October 23, 2013

Suspenseful Short Stories for Halloween

If you were a child in the 80s or 90s, there's a good chance that you, if you were anything like me, spent spent some time in your youth scaring yourself silly with these stories:

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

Goosebumps by RL Stine

Fear Street series by RL Stine

Now that I am secure in my adulthood, I will admit freely that I do not enjoy scary stuff. Truthfully, I'm not sure how I once was a subscribed member of the R.L. Stine book club because I can still remember how much those stories terrorized me. I still can't look into a mirror in the dark for fear that a demon will be in the reflection. And I might still run through the house when it's dark at night... you know, because the Bogeyman might get me. 

Laugh at me if you must, but I have learned to avoid these thrillers and the nightmares that come along with them. Joel always teases me because I have to close my eyes, plug my ears, and hum through scary movie previews. I have the chills just thinking about them!

But... I simply cannot let Halloween pass by without a celebration. My earliest followers may recall the year I taught ESL newcomers and got to introduce them to the holiday. We celebrated with a week of crafts, food, and fun Halloween projects.  You can read about them here. Those were fun days.

For my mainstream students, I feel that is my right and privilege to share some of my favorite suspense stories with my students. Honestly, these are probably the only ones I know because... you know... its not really my genre!

So, what are some of the stories I share?

Death by Scrabble by Charlie Fish has turned into one of my favorite short stories. I love the foreshadowing, which my higher students are great at finding. Students are always shocked by the ending of this story, making it a great read aloud. It's not really a scary, but I still find it fitting because it's pretty sinister. 

The story is basically about a young man who detests his wife, with whom he's playing a game of Scrabble. He realizes the words played start to become reality and tries to use the game to kill his wife. There's a great twist in this story, which your students are sure to love. 

I also found this video to go with it: 

This next story was new-to-me last week when my students read it for the first time (thank you, close-reading instruction): The Escape by JB Stamper. The story is about Boris, who wants to escape his sentence in solitary confinement. His only option is to crawl into a tunnel, with the promise of freedom... and rats, of which he is terrified. My sixth graders were completely captivated by this story, and it's officially in my Halloween file. I couldn't find a video for this one. Probably because no one wants to hang out in a tunnel with a bunch of rats!

The Jigsaw Puzzle, also by JB Stamper is one that actually fell off my radar until this week and should definitely be on your Halloween list if you want to teach your students about suspense. In this story, a woman puts together a puzzle that looks strangely familiar... because it's her... right now. And when you find out what else she sees, you'll probably scare your students into never putting together another puzzle! And this video of it should certainly make it relatable for your students. 

Of course, you can't go wrong with Master of Suspense, Edgar Allan Poe. I can still vividly recall my 8th grade ELA teacher reading aloud Tell Tale Heart while I clung to her every word, and I try to re-create that for my students each year. The love how the narrator starts of so calm and confident that he can convince you of his innocence. This is a great story for teaching your students about tone and mood because the emotion is so strong. After the read aloud, I'm always sure to show them at least one adaptation of the story because there are so many out there: 

My final suggestion is another Poe is to read his poem, The Raven, which I find to be a more difficult piece for students. To help them understand it better and make it more relatable, I find that it helps to show them this clip from The Simpsons: 

October 22, 2013

Tried it Tuesday, An International Feast

I didn't prepare a Teacher Tip this week, but I can link up with Holly for Tried it Tuesday because I definitely tried something new...

I went to a very small college for undergrad that happened to have very strong ties to a tiny church denomination. Being the only 4-year university that belongs to that church, it makes sense that people from all over the country (and even the world) came to that school because of their ties. These were people who grew up going to the same camps and had known each other for many years. Also, many of them are related.

For two girls who had no ties to the Covenant church or family that attended the university, this was a lonely prospect. Luckily, though, we were placed on the same floor our freshmen year and became fast friends. So much so, in fact, that we decided to tell everyone that we were cousins so we could have a "family connection" too.
Here she is doing a "man's" job, making falafel. 

True story: I would venture to say that 90% of the people we knew in college still think we're related. And we love this fact!

Anyway, I bring all that up so you understand my excitement when Bobbie and I made plans for her to come hang out in the 'burbs this weekend. This girl is definitely a part of my family, even if we don't share blood.

To make our visit even more exciting, Bobs and I decided to cook a Middle Eastern smorgasbord together (doesn't that just sound fantastic?!), as a nod to her 2.5 years in the Peace Corps in Jordan.

Our yummy spread
Everything was absolutely delicious, and we all stuffed ourselves to the brim. It made for a perfect, relaxing weekend catching with a good friend over a couple bottles of wine! ;)

October 21, 2013

Monday Read: The Wednesday Wars

After hearing about this book and snagging some amazing resources from my friend Erin at I'm Lovin' Lit, I had to finally read my copy of The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt.

The story centers around Holling Hoodhood, who is the sole student in his school (and town) that is neither Catholic nor Jewish. Because of this, he is stuck at school on Wednesday afternoons, while his peers go off to their religious education classes.

Mrs. Baker, Holling's teacher, is none too pleased about having to keep charge over him each week and makes it perfectly clear that she wishes to rid herself of him and have a free afternoon each week. She "punishes" him, he believes, by making him read Shakespeare and taunting him with cream puffs, among other things that make his weeks unbearable.

Unfortunately, Holling has no room to even complain because the family business depends on the positive relationships of everyone in town, especially of Mrs. Baker. So he's forced to report that everything is, "Just swell," even though he's certain this will be a miserable year.

If that plot isn't enough to engage your readers, you'll love the way you can incorporate such rich history as you read through the months of the school year. To quote the review on Booklist, "Seamlessly, [Schmidt} knits together the story's themes: the cultural uproar of the '60s, the internal uproar of early adolescence, and the timeless wisdom of Shakespeare's words."

I'm glad I finally picked up this book after having it in my classroom library for years. I think it makes an excellent novel study and will certainly look to incorporate it in my classrooms.

October 16, 2013

Experiential Learning with a Flash Freebie

I am a huge proponent of experiential learning because I think it's the best way for students to gather information and retain it.

When my students read The Cay, we did a partner activity that required students to be blindfolded while completing a series of tasks, intended to give them the experience of navigating the unknown without the ability to see.

Currently, we've been studying ancient Egypt in social studies and students, of course, were very interested in the mummification process. Today, the students had a half-day, which meant we took advantage of a flex schedule by mummifying a chicken we named Pharaoh Cluck.

I already blogged about the Hunters & Gatherers activity we did a few weeks ago.

A couple years ago, when I taught American History, I created this handout of "Six New School Rules" for our school. Each rule is written carefully to parallel one of the laws bestowed upon the colonists with the intention of helping them understand the anger behind "No Taxation Without Representation" and, ultimately, the Revolutionary War. It makes for a great journal assignment and lead to a great discussion with my eighth graders. It's is FREE in my TPT store until tomorrow, so snatch it up while you can (and please leave me some love)!

These are just a few ideas off the top of my head, but I wanted to stress the importance of making the learning an experience for your students. It's the difference between watching a lab and physically doing one yourself. Of course, we all know we'd rather do it. And I firmly believe we can offer these experiences in language arts, social studies, and math classes as well!

October 14, 2013

Monday's Read: Tears of a Tiger

Last week, after finishing my book sooner than expected and realizing I didn't have one for personal
reading time during our strategic reading class (I like to be a good role model and read with the students), I borrowed a book from a coworker that I LOVED!

Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper was great for so many reasons:

1. The story teaches a valuable lesson about how instantly lives can be altered from poor choices. This is a great message for teenagers who think they are so invincible.

2. Each chapter of the book is written from a different perspective, making it great for teaching Point of View.

3. Each chapter is also a fabulous opportunity to teach Author's Craft because the chapters are unique in their writing. Draper uses essays, poems, diary entries, and conversations to reveal the angst of the characters in her story.

4. The ending certainly leaves readers full of emotion. I can't see how anyone could read this book and not walk away with some strong opinions.

5. It's a trilogy. I love books in a a series because you can expose students to one and then hook them for the rest of the series.

The story is about four high school basketball players who suffered a devastating crash one night when they were out drinking and driving after a game. What they thought was a joyride ended up taking the life of one of their best friends, and the consequences run deep.

I had to assure my students that it's merely a coincidence that the last two books I read in class were about car crashes... this is not a running theme in my reading. Ha! But they are also captivated by my book talks, so I maybe I'm on to something here...

October 13, 2013

Allow me to Explain

I mentioned last week that I was busy working on a new product for my TPT store, but I have to admit that I've been a little sidetracked the last few days.

But I have a good excuse...

I've been busy welcoming my niece, Aniya, into the world. I'm sorry, but TPT and blogging just had to take a back seat to this beauty!

Aniya Samara, born October 9, 2013
6 lbs. 6 oz. and 19 inches long
She belongs to Joel's sister, and Auntie Erin is absolutely smitten. 

We got the call on Wednesday morning that Resha was being induced. Joel and I got to the hospital around 7:30, when she was at 7 cm. I went in to say hi and told Aniya that she could come any time since we were there, and then I settled into the waiting room with the rest of the family for what we thought would be a long night. 

20 minutes later, Jemal called me to say she was ready to push, and 50 minutes later, we had a perfect little girl. 

I seriously can't get enough of her. These pictures of her uncles holding her were a rare occasion so I could play paparazzi. Most of the time we're together, I don't put her down. I love the way she feels, the way she smells, the way her little face moves... oh, how I love babies! 

Proud Mommy (Resha) and Daddy (Jemal)

Uncle Michael

Uncle Aaron... yes, we're going to confuse the poor girl!

Uncle Joel
Obviously, I need to work on getting myself into a photo with her. I tried on my phone, but it never turns out as good on the reverse camera. And the boys were too busy playing video games to help. That's what we call brother bonding, I guess. :)

I promise... this week... there will be a new product! 

October 9, 2013

Everyone Has an Opinion

I'm really excited to link up with Jivey today for Workshop Wednesday because this week's topic reminded me of a lesson I did years ago and have since forgotten... I love when that happens!

For this assignment, students take their opinions to the next level by researching evidence to support their ideas, writing a persuasive letter, and having a whole-class debate. It is honestly one of the most engaging activities I've ever done (I'm not sure how it dropped off my radar)

To start this activity, I share with my students an "article" I "found" in the Chicago Tribune about the budget crisis (sounds plausible, huh?). In the article, I mention that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is being forced to shut down one of the city's baseball teams in order to allocate funds to other resources.

If you know anything about Chicago sports, it's that we are serious and passionate about our love for our teams. As soon as we read this article, my classroom starts buzzing with opinions, and that's when I know I have them hooked.

At this point, I tell them that their assignment is to write a letter to Mayor Emanuel in which they will help him choose one team to represent their city forever more. (For the few kids who claim that they don't like either team or baseball at all, I allow them to write a letter that persuades him to get rid of both teams in lieu of something that better uses those funds.)

In order to do so effectively, though, I explain that will need to do research on both teams to figure out who will really be the better choice for Chicago. Of course, this never changes their opinions... which adds to an important lesson later about how facts and statistics can be used to prove ANYTHING and we must always look for BIAS!

Students research information about the players, team statistics, historical value, pros and cons of each ballpark, and even attractions in the area surrounding the parks (which are extremely different for those not familiar with our city).

After students do their research, they write business letters to the Mayor, persuading him to keep their favorite hometown team. Of course, their letters are filled with evidence from their research, keeping it aligned with Common Core. And because they think this is REAL, they write some of the best letters I see all year!!

On the last day, students come to class decked out in their best Cubs/Sox gear for our in-class debate. This is my favorite part of the week because the students REALLY get into it! By now, not only do they have evidence FOR their team, but they've also researched evidence AGAINST the other team. Clearly, I have to do some moderating for the debate, but we have a great time.

The lesson here is to find a topic that will motivate your students. Stop making them write about school uniforms or texting in class. Let them write about something they're really passionate about so it's engaging for them... it really makes a difference!

October 8, 2013

Sticky Note Behavior Chart

It's Teacher Tip Tuesday, and I get to link up with Tried it Tuesday too because this is an idea I got from... one of you. I just wish I could remember who... please let me know if it's you so I can give you credit where credit is due!

"John" is a student on another team who is in one of my Strategic Reading classes. He has some serious behavior issues from blurting out, refusing to sit in his seat, talking back to adults, and becoming verbally aggressive with his peers. Obviously, it didn't take us long to realize our little guy needed some interventions.

And then I remembered the suggestion of a sticky note behavior chart. The class is 40 minutes long, so I simply divided the sticky into four sections with the correlating times. John gets one verbal or nonverbal warning from me per square, and if I have to talk to him again during those 10 minutes, he does not earn a signature in that square. I always try to record the reasons he does or does not earn the signature for tracking purposes, but this is a little more than most classroom teachers are probably able to handle (it's easy for me because I sit at his table).

John earns a small reward for all four boxes, and if he has a "perfect" day, he can choose between leaving 1 minute early for lunch (a big deal for him) or 3 minutes to draw in the back of the room.

I have to say, his behavior is still far from perfect, but this sticky note has been a great reminder for him to check himself. If I forget to make his chart right away, he always asks for it and is very diligent about letting me know when it's time for another signature.

I love that this gives him a tangible way to check his behavior. The sticky itself is a constant reminder that he's being watched, and he beams with pride whenever he gets a signature.

I don't have to do this consistently with my other students, but I have used it for a few days here and there to reinforce behaviors we're trying to modify and help students create new, better habits. They really love it because they get extra attention from a teacher and a small reward (raffle tickets). I've even had multiple students ask me if they could please get their own sticky notes so they can have a reminder to do better. I love it!

This intervention seriously takes me about 2 minutes per day. Totally worth it!

October 6, 2013

Gizmo is NOT Pleased

Today started out as the perfect fall day.

I enjoyed a hot cup of tea in my sweats as Joel worked on installing his new DVD player/backup camera on his truck. The cool, crisp morning weather is a welcome change from the hot and humid we've been experiencing.

On a shopping excursion with my mama yesterday, we got this adorable Bears jersey for Gizmo to wear. Unfortunately, they didn't have one big enough for Wrigley, but he'd be adorable in it too.

I have a delicious chili simmering in the crock pot, making the whole house smell soooo yummy.

Everything is in place. We were all set for a glorious day of football while snuggled on the couch (my favorite place to be).

But then...

that awful game happened.

I don't even have words for it.

Even Gizmo is upset. He's sulking around the house, probably embarrassed that everyone now knows he cheers for the losing team. Doesn't he look peeved in that picture? It's disgusting, I tell you!

AND the Packers won. That's a double whammy for us Chicago fans.

My only consolation is that Erin is be giving away a freebie since her team killed mine.

Despite my football depression, I've been working hard on new products to add to my TPT store, so keep your eye out for some new stuff soon! I'll probably do a flash freebie to get some feedback from you guys.

October 4, 2013

With and Without the Prefix

Students in my district study root words, prefixes and suffixes from a set list each quarter. We introduce the word part on Monday and then do various activities throughout the week to find words with that part and use them in creative manners.

This week, we did an activity I thought you guys might enjoy. Students we're asked to think of a word that uses our word part and draw a picture of that word both with AND without the prefix to see how it changes the meaning.

Here are several examples from my sixth graders for the prefix pre-:

Preschool - School
Prehistoric - Historic
Pre-order - Order
Preview - View
Pre-read - Read

October 3, 2013

Interactive Grammar Checks

Today I want to link up with my friend Erin for her Thursday Throw Down Party.

Being the creative-type, I will readily admit that teaching grammar is not my favorite activity in the ELA classroom.

Grammar comes with rules, and I come from a rebellious family that doesn't like to follow rules. Not that we're criminals... we just don't like to be told what to do.

In addition to having to follow the rules, teaching grammar means there's a lot of repetitive practice and grading of worksheets, which can also be really boring.

So I changed that.

Whenever we grade a grammar worksheet in my classroom, I like to make it interactive. It really takes no extra work on my part, but my students always appreciate it in the lesson.

Here's what I mean...

Working on capitalization? Have the whole class read each sentence aloud and STAND whenever a word should be capitalized.

Working on commas? Have the whole class read each sentence aloud and DRAW each comma in the air with their finger (bonus: add a little "swoosh" sound effect) as they used them.

Working on ending punctuation? Have students WALK around the room as they read their sentences and STOP for a period, JUMP for an exclamation, and TWIST for a question.

The possibilities are endless, but they all have this in common: all students are engaged, and you have the perfect opportunity to see who doesn't get something. If students are performing actions at the wrong time, it's much more obvious than if they're just marking it with a red pen. What a great way to check for understanding!

October 2, 2013

Parts of Speech Review Game: Grammar Ninja

I haven't linked up with Jivey in forever, but as I was reading through some posts, I was reminded of this fun word game I found online forever ago and loved playing with my students:

Grammar Ninja

If you haven't heard of it, Grammar Ninja is an interactive Parts of Speech review game that is a great classroom activity! Whenever we had an extra ten minutes in class, my students would beg me to play this game.

Although this could be a great early-finisher activity for those with technology access in their classrooms, we always did this as a class. The game has an option for teachers to create their own sentences, but I always just used the ones that wee provided.

Here are my Grammar Ninja steps:

Project the game to your Interactive White Board.

Turn off the lights and instruct your students that they must be completely silent while waiting for their turn (ninjas are stealth, after all).
Have your students line up in the front of the classroom where they can still see the board.
One at a time, they will come to the board, read the sentence, and try to select ONE word (sometimes it will tell you there are 3 nouns in the sentence, but I only allow them to select one word per round).
If the student is correct, I encourage him/her to do his/her very best ninja trick (it's usually a high kick) and proceed to the back of the line for the next round.
Sample of a correct answer.
Sample of an incorrect answer. Notice that it tells you the actual POS of the word at the bottom.
If the student is incorrect, he/she must return to his/her seat and silently follow along in the game. You could instruct these students to play along by recording the answers on a sheet of paper to keep them engaged if necessary. 

We continue the game like this until we have only one ninja standing who then gets a small reward.


October 1, 2013

Currently October with Yummy Fall Recipes

I'm pretty sure I deserve an award for submitting my Currently on time this month. I feel like I always miss the first - maybe it's just denial that time could possibly be passing so quickly.

Listening - Honestly, I'm not even paying attention. The fan mostly drowns it out, which I need if I'm going to read/write while in the room with any other noise. I always try to remember this at school. Some kids need noise to concentrate, and others, like me, need silence. I try to keep white noise like a fan and soft music on in my classroom to allow for a little middle ground. There's your tip for the day! :)

Loving - My students are awesome. I genuinely enjoy my students this year, which is a good thing since I'm with them so much of the day. They tend to frustrate their classroom teachers often because they are SO low, but I guess those things don't bother me as much when I'm in this support role. Maybe because their scores are not a reflection of me, or maybe it's just because they are so sweet. Either way, they make me smile countless times a day!

Thinking - On the way to and from school each day, I am constantly admiring the beautiful fall leaves and crisper weather. If you've followed my blog for a while, you know this has always been my favorite season, but this year, I feel like I have a deeper appreciation after missing it last year.

Wanting - I need to get to a pumpkin farm before Halloween is over. I've still never had a real apple cider doughnut, and I'm determined to make this happen... maybe I can convince Joel to take me this weekend.

Needing - Confession: My laptop/school bag has seen better days. And now that I basically live out of my school bag each day (one downside of my current position is that I really miss having a desk/drawer/anything for my stuff), I need one that better fits my needs. In particular, I need it to have zippered pockets. Any suggestions?????

Treat - If you're looking for some yummy fall treats, I have two fabulous recipes for ones I promise you'll love. Joel can eat an entire batch of the pumpkin squares in one afternoon if I let him. And the taffy apple salad is a crowd pleaser for sure!

Teacher Tip Tuesday: Collaboration with Color

Today's Teacher Tip actually came from one of my current students and was a total why-didn't-I-think-of-that? moment!

Students were working on a venn diagram in social studies comparing the Assyrian and Chaldean empires today. They were instructed to use their textbook and guided notes from this week's reading to fill in the chart with as much information as possible. Then, we asked them to find a partner to share notes with.

One of our bright little bulbs suggested that anything they add to their venn diagrams should be in a new color so we can see what they did on their own compared to what they learned through collaboration.

Genius, right?

Obviously, as an ELA teacher, my student do this when they edit each other's work, but I've honestly never thought to have them do this with other activities. It makes complete sense though!

From now on, whenever we do a think-pair-share type activity, my students will be using different colored ink for each step. I can think of a million reasons why this will be helpful for students and me and am so thankful to my brilliant student for her suggestion!