Tag Archives: Language arts

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.

Preparation is Key

Last week we spent a lot of time talking about the discussion we will have with the author of our book when he comes to visit us. Haven’t heard about that YET??? Click here for more details.

For Wednesday’s Bell Ringer the directions on the SMART board said:

Rick Niece will be here in exactly one week.  Write down three appropriate questions you might ask him while he is here.

Of course, many students asked if they could write more than three.

Of course, I said yes.

With this visit, I have three particular 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.

After they had time to write their questions, I collected them all, mixed them up, and randomly read them.  I had the students evaluate each question and determine if it would be a good question or not, and explain why.

Here is a sampling of the questions from my 7th graders:

Have you ever written any other books before?
Do you go see Bernie Jones a lot?
Do you have any kids?
Was Side-Yard SuperHero your first book?
How many states have you traveled to?
Is there a movie for this book…or do you think there will be someday?
Did you enjoy going to Ohio State University?
How long did it take you to write this book?
Did you read this book to Bernie Jones?
What year did you meet Bernie?

My 8th graders had similar questions:

Are you married? 
Do you miss Duke and Fern?
Why did they make the parking lot bigger for the box factory?
Do you ever miss your hometown?
Have you ever written any other books?
How did you feel when you said all your goodbyes on the paper route?
Have you ever been back to DeGraff?
How did you feel when Joyce broke up with you?
Do you have any kids? If so, have you ever told them about Bernie?
Do you inspire others to help people and be friends with them?
Did you want to take Bernie with you?
Do you wish you still lived in DeGraff?
Is Bernie still alive? If he is, do you still talk to him?
Can I get an autograph?
Did you become a teacher like Mr. Bethel told you to?
How did you remember all of these details?
Are you still in contact with people?
Have you visited with anyone from the book?

Many of the questions we could already answer based on our reading, which students were quick to point out.

Other students answered the questions themselves.  For example, when I read, “Did you become a teacher like Mr. Bethel told you to?”  One 7th grader said, “I already know he did. I googled him!” :::::::Insert heart swell:::::::

I am so glad we did this prior to the visit.  I feel like the preparation will be well worth it and we can easily fill the time with no awkward silence.

If not, we do have a back-up question.

One of my boys wrote, “What is your favorite color?”

The whole class sort of groaned, but one excited girl piped up,”Wait! Put it in the emergency pile….in case we run out of things to ask him!”


Ironically Enough…(or The Early Bird Finishes the Book)

So yesterday I wrote about the lack of sleep I’ve been getting. Today, I had a choice:

Feed the pets and go back to bed.


Rise and shine and finish reading Divergent.

I choose the book.

As the snow falls (lovely, more snow), I am warm and cozy here on the couch with the puppy who graced me with 15 extra minutes of sleep today.

I am feeling that feeling you get when you finally finish a book that you were fervently tearing through and then, when it ends, you wish it hadn’t ended so soon.

And it’s only 7:15.

It will be hard to not spend the rest of the day reading the sequel.

It’s possible our 8th Grade Honors Language Arts will be reading this next year and I think they will love it. I am anxious to see how the 8th grade language arts teachers approach this book and the themes they pull from it.

I don’t typically ever write book reviews and I’m not going to now. But if you have the chance to read it, I highly recommend you do. I loved it more than The Hunger Games, for reasons I cannot fully explain.

If I had to try…..I think because it’s, in part, about facing your fears and, in part, about being selfless. There is some irony in that which speaks volumes.

And obviously, I am the Queen of Irony this weekend.

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!

Everyone Deserves to be Heard

I recently told you about the novel,Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper.  My class started reading it at the beginning of the nine weeks and we are already on Chapter 8.  I was originally going to do this book as just a read aloud when time permitted, but it has already evolved into something wonderful.  It is probably going to take most of the nine weeks, but I have designed a unit that I think will be worth every minute.

My thematic foundation: Everyone deserves to be heard.

We will focus on the these questions as we read, write, and practice good speaking and listening skills:

  • In what ways are individuals excluded?
  • How does it feel to be excluded?
  • How can we make everyone feel included?
  • How can you effectively express yourself?
  • How can we show respect for people who have different ideas?

To tie in non-fiction and media, I am going to introduce them to Carly Fleischmann, an amazing young woman with autism.

Both nonverbal, Melody (the protagonist) and Carly sharing some very similar characteristics, experiences, and abilities.  Their differences will make a great compare and contrast activity, as well.

I am so excited how this unit has come together so naturally.  I try so hard to find topics, novels, and activities that are meaningful to my students.

I bought the iBook on my classroom iPads, and while I only have the 6 iPads for 10 students, I am able to pair some of them up and their response has been great.

Reading a full length novel in an eBook format is new to all of them and they are very anxious to read each day.  I have gone from reading to them, to them primarily reading on their own – even reading ahead at times.  The ability to highlight, search, bookmark, and adjust the text size and font appeals to them.

For some of my very low readers, I highlight a small chunk of text, give them a brief overview, and ask them to read. After a few quick questions to check comprehension, I highlight another portion, focusing on the main events of the chapter, and repeat the process.

But honestly, I think the topic is key.  We’ve had some very serious discussions about Melody. They’ve asked me flat-out if Melody’s classroom, “H-5,” is the same as our class – which it isn’t, but they see the differences in each student and recognize the struggles and emotions the characters face. They are making connections on how it feels to be included and excluded.

Although Melody is a fictional character, she is as real to them as anything.  I can tell, after only 8 chapters, they feel a connection to her and care about her as a character.  I plan on waiting awhile to introduce Carly’s story, so that they can continue to form their own images and opinion in their minds.

To read more about Carly:


Change is Exciting

Yesterday we went back to school for one day. Today is a snow day. Tomorrow is the weekend.We will try again next week.

I am, as any teacher is, thrilled to be home today – even if my puppy still doesn’t understand the concept of sleeping in. I was able to make a hot breakfast and now I have time to blog before I venture out in the snow to pick up the kids for the weekend.

All that to say…I am anxious to get the 2014 ball rolling in my classroom. It’s not a new school year, but a new semester and I discovered a few things during break that made me rethink and revamp my plans and my teaching ideas.

Sometimes I feel like I have commitment issues as I change strategies, routines, and techniques.  But as I’ve fully embraced the ideas I’m about to try in my Resource Room and wrap my brain about how I’m going to pull this off and how it’s going to make things better in my classroom, I know that it’s not about being wishy-washy.

It’s about progress. It’s about finding things that work and inspire. Not just for the kids, but for me.

When I get to the point that my lesson plans are boring me to death, then I know that my kids must have gotten bored way before that.

So instead of saying, “For the love, Melanie…pick something and stick with it”…I find myself saying, “Oh man, they are going to love this.”

I admit, it’s not an easy sell all the time. Kids like things to be comfortable. But I know, from my small group, that they secretly enjoy the change-ups and the new ideas.

Yesterday I started with just a few new things….a new writing journal and a modified version of the strategy called Say Something.

Before we dove in though, I told them, in genuine, nerdy excitement about the reading and research I did over break…to help them.

“Wait! You did what? You did research on Christmas vacation? OMG!” is what I hear.

What I imagine them saying in their heads: “Thank goodness! Something new!! You’re the best teacher EV-ER!” 

Throughout class, I heard things like:

“Did you get this from that book you read?”

“Is this from your ‘research’?”

“Is this one of your new tricks?”

I loved that they were being very attentive, trying to catch me doing something new.

Excitement breeds excitement.  If I’m not excited about what I’m teaching, how will my students ever be excited?

How often do you change things up in your classroom?

What are you excited about trying second semester?

Did you do any “research” over break?

Other posts I’ve written about CHANGE:

ReadNRespond App

The ReadNRespond App is one I found a few months ago.  This app covers Bloom’s Taxonomy in an interactive way.  Each of the 6 levels shown below (in my handmade bulletin board display) has 20 different prompts/questions.


Yes, that’s a sled in my classroom. Dee needed it for science.

For a few different selections we read, I assigned numbers as you can see in the photo.  Students worked in groups and worked their way down the list from Recall to Create.  For some of my students I just focused on the lower level prompts.


  • There are lots of unique prompts at various levels
  • It’s easy to differentiate and challenge students
  • Students think it’s fun and enjoy the activities.


  • It is very hard for them to go back and edit their work so I can’t offer much in corrective feedback.
  • Some students dislike typing on the iPad.
  • Checking their work is a little tricky to since we aren’t one-to-one.

I tried having them screen shot their answers so I could flip through the photos to check their work. Didn’t really work

The best way I can use this app is put the assignment up on the bulletin board, have them access the activities, and complete them on paper to turn in.

If nothing else, just check out the 120 leveled prompts. You might find something you can modify to suit your needs.

Show Me the Evidence

I will admit that I stole this idea from Ian’s 5th grade teacher, who stole it from Pinterest. I had Dee snap a picture of it at Open House.


I think it’s a great idea and it has proven to be effective in my classroom.

As we are answering extended response questions or citing evidence from the text, I direct students to look at the back bulletin board to “Show Me the Evidence” (which I say in a dramatic voice).  It makes me smile every time as they all whip their heads around to look at it. And then the hands start shooting up.

Right now it’s still awkward for many to use these phrases, which do not come naturally.  Some of them are, however, starting to make sense of it.

My hope is that these words will become habit and they will be able to use them naturally on their own.  Modeling goes a long way with intervention students.  It works because they see themselves being successful and they feel “smart” using words and phrases such as these. Students love to read their answers out loud when they sound “professional,” as one boy told me.

The other day our copier was broken and I was unable to copy the questions for their novel. So I quickly selected half of them, took a screen capture on SMART Notebook (one per page) and we talked about how to answer the question 1) by restating the question and 2) using some of the examples from the bulletin board.

Every student got out a sheet of notebook paper. I asked for suggestions from the class and then we selected our favorite.  I modeled it on the SMART board and they had to copy these frames.   I also posted a PDF of the pages on Schoology in case they got confused.

Stave 3 Questions Writing Frames

Writing about Resilience

As I wrote about in my last post, we have been studying resilience and I said I would share my project details here. While my expectations are tied to the extended standards for 6th-8th grade, this activity can easily be modified to fit the Common Core. In fact, a colleague of mine used this as a model for a similar assignment with his 7th grade language arts class.

This research project lead to a three paragraph essay and Google Presentation. After reading about various people who struggled with illness or physical limitations, my students had to choose someone they knew who had a personal struggle and ultimately showed resilience.


This poster was made by Dee. 🙂

Of my ten students, eight of them had a family member they immediately chose. One boy had to ask his grandpa about the project and found out his great-grandpa had lung cancer. The other student wanted to write about diabetes and Ian. Honestly, this melted my heart.

Day 0
Plant the seed about this project. Make it authentic. Tell them they get to pick the person/topic as long as they could tie it to the theme of resilience. I was amazed, when the next day, three kids came in with notes/interviews with their family members.

Day 1
Explain the project. Believe it or not the requirements for this project just fell into place during a class discussion. Literally. I was talking about how we would be starting the project the following Monday and I was asking them some questions and I just started typing up on the SMART Board and it all just came together. The kids were part of the planning process so this was the second way in which the lesson was authentic.

Day 2
Research and note taking – I gave each student 7 note cards to get started. I modeled how to label each note card and we talked about what each word meant.

1. Title slide
2. Definition/introduction
3. Causes
4. Symptoms
5. Diagnosis/Treatment
6. 3 statistics
7. Sources

Day 3
More research and checking in with me.

Day 4
Work on Google Presentation. I printed their slides for reference on Day 5.

Day 5
Begin rough draft of the informational paragraph. I used a writing frame called “What I Learned.”

Day 6
Type final copy of informational paragraph. Edit and finish presentation. For homework, write narrative about your person. “Tell their story.” This is when my student approached me about writing about Ian. He didn’t personally know anyone who had diabetes but he has always had an interest in Ian’s story and his medical care.

Day 7
Edit narrative and begin writing rough drafts of opinion paragraph. Again, we used a writing frame to develop this paragraph.

Day 8
Type final copies of narrative and opinion paragraph.

Day 9*

*Due to technical difficulties the project was spread out over three weeks. (See my post about unreliable technology.) After we returned from Thanksgiving vacation we spent a few minutes each day doing presentations. I only did three each day because I did not plan for the engaging discussion and conversation that came out of each presentation.

I was impressed with their knowledge and the genuine interest in their chosen topic.  Every student seemed comfortable and natural up in front of the class. To me, this was evidence that they really learned something.

I was touched when students asked to not only share their presentations, but also their loved ones’ stories. This was never a requirement because it was personal.   I loved that they were all adamant that their loved one had shown resilience and that they could prove it.  A few examples from my class:

I think that Ian has shown resilience while he had diabetes. The first reason is that he had to draw all that blood and the needles must hurt. Another reason is he cannot eat whatever he wants like cupcakes and sugar foods at school. Finally he has to get a lot of shots at school and at home and measure what he eats. Even though it is difficult, he still makes it through the day.

I think that my aunt showed resilience when she had cancer.The first reason is she had to go to work. She had to make money for her house payment. Another reason is she kept going to see her family. She did not want to leave her family. Finally after 1 year my aunt is cancer free. This is how my aunt was resilient.

I think that my aunt showed resilience when she got cancer. The first reason is because she traveled to Chicago for treatment back and forth .She spent a lot of gas money and she drove a long way. Another reason is people were with her to help her be strong.Then she had to leave again for awhile to Chicago. Finally, she never stopped giving up. She didn’t just sit around. Even though she died she was strong and fought hard during her struggle.

I think that my uncle showed resilience when he got Melanoma.The first reason is he had to deal with cancer for 10 months. He had to stay strong when he was ill. Another reason is it was difficult because he had to go through many surgeries. Finally,  it was a challenge for John because he had to say goodbye to everyone. He got to spend his last few months with his family. These are 3 reasons why I think John was a resilient guy.

I was sad to see this project end and I am hopeful I will come up with something even better for next nine weeks.

Here are the guidelines I used:

Research Project Guidelines

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