Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Make the Most of May with this Independent Novel Study Plan

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
These lessons students want to complete
When the crazy testing schedules of May
Cause learning to take a back seat.
(Thanks to Lewis Carroll for his Jabberwocky inspiration)

Between  A.P. exams and the state standards of learning tests, May is a crazy month to teach. In my three decades teaching at the secondary level, every day anywhere from three-fifteen students missed English class due to the testing schedule. Plus, my colleagues and I had to monitor tests during our "Free" periods. Keeping teenagers inspired and the learning momentum smooth while maintaining my sanity made this month of May not so very merry.

Reaing Comprehension - Making The Most of May
Before I created Making the Most of May, trying to teach that one final required novel unit before the school year ended, while making sure that all of the students were up-to-date with their class work, was nearly impossible. 

I likened it to putting a straw hat upside down on the floor, tossing 25 balls in the air and waiting to see which ones made it into the hat without my being clobbered.

With this independent study plan, though, students are responsible for completing the assignments and projects and for being prepared with the work that they have finished for the mini-conferences. This enables them to be the leaders of their learning while the teacher takes an advisory roll.

The lessons and activities included in this packet ensure that the learning doesn't stop just because test review and reinforcement is done. Plus, students not only know that their fourth quarter grade is dependent on their work, but also they truly are engaged and inspired because they chose what to read and what assignments to complete.

The flexible plan takes absences due to testing into consideration, too, since students choose the novel that they will study, and they also create a daily reading and writing calendar that coincides with their scheduled exams and the teacher’s due dates. This creates a learning environment that engages students and promotes responsibility.  

To begin, teachers have two options. They may select six to eight grade-level novels from the book room for students to choose to read - up tp 4 students may opt to read the same book, or students may choose a book that meets the teacher's length and genre requirements. 

Once this aspect of the unit is completed, students will set their reading and activity completion schedules.The required activities included in the packet are:

  1. General Novel Packet with four aspects: Book Notes, Plot Diagram, Memorable Quotes and Theme worksheets
  2. Full-length Projects or Essays 
  3. Group Project: Threads-Making Connections.

Making the Most of May p.6
Making the Most of May p.9
Making ther Most of May p.4
Making the Most of May p.5

Every day the students will either 

  • read for half of the period, or 
  • work on their packets for half of the period.

The second half of the period, they will

  • participate in a whole class writing session, concentrating on a facet of writing, or 
  • discuss various aspects of their chosen novels with peers. 
NOTE: Each student in the group should be reading a different novel. Members take notes on the discussions. These will enable them to complete the Threads-Making Connections activity.

By managing their class time wisely, students will only have to complete any typing they had previously begun, and compile the required activities at home right before the final packets are due. They should bind all of the components together in some way - a folder with pockets is best.

Teaching time won’t be interrupted and chaotic because of testing when teachers choose this unit plan as their May learning keystone.  Its effectiveness stems from dual factors

  • students hold the ownership for what they are learning, and 
  • when they are learning. 

Teachers do need to 

  • specify minimum length, genre and anything else they deem necessary for their charges.
  • mentor students’ progress with mini-conferences where students bring their partially completed required work to discuss.
And you, my teacher friends, will appreciate the fact that your students are challenging themselves mentally as they increase their reading comprehension, their critical thinking and their writing skills with substantive activities and no loss of learning continuity.

Making the Most of May, which is aligned with Common Core Standards and Bloom's Raxonomy, includes detailed Teacher Notes and a Project Grading Rubric.

Download Making the Most of May from ($), and

Enjoy a month of Teach It Now days,

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Secondary Smorgasbord - "What's Growin' in My Classroom"

April Secondary Smorgasbord

When faced with that proverbial piece of blank white paper- whether in a notebook, on a computer screen or rolled into my old Underwood Olivetti typewriter- my brain’s creative center teeters on the edge of the PITS – Profoundly Impacted Thoughts Syndrome.

A gasp or two rushes through my lips, my heart performs an arrhythmia jig and my brain clogs with cold, lumpy oatmeal.  It does not matter if the first page is fully inscribed on my mind’s walls, immediately before I type a quick an email, or creating a blog post, a lesson plan or a book.  All of the words stored in my brain’s Vocabulary Repository freeze the nanosecond I settle in to write, leaving me with no creative teeth, no fresh ideas-but just white noise buzzing around my brain.

Every. Single. Time.

The roots of impacted wisdom teeth wrap around the jawbone and scream at the dentist, “I refuse to let go!” The stalks that form PITS do the same thing in the brain. After entangling their stems in the Frontal Lobe, they insinuate themselves in every crevice of the Temporal and Parietal Lobes, squeezing out the energy, emotion and essence from each and every ingenious and imaginative, or mundane thought.

And Great Googly Moogly- I am not alone with my apprehension of the blank white page. Many writers also forge strategies to keep their writing fresh and to avoid tumbling into the PITS. (All of these quotes are from

John Updike faced the blank page by letting loose his imagination, “Each morning my characters greet me with misty faces willing, though chilled, to muster for another day's progress through the dazzling quicksand the marsh of blank paper.

Jodi Picoult revealed the power of revision when she said, “You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can't edit a blank page,”

Vladimir Nabokov welcomed the challenge of the blank page issue when he shared, “The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.

Students often feel an onset of brain freeze when they face a blank sheet of paper, knowing that no matter how great or small the number, they have to come up with Every. Single. Word. And this may be the pits because it could lead to one of the major effects of PITS - Writing Phobia.

Everyone has anxieties when it comes to writing. For me it does not matter whether I am creating a two-page activity, a 350-page romantic comedy, a 176-page teachers’ program, or an email apology to my sister-the challenge to use my words to say what I truly feel- to paint word pictures- is daunting.

“Like anyone who has to record their words on paper or type them into a computer,” I explain to my students, “I am also subject to tremors when I wonder how others will receive and perceive my writing. But my biggest phobia coils around one concern- finding the confidence in my skills and abilities to use my words to clearly reveal my thoughts.” After they hear that even their teacher has to squash some writing fears, they are willing to face theirs.

The key for all writers is to avoid Writing Phobia and not fall into the PITS.  Like Updike, Picoult and Nabokov, when they steer clear of this menace, their writing will blossom. 
Following this same thought, no matter the season, classrooms that are garden-fresh, blooming with crisp thinking and energetic writing fortified with vigorous thought will banish the PITS!

Thanks to Pamela Kranz-
Desktop Learning Adventures!
and Darlene Anne Curran- for this April-fresh Secondary Smorgasbord.

And a special thank you to Pamela for suggesting that I write about the PITS during a Facebook chat. Because of her encouragement, the PITS never chewed up and swallowed my words.

Check out What's Growin' in My Classroom garden.

Writing Warmup Activities: Creative Writing - Mental Stretches ($1.50)

Enjoy a Teach It Now Day, every day,

Monday, April 6, 2015

Three ELA Activities that Nurture Students' Writing Gardens

To paraphrase an old adage, "Spring has sprung, the grass is riz, it's time for students writing to fizz!" These three lessons, each with more than one activity, offer endless possibilities for middle and high school students to blow away the doldrums that entangled their brains during winter's dullness.

Writing: Write Right! Time for Spring Cleaning
In Writing: Write Right! Time for Spring Cleaning, students have the opportunity to

  • expel the roadblocks that stymie their chances for writing success before they can mine their hearts and minds for ideas where they can incorporate sensory imagery with the Writing Hang-Ups activity,
  • mine their hearts and minds for the ideas and the emotions that they want to express with the Airing Out Musty Memories activity, and to
  • choose the sensory imagery that will help them to accomplish their writing goal with Making Sense out of Scents.

Students may use these activities to sweep away the cobwebs that have clogged their creative endeavors.  Now, their analytic and creative writing pieces will blossom. As for these tasks where students had to spring clean their writing homes to erase fears, to find ideas and to allow the sense of smell to permeate their pieces? Consider them done.

Download these three Common Core and Bloom’s Taxonomy aligned activities that come with detailed Teacher Notes from  for $2.00.

Poetry Activity: April Excursions-Poetry in Motion
April, National Poetry Month, is the perfect time for teachers and students to take an excursion on the Lesson-Up Express.  Poetry Activity: April Excursions-Poetry in Motion offers two tickets:

Option 1- A Literary Connections Tour
This ticket offers students the chance to find poems, poets and lyrics that fit the themes of any novel or narrative non-fiction book that they are studying.  To complete this trip, students will work individually or in teacher-chosen groups to analyze a poem (teacher or student selected).  See the Teacher Notes for finding poems that connect with story themes.

Stops on this tour include:
A. Atmosphere Alley
B. Poetry Junction
C. Imagery Island
D. Theme Mountain
E.  Project Pass: On this final leg of this tour, students must prepare the final draft that includes the analytic results of each of their stops on the tour in a poster or in a travel brochure format.


Option 2- A Poetry Camp Trip
If students choose this ticket, they will create five original poems from the types written on the tree branches on the cover of this offering and/or types they choose with the teacher’s approval. After they have composed the poems, they will put them in a literary magazine that they created, and will illustrate  each one with original or found images.

Activity 3- Poetry Performance Buffet is Required
All students will present either the results of their Literary Connections Tour or two poems from their Poetry Camp Trip at the Poetry Performance Buffet at the end of the month. See the download for complete details on how to manage this aspect of the project.

This packet also includes Teacher Notes and is aligned with Common Core Standards and the Bloom's Taxonomy thinking skills.  The last page reveals tickets to the Poetry Performance Buffet.

With this packet, April will be the Coolest, not the cruelest month. Download it from for $3.00.

Reading Comprehension - Writing About Reading
Finally, to strengthen the roots of students' comprehension and writing skills, check out  Reading Comprehension - Writing About Reading.  Teachers can never have too many ideas for secondary students to explore when their brain isn't sparking any thoughts, or when we want them to write to a prompt.

This packet,Writing About Reading, offers teachers two new activities
1. Quotation Journals: What did the character say?  What did the character mean? (Note: this is terrific for nonfiction pieces as students can explore the author's point of view, tone, etc.), and
2. Writing Journal Topics (30 writing ideas).

As always, a Teacher Notes page details the Common Core Standards and Bloom's Taxonomy objectives that apply to this packet. Download it from for $2.00.

When students have the chance to read text, to write about it and then to speak about what they wrote, they will remember so much more about what they are studying. At the same time, they will add depth to their comprehension, writing and thinking skills.

These eight lessons which offer almost a complete 9-innings, coincide with another Spring rite-the start of Major League Baseball.  Teachers, here is your triple play! Have a powerful  teaching season.

Enjoy a Teach It Now day every day,