Make Vocabulary Fun with Digital Breakouts

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My latest BamRadioNetwork EdWords blog post is Make Vocabulary Fun with Digital Breakouts – my strategy for using Quizlet, Google Forms, and Google Sites to rejuvenate vocabulary review. Thank you for reading and considering it. Please comment below or tweet me at @TomEMullaney if you would like to discuss further.

Why This Teacher Loves Canva

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I sat in an eighth-grade math teacher’s classroom, working on problems she shared with her students using Mathspace. I do not usually enjoy multi-step math problems but found myself delighted and completely engaged. Reflecting on it later, I realized a significant part of the experience was Mathspace’s sleek, modern design. I like Google Classroom more than LMSs in part because of its beautiful design but it took my Mathspace experience to realize an important rule when creating digital learning experiences for students:

Design Counts!

If we want students to engage in digital lessons, we owe it to them to make learning materials visually appealing. Personally, I enhance imagery to make Google Sitesdigital breakouts, and YouTube thumbnails that look good and hook students. Canva is a great tool for teachers and students to create imagery that adds beauty to their creations.

Making an image in Canva is easy. Users can create images with template dimensions such as Facebook and Twitter posts, and, my favorite, YouTube thumbnails. Additionally, users can set custom dimensions such as 800 x 200 (Google Classroom images) and 767 x 280 (Google Sites banner images):

The Wikimedia Commons is a great source for copyright-friendly images to jazz up a lesson. Here is how to easily upload them into the Canva editor:

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Canva lets teachers make images more dramatic or cheerful with Instagram-like filters:

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A great tool to use in conjunction with Canva is the Colorzilla Google Chrome extension. It allows users to grab any color they see in an image and use it to make more elements. Additionally, Canva’s transparency tool is another way for amateurs to become instant graphic artists:

Canva is a great tool for students to use their creativity. My colleague Cristie Watson had students create six-word memoirs in Canva which inspired me to make my own:

Teachers looking for more ways to incorporate Canva into instruction should look at their lesson plans as well as tutorials and design resources.

There two small drawbacks. I use the free version of Canva so I cannot make images with transparent backgrounds. That is why I made this site’s favicon in Google Drawings. Additionally, images can only be cropped into rectangles, unlike Google Drawings which allows users to crop with different shapes. These drawbacks make Google Drawings a better tool for making digital badges.

We want our students engaging in the 4Cs in our classrooms. That engagement becomes inevitable when we engage in them ourselves. Canva is a great tool for tapping your inner creativity and drawing it out of students too.

Author’s Note: I have not been compensated for writing this. I have not collaborated with Canva. They were unaware I that I worked on this post.

Comparing Digital Breakouts in New Google Sites and Classic Google Sites

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The New Google Sites is live in personal GMail accounts. It is vastly different from what is now known as “Classic Sites.” Here are my thoughts on using both tools to make digital breakouts.

Looks are important.

Students are more likely to engage with a breakout if it is visually appealing. The New Sites makes much nicer looking websites. Have a look at my digital breakout templates in Classic Sites and New Sites to see the vast difference. Speaking of design, use Canva to make beautiful header images. 280 pixels high and 767 pixels wide are the ideal dimensions.

It is so easy!

Classic Sites is difficult to work with. It is not intuitive. New Sites could not be any easier to use. Make one site with it and you’re a pro. I am thrilled to share New Sites with teachers because they can point, click, and make a beautiful website!

The one drawback.

Beautiful, easy sites! So what’s the catch? There is one, and it is big. Third-party sites that embed in Classic Sites, such as EdPuzzle, ThingLink, and Quizlet, don’t embed in New Sites. Instead, there is a preview that opens a new tab when clicked:

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New Sites is still better.

New Sites’ beauty, ease, and fantastic G Suite integration make it well worth it. EdPuzzle doesn’t work? Find a short video and pair it with a Google Form! Google Slides, PDFs in Google Drive, Docs, Sheets, and even My Maps embed flawlessly – with no code needed! Simply click and drag to move or change size.

I am perfectly willing to use only G Suite tools in New Sites while I wait for embeds to be added to the platform’s functionality.

Beware the navigation!

New Sites has two navigation settings:

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This means that all site pages are visible by default. However, you can hide pages individually:

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Here are some suggestions.

For what it’s worth, here are some suggestions from someone who made many digital breakouts in Classic Sites and can’t wait to get started in New Sites:

  • Figure out what you want your students to work with before making your digital breakout. What PDFs, Google Docs, Google Slides, YouTube videos, Google My Maps, etc. do you want your students interacting with during your digital breakout? Figure that out and your locks will flow from there.
  • Keep the elements on each page minimal. Do not overload students with too many things to view on any one page. Keep it simple and visually appealing. New Sites and Canva help those of us (like me!) who are not artistically inclined.
  • Make one lock super easy. Once students crack one lock, they are hooked. I don’t always follow my own advice on this one. I should.
  • Make digital breakouts in personal Google accounts. No one has a crystal ball. Making a Google Site in a school domain means it could go away if employment status changes. Use personal Google accounts to ensure sites do not disappear when changing jobs.
  • Beta test! Before students try a breakout, have your PLC beta test it to make sure everything is correct. Errors from incorrect links to grammar are common when making digital breakouts. Beta testing makes sure students work on a refined finished product.

Thank you for reading. Comment below or send me a tweet @edtechtom with questions.

Digital Breakouts in the New Google Sites

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The new Google Sites is live. This is a template website to give you ideas for making digital breakouts in the new Sites. Currently, there is no way to copy sites or publish them as templates. The good news is that the new Sites is so intuitive that making digital breakouts is easier than ever!

If you have never tried a digital breakout, please watch this video where I take you through the template to show you how it works:

Please make copies of the files in this Google Drive folder to help you make digital breakouts. This template site uses Google Forms, an embedded PDF, an embedded YouTube video, and Google Slides. Google My Maps and Google Sheets are other G Suite tools that are great for embedding in digital breakouts.

Comment below or send me a tweet @TomEMullaney with questions.

All Digital Breakouts I make are inspired by the innovators behind BreakoutEDU,  James Sanders and Mark Hammons, as well as by the creators of Digital BreakoutEDU,  Justin Birckbichler and Mari Venturino.