Tag Archives: The Giver

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.)

Up to the Peer Challenge

So Friday afternoon, around 2:35 p.m., one of my colleagues makes a comment about how I should make a bulletin board outside of my classroom because he’s gotten so many comments on his Shades of Meaning bulletin board he created.  I’m thinking it’s more for the topic that the content, but it does look pretty cool. Maybe he’ll let me post a picture of it sometime.

But anyway, if you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know what happened next.



This is part of my students’ work for The Giver. One of their Community Tasks was to create a Google Presentation that would clearly portray different concepts to Jonas. I chose 16 of the best slides to display.  Of course, I left the answers out, so kids (and colleagues) will have to study the board and make the connections.


Here is a  closer look at the concepts the differentiated groups had to illustrate.

Here is a closer look at the concepts the differentiated Communities had to illustrate. 

I would not say that I cave to peer pressure; I’m a pretty independent and stubborn person. However, I do fall victim to peer challenges.  He had me at “You should….”


What kind of colleague are you?

Do you share ideas with your colleagues?

Do you motivate them?

Do you encourage them?

Do you challenge them?







With Love,

The day after I emailed S.E. Hinton, I received an email from another author, Lois Lowry, who I also contacted.

Her email was short, but sweet:

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 9.07.16 PM

And then today, her letter was in my school mailbox at the end of the day.

In the one page letter, she wrote about her life, growing up, her interests, and a little about her writing career.  Did you know Lois Lowry has written 45 books?

While I’m saving the whole letter for my 8th graders tomorrow, I am pleased to share a sneak peek of Lois Lowry’s love:


All In ~ Creating a Novel Experience

When I read a novel in my classroom, I tend to go a little overboard.

I try to create an environment that reflects the book.  Between the use of props, visuals, and specific language, I try to recreate the world we are reading about. This is very easy with The Giver. (If you haven’t read The Giver, you might not understand the lingo I am using here.)


For a journal entry, students had to make two observations about the apples and make an inference as to what Jonas might be observing. Of course, we has to toss them around before we started writing.

My students have been placed in Reading Communities.  The Green, Orange, and Red Communities perform differentiated group Tasks in their designated Community Areas a few days each week.

When I need to conference with a student individually, they may hear this:  “Community Member 13, please report to the Grading Area immediately.”

And what about homework?? Well, my Thirteens and Fourteens no longer have homework. But, they do have Dwelling Work

I require students to speak with “precision of language” whether we are talking about the novel or just casual conversation. It’s a great way to promote the use of stronger, more specific, content-related vocabulary.

By taking on the language and adopting unique characteristics of the novel, I am improving their understanding of the book and making the characters come to life.

No matter what my own children say (“Mom!! That is soooo lame!”),  or what my students say (“Oh my gosh…seriously???). I know they love it.

I couldn’t wait until we read Chapter 7, and I could say to them daily, “Thank you for your childhood.”

Stay tuned for more posts about this novel experience!

Meanwhile, how do you make a novel come alive in your classroom?

Did you see The Giver movie? What did you think?

Improving Reading Comprehension by using “Signposts”

As the Resource Room teacher, I have some flexibility in choosing my novels, based on my group each year.  This semester, I chose The Giver. What a wonderful book!! I’ve always loved it, and after seeing the movie, I knew this was the perfect book for my 8th graders.

My thematic foundation for this nine weeks is a continuation of the 2nd nine weeks: “Opinions, Choices, and Consequences.” My students are continuing to make connections between their choices and actions and the consequences of those decisions.  This life lesson is one that all young adults need to learn.

As we are have just began the novel, the focus is on “Adherence to the Rules” and how the rules shape the setting, affect the characters, and create conflict. The students need to understand the general rules of the society before we move on in the story. In the first few chapters of the novel, students have been making observations and inferences and analyzing the text to predict and determine the conflict in the novel.

Through the close-reading and analysis of The Giver, students will actively use reading strategies that will enhance their comprehension of the literature. The strategy I am using is called “Notice and Note.” It comes from the book Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading  by Kylene Beers & Robert E. Probst. This is a strategy I read about over Christmas break. The strategy prompts students to seek 6 different signals from the author.  Over the course of the novel, students will learn to use these signposts independently as they read.  The Signposts include:

  • Contrasts and Contradictions
  • Again and Again
  • Memory Moments
  • Words of the Wiser
  • Aha Moment
  • Tough Questions

I did not purchase the book which was a little pricey. Between Pinterest and some general research I was able to piece things together and find a way to make the strategy work for my students.

So far, so great. I can’t think of a more perfect book to introduce this strategy. The first three chapters alone are full of examples of Contrasts and Contradictions, Again and Again, and Memory Moments.

It has been very exciting watching my students’ hands shoot up in the air as I read something that needs to be marked. Right now, as a class, they have a lot of questions:

What is going on in this community? Why are there so many rules?  Who made up these rules? Why don’t the people think it’s strange? When does this book take place? Is this our future? 

Some students caught on very quickly and only needed a day to understand the signposts, which I introduced one at a time. (We’ve only covered the first three so far.) Others are having a little more difficulty, but through guided practice and a lot of discussion, I see more and more students participating with confidence.

I typically read a short passage from the chapter out loud. When I see several students marking their books, I pause and we talk.  One thing I’ve noticed is my students aren’t highlighting EVERYTHING like they typically do. They are searching and listening for specific pieces of information (the signposts) which helps them really focus on what’s happening in the novel.

As I hand out assignments for community work or dwelling work (more on this later), I remind students to look at the annotations they’ve already made in their books because that is where they will likely find the answers to important questions.

If you are in need of something simple and applicable to all novels, “Notice and Note” may be a strategy that works for you.

Do you use Notice and Note in your classroom?

Have you purchased the book? Is it worth the pricetag?

I would love to hear your thoughts!

Creating Connections with Themes

In 16 years of teaching, I have found a theme: I prefer to teach in thematic units.

I love the creativity and planning aspect of thematic units.

I love finding ways to tie as many things together as possible to get a “big picture.”

I love helping kids find connections (to both other subjects and to real life.)

In my first unofficial teaching position as a K-5 leader in an all day summer day care, I planned weekly themes as required by the center. Each day we had to have fine motor, gross motor, music, reading, science, and arts and crafts activities based on the theme. As a 22-year-old, with an age range of 5-11 to work with it was a huge task and often a stretch. Talk about being creative! I can’t remember all of the themes but I do remember the following: Colors, Oceans, Transportation, Animals, Sports, Fairy Tales, and Insects. This minimum wage job ($4.25 an hour?!?!) sort of set the tone for a career of teaching in themes.

In my first official teaching position (which is worthy of its own separate post someday), I was a home instructor for five siblings with severe to moderate disabilities. This job was unique in that I had my own “classroom” on their enclosed back porch/sunroom. My lesson plans for this job were also done in themes: one letter of the alphabet every single week. This was probably not the most logical way to plan because of the complete randomness of apples, angels, and acrobats or raisins, rhyming, and railroads, but for this group of children, it worked. Again, I had to plan for activities covering a wide range of skills: math, pre-reading, writing, music, gross motor and fine motor (I worked with both a physical therapist and an occupational therapist), and speech and language (a speech therapist came once a week too.) The randomness of the alphabet pushed me to stretch my imagination and helped me think outside the box.

In my second year of teaching, I finally had my own classroom in a traditional setting. I was the teacher for the K-3 Self-Contained Special Education Class. The only inclusion in the regular classroom was for music and gym. (I got to teach my own art class!) With this position, I had a very specific curriculum and themes I was required to cover. Each month, I would receive a giant Rubbermaid tote from the curriculum office and inside I would find a huge list of suggested activities and supplies to teach the content. I was able to supplement as I wanted. My planning at the day care came in handy. Some themes I had to teach that year: Oceans, Birds, Plants, Transportation, Colors, and Community Helpers. We also did a school wide theme on America in the month of February.

From there, I moved back home to a middle school DH/MH classroom. This was a new position in the building and I had no supplies, materials, curriculum…just 9 students, 3 aides, 9 desks, and a teacher’s desk. Fortunately, my students had a lot of inclusion time so I did not have as much to plan. I spent three years in this position and I remember these themes two themes as highlights of those years: Holiday Traditions Around the World and Leaders of America.

The next three years…back to a K-5 Resource Room setting and more themes (many repeats from other positions). But three unique themes I will never forget:

  • Houses and Construction – We built gingerbread houses as a culminating activity.
  • Pumpkins – We carved 22 pumpkins at the end of that unit. What a mess! More importantly, what was I thinking?? I have to say, my 5th graders were awesome helpers with the younger kids.
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico Hot Air Balloon Festival – I could’t live much further from Albuquerque and it probably sounds like a crazy theme but my dad used to live there and had so much interesting information, I went with it. The culminating activity was making 22 paper mache hot air balloons for our own festival, which the whole school was invited to.

My next three years at the middle school level were inclusion and I was at the mercy of the general educations teachers. (Little to no opportunity to do my own thing/theme.)

At the high school level, I was working with students who failed the Ohio Graduation Test and needed additional tutoring. I spent the most time tutoring in Science and Social Studies and it was based on individual needs, which boiled down to “themes” like Plant and Animal Cells, Laws of Motion, and The Industrial Revolution.

And now I am back at the middle school and my perspective on theme has somewhat changed.

A few posts ago, I told you about the novels I use in my Resource Room: The Outsiders, Stargirl, The Giver, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

Four novels, four nine week, and one common theme? Was it possible that a theme could last an entire year?

At the end of the year I ask students: “How are these four books related? Do they have a common theme?”

Here are some of the responses I have gotten in the past three years:

  • “You can’t treat people bad just because they are different.”
  • “People are discriminated against if they are different.”
  • “Everyone should be allowed to be who they want to be.”
  • “Everyone just wants to belong.”
  • “Friendships are the most important thing.”
  • “Sometimes people have to run away from their problems.”
  • “You should accept everyone.”

The definition of theme that we teach in 8th grade is:


Taken from my “Literary Terms” SMARTNotebook file.


It the above themes aren’t amazing life lessons, I don’t know what would be.

For years, I taught in themes, but now I’d like to think I teach life lessons.

What are some of your favorite thematic units?

What thematic unit would you love to do if there was room in your curriculum?

Have you ever had a theme for an entire school year?

Keeping “Classics” vs. The Common Core

For the past three years I have taught Language Arts 8 in a Resource Room setting. Working with students with decoding and reading comprehension skills below grade-level, I am forced to modify the materials and curriculum used by the other Language Arts teachers. Choosing reading material isn’t always easy – it must be high interest and low readability. I feel like I have a pretty good choice of novels and selections from the text book that cover everything I need to cover.

The four novels I read during the school year are

*With the exception of Stargirl, the general education teachers at my grade level use these exact same novels.

However, with the adoption of the Common Core, I am faced with a decision. All because of increased lexile bands.

According to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, the lexile levels will increase for each grade level band. 6th-8th graders who were previously reading in the 860L–1010L range but will now be expected to read in the 955L–1155L range.


Taken from the Common Core, Appendix A

While the jump is not earth shattering for high ability readers, it is significant for students with reading disabilities.

Look again at the novels I use with my students with disabilities:


According to the lexile levels, only one of these books falls into the new range for 8th graders. In fact, three of these books are apparently in the range for 2nd and 3rd graders! If you haven’t read The Outsiders or The Giver, there are definitely some scenes that are not appropriate for 7-8 year olds. (I do understand the the Common Core is not recommending students at that grade level read these particular books, but you must get what I am saying.)

So does that mean that we ditch the books that have been middle school “classics” for years? The content is appropriate and the literary elements are there. I’ve seen these books make non-readers read because of the story lines. I’ve seen non-readers take these books home or ask if they can keep a copy because they love them. I’ve had students say that their parents are now reading these books because they’ve raved about them so much. In my mind, these books are keepers!

My frustration is in the fact that some people think that these novels, because of their lexile levels, must be thrown out. How can I justify not using three of the four books I have built my curriculum around? Especially when these novels are perfect for the students I work with.

At this point, I plan to use these novels and supplement with increasingly more difficult text as my students are able to handle it. Supposedly, we will be getting some software that will allow us to determine a student’s reading range. This should be helpful in writing the IEP and planning instruction, but will I be allowed to use these novels with 8th graders? That answer will hopefully come when we receive additional training in the Common Core later this summer.

How do you feel about the new lexiles and the Common Core?
Would you discard a classic novel that is grade appropriate because of its lexile?
How will you select your novels as your district adopts the Common Core?

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