Wednesday, August 27, 2014

3 Teacher Survival Lessons

 After I handed the professor my Teaching Of English final exam, signaling the conclusion of my formal BS ED instruction, I literally sprinted toward my future.  I was so pumped up with visions of adolescents gobbling up my lessons culled from my Idea File and clamoring for, “More, please, Mrs. C,” in that perfect classroom of my imagination that Dr. Ryder’s last words failed to register.

“Remember,” he said, “we have been discussing theory.  The realities you all will be facing in the fall will probably be a bit different.” His words bounced off my ears like my mother’s urgings to, “Eat burnt toast so the boys will like you.” All too soon, I would learn that "...a bit" was a vast understatement.

Ninety-six days later, my lesson using lyrics from Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, the Beatles and other rockers to teach metaphor engaged the students. Other stresses, those of the non-teaching kind, though, made me grind my teeth in frustration. Only then did the irony of Dr. Ryder’s final words register in my frustrated brain.

Education professors would do the future teachers in their classes a huge favor by spending some time in a public school setting learning about who really runs the school and who can make teachers’ lives easy or difficult, and then revising their Teaching of courses.

Here are 3 teacher survival lessons that served me well for 30+ years in the classroom. Hopefully, they will cut some of the hassles that you will encounter this- and any- year.

Administrative Assistants run the school. A friendly, “Good morning,” and an occasional sincere chat about their families will:
  • garner you that last ream of copy paper when your colleagues are rifling through the recycled paper bins five minutes before the bell and you desperately need 50 copies of your Metamorphosis test.
  • guarantee you a meeting with the principal about the mouthy kid you want to hang by his thumbs when everyone else thinks the school's head honcho is,  “Lunching with the superintendent.”
  •  insure a heads up on Monday morning when the principal is checking out the “teaching going on” and you planned Reading Time while you unscrambled your weekend sleepy brain.

Custodians can make your life heaven or hell.  Always pick up the day’s detritus left by your students, make sure your trash cans are never the result of a “How Can we Pile the Junk before it Spills” contest, clean your own white boards and deliver home baked goods before holidays to their break room. This guarantees:
  • a bottle of white board cleaner when everyone else is told to, “Buy your own. The district hasn’t authorized us to hand out our supply to teachers.”
  • more desks from their secret stash when the counselors have blessed you with five more students than you have desks.
  • a comfortable, back-saving cushioned office chair fresh off the truck before they send out an All Staff email to, “Come and get one.”

Technology Personnel are to be showered with smiles. They will save your sanity more times than you can count by:
  • fixing the connection between your computer and television so you can show that PowerPoint you spent a gazillion hours designing.
  • finding the Editorial pages that magically disappeared twenty minutes before the newspaper has to be sent to the printer to make deadline.
  • showing you secrets to bypass the glitches in the online grading system an hour before grades are due.

Remember, college professors’ theories are similar to the nursery rhyme about girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead: When they are good (reality-based) they are very good, but when they are bad (ivy tower-only based) they are, well... not horrid, but definitely not helpful.

Have an inspiring and exciting 2014-2015 school year.

Happy Teaching,

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Six Teaching Tips to Keep Calm, Cool and Consistent

Connie Casserly
When I created this site, I tried to blog three times a week.  Needless to say, that was too difficult for me to sustain as I tend to be verbose. For most of the 2013-2014 school year, I tended to blog about lessons and include a product as an example. 

Although one of my “Favorite Academic Preoccupations” is offering curriculum that hooks students into learning- into saying, “Please, Teacher, I want some more,” (Thank you Oliver Twist/Charles Dickens), I miss writing about thoughts, ideas and concerns that keep teachers talking- whether it’s face to face, by texting or emailing, or on a social media site.

Starting with this post, I am going to try to post once a week about thoughts, ideas and concerns- yours, mine and ours.  Today, I am offering Six Teaching Tips that I should keep you wrapped in your calm, cool and consistent cape this year.

Teaching Tip #1
Stop the Chattering

When a few students are disrupting the lesson with repeated chatting, giggling and other verbal interruptions simply stop talking.  Stand or sit quietly and just stare at the class with blank look.  In a few seconds you’ll hear a few students go, “Shh,” while others nudge each other. Within a minute, the class will be quiet.  Do not address the talking issue at all; just continue from the point where you stopped.  Before long the students will catch on to this method, and will quiet down more quickly.

Teaching Tip #2
Guess Who’s Tardy?

Tardy List Notebook
Place a small table by the door with spiral note book. Tie a string around a pen and attach it to the spirals. On the top of the page, write the Day of the Week and the Date. Below that write, “If I have to remind you to sign in when you are tardy, you will stay after the period dismissal bell for 30-seconds.”
Next, make two columns.  The left one should be titled: NAME, and the right one should be: TIME.  On the first day of school, explain to the students that if they are tardy, they must sign in with their name and the time that they came to class BEFORE they sit down. You will have to remind them a few times until this becomes a habit for them. If a student tries to slip past the table without signing in  just say, “Sign in,” and continue with your teaching.  Remember to keep this student after class since you had to interrupt the lesson to remind him/her to sign in.  This gives you a list, in the students’ handwriting, to keep in your Attendance Folder. It comes in handy in parent/student/administrator/teacher conferences.

Teaching Tip #3
Organize With Colored Files

Multi-colored File Folders
This idea saved my sanity and insured that I took home the right folders every time that I had papers to grade. 

  1. Choose two file folders for each period, both the same color. Each period should be a different color. Example: Period 1-Red, Period 2- Green, etc.
  2. Label both folders of the same color with the Period Number and Course Name. Example Period 1/English 12; Period 2/ Journalism 
  3. Working with the two folders of the same color, designate one as WORK DUE; label the other GRADED WORK.
  4. Choose a place close to your desk to line up the WORK DUE folders. 
  5. You want these near to your desk so you can keep an eye on them. If you have a plastic file tray for each folder, this really helps keep the work organized. 
  6. Place ONE folder in each tray. Explain to the students, that the day work is due, each one of them must place his/her work in the proper class folder. Clarify that they are never to hand in their work to you.
  7.  On your desk, place a vertical plastic file organizer with the same number of spaces as you have classes. Place a GRADED WORK folder in each slot.
  8. When you have work to grade for a class, pick up the folder for that period and grade the assignments, tests, etc.
  9. After you have graded the papers, place them into the coordinating colored folder labeled GRADED WORK on your desk, and place the empty WORK DUE folder back in its tray.
  10. This colored folder system makes it easy for you to grab the correct WORK DUE folder quickly.  When it is time to hand back the graded papers, you will have the folder in plain sight on your desk. If someone was absent the day you passed back the work, you will know right where to find this person’s papers.
  11. This method saves you time, and guarantees that the correct papers are in the proper class folder.
  12. Another plus- this method puts the responsibility for turning in assignments on the students-where it should be.

Teaching Tip #4
Students are Responsible for their DUE WORK

Teachers and Student
Teaching Tip #4 corresponds with Teaching Tip #3. A good way to save the stress of students blaming you for losing their assignments is to never, ever let them hand the completed work to you. The first day of school, show the students the colored WORK DUE folder for their class period. Explain that the day an assignment is due, they are to place their papers in this folder.
1. Clarify that they are not to ask another student to turn in their work for them.
2. Make it very clear that they should NEVER try to hand the work to you.

If a student comes up to you at some point in the class and says, “Here’s my work,” as they shove the paper in your direction, respond by asking, “Where are you to put it?”.
If a student waves the work in your face and asks, “Where do I put this?” don’t say a word, but just point to the correct folder.

When an occasional student repeatedly asked me this, he or she was usually greeted with my raised right eyebrow silent, and “REALLY?” stare. More often than not, this solved the problem.

Although this method took an assignment or two before every student caught on to the system, before long, they all followed it without hesitation.  No one wished to be the recipient of the raised eyebrow frown.

Teaching Tip #5
Remembering to Laugh

For this tip, I’m paraphrasing Randle McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, when he expressed this thought, “Lose you laugh and lose your footing.” On any given day in this wonderful field of education, anything from the sublime to the ridiculous can, and probably will happen. Also, matters best described as nonsensical, unreasonable, and/or preposterous are guaranteed to erupt on the days you feel the least able to deal with them.

This…this is when you truly need to remember McMurphy’s words. Stop, take a deep breath-or two-or three-, turn your back to the class, or walk in the hall if you can, silently primal scream, and then throw back your head, lift your shoulders and remind yourself that someday you will laugh about this incident, and then force yourself to  smile.  Believe me, this works.

Teaching Tip #6
Be Prepared

The House of Comprehension "Unit Structure Chart"
Plan lessons, activities and projects for the whole first month BEFORE the First Day. Being prepared to teach allows you to expend your time and energy on Back To School administrative duties, planning for Parent Night and-most importantly-on getting to know your students’ academic needs, personalities and viewpoints. When students feel that they come first, they are more willing to be engaged in becoming life-long learners.

We teachers expend so much of our time and energy on our students’ needs-where it should be- and on our professional duties and responsibilities-where it is often required, that little is left for us- and we need it the most if we are going to be the best we can be. I hope that these Six Teaching Tips will work for you.

Thank you, my colleagues still leading classrooms, for creating your magic by so willingly sharing your knowledge, abilities and skills with your students and peers.  Kudos to you all for creating joyful, inspiring and safe classrooms for each and every one of your charges, especially for those who might not experience such pleasures in their worlds.

Have a fantastic 2014-2015 school year.

Happy Teaching,

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Back to School Teachers Pay Teachers Sale - August 4th-5th

Teachers Pay Teachers
August 4th-5th


Danielle Weinberg Knight, a member of a Facebook secondary teachers group, generated this idea for a way to promote products developed by teachers in all 6-12 subject areas. This totally awesome Super Secondary Yearbook is the result of her hard, hard work. 

Click on the poster to see the high school or college pictures of us, as well as their TpT stores.  I am including the actual links to all of our stores under the yearbook image. 

(By the way, I am Class of 1968 in the 7th row down, bottom left-a sophomore in college here).

On Monday, August 4th and Tuesday August 5th, let your fingers do the walking through the inspiring and engaging lesson plans in these teachers' stores as you shop from the convenience of your home.

Teachers Pay Teachers Store Links 
This list was compiled by Addie Williams. Thank you Addie!

Blast off To the Super Secondary Yearbook Past! – TpT Back to School Site Wide Sale - Up to 28% off the entire site –August 4th and 5th, 2014  – Promo Code at Check out- BTS14

-Participating Stores:
Danielle Knight
Juggling ELA
The SuperHERO Teacher
The Creative Classroom
Teaching High School Math
All Things Algebra
Miss Math Dork
James Whitaker
For the Love of Teaching Math
The Classroom Sparrow
Teaching Math by Hart
2 Peas and a Dog
Addie Williams   
Michele Luck’s Social Studies 
Margaret Whisnant
Created by Mr. Hughes
Making it as a Middle School Teacher
Tracee Orman
Science Stuff
Teaching FSL
Kate’s Classroom Café
FisherRena Education
Darlene Anne
Mrs. S
Pamela Kranz
Liz’s Lessons
The Tutor House
The Career Ready Teacher
Secondary Solutions
Live. Love. Math
Charlene Tess
A Space to Create

Back to School will be a planning breeze when you fill your TpT shopping cart with these inspiring 
lesson plans, activities and more. All were developed by teachers for teachers. 
Oh, don't forget to check out our Free activities, too.

Happy Shopping,

Teach It Write
Building Powerful Academic Homes

Monday, July 21, 2014

Back to School- 7 Reeling in the Students Activities +Teacher Bonus

Middle School Students Lesson Plans/High School Lesson Plans

Welcome back to another school year!

Teachers' most important objective for the First Day of School is to reel in the students. Whether the topic is General School Rules, Classroom Rules, or Reviewing the Course Syllabus, educators know that they must bait their students with an activity or two that will lure them into becoming life-long learners.  Here are 8 activities-4 Free and 4 Priced- that will snag students' attention and present a warm and inviting learning environment.

Teaching Tip: offer one of these activities for your students to dig into while you take attendance. Save the rules and syllabus discussions for a bit later in class - after you have baited their brains with a fun and subtle writing and critical thinking activity.

First Day Writing Assignment
First Day Writing Assignment

Since writing is an integral part of the majority of language arts lessons, it's a good idea to obtain an idea of each student's writing skills the very first day of school.  This writing exercise will help you to focus on the writing elements that you will need to cover, and also serves as a smooth transition for the students from the summer break to the new school year. The First Day Writing Assignment gets the students thinking in an analytic manner.

Language Arts Comprehension Check:Ten Sentence Format

Ten Sentence Format

NOTE: This freebie is NOT an activity, but an invaluable teaching tool. I placed it here so you can consider handing it out as a pre-writing exercise for the First Day Writing Assignment.  Students can start working on it while you take attendance, and then complete it after you present and reinforce the behavior and academic expectations for the year.

This Ten Sentence Format reinforces students' basic understanding of the elements of a good paragraph while they practice writing about literature It also empowers them to write and develop more in-depth essays. Perfect for clarifying and reinforcing the parts of an essay, you may also use it as an announced or unannounced quiz when you wish to check reading and writing comprehension, and for general writing practice or warm-ups. (Free)

(Note:The Ten-Sentence Format is a part of the Writing Module of my book, The House of Comprehension. You can check out the book on the publisher's site, or on their Teachers pay Teachers site

Comprehension - It's Good to be Me...It's Good to be You

Comprehension - It's Good to be Me...It's Good to be You
These engaging activities will hook students into reading and writing about any text. The two activities engage students in their character exploration of the people they meet in their reading, but they will also allow your charges to reveal their own personalities and thoughts. This is a great way for young people to turn their private "The Me You Don't Know" traits and thoughts into their "The Me I Want You to Know" word pictures that they are willing to share publicly. 

Also, these FREE activities will jump start students' higher level thinking skills and give them a chance to exhibit their thinking in their writing. Although these work as great activities at the beginning of the year for you to get to know your students and for them to learn about each other, they are comprehensive activities throughout the year. (Free)

Writing (First Day) What About Me?

Writing (First Day) What About Me?
The first day of school is often filled with so much administrative detail and introductions to the class that teachers don't get a chance to really introduce themselves to the students and vice versa. This product, What About Me?, offers teachers and students a chance to reveal their thoughts and feelings about school and themselves to each other. 

With this activity, students will find out what their teachers expect from them, and teachers will understand what impacts their students academically. Teachers should fill out their separate sheet ahead of time, but not hand them out to the students until they complete theirs. If there is time in class, students can start their sheets, but might feel more comfortable completing them at home. Teachers should require them to be finished within the first few days of school so they can get to know their learners as soon as possible.

Language Arts Activity - "This is My Future"

Language Arts Activity - "This is My Future
Here is a beginning of the year ice breaker that helps the students get to know each other and offers the teacher a chance to learn about them- as young people and as students. In this activity, students consider their futures. What is their dream career? Where do they see themselves in five, ten, fifteen or twenty years? This thinking and writing assignment allows them to ponder who they are now, where they are going, and what they need academically to help them live their dream.

On this first day of school, ask them to start this activity by designing a poster that depicts their dream career. If class time permits, they now should write a paragraph explaining the school subjects and necessary skills that they will need to master in order to help them attain their goals. If you want to move on more quickly, have a few students summarize their designs and then complete the writing aspect at home. When they have finished this activity, pin up the posters around the classroom so that all of the students can look into their peers' futures. These make a fascinating bulletin board and visual for parent night.

Critical Thinking & Writing Lesson: Four Corners Activity

 Four Corners Activity
Engage your students the very first day by getting them on their feet where they can share their opinions on a variety of contemporary topics. After that, give them time to express their thoughts in writing. 

These activities allow students to show their analytic and critical-thinking skills in speaking and writing. Also, they offer teachers a good writing baseline, so they can assess what areas of writing their students will need to focus on during the year.
This is an excellent activity because it:
1. Makes the students think
2. Teaches them to express themselves verbally in a non-argumentative manner
3. Requires them to listen to others’ opinions
4. Gets the students actively involved on the first day of school.$)

Writing Activity: My Life's Journey

My Life's Journey
This activity lets students create a pictorial life map from their birth to the present day. Students should complete the project totally with images and brief captions. Continue the concept of this lesson with your first reading selection that the students will study. Although I have used this assignment in conjunction with teaching The Odyssey, it can accompany any story that involves a journey. It complements a variety of books-fiction and narrative non-fiction- for grades 6-12.$)

Timing is most crucial at the beginning of the school year. Snag students' attention and feed their learning appetites with one-or two of these offerings as appetizers.  Try this sequence of activities:

  1. Choose a writing activity as students settle in and you take attendance.
  2. Ask a few students to share their responses for this exercise.
  3. Review rules, the course syllabus and complete other administrative duties.
  4. Select an activity that gets the students moving and talking, i.e. the Four Corners Activity.
  5. Close the class with any instructions re completing the writing activity.

Teacher Bonus:

Back to School Freebie- Teacher CLASSMART List

Teacher CLASSMART List
This Back to School FREEBIE list is comprised of 12 supplies that will save teachers' sanity during the school year. Three of the Items included are:
1. Hand cleanser (extra-large). Classrooms are Free-Range Germ Zones.
3. Antiseptic cleaning spray. This is a must in Germ Warfare Defense to use with students who sneeze or cough on their homework/ tests and then try to hand in the tainted papers. When they do, smile, hand them the bottle and tell them to go into the hall and de-germ those weapons of mass congestion. This is also a necessity for desk cleaning and purifying the air. and
10. Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. Just like burgers need fries and eggs need bacon, grading that stack of essays calls for the fruit of the cocoa bean…in any form.

Although this isn't a First Day Activity, if you fill your supply closet with these items, you will enjoy a year that is as germ-free, stress-free and headache-free as possible.
Preparing your Back to School First Day Agenda now will guarantee you a good sleep the night before Opening Day. Bait your teaching hooks now with any of these 7 activities as well as your CLASSMART List.

Happy Teaching,

Monday, July 7, 2014

English Language Arts Lesson Plan - "Conflicted by Conflict"

English Language Arts Lesson Plan - "Conflicted by Conflict"
Frank Sinatra was famous for crooning, "I did it my way." The characters in the stories students are studying should sing the same lyrics. 

This English Language Arts Lesson Plan, "Conflicted by Conflict" will enable middle and high school students to show how a character of their choice from a story that they are studying should respond to a conflict that appears in a different venue, i.e. movies, another book, a news piece, a song lyric on a contemporary life situation.

For each venue, the students will:
1. Summarize How the Conflict is Revealed in that selection
2. Reveal the character’s Antagonist in that specific genre
3. Show the Character’s Action/Reaction to this conflict.

Students should use details from the story they are studying to support their character’s response(s) to the conflict as it is shown in the new venue. 
Here's an example how they can accomplish this:

Story The Hunger Games Author Suzanne Collins
Another Book/Story Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Character: Katness Everdeen Antagonist The wilds of Alaska
Conflict: Katness faces dying from starvation due to the isolation and hardships of an Alaskan winter (Character vs. Nature)
Character’s Reaction:
Katness Everdeen’s understanding of poisonous plants would have saved her if she had been faced with starvation like Chris McCandless. Because she had spent years foraging for food for her mother and sister, she never would have mistaken the toxic sweet pea vegetation for the safe wild potato plant. Also, as a savvy and accurate hunter, she would have been able to trap or kill animals for much needed protein.

In Conflicted by Conflict, middle and high school students will flesh out characters from their reading to show their understanding of the element of character as well as their analytic and critical-thinking skills.
English Language Arts Lesson Plan - "Conflicted by Conflict"
 English Language Arts Lesson Plan - "Conflicted by Conflict"

By analyzing a character of their choice, students will exhibit their understanding of this person’s characteristics, emotions, and other attributes through comparing and contrasting his/her actions and reactions to the same conflict, but which exists in other literary and life venues 

This activity should be introduced when the characters have shown enough depth to analyze. Although both Common Core Standards and active verbs from Bloom's Taxonomy Learning Domains are included, you should use these given standards as guidelines, adapting them to the benchmarks that your state follows.

We teachers often wonder what are students actually know and understand from their reading. The singer, Alesana addressed the understanding necessary to make a decision in her song, "Second Guessing"
'Tell me are you second guessing?
Because you honestly seem to have it all
Are you under control or questioning how this all ends?'

After they complete this activity, students will feel confident about the character that they have evaluated, and will proudly say, "No second guessing for me. I have it under control."
Download it from
 As with all of my products, this one includes detailed Teacher Notes.
English Language Arts Lesson Plan - "Conflicted by Conflict"

Happy Teaching,

Teach it Write
Building Powerful Academic Homes