Sunday, December 20, 2015

Here's an Idea: Vision Boards

by Catch the Buzz TpT Store: Catch the Buzz
Catch the Buzz

January is a great time for students create vision boards! Some people call them "dream boards," or "goal boards," but I like to call them vision boards because the creators of the boards are really projecting a VISION of their future.
      Catch the Buzz                               Catch the Buzz
I explain to my students that a vision board is a collage of pictures, phrases, and words that represents what they want to be, do, or have in their lives. Creating a visual representation of their future selves can inspire them to take the steps necessary to achieve their goals.

For their vision board to be effective, I tell students to hang their board in a place at home where they will see it every day. Visualizing and believing in a positive future are the first steps to creating the life they dream of. Hopefully, this will then inspire them to consider what they need to do to achieve their goals and to take the steps that will lead to their goal.

Vision boards are a great way to start off the New Year and as an added bonus, you'll learn a lot about your students!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Winter Holiday Jingle our December issue, Connie Casserly wrote an awesome A Teacher's Winter Holiday Jingle to the tune of White Christmas. She's put it up on her blog for you to read and you've got to go check it out! If you like it, leave her a comment to let her know!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Free Downloads for your Secondary Classroom freebie from Julie Faulkner                       Grades 6-12

RACE takes a writer from the beginning of a paragraph to the end. Therefore, it can be expanded to an entire essay. Using a brain-based strategy such as this one frequently will produce so much growth and improvement in writing fluency. 

A freebie from Doc Running             Grades 6-12

Newspaper projects can be a valuable way for students to learn about a subject or assess what they know, but they can be tough.  These graphic organizers will help students visually gather their information and write their articles.

A freebie from Michele Luck                Grades 5-12

Allow your students to practice their longitude and latitude skills while having fun with this Super Bowl Scavenger Hunt Handout. Students can work individually or in small teams to trace the coordinates, locate the teams, and identify the NFL stadiums. 

A freebie from History Gal                Grades 6-12

See how much your students know about the Pilgrims and the origination of Thanksgiving with this free bingo game! 

A freebie from AlwaysLearning          Grades 4-7

Understanding mood and tone is integral to gaining deeper meaning from text. The CCSS requires a realignment of a reading program as well as additional skills and strategies to better comprehend text. Understanding text at a deeper level requires readers to comprehend the connotation of words that an author uses to create mood and tone. This mini-lesson and activity defines the two and provides a large group of words for small groups or partners to sort into Neutral, Positive, or Negative groups. This activity can be done on chart paper or easily adapted to Interwrite boards. 

A freebie from 2 Peas and a Dog  Grades 5-9

This product is a collection of 6 graphic organizers to help student engage, connect and think about their reading. Students are given lots of room to write their thoughts as they read their novels. Boxes are big enough for students to record their thinking on sticky notes and then collect them on the graphic organizer of their choice.

The organizer has six different reading strategies graphic organizers: plot, characters, connections, questions, predictions and a combination organizer for students to fill in before, during and after reading.               

A freebie from Leah Cleary               Grades 6-12

This is the 4th complete vocabulary unit in my world history series. It serves as an organization tool and framework for a unit on the European Middle Ages. This method provides students with the consistency they need to reinforce vital content vocabulary concepts in an entertaining manner. 

A freebie from Bridget Riggs         Grades 10-12

A breakdown of ACT Test Strategies, Question Types, & Section Timing
The ACT test is quickly becoming the most popular test taken for college entrance. Help your students know what to expect and how to study for the ELA section of the ACT.
This 29 page PDF file is a collection of information about the English section of the ACT test for students. 

A freebie from Writing by Rachel      Grades 6-12

Refresh your writing prompts with this freebie! creARTive writing is a unique way to integrate art and to inspire creative writing. Students will create an original writing using Henri de Toulouse Lautrec's painting Quadrille at the Moulin Rouge. 

A freebie from The Teaching Room    Grades 9-12

10 Writing Strategies Posters (8.5 x 11 in).
Black and white, plain and practical.
Includes teacher notes with a purpose for each strategy.

A freebie from Susan Traugh            Grades 9-12

"Prioritizing" is a free mini lesson from the Daily Living Skills series of workbooks featuring transition skills designed for mild-to-moderately affected special needs high school students, but appropriate for any young person wanting independent living skills.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Tech Talk for Teachers: Test Prep and Interactive PowerPoint System

by Jacqueline Miller
TpT Store: For the Love of the Children
Blog: For the Love of the Children

We know that our students need a lot of practice reading on the computer, but most of our instruction is done at a desk in a classroom.  This does not prepare them for the rigorous, computer-based standardized assessments that they are expected to complete each year.  When we have an opportunity to purchase computerized programs, we can not always afford them year-after-year. When we are able to purchase programs to use with our students, we sometimes run into Internet issues that prevent them from being used effectively.  Therefore, I created a computerized test prep program in PowerPoint that gives students the practice they need while reviewing a plethora of standards.  With this program, students work on their fluency by reading words before they disappear from the screen.  Then they respond to fourteen multiple-choice questions.  The questions contain built-in hints so that students are never stuck.  Students receive immediate feedback for correct and incorrect answers in order to adjust their thinking.  Finally, students have an opportunity to respond to an extended response or a constructed response item. This portion is completed in class, just like the written portion of standardized assessments.  Exemplar responses, grading rubrics, and answer keys are provided with each installment of this program. It's a system that will better prepare students for high-stakes, computer-based assessments. You can learn more by visiting my blog and downloading a free sample.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Here's an Idea: Using Acronyms

by Michele Luck TpT Store: Michele Luck's Social Studies

 Successful social studies teachers fill their teaching toolboxes with tools to help student comprehension and retention.  Some of my favorite tools are ACRONYMS.  Find one that's right for your students, and use it regularly in class to create the foundation and structure to help your students establish strong learning habits for their entire academic careers. One of my favorite is my BRAGS sheet.

Students are asked to Brainstorm before reading, Read for information, Anticipate what may happen next, Graphically Organize the gathered information, and Summarize the content collected on a specific topic. It hits on the key social studies elements, while also calling attention to student success!
Here are a few others you may find useful:
SPRITE - Social, Political, Religious, Intellectual, Technological, and Economic
PERSIA - Political, Economic, Religious, Societal, Intellectual, and Area (Geography)
G-PERSIA - Geography, Political, Economic, Religious, Societal, Intellectual, Arts
SPEC - Social, Political, Economic, Cultural
GRAPES - Geographic, Religious, Arts & Architecture, Political, Economic, Societal

You can find these and other great social studies posters in my Social Studies Classroom Poster Set.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

CreARTive Writing

Writing by Rachel

As an English teacher, I think it’s important to collect a writing sample at the beginning of the year. Obviously, its practical application is that it helps me see where this new group of students is in terms of writing skills. And, it allows me a glimpse into how each student approaches writing—who is literal and who is more comfortable playing with narrative.

As a first-year teacher, I simply asked students to write one page about anything they’d like—a personal narrative from their summer, a creative piece. But that seemed inadequate unless this was to remain a one-off assignment. I wanted it to fit into a program that developed writers. Ultimately, I wanted students to learn and to apply habits of thinking about writing, as well to master writing skills. So, back to the drawing board.

Next time, I merged my desire to integrate art into my curriculum. On the first day of class, I showed students a painting and asked them to share their observations and their questions about it.

We began with pure observations:
*What did they see?
*What words would they use to describe it?
*What is the tone of the painting?
*What stood out?
*What details did they see?
*What was going on—what was the action?
*Where were the gaps—the pieces the painting did not provide?
*What questions did they have?

Then we added our own interpretations:
*If this painting were a story, what genre would it be?
*What story did this painting tell?
*What character was not shown but was there and what would he/she report?
*Was there a conflict?
*What was the setting? What was the tone? How did this piece make them feel?
*What happened in the moment before this painting’s scene, or in the days after?
*What connections did they make between the painting and their own lives?

Our conversation not only primed the pump for writing, it introduced how to think like a writer, and it developed skills students could use to read other primary source documents.

After our conversation, I turned students loose to write, no more than one page front and back, that was inspired by the painting. The writings that were born from this conversation were rich and varied—mysteries, personal narratives, dramatic conversations, and scientific-style observations. They indicated where there was work to be done--grammatical weaknesses, structural challenges—but also where there were creative fields to be mined. From the very first day of class, I had student samples to use in class and a snap-shot of students’ writing skills, and they had a rough draft to work with.

These writing from art days—creARTive writing—became a staple of the class. They were something worthwhile to fill the days in-between units, a way to connect literature to art, a way to inspire student writing during each unit, and always, a source of information about their writing skills.

What always astounded me was how energetic our conversations were, how quiet the room became while they wrote, and how much I looked forward to reading the mosaic of their creations.

And so, I share with you a creARTive writing assignment. It has a place in every English class.

Refresh your writing prompts! creARTive writing is a unique way to integrate art and to inspire creative writing. Try out the Freebie. Students will create an original writing from a work of art.

Looking for a more? Try a bundle of five creARTive writing prompts.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Approaching World History through Source Analysis and Fiction

Leah Cleary
 I know we’re not supposed to play favorites with the kids, but I can’t help it. I have six kids, but I most definitely have a favorite. Respectively, my kids are English I, English III, U.S. History, World History, Sociology, and Psychology.

I love them all, truly I do—I’ve spent so much time with each, reading, planning, and teaching, so they really do all feel like my kids--but if I had to pick one to spend the most time with, it would be world history.

“Why?” you might ask, especially when they are all wonderful and English was my first.

Well, I think it may have something to do with what drew me to English in the first place—stories. World history is a bunch of wonderful, disturbing, beautiful, tragic, funny stories. They are stories that explain who and where we are and how we got here. They are stories that connect people in the U.S. to people in Estonia, and people in Nigeria to people in Malaysia.

Also, history is an art—the art of looking at vast amounts of seemingly unconnected evidence, making sense out of it, and weaving it into a narrative.

I think that is what I truly enjoy doing and encouraging students to do. I love it when they say, “History doesn’t change.” My challenge is to have them question that assumption by the end of the term. I want them to see that when they read a textbook or an online article, they are looking at one person’s (or an editorial board’s) interpretation of evidence.  While events and primary sources may not change, interpretations of those events and sources are wide-open to change.

Keeping that in mind, there are a couple of approaches to teaching world history that I like to take: 1. implementing primary and secondary source analysis and 2. bringing short fiction into the curriculum to illustrate points and approaches.

The first approach is vital to any world history curriculum. The best way to make students aware of the historical process is to have them engage in it. First, students must understand the difference between primary and secondary sources. I give a brief lecture about the difference and then guide students through a process of analyzing a primary source (we do this together).

Then, I put students in groups of four and give each group a set of task cards. They have to determine whether the source on each card is primary or secondary and explain why they answered as they did. To take it a step further (and really demonstrate using evidence to draw conclusions), I like to pair students off and give each pair a copy of a receipt. They have to look at the purchases on the receipt and construct a narrative about the person doing the shopping based on the purchases.

It’s fun to have an actual personality sketch of the person behind the receipt so that students can compare their narrative to the actual person and see how close they came to accuracy.  I cinch the lesson by explaining that this is what historians do. They may be right, wrong, or close, but they have to have evidence from primary sources, and their claims should be reasonable based on that evidence, or it is not a reliable source.

I like to use snippets from various secondary sources, all with differing assertions about the same topic, for students to compare. A topic that fits the world history curriculum and lends itself to differing opinions based on primary source evidence is the fall of Rome. It’s difficult to find two historians who agree as to why it fell, let alone if it fell at all.

Students need to see that the narratives we hear in history class are conclusions woven from evidence. They should engage in the process so that they can unweave the narratives and see the individual yarns from which they are created. This will make them more discerning in what they accept as fact.

The second approach I like to take uses short fiction to illustrate the humanity of the people and cultures we are studying. I knew I wanted to do something along these lines the first time I taught world history. The students couldn’t wait to get to the Holocaust.

I was perplexed by their excitement over such a horrific subject. “I love the Holocaust,” I heard more than once.

“Really?” I would say. This troubled me. I thought a lot about it. There are three reasons my somewhat limited mind could fathom that someone would “love” the Holocaust: 1. they are truly depraved, 2. they enjoy the feelings of superiority that “good vs. bad” scenarios give us all (we would never engage in something as horrendous as that—we  would help), and 3. they are genuinely missing the human element in this calamity.

I believe that a very few of the students I have ever taught fall into the first category (although, statistically, some must). So, that leaves the majority falling into categories two and three. “Us against them” is human nature, so category two is understandable. It’s the reason teachers often give for spending so much time on the holocaust, “We do it so that it won’t happen again.” This is noble. After all, Hitler himself remarked, “Who still talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians.”

But that excuse neglects one important truth—it still happens. Ask the Syrian migrants flooding into Europe. Visit the Sudan. Or just watch Hotel Rwanda. That excuse insults the masses still enduring genocide, and it gives us a false sense of the times in which we live.

So that leaves us with category three. I think that many of us get swept up in the atrocities and neglect the human element. Actual people were tortured and killed. Actual families were ripped apart. And that is why we study the Holocaust and other such atrocities—to remember and honor the victims.

I could tell my students this, but I don’t think it would mean much to them. I chose to illustrate the point with a short story instead. Many of us have brought historical fiction into a history class, but I think an effective way to discuss historical themes and approaches can be through short fiction.

Before beginning a unit on World War II, we discuss nationalism and civil war in China. My lesson on this time period involves a brief PowerPoint with cloze notes, primary source analysis (of course), and an original short story to encourage students to consider appropriate ways to approach a subject that sadly plagues the remainder of the course—genocide.

It is my goal to humanize these events for the students, not to look at gruesome pictures and tut-tut the actions of the perpetrators, or worse….Fiction delivers lessons that are more palpable than lectures. Often times, students don’t even realize that it is a lesson. Fiction allows students to draw their own conclusions, often through empathy. STEAM in the classroom.

So, my favorite kid is world history, I’ll admit it. But it dawned on me as I was writing this—perhaps it’s my favorite because it offers me the opportunity to bring in the elements that I also love about the other five, which are also near and dear to my heart.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

From Lecture to Laptop…How to begin “flipping” your classroom

Bridget Riggs
I have been teaching high school English for over 15 years. I was trained in the traditional presentation of knowledge to students. The teacher stood in front of the class, presented knowledge in the most (insert your county’s current buzz word here)-ish manner, and students took notes. The teacher would then assign practice sentences for grammar, a story/chapter to read, or an essay to write for homework.
I did mix it up of course. We used collaborative groupings, games, etc. in addition to whatever the current buzz terminology of the time in education was. Now, with many school utilizing iPads and 1:1 technology in the classroom, I had to rethink my curriculum once again to stay ahead of the curve.
A “flipped” classroom is the classroom of the not-so-distant future. In some counties, like mine, it is becoming mandatory.  It sounded logical and I thought the flip would be easy...until I started planning how to implement it with my students.
I felt VERY OVERWHELMED when I sat down to unit plan!!
I started off slow –

Lesson plan sample:  The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Day 1 (traditional class):
  • Class time:  Teacher lectures using a PowerPoint covering the background info on the author, novel, and time period. 
    • Students take notes over the presentation.
  • Homework: Novels are handed out and the first chapter is assigned for homework.

Day 1 (flipped class):
  • Class time:  Students are seated in collaborative groups and given discussion prompts.  Examples of prompts might be, “If you were writing a book about a woman in jail for murder, how would you describe the woman?” or “How are ministers viewed in our current society?” or “Why do people cheat on their marriage partners?”.  Of course, these prompts need to meet the maturity level of your students but get them talking.
    • You can have the groups rotate to each topic or just have 1 large class discussion covering the topics together.
    • As the first week of reading progresses, one of the flipped assignments for each student will be to post to a discussion board (Edublog, Schoology, etc.) set up by the teacher on each of these prompts.  The idea being that students will discuss these at the beginning, middle, and end of their reading.
  • Homework: Students bookmark/download ebook version of The Scarlet Letter ( and complete the first part of a web quest about the novel (  Tomorrow’s classwork will be directly related to the material found in their homework assignment.

Hints for changing unit plans for flipped classrooms:
  • Make the “stuff” the students are responsible for completing relevant and required.  It was very easy to assign homework that was on the iPad, but would it be relevant and would it have purpose?
  • Use class time to practice.  This took a bit of getting used to for me.  General instruction was to be completed via technology BEFORE coming to class.  We used our time together to practice and get individual tutoring.  This required a change of thinking from all of us.
  • Don’t get overwhelmed with the hundreds of apps and education websites out there.  It is easier on both teacher and students to start small and expand when it seems necessary.  I began too broad – using about 6 apps and discussion boards in the first unit alone.  Not only did it spread me too thin, but it confused the students who were getting the hang of a new way to be educated as well.  Master one at a time – together.
My class goals as we progressed to a full flip…
  • Flip lessons in class to make sure everyone knows where to go online to find the activities.
  • Students will have 1 week of assignments as if the class is “flipped”. This will allow time for problem solutions and questions.
  • Students are in a full flip for class and most homework. Student/teacher groups begin to meet once a week.
  • All potential issues should have been resolved. Class is in full flip and weekly conferences are consistent.

I have done the trial and error of planning and structuring lessons and units for a flipped classroom. Visit my TpT store and find templates and planning tools that will help you organize your flip without feeling overwhelmed in the process.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Looking for a Few Good Contributors!

C.L.A.S.S. is a newsletter for Secondary ELA and Social Studies teachers. We are looking for contributions in the following areas for our next issue (April):

*Tech Ideas:
Do you have a great tech idea that you want to share?
Click here to fill out the form.

Would you like to write an ELA or Social Studies article? If you are a seller on Teachers Pay Teachers, we'll highlight a paid product and a freebie of your choice as our thanks. If you are not a seller, you'll get a free product from History Gal or Writing by Rachel.
Click here to fill out the form.

*Something that Works in Your Classroom:
Would you like to share something that works in your classroom?
Click here to fill out the form.

You can check out our most recent issue here.

If you'd like to subscribe and have the newsletter arrive in your inbox, click here.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Poetry's Power in Creating Social Justice

Collaborative Language Arts and Social Studies Amanda Leigh Cordes
West Chicago Community High School
West Chicago, IL
Tpt Store: Through the Doors of Room 304

           I was wearing a black, knee-length skirt and a red sweater that fit an 18-year-old me awkwardly: too big in the shoulders, too lopsided in the waist, too short in the arms.  A snow globe-light dusting of white powder remained scattered across the streets of Chicago’s downtown loop.  Carefully curled brown locks swayed around my head as I nervously gazed out the window of our car at the scene.  On this day in February 2004, I was about to be interviewed by the Golden Apple Scholars organization to determine whether or not I would receive a distinguished teaching scholarship as I entered my freshman year in college.  I was eager, I was determined, and I was in love with teaching.
            That day, the interview committee asked me many questions, but I’ll never forget when they asked me, “Why do you want to become a teacher?”   My answer?  Simple.  Because I love kids and because I want to help kids learn how to become smarter, stronger, more open-minded people.  If you’d have asked me that question a few years later, I would have simplified that answer:  I love kids and I want to teach them empathy.
            Empathy is the root of social justice - an end goal to many educational philosophies.  We, as teachers, aspire to create a community that achieves social justice, which provides opportunities to all students regardless of their wealth or status, and beyond that, to nurture the kinds of students who desire a future where they also can create social justice.  I also know that teaching empathy requires more than just reading To Kill a Mockingbird and telling the students to be like Atticus and “walk in someone else’s shoes”.  Teenagers are smart, conniving, creative, manipulative, and most of all, they are seeking real, tangible experiences.   After several years of teaching, I have found that the best space to create these authentic opportunities to experience empathy is through storytelling and poetry.
            Every classroom has the opportunity to become a stage - a place where students can inhabit a space and share their stories.   The more students are asked to speak about their own experiences and challenged to revise those stories artistically (through diction, tone, etc.), the richer the colors of the classroom become and the deeper the conversations about class content develop.
     Poetry in my classroom happens all year long.  The model is relatively simple:  read, annotate, watch, discuss, imitate.  I choose poems with a social justice punch to read together in class, for them to closely annotate, to watch, to discuss, and then to write their own versions.  I also use a tool called “The Big Six” to help students explore poems (this is included in my TpT product called My Poetry Notebook).  Some poets that I would highly recommend include:  Bobby LeFabre, Lamar Jorden, Patricia Smith, Marc Smith, Robbie Q. Telfer, Tim Stafford, Buddy Wakefield, Shane Koyczan, Taylor Mali, and Sarah Kay.  For more great poets, check out my YouTube playlist (screen for appropriateness) here.
            Take Shane Koyczan’s poem “To This Day” for example.  Shane, who in this particular poem is both the poet and the speaker, tells the true, yet fictionalized, experience that he had growing up being bullied.  Every year that I teach this poem every single student engages and connects.  We read the poem, we annotate the poem, we watch the poem (over and over again!), we discuss the poem, and then...we write our own versions of the poem.  Some students imitate Koyczan’s style - they emulate metaphors and imagery like, “he was three when he became a mixed drink/ of one part left alone/ and two parts tragedy” and “she doesn’t think she’s beautiful/ because of a birthmark/ that takes up a little less than half of her face/ kids used to say she looks like a wrong answer/ that someone tried to erase.”  Other students write reactionary poems about a time they were bullied or a time they witnessed bullying.  By the end of the lesson, the students have not only analyzed poetic devices, but they have connected to another person’s story, developed empathy, and are now prepared with a story of their own to share with their classmates.
            Through poetry, students zero in on a poet’s experience and connect to the emotional curve of the poem.  Throughout the year, students in my classroom are exposed to a variety of styles, subjects, and voices and finish the year with a collection of wildly impressive poetry.  About once a quarter, my team sets aside time to host a poetry open mic.  Once the ice is broken, the line of poets waiting to read their work is out the door and around the corner.  I’m not sure what the magic ingredient is, but year after year, the same thing keeps happening.
            Through their storytelling, through their poetry, students break down the barriers that once divided them.  We learned in our school that the student that lives in the only mansion in town has a younger brother with Asperger's Syndrome, the student that just moved into town was adopted, and the funniest kid in class has been living in his brother’s car for two weeks.  They speak honestly about their losses, their struggles, their joys, their fears, and their relationships.  Poetry offers a platform for students to get fired up about school politics and to demand that free and reduced lunches should be healthy and that prom tickets are just too freaking expensive.  If there is one thing I can urge you to consider about the school year as you sit down with a brand new 2015-16 lesson plan book, it is:  where and when can your poets speak?
            Even if your classroom schedule can’t seem to fit a poetic space on a regular basis, consider starting a club.  The Ink, our creative writing club at school, works together year round to organize after school open mics, larger stage productions, and goes to competitions for their poetic prowess.  In Chicago, the place to be in March is LTAB (Louder Than a Bomb).  It is the world’s largest poetry slam for teenagers.  Over the course of six weeks, over 200 schools in the Chicagoland/Indiana area come together to share many stages all over the city.  Teams of six to eight students compete in individual rounds and then, the most difficult of them all, a group round where four poets perform a choreographed poem.  This “competition” called slam poetry is really just a hoax:  founder Marc Kelly Smith began the poetry slam as a way to get all kinds of people in a room listening to poetry.  When poetry became something that could be scored by anyone that could walk into a bar, the high-brow, literary pretense fell away and poetry became something for all people.  Since the 1980s, slam has expanded across the planet, but here in Chicago, educators use this clever “hoax” to bring teenagers from parts of the city and suburbs that would never intersect in one of the most segregated cities in the country.  In these beautiful moments on stage, students from the south side, west side, north side, and from the suburbs listen to each other.  They experience just a few minutes of this person’s life and feel real empathy.  At the end of the competition, we are reminded that “the point is not the points, the point is the poetry!” and students all gather on stage for hugs, hi-fives, and fist bumps.
            The social justice definition that I use with my students is from the UC Berkley School of Social Welfare and it highlights four main components.  Their working definition of social justice is:
“Social Justice is a process which
  • (1) seeks fair (re)distribution of resources, opportunities, and responsibilities;
  • (2) challenges the roots of oppression and injustice;
  • (3) empowers all people to exercise self-determination and realize their full potential;
  • (4) and builds social solidarity and community capacity for collaborative action.”
Poetry, I have found, can do all of these things both in a single classroom and in the much wider school community that you may be able to connect with.  Poetry creates a level playing field for students, the stories shared build empathy and challenge the biases and misconceptions students have about one another, it builds their courage and their confidence, and it creates a space for communities to grow.
            When I think back to that wintery, shook up snow globe memory interviewing for Golden Apple, I think about why I wanted to teach in the first place.  As teachers, we have the opportunity this August to reset.  To remember why we love this job.  To plan a year that plans experiences first and Common Core Standards later.  To seize opportunities to create an empathetic, authentic community of learners that can make real change and innovation happen on this bruised Earth.  This year, consider how poetry might transform your teaching and the lives of your students.

To connect with me and learn more about how to infuse poetry and performance in your classroom, email me:

For more information about LTAB and how to bring it to your city, visit:

For a great series of teachable Slam poems, visit my YouTube channel (please preview each video first for your comfort level):

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Technology for the Secondary Classroom by Chalk Dust Diva the technological advances and the proliferation of social media, the way educators teach and students learn has change dramatically. It’s essential that teachers keep up with the current technological trends as to prepare their students for the challenges and demands of the 21st century. Below are some of my favorite technology strategies that I have implemented in my secondary social studies classroom:

1. My students love to play interactive, technology-based review games. One of my students’ favorite games is Kahoot. This is a fun and interactive review game where the teacher can either make his/her own questions or search through several questions that have already been created. The students log in to the internet-based game with a specific code and the results of their answers will show up immediately. I usually give my students a choice whether they want to enter their real name or a fake name since the game will rank the students in order based on the number of answers they get correct. This game is great because it gives them IMMEDIATE feedback. It also shows the teacher what information needs to be retaught.  You can also choose to play in pairs or groups.

2. In my history and civics classes, I often ask my students to share their opinion on specific topics. For example, in my U.S. History class I might ask if they believe the U.S. should have dropped the atomic bomb. On the other hand, in my Civics class I might implement a survey about their beliefs on the separation of “church and state.”  To create technology-based polls, I use PollEverywhere. Students can use their cell phones to text-message their opinions. The entire class can see the results of the poll immediately.

3. Whenever I want my students to mark important events on a map, I have them use Google Maps (in lieu of using a paper map). For example, when we study the Cold War, I have my students mark important events of the time period on their maps. They also need to include a detailed summary of the event and a picture of the event. What I like about this activity the most is that it is very student-centered. Here is the lesson I gave my students:  COLD WAR GOOGLE MAP TIMELINE

4. I often incorporate short video and sound clips into my lesson plans. This is especially helpful for my visual learners. Although I often use YouTube to find appropriate clips for my classroom, I find that TeacherTube is a great site as well. Many of the clips are created and uploaded by teachers. This site also includes pictures and sound clips.Another site that is useful in bringing curriculum to students is Discovery Education.  This site is accessible via your district, if they have chosen to purchase use of the site.

Here are a few of my favorite film clips that I use in my history class:
Why It’s Important to Study History
An Open Letter to Students Returning to School (I love all the CrashCourse videos!)

5. The last couple of years I have been using GoogleClassroom to host my assignments for each course I teach. The great thing about GoogleClassroom is that you can post assignments, quizzes, writing assessments, surveys, etc. as well as have your students turn in their assignments via the website. The students can also make use of Google Docs, Google Forms, Google Slides, Google Sheets and Google Drawings. No longer can your students use the excuse of “my dog ate my homework” because once they complete their assignments using Google, they will never lose an assignment again!
Here is a lesson using Google Slides or Power Point: POWER POINT STUDENT PROJECT. If students use Google Slides they can work in a group on the same presentation at the same time from various locations! Pretty cool!

6. Last, but certainly not least, I highly recommend an application (app) for your cell phone called Genius Scan. This app will make your life as a teacher much easier, but is not intended for student use. This app will take a picture of a document and convert it to a PDF. Once a document is scanned, I simply save it to my computer. Now I can easily find my documents in my computer rather than searching binders full of handouts!

To see my other teaching resources, follow the link to ChalkDustDiva.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The 13 Components of a Teacher’s Sanity-Saving Private Collection by Connie Casserly

Collaborative Language Arts and Social Studies ink on my college diploma was barely dry before the call of the Sirens, the same entities that enticed Odysseus to the land of the lotus flowers, lured me toward the August displays of folders, paper and pens in the local G.C. Murphy store. Because my first teaching contract was imminent, I eagerly filled my shopping trip cart with pens bursting with rainbow-hued colors for grading, stacks of notebooks to hold my teaching ideas, and a binder or two to protect the master copy of those inspiring lessons that I would create on my Underwood-Olivetti typewriter.
With my veins still pumping the ivory-tower-theory blood that formed the backbone of all of my education classes, little did I know that notebooks, pretty pens, and binders would not save my sanity, my health, or my na├»ve visions of a room full of teenagers eagerly shouting, “More work, please!” when reality merged with the late bell on the first day of school.
During my college years, my lecturers armed me with lesson planning and teaching techniques that have served me admirably throughout my 30+ years in the classroom, but
  • not one professor warned me that as autumn leaves started to fall, and when winter chose to aid and abet cold and flu viruses, I would be surrounded by an avalanche of sneezing, snurfing, coughing students seeking comfort from their stuffed up nasal passages and scratchy throats in the soothing presence of  the Teacher with the Tissues.
  • not one professor based a course on The Components of a Teacher’s Sanity Saving Private Collection.
  • not one professor mentioned the saving graces of Kleenex, Lysol, a coffee/tea maker and a radio/CD player. And chocolate…lots and lots of chocolate.
My beloved typewriter served me well until I became attached by an invisible umbilical cord to my computer, the ultimate teaching necessity. We educators will not survive with just Apples, Apps and Word, though. For that reason, here is my Teacher’s Sanity-Saving Private Collection. Over the decades I spent in the classroom, it conserved my serenity and helped me to accumulate sick days –days that turned into money when I left the system. I want to share it with you- colleagues who face close encounters with hormonal types for a minimum of 184 days each year.
Collaborative Language Arts and Social Studies
  1. An extra-large bottle of waterless hand cleanser is crucial. Don’t even allow yourself to imagine where those 25 sets of adolescent hands (per class period) have been. If you do, you’ll be relieved that you also have a stash of
  2. Tylenol in extra-large quantities. This item is a necessity for the headache that will mushroom because you didn’t stop yourself from imagining the journey of those hands, for those mornings when you forlornly realize that the cut-glass scratchiness in the back of your nose is the result of free-range germs, for those afternoons when the screeches of adolescent girls threaten to shatter your eardrums, and for those days when the class clown’s only goal is to perfect his patter for Amateur Night at the local Comedy Club during discussions and/or seatwork.
  3. Kleenex: boxes and boxes of Kleenex. Enough said.
  4. Lysol-or any powerful cleanser-will ward off the effects of those students who sneeze or cough on their homework or tests and then try to hand you the tainted papers. Talk about Germ Warfare! If and when they do attempt to force those papers into your hands-and they will- just smile, hand them the sanitizing aerosol can and urge them to scurry into the hall and de-germ those Weapons of Mass Congestion.
  5. A Mr. Coffee machine or, if you can spare a few dollars or a have a generous friend, a Keurig will give you many, “Ah, thanks, I needed that,” moments throughout the day. Fill a file cabinet drawer with coffee-flavored coffee - okay, okay throw in some Mocha Java and some Hazelnut- along with some Constant Comment, Green Tea, Matcha and Tazo tea bags.
  6. Some type of music system is essential! My aging, but still working Boom Box, complete with a radio, CD player and cassette deck, yes, a cassette deck, still serves me well. The latter will play that tape of ballads you found in your parents’ attic. You will want to use it for a lesson where students produce some verses following this poetic format for a writing assignment during an across-the-curriculum study of The Historical and Literary Effects of the 1960’s Protests. Music can set the mood for any lesson, too. A little Chopin, on low, works well during in-class writing sessions. The songs, “Stars” and “Dog Eat Dog”, from Le Miserables will jump start a lively discussion during a study of existentialism and The Stranger. Also, every time that first snowflake falls, you and your students will want to tune in the local All-Weather channel periodically for early dismissal announcements.
  7. Sturdy paper cups, plates and garbage bags will keep you and the custodians on a sanity-saving BFF basis. A strategically planned cultural event – a euphemistic title in many a school district since, “Parties are frowned upon in this establishment,” (see old E-Trade commercials) will charge up sluggish gray matter and boost camaraderie.
  8. Multi-roll packages of Paper Towels are an absolute necessity for cleaning up everything from Animal Cracker crumbs to water spills to wine-free zabaglione puddles. The latter occurred when Sophia took ethnic food over the top with the Italian custard she made for a Romeo and Juliet cultural event.
  9. A stapler, as well as scotch tape, paper clips, sharp scissors and glue sticks should anchor your office supplies. Be sure to include stacks of loose-leaf lined paper and some black pens for those adolescents who don’t seem to understand that they must have something to write on and something to write with when they come to class. This is your private collection, the one that students know better than to raid unless they want to doom the whole class to your version of Lecture #572: Violation of Personal Space, which won’t be pretty.
  10.  Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate should line your private collection shelves. Just like burgers need fries and eggs need bacon (or sausage), grading essays calls for the fruit of the cocoa bean…in any form.
  11.  A toaster oven is a necessity for that ooey, gooey ultimate comfort food, a grilled cheese sandwich. Studies show that this treat is the only cure for GDS- Gloomy Day Syndrome or Gosh Darned Students! or both.
  12. A small refrigerator/freezer will help you to keep your cool with chilled water, a crisp apple or a 2:20 P.M. Klondike Bar.
  13.  Comfortable walking shoes will be your go-to item when you desperately need a 15-minute powerwalk to stomp away your frustration due to too many up close and personals with PTAMBT- People That Annoy Me Big Time-types.

Remember, my friends, a well-stocked supply closet diminishes doctor bills, reduces the stress of creating substitute plans, and guarantees that all students will be ready and able to complete that in-class writing activity.

What’s in your Teacher’s Sanity-Saving Private Collection?

Oh… hold that thought. Isn’t it time for a cup of green tea and a Hershey’s Kiss…or two?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

May Freebies your students’ knowledge of world geography with this easy-to-use freebie! This lively set of four no-prep activities from Spark Creativity inspires students to connect literary characters to the modern world.
 12 free Southern Colonies task cards to use for review or a center.             This freebie includes 5 lessons using a newspaper as the source: Summarizing, Skimming, Theme, Persuasion, and Opinions. Used many times in the classroom, thick and thin questions are a great way to encourage students to pose interest, deeper questions and move their understanding towards higher order thinking.

Includes three tests and answer keys. All three test include the eight parts of speech: nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Here's an Idea

Subjunctive Article
Arlene Manemann TpT Store:  Arlene Manemann the various parts of CCSS ELA, it was a surprise to us when we saw ELA 8, 1c and 3a - "Using the Subjunctive".  Though students were used to reading and writing the subjunctive mood, lessons on the subjunctive had not been part of our middle school curriculum.  They had seen thesis statements like, "If Edison were alive in the 21st Century, what would he say about his inventions?" and had created similar statements.  In addition, in their Spanish classes the subjunctive mood was being taught; but they were frustrated as they had to learn about mood in Spanish, which they'd not heard about in our school's English classes.

This is changing with the development of the Common Core ELA/Language Skills.  Now students in 8th grade should learn that verbs have mood and how tense is affected by that mood.  Back to the drawing board - and create new lessons!

Terms such as conditional, indicative, hypothetical, and supposition will need to be taught.  All those years of hammering correct subject/verb usage will have to be amended.  It actually is sometimes correct to say "he were" and "she go"!  Consequently, I made a unit to use while teaching the subjunctive.

It is very important to note that we also went back into our lessons on other topics and inserted references to the subjunctive so that it didn't have that solitary appearance that seems to say, "Get through this lesson, kids, and you don't have to think about it again."  They need to know it is more common than appears at first and that, "Were I president, this is what I'd do", uses the past tense of 'to be' correctly - by way of the subjunctive mood.


Getting Spidey and Killing the Question

by Mrs. E Tpt Store: Mrs. E's Literature Daydreams

Hi all, I’m Mrs E. I teach English and English Literature at a large secondary school in England.
Each week I see around 10 different classes aged from 11 – 18 years old.  I love my job, I mean, I
really love my job.  Most days the kids in my classroom stagger me with their humour, intelligence
and curiosity.  But…we all have days when we can’t drag our heads off the table and today I wanted
to share with you some of the ways I have tackled student apathy head on.


Getting Spidey

This whole class activity is deceptively easy to set up and it not only gets students up and out of their seats, but also enhances and deepens their knowledge and understanding.
In a nutshell

This is a whole class mind-map.
I use themes or concepts from literature, but you could use key words, facts or knowledge from any unit.  The idea is that students use string and post-it notes to link ideas across the classroom.
Deets (Details):

  1. Decide what concepts, ideas, knowledge you want students to link / compare / explore.
  2. Print on individual sheets and place around the room.
  3. Place students in pairs and give them piece of string, blue-tac, post-it notes.
  4. Students use the string to physically connect the sheets and then write the connection on the post-it note.
  5. Ask students to make as many links as they can between the sheets placed around them.
  6. They should put as much information as possible on post-it notes as possible and then hang these from the string. 


Need a more permanent class mind-map?  The spider-web works just as well on the wall – see below.  All the details are the same except I use paper on the wall and double-sided sticky tape.

 Kill the question
Another ‘involving’ activity that challenges students to think deeply.  This one tackles an essay question, problem or exam task.

In a nutshell:
The activity is based on CSI and the idea is that students gather evidence to “kill” or in some cases “resurrect” the question (problem, task).  You nominate the "question" (for question each time read essay, problem, task etc). Then in pairs students are asked to gather evidence from a variety of locations to prove or disapprove the question.

Deets (Details):
  1. Decide on the topic for exploration – this is your dead body – you can see that one of the essay questions we tackled was “Freedom is a redundant idea.”
  2. If you are bold enough – draw round a student on the floor and write the question in the middle.  You can see I have done this with chalk on the carpet (it comes off, mostly) or on paper. 
  3. Now you have your dead body. Your students need to investigate.  They gather evidence and write this on cards that you place around the dead body (question).
    How you manage that is up to you.
    You could:
    1. Ask groups of students to look at the question from different points of view.
      So for the “Freedom is redundant” question. I had different groups of students find evidence for or against it from: History, Art / Literature, Music & Film, Current Affairs, Religion, Science etc.
      When I am using this activity as part of a Novel Study – I might ask pairs of students to present evidence for or against an idea from the point of view of a character, or from a particular chapter or scene.
    2. Ask groups or pairs to argue for or against the idea from their own knowledge and opinion.
      1. You have gathered your evidence. Now it’s time to evaluate it together and decide whether the question stays dead or receives a miraculous resurrection.

      I often use Kill The Question as an essay planning task.  The evaluation stage is then where we begin to explore the strength and weaknesses of different arguments.  We decide whether we can link certain pieces of evidence together. Or whether some evidence stands in direct contrast with others.

      We then write our plan or summary of the idea and its strengths and weaknesses together.

    I hope you enjoyed reading about these ideas.
Check out and follow my TPT store for lots of interactive and engaging activities, including this freebie with 25+ ideas for increasing student talk. If you are an ELA teacher, you might like my new growing bundle full of Shakespeare Activities and Resources.