By Paul Warren

The new Common Core State Standards, which are being phased in by school districts in most states, are designed to reflect the skills and knowledge that will be most critical to success beyond high school. The benchmarks focus on developing skills in reading, writing, speaking and listening, language, and media and technology.

As these goals are incorporated into mainstream educational practices, teachers will need to stretch beyond proven lesson plans to develop learning environments and projects that meet the Common Core Standards and keep students motivated and focused. Ask any teacher and chances are he or she will tell you that successfully maintaining such a balance takes creativity and commitment.

The good news is that excellent Internet resources are available for teachers looking for new ideas to help them think outside the box. Among the options are these five online tools:

ReadWorks (Reading)

This nonprofit organization offers free, research-based reading comprehension lesson plans and curriculum for grades K-6. The program is aligned with Common Core State Standards and based on the latest reading research; it is designed to help teachers boost their students’ reading comprehension skills. Among other features, ReadWorks offers more than 1,000 nonfiction reading passages covering an array of topics. Each passage comes with a series of associated questions. The website also includes hundreds of lesson plans for different skill or grade levels, as well as how-to guides to help teachers administer the lessons.

Storybird for Schools (Writing)

Part of the Storybird website, this tool allows users to quickly create short, art-inspired stories to share with others in the online community. Teachers can tap into the hands-on creativity of Storybird to encourage students to develop their writing and storytelling skills through a visual-heavy medium. Class projects can be completed through the program and finished stories can be embedded on classroom or school-wide blogs. Storybird describes itself as mix of educational platform, social media network and publishing site.

YouTube EDU (Speaking and Listening)

YouTube EDU offers more than 700,000 educational videos covering an A to Z of subjects. Playlists are categorized by grade level and topic, including language arts, math, science and social studies. Students can create video projects in conjunction with classroom assignments. There also are video resources to help teachers with classroom management and lesson plans, as well as a tutorial for educators interested in creating their own YouTube channel. In addition, the site includes a YouTube for Schools section, through which teachers and school administrators can customize the content available to their students.

VocabAhead (Language)

This website includes quizzes, games, flashcards and assignments designed to boost students’ vocabulary skills. Teachers can use VocabAhead to create their own word lists to share with students. The lists can be added as a widget to a blog or webpage, and teachers can upload videos and other visual elements as part of vocabulary projects. VocabAhead also offers an app designed to help students who are preparing to take the SAT or other college entrance exams.

Google Search Education (Media and Technology)

As the nation’s public schools make the shift to digital technology, the ability to locate reliable information online will become an increasingly important skill. Google, the reigning king of the search engine world, provides numerous free resources for students and teachers hoping to get the most out of the Web. Google’s Search Education project includes in-depth lesson plans, hands-on activities, webinars and self-paced courses designed to help users boost their proficiency at finding and understanding information on the Internet.

Building a Digital Toolkit

The Common Core State Standards being introduced across the nation will present new challenges – and new opportunities – for teachers and students. The transition to those new standards should be smoother for those educators who make full use of the many resources already available on the Web, whether it’s Google Search Education, VocabAhead, YouTube EDU, Storybird for Schools or ReadWorks.

Good teachers know the importance of having a good toolkit. Today, more and more of those tools are found online.

Paul Warren works on behalf of Dominican University Online. Dominican University offers an online Master of Education in Elementary Education.

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