Thursday, June 27, 2013

Getting to Know You: A Teacher’s Back To School Assortment of First Day Forms and Activities

MMiddle and High School Teachers-Back to School Forms and Activities
What? A Back to School product now, when Summer just began?

Why not? This is the BEST time to check off an item on your "Have To Do Before the First Day" list.

Enjoy Summer's lazy, hazy days by deleting one less task to think about right now. Even if you plan that ideas for these forms and activities will perch on a shelf in your brain until the week you unlock your classroom door, or right before then, you know they will crop up like poison ivy and become an itch you feel you need to scratch when you should be relaxing and recharging.

Let this Secondary ELA product soothe that irritant. It offers you:

1. A "Student Information Sheet" with spaces for any student and parent contact information, the student's class schedule and a space for signatures that acknowledge parents, students and your understanding of the syllabus.

2. A "Parent Contact Record" for those times that you need or want to touch base with parents. I always liked to call home when a student did an awesome job completing and assignment, improved in a goal area or was a positive influence in class, as well as when I had to call for negative behavior or academic issues.
3. "What About Me? (Teacher Copy)" and "What About Me? (Student Copy)" allow students and teachers to point out what turns them on and off about class, with space to add some personal information.
4. The "Parents' Perspective Survey" allows parents a chance to discuss their child's strengths and problematic areas in English as well as in regard to any behavioral areas that might negatively affect the young person's academic success.
Student InformationParents' Perspective Survey

5. The What's in My Name Collage projects present students with a chance to

show their personal selves. Here, they reveal themselves-in pictures and words-in a collage using the first letter of their first name  as the foundation. Also,this project does double duty because it forms your Back     to School bulletin board.
"What's in My Name Collage Project"

Download this Secondary ELA packet from:

This assortment is just a start on other back to school projects I plan to add to my store. Consider these FREE half dozen forms and activities as my present to you for the awesome year you just gave your students.

Enjoy a fabulous summer. You deserve it!

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Monday, June 24, 2013

For the best vacation ever- trip the book fantastic

 “She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.”
~ Louisa May Alcott, A Story of Experience

"The Book of Daniel"-E.L. Doctorow
When I was four-years-old, my Aunt Catherine, an elementary school teacher, bought me a ticket on the Reading Railroad when she taught me to read and I can’t get off.  Nor do I want to.  I have read in planes trains and automobiles; in libraries, lecture halls and the labor rooms.  In fact, our daughter’s birth was accompanied by the word music of E.L. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel, a mesmerizing novel which I finished just as a maternity nurse wheeled me into a labor room at Magee-Woman’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA.  

Three years later, at the same hospital, and fresh on a Super Bowl X victory (Steelers 21, Cowboys 17), our son entered this world while a Celtic tune hummed through my head. The day before his birth, I had finished Leon Uris’s Trinity.

Books are my brain food pyramid with four nutritional groups: Information, Ideas, Escape and Engagement. They are my instant getaway when I need a Mental Myopia break from the highs and lows of my daily life, and they are the reason my sleep is unbalanced.  Sometimes I’m not sure whether I live to read or read to live.

About fifteen years ago, I was waiting outside of Borders for my husband to appear with his armload of books. I hoisted myself up onto a stone ledge surrounding some shrubbery and opened Anna Quindlen’sHow Reading Changed My life. As one of her most fervent fans (Black and Blue, One True Thing, Object Lessons), I planned on using this memoir in my English classes to urge my recalcitrant readers to buy a ticket on the Reading Railroad. I never expected her words would punch me in the stomach with a Déjà vu experience.
"Anna Quindlen "How Reading Changed My Life"

She described how one of her greatest pleasures was to sprawl in a club chair in her living room and lose herself in the characters’ escapades and emotions in that day’s novel. Quindlen’s mother’s mantra, “It’s a beautiful day. All of your friends are outside,” would burst Anna’s book bubble as effectively as my new kitten’s claws would a balloon.

When I read these words, my heart thumped against my ribs, my hands shook and the hair on the nape of my neck jumped to attention. Had Anna Quindlen somehow mined my brain for memories? From the type of chair to its location by the fireplace to the way she flopped in it-her head on one arm and her legs hanging over the sides of the other- to her mother’s words, she was describing any vacation or weekend day from my life.

Like Anna, I, too was a normal kid. I had my sisters and a plethora of friends to accompany me through real-life. We’d build forts in the woods where we’d wage battle on the boys’ citadels, go on day-long bike hikes-alas, they were the cause of three of my four concussions- explore abandoned houses and new construction on the college campus and bring Nancy Drew dramas to life.

“I don't believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book.”
~ J.K. Rowling

Still…still, each and every day I’d always crawl back into the pages of a book. Every Monday afternoon, I’d stroll to the town library four blocks away for an armload of books to get me through the next seven days. Oh, how I loved curling up in one of leather chairs and dig into Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery or another story of the trials and tribulations of a fictional counterpart while surreptitiously chewing on a Sugar Daddy caramel taffy lollipop. Outside, a summer shower pelted  the blacktop streets creating an acrid asphalt steam that would try, but fail to cling to the tail of the refreshing rain-drenched air.

Glass Coke bottle sizes
Some afternoons, my friends and I would gather on one of our porches and spread out the books that we had bought through those monthly book-buying flyers that teachers handed out during the school year. While sipping our 8 or 12 ounce bottles of Coke and munching on penny candy from the local Mom and Pop store on the corner, The Sweet Shop, or a slice of pizza from Harry’s Pizza down the street, we’d spark deals by enthusing about the books we wanted to barter.

As I grew up, boys took over the Number 1 spot on my list of favorite things. It didn’t take me too many close encounters of the not for me kind- guys who read only the sports pages of The Indiana Evening Gazette or The Pittsburgh Press-to realize that I was more attracted to Renaissance boys. They wanted to talk about books and ideas as well as play sports and chat about Pirate baseball and Steeler football.

“A house without books is like a room without windows.”
~ Horace Mann

Although we didn’t have the time or mental energy to read for pleasure during college(me) and college followed by graduate school (him), my husband and I carted boxes of books into our first apartment after we married. This drill multiplied with each of our subsequent fifteen moves, including the 40+ boxes of books the movers lugged into our current home in 1995.

Considering the thousands of books stuffed into floor to ceiling shelves in every room but the living room, I shudder to think how many boxes will leave with us when we downsize next year. My nightmares include  multiple trips to libraries and used book stores.

Not for one day after the age of four did I doubt that books would form the backbone of my life. My daydreams during college education classes took me to classrooms where I saw myself surrounded by students, each and every one of them as avid about the magic of words that I was.  Although these dreams shattered when I smacked into the Reality Wall of teaching, I never gave up trying to turn my charges into bookaholics.

I piled one double-shelf bookcase on top of another in the back of my classroom, filled them with books my husband, children and I had read and wanted to share and urged my students to read, read, read.  My heart sang when a few chose a novel on Reading Fridays that so pulled them into the story  that they wanted to keep on reading when we had to move on to another segment.  And when students stopped by after class or during lunch to talk about a book that enthralled them, I found myself so captivated by their experiences that I’d put down my own novel to listen to them.

The other day, an article in The Herndon Patch caught my eye, Suggested Summer Reading Lists for Your 6th-12th Grader, by the editor, Jennifer van der Kleut (  Her short article included links to the county’s reading lists for 6th-12th graders, lists that were adjuncts to those required by individual schools.  My anticipation spiked as I clicked on the various links, especially those for high school kids. 

“Wow!” I enthused as I skimmed the extensive topics that I could research on those days when I wanted to find a good read but didn’t have time to search through the Amazon or Barnes and Noble sites. Nirvana!
This thought was quelled when those ever-present reality checkers dumped a metaphoric bucket of icy water on my head and chortled, “Do you really think that kids will actually click on a topic, not to mention scrutinize the Internet for a few book possibilities?”

“Be awesome! Be a book nut!”
~ Dr. Seuss

Khaled Hosseini- "And the Mountains Echoed"
“Yes!” I flung back as I shook away the taunt, even though, after 30+ years teaching I knew that the majority of  teens would wait till the end of summer, if at all, to crack open even one book cover.

“Yes!” I retorted, believing that at least one book from one of the topics would hook the attention of each young person in the county.

“Yes!” I shouted, as I held up The Gate Thief by Orson Scott card in one hand and Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline in the other while balancing And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini on my head.

“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.”
~ Anna Quindlen, How Reading Changed My Life

And what a voyage they offer.

Until next week, Happy Reading,

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Mental Picture Moments-Make Every Word Count

Middle and High School ELA Lesson Plan
Writing that includes generalities instead of be-Be-BEING Specific bugs me. That's why I created this activity based on bugs- a cockroach- to be exact. Students don't know this, though.

I copied the poem, "Roaches", by Peter Wild, replacing specific nouns, strong adjectives and vivid verbs with weak, bland words. I titled the poem, "Bugs." Students are to rewrite the poem turning my foggy word picture into a one as sensory-explosive as the original, or even more captivating. Because they won't see Peter Wild's poem until they have finished theirs, they will need to stretch their ability to create word pictures as much as they can.

To accomplish this, they must consider the following when creating their Mental Picture Moment:
1. Replace all general nouns with specific ones. Example: cardinal for bird. 2. Replace all vague verbs with vivid ones that show emotion as well as action. Example: strutted for walked.  3. Appeal to the reader’s sense of sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. Example: crunch for chew.
Middle and High School ELA Lesson Plan- How to Ban Writing Bugs
4. See that some of the format used for the Bugs version, such as putting words and phrases on separate lines gives emphasis to specific thoughts. They should do this, too.
5. Make every word count by removing any unneeded words. Students should make their point in as few words as possible but still keep their word picture sharp and focused.
6. Show the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How completely, yet concisely.

When they have finished their poems, they must write their final draft in the space given, and include a picture if they so desire. Then they turn in their piece, but with their name on the back of the paper.

You will staple all of the poems to the bulletin board along with the original verse. After they have read all of the poems, the students are to use their own paper to briefly explain, by title, which poem they feel creates the clearest Mental Picture Moment and why. When they are done, they should fit it into the space at the bottom of their poem page on the bulletin board with tape.

When they have completed this segment, you may reveal the original poem.
This activity will help students to get the bugs out of their writing by being specific and appealing to readers' emotions instead of hiding their thoughts in the dark crevices of their minds.

Middle and High School ELA Lesson Plan-How to Ban Writing Bugs

Download this FREE creative writing activity that is aligned with Common Core Standards and Bloom's Taxonomy from:

Take the sting out of reading student writing that is much too general.  Help your charges choose specific words that will focus their thoughts and make every word count and lure readers in by appealing to their emotions.

Happy Teaching,

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Monday, June 17, 2013

Risky Behavior-Choice, Chance and Change

Two score and three years ago, as my husband was packing his lone duffle bag for a tour in Vietnam, he turned to me and said, “Maybe it’s a good thing that I’m going. I won’t be here to tell you what bulletin board to create in your classroom or what pair of cut-offs to wear. ” His words shocked my tears into submission.

I never knew that he perceived me as a weakling in the decision-making department.  “I am not that bad at making decisions!”  I argued. He then explained that for my whole life -22 years at that point-I had allowed my father-as well as my sisters, friends, teachers, etc.-and him, to make my decisions for me.  He did not include my mother in this list, because he knew that she tried to counteract my compliant and somewhat passive nature when it came to either/or situations. “Now you’ll be on your own,” he said as he zipped his bag closed. “I will always support you, whatever you choose; I just won’t make your decisions for you.”

“You Must Make a Choice…

Tim was right- I needed to learn to trust my judgment, my knowledge and my emotions and to quit second-guessing myself when I had to make a decision. Oh, I had always been firm with major options like when to break-up with a bad boyfriend, what to choose as my college major (although I did capitulate to my father on where I’d earn my degree) and who to marry, but it was those day by day risks that could send me into  an endless circle of indecision.

Although Katy Perry song, Hot N Cold was released in September of 2008, she might have time traveled and been speaking to the 1970 me and not her boyfriend when she said,
“And you overthink
Always speak cryptically…
'Cause you're hot then you're cold
You're yes then you're no
You're in then you're out
You're up then you're down…”.

Classroom decision-making in regard to planning, teaching, discipline, parental concerns and administrative demands never threatened to drown me in whirlpools of doubt. Oh, I had to sport a poised face and demeanor until my teacher-legs firmed with confidence, but I expected that.  Any time that I questioned whether my knowledge would have my back - even in my last year in the classroom when I was teaching The Stranger for the twelfth time-I’d just plan a bit more meticulously and re-read tough passages again and again until my inner critic assured me that I was, “Good to go.”

Decisions that affected my family life, though, they were and still are the sleep stealers. Emotional involvement makes it too easy to push aside those all too necessary facts. My difficulty evolves from making decisions that will touch, and maybe alter, the lives of those people whom I love.

Choices equal ownership and ownership means responsibility. That accountability is the root of the do I/don’t I dilemma, not the Choice itself. Usually, I realize that the Choice I want to make harmonizes with the one that I need to make.  The question has never been the Choice, but whether or not I want to assume the duties, the liabilities, and the task. That is what caused, and still causes, those wee hours of the morning fits of doubt. Othello addressed this agony well with his words, “It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul.”

For years, one of my role models has been an elderly woman in a TV commercial. She nestles her cookie grandma self onto a park bench, smiles at the camera and says, “Every morning I can choose to be happy or sad. I choose to be happy.” I love that woman’s firm resolve, upbeat disposition and her staunch understanding that although she might encounter outside influences, she and she alone is responsible for her Choices.

To Take a Chance, or …

Chances are a gamble. They present us with visions of health, wealth and happiness or nightmares of failure, bankruptcy and buffoonery. No matter where we turn, we are barraged by exhortations-verbal and visually enticing-to multitudinous Chances of a lifetime. We are guaranteed to have brighter smiles, firmer abs, sexier hair (and bodies), and more friends and fun than we can handle if we take a Chance on this toothpaste, that shampoo or this beer.
From apples to zucchini, from the study of A.P. Algebra to Zooplasty, from Alabama to Wyoming we are assailed with promises, promises, and more promises. Where is the assurance, though?  Is it hidden in the lure of glittering generalities, of celebrity testimonials, the desire for peer approval, no matter our age, or any of the other propaganda techniques used by family, friends, foes and the media?
Maybe, but chances are that life would be banal, boring and, well, not really worth living if Chances didn’t exist. Those What ifs of life keep our hearts and brains charged up with the possibilities of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” At least they do that for me.  I’d much rather leave myself open to the dark side of Chance than live in a world without possibilities.
As ABBA said in their song, Take a Chance on Me,
“If you change your mind,
I'm the first in line
Honey I'm still free
Take a chance on me.”

Your Life Will Never Change.”

When I was younger, I welcomed Change with an open heart, an open mind and open arms. A moving van was sure to punch my yearning button for new people, places, adventures and ideas, These teaser qualities of Change are part of why I loved teaching,

Every day a student could change from an apathetic seat warmer to an involved learner.

Every class, students offered me a chance to add to my analysis of a novel through their interpretations, to excavate my understanding of writing techniques or to change my attitude about a song, a dance or a fashion trend.

Every year I had the choice to change what, when, why, where and how I taught if I so desired- the good old days of education, some would say.

One theme that laces every book, movie and television show that I have taught and/or viewed is that people fear that which they don’t understand, and this fear can lead to misunderstanding and tragedy.  I have seen friends, family, co-workers and students paralyzed by the fear of change. Through research, being open to other viewpoints and strong communication, most overcame the anxieties that clouded the pros and cons that accompanied their qualms.

Now, that I have skirmished with these three Cs for three score plus five years, and even though I welcome Change in smaller doses, Mental Myopia scares me more than the three Cs ever will. Every day is a chance for me to learn something new, to see the world through someone else’s eyes, and to face myself in the mirror and not cringe. I have always loved and attempted to live by the Man in the Mirror philosophy that Michael Jackson so eloquently speaks about in his song by the same name,
                “I'm Starting With The Man In
The Mirror…
I'm Asking Him To Change
His Ways
No Message Could Have
Been Any Clearer
(If You Wanna Make The
World A Better Place)
(Take A Look At Yourself And
Then Make The Change).”

For me, every year that I have the Choice to take a Chance and to Change something about me, my life, my attitudes or the world around me is a very good year.

Until next week,

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tell Me a Story

Middle and High School ELA Lesson Plan-"Analytic and Creative Writing Activity
Since I am combining my Tuesday: Elements of Literature Day with my Thursday: Writing, Grammar and Vocabulary Day, I needed an idea that would speak to as many of those ELA subject areas as possible. Today's activity, Tell Me a Story, manages to touch on each of these segments that contribute to a typical English program of study.

This FREE activity enables students to develop both their analytic and creative thinking and writing skills. First, the students review a list of 12 qualities of Strong Fiction that they created, and then they analyze their personal examples for each of the various criteria.

Next, they write examples of Specific Characters, General Objects, Specific Objects, Adjectives, Abstract Nouns and Setting on 3" x5" pieces of construction paper color-coded to match the topics.
Middle and High School ELA Lesson Plan-"Analytic and Creative Writing Activity
Middle and High School ELA Lesson Plan-"Analytic and Creative Writing Activity

Finally, they select the basic bones of their story from the cards the class made in the prior segment of this activity and then they write either an individual story or a collaborative piece in groups of three. Whichever writing idea teachers don't select can be used for another lesson at a later date. After the students complete their stories, they peer critique each other's writing using the Strong Fiction criteria as their guide. They also address varying sentence structures and making strong vocabulary choices. On this sheet, they are also asked to choose and analyze specific sentences, phrases and words for how well they meet the qualities outlined and analyzed on this list of 12.
Middle and High School ELA Lesson Plan-"Analytic and Creative Writing Activity

This Common Core and Bloom's Taxonomy aligned activity offers students a chance to analyze fiction for specific criteria, and to exhibit how they can combine these characteristics with the elements of literature to create a durable story that SHOWS instead of TELLS. As always with my products, this one includes a full page of Teacher Notes that detail the Common Core Standards and Bloom's Taxonomy goals, the Who, What, When and Why aspects of the lesson and a bullet list to explain the How to teach the various segments.  Download this FREEBIE  from:

What do your students choose as Strong Fiction criteria?

Happy Teaching,

Monday, June 10, 2013

Common Core Standards are a tool, not a complete toolbox

Common Core Standards Logo
For many teachers, administrators and parents, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) adopted by 45 out of the 50 states are causing common core brain pain instead of common core brain gain. In The Washington Post (6/10/2013), Mr. Jack Markell, the governor of Delaware and the co-chair of the Common Core Standards Initiative offered some relief from the pain in his op-ed piece, “A Core correction.” He explains that the CCSS offers a straightforward list of goals that teachers should use to focus their lessons. Mr. Markell clarifies what I have come to understand: These standards are a tool, not a toolbox for education.

Daily, I read various online sources such as Education Week, the National Council of English Teachers group discussions on LinkedIn, and numerous teacher blogs. I also have conversations with colleagues still in the classroom, educators in the social media, and parents concerned about what their children are or are not learning. From all of these sources, the arguments against the CCSS do not stem from the standards themselves, although some people balk at anything that is mandated by state and/or Federal governments, but from how they are interpreted and implemented.

The CCSS are forthright. Each one is a factual statement. One of the Reading for Information Grades 9-10  goals states, “Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text,” (CCSS R1 9-10 1).

The controversy springs from how the standards are interpreted and implemented. Any interpretation is composed of facts laced with subjectivity. With CCSS R1 9-10 1, the adverb explicitly and the adjectives strong and thorough are up for interpretation. What is explicit, strong and thorough to an English teacher- from rookie to multi-decade veteran-may be a pea soup fog to an administrator whose last English analysis class was Communications 101 his/her freshman year of college. This misunderstanding might result in a conflict where the principal demands all English teachers to create and implement as many lessons as necessary to promise clarity.

Hamlet understood conflict when he said, “Therein lies the rub” (Hamlet William Shakespeare) even though he struggled with dreams vs. reality and in education the person vs. person discord stems from a lack of academic understanding. This…not the CCSS... is the cause of pedagogical arguments, confrontations, misunderstandings and morale issues.

Once again, the standards are a tool, like a garden shovel. Teachers use this device to plant the seeds of understanding, to cultivate the shoots of knowledge, to weed out threats to insight, and to nurture degrees of comprehension for each and every student. Due their day after day classroom interactions, teachers know their charges’ skills and abilities, who are left, right or whole brain oriented, and who are visual, auditory or kinesthetic learners. It makes total sense that they should create the lessons that they must implement to engage and motivate their students so they meet and/or exceed the CCSS goals.

Teachers are hired based on their education, knowledge and understanding of their subject area as well as their teaching expertise. Why do some of the same administrators who brought them on-board disrespect their instructors’ professionalism by denying them the right to choose a common curriculum along with their department and grade level colleagues? Why do some school districts demand that all subject/grade level educators teach the same content at the same time? 

For example, maybe five English 12 teachers decide on What fiction and nonfiction material will be core and What will be supplemental, as well as What will be their writing, grammar and vocabulary focus. That shows professional cooperation and good teaching practice. Just because their students are in the same grade, though, doesn’t mean that they all share the same skills and abilities. 

Certified teachers, those same professionals that the districts hired, have been taught how to ascertain student needs. They should be respected enough to decide When, Why, How and How Much study and emphasis in these areas their students need to be academically successful.  How does a lockstep method ensure that students will develop and strengthen their academic comprehension homes?

Oh, teachers might be told that they can choose How to teach the material, but can this occur if they all have to implement the same assessment like they are told to do in some districts?  And what in the world does this have to do with the CCSS? Maybe in the study of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, I choose to concentrate on the existential qualities of Meursault, another colleague emphasizes the symbolism and yet another stresses character development. How could we possibly utilize the exact same assessment, and why should we if we all addressed the same elements of literature Common Core Standards for this study in the first place? 

In any literature unit, teachers will focus on all of these standards because they are elemental, even though the depth might differ. And that is okay because these standards are repeated again and again in grades 1-12, adding layer after layer after layer of understanding to students’ comprehension homes.  

The elephant in the classroom-that the CCSS are state mandated- is an issue for many educators. They have every right to disagree with their adoption. When they first appeared on the educational horizon, I, too, felt a ball of aversion stick in my throat. Like my colleagues, I had never been willing to sacrifice my classroom autonomy to a one size fits all policy. Then, I realized that I was giving the CCSS way too much power.

They. Are. A. Tool. I had the power in the classroom as I have it now every time that I create curriculum for ELA teachers. For every activity, unit, PowerPoint or assessment that I create, I choose which CCSS and which Bloom's Taxonomy skills to use. Bloom's Taxonomy offers major goal setting tools because they teach the children to think. I would not leave my lesson planning home without it.

I have no problem with the nationwide standards.  If I still had children in school, I’d want to feel reassured that no matter where I wanted to move- from Bangor, Maine to Biloxi, Mississippi; from the Outer Banks to Los Angeles or from Pierre, North Dakota to Austin, Texas- that my kids would receive the same quality education.

The medical and legal fields share the same general standards across the country, why shouldn’t education? Similarly, the CCSS provides basic benchmarks. They don’t demand that all tenth graders in every high school in every state teach Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, for example. They DO detail the objectives- the Whys, that teachers much meet for any literature that they select, but leave the What, the How and the When up to the instructors’ professional opinions.

Anyone who cares about the quality of education needs to recognize that the CCSS is a tool and not a complete toolbox.

Anyone who cares about the quality of education needs to respect every teacher’s right to choose which aspects of this implement to use, alone or in conjunction with whatever other scholastic resource they feel will enable their students to succeed.

Anyone who cares about the quality of education shouldn’t cloud the CCSS realities with their interpretations for their own personal or professional gain.

After all, the Common Core State Standards were developed so every child in every corner of every state may enjoy the success of a quality education. And that is all that matters.

Happy Teaching,

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Words, Words, Words: Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say

It's Summertime, summertime-sum-sum- summertime and many of you are already digging your toes in the sand- literally and metaphorically. Others are still anticipating the time to take a complete breath without  a, "Teacher! Teacher! What do I do now?" interruption. Some of you will have a short break before you are back in the classroom for summer studies.

This short yet worthwhile post offers word lists for June, July and August for those of you who will be leading your students to the academic spigot for long gulps of learning during the sultry months of June, July and August. Every monthly vocabulary list is comprised of 20 words, each with its main definition and part of speech. Download these lists from:
Middle and High School SAT Vocabulary Lists for June, July and August

Middle and High School SAT Vocabulary Lists for June and July

Middle and High School SAT Vocabulary Lists for August

For Common Core and Bloom's Taxonomy aligned activities that will expand students writing and speaking vocabularies, download these FREE postings already in my TpT store and discussed in separate blog posts. These two product offer you multiple ways that to empower your students to make vocabulary study as integral to their lives as eating, texting and talking. "Words, Words, Words" will allow students to say what they mean, and mean what they say.

Product and Blog URLS for awesome activities: the first URL gives the place in my TpT store where you can download this product and the second refers to one of my previous posts on this site.

1. ( blog post:
2. (blog post:

All three of these products are FREE, so add them to your repertoires. In August, I will post word lists for September through May and MORE vocabulary study activities to hook students into becoming lifelong word enthusiasts.

NOTE: Until mid-August, I will be posting lesson ideas only on Tuesdays. My Teacher Talk posts will continue to be published on Saturdays or Sundays.

To all my colleagues, have a fantastic summer.
Happy Teaching,

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Think It and Link It

Although I am going on a day adventure in an hour, I didn't want to miss presenting  a Tuesday-Elements of Literature Day blog and FREE coordinating activity for you all to enjoy.

We educators are always searching for engaging, sound and practical activities to check our students' levels of comprehension-the KEY ability behind any learning, no matter the subject area. Here is a Common Core
Middle and High School ELA Reading Comprehension Lesson Plan
and Bloom's Taxonomy aligned FREE activity for ELA teachers. Through this activity, students show their understanding of a reading assignment by listing their thoughts, opinions and comments for three categories: Observations, Wonderings and Connections.

Students will write literal and inferential comprehension statements, ask questions about textual issues or vocabulary that caused them confusion, and will connect content with examples from television, movies, theater, music and art that share the same experiences, thoughts and feelings the author revealed. This lesson allows students to exhibit their understanding of all aspects of the elements of literature as well as their grasp of analytic and critical-thinking skills.

Middle and High School ELA Reading Comprehension Lesson Plan

No matter the text- fiction or nonfiction- teachers can use this activity any time that they want to check their students' understanding. After they see and hear (students have a speaking component to meet) their charges' thoughts, feelings and comments on the selected reading assignment, they can choose activities that meet various student needs and which help the young people to build durable houses of comprehension.

Think It and Link It provides the KEY that will unlock the focus of the students' reading, resulting in an across-the-classroom, "Aha! Now I get it," response. Download this FREEBIE from A full page of Teacher Notes details the Common Core Standards and Bloom's Taxonomy thinking skills met. Also, the Who, What, When, Why and How to teach this lesson is included.
Middle and High School ELA Reading Comprehension Lesson Plan

What are your favorite lessons for checking and building your students reading comprehension? Please share them here and/or on my Facebook page:

Happy Teaching,

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Where have all the bookstores gone?

Once upon a time, brick and mortar book stores dotted the city and suburban scapes around my home town. Now there are none.  And that makes my heart and mind ache. Oh, a very small Walden’s satellite
store is in a mall close to my home, or I could drive 12 miles to a huge Barnes and Noble which is attached to a massive mall in a major shopping mecca, but I’m not inspired by the lack of browsing ambiance and novel offerings in the first, nor do I want to deal with the traffic and human congestion that accompanies the latter.

They are both in malls which definitely do not produce the serene escape from the fast-lane life surrounding me day after day. Calgon bath soaps might offer to “Take me away,” but I don’t want a soak in the tub. I crave a stand-alone bookaholic’s dream of never-ending shelves overflowing with tomes from every genre leading to an attached coffee shop.

Now there are none, though, and I miss them.

My husband and I used to jump in the car after dinner at least once a week and jaunt off to our near-by bookstores so we could quench our caffeine thirst while we nourished our minds. Even after Amazon lured me in with its lower prices and free shipping, I loved perusing the shelves of our brick and mortar venders to check out new authors and to read a few pages from the beginning and middle of a novel to see if its voice could talk me into buying it. If it succeeded, I’d write down the title and author and then order it from Amazon where I could usually purchase two books for the price of one from the bookstore.

And then…then… I heard the siren call of the Kindle, and even more recently, the Kindle Fire Tablet.  On these devices,  books are even less expensive than Amazon’s hard copy prices, they save enormous space in my purse or when I’m packing for a trip, and they are easier for me to hold in my senior citizen hands than a 400-page hardcover is. My husband has stayed true to bound books as has our daughter (although her first daughter has a Kindle Fire) and our son varies between reading device and bound books.  When I switched to readers, like millions of other book lovers, I added another chip in the bricks of our local bookstores.

Now there are none, though, and I miss them.

I want to slouch in one of their proverbial leather chairs, open my coffee and skim through the chimney-sized stack of books towering by my side.  I wanted to lose myself for a few hours listening to the voices and worlds created by authors who have a way with words. I wanted the papery aroma of thousands of books to tickle my sense of smell.

Now there are none, though, and I miss them.

My research about their demises revealed that it wasn’t just Reading Device buyers, like me, who caused the downfall of these enterprises. The little that I understood from various financial page articles, showed me that a few not so business savvy decisions by some of the  bookstore executives’ played a major role, too.

Still, couldn’t they take what they learned about best business practices and try again? My home county offers 500+ dining experiences,  about 55 movie theaters,  13 live music venues, and 80+ historical, art, nature and outdoors and family-friendly attractions. Twenty-eight book stores exist. Two are medium-sized independent store with decent selections, another duet speaks to the new/used buyer and the majority of them are language, ethnicity, politics, business , or religion specific, or are aimed at another specialty market.

Yes, two Barnes and Nobles do exist, but like I said before, the closest  is 12 miles away and attached to a mall. And as I said before, this is not appealing for a serene browsing excursion. I’ve tried it, fought for a place to sit down, and don’t want to do it again. I guess I’ll just spend my days (and late nights) surfing Amazon’s shelves. Convenient? Yes.  Appealing to the senses? Not so much.

When my children were young, I was sad that they would never enjoy a drive-in movie experience. Now, I’m even more bereft that my granddaughters, both avid readers, will never experience a rainy afternoon Children Make Terrible Pets (Peter Brown) or the latest revised Nancy Drew mystery nestled in a comfy chair while rain drops pelt the store’s windows.
browsing through a bookstore. Oh, they can search the scant shelves at stores like Target and department-store type of grocery retailers for a good read, but that just isn’t the same as munching on a cookie while reading

Stephen King wrote in The Waste Lands, “Jake went in, aware that he had, for the first time in three weeks, opened a door without hoping madly to find another world on the other side. A bell jingled overhead. The mild, spicy smell of old books hit him, and the smell was somehow like coming home.”

I remember those feelings well. I miss them. Don’t you? Where have all of the bookstores gone?  Can we have them back, please?

Until next week,