3 Strategies for Engaging Online Lessons

Hey fellow online teachers! The struggle is real, I know. Lots of silent blank squares. This blog post goes along with this video to show you some of my favorite strategies for teaching online and getting students involved and excited!

  1. Flipgrid Charades

Here are the instructions I gave them. See the video for examples!

2. Book Recommendation Presentations

3. Monitor Break Out Rooms with Group Google Slides

Don’t forget to watch the video to see the explanation of all of the activities. Here’s wishing you extra focus, positivity and patience this week!

Using Canva + Google Classroom to Facilitate Amazing Student Work

Thank you to Canva for sponsoring this post!

When we were sent home for the remainder of the 2020 school year in March, most of the virtual lessons that I threw together from my at-home office (our corner kitchen nook) flopped. One week, in a last ditch effort to create a sense of community for our students, ASB hosted a virtual spirit week on social media. I was pleasantly surprised to see that so many of my students were AWESOME at Instagram stories. Like, they put me to shame!

So I decided to take advantage of their skills and create a research project for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month where they would showcase their knowledge in an IG Story format. I gave them instructions for how to use Canva for their design so that 1) all of the projects would have the same dimensions, 2) students could create an IG story even if they didn’t actually have an Instagram account, and 3) I could share their research on my Instagram account and help to educate more people about the contributions of Asian Americans. Here are some of the amazing results:

Aren’t those incredible? They did such a great job, and this assignment had the highest submission rate of the spring. Students who seemed to have checked out during the spring completely, still did this assignment. I think the design element had a lot to do with it.

I’m going to use Canva for Education to infuse some spark back into our virtual lessons as we move into the second quarter of the year. I can add students to my Canva for Education account straight through Google Classroom, which is super convenient since I have about 200 students in my six classes. They can design on their Chromebooks–Canva is optimized for Chromebooks–or on a desktop, iOS or Andriod device.

As you scroll through all of the template options you’ll definitely be inspired to try different ways for students to show their knowledge. We are obviously big fans of the Instagram Stories templates:

I’m also excited to have my students try out the presentation templates. They can work on a presentation collaboratively in real time, so I’m going to use these to help keep track of their progress during Break Out room time.

I can assign, review and comment upon their work within my account, so it’s great to have everything in once place.

I’m also going to recommend the Class Schedule templates to my students who are having trouble keeping track of all of their assignments for seven classes in an online block schedule. This is a clumsy transition for a lot of us, and since our schedules are different literally every single day, it’s not always easy to remember what to do and when to do it.

I’m so excited to see what my creative students will design with all these cool features at their fingertips! They can even design in any language, including Spanish, French, German, Russian, as well as left to right languages like Arabic and Hebrew.

For teachers, Canva for Education is a gold mine of templates to make your life easier. I have an observation coming up, so I’m going to use one of these lesson plan templates to help me stay organized and communicate my lesson plan to my administration.

They even have virtual classroom templates–we all know what a pain those are to create for yourself!

The best part is: Canva for Education is free, forever, for K-12 educators globally! You can register for your free account at https://canva.me/megan. I can’t wait to see what you create!

The United States’ Influence on the Delay of Abolition in Brazil


(I came across this paper that I wrote in December 2012 for a HIST350 course and decided to archive it here on my blog. I believe that more high quality historical scholarship should be public, so I’ll be adding more of my work to this site. My thesis is on US Virgin civil rights leader Rothschild Francis is already posted here. Because of WordPress formatting I cannot include the footnotes, but I will include a bibliography at the end.)

Almost from the instant that European explorers set foot in the Americas, slave labor dictated the development of the economy, trade, race relations, politics and even the genetic make-up of most of the American colonies. After benefitting from hundreds of years of legal slavery, however, many European nations had passed abolition laws in their colonies by the mid-nineteenth century. Newly independent Latin American nations abolished slavery even earlier. By contrast, slavery maintained a particularly stubborn hold on the United States and Brazil for several decades after their fellow nations outlawed the practice. After a bloody civil war, the United States finally passed the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery in 1865, and Brazil’s Golden Law freed all its enslaved people in 1888. Though Brazil was the last nation in the Americas to abolish slavery, the United States directly contributed to the delay by providing ships that allowed the African slave trade to continue in Brazil, by Matthew Fontaine Maury’s plan to use Brazil as a “safety valve” for would-be emancipated North American slaves, and because the migration of Confederate slaveholders who came to Brazil to continue the practice of their peculiar institution.

Brazil was one of the first Latin American colonies to utilize enslaved Africans in the early sixteenth century. Brazil’s rich soil and warm climate provided the ideal environment for the Portuguese to grow sugarcane, but processing it into sugar was extremely labor intensive. Mill lords (senhores de engenho) each owned hundreds of enslaved people to mill the sugarcane and boil the juice down into cakes for export. Initially, the Portuguese sugar producers built their economies on the labor of Indigenous peoples, but many of these workers died from exposure to European diseases or simply escaped from the plantations. The sugar producers then turned to enslaved Africans to fill in the labor force.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, high demand for coffee and the discovery of gold in Northern Brazil created an even greater need for slave labor in the eyes of Brazilian growers and exporters. Before the 1850’s, more than four million enslaved Africans were imported to Brazil, which amounted to forty percent of the total number of Africans taken to the Americas, and ten times the number of enslaved people who were sent to the United States. Slave labor had become an integral part of nearly every industry in Brazil at that time. Latin American historian Laird W. Bergad credits Brazil with developing “the largest and most diversified slave labor system in all the Americas.”

While Brazil was utilizing slave labor on such a massive scale, most of its neighboring nations had already outlawed slavery, and England was putting pressure on Brazil (now independent from Portugal) to end slavery. The British, who had abolished slavery in their own nation in the 1830’s, tried to stamp out the Brazilian slave trade with treaties, but Brazil did not cooperate with the laws. By the 1850’s Britain began using warships to try to stop the slave trade in Brazil. Still, Brazil continued to import enslaved Africans despite British regulation, though they did not accomplish this feat entirely on their own.

Many U.S. nationals also happened to be particularly adept at circumventing slave trade laws in the early nineteenth century. There had been laws prohibiting the United States from participating in the African slave trade for decades. The first of these laws was passed in 1794, and several other laws were passed to fortify this ban in 1800, 1808 and 1812. Yet, in the 1820’s ships were captured in Mobile and New Orleans that contained hundreds of enslaved Africans. Ships from Baltimore, New York, Providence, Boston and Salem routinely sailed to Brazil to sell enslaved people to slave dealers. Baltimore gained a reputation as the primary meeting place for Brazilian pirates who did not follow Portuguese commerce regulations. U.S. foreign and trade policies did not condone the slave trade, but many private businessmen–especially those with a personal investment in slaveholding–were willing to ignore slave trade regulations.

Though the African slave trade had been officially banned in Brazil in the 1830’s, it actually increased dramatically during that decade in large part because of the United States’ contribution through shipping. Brazil was the largest slave market at the time due to demand for sugar, coffee and gold, and opportunistic Americans used their unique advantages to forge business partnerships with Brazilian slave traders. The United States had recently built up its navy, gaining military power to rival the slave-trade patrolling British navy. Matthew Karp points out that, suspiciously, “slaveholders remained disproportionately involved in naval affairs throughout the antebellum era.” Southerners usually claimed national security as their motivation for a strong navy, but since the U.S. had the military power to refuse to allow the British navy to search their ships, many U.S. and Brazilian nationals worked together to smuggle hundreds of thousands of Africans to Brazil. W.E.B. DuBois took notice that the slave trade in the Americas “came to be carried on principally by United States capital, in United States ships, officered by United States citizens, and under the United States flag.”

Royal Navy commander Charles Wise also witnessed, with his own eyes, that ships with U.S. flags were trading rum and muskets for African slaves in Angola. He made this observation in 1858, a full fifty years after the slave trade was outlawed in the United States. Obviously it was somewhat difficult to import these enslaved people into the U.S., but traders could make huge profits from selling them to Brazilians slaveholders. Historian Gerald Horne remarks, “the importance of this African Slave Trade to Brazil has not been sufficiently recognized in the nation that was one of its principal beneficiaries–the U.S.” Undoubtedly, the United States’ active participation in the slave trade allowed Brazil to import enslaved Africans in great numbers and with greater ease than they every could have done without U.S. assistance.

Some Americans had bigger plans for importing enslaved people into Brazil than shipping them from Africa. Matthew Fontaine Maury saw the Amazon as a “safety-valve of the Union” and wanted to send enslaved people and their enslavers to Brazil so that they could continue practicing slavery. This plan may sound far-fetched, but Maury was a respected Confederate, and a renowned oceanographer who has been compared in his field to “Columbus, Galileo, Harvey and Newton.” As the Civil War pressed on, Maury’s idea would have been appealing to some Southern slaveholders who wouldn’t want to remain in a country where slavery was abolished.

Maury could see that slavery was coming to an end in the United States, but he did not imagine that Southern slaveholders would give up the people they owned without compensation, so he thought it logical to sell them to Brazil. In 1851 he wrote in a letter to his cousin,

Brazil is a slave country, and all the travelers who go there, I am told, say that the black man, and he alone, is capable of subduing the forests there. To make it clear that the people of Amazonia will have slaves–they are very near to the coast of Africa, and if they cannot get them in one way they will get them in another. The alternative is, shall Amazonia be supplied with this class from the United States or from Africa? In the former case it will be a transfer of the place of servitude, but the making of no new slaves. In the latter it will be making slaves of free men, and adding greatly to the number of slaves in the world. In the former it would be relieving our own country of the slaves, it would be hastening the time of our deliverance, and it would be putting off indefinitely the horrors of that war of races which, without an escape, is surely to come upon us. Therefore I see in the slave territory of the Amazon the SAFETY VALVE of the Southern States.

Maury was clearly confident that Brazil had no intention of abolishing slavery any time soon, and he felt that the U.S. could benefit from slavery even if it it was abolished in the states. He did not give any validation whatsoever to the abolitionist idea that it was immoral for a human to be enslaved, but instead sought a kind of loophole around the freeing of slaves. He framed his argument as a situation which would generously provide Brazil with a new shipment of slave labor so that they would not have to go to Africa to gather more enslaved people.

Maury’s letter also seems to reveal a thinly veiled uneasiness about the presence of free Blacks in the United States. Many Southern slaveholders were terrified at the prospect of their property becoming free humans, capable of even more retaliation than they sought as captives. In Brazil, manumission was actually fairly common practice, but as Maury’s argument suggests, American slaveholders were less willing to free their enslaved people. After the Nat Turner Revolt in 1831, many slaveholders lived in constant fear of slave revolts and would have been open to any other solution besides their former chattel becoming free. While Maury presents his plan as a benevolent offer to Brazil to import new enslaved people without having to go all the way to Africa for a new shipment, in reality, he was just looking for a place to unload hundreds of thousands of people who had been oppressed and beaten for their entire lives, in order to avoid their possible vengeance.

The other option was for slaveholders to preemptively move to Brazil with their enslaved people before abolition became a reality in the United States. There were six major settlements of Southern slaveholders in Brazil, though all but one, “Americana,” failed. Still, the migration is significant, as it was very rare, if not unprecedented, for a large group of Americans to leave the United States in search of a better quality of life.

Though Maury did not follow his own plan to move to Brazil (he denounced the U.S. after the Civil War and moved to Mexico [where slavery had been illegal for decades]), he promoted slavery in Brazil and many Confederates did move there. Once the Civil War ended and the Confederate States of America (CSA) failed, many wealthy planters moved to Brazil to continue their lifestyle. Horne estimates that about ten thousand Confederates relocated to Brazil in the late 1860’s and early 1970’s. Many of these expatriates wrote letters to their friends and families back home in the United States, so we have written records of their racist attitudes toward and impressions of Brazil when they arrived.

Though the U.S. and Brazil both held on to slavery into the second half of the nineteenth century, race relations differed greatly in the two countries. The greatest difference was the fact that in the U.S. people of African descent never comprised more than about 16% of the population. In Brazil, however, a large percent of the population were at least partly of African descent. Virginians like Richard Morton were shocked to find that it was “no uncommon thing for a free black man to be invited to the table with white persons.” He was so uncomfortable socializing with Black people that when he went to a dance, he found a “fellow of [his] height” to dance with, rather than dancing with the girls who were too dark for his taste. Though there were men who wrote to their friends about the incredible beauty of Brazilian women, there were also men like Levi Holden who wrote that the women were “very dark…and very ugly. In no part of the world can so much ugliness and so few good looks be met.” Many men wrote in astonishment at the fact that Black men held professional jobs and even high positions in the Catholic Church.

The Americans’ reactions to the lifestyles of free Black people in Brazil highlight the major differences between the eras of slavery in the United States and in Brazil. While Brazil was fairly open to allowing free Black people to participate in all arenas of society, many of these transplanted Americans could not even begin to imagine giving a Black person rights. John F. Pickett, a former Confederate, did not find Brazil an acceptable place to move because Brazilians “lacked the same social prejudices against blacks that were felt by most Southerners.” There were Brazilians who had abolitionist sentiments at this time, but perhaps U.S. nationals stunted the prospect for freedom for enslaved people in that region. The influx of slaveholders and their racist attitudes in Brazil could have crippled the cause for abolition in Brazil for several more years.

Many Confederates were so appalled by the lack of prejudice against free Black people that they packed their bags and moved either to Mexico, or slinked humbly back to the United States. A contemporary scholar named Louis Aggasiz noted, “the absence of all restraint upon the free blacks, the fact that are eligible to office and that all professional careers are open to them, without prejudice on the ground of color, enables one to form some opinion as to their ability…the result is on the whole in their favor.” Attitudes were not as harsh toward people with darker skin in Brazil, and many Americans did not approve. More than two thirds of migrants to Brazil ended up returning to the United States, citing language barriers, differences in religion (Protestant Confederates did not approve of Catholics), the inability to vote in Brazil, and their strange acceptance of free Black people as reasons for their return.

Though many Confederates urged Brazil to continue slavery for their own benefit, Washington officially advocated for Brazilian abolition so that Brazil would not gain a competitive advantage in trading. President Grant recognized that when Brazilians earned a profit from sugar and coffee they used their money to buy British goods, not American goods. As slavery was now abolished in the United States, Grant also did not want Americans to have to compete with slave labor when it came to manufacturing. The government’s official position was that Brazil should abolish slavery, but their motives were just as selfish as the ex-Confederates who wanted slavery to live on for their own benefit.

Regardless of the United States’ mixed messages, Emperor Dom Pedro II was the catalyzing force for abolition in Brazil. Dom Pedro, who ascended to the Brazilian throne at age five, believed in gradual abolition and successfully enacted decrees that steadily and systematically freed all of the enslaved people in Brazil. Between the years of 1864 and 1888 Dom Pedro freed enslaved people who had been seized by British patrols, anyone enslaved person who had served in the army, children born to enslaved parents, enslaved people over sixty-five years old, and finally, under the Golden Law, all slaves. There were coffee growers who opposed freeing their work force, but overall Dom Pedro II successfully enacted a top-down system of abolition.

Though Brazil will be remembered as the last nation in the Americas to abolish slavery, the influence of the United States on the deferral of this policy is undeniable. Without the participation of the U.S. merchants and ships, Brazil would not have been able to engage in the African slave trade and continue importing enslaved people for as long as they did. In addition, even U.S. nationals who conceded to slavery’s defeat in the United States encouraged the continuation of slavery in Brazil by transferring both enslaved people and enslavers to the Latin American nation. Matthew Fontaine Maury was the originator and promoter of this plan, even though he did not actually participate in the migration to Brazil. When Confederates did move to Brazil, they brought with them racist and prejudiced attitudes toward Black people that were much more rigid than how Brazilians viewed Black people. American slaveholders believed that by the virtue of being Black, Africans were meant to be enslaved, and they brought those beliefs with them to Brazil. It was only after a mass migration of Southern slaveholders back to the United States that gradual abolition gained momentum in Brazil. Dom Pedro II’s Gold Law may have been enacted years sooner had it not been for the Confederate interest in keeping slavery alive in Brazil for as long as it benefitted the United States.


Bergad, Laird W. The Comparative Histories of Slavery in Brazil, Cuba, and the United States. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Chasteen, John Charles. Born in Blood and Fire: A Concise History of Latin America. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011.

Degler, Carl N. Neither Black Nor White: Slavery and Race Relations in Brazil and the United States. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1971.

DuBois, W.E.B. in The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969.

Horne, Gerald. The Deepest South: The United States, Brazil and the African Slave Trade. New York: New York University Press, 2007.

Karp, Matthew J. “Slavery and American Sea Power: The Navalist Impulse in the Antebellum South.” Journal of Southern History 77 (2011): 283-324.

Marx, Anthony W. Making Race and Nation: A Comparison of South Africa, the United States and Brazil. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Maury, Matthew Fontaine. A letter to his cousin dated Dec. 24, 1851 in A Life of Matthew Fontaine Maury, U.S.N. and C.S.N., Diana Fontaine Corbin and Nannie Corbin, University of Virginia, 1924.

Smith, C.A. Southern Literary Studies. The University of North Carolina Press, 1927.

My Masters Thesis: “Rothschild Francis’ Fight for Virgin Islanders’ Civil Rights and Self-Government in an Age of U.S. Expansion, 1917-1931”

francis pic

Whenever I share fascinating primary source documents and intriguing stories about Rothschild Francis and his fight for Virgin Islanders’ civil rights, people ask where they can read more about him. I spent about four years asking the same question, and found myself in Washington DC in the Library of Congress basement for three days with microfiche files and delicate newspaper pages from the 1920’s. I chased documents from The Schomberg Library in Harlem to the New York Public Library in Manhattan. I spent hundreds of dollars on books from sellers in the US Virgin Islands, written by amateur USVI historians. I found relevant articles in academic databases, and some primary source documents from simple Google searches.

There are very few secondary sources about Rothschild Francis and the brilliant strategies he employed to attempt to secure Constitutional rights for his people. I realized that I, actually, could do something about this.

My masters research/thesis is one of the accomplishments in my life that I am most proud of. I was teaching full-time while I took in-person classes at a university an hour away from where I lived and worked, and when I defended my thesis and walked with my graduating class, I was 39 weeks pregnant with my son. Even though it took about four years and ended up being outrageously expensive, I loved the process of taking graduate level history courses and doing targeted research.


I take pride in being a historian. Many of my classmates went on to pursue PhDs in History in order to become professors and to continue their research. I was tempted to follow this path as well, but even more than a historian, I am an educator. I want to make impeccable historical practices and intriguing research and sources available to K-12 teachers who don’t have access to WorldCat, university archives, and professor office hours. And I want our students to become amazing historians.

I have shared a lot of my masters journey and my USVI research online. Here is a YouTube video about the process of pursing my degree. I created this lesson about Rothschild Francis, and it’s available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. I even made myself a custom t-shirt with Rothschild Francis quotes on it to wear when I teach my students about him!

I have never shared my actual thesis paper before because I thought that I would need to protect my research if I ever applied for a PhD program or a Caribbean history conference. I kept meaning to make a YouTube video where I read my thesis out loud so that people could hear it, but wouldn’t have access to the text.

But what would Rothschild Francis do in this situation? He studied US History and policy voraciously and then put everything he learned into editorials in his newspaper, The Emancipator. He wanted people to have access to everything that he knew, and he believed that information would empower his fellow Virgin Islanders.

So even though I am fiercely protective of this paper and everything that it represents to me, I think it should be accessible for free to anyone who wants to learn more about Rothschild Francis and the history of the Virgin Islands. This history is Caribbean History, is Black History, is US History, is political history, is biography. I hope this paper will help any educator who would like to incorporate Rothschild Francis’ story into their curriculum.


Here are my two greatest accomplishments: my thesis about Rothschild Francis, and his great-great grandson. Enjoy!


Social Justice Standards by Teaching Tolerance


As I enter into my eighth year of teaching in the wake of three mass shootings, my priorities and mission are as clear as they’ve ever been. We desperately need to help students love and understand themselves and others. We cannot do this with trite lessons about being kind and treating people how you would like to be treated. We need to help students do the real work of understanding their own identities, and learning how to stand up for what is right.

All of our students need to spend time reflecting on their identities and how they move through the world in the body they are in. Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum writes about the psychological development of racial identity, specifically, in her groundbreaking book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? I highly recommend starting here in order to learn about why it is so important to understand how racial identity affects our students–all of our students. White students tend to be stunted in their racial identity development because they are not often prompted to reflect upon it, explicitly or implicitly.

It can be overwhelming to try to plan lessons that address our students’ intersectional identities on our own. In fact, I don’t recommend doing that. Teaching Tolerance is an excellent resource for professional development, lesson plans and strategies that “help teachers and schools educate children and youth to be active participants in a diverse democracy.” A project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, they have free, high-quality resources that bring truth and authenticity into your classroom.

Teaching Tolerance has developed a set of Social Justice Standards for students at every grade level that I think are incredibly powerful. As soon as I read through the 6-8 grade standards, I knew they needed to be a focus in my classroom this year. I start school next week, so I can’t tell you exactly how we will use them yet, but I will write more about it as the year progresses. For now, they are posted in my room, and I plan to focus on one of the four domains (Identity, Diversity, Justice and Action) per quarter in both my 6th grade History and my 8th grade English classes.

I formatted them so that they were easy to post on a bulletin board, and I made versions for each grade level. Take them for free and post them in your classroom. Then please go to the Teaching Tolerance website and view the free PD modules that accompany each domain. As much as I hope that teachers all over the country use these standards, I also hope that they are doing the personal work of learning about their own identities, privilege and responsibility when it comes to anti-racist work in schools. The resources are there; we just need to invest the time and effort into educating ourselves and living out the standards in our own lives authentically.

So without further ado, the bulletin board versions are linked below for you. Use them, be creative with them, and I’d love to hear about the successes and challenges you have along the way. You can tag me on Instagram at @toocoolformiddleschool and I’ll be sure to see it. Thank you for doing the difficult, important work that you do. I hope this makes it just a little bit more accessible.

Grades K-2 Social Justice Standards

Grades 3-5 Social Justice Standards

Grades 6-8 Social Justice Standards

Grades 9-12 Social Justice Standards

Fresh Perspectives with Historical Graphic Novels


I am a late convert to the graphic novels craze, but I am always pleasantly surprised by what a unique experience I have through the illustrations and organization of graphic novels. They are fast-paced and can cover more ground than a typical historical monograph or historical fiction book. Here are a few that have become favorites in my classroom.


If you teach US History this book will be incredibly useful to you. It has beautiful, color illustrations that are punctuated every so often with timelines, primary source documents and real pictures of Frederick Douglass. If you teach Douglass’s writings in an English class, this book provides important background information about his life in a gorgeous format.

The Life of Frederick Douglass


This was the first graphic novel I ever read, and it was actually assigned to me in one of my graduate History courses. The first section is a dynamic graphic history following the 1876 court case of a West African woman named Abina as she fought her wrongful enslavement. You can compare the story to the actual transcript of the case, provided in the next section. The last sections include historical context, a reading guide, and classroom resources to help you teach nineteenth-century colonialism in Africa. I would love to see more graphic histories published in this brilliant format.

Abina and the Important Men


This is my newest graphic novel purchase–I obviously couldn’t resist another Hamilton addition to my classroom! This definitely isn’t a “dumbed down” version of Hamilton’s story; it is a challenging and engaging read even for history buffs. This would make a great teaching tool for US History teachers, and your Hamil-fan students will beg to borrow it!

Alexander Hamilton


This story of Ebo, who is trying to find his way from Ghana to Europe is fast-paced, heartbreaking, beautiful and eye-opening. In my English classes we do a unit about immigration to the United States, but I think it’s important to look at migration from a global perspective as well. This story depicts the lengths that people–even children–must go to in order to survive famine, food shortages, and unemployment.



This graphic novel is probably the closest to the work that I like to do as a historian, so it was interesting to see how Max Brooks handled the story. Even though I wasn’t initially impressed with the illustrations, Max Brooks attended the University of the Virgin Islands so I knew I had to give this book a chance! It tells a story most students and teachers have never heard, and inspires readers to look for those hidden stories we don’t often find in history books.

The Harlem Hellfighters


The March books are a staple of historical graphic novels. Revered civil rights leader John Lewis chronicles his story of nonviolent resistance against segregation as a young man in Alabama with Martin Luther King Jr. Civil rights history easily becomes white-washed in classrooms as we move further away from the personal stories of resistance, so these first person accounts are essential to preserving the spirit of the civil rights movement.



Students often have a hard time picturing the Annex and the Frank family’s living situation. This beautifully illustrated graphic novel interpretation of her diary provides such useful images of the characters, the setting, and Anne’s imagination. I took pictures of pages with my phone and shared them on Google Classroom with my students to spark discussions as we read the play this year. It’s definitely one of my favorite graphic novels I’ve ever read!

Anne Frank’s Diary

I’m still building my graphic novel library! Please leave me any suggestions you have in the comments!

Leader in Me Classroom Posters


My school is in the beginning stages of implementing the Leader in Me program, which is based on Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I really love the foundations of the 7 habits, and the focus on learning to take responsibility for yourself, and then learning how to work with other people and lead by example. These are traits that we want our students to have, but it’s important to teach them explicitly.

One small step that I’m taking in my classroom is posting the language of the 7 habits so that it begins to become part of the way we speak and think in my class. I designed these posters and then printed them on card stock, laminated them, and attached them to the wall with a hot glue gun.


You could print them on any color paper you’d like and arrange them however they would best fit in your room. I’m attaching them here for free use for other Leader in Me schools. If you use them please tag me on Instagram, I’d love to see how yours turn out!

7 Habits Posters TCFMS

My Favorite History Resources

History Faves

Happy new school year! I have four sections of ELA and two sections of Ancient History this year, and I am loving only having two preps! I’m trying to post more information for you here on this blog platform since it holds more links than Instagram, and is sometimes easier to reference than a YouTube video. But check out both of those platforms for daily tips as well!

Here are 6 of my favorite resources to use in my history classes:


I started using Flocabulary about six years ago to teach the Bill of Rights to my 8th grade students with a rap song. Since then they’ve added every subject area to their site that you could ever need, including Social Emotional Learning and Financial Literacy. I currently use their Ancient History units, the Week in Rap current events videos, and of course all of the amazing English curriculum in my ELA classes.

For years I paid for a subscription and had a teacher account. I played their videos for my students and printed quizzes and Read and Respond assignments for my students. They absolutely loved the videos and learned concepts so quickly because they could memorize the songs. The quizzes and other activities were such high quality and so convenient that it was worth it to me to pay monthly for the subscription.

Now I have a school-wide subscription which is perfect since all of our students have Chromebooks. My students each have an account, so they can watch the videos as many times as they need to, and I can assign quizzes and activities for them to do online. No more printing and making copies! Talk to your administration about purchasing a school-wide subscription because it can be used in every single content area.

Our favorite feature is the Week in Rap, and we won the Shout Out contest last year! Check out this video to see how it works!


Newsela takes current news articles and levels each article so that is accessible to students at reading levels all the way down to 2nd grade. You can assign the same article to whole class, and if they are on a personal device, no one will know if they are reading it at a different lexile level than their neighbor. It’s so great for differentiation!

This is another resource that I’m able to use in both my English and history classes, but I especially love it for history. All of the articles are from reputable news sources, so I like to send my students here to do research. Newsela has amassed thousands of articles now, and also partnered with Biography.com to provide more history content. They have text sets and primary source documents that are perfect for building background knowledge.

I also love using Newsela for writing instruction. See this video for more information on how to use it for revision and editing.

Newsela has both a free and a paid version.


iCivics is free but I donate to them once a year because I absolutely love what they are doing. They have incredible, engaging games that teach students complex topics about civics and government. Your students can argue Supreme Court cases, run for office, and be a virtual immigration officer. This is another site that works especially well if your students have their own device, but I also love to pair them up and have them work together on one device.

Facing History & Ourselves

This summer I had the opportunity to attend a week-long training with Facing History on Race & Membership in American Society. It was incredibly powerful, and I loved learning the strategies and content firsthand. If you want to give your students a solid foundation in topics such as democracy, immigration, anti-Semitism, and human rights, check out this free site. All of their resources are based in primary source documents and solid historical research, and they have dozens of impactful and effective teaching strategies for reading, writing, and thinking. If you only have the time and resources to go to one teaching conference this year, make it one by Facing History and Ourselves.

Here is a video about my experience at the training.

Document Based Questions (DBQs)

Start bringing your administrators cookies this week so that next week you can ask them to purchase some DBQ curriculum for your department. If your school is in the process of phasing out history textbooks, make sure that they understand that this curriculum is much cheaper than textbooks, and several teachers can share one set. I would gladly teach all of my content through DBQ’s and give up traditional curriculum.

Document Based Questions are the closest curriculum I’ve seen to what real historical work is actually like. Students are presented with a historical question, engaging (and often conflicting!) primary source documents, and tasked with making a claim that they will defend with evidence. The curriculum provides detailed note-taking, outlining, and writing instructions, so if you have no experience as an English teacher, you’ll still be fine. I find that students like this kind of purposeful research so much more than traditional memorization and multiple-choice tests, plus they learn those dates and places so much more quickly in context. Students truly put content into practice, and they learn skills about consuming information that will serve them for the rest of their lives.

Additionally, if you teach high school, DBQ’s are excellent preparation for AP tests. They’re also excellent preparation for college, and democratic life in general.

Stanford History Education Group (SHEG)

This project by the Stanford History Education Group is quite similar to DBQ’s but it is free once you make an online account. I use the Reading Like a Historian section the most often, which contains quite a few inquiries based in ancient history. Like DBQ’s, these text sets provide conflicting primary and secondary source documents, which are incredibly fun to teach because students have to decide which evidence is the most credible. The research and investigation is purposeful because students are trying to solve a mystery. My 6th grade students especially like the unit about how Egyptian pyramids were built, and they build historical research skills in addition to knowledge about ancient Egypt.

If you teach English and history together, or if you collaborate often with your English department, this would be excellent curriculum to take on as a team.

My fellow history teachers, I hope these resources are helpful to you! We are teaching during an exciting time when historical thinking skills are beginning to be valued over trivia, and WE get to pass on those skills. It’s an honor and, truthfully, a whole lot of fun!

Personalized Interactive Notebooks

This post was sponsored by Five Star® as part of an Influencer Activation for Influence Central and all opinions expressed in my post are my own.

As much as I love our 1:1 Chromebook situation and moving more of my projects and assignments online, I still require my students to keep a notebook for my class. I want my students to be bilingual in the sense that they can navigate through online documents and responses, but they can also grab a notebook and a pen at any time and make meaning of content. Different students process information differently, so I believe they need choice when it comes to how they organize and lay out their notes and questions.


I enlisted the talents of four of my amazing students to test out four different Five Star® Interactive Notebooks and see how each style helped them keep their information and tools organized.

Hailie chose this Five Star® Customizable Interactive Notebook (College Ruled). Her favorite feature was the customizable cover. She can slip in a cover page for any subject, and then switch it out at any time. The cover is super durable and will protect any other papers that she might slip in there if she is running late at the end of class.


She utilized the margins on the right hand side for chapter titles so that she could easily find the sections she needed to study or refer to. She loves adding her own banners for subheadings, and there is plenty of uncluttered space for her to lay out vocabulary words and main ideas under each banner.


Jessie chose the Five Star® Customizable Interactive Composition Book (College Ruled) for her English notebook. She also loved the customizable cover, and she trimmed hers down so that it would fit perfectly. The smooth edge never gets caught on anything in her backpack, and the inside pages open to a more natural two-page layout.


She created a contrasting layout for a piece of informational text about the leadership styles of Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln. She used the margins to note the lines and page numbers where she found textual evidence about each figure. She delineated her own commentary by setting it off with highlighted boxes so that she could easily translate these notes into an essay the next day. And does she not just have the most beautiful handwriting you’ve ever seen?


Rachel preferred the Five Star® College Ruled Interactive Notebook because she could store so much in the first section. There is a full-size pocket to store handouts, as well has a half-page pocket where she can keep stickers, page flags, or sticky notes.


All of these Five Star® Notebooks also have a handy reinforced Table of Contents section at the beginning. I used to always print a Table of Contents for my students and have them fill it in as we went through the year, but this one is much more durable, and there’s no extra work for me!


Rachel went through the same text about Davis and Lincoln and kept track of important quotes as she read. She added her own commentary underneath the quotes, and then jotted down connections that came to her in the margin where she kept a “notes” section.


Another cool feature at the back of these notebooks is the extendable grid, for plotting points on a chart, creating schedules, mapping out a room, making a bullet journal layout, or anything else you can think of to use it for. It’s made of the same cardstock-like paper as the Table of Contents in the front.


Nadia’s notebook had the same green cover as Rachel’s but she loved all of the clear pockets inside this Five Star® Wide Ruled Interactive Notebook. It has two small pockets at the top to hold note-taking supplies, and a larger envelope below for bigger, flat items. She can see all of her supplies laid out right away, and they never get lost in the black hole of backpack pockets.


Nadia thinks best when she has a lot of white space in her notes, so created this clean, sparse layout for a lesson on the euphemisms in Farewell to Manzanar. She added her own doodles to remind her about the primary source documents we looked at in class.


All four girls are excellent students, and while they do great work on our online platforms, they enjoy working with pen and paper to process new information. Some of their best connections and epiphanies have come from seeing their notes laid out on the page in a way that they understand. Plus they all enjoy the process of hand writing, and they like looking back at their written notes much better than notes on an online document.


These are an awesome back to school staple item to add to your list for middle or high school classes. Which one is your favorite?