,

“Crafting effective text-based writing prompts”

on Mar 11th 2014 at 4p ET.

4 ways Coaches can use LearnZillion videos

This post was written Lisa Bernstein who has spent the past fifteen years working in schools, both in the classroom and as a literacy coach in Washington D.C.

Teacher Collab

Build your teachers’ confidence and capacity by using instructional videos in these four ways:

1. Anchor a discussion on effective lesson content

Despite our best intentions, teachers sometimes perceive coaching as mere criticism. Anchoring a coaching session around video lessons makes it easy for coaches and teachers to sit on the same side of the table (both literally and figuratively) and evaluate a lesson together. Whether a teacher decides to emulate or avoid the choices shown in the video, teacher and coach can make a deliberate choice about instruction based on a model. TIP: Ensure that your lesson has well-researched content; learn about our rigorous research method in making LearnZillion lessons here.

Payoff – enriches the coach-teacher relationship around content through collaboration

2. Search for specified content

A vast library of video lessons gives teachers and coaches the ability to explore granular content areas segmented by subject, grade, topic, and even specific standards. On we enable this type of dynamic searching with our 3 ways to find resources.

Payoff – find the exact resource you need, quickly

3. Enable job-embedded PD 

Teachers can watch a 5-10 min video lesson as a form of micro-PD. Lessons provide both pedagogical and content to improve teacher practice and knowledge as well as increase student learning. Coaches can suggest this method so that teachers can efficiently digest their learning over time.

Payoff – effective use of time

4. Translate directly to practice

Video lessons can be directly adapted to classroom practice, or even used directly with students as whole class instruction, small group or individual support for a particular skill.  Video lessons can be the focus of an activity center or even assigned as homework.  (Link: post on 9 ways to use video lessons with students)

Payoff – translate your own learning into student results

Trying something new in any context can be tough!  For teachers, the opportunity to see a lesson taught in a different way oftentimes will increase his or her confidence to try something new in their practice.  So try our new Common Core Aligned lessons in your coaching.

Any other ideas for how coaches can use instructional videos? Share them with us at

Literacy Office Hours with David Liben pt. 2

This is the second of three office hours hosted by David. View the first office hours here.

David Liben, of Student Achievement Partners, shares a wealth of tips and resources to help prepare your students for the Common Core ELA standards.


Reading Strategies and Close Reading

  • “Rethinking Reading Comprehension Instruction,”  by McKeown, Beck, and Blake, is a study that compared the effects of content instruction (using text-dependent questions) to the effects of strategies instruction, and found that content focused instruction had greater benefits.
  • Cognitive Scientist Daniel Willingham’s Blog,  presents research and describes the danger of excessive focus on comprehension strategies.

Examples of Rich Complex Text

Examples of good questioning technique:

Using Basal Readers

  • This lesson bank offers Common Core-aligned replacement lessons for basals published before the Common Core (pre-2010).
  • To learn more about or join the group that created these lessons, the Basal Alignment Project (BAP), click here.
  • There are lots of new resources that say they’re Common Core-aligned.  Use the Publisher’s Criteria to evaluate whether they are really aligned to the Standards.   If IMET is on atc we could use that as well.

Read Alouds

  • Model Read Aloud lesson for K-2 classrooms, based on the poem, The Wind, available here.
  • K-2, teachers all over the country are also working to create Common Core-aligned Read Aloud lessons, through the Read Aloud Project.  Access the resources they create or join the group through Edmodo, using the group access code: pkx52i

Volume of Reading and Vocabulary

  • Long-term reading success depends on not just close reading, but also on volume of reading.
  • This article by Marilyn Jager Adams in American Educator explains how a series of texts on related topics is the fastest way to grow the vocabulary needed to access complex text.  She also cites research by Thomas Landauer showing the powerful relationship between volume of reading and vocabulary growth.

Guided Reading

Like what you’ve seen? Sign up here for our next Literacy Office Hours on April 9th, 2014.

Also, check out our post on 4 tips for aligning your ELA lessons to the Common Core and 3 tips for approaching close reading.

3 Tips for Approaching Close Reading

This post was written by Posie Wood, LearnZillion’s Director of Professional Learning and Community.

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Use these tips to help you analyze texts in preparation for close reading with students.

As teachers, we know that leading effective close reading with complex texts starts long before you’re standing in front of students. In order to guide students toward a deep understanding of a text, we first need to understand that text deeply ourselves. However, text analysis is a muscle that many of us haven’t flexed since our college or high school literature classes. Use these three tips to help you get started:

1. Take off your “teacher hat”: Read as an adult

Once you’ve selected the text for your close read (see these excellent resources on text complexity and selection from Student Achievement Partners and CCSSO), your first step is to read the text multiple times. We always encourage our teachers to start by “taking off their teacher hat” and enjoying the text and its offerings as an adult reader.

As you read, ask yourself:

  • What sections or moments of the text speak to me?
  • What choices did the author make about introducing information or telling the story?
  • Are there parts where I need to slow down or reread? What caused me to do this?
  • Why did the author write this text in this way?

Annotate the text as you go, noting significant craft moves, the message of the author, the impact of characters, setting, symbols, words, key ideas, the relationships between ideas, and the way in which the author shared information.

(Check out these examples of how our Dream Team teachers annotated their texts: The Tell Tale Heart, We Grow Accustomed to the Night, Play Ball!, and My Name is Alex)

2. Put the hat back on: Read with your students in mind

Now that you’ve had a chance to process the reading on a personal level, it’s time to see the text through the lens of your students and the Common Core ELA standards.

Reread the text, this time, asking yourself:

  • What is the big takeaway you would want a student to understand after studying this text?
  • Which parts of the text are most challenging? Where will students struggle the most? Why?
  • What moments or ideas in the text are worthy of further exploration? Why?
  • What is left unsaid in the text? Are there voices that are missing?
  • Are there opportunities to teach academic vocabulary? Are there domain-specific terms critical to understanding the text?
  • How does the author’s word choice impact the tone and meaning of the text?
  • What choices did the author make about how to convey information or tell the story? What is the effect of these choices?
  • What does the text simply “scream” for you to teach?
  • What Common Core ELA standards seem particularly well suited to teach using this text?

3. Two heads (or more!) are better than one: Do a “Text Talk” with your colleagues

Understanding text is hard work and, as you’ll remember from high school and college-level English classes, discussion and exchange is a critical part of making meaning of text. “Text Talks” with colleagues are a fantastic way to kick off your close reading planning process. Reflecting on the questions above as a group will spark conversation, debate, and allow you to see new perspectives, which will set you up for leading a nuanced close reading with your students.

And there you have it: our 3 top tips for approaching close reading. Wondering what next? Now that you’ve marinated in your text, your next step is to develop a list of text-dependent questions worthy of exploring with your students – more on that in our earlier post on creating great text dependent questions.

Common Core Lesson Plans: Crafting Great Text-Dependent Questions for your students

This post was written by Posie Wood, LearnZillion’s Director of Professional Learning and Community.

Common Core Lesson Plans, Text Dependent Questions, Common Core

This blog post outlines steps you can take to write powerful text-dependent questions.

Text-dependent questions are one of the cornerstones of close reading. You can see them in action in our close reading lessons, each of which model asking and answering a text-dependent question. But crafting questions that are text-specific, that help your students understand the text more deeply, and that create opportunities for them to master the Common Core ELA standards is challenging and takes practice.

But first things first. What are text-dependent questions?

Text-dependent questions are questions that can only be answered by referring to the text itself. They do not necessitate outside experiences or background knowledge to be answered but they do require students to use evidence from the text to support their answers. But more than that, text-dependent questions are written in carefully sequenced sets with the goal of shepherding students towards a deep understanding of the text. Along the way, text-dependent questions should focus students’ attention on the challenging sections of the text, ideas or moments that warrant more time and exploration, major craft moves, and critical vocabulary words. For more on text-dependent questions, check out Student Achievement Partners’ text-dependent questions guide.

Here are a 6 steps you can take to craft text-dependent questions on your own:

1. Understand your text

Before you dive into writing questions, your first step is to make sure that you understand the major ideas or themes in your selected text. We’ve found it’s important to actually put this into writing to help crystalize the big takeaways that you want to make sure students get from the text. You should also identify key vocabulary words, significant craft moves, and sections of the text that are challenging or worthy of further study. Check out this post on how to analyze and understand your text in preparation for close reading.

2. List your questions (all of them)

By now, you’ve spent a lot of time with the text and are ready to start writing questions. We like to start by simply generating a long list of questions. Initially don’t worry too much about getting the exact wording or perfect number of questions. Rather, focus on capturing your ideas.

3. Answer your questions

Crafting a text-dependent question alone is not enough. Knowing what constitutes high quality response to that question is equally important, but too often, we see teachers skip this critical step. Why does it matter? Frequently, answering your own question will unveil additional layers of meaning in the text or new levels of purpose behind the author’s craft. And forcing yourself to write the answer may reveal that the ideas you really want students to explore are in fact different from, or not addressed by, the original question you wrote. As you answer your questions and get more clarity around what you actually want to ask, you should begin to revise and refine your questions.

Answering your text-dependent questions is also important because it allows you to fully experience responding to the question and will give you a window into what you’ll need to teach. As you write your answer to the question, track your own metacognition by asking yourself, “What are my students going to have to know and be able to do in order to answer this?”

4. Align and revise your questions to the ELA Common Core Standards

Next, it’s time to compare your questions and responses to the Common Core Standards for ELA to determine which standard(s) they address. See our earlier blog post on analyzing the Common Core ELA standards here. As you complete this alignment, you may see that certain questions need to be tweaked in order to really meet the standards for your grade level. You might also notice that some of your questions are too sophisticated or too simple for your grade. That’s okay. While these questions may not make the final cut, you’ll want to hold onto them in order to provide extension and scaffolding to students in the future. Make sure that your list of questions covers a range of standards and includes questions that both focus on specific parts of the text as well as consider the text as a whole.

5. Sequence and narrow your list of text-dependent questions

Great text-dependent questions come in thoughtfully sequenced sets that guide a student through the text and build from simple to complex. The best way to start sequencing your questions is to identify the one or two questions that unlock the text’s big ideas, themes, or takeaways. These should address the culminating understandings you want to make sure students come away with. Next, backwards map your questions from these ending points, cutting a clear pathway of understanding from basic levels of meaning to the abstract subtleties of the text.

6. Evaluate your text-dependent questions 

Once you have your sequenced list of questions, it’s time to do a final review to make sure your questions are text-dependent and high-quality. We use Student Achievement Partners’ Checklist of Evaluating Question Quality for this step. While it’s great practice to review your own questions, it’s even better if you can swap with a colleague to get an extra set of eyes and additional feedback on your work.

Though challenging, writing worthwhile text-dependent questions is a lot of fun and, once you start using them to help your students access complex texts hugely rewarding. To see interlocking text-specific questions in action, check out LearnZillion’s close reading lesson built from the Common Core standards in your grade.

Common Core: Challenges and Opportunities

About the Author: Eric Westendorf is co-founder and CEO of LearnZillion.  This post was first published on April 8, 2013.
This past week I had the honor of speaking on a panel about the Common Core with Sandra Alberti (Student Achievement Partners), Emily Barton (Tennessee DOE), Kate Gerson (New York State DOE), and John Maycock (Achievement Network).  The panel was about the challenges of implementing the new Common Core State Standards.
We were in universal agreement that implementing the Common Core is hard work.  These standards are not only new, they are really challenging.  Student mastery isn’t about getting the right answer anymore; it’s about showing that you understand the key concepts and that you can apply them in new, creative ways.
The biggest concern that surfaced was cynicism.  In Tennessee there are some teachers who have already been through 8 changes of standards since the start of their careers.  Can you imagine?  Eight times they’ve been told that they’re shooting for a different target.  How could you not be cynical about the Common Core when you’ve been through eight changes already, most of which probably didn’t have an impact on what happened in your classroom.
We also talked about the “I’m already doing it” phenomena.  Is it better to hear, “What’s the Common Core? I’ve never heard of it,”  or “We’ve already made the shift to the Common Core”?  We all chose the former.  The Common Core does require big changes in practice; it’s hard to make those big changes when you claim the status quo represents the change.
At the end of the day, this all comes down to ownership.  If the Common Core is something that is done unto schools and classrooms, it won’t work.  Everyone will say, “I’m doing it” but in fact they will be doing what they’ve always done.  This is where I think there’s a big opportunity.  If teachers are invited to make these standards their own, then something really exciting can happen.
Last summer, on the last day of TeachFest, one of our Dream Team teachers took the microphone.  He said that when he’d arrived at TeachFest he’d been suspicious.  “I saw things on the website that I didn’t like,” he said.  “References to charter schools and Teach for America.  Things that make my blood boil.”  He paused.  “But after rolling up my sleeves and working with my team on the Common Core standards, I realize now that we’ve been having all the wrong conversations.  Instead of getting distracted, this is what we should be talking about.  This is the important work – figuring out how to teach our kids better.”
If we can find a way to harness the passion and possibility of which this teacher spoke; if we can figure out how to make it possible for teachers to share and own the implementation of the Common Core State Standards; if we can make implementation something that is both hard AND inspiring, then the Common Core State Standards will be more much more than the 9th change those teachers in Tennessee have experienced.