Tag Archives: teaching

The Kindness Bug

Be kind.

I know it’s a popular expression lately, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

The more people who say it, believe it, do it….the better, right?

Maybe it’s because of the constant school violence and threats of violence.

Maybe it’s because of the increasing number of teen suicides my area of the state has seen.

Maybe it’s because I finally saw the movie, Wonder, last weekend.

Maybe it’s because I am trying really hard in some areas of my life to show extra kindness.

It could be a combination.

It doesn’t matter why. Do I need a reason to remind my students to be kind?

This week I decided to put a quote in place of the typical school events on the white board each day.

My 2nd period class gets 15 minutes to 1) copy the quote in their agenda (instead of homework this week) and 2) respond to the quote in their journals.

Some students have chosen to share what they’ve written. I hope by the end of the week everyone will share at least one journal entry.

This afternoon I asked my hallway custodian, who is an incredible example of KIND, to give me the quote for tomorrow. She was so happy I asked her.

I’ve opened Thursday and Friday’s slots up to my Instagram followers.

What’s your favorite kindness quote?

Do you have a good theme for next week?

Leave a comment. I’d love to share your idea with my class.


Do You Bitmoji?

I use Bitmoji in approximately four ways:

1) To participate in group holiday texts with my family

2) To tell my kids goodnight if they are at their dad’s house

3) To express sarcasm, enthusiasm, or exhaustion with my colleagues (don’t we all?)

4) To get my students attention (This either makes them laugh or makes their eyes roll.)

I’ve seen a lot of teachers customize the expressions and phrases to fit their classroom.

Instead of getting out of bed and starting the laundry, I decided to do likewise.

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!


“This Compulsion”

“When I get this feeling, this compulsion, I always do what it tells me. I can’t explain where it comes from or how I get it, and it doesn’t happen very often. But I obey it.” ~ Calvin O’Keefe, A Wrinkle in Time

Just like Calvin, I have this compulsion.  I am compelled.

Compelled to be better. Compelled to do more.

Compelled to teach. Compelled to learn.

Compelled to find a place where I am understood and I understand.

I’m excited to say I’ve been invited and graciously accept the invitation to become part of a blogging community that will post, read, comment on, and share education-minded posts several times a month.

What better name for this group than the Compelled Tribe? 

For a while now, I have been aimlessly searching for a “thing,” for my “place,” for my “people.”

For my tribe.

Of course, I already belong to several “tribes” – my oldest friends, my children, my family, and some work friends.  Even my  8th grade class feels like a tribe.

However, this tribe is different, and I’m excited. I don’t think there’s ever been a time in my life when I’ve needed a tribe like this.

These are tough and challenging times in education, and I am finishing out Year 20 of teaching.  I don’t think I’m alone, or will be misunderstood, when I say that some days I feel like I am at a crossroads.

Luckily, I just happened to cross paths with a tribe that wants to grow.  A tribe who will support me, encourage me, and challenge me in areas that are important to me: writing, teaching, and learning.





Generating Gerunds with Viral Videos

My 8th grade inclusion students recently started learning about verbals.  As if participles weren’t fun enough, we had to add gerunds to the mix.

Last week, one of my quietest students came to me and asked, “Can we please practice gerunds in study hall? I don’t understand them at all!”

My first instinct was to pull up a practice worksheet on the Smartboard and use those sentences to teach them the difference between a gerund functioning as a subject, a direct object, and a predicate nominative. (At this point we haven’t discussed object of the preposition.)

Other than easily identifying a word that ends in “-ing,” my students felt helpless.

Sometimes I get these crazy ideas for teaching a concept; they just pop in my head.

Take this video, for example. I have no idea what made me think of a video with a tiny Yorkie puppy doing lots of amazing tricks. My dad had sent this video to me long ago, impressed with the dog’s talents. My Yorkie, Blue, is nowhere near as talented.

I told my class to watch closely and remember as many tricks as possible.

After we watched the video, my students were able to write all kinds of sentences using gerunds as the subject and as a predicate nominative.

  • Pushing a shopping cart is the dog’s best trick.
  • Weaving in and out of cups would be hard to teach.
  • The puppy’s cutest trick is skateboarding.
  • Wrapping herself up in a blanket was the cutest trick.
  • Painting is a trick I would never expect a dog to do.
  • Pushing the car with her nose was a cute trick.
  • Putting away the laundry is a trick I should teach my dog!
  • The first trick I would teach my dog is doing my homework!

Of course, you know me, I’ve been trying to think of other ways to incorporate viral videos into my practice activities in Tornado Time.

There are a couple of routes I could go.  I could always go with an old classic like this:

Or I could find a series of viral videos like this one:

Knowing your students best, you probably already know what kind of videos you’d want to use.  Think of how you could get your students writing with particular parts of speech or sentence structures by giving them a visual prompt like this.

What viral video clips do you love?

What great ideas just popped into your head?

I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments!




Top Back-to-School Posts on All Access Pass

These are some of my most popular and useful Back-To-School posts:

First Day of School Scavenger Hunt – Great ice breaker that  gets kids out of their seats and helps you get to know your students. Download the PDF to customize it for your grade.

Updated Scavenger Hunts – Three levels of first day scevenger hunts to meet the needs of your particular students.

Identifying Student Learning Styles – Two links to PDF learning style inventories and one link to an online tool for determining how your students learn best.

I am a Squiggle Stuck Inside a Square – Another great ice breaker that encourages teamwork. Middle schoolers love this one. Hopefully you have a nice mix of shapes in your classroom.

Great Resources for Classroom Posters – Link to a blog that offers free printable posters of all kinds! My son would love a classroom full of posters like this one of Kevin Durant.

I Gave Schoology a Chance  – A graphic that shows all of the ways I have used Schoology in my classroom. I just realized my old course from last year was wiped out, so this will be a helpful post for me!

Team Teaching Options – Descriptions of five ways to team teach.

Summarizing Short Stories: Story Elements and Conflict – Free PDFs for these basic concepts that are often introduced in Language Arts at the beginning of the year.

Easy Access – This link will take you to one place to find everything that is free.  Wait!!  Everything is FREE on All Access Pass!!  Go here to find an organized list of downloads.

Do you have a favorite Back-To-School post or a post that is wildly popular on your own teaching blog?

Post a link in the comments!

Back-to-School Love

For some reason, our district is a week behind everyone else in the area so we still have a few days left of summer vacation. However, seeing all the Back-to-School pics on Facebook, makes me a little excited for the big day.

So, last night I bought poster board at the Dollar Tree (5 Sheets for $1) and broke out the Sharpies. I could easily buy posters at the teacher store, but there is just something special about making my own.

This is going to go on my closet door, and each student will write about their dreams and goals.

This is going to go on my closet door, and each student will write about their dreams and goals.

This year’s theme is all about believing in your self, going after dreams, and loving your life…no matter where you are.  Wonder where I got that inspiration!?

I am so excited to talk to my 8th graders and share the exciting news of my first book.  I know that they will be proud of me, and I hope that it will serve as an inspiration and a reminder of how much I love them!

This will go in the center of my bulletin board above my desk, surrounded by photos of my family and pets.

This will go in the center of my bulletin board above my desk, surrounded by photos of my family and pets.

What’s your theme for this year?
Do you make your own posters and decorations?
What would YOU attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?
Share some Back-To-School love in the comments!

Which Outsiders Character are You?

Screenshot 2015-08-09 at 7.44.35 PM

Our 7th graders will be starting out the year with The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, so I wanted to share the activity I used last winter when I read the book with my Resource Room.

I needed something to hook the kids, and from my experience with the book, the characters can be quite confusing for students.  I decided that I would assign each student a role, and they would represent that character while we read the novel.

Going with the very popular idea of quizzes that we all take on Facebook (Which Disney princess are you? I’m Jasmine!)…I decided to do something similar with my students.

Because I don’t know how to make an actual quiz like that, I just used a Google form and with 8 students, I figured out the results to strategically meet the needs of my individual students.

First, the questions:

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The next day, I handed out the slips of paper one at a time and read the descriptions to the class.  They then inserted the description, as well as a photo I had printed, into a 4 x 6 acrylic picture frame.

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Each day as class started, the students would get their frame and sit it in front of them on their desk. As we sat in a circle, I was able to reference/point to students as we were summarizing.

By having them associate the characters with their classmates, it was easier for them to keep the characters and plot straight.  It was also fun to build suspense and keep students interested.

“Will Johnny/Blake live or die?”

 “Will Cherry/Sydney fall in love with Dally/Josh?”

“Will the Socs/Nathan seek revenge for Bob’s death?”

Other skills I covered during this activity:

  • Point of View – Students were asked to rewrite their description several times – in 1st and 3rd point of view.
  • Perspective and Summarizing- After major events in the book, students had to get into character and write a journal entry or letter about the current situation.
  • Predictions – Students were asked to make predictions about their characters.

I am not sure how this would work in a very large class, but I am anxious to hear your thoughts.  If you could use this technique with a novel you are reading, please share in the comments!!



The Original Team Challenge Cube

I just received an email with a link to the Team Challenge Cube I learned about (and wrote about here) at OMLA a month ago.

We are using a slight variation at our school, and it’s been quite interesting watching our 7th graders get into it.  I will be posting more about it in a week or so. I want to see how it plays out for a few more days.

Meanwhile, go check out Katie’s other videos here. She has a lot of fun and easy  ways to get students motivated and manage your classroom.

Inspired by The Flip, The Cube, and The Apple

Earlier this week I attend the Ohio Middle Level Association conference with seven people from my building, many who happen to be some of my best friends. We left after school on Wednesday and got home Friday just before dinner.  It was a whirlwind trip with lots of laughs, lots of honors, and lots of inspiration.

We had some time to catch up with each other beyond the confines of our classroom walls, talk about our personal lives, learn new things about each other, and realize, despite the bad things happening in our schools these days, we still share the same common desire: to engage and relate to middle school kids.

Sometimes getting away from the classroom can be just what you need.

I am excited to put some new ideas into action and tweak some other ideas to fit my classroom and my personality.

One of my friends presented a session called “Just Flip It”. Not only did she do an amazing job of presenting at 8 a.m. on Friday the 13th, she inspired me to try some flipped classroom concepts myself.  I guess, somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought “flipping” was only meant for the math classroom. I couldn’t picture flipping anything in Language Arts.  I realize now I was wrong.  Anytime you have a chance to frontload students, flipping is an option.

The key points I took away from her presentation:
-Start with someone else’s videos.
-The videos don’t have to be perfect. (In fact, she said they’d be downright ugly at first.)
-Keep your videos short!
-You can hold students accountable in a variety of ways. (eduCanon, guided notes, Poll Everywhere)

Yesterday I sat down and made 6 short videos (the longest is 3:23 minutes) for my 7th grade Resource Room Language Arts class.  The videos introduce the 6 Notice and Note Signposts.  I did start with some YouTube videos I found here, but having students who struggle with reading, I added a voiceover, and I included some of my own material to match what I already have created in my classroom, which you can see here.  I probably spent an hour making the videos and the accompanying handout, and each video was a little easier and faster to make.

If you’d like to know more about flipping the classroom, I am sure my friend wouldn’t mind sharing her presentation.

I also attended a session called “Strategies to Revitalize and Energize Your Classroom.”  The two presenters were so similar in personality to me, and I enjoyed every moment of their presentation.  I am now searching for a perfect cube-shaped box, so I can make a “Team Challenge Cube.”   Just imagine students bringing their agenda, their book, a pencil and their homework to class everyday, and never needing to give that lecture!   Look for a future blog post about my experience with The Cube. 

Click here for contact information for both presentations.

Sometimes you can be your own inspiration. When you get just enough confidence and believe in yourself, when you put yourself out there in a new situation…it’s exhilarating.

My principal asked me to write a proposal for a presentation at this conference, and I did just that.  My presentation was posted here on the blog a few days ago, so many of you may have already taken a look.

I was incredibly nervous and my mouth felt like it was full of cotton balls, but I did it. I gave a 45-minute presentation on something I am passionate about: writing.

My friends said I did great; I have to take their word for it. I remember very little, but I am so glad I took the risk and had the opportunity to present.  It may not have been perfect, or completely how I envisioned it, but it was a learning experience and something I look forward to doing again.

So where does the apple come in? (This is where I brag a little.)  On Thursday night, following a social hour with some of Ohio’s top middle school teachers, I received the Ohio Middle Level Association East Regional Award for Best Middle Level Practice. Nominated by my administration, primarily for my experience with author Rick Niece, I received a certificate and an apple. Oh, and this special ribbon to add to my name tag.


The thing about it all, the reality…I could not have won that award without my 21 students.  They were there with me every step of the way. They were the reason I stood in my driveway and made the call to Rick Niece in the first place. They were the reason I won this award. Everything I’ve done this year, I’ve done for them.  Without them, I wouldn’t have this apple.


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