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Showing posts from 2016

Using Mentor Texts

By now, you have all heard me mention my celebrity crush, Kelly Gallagher.  Unless you are an English teacher, you have probably never heard of him.  He is both an English teacher and an author of numerous books about teaching reading and writing.  Although I have never met him in person, he has been my mentor and inspiration for the past few years.  

One of my favorite books that he has written is Write Like This.  This book encourages teachers to provide mentor texts  to guide  student writing.  He argues that students need good writing to emulate.  I agree!  Over the past few weeks I implemented one of his lessons and am pretty excited with the results. 

 One of the writing types that seventh-graders must learn is the informational essay.  Last year I had students pick a teen issue from The Outsiders to research and write about.  I had about 40 essays on child abuse, 50 on smoking, and another 30 on peer pressure.  You get the picture!  Let me tell you, grading those essays was like …

Stations for Student Engagement

Several years ago I tried using stations in my classroom.  The students loved the idea of rotating around the room and completing a variety of activities. I thought it went pretty well, but when reflecting on the stations themselves, I realized I needed to make some changes. One of the challenges with stations is making sure that each activity takes the same amount time as the other activities.  You don't want one group finished when another  just started.  You also need enough stations so that none of them are too crowded.  
This time I started preparing three weeks ago!  I decided that six stations would be a good number. We just finished reading chapter 4 of The Outsiders, so most of our stations focus on the novel.
If you are thinking of trying this, make sure you have each station labeled with all necessary items handy for students. Also, I made several copies of the directions for each station and put them in sheet protectors.  Finally, you really need to walk around and check…

Padlet and Mentor Sentences

In previous posts, I mentioned mentor sentences as a tool to help students write better sentences. Not only do they learn punctuation rules by studying sentences, they learn to write various types of sentences. Today I gave students two "mentor" sentences. We discussed the use of commas, appositives, and capitalization. Students then created their own sentences imitating the original author's style and structure. I asked them to post their favorite on a Padlet for all to enjoy! 

 Here are the mentor sentences I used: 

Mom answered the door at 8:05 a.m. to Mr. Bridges, a short round man in a blue suit, and Coach Warner, who was wearing a Lake Windsor High pullover. 

 —Edward Bloor, Tangerine 

 I took the pearls out of my pocket, the three milky spheres the Nereid had given me in Santa Monica. 

 —Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief

Making Comments on Student Writing Meaningful

As any English teacher knows, we spend countless hours grading and commenting on student work.  What I realized after a few years of teaching was that many students did not read my comments at all; they just looked at their grade. Some didn't even look at the rubric!   However, many students valued my feedback and relished every comment.  I felt as though I was wasting my time on more than half of the essays.   As evident from the next essay the students wrote, the majority of the students did not heed the advice I gave in the previous essay.  I came up with a solution!  Using Google Forms, I created a detailed survey for my students to fill out about the comments they received on their writing.  I will include pictures of various questions and answers.  Better yet, I told them that all responses would be read and a graded  for the thoughtfulness.  I had a sub that day, so I created a link to the form in my daily blog post for my class!  SO easy!  Students were forced to go back t…

Bottle Flipping

Last week someone posted article on Facebook about the newest trend with middle schoolers-bottle flipping.  If you haven't heard of it, you probably don't teach middle school or have a child in middle school! Consider  yourself lucky! If you know about it, then you also know it's annoying as heck.  Kids (usually boys), toss a partially filled water bottle into the air so that it flips in midair.  The goal is to have the bottle land upright.  This year I have had to ask several students to put their water bottles away because they wanted to flip them.  I know,  I'm mean!  

After reading the Facebook article I thought, "Hey!  I bet I can incorporate this into a lesson somehow."  Using my Oreo lesson as a model, that's just what I did.  First, I found two different articles about bottle flipping.  I went through both looking for key vocabulary words.  I then typed out the sentences with the words and created an activity where students had to guess the definit…

Oreos in China and Read 180

A few years ago I read an article about what happened when Kraft introduced the Oreo to the Chinese in 1996.  It was not a success.  The Chinese thought the filling was too sweet-the cookie too bitter.  Kraft almost pulled the beloved cookie off the shelves. Instead, they began a quest to find out how to make the Oreo appeal to the Chinese. Enter the green tea Oreo, the mango Oreo, and an Oreo in the shape of a straw (not sure that still qualifies as an Oreo).  The revamped Oreos were a huge success! I found the article fascinating and decided to design a lesson around  it to share with my students.

First I showed them a news clip from CNN about the topic. Then, I taught them a few vocabulary words that appear in the article using Kate Kinsella's method.  Next, we read the article together and marked the text. I did a think aloud as I read aloud to them.  After that, students created a T-Chart listing the ten most important words in the text, as well as five main ideas from the tex…

Teaching Connotation and Denotation

This week's focus was understanding the importance of diction and  the difference between the connotation and denotation of words,   I began by using an analogy.  I asked students to think about all of the shades of green.  They came up with: kelly green, neon green, forest green, emerald green, blue-green, lime green, sea green...You get the idea! I explained that much like the color "green" words have "shades" of meaning.  To be a better writer, it's important to pick the perfect "shade" of the word.  We also discussed the danger of relying on the thesaurus to find new words.  I struck gold last week when I found a clip from Friends to supplement this very idea!  Monica and Chandler want to adopt a baby and ask Rachel to write a letter of recommendation for them.  Joey is hurt that he was not asked, so Monica and Chandler agree that he can write one.  The results are hysterical because Joey relies on a thesaurus.  Let's just say that he desc…

A Safer Icebreaker that Serves Many Purposes

All teachers are familiar with icebreakers-activities you do with students to create a sense of community and help everyone get to know one another.  My first week has often included icebreakers.  One of my "go to" activities was a Scavenger Hunt.  Students  answer questions about themselves to complete a bingo sheet. They then wander around the room and find other students who have the same favorite color, same number of siblings, same phobia (you get the idea) as they do.  Most kids relished the opportunity.  A few cheated by signing people's names, rather than actually meeting someone new.  Most smiled or laughed.  However, a few students always looked terrified and downright miserable.  After reading an article this summer about why NOT to start the year with these types of ice breakers, I rethought my practice.  You see, the kids who enjoy them don't need any help "breaking the ice."  It's the kids who are miserable and don't participate,  who …

How to Train, Tame, and Enjoy a Seventh-Grader

I remember when my oldest son went to middle school.  I was a mess.  I was so anxious about whether he'd like his teachers, make friends, and be able to handle all of the work.  I think I was one of those parents that drive teachers crazy. No, I WAS one of those parents. I emailed teachers with questions that I could have asked my son (even when I asked him, I didn't trust his answer).  I checked his grades every day.  I constantly asked him whether or not he was caught up on homework. I asked him who he ate lunch with. If he didn't like a teacher, I wanted him transferred to another class.   If he messed up, I wanted to fix it.  If he didn't turn in an assignment on time, I wanted the teacher to let him turn it in late.  If he forgot his lunch, I wanted my husband to bring it to him (thankfully he refused). If he wasn't starting his homework when I thought he should,  I was practically putting the pencil in his hand and opening the textbook. In other words, I was …

Former Students: Always in my Heart

A few weeks ago my husband and I went out for our date night.  We went to Slater's 50/50.  A friendly man with a beard took our order and assisted us in our menu selections.  When he brought the bill he said, "I know this is weird, but I think you were my middle school teacher."
I stared at his bearded face, focused on his piercing blue eyes, and said, "What's your name?" 
He answered, "Matt-"  
I interrupted him before he could say his last name by saying it for him. 
"Oh my gosh!  You remember me?" he asked in disbelief. 
 "Of course I remember you!" I responded.  I also remembered that he was raised by a single mom who had him when she was just fourteen-years old.  I remembered  he had  hair that had been bleached white from the sun, and  he was a total jokester.  He was my student in 1996 when he was in eighth-grade.  He proceeded to apologize for being such a "bad" kid and troublemaker.  I reassured him that I had no …

Trying to Stop Helicoptering

It's that time that always seemed so far away-the time when my first born is getting ready to leave for college. He just received his dorm assignment, and my heart sank.  He was assigned to a TRIPLE.  He will share his room with two other students (and still have the same size room as someone assigned to a double). It's also not the dorm I wanted him to get.  I immediately turned on the helicopter mode.  I had to fix this and fix it fast!  How will  he survive with two roommates?  Where will he study?  Where will he put his things?  I contacted the housing department and explained that my son had requested a double, not a triple.  The young man explained that there are no guarantees in assignments...blah blah blah.  I was pretty upset but maintained my cool.  When my son came home, I told him he had received a triple.  His response, "Oh.  What time's dinner?"

I am embarrassed to share the above story with you, but I feel it's important.  We all have anxiety as…


It's summer!  I don't have to wake up at 5:30 (although unfortunately, I still do)!  So how have I spent my first week of vacation?  On Monday, I met my best friend and colleague at Starbucks to work on revising our Essential Learning Outcomes and create formative assessments for each one!  I loved every second (yes, I know I am weird).  In four hours,. we accomplished so much.  It was especially nice to do this right after school got out, when the year was still fresh in our minds.  On Tuesday, I attended our district's Achievement Summit. This was a day well-spent.  Several teachers from my school, as well as our amazing principal, attended.  The last hour was spent setting goals and brainstorming ideas for the upcoming school year.  Wednesday, I met my best friend and colleague at Starbucks again to continue our work from Monday. Thursday I had to meet with administration about the master schedule. In between all of this, I have been working to update my webpage.  I als…

Quizlet on Redbull

Last week I attended an all day meeting with my fellow English department chairs.  As a team, we created goals for our department for the upcoming year.  It was a great day!

One of the benefits of these kinds of meetings is the informal sharing we do among ourselves.  One teacher shared a new technology she was using in her classroom that not only engaged students and reviewed important content, it REQUIRED them to collaborate with their team members.  Of course, I tried it the very next day and was so glad that I did!

Here's the scoop:

1) It's called Quizlet Live (new from Quizlet).  Teachers can create their own questions and answers, or they can use an already created set.  Images and audio may be added.

2) The teacher shares the join code with all students, and each student joins the game by entering the code, as well as his name.

3)  The computer immediately places students into groups which are projected onto the screen.  Each group is given a silly name like The Pandas or Th…