February 28, 2014

Five Funnies for Friday

I love to share kid quotes and don't feel like I do it nearly enough. Instead of telling you what I've already mentioned in my posts this week, I want to use my Five for Friday as a way to share some of my favorite quotes from my students during the week!

#1 Background: We've moved on to studying Asia in social studies, and spent this week exploring the geography. With this, came a conversation about the differences in North and South Korea, and students began asking why South Koreans can't go to North Korea.

Teacher: Remember when we talked about North Korea being a communist country earlier this year? Who was the basketball player who traveled there?

Student: Barack Obama!!!

#2 Background: J is the student with whom I spend the majority of my day. She exhibits many behaviors that look like autism and has selective mutism. 99% of the time, she's the sweetest girl in the world and will tell you we're "best buds!" Apparently, this fact was lost on her peer, C, who claimed (in the middle of health class) that she's my favorite student. When J heard this, she instantly and loudly responded...

J: No way, Jose! I'm Miss L's favorite student.

C: No, I am!

J: No, I'm her princess!!!

I died laughing. I should also mention that I call her princess all the time because she loves all things pink and girly. This most amazing part of all is that this is the same girl who will not consistently speak to anyone but me, so I was actually proud of her for sticking up for herself! We laughed about this all week!

#3 Background: We're still making our way through the vertebrates in science, and did some reading about birds. We were discussing the different types of feathers and how different birds have different needs because of their habitats. 

Student: Don't some penguins fly?

Teacher: Not that I'm aware of. I think maybe they glide a little bit, but they're too heavy to fly.

Student: But I saw it on Happy Feet!

Teacher: You do realize that's a cartoon, right?

#4 Background: 6th grade has the last lunch in my building, so students are allowed to bring a snack to eat during 3rd period.

Teacher: Why does it smell like food in here?

Student: It's eggs and bacon.

Teacher: What do you mean it's eggs and bacon? Why would you think that?

Student: Because it's in my bag.

Teacher: What are you talking about?

At this point, the student revealed a sandwich baggie in which there was a smashed scrambled egg and bacon concoction.

Teacher: How are you planning to eat that? Do you even have a fork?

Student: I have my ways!

Teacher: Maybe we need to redefine the word snack!

#5 Background: Talking to a 6th grader (not on my team) in the hallway about a book she was supposed to be reading.

Me: I promise it's a good book. I wouldn't lie to you. As an ELA teacher, it's my job to teach you to love reading.

Student: Is that what ELA is for?

Me: What did you think it was?

Student: I don't know. Just a filler class.

Me: Um.... no. We teach you about reading, writing, grammar... hence the name, English Language Arts.

Student: I never knew that's what it meant!

Me: Awesome. I'll be sure to pass that on to your ELA teacher! haha

February 25, 2014

Special Attention Repost

Today's teaching tip is a throwback from my early blogging days. I'm sharing it again today because there has been a lot of talk about students in our classrooms who are desperate for attention, good or bad. There are many ways to work with these students, and in this post, originally shared I share

Originally posted December 2008:

Special Attention

I have a student, J, who is one of seven children in his home. He's a great kid, but he can be very distracting in the classroom (imagine the loudest child you know and magnify that by ten). It isn't hard to imagine why a child from such a large family would need to adopt some attention-seeking behaviors, but he has a hard time turning that off in school.

A couple of weeks ago, J asked if he could sit with me behind my desk in a spare chair. Although this is an odd request from a middle school student, I permitted him to move. At the time, I was willing to negotiate pretty much anything to get him to stop talking and stay on task!

It's been about two weeks now, and J is still happily sharing a desk with me during his language arts classes. Because of his proximity, he is often the first student I ask to do me small favors (turn on the projector, hand out papers, etc.), and he is eager to comply with my requests.

J's behavior has dramatically improved with this new seating arrangement. I think he really relishes in having that "special attention" from me and with his added responsibilities in the classroom. It's amazing how such a small, seemingly meaningless change can sometimes have such a profound effect.


J sat at my desk with me for the remainder of the year and went on to be one of my favorite students. I found a simple way to give him the attention he craved in a way that created a win-win situation. In all fairness, I should also mention that I believe some of his behavior was an effort to avoid tasks that he deemed too difficult. He didn't want to be perceived as "dumb" by his peers because he was in the gifted class, but the truth is, he struggled more than many. When he sat at my desk, it also allowed him to quietly ask for my help (or sometimes I would simply offer when I could hear him sighing in frustration) instead of causing a distraction. His grades improved along with his behavior.

Obviously, I don't suggest this tactic for all students, but J is not the only student with whom I've tried this tactic Some students will simply demand our attention, and they don't discriminate the type they receive. I prefer, of course, to find ways to give them positive attention as much as possible!

February 24, 2014


When we go to the library to check out books, the ELA teacher I
work with points our students in my direction when it comes to book recommendations. I tend to read more YA books than any other genre, so she sees me as more of an expert in this field.

And I probably am.

Except that I have a major confession: I haven't read many boy books.

I feel somewhat ashamed to admit this because I feel like this fact makes me less of an ELA teacher somehow. I feel guilty about it because I know I should be reading books that I can recommend to all my students. Truth be told, most of my boy book suggestions are from my former students or from reading reviews from other trusted sources rather than my own experience.

In an effort to read more of the books my boys enjoy, I took a recommendation from a student and read my very first graphic novel. Again... I didn't say I was proud of this... I'm just keeping it real!

So... what book did I read? Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri.

It tells the story of Robert "Yummy" Sandifer, a member of the Black Disciples on the Southside of Chicago. Yummy, named for his love of sweets, had a rough life from the start, in an out of DCFS custody and running the streets by age 8. At the age of 11, he had quite a rap sheet, including a nationally-known case where he shot the innocent 14 year-old Shavon Dean, who died at the hands of his gun during an initiation. With pressure mounting from the Chicago Police Department, Yummy turned to his gang brothers for safety. Instead, they took him to an overpass and shot him twice in the back of the head.

Is this a graphic story? Yes. Is it relatable for many of our students? Yes. Does it motivate our reluctant readers? Absolutely. These are the kinds of books I love having in my classroom library because the mature content is a draw for my rough and tough middle school boys, but the text isn't too difficult to comprehend. Furthermore, a graphic novel is a lot less daunting for these students because there are pictures and only short captions and dialogue bubbles to read.

I would say this book is especially a good choice for those who teach in an urban setting where gang life is an unfortunate part of their reality, whether or not they are directly involved.

**Please check my book log for a complete list of my Monday book reviews.

February 21, 2014

Instructional Strategy: Window Pane Notes

Linking up with my girl, Joanne, today to share how my awesome, creative administration motivates our staff in the same ways we want to motivate our students:

At our staff meeting last week, we were briefed on the logistics for this year's ISAT (Illinois Standardized Achievement Test), which starts in a week from today... Yikes!! Even though this is the last year our state will be taking this test, there were some changes we needed to discuss as well as some important reminders.

Our AP who presented the material did a great job with his lesson plan. He had our school football jerseys waiting at our assigned tables (which were adorned with helmet centerpieces) along with our play books (testing manuals) and other logistical paperwork. He showed us a motivational video and came dressed as the nephew of Vince Lombardi.

(It's important to add here that our AP is originally from Wisconsin so it was completely intentional that he referenced our nemesis Green Bay Packers here as he would never miss an opportunity to remind us (the rest of the staff) of his disdain for our beloved Chicago Bears.)

As he presented his ppt (meaning we had like 45 seconds per slide), "Mr. Lombardi" asked us to take notes using a Window Pain worksheet (this was a new concept for me, but I was told that it's another Kagan strategy). For each slide of his presentation, we were to draw something to help us remember the content.

Here's a copy of my notes from the meeting:

He then had us stand up, hand up, pair up to review our notes (at two different times) with a neighbor to make sure we were on the same page. He also asked us to rate our understanding using our fingers as a quick "status of the class."

I love that my administrations practices what they preach. Too often, I've sat in staff meetings bored to death and hardly paying attention. This was not possible today. I love that his lesson was interactive, provided a clear take-away, and included many opportunities for assessment... just as is expected of us.

I will definitely be using Window Pane Notes with my students in the future! I think it's a great way to keep students actively listening during a lecture or even a movie, and the picture notes are great for reluctant writers because they're less pressure.

February 20, 2014

Greek Legacies & A Photo Editing App

No lesson on Ancient Greece could be complete without analyzing the many ways the Greeks have influenced today's world. For our culminating project, students were asked to highlight 5 Greek Legacies.

We started by working together to create a massive list of possible legacies. I think this part was really powerful for our students because they were able to get a comprehensive picture of all the things that we have today that can be traced back to this time and place.

(It also encouraged conversations among students who pondered what kinds of legacies they will leave for future generations.)

Then, each student received an 11X17 paper for their posters. They had to illustrate and describe each legacy using their own knowledge and information from our textbook and research. Here are a few examples from our students:

I also thought I should share with you an app I've found useful for picture editing. I have a free version of the Retouch app, which I used in the first photo above to remove a student name... which was right in the middle of the poster.

With this app, I was able to simply use the lasso tool to draw a circle around the part of the image I wanted to remove (in this case, a student name), and then it magically erased it for me. 

I don't pretend to know how this works, and quite frankly, I don't really care. But I was pretty impressed with the results, so I thought I'd pass it along because I know I'm not the only one who sometimes refrains from sharing things to protect student identities. 

February 19, 2014

One Year

I started this post on Monday, which was actually the one-year anniversary of my grandma's death, but I've had a hard time finishing it.

How do I put into words the raw emotions I still feel a whole year later?

I've lost many other people in my life, of course, but none carry the same weight as losing Grams. Just before Christmas, I was admiring all the holiday cards that adorned our mantle, when I saw one "Thinking of You" card that didn't seem to fit.

The second I opened it, I saw my grandmother's handwriting and burst into tears. It was an old card to my mom, but one I had never seen. I was caught so off guard coming across her distinct writing... something I never anticipated seeing again.

It's impossible to look at my mom and not see my grandma. This constant reminder is both a blessing and a curse. It's in her face, in her laugh, in her mannerisms. My Grams.

My favorite picture with my beautiful Grams!
I think of her often...

Every time I work on a crossword, I think about watching her do them. Unlike my dad, Grams always did her puzzles in pencil.

Every time I add a piece to a puzzle. I think of the times we sat together doing this, and she would tap tap tap on the table to let me know that she found a home for another piece. My mom and I still do this in her honor.

Every time I pour a mug of tea I'm reminded of the many times she brewed me my own cup and taught me to drink it hot or cold without any milk or sugar.

Every time a show comes on TV I know she'd like. She loved to watch dancing of all kinds and was always impressed with dog shows and the Iditarod. I still have to resist the urge to call her and tell her to tune in to a specific channel.

Every time I see a deck of cards. She is, after all, the one who taught me 99% of the games I know. Well, 99% of the games that don't involve alcohol. :)

Every time I see little feet. Grandma was a little person (not literally, but she qualified for dwarf status by height alone), and her feet were so tiny she had a hard time finding shoes that weren't pink and glittery. Ha!

And a million other times, often in unexpected places. Like last week when we dissected a perch. During our whole fish study, I kept thinking about how grandma taught me to fish when I was a kid. We went out on the lake at our family cabin, and after I caught my first fish, she forced me (I didn't do this enthusiastically, but she insisted my sister and I have this experience) to cut it, gut it, clean it, cook it, and eat it. I'll eat fish, but there's no one else who can make me do the rest of that stuff!

I still miss my Grams.

Every. Single. Day.

February 17, 2014

Teach Like a Champion

If you've been around here for a while, you already know that I taught some tough (in every sense of the word) students last year in Baton Rouge. I can say this now with a smile, but trust me, the tears ran freely as I learned time and time again how little I actually knew about behavior management.

I didn't realize that the reason my classrooms always operated so well was because my students had been well-trained, since kindergarten, on how to behave at school. They were raised in a system that taught them to respect their teachers and peers.

Did fights happen? Of course. But they were few and far between. In fact, when I broke up a fight in the middle of my classroom on my first day teaching in BR, I was completely shocked and appalled. I hadn't even gotten through my syllabus, and already there was so much "mess" over trivial things like vanishing pencils and "looking hard" at each other.

Did my previous students always like me and my lessons? Of course not. But the most sass I ever got out of a student was an under-the-breath "whatever" and eye-roll. Imagine my surprise the first time a student cussed me out and told me he was going to "flash" on me for marking him 10 minutes tardy.

If you've been around for a while, you've already read how we tried to combat these situations with a school-wide mentoring program. This program was aimed at our heaviest hitters in the ISS room, which was pretty much always filled to capacity. Mentors met with their students one-on-one to identify the behaviors that needed to change and set up trackers for progress-monitoring. I can honestly say that these trackers were very meaningful in identifying triggers (hungry and irritable before lunch) so we were able to combat the root of the issues. We also agreed on appropriate short-term and long-term rewards and consequences for not meeting the daily goals. I can say that our trackers did not magically erase all bad behavior, but there was a definite and immediate improvement. Every student is different. Some needed small rewards (usually candy) at multiple intervals throughout the day and others were working toward larger rewards (free dress day was a popular choice here) at the end of the week or after 15 days of meeting all goals (off-campus lunch with me, a trip to LSU). Additionally, this program helped develop lasting, positive relationships between the mentoring teacher and student.

I love the mentoring program. It helped me gain some control of my unruly children... but what about the rest of my students? Please don't make the mistake of assuming the rest of my students were angels. No. For them, I knew I needed some guidance on classroom management. Like... how to manage kids who don't want to be managed.

Enter Teach Like a Champion. Our administration purchased this book for our entire staff, and mentor teachers selected specific chapters to help their teams based on their goals for the year. I knew how much I needed this resource, though, and read the whole thing over Winter Break. As Joel drove us back to Chicago, I sat in the passenger seat, reading and flagging a bajillion pages in this book.

This is the kind of stuff no one teaches you in college. Well, to be fair, it covers that stuff (how to write a lesson plan) too, but I was focused on the management pieces. I remember being super overwhelmed my first year teaching because I didn't really understand what it meant to establish classroom procedures and expectations. I just wanted them to turn in their homework and listen when I talked. I think this book should be required reading for all teachers. And I will go on record saying that this is especially applicable for those who teach at charter schools.

My last little tidbit for today is a warning: Don't forget about your all-star students. You know who I'm talking about. The ones who ALWAYS do the right thing. I wrote this post here my conviction to make sure I was rewarding these students for consistently making the right choice. It's unfortunate that the negative behaviors can sometimes monopolize our attention in the classroom, and I know I have to be intentional about expressing my gratitude for those who make good choices. I never want these kids to feel ignored.

February 13, 2014

Do You See What I See?

In health class, we've been studying tobacco and other drugs. After spending the past 2 days learning about the dangers of tobacco and tar, students were asked to doctor up this image of Carl from Up to show ten negative effects of smoking.

But if you look closely at the section I've highlighted in the cloud, I think you'll understand why my co-worker and I were near tears with laughter today.

For the record, the student labeled this image as a lung.

Somebody give this kid an anatomy lesson. STAT!

February 11, 2014

Vocabulary Cartoons

Most of you wouldn't know that my younger brother was home schooled for 4.5 years. He had some learning difficulties and my mom didn't feel the school was as supportive as necessary, so she decided she could do better herself (while working two jobs, I might add). She always says that if she could do it over again, she would have home-schooled all of us. To this I say... um.... no! It's a good thing I was born first!

That being said, mom's home-schooling days DID benefit me when I became a teacher. She had years and years of resources saved up in the basement, and I was allowed to basically help myself. One of my favorite finds, was this vocabulary book:

During my first year teaching, I had foolishly left my planning book at home on a Thursday when we ended up having a snow day on Friday. This was a problem because it was January, meaning I had to expect a pop-in evaluation at any time. I felt lost without my planning materials... and this book saved me because my evaluation happened first period on Monday morning!!!!

After spending some time flipping through this book and learning about the philosophy behind vocabulary cartoons, I knew I could turn this into an activity for my students. The idea is that students create both audial and visual mnemonic devices to help them remember the words and definitions. The examples in the book were hilarious, and I briefly debated using this book for a Word of the Day activity... which, for the record, I still think would be an amazing idea.

I was teaching the gifted classes that year, though, so I wanted to use the components of this book to stretch my students' thinking. and we had just received our new vocabulary list for the national Word Masters Challenge, and I decided that each of my students would create a vocabulary cartoon for one word and teach it to the class. I immediately began working on a directions sheet and found an example from the book online to throw in as a guide (available at my TPT store for only $1):
My students were completely engaged in the creation of their cartoons (which made for a fantastic observation). It allowed them to be creative and challenged them to think outside the box. I asked them to create a rough draft, complete with a sketch for me to approve before they moved on to their final drafts. When they were all complete, I shrank them down on the copier to make packets for each student to study, and the posters were displayed on a bulletin board in the classroom for daily reference.  

I'm proud to report that my 7th graders ranked in the nation on that Word Master challenge, and I truly think the cartoons were a big part of that success. I've done them with my classes ever since. 

Please don't think this activity is only for gifted students. I've done this with SPED and ESL populations with success as well. The one piece of advice I will give for working with these groups, though, is to have them think of their linking word (a word that sounds similar but doesn't have to rhyme) BEFORE they look up the definition. Otherwise, they get to hung up on trying to make their cartoon and sentence make sense. The whole point is that it's supposed to be fun!

My favorite student-created cartoon was for the word ravage. The sentence read: The savage cabbage ravaged the baggage. If my materials weren't packed away in storage, I would scan the image of a crazy cabbage ripping apart a bunch of bags. We all got a good laugh out of that one!!!

February 10, 2014

IMWAYR: Waiting to be Heard

I talk a lot about how much I love trashy reality TV. And this is true. Nothing entertains me like the drama of Real Housewives; it's one of my favorite ways to unwind.

But, if you really know me, you won't be surprised to hear me say that I'm also very interested in investigative journalism. I love the way the stories are told like pieces of a puzzle, waiting to be solved. Even better, are the stories that are shared from opposite perspectives and leave me questioning which side I support. I really get caught up in shows like 20/20 and Our America, and I think this also why some stories on HLN, recently Jodi Arias and George Zimmerman, capture my attention so intently. My feeling get very wrapped up in these cases, and, sometimes to the chagrin of others, I become very passionate about my opinions related to their guilt or innocence.

I've been intrigued by the Amanda Knox case since the news first broke in 2007. I've always felt compassion for who I saw as a young, naive girl who had been targeted for the murder of her roommate during her year abroad studying in Italy. I was appalled, though not surprised, to learn about how unfairly she was treated by the detectives, ultimately leading to a false confession, which she quickly retracted. I can only imagine how confused and scared I would have been in her same situation. It was pretty sobering to see her convicted of such a heinous crime, especially when the real murderer, whose DNA was all over the crime scene, was already behind bars.

I cheered for Knox when she won her appeal and was free to come home. I was relieved for her that the battle was finally over. Until, that is, the courts decided to appeal her acquittal, an concept I still don't quite understand. Living only in the United States, it is inconceivable to me that a person can be tried multiple times for the same crime, though I have learned that this is common in Italy.

When I came across her Memoir, Waiting to be Heard on OverDrive last week, I immediately placed a hold. The book became available this weekend, and offered respite from another book I wasn't enjoying. Just as I was during her various TV specials, I was gripped by her story from page 1. I listened to the first 30 chapters before finally forcing myself into bed at 1:00 only to wake up the next morning and immediately grab for my headphones. It was even more powerful to hear this story in her own voice.

Her story provides so much insight into the role of the media in her case. I was not aware of some of the huge differences in the Italian judicial system, specifically how jurors were not screened for bias or kept from viewing and reading about the case during the trial. I also didn't know that the law allows persons to be jailed for up to a full year prior to even being formally charged with a crime, during which time the prosecution can collect evidence.

We all know how the media spin stories and exaggerate the details because sensationalism sells. The problem here, though, is that the prosecution was leaking "evidence" to the press that was easily refutable. Of course, the prosecution wasn't going to go running to the media when their evidence was debunked. The desperation to "save face" was, in my opinion, largely what drove the prosecution. They didn't want to take responsibility for their errors and refused to admit, even when the evidence said otherwise, that their accusation was wrong.

I know that Knox case is very polarizing, and there are plenty of critics who will disagree with my assessment. What I can say, though, is that hearing her words only confirmed what I thought all along. Her story is truly heart-breaking. It's like a recurring nightmare that knows no end.

There has been a lot of speculation about whether or not Knox will be extradited if and when the Italian court makes that request, a decision that is more politically than legally motivated. I, for one, feel strongly that the Secretary of State needs to stand behind the US Double Jeopardy Law.

February 9, 2014

Peek At My Week

I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm heading into my ONLY 5-day week for the months of January and February. Our previous weeks included: 4 snow days, a teacher planning day, and one sick day for me, meaning I have not worked a full week since December. We get a 3-day weekend next weekend for President's Day, and then the last week of February includes a day of conferences and a teacher in-service. No complaints here!!

When I was in high school, I got up at 5:00 AM to get ready for school. It was oh-so-important to get to school early to get a good parking spot, and I also took a 0-hour photography class. I literally had to give myself a reason to get out of bed EVERY SINGLE MORNING. Whether it was a group project, cheer practice, or an important test, I had to find some way to convince myself to get up. 

On weeks like this, when I'm really dreading going to work (especially when Monday is starting with -15 degree temperatures), I still do this to myself. This week, my reasons for getting up are as follows:

In ELA, we are reading Maniac Magee. Not only do I LOVE this book, but I am working with my own small group, and those kiddos NEED me to be present every day to help them. 

In Science, as I mentioned in Friday's post, we're studying fish, which means we will be dissecting a perch some time this week. The girl I work with, J, gets super excited about dissections, and it's fun to watch her get into it! She is so willing to get involved with every aspect, including touching our specimens without gloves. I can't wait to watch her pop out a perch eye! haha

Our Design & Modeling class has been H.A.R.D. for our SPED kiddos. Have I mentioned that there are 6 - yes, 6 - teaching assistants in this class? More than 40% of the class is SPED, and 5 of them are literally incapable of following any part of the curriculum. My coworker and I decided last week that we'd had enough. With permission from the classroom teacher, we've decided to pull those 5 kids each day and build 3-D puzzles and other projects from these old kits he had from way back when. I no longer dread the class each day. J and I are going to finish her Carousel tomorrow and then start on her 3-D puzzle of a helicopter!

I'm also really excited to be helping out my girl, Kelly, who is also throwing a huge giveaway for meeting her 300-follower milestone. I've donated my Cupid Shuffle Close Reading & Scoot Activity, which is a perfect ELA activity for Valentine's Day on Friday! Click on the image below to figure out how to win one of two huge prize packs, each including $25 TPT gift cards!

February 8, 2014

The Power of Color

Happy Saturday! This was our first 5-day week since December, and I know it was tough on everyone. I guess I can't really complain because I ended up being snowed in on Wednesday... although I still woke up and tried to go to school, so I didn't get the benefit of sleeping in, which is my favorite part of a day off.

Today, I want to link up with my sweet friend Joanne to share two simple things I do in my classroom to motivate students when it comes to writing. I was actually reminded of this first tip by Serena's post earlier this week at Magic Mistakes & Mayhem when she talked about how discouraging it can be for students to see red ink all over their writing.

It is for this very reason that I never grade anything in red ink. Ever.

I will use any color in the world except red. Red ink just has such a negative connotation, and I want my comments and corrections to be seen as helpful, not judgmental. I genuinely feel like I make the exact same marks in a different color and it's received so much more positively.

And since we're talking about the power of color, this is also a good time to discuss how this impacts with student writing. Most of you weren't yet following my blog when I first mentioned that I loathe pencils and require my students to write in pen. You can read the rationale and expert advice that supports this idea in this post. So, yes, while the pencil battle is one that I'm willing to fight, the color of the ink is not.

I distinctly remember that the most exciting part of one's birthday in elementary school was that you got to sit in the teacher's chair for the day and use pen all day! We all bought those special all-in-one pens and spent the day clicking through all the colors because we had to take advantage of our ONE chance to use all those lovely colors. Don't act like you didn't use one too!!!

In middle school, we were expected to use pens everywhere but in math. Colored ink, though, was reserved for note-taking. I actually looked forward to taking notes for this reason. I would establish color codes for myself. Topics in one color, subheadings in another, etc. Sometimes, I would alternate pen color with each bullet point. Yes... I was (and still am) that girl.

So, in my classroom, I allow, in fact, I encourage students to write with a myriad of colored pens (except for those neon ones because my eyes just can't read them anymore). It's incredible how motivating this can be for students.

I have a student this year who will literally do anything if its on pink paper or she can write with a pink pen. My solution?? We use pink whenever possible. Sometimes, she starts whining about an assignment before it's even fully explained, but as soon as I tell her she can use one of my pink flair pens, her whole attitude changes.

Kids like color! Use that to your advantage, people!

February 7, 2014

Just Keep Swimming

This was our first full week since December. Technically, I can't even say that because I took Wednesday off after being snowed-in my driveway and crying. To be fair, I had a huge migraine since the previous day, so when I saw the snow and measured it physically impossible to dig out my car in time to get to work, I hit my breaking point. And the worst part of all? It was my best hair day of the whole week. Sad face.

In honor of a 5-day work week (thankfully, next week is our last one until March... I know!) I'm linking up with Jivey to share 5 gifs that describe too many moments in my day sometimes!

In science, we've been learning about vertebrates. Yesterday, we were reviewing the characteristics of fish. When asked what they use to swim, one student responded, "Wings!!!!"

After he was corrected, another student added, "But what about whales? Don't they have wings on the side?"

Which, somehow led to the question, "Why do fish swim in tornadoes?"

The classroom teacher informed him that those are called schools, to which he responded, "Wait... Fish go to school too?"

Sometimes... I just can't.

I also want to add that two of my bloggy friends, Joy in the Journey and Rosie's Rambles are hosting a Favorite Things Giveaway on their blogs. Be sure to stop by and enter to win! They've got some great prizes in store for you!!

February 6, 2014

Interactive Flash Card Games

Of course, I'm linking up with my bloggy twin, Erin today for her monthly Throw Down where we share ways we make learning more interactive in our classrooms. This post will be an extension of the one I linked up with last month. One of the many ways I teach my students to study is with flashcards. They're great for individual or partner review, as I've already discussed in this post, but they are also a lot of fun for whole-class review games.

Before I get into the game we play, I want to make sure I say that flashcards are not only useful for vocabulary activities. Here are some of the ways I use flashcards in my classroom:

Math Problem/Answer
Date/Historical Event
Event Name/Description
Key Person/Role
Amendment Number/Title
Literary Device/Example
Word part/Definition
Part of Speech/Example

And I'm sure you can think of many more...

One game, which was a favorite of mine as a child, is Around the World. Two students are pitted against each other in a race to provide the correct answer (posed by the teacher). The winning student then moves on to challenge the next classmate with the ultimate goal of making it around the entire classroom (world). This game is best played just before a quiz or test or to review old material because it doesn't allow for much thinking time, but it's a ton of fun for your competitive students. It also always provides a lot of laughter because students stumble all over themselves under all that pressure!

A second activity that I enjoy is called Blackout. To play, students will select a set number of flashcards from their stack to place on their desks in a grid pattern. I usually do a 3x3 or 4x4 grid depending on how many rounds we want to play. To play this game, the teacher will read one side of the card, and the students (if it's an option on their desks) will find the matching information and flip it over. This allows them to check their answer, so if they are wrong, they can just flip it back over and try again. The winner is the first person to flip over ALL their cards (although you can do this tic-tac-toe style too) and yell "Blackout!" There's some luck to this game because students select the cards they place on their desks, and I'll be honest and say that it's funny when they get mad because I call a card they didn't use.

The final flashcard game we play is Flashcard Showdown. You could play this the classic way I described before with white boards, or you could do this with a twist. Everyone takes out their stack of cards and makes sure they are facing the same direction. The first person draws one card, reads one side aloud, and places it in the middle of the table. The rest of the group has to search through the opposite side to find the match and be the first person to throw their card on top. Then, that person gets to throw down the next card. The object of this game is to be the first person to get rid of all your cards.

What flashcard games do you play with your students???

February 5, 2014

Figurative Language with 3 Freebies

I'm super excited that I get to link up with Jivey today to share a couple of my favorite ELA mini-lessons.

I actually really enjoy teaching figurative language because I get to incorporate so many fun activities. To start, I always do a mini-lesson using none other than Miss Amelia Bedelia.

Even my eighth graders love to gather around for story time like elementary students, so I sometimes incorporate these books in my lessons. Let's face it: they are much more time-effective for introducing new concepts than many grade-level texts.

So, for figurative language, we begin by reading any Amelia Bedelia story. While they listen, I ask students to pay attention to the examples of Amelia confusing homophones. Depending on the attention levels of my class, I sometimes have to ask them to record the examples on this record sheet.

When we're done, I pass out the Literal versus Figurative Language Activity, where students are asked to consider the literal and figurative language of 8 idioms we use. Students are asked to draw what it would look like if one took the figurative language literally and then provide the figurative (actual) meaning. As you can imagine, I get some very creative illustrations from this activity!

Finally, we begin to explore simile, metaphor, hyperbole, and personification using this Figures of Speech worksheet where students have to finish the sentence starters. I then have them choose their favorite to illustrate and color to hang in the classroom.

Don't forget to check out Jivey's post for even more ideas for figurative language in your classroom!

February 4, 2014

Using Citation Generators for Research

This may not be a popular opinion among ELA teachers, but I don't think it's necessary for students to learn how to write bibliographies by hand. When I first began teaching, I did this, and it was nothing but a huge headache for me. I don't recall ever creating a Works Cited page until my junior research paper, so teaching it to middle school students (who still can't punctuate a regular sentence correctly), is frustrating. I believe firmly that here in the 21st Century, students will forever have access to the abundant websites that construct Works Cited pages for them, so there's no reason for them to learn how to do this manually (at least not in middle school).

I do, however, feel responsible for teaching them how to use these websites effectively. The computer, as they say, is only as smart as it's user, after all.

My personal favorite bibliographic website is Easy Bib. It's cheap (free for MLA), allows you to search through an existing database of citations, and really takes out the intimidation-factor.

When you first load the page, you will see this:

My favorite feature of this website is that you can simply select the type of source you're using (from 59 options) and search for the title or author in that search bar. The site will then give you a list of possible citations. Of course, it doesn't include everything in the world, but it's a great place to start. Here's an example of my website results for "Emmett Till" just to give you an idea:

If you're searching for a book, it's even easier because you can just throw in the ISBN. It's really that simple!

After you select your source, you will have the option to confirm the information in the citation. This is an important step because there may be missing or wrong information. What I like, though, is that it shows students exactly what information is being used in the citation. It's easier for them to confirm and modify than to create from scratch. 

Once you create your citation, you have the option of going back and adding more sources. It will even sort your sources into an alphabetical list for you and allow you to export the entire Works Cited to Word (or you can print from the website directly). 

I'm curious to know how the rest of you tackle citations during your research units. Do you teach your students how to write these by hand, or do you allow them to use web resources? What other sites are you using with your students?

February 3, 2014

Myth Retakes

So, the streak has ended. I had to go to school today, and let me tell you... I was NOT very happy about it. I planned to stop at Starbucks on my way to work to give myself a special treat since I was forced to work today, but my plan was thwarted because I had to spend those precious minutes digging my car out from under the several inches of snow that fell over the weekend. I have no one to blame for this but myself because I never left the house all weekend. Instead, I was stuck like glue to Netflix watching New Girl and An Idiot Abroad. For that, I blame Alison and my mom. :) 

Also because of my Netflix marathon, I didn't make any progress in the books I've been reading, meaning to start, or listening to. So, it wouldn't really be fair of me to link up for IMWAYR per usual. Instead, I decided I'd share with you a really fun activity we did during social studies last week.

We've (still) been studying ancient Greece, which means we get to talk about Greek Myths. We spent several days reading, watching videos, and discussing various myths. 

(If this had happened in my own classroom, I would have divided students into small groups and assigned each group a myth. I would instruct students to read their myths, and use butcher paper to make picture notes, detailing the events in the story. Then, I would have them take turns sharing their myths aloud to the class. The papers would then hang in the room to be referenced for the next activity.) 

After familiarizing students with several myths, we gave them the task to do a Retake. Basically, they had to choose a myth to re-write. They could add a modern twist or change the ending to explain some phenomenon. Students explained why eating pie makes us fat, how rap music was discovered, how evil came into the world... the list goes on and on. 

Students illustrated their comics on 11X17 paper and included the text to their myth retake and a decorative border. They really enjoyed this activity, and our classroom looks awesome with these projects hanging on every wall!