Free websites help boost student engagement, teacher productivity

By Laura Devaney, Managing Editor
February 24th, 2012

Teachers can use free sites to help boost student interest in lessons.

Cash-strapped schools can’t stop giving students the resources they need to learn and develop 21st century skills simply because budgets are tight. Luckily, educators can turn to free online resources to help them find and organize lesson plans, give students extra help in various subjects, and more.

During a webinar on, an educational social networking site for teachers and administrators, presenter Shannon Holden, a former teacher and assistant principal, and adjunct instructor at Lindenwood University and Missouri State University, shared a number of free online resources to help educators take advantage of what the internet has to offer.

Many educators “don’t know where to start” when it comes to finding, learning about, and really using free online resources, Holden said. “Most people just do not have the time to learn all of these technology tools,” he added.

Holden suggested that those educators pick one or two websites of interest and start exploring them. Users can turn to YouTube for website tutorials if they need help.

“Don’t wait for the next big thing in technology before you jump in–there’s always going to be a next big thing,” he said. “It’s just amazing that all this stuff is free, and we don’t use it because we don’t have time to find it.”

Here is a round-up of Holden’s web recommendations:
This site supplies educators with information about teaching reading comprehension to students of all ages. It includes details on Lexile scores, teaching strategies, and more.
This flash card and study game website offers more than 10 million free sets of flash cards on a range of topics. Users can find flash cards or can create and share their own original flash cards.

1 2 Read More »

9 Responses to “Free websites help boost student engagement, teacher productivity”

February 26, 2012

My school district uses My Big Campus, which is a free site that combines many of the most impressive features of this top 10 list into one place. Not only is this a social learning platform that unlocks YouTube videos, provides a venue for “flipped” classrooms, and allows for document sharing, but My Big Campus also encourages 21st Century skills in the classroom by providing discussion boards, video chat, wiki-like pages, and blogs. I use this site daily in my own classroom to extend the learning day to a 24/7 experience. The teachers and students benefit from the resource library and can organize themselves with personal file storage and tools to organize their “stuff.” This site has also helped my district in our “Go Green” initiative as we can give paperless quizzes and assignments through MBC (and the site even grades them for us!). Check it out at

    February 29, 2012

    I use MBC daily with my students in a variety of ways to introduce, reinforce, and master skills and concepts. MBC has a library of resources of websites and YouTube videos, plus my own items that I have added including Prezis, PowerPoints, and any other documents I may want to include for a concept. My lessons are based on providing the students with enough differentiated tools that they can “discover” the learning with my coaching instead of a traditional “stand and deliver” method. Each student has his/her own account and is added to my appropriate group where the tools for learning are added by me. Furthermore, I add group discussions, video chats, announcements, and calendars to encourage collaboration and teach “netiquette.” I have used MBC for two years now as a platform to “flip” my classroom and the results have been outstanding in terms of performance and motivation. I would also consider my students among the best equipped in using technology to enhance their learning by taking advantage of opportunities like shared documents, finding reliable resources, and organizing themselves on-line (no more lost flash-drives or leaving work at home). I think crissy and joel059 have answered the other part of your inquiry, but please ask any other questions that arise- it really is that great of a system!!

Dear Stephlennon,

How do you use My Big Campus with your students? Do they each sign up for their own account or do you invite them to yours? I know that its free for a single account, but that the filters that most school districts require cost $$. Before I begin using this, I would like to find out about any hidden costs that might crop up in the future. Thanks.

Dear ajharmer,
First off, My Big Campus is free and always will be. And yes, My Big Campus can be integrated with our Lightspeed web filter but if you don’t use our web filter that’s ok. It is still a safe collaborative learning tool with hundreds of thousands of resources for students.
As for signing up, once you have your free account you can invite your students and other staff members to join by sending an email invitation or generating an invitation code. Once you are logged in you can follow the simple instructions under “account.”
Hope this helps!
Looking forward to hear from Stephlennon on how My Big Campus is in the classroom!

Teachers/small schools can use My Big Campus w/ up to 250 students at no cost. Once the teacher registers – they then get an invite code to sign up their fellow teachers and/or students. If a school district is a Lightspeed Systems customer – they can auto-create the accounts w/ a import from their student information system (SIS).

March 6, 2012

Teachers, students, and parents will be wowed by Thinkfinity—a website that offers thousands of free resources accessible from anywhere at any time. These resources include lessons, activities, interactives, videos, podcasts, audio, worksheets, and primary sources for K-12 and adult learners. The lessons are linked to Common Core and State and National Standards. Educators can also join the Thinkfinity Community—a free educational network where teachers can organize and store resources, share in discussion forums on a variety of subjects, and connect globally with colleagues, friends, and educational experts. Thinkfinity, sponsored by the Verizon Foundation, has partnerships with many of the nation’s leading educational organizations to provide up-to-date, high-caliber, free resources that continue to expand and incorporate 21st century learning skills.

Check out Thinkfinity at and the Thinkfinity Community at (RWT), a website produced by the International Reading Association and
the National Council of Teachers of English since 2002, has become a staple in K–12 reading and language arts education. Tracking more than 15 million visits in 2011, the site remains a trusted
source for educators and is commonly used as part of daily classroom instruction. The site is also part of the Verizon Thinkfinity consortium, funded by the Verizon Foundation, and in partnership with eight leading educational organizations across the academic subject areas. RWT covers reading and language arts instruction while other websites in the Thinkfinity consortium cover academic areas, such as math, science, and geography. Visit RWT at