Author Archives: Carrie Hall

Portfolios: An Introduction.


Hi everyone!  Welcome to the end of one of the most trying semesters in our teaching careers.

I wanted to give you a few resources to discuss the end-of-term portfolio, if you have decided to go that route.  First of all, HERE is a slideshow about the portfolio which you may want to show your students if you find it helpful.  Much of it is adapted from Portfolio Keeping: A Guide for Students by Nedra Reynolds. Here is a useful quote:

You may recognize the term portfolio from art or finance: Artists keep samples of their best works in a portable case or folder, pieces that represent their interests, their potential, or their development. They show their portfolios to instructors, gallery owners, their peers or potential employers. In finance, a portfolio is a record of investments that is reviewed periodically and updated as needed. Professionals in many other fields also compile portfolios, records of their accomplishments, that they can use to apply for a promotion or a new job.

A portfolio, in other words, is a meaningful collection of selected artifacts or documents, collected over time. Portfolios have become a common method of evaluating and assessing student work in writing classes because they provide a more thorough and authentic picture of a writer’s developing skills. 

Looking at a portfolio as a whole piece of work helps students see their growth and work  throughout the semester– and framing it as Reynolds has helps students see it as something that will be useful to them in their ongoing academic and out-of-school lives.  The slideshow gets into the nuts-and-bolts of how a student might compose one!

Note: in this slideshow, I refer to another slideshow on revision, which can be found HERE.

Reynolds, Nedra, and Elizabeth Davis. Portfolio Keeping: A Guide for Students. Bedford St. Martins, 2014.

How to Use Breakout Rooms Effectively– Jackie Blain

Break Out rooms can be both a blessing and a curse if you have a class full of first year students that only look like black boxes. What Break Out rooms can’t be, however, is a faithful replica of the kind of group work we’re used to in the f2f world. The simple truth is that students aren’t any more likely to turn on their cameras in Break Out rooms than they are in the main room. They are, however, more likely to use their mics and collaborate with each other…IF they’re given tasks to perform. And that’s the big IF – just saying “go talk to each other” really doesn’t work.

About lurking… yes. Do it. It’s annoying maybe to keep clicking buttons, but at heart, it’s just the same as wandering from group to group in a f2f room. You don’t have to engage with them; I found that if they’re working (mics on, mics off, stuff being added to the Google Doc), it’s best just to let them go. And that’s true even if they’re just talking about games or politics or the weather – it creates a sense of community, and is a sneaky way of creating an inquiry community when they’re not looking.

If there’s absolutely no activity on the Doc or in the BO Room, then I start asking questions and just waiting them out until they start using the Chat or somebody turns on their mic. It takes patience, but it works!

Another important tip: I’ve found it works better if each student has contributes in the same way, and not using the usual “reporter, evaluator” method since students get annoyed about perceived inequities.

Here’s a specific assignment that has worked well for me:

Google Doc collaboration:

  1. First I set up a series of Google Docs in our shared Drive (Group 1, Group 2, etc.).
  2. Second, I gave a mini-lecture in the main room about genre and how it’s socially constructed.
  3. Third, I went over a detailed activity sheet (Genre Scavenger Hunt (1)). In it, the students go on a scavenger hunt, in which they must each come back with an example of an artifact of their genre. I gave them a list of genres to choose from to get them started.
  4. Fourth, I sent them into Break-Out rooms.
  5. They found the Google Doc that corresponded to their BO Room number.
  6. And then they got to work!
  7. After a specified time, I brought them all back into the Main Room, and one person (more or less) walked us through what they found. We were able to look at the Google doc together—and we were able to see that each individual person had contributed, even though it was a group project.

Here are some other things you can do with Break Out rooms:

  1. Use the Chat: Have them write a sentence or two on their own, then go into BO rooms, put what they wrote into the Room chat, and “talk” to each other that way. Inevitably, one or two will turn on their mics. One activity I did this way was to ask them to finish the prompt, “Writing is…” Since I wasn’t in the BO room, some of those discussions got pretty lively!
  2. Create a Padlet wall (see the previous blog post about padlet below and/or check them out at and have students respond to a prompt. Then do BO rooms so they can compare what they’ve written specifically and react to other posts on the wall. This is like the Chat activity but more robust because they can see what the whole class wrote.
  3. Do a Jigsaw activity where different groups have to write a brief summary and/or analysis of a specific section of the reading and report back to the class about their discussion. It’s helpful if students write down what they learned from their discussion on Google docs or Padlet (or even on the course website) as well.
  4. Peer Workshop. Set them up by having them post drafts ahead of time, then providing (on Google Docs or elsewhere) a list of things to look for/ways to respond (and, of course, walking them through it before they break off), and giving them a specific outcome for the Break Out room time (a group Workshop Report where they all talk about what they saw works well).
  5. Ice breakers: There are a lot of fun ones out there for synchronous classrooms. One of my favorites is: “the ship is sinking, everybody takes seven things with them, but there’s not enough room for everything, and you as a group have to decide on the seven things total that you can keep… and toss the rest overboard.” As a group, they make a list. When we go back to the Main Room, it’s fun to see who kept what and why (I use the whiteboard for that).
  6. Initial research: This is a great activity for when they’re beginning to do research by asking questions instead of starting with answers. I showed my class a video of Greta Thunberg (with no context), then had them each write what they knew about what they saw, what questions they had and finally put them into Break Out rooms to read their questions and start finding answers. They had to write a brief report about questions and research that they shared with the Main Room later. Again, it is good to make sure that everyone is responsible for some (equal) aspect of this research so that one student does not end up doing all of the work!
  7. The University of Illinois Springfield has a ton of things you can adapt into Break Out room activities:

One word of warning: using Break Out rooms all the time is just as counter-productive as never using them at all. We would never do the same thing in class everyday in the f2f world for that very reason – they can get bored, and boredom leads to disengagement.



Avoiding Cultural Assumptions in Teaching from Lubie Alatriste

Hi everyone, click the slide above for Dr. Alatriste’s full presentation on avoiding cultural assumptions in teaching!

Lubie G. Alatriste

Professor of English & Applied Linguistics

Latest Book with University of Michigan Press



Academic ESOL Program Director, ESOL Writing Lab DIrector
UFS Academic Affairs Committee Chair

Executive Committee Member, UFS

Committee on Academic Policies, Programs and Research (Faculty Member)

ESL DC Co-chair

NYS TESOL Journal, Editor-in-Chief

NYC College of Technology, CUNY
Department of English, Namm 503,

300 Jay Street, NY 11201; Tel: 718-260-5208


Library Links and Tips: From Anne Leonard!

Mid-semester greetings from your library instruction team! On behalf of my colleagues, I’d like to thank you all for your patience, flexibility, and good humor as we bring our library instruction program online this semester. As always, it’s great to work with you all toward the goal of helping City Tech students develop information literacy skills.
Here are some resources for your students that you can post to your course in OpenLab or Blackboard, review in class together, or assign students to view:
Citation and Formatting guide:
Ask a librarian 24/7 chat for help with research: or
Help us improve the online tools we use for library instruction and share your thoughts with us. There are still a few spaces left in our FYW Faculty Focus Group, taking place on Thursday, November 12 at 10 am. For more information and the link to participate, please contact Anne Leonard at
Thanks, everyone.
Anne E. Leonard
Coordinator of Library Instruction & Information Literacy
Associate Professor
Pronouns: she, her, hers
Follow us @citytechlibrary twitter | instagram

Teaching Tips for Multimodal Projects: by Jackie Blain

Most students love multimodal assignments. Most instructors freak out because they don’t feel like they “know enough tech” to teach them. Well, actually, if you know MS Word, you know enough tech. I’m attaching a Word brochure that an 1121 student did to help calm patients down who were scheduled for an MRI; her research had been on the psychology of health care during the pandemic. Jiang_MRI Brochure (1)

The thing is, the students often know a lot about the technology. So when I scaffold multimodal projects, I have them write a proposal and build into the proposal a requirement that: 1) every student ask for tech help if they need it and say what kind of tech, and: 2) every student look at all of the proposals.  If they have expertise with something (like video editing software), they let the student who needs help know. It’s a simple thing, but the first time I did it, I felt much more confident about turning students loose, and the students got very involved in each other’s projects in a very significant way. (I will say, however, that is probably your best friend because it’s free and has copyright cleared images for posters, brochures, photo essays, infographics, you name it! I’m attaching another 1121 brochure a student did on financial literacy for kids that she did in Canva.) Martinez_financial brochure

I also have the students read Melanie Gagich’s piece in Writing Spaces, vol 3 “An Introduction to and Strategies for Multimodal Composing.(” It’s very student (and instructor) friendly – it not only talks about the modes, it also explains how to approach a project rhetorically. And since getting students to focus on specific audiences is often the hardest part of this assignment, it helps everybody to have something to refer to.  It is very important, though, that students understand the importance of audience in multimodal assignments– that they’re not just doing a random thing with a random technology– but that they are using a specific technology BECAUSE it will reach a particular audience for whom their topic is pertinent.  This article is useful for this!

Bottom line: these are often the best things students do all term because it’s the kind of writing that they do in the “real world.” So relax, hammer them on audience, and enjoy what they produce.

For more by Jackie, see her personal website at: 

Tips for Teaching Online, and Slide Shows!

Hi everyone– HERE is the article I sent out with tips for teaching online.  Next week, our own Jackie Blain will guest blog with some more handy ideas about online teaching and student engagement.  We’re lucky to have her.

I don’t know about you all, but I’m a real chalkboard teacher.  I write EVERYTHING down, so being online is a bit awkward for me.  One of the things that has helped me a lot is using Canva to make slideshows (you can also use other programs like Google Slides or Power Point.) I happen to find making slideshows kind of fun, but I know it can be quite time consuming, so here are three I made  that you may find useful:

  1. What is Research? This slideshow talks about credible sources and primary and secondary sources.  Just gets students thinking about what “counts” as research.
  2. Thinking about Genre. This slideshow is pretty particular to Unit Two of the 1101 model courses (all of the model courses) but can be used to discuss Genre Awareness across the board.
  3. What’s a Paragraph? This slideshow talks about PIE (point information explanation) paragraphing, as a way to get students to look at organization, evidence and analysis.

Feel free to use any of these in your classes with attribution! Also, Canva is free, but as with most of these programs, you do get more features if you pay.

Also– we are looking for “guest bloggers!”  If you have some ideas of teaching tips pertinent to 2020 you can write about (or make a video about, etc) for the blog, that would be great– or things you’d like to see!  We’d love to hear from you.

Commenting on Student Papers

Here is a video of me walking through the slideshow on commenting on student papers:

HERE is the link to the slideshow (without narration)

If you have questions or suggestions, please add them in the comments and/or come to the FYW Zoom office hours at 1 pm on Thursday, Oct 15.  I sent out a link, but if you’d like me to send it again, please email me at:


Some great tips for engagement online. Please add your own!

Hello everyone! I just wanted to write a little post about some ideas for engagement, especially in online courses. As I mentioned, next week, we’ll also brainstorm about ideas for teaching asynchronously. 

Some general ideas for engagement are:

  • Try to get as much one-on-one contact with the students as you can (even if their screen is not on,) using office hours and conferences
  • If you are able, use small groups: either in breakout rooms on Zoom or Blackboard Collaborate, making sure that students have a task to complete and bring back to the larger group
  • Ask students to work in small groups on Google Docs or via email to create a sense of community.
  • Use slideshows in classes (synchronous or asynchronous. You can make these on google slides, Canva, slidesgo, or a number of other sites (slidesgo just has images that can be transferred to google slides or power point. You can embed links in these slideshows, and they’re great ways to 1. Engage all types of learners and increase attention and 2. Have a good record for those who could not attend class! HERE is a recent slideshow I made about paragraphing. Feel free to use it. I used Canva.
  • I especially like to use good ol’ pen and paper drawing in my classes. For example, my students don’t like to turn on their cameras, so I asked them to draw pictures of themselves and hold them up to the screen. I sometimes have them draw ideas from essays they are working on or essays we are reading as well.

Some more specific ideas (and technologies you may want to try.) Please note that all the technologies mentioned have a free component though most also have a paid component as well:

  • Ask your students to make intro videos, maybe using Flipgrid. They needn’t show their face. One thing that’s great about Flipgrid, besides that it’s free, is that they can comment on each other’s videos.  You can give them a few ideas, like:
    • MTV Cribs
    • Literature (or Science, or Gaming, etc) nerd intro
    • World’s Most Boring Intro.
    • Students can use this for other assignments as well, even reader response to essays (one another’s or texts for the course.)
  • A screencast-o-matic screenshot video of an essay or article for class. In other words, they can screencast a text they are reading and:
    • Point out a favorite passage and explain why
    • Point out a place they got confused and explain why
    • Give a lesson on vocabulary words in context
    • Give a summary of a paragraph or section
    • The possibilities are endless!
  • Using edpuzzle, you can add pauses to YouTube videos (TedTalks, etc) in which you ask students questions about what they’re watching. They must answer before watching further. This is also a good way to see who’s watched, but more importantly, to increase student engagement!
  • Padlet is a great app that allows students to interact on making maps, timelines or a “graffitti wall,” in which they can simply comment on an essay or subject—and see each other’s responses all in one place. Honestly, I’m just learning about this program, but it looks phenomenal! See also: for some ideas.
  • Slack is basically a texting program you can use with your students (using their student emails) but it can be a great way to increase class discussion. You can send brief reminders about upcoming deadlines or office hours and it is a nice, conversational forum for having class discussions in a lowkey way.

That’s about all I have for now, but I would love to hear from you all.  Do you have any great assignments or technologies that have worked well (or not so well) in your classes? Please add any tips or questions in the comments above! 

Friday, March 13

I hope you are all able to remain relatively calm and healthy throughout these difficult times. First of all, I want you to know that we understand that this is extremely stressful and difficult—we know that this is an imperfect solution and that we’re all fumbling. Remember that we’re all in this together—we don’t expect you to be perfect.  I will be available via FaceTime and Skype next week (I’m getting that set up) but for now, if you need to talk to me, please send me an email and we can set up a phone call.

By Monday of next week, I will post some more in-depth tips and suggestions about technologies and assignments on this site (I know many people have sent many handy suggestions, but I would like to have them all in one place.) For now, here are a few important points to keep in mind when modifying your curriculum:

  1. The most important thing to keep in mind is access. That is, ALL of your students must be able to access all of the course materials with technologies they possess. Many of our students do not have access to the Internet in their homes.  You may want to take a poll of your students to find out what resources they have access to. Google Forms is a good way to poll students.
  2. Please note that your course will not look like a virtual version of your classroom. You don’t have to “meet” at the same time every week that you have been in your face to face classes. Instead, you may decide to have students participate in online discussions, or you may request online video or Power Point presentations by students—more on these types of assignments will be posted on the First Year Writing website on Monday.
  3. Don’t feel the need to reinvent the wheel. If your class is on OpenLab, stay on OpenLab. If you use Blackboard, stay there. Remember that this isn’t a traditional online class; this is an emergency procedure. If you have no course website, I do suggest you develop some web presence—even Google Docs will do.  It will be helpful to have a command center where students can check in for information about the week’s activities.
  4. Be flexible. Don’t be afraid to modify assignments. It’s important that we all operate within a culture of care—for our students, for each other, and for ourselves. This is a difficult and uncertain time for us all.  Students may be traveling, sick, caring for sick relatives, lacking internet, experiencing financial insecurity, and so on.  They may be confused by the new curricula. When possible, provide multiple access options and flexible deadlines and policies.  And be kind to yourself.

Again, I am here for you—that’s my job!  Please feel free to contact me via email and I’ll be happy to confer with you.


Take good care. More specific recommendations will be posted on Monday.