Sunday, March 3, 2019

Research Templates You Can Do

I am a believer in #BetterTogether and I'm always looking to share Tech You Can Do. The beauty of collaboration shines through when a teacher comes to me with an idea or topic or question rolling around in their head and asks me to help them make it happen - usually by infusing a tech tool. Sometimes it's an in-person conversation, sometimes it's through email, and sometimes, even via text messages. There are advantages to all 3, but the push-and-pull is where the magic happens, regardless of the method.

I have always thought of myself as a life-long learner. [My dad even used to tease me when I struggled to settle on a major in college, that I was going to be a "perpetual student". Not a bad compliment for a future teacher, eh?] After teaching in the classroom for 14 years, I have been a Technology Integration Specialist for the two elementary buildings for my district for 3 years. Supporting these teachers and students not only cements this life-long learning in me, but continues to push me to learn more and in various ways. 

I'm finding more and more, teachers are excited about the ability to provide options to their students while also being conscious not all students have the same background with the tools. It's very exciting to collaborate and create something to fit the teacher's desired curricular goals while allowing and encouraging student creativity. 

One of the "secret weapons" on any template I create/use with students, is including "speech bubbles" for use to provide specific directions, options to go further, additional resources, or remind students of the basic requirements of the project. Using Google Slides - my #1 go-to - I also use the speaker notes at the bottom for many of the same reasons. Slides and Drawings both have gray space, which I consider valuable real estate for these same reasons. I typically add the note "Delete when finished" to help guide students, acting as a checklist.

Digital File Folder for Animal Research
File folder for research
One example of a template is this digital file folder for research I created for a 3rd grade class. The goal was to do some research - specifically on animals - and present it in a different way. The original idea was an index card but as we talked about items to include, we decided it needed to be a bit "bigger" so we settled on a 'manila folder' feel. I was invited to come into the class and work with the teacher and her students for 2 class periods. This allowed me to not only teach the students some of the tools, but the teacher was able to be a learner as well. (She has mentioned several times she enjoys this which just reminds me this is valuable for everyone involved!)

I can see making a couple of adjustments to make it work for older students: as easy as changing the font size to allow for additional typing OR a little more complex, by adding in "stapled" sheets of paper for longer research rather than the 3 small index cards on the inside. On the other hand, simplifying it can allow for use with younger students, too!

Animal File Folder template

"Who Would Win? book"
Who Would Win book
Another example is for a 4th grade class. I can't take all the credit for this one ... my friend Beth Kingsley created the book cover for her 3rd graders to use last year when they did animal research. Her students LOVED it as did the author, Jerry Pallota! 

One of the 4th grade teachers I work with, saw this book cover on our Templates for Teachers website, and asked if I could adjust it to have "inside pages" for her students to write their research. Of course!!! After doing my own research on these books, I added a few inside pages in the theme of the book, and voila! The "Who Would Win?" for 4th graders was created. Again, the teacher invited me in her class to walk them all through the customization of the template. Students were already paired up and worked collaboratively on the book. This was a beautiful time to also discuss digital collaboration.

When a second 4th grade teacher asked if I'd join her class for the same activity, I happily agreed. I never know who enjoys these activities more ... the kids or me! There was one curveball with this class. Some boys called me over and asked this question, "Mrs. Kiefer ... there are 3 of us. How do we do the cover?" 

I was stumped - the teacher confirmed they had an odd number, so these boys needed their cover to reflect this. I responded, "What do you think?" After only a small hesitation, one of the boys proposed placing the 3 animals in somewhat of a triangular arrangement on the cover. Brilliant!!! When it came to the inside pages, it was set up for 2 animals, and the boys told me, "Don't worry, he just duplicated one of the slides so there is another page for our third animal." I was so impressed! Problem solving and creativity ... excellent!

I love this process ... from start to finish. Collaborating with the teachers to create the template, working with the students to make the template their own, and then the pride on their faces when they see what they have created. If anyone wants to know why I love my job ... this is it. 
Narrative Non-Fiction Writing
The final template I want to share was created for a 7th grade language arts class. I collaborated with a teacher I started teaching with back in 2002. We created this template in response to her desire to do something "different" for her narrative non-fiction writing. We settled on creating a magazine template for her students. 

She looked through the magazines she already had in her classroom and picked out several features she wanted to include, allowing her to reinforce text features at the same time as the writing. You'll notice there is a great deal more space dedicated to text ... a reasonable expectation for 7th graders. After she selected the text features, we decided on the layout. We created a 4 page spread for students to type in, again, a reasonable expectation for students of this age. Rather than saying "write a 4 page essay", she used the template layout to show them the space, giving them the idea they needed enough information to fit it.

Again, we used my secret weapon - speech bubbles - as well as the gray space to allow her to include directions and "helps". She then used our LMS to provide a copy for each student. Since she teaches at our middle school, I wouldn't be able to join in on this classroom adventure. She and her students enjoyed this writing activity done differently. She shared with me later, another teacher asked what program she used to create this template ... she told him, "I used the Sarah Kiefer program." What an awesome compliment! I think you'll agree our template turned out pretty professional looking! 

Narrative Non-fiction magazine

Today I've shared 3 templates. My friend Beth (mentioned above) and I have created a website - Templates for Teachers - sharing these, and many others, that you are welcome to peruse, take and use as they are, or better yet, take and modify to fit your needs. 

I truly love working with teachers and their students. The collaboration is something I will never get tired of. I am also finding our students are hungry to express themselves, especially when it comes to demonstrating their learning. Don't be afraid ... you don't need to know everything ... you just need to be confident enough to work WITH your students. And if you don't feel that confident, find a friend and collaborate with them. 

Reach out ... I wouldn't mind being that person. 

Have a question or comment? Feel free to comment below, reach out to me on Twitter @kiefersj, or email me at

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