BrainPOP IRL: Cross-Curricular Literacy
Mason Nichols is a reading interventionist focusing on literacy growth with upper elementary school students. Recently, we had the pleasure of interviewing Mason to learn more about his innovative approach to integrating literacy skills across all subjects to provide students with an environment rich in continuous, integrated practice.
Thriving Small-Group Culture
Currently, Mason works intensively with small sets of students to help them improve their reading skills. However, with only thirty to forty-five minutes per group, building a culture where students can take risks and immerse themselves fully in the learning is essential.
At times, Mason uses BrainPOP’s movies, such as those on historical figures, to prompt conversations about character values like determination, resilience, and empathy. Students use creative tools, like Make-a-Movie, to summarize their learning and lead discussions on learning dispositions that will accelerate their learning as the year progresses.
This isn’t the only way Mason uses BrainPOP with his small groups. Because his students are working to improve in previously taught skills, he often assigns individual BrainPOP lessons to help them activate and assess prior knowledge in an engaging, low-stakes way.
More Features, More Learning
It took Mason some time to learn how to maximize his classroom technology, he admits. Grinning, he recounted his initial encounter with BrainPOP as a first-year teacher. “At first, I would play a video, and maybe students would work on a quiz,” he said.
But as he explored the platform further, he realized how many ways his students could engage with academic content on BrainPOP. “I started adding closed-captions to help my English language learners, using Pause Points to ask more questions, and tying the content to other activities we were working on in class,” Mason explained.
As Mason realized the depth of tools available, his excitement grew. “I was mind blown by the possibilities and features I hadn’t fully utilized,” he confessed. Now, his eyes were open to how he could use BrainPOP to drive student learning outcomes.
Literacy Growth in Every Subject, Every Lesson
After learning everything BrainPOP had to offer, Mason was eager to unleash its total capacity in his classroom. In particular, he spoke about using the tool to add literacy skill practice into his science and social studies lessons, like in his unit on landforms.
Students begin the unit by watching the BrainPOP Movie. “I like this because if they need to watch it more than once, they can—it lets students cement their understanding before moving on to the next part.” Often, Mason asks students to complete an auto-graded Quiz to give him feedback that lets him make in-the-moment adjustments to his instruction.
After the movie, students use BrainPOP’s Make-a-Map feature to organize their thinking before their cumulative assignment—writing complete sentences to describe landforms. “It’s a continuous process,” he shared. “Writing is a big jump for third graders, so students have to have that support, step by step.”
Mason explains that as students work between their concept maps and written drafts, they practice essential literacy standards like identifying the main idea and supporting details and use this knowledge to create structured, cohesive writing pieces. All the while, they are deepening their understanding of the science topic at hand.
In Mason’s classroom, learning is not isolated to individual subjects. Every moment is an opportunity to engage in richly layered learning experiences where building content knowledge and core academic skills go hand in hand.
Katie Pothireddy is a product marketer on the BrainPOP team and a former vice principal, teacher coach, and classroom teacher. She holds a Master’s in the Science of Education from Johns Hopkins University.