Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Descriptive Writing Prompts 2 - FREE


Descriptive writing prompts are a great way to get a writing sample at the beginning of the year. They are also a good warm-up for a narrative essay, which I usually assign as a first essay in a basic composition class. The key is getting the students to write concrete, or sensory, detail instead of abstractions. Download this freebie for a short lesson plan and three of my new descriptive writing prompts appropriate for middle school and above:

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

More Great Back-to-School Resources for Secondary Teachers


The Musings of a History Gal has put together a great blog post, "Back to School Hack 2," featuring her 10 hand-picked favorite free resources for secondary teachers. She has a great selection, so check it out! Click here. I was honored to have my team-building activity "Spaghetti Towers" chosen!


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Free Back-to-School Resources and Tips ELA Ebook


This ebook is jam-packed with tips and free resources from Teachers Pay Teachers teacher-authors. You can download it for free by clicking here.

Here's my page, which is just one of 45. Each page has a tip, a free download, and a featured product. Thanks to Tracee Orman for putting this together!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Class Rules Activity


It's important to go over the class rules on the first day of class, but there's nothing that makes students check out quicker. After several class periods, it just sounds like so much blah, blah, blah.

Here's an activity that involves students in the process. Not only does it require their attention and participation, I find that students understand and follow the rules better since they feel at least partial ownership.

First, lay out the non-negotiable rules. The fewer, the better. Mine are: Be Respectful, Be Prepared, and Understand and Follow Class Policies.

Ask students to write down their expectation for the class, including for academics, the instructor, and classmates. Then put them in groups of 4 -5 to share and consolidate their ideas. Then have the groups share with the whole class. Decide, as a class, what the rules should be (of course you have veto power, but it's surprising how fair and thorough the students usually are).

You can then prepare a printed version of the rules and add other class policies.

Good luck, and happy first day!

If you want more detailed instructions, a poster, graphic organizers, a template for class policies, and a fun quiz regarding the rules, I have a prepared packet for purchase here:


Friday, July 31, 2015

Opinion Reading and Writing - Improving Critical Thinking Skills

In teaching remedial composition to college students, one misconception that I am constantly correcting is that academic research papers should not have an opinion. Au contraire. Any paper worth its salt is presenting and defending an argument which, of course, is an opinion.

At first, I was surprised at this misconception, and chalked it up to simply lack of exposure to this kind of reading. After more experience, however, I found it's more complicated than that, and a large part of it is in the semantics.

First, when students are learning to write in the early years, they are encouraged to preface opinions with "I think," "I feel," and "In my opinion" phrases. This is important in the process when students are learning to distinguish between fact and opinion. As writing becomes more sophisticated in middle and high school, however, these phrases are eliminated, making statements of opinion less obvious.

The second issue is how students define the word "opinion." Often, they think if a statement is labeled an "opinion" it is something that can't be proven or disproven by facts, such as which is the best restaurant in town. More advanced critical thinking, of course, quickly shows that even solid facts and research rarely conclusively prove anything. Many opinions on the same issue can be supported by facts.
The later elementary grades are a good time to explore these critical thinking skills. My favorite way to facilitate this is to have students do a close reading of two short opinion pieces that are research and fact based, one pro and one con. This helps clarify that different authors reach different conclusions about the same issues, even though the authors are privy to the same facts.  I like to have the students answer questions about each article, learn the critical vocabulary, and then bring it all together by deciding which author they agree with. Group work and class discussions further promote the skills.

To take it one step further, it's helpful to introduce a writing project in the form of a short five-paragraph essay. With this early introduction, students are on their way to developing the critical thinking skills that will serve them all the way through high school, college and beyond.

I've put together some packets that go through the process I described above. These are common-core based, with challenging reading for fourth and fifth grade (in the Lexile stretch bands) and at grade level for sixth and seventh grade.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Back to School Icebreaker for Middle and High School


It's that time of year again to begin planning for back to school. Icebreakers for the first day are hard to find for middle and high schoolers, so I always come back to the tried-and-true Bingo game.

The idea of an ice breaker is to get students to interact, start conversations, and find things they have in common with each other. This activity does that better than any other that I've tried.

You will need eight or nine different Bingo cards, the squares filled in with different things your students may have done or hobbies they have, favorites, characteristics, or anything else unique that you think is interesting. I like to use things they might have done over the summer: jobs, vacations, etc. There are many blank Bingo card templates you can download for free. Just do a search for "Bingo template" and you'll find some. Fill in the squares on the first card, then keep mixing them up and adding and subtracting items for the remaining seven or eight cards. I'll be honest, it's a lot of work, but you can re-use them every year.

To play, mix up the cards and pass out one to each student. On "go," they have to find someone who matches the item in the square, and write his or her name on the card.

Students can only use the same person for two squares, then they have to move on to someone else. When someone gets a Bingo (diagonal, horizontal, or vertical row all marked off) they shout out "Bingo!" In a regular game, that would end it, but I like to give out treats for five or six Bingos to encourage the conversations to go on.

If you don't want to make your own cards, I have some in my store that have been successful with multiple classes. You can find them here


Thursday, May 7, 2015

End-of-Year Candy Award Certificates

Some things stick around because they are winning ideas. I remember my mother making candy posters when I was a kid where she would replace words with candy bars for her Sunday School students. I thought it was the coolest thing then, and I still think so now. There are lots of candy award certificates and ideas for elementary school, which have the same idea as my mom's candy posters, but not so many for the middle and high school set, so I made some without babyish clip art and with more mature wording. The big kids like to be recognized and rewarded as much as little ones. My students love these.

 Candy award certificates are also a relatively inexpensive and easy end-of-the-year treat for you to provide for your class, especially if you go with Fun Size versions. Here are some of the ones that I use, and I'm sure you can think of many more creative awards to give. If you want to use this idea and save yourself some time, I've got this product in my store. It has 25 different certificates in 8 1/2 x 11 and quarter page size, and both versions in black and white. There is a print-and-go file and also an editable file if you want to change something or add your own awards. I promise the kiddos will love this!