Tag Archives: intervention classroom

IXL Bulletin Board

As promised, here is the first of several IXL related posts.

This is how I highlight the skills we are working on for the week…or two weeks…or month…depending on how many snow days we have!

The board is divided for my three different classes: a 7th grade class, an 8th grade class, and my C+M stands for “Core Plus More” which is our part of our Intervention program.

We are often studying different things at different times so the charts get moved around quite often. (Many of my anchor charts are Pinterest inspired.)

The “73,300 Questions” above the board shows how many Language Arts questions my five classes have answered collectively since the beginning of the school year.

The “Target > 85” refers to their SmartScore.

The SmartScore is a hot topic in our building right now. What is fair? What is reasonable? What is realistic?

I went to the IXL FAQs and found that a SmartScore of 80 is considered “good,” 90 is “excellent,” and 100 is “mastered.”

I chose 85 because it seemed to be a good challenge for the students I work with.

At times I will tell a student to work towards a lower SmartScore if they are truly working hard and still struggling.

I also encourage students to “Level Up,” meaning if they are working at the 5th grade level and hit 85, the should Level Up – I tend to make a silly video game noise when I say this- and try the related 6th grade skill. (More on that later).

Of course, I’ve had students ask, “Can I get higher than 85?”

Without a doubt- go for it!


A Mash-up: The Cube of Fate

So I first wrote about “The Cube” months ago, and then I shared Katie’s Team Challenge Cube video.

Now it is time to present to you my attempt to combine two of Katie’s ideas, the Team Challenge Cube AND the Sticks of Fate (another video you need to go watch.)

Katie gave me the go-ahead to make it my own and do what works, and for whatever reason, this mash-up works wonders in our 7th grade classrooms.

I present to you…..The Cube of Fate.

Pretty fancy, huh? Although hard to tell from the picture, it is probably a 10″ cube.

So how does it work?

  • After talking with my co-teachers, we made the following list for our classrooms. (There’s room for flexibility depending on your particular classroom.)
  1. pencil
  2. book
  3. agenda
  4. journal
  5. homework
  6. novel/book
  • Someone rolls the Cube of Fate across the floor. However, no one may ASK to roll The Cube of Fate. “No One controls fate.”
  • The cube comes to a stop, everyone cranes their necks to look, and everyone whips out the necessary item and holds it in the air.
  • We scan the room, assign points per table, row, or whole class. (We change it up as we see fit.)
  • We reiterate the importance of that item and why it is needed on that particular day.
  • We begin class.

Why use The Cube of Fate? 

  • After spending several weeks refining the process, it takes no more than 2 minutes at the start of class.
  • Students come to class prepared with all necessary materials.
  • Class starts the same way every day with an engaging, motivating activity that allows us to set the tone and begin class promptly.
  • Students are learning valuable organizational skills.

Observations We Have Made 

  • Students will quickly run back to their locker to get something they’ve forgotten.
  • Students are anxious for class to start.
  • We cannot start class without rolling the cube; students do NOT let us forget.
  • Students will check each other before class starts (call it peer pressure, call it accountability, call it cooperation, call it awesome)
  • Students will share pencils and pens if they must, just in case The Cube of Fate calls for one.
  • Students would probably be content with the ‘”team point” although we do try to tally the points and give a piece of candy from time to time to the highest scoring teams.  One class was not rewarded for over two weeks, and they never questioned when they would get their candy!


  • Both my 7th and 8th grade Resource Rooms are playing as a class.  There are only 8 students in each class, so they must earn 10 class points in order for me to bake them something. This has been a challenging goal to attain, but they were both sitting with 9 points the day before Spring Break. I see some pumpkin muffins in their near future.
  • Our 3rd period class plays by rows.  This is a class of 26.  On Fridays, the highest scoring rows get a piece of candy.
  • Our 7th period class plays by table. This class has 17 students and some tables seemed to be “stacked” with responsible students, but overall, the are buying into The Cube of Fate.  This is the class that went two weeks without being rewarded with something tangible. Stars on a piece of paper were enough. The winning table also gets the honor of being the “Kings of English.”

I hope that my colleague will vouch for the crazy success of this lopsided, hand-made cube wrapped in duct tape here in the comments, or post something on his on blog.  I feel like you have to see it to believe it.

But trust me, the concept is just crazy enough that it works. Maybe it’s the fate concept. Maybe it’s the “fairness” of fate. Maybe it’s the ridiculousness of the whole idea. Maybe it’s the way we sell it.

It works; we won’t question it.

We never question The Cube of Fate.

Flipped Vocabulary Lesson

Two months ago, I was blogging about flipped lessons and how I was excited to try it with my resource room. I did do three flipped lessons with my 8th graders; I played sections of the novel and they had to complete some questions, but I realized afterwards, they didn’t really understand what was happening in the novel because they were missing out on the class discussion – something that my students really need.

I haven’t given up the thought of doing flipped lessons. It just seemed that what we were doing in class didn’t work well with the flipped lesson concept.

However, with MAP testing this week, I lost two class periods, so I thought I’d try again with a vocabulary lesson.

Vocabulary is something that my students need to hear and work with quite a bit before they can understand the words and use them appropriately.   If I were to send them home with a list of words and told them to look up the definition, I would get random definitions they may or may not match the context of the novel.

Being below-grade level readers, they may not be able to pronounce the words or understand the definitions they wrote, let alone use them correctly.

The lesson I am going to attempt to link to here, (please click and check it out!) is based on the approach I have used the entire time we have been reading The Giver. These vocabulary squares are something that have evolved over the course of the year with some collaborating with one of my colleagues.

We have worked through similar activities in class together five other times. What I say in the video is very similar to what I would say in class, except that my students are not interacting obviously.  It typically takes us a period and a half to go through 6 vocabulary words.

With this approach, students will complete three of the words for homework and we will spend a 15-20 minutes reviewing the words the next day.  I will then assign the second half o the list for the next night.

I used Screencast-o-Matic to make the video, but unfortunately my laptop died right after the third word. I’ll see how this first video goes and then make a separate flipped lesson for the other three words.

I am hoping that the familiarity of the format and the types of activities, as well as my directions and explanations, will provide a preview to the words and cut down on class time. In addition, every student will have the opportunity to independently complete the work and not just rely on discussion.

I wish I could insert the video here within my post, but I am not sure how to do that right now.

Let me know if you can’t view the video.

Also, if you’ve taught vocab via a flipped lesson tell me about your experience. 

Leave a comment! I’d love to hear from you!

(p.s. I know that the first word has some mistakes with the synonyms. I caught myself mid-video and just corrected it instead of re-recording.)

Differentiated Literature Circles

My 7th graders are starting A Wrinkle in Time in about two weeks and I decided to use Literature Circles. This will be my second time attempting Lit Circles and this time, with a push from our district, I created two versions of each role to meet the needs of various learners in my classroom. Read this previous post about my first experience with Lit Circles. 

diff lit circles

The “A” version is for my higher resource students and my “B” version will be for some of my students who are alternatively assessed and follow the extended standards. Here is an example for one of the roles.

A and B roles ex

A few students will be paired up so that they are doing the same task as a classmate but at a different level. For example, I will have two students doing the “Discussion Director” tasks for the same chapter but one will do the A version and one will do the B version. Everyone will be responsible for participating daily.  (See the grading system at the end of the unit).

The roles are similar to those I used last year, but with new worksheets and a page with the corresponding standards.

  • Word Wizard
  • Passage Picker
  • Clever Connector
  • Figurative Language Lover
  • Discussion Director
  • Sci-Fi Guy (aka Game Changer)

As we read the book, I’ll try to update on our progress and success.  Let me know what you think and if you see any immediate changes that need made.



Differentiated Vocabulary Boosting Activities

There are a lot of theories about teaching vocabulary.  Are you bored with your method? Is it not working as well as you’d like it to? Are you looking for something other than flash cards or your standard vocabulary activities?

Try some of these activities I created for our 7th grade Inclusion Language Arts class.  These activities allow for differentiation, discussion, and real world experiences with vocabulary words taught in class.

We are currently using these activities with vocabulary from A Wrinkle in Time.  The students were broken into appropriate groups (test scores and our best judgement), and each group received 2 or 3 of these activities to complete.

The activities require students to make connections, use vocabulary in short narrative paragraphs, break words into syllables, identify word parts and parts of speech, use metacognitive strategies, and discuss and use vocabulary with peers in real conversation.

I am attaching the PDF (Differentiated Vocabulary Activities PDF) and I will also attach a link to a Word file you can save and edit for your own purposes. (Word version)

What are some of your favorite ways to teach vocabulary?

How do you differentiate your vocabulary assessments?

I’d love to hear your ideas!

Christmas Countdown 2014 Version

Tomorrow is December 1st!?!?!

Back to school for 15 days and the last day of school is my birthday!

I realized my 7th graders weren’t around two years ago when I did my “Christmas Countdown 14 Days of Writing,” so I decided that would be our journal writing for the next three weeks.   Here is the PDF version for you to download and use in class:  Christmas Countdown 2014

Good luck to the teachers of the very young and of the teenagers as well! Our winter started early and December is bound to be rough.

Discussion Etiquette 101

Students arrived to class on Friday with instructions to get in groups and open a google doc I had shared with the entire class.

With your group answer the following question:

What things should we do to prepare for Rick Niece’s visit?

We were continuing to prepare for Rick Niece’s visit and focus on the learning targets:

  1. I can prepare for and plan for a class discussion.  I can follow agreed-upon rules for class discussions.  I can ask questions to respond to others.
  2. I can use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
  3. I can adapt my speech to a variety of tasks and contexts. I can demonstrate a command of formal English when appropriate.

I know this looks like a lot to read, but again, I was so pleased with their responses, I just had to share. These are the 7th grade responses:

What we should prepare for Rick Niece is to look nice, BE RESPECTFUL TO RICK NIECE!!!!!, be really quiet when Rick Niece is talking, raise your hand when he asks you a question, when Rick Niece ask you something you have to say your answer loud and clear. Smile when Rick Niece comes in the room. Do not shout to Rick Niece because that is disrespectful to Rick Niece. Do not be goofing off at the table or around Rick Niece. I think put the tables to the sides and have 2 tables in the middle and have some kids that fool around to sit with a responsible student.

Be polite, be calm when he gets here so it looks like we are a nice class, ask him the questions that we have made up for him, take pictures if he says we can, when we talk about the book talk loudly and clearly… but not too loud, when Rick Niece gets here we be nice and calm.. don’t freak out, if we are allowed to make treats… can we make pumpkin cookies?! It has to be something to represent the book. I think we should put them at the back of the room and the chairs a certain way so it is still easy to get out.  

Look nice,respect the visitor, say nice things,be quiet when Rick Niece is talking, raise your hand when you want to talk, say hello to Rick Niece  when you see him in the hall or in the classroom.

Welcome Rick to our school, raise your hand when you ask a question, talk clear. I think that we should move the tables then  put the chairs in a circle.

Look nice, respect, raise your hand, don’t shout out loud.

Look nice when rick Niece comes. Raise raise your hand when he comes to visit us, clean the room up so it looks nice,write down question ahead of time that way you are ready to go. Respect the visitors like MR.NIECE . ALSO BE VERY VERY VERY RESPECTFUL TO MR.NIECEE. Put the tables in rows, or just take the chairs and put them up front that way everybody can see.

Look nice, Be nice,Welcome Rick to our school ,Be polite to Rick Niece, don’t talk when Mr.Rick is talking. Take pictures of Mr.Rick if he lets us. 


Here is what the 8th graders had to say:

We will have the chairs in rows,and something to drink.We should practice speaking to one another, we should dress up. Give him our respect and have appropriate language.

I think we should put the chairs in a circle so we all could talk and be able to hear each other and we should have some bottles of water and  we all should have are books with us so just in case he may want us to have them and we all have to be very polite and speak loudly and fluently so he could understand us and we can understand him.

I think  we should put the chairs in some type of circle and we can have Mr.Niece sit in the middle of us or beside one of us.,We can also maybe ask the questions that we discussed yesterday and act in a proper way and be kind to him and his wife if she is coming but mostly we should respect him and what he is saying when he is talking  and we should use all the goals we are trying to accomplish like using “eye contact “, “good posture”, and”using good pronunciation.”

We should move the tables and chairs in rows and we should talk about the book. we could also can talk about the characters in the book and see if he has any other book he has. We should also see if he is still in contact with some of the characters from the book.

I think we should have drinks and move the tables close together. We should talk with respect and even if it’s not a topic we don’t want to hear act like we’re listening. Take turns talking and not all talk at once. We shouldn’t be loud. We should stay focused.

We should move the tables to the outer edge of the room and put the chairs in a line.We should look at him when he is speaking.Ask him questions about the book and don’t talk about stuff that we shouldn’t be talking about in school.And we should act like we are in 8th grade.  

 I think we should have our chairs in like a circle so he could be in the middle.I think we should have water  .When we talk we should have all  eyes on him and you should use the right volume when you speak  to him.You should have right pronunciation . I will talk to him like a normal person.For some of us will be happy and excited but we should have control over ourselves .


Reflecting on these responses two days later, I am so proud and so impressed with my students and their anticipation.  Over and over, as I read through the responses, I can tell that they know the learning targets. I pray they will demonstrate them. I know they are going to be beyond excited Wednesday morning.

Coming Soon: Big Moment in a Small Classroom

Sorry to leave you all hanging about my big news.

I am still not sure if I want to post this now, or wait until Oct. 9th – which very well may be the day after the most exciting day of my teaching career.

Oh, where do I begin?

Let me set this up for you. As I posted here about a month ago, my class is reading the book Side-Yard Superhero: Life Lessons from an Unlikely Teacher by Rick Niece.

Back in the second week of school, when we were just three chapters into the book, I received an email from a coworker involved in the One Book, One Community program in our county.

Two days later, I stood on my drive-way on a blazing hot Friday afternoon, August 29th, to be exact.  I was so nervous and so excited, but also determined.

I paced back and forth on the hot pavement. I took some deep breaths. I cleared my throat half a dozen times. I practiced what I had rehearsed I was going to say.

And then I dialed the number.

With some luck, I gained a much-needed moment to gain my composure when his wife answered, and then she promptly got Mr. Niece on the phone.

Mr. Rick Niece, the author of the book my students are reading…..On. The. Phone.

With. Me.

There I was, standing on my drive-way on a blazing hot Friday afternoon, August 29th, to be exact, and I had a conversation with Rick Niece.

I have replayed the conversation in my mind a million times and I cannot explain all of the feelings I was feeling as he asked me questions about my class and my teaching career. He applauded me for 19 years as a special education teacher.

He asked me if I liked to write, and he shared that he preferred writing what he knew over fiction, and I told him how fiction simply eludes me. He told me about his career in education and his background with special education programs at the university level.

He told me he typically spoke with creative writing classes, but before we hung up, we had a plan in place.

Mr. Niece will be coming to visit MY students in MY classroom.

True. Story.

My Resource Room students, who are unable to read at grade level, who do not like to read…..are going to meet not only the author of this book, but a CHARACTER from this book.

Coined an “automythography,” the book is the story of Rickie’s life growing up in a small town and the friendship he had with one special boy.

My students are going to meet a man who knew every single one of the characters in this book. He knew them, he talked to them, he helped them, and he learned from them.

These “characters,” who made such an impact on his life, are now part of our daily lives.

My students may ask about shy Miss Lizzie Moore, her pumpkin bread, and the unopened letters on her table.

My students may ask about eccentric Fern Burdette and faithful Duke.(I just know one of them will!)

My students may ask to hear the tale of Frank Tully eating all those hamburgers.

My students may ask about dear, old Mary Waite or firefly-a-phobic Danny Coonzy.

My students can ask all the questions they’ve been dying to ask about Bernie Jones.

Or maybe they’ll ask about one of the characters we haven’t even met yet. We are only on Ch. 15!

Since the day I shared the initial email with my class, this story and these characters have come to life.

And soon we will finish the book. I can only imagine how that might go.

Mr. Niece’s one request was that we finish the book before he came to visit; he felt it was important.

I said I would try my best. (You know I will!)

I am beyond excited for this unexpected and unprecedented event that is going to happen in the lives of 21 students I care a great deal about.

To be able to share this experience with them, to be able to remind them every single day that we have a goal to meet, that we must finish this book,  picture these scenes, connect with these characters, and prepare for a very special guest, it brings me so much joy.

To see them reading, to hear them making connections, to know they are anticipating….

October 8th will be a big moment in a small classroom, and as a teacher, an avid reader, and a wannabe writer, it will be a day I will never forget.

Teaching Figurative Language in 2014

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time for some updated figurative language song lyrics. Katy Perry’s “Firework” has run its course.

Here are 13 popular (school appropriate) song lyrics from the past few months full of figurative language examples.  Figurative Language-2014 Songs (PDF)


Just one sample – The song Dee can’t stop singing, and a song that is so appropriate for this winter!

There are thousands of ways to use these lyrics (Ok…that may be a hyperbole.)

Some possible ideas:

1) Blow up and hang around the room as stations for students to visit.

2) Use one song a day for a bell-ringer activity.

3) Post one song on Schoology each night as a discussion.  Only after students reply with their findings, they can view other students’ posts.

4) Create QR-codes to link to videos with song lyrics.  (I will post a few of these here.  I started creating this QR-code activity and realized that our filter or wi-fi or some other technology demon prohibits us from accessing the videos. Maybe you will have better luck .)

Roar QR code

Here is a sample of the QR-code activity. The PDFs are below.

PDF files:

If you have any other song suggestions or activities, I’d love to hear them! Share in the comments.

Simile Search

So here is something I accidentally stumbled upon with the iPads and iBooks.

As I was reading through our novel for class, looking for examples of figurative language, I used the search tool and typed in “like.”

And a list popped up…of every use of the word “like” in the novel. Wow. That was easy.

I was going to make a worksheet with these examples, but decided to go a different route.

I had the students work in pairs. They typed in the word “like” and did their own search, clicking on each example to read and determine if it was a simile.


The first page of hits when you type in “like.” It’s easy for us to pull out the similes just from these small excerpts, but a little challenging for my class.

When I realized that they were struggling with the various uses of “like” and this was too broad, I had to adjust my plans.

Instead, I had them search for a particular word. For example, I had them type in “spaghetti,” read the surrounding text, and explain the simile to me. Instead of identifying, we were observing, noticing, imagining, and connecting with great examples of figurative language.


We spent some time recording the best similes, acting them out, and talking about the images they created in our minds.  For homework, they had 6 mentor sentences to imitate – all of which had similes.

The first example we did in class.


The students simply changed it to:

My arms and legs get all tight and lash out like tree limbs

in a hurricane. 

Not a huge variation from the original, but they were headed in the right direction.

This activity opens the door to hundreds of fresh, new examples of figurative language.  Let’s face it, every teacher uses this worksheet on similes and metaphors. You know the worksheet I’m talking about. The first example reads:

“The baby was like an octopus, grabbing at all the cans on the grocery
store shelves.”

It pops up on the first page in a Google search.  The copyright is 2002, with a revision in 2004.   Kids have probably seen this worksheet more than a few times in their life.

And even if they haven’t, these sentences are pretty generic and certainly not authentic.  They don’t really demonstrate, in context, how an author is trying to create a mental image. Using examples from the text we are reading shows how figurative language can make our writing more interesting.

As always, this activity lead me to think of other possibilities…..

  • How about providing students with a list of vocabulary words and have them perform the search to see the words used in context?
  • Students could go a step further and use the “look up” or “define”  tool to write the definitions.
  • Students could take turns finding interesting words or examples and share the key search term with the class and students could easily find the specific example.  (If more than one hit comes up, it become a lesson in skimming and scanning.)

I am sure there are other ways to use this tool.  My students will probably teach me a few of their own!

Have you tried this before?

Do you have any suggestions for activities?

Share your ideas in the comments!

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