Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Trouble with Troublesome Words

Once upon a time, grading students essays led to many gray hairs sprouting from English teachers' heads. After all, they had to not only read the students thoughts, analyses and interpretations, but also critique the papers for sentence structure, grammar, word choice, spelling and punctuation. Headache-causing? Sometimes. but, ah, those were the good old days! teachers have to assess students' writing for all of the above and to see if Johnny and Jane will earn  proficient ratings on the state's standardized test as well as meet the teacher's Common Core benchmarks chosen for the assignment's objectives. A few gray hairs are minor compared to the stress overload teachers face today with calls for data that analyzes every assessment.

If only Johnny could give evidence for his assertions; if only Jane could remember to use end punctuation; if only Bubba could state his thoughts clearly, and, if only Zelda could figure out the correct usage for affect and effect, amount and number and emigrated and immigrated...just to name a few words that cause her trouble.

Compared to all the writing concerns racing through ELA teachers' minds, aren't these words that students confuse so often just a minor blip on the testing radar? Not really. Say Zelda was writing about mob mentality issues in  Arthur Miller's The Crucible on a standardized test and stated, "Abigail's antics effected the adults in the town as well as her friends to such an extent that the amount of her supporters grew with every allusion that she pretended to see."

Chances are, the erroneous use of effect, amount and allusion instead of affect, number and illusion would smack the writing scorer in the brain hard enough to leave a bruise. A headache would tag along with the contusion and both would raise an, "Oh oh, this student cannot write very well" red flag. From that point on, the reader would be looking to hone in on wrong word usage, blinding her to the analytic worthiness of the details that Zelda chose to support her assertion.

Teaching students to write right is difficult enough considering essay format and sentence structure alone. Helping students to learn the differences between troubling words like lie/lay, bring/take and discover/invent,  is an easy way to empower them to make correct word choices in their writing and lessen the chance of red flags. After mastering the meaning and usage of these troublesome words, minor issues won't become major markdowns on the writing score sheet-a boon instead of a bane for the student writers, the teachers and anyone stressed about AYP.

When teachers incorporate the material in the Troublesome Words PowerPoint that accompanies this blog, they will safeguard their students from minor red flags that could result in major unwanted attention in their students' writing.

The PowerPoint includes four word lists, each with a practice exercise and then a 30 point quiz for each list. The sixteen slides in this show review the usage of words such as affect/effect, lie/lay, further/farther and many more. This offering also contains an answer key for the practices and one for the quizzes.

Following each word list is a practice session. These exercises as well as the quizzes use the characters: Mrs. Hardcase, an English teacher, Dave Demittis (Demented Dave) the principal, and students: Bubba, Zelda and Bertha in a variety of escapades. They are the same characters that I created and use in my SAT Word Lists (also posted in my TpT store). Students have always enjoyed their teenage antics.

If you prefer not to use this product as a PowerPoint, print it off (using the Full-Page option) after you download it, so students have a hard copy to use for this word study..
You need these lessons to save your sanity when reading essays that use rise when the writers means raise, for example, and any time they mix-up these Troublesome Words.  Enjoy.

What are a few activities that you have for easily confused words like these? Share a few examples in the Comment box, please.

Best, $

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Students will write right with the Ten-Sentence Format

Should educators tweet, "Good Bye" to proper paragraphs? Since the onset of texting, are these backbones of formal and informal writing becoming an endangered specie? Do students need to reinforce their basic understanding of the elements of a good paragraph in order to write and develop more in-depth essays? Do students need to learn how to write about the literature that they are reading?

This Ten Sentence Format will address all of those questions (No, Yes, Yes, Yes). This resource is perfect for clarifying and reinforcing the parts of an essay, for using as an announced or unannounced quiz when teachers of students grades 6-12 wish to check reading and writing comprehension and for general writing practice or warm-ups.

It reviews and reinforces the basic structure of a paragraph: Introduction (Hook, Overview, Thesis Statement), Body (Main Idea, Supporting Details), and Conclusion (Concluding statement and last thought{I call this a Kicker, as the last statement should end with a bang and not a whimper}).

Once students master the concept and criteria for a paragraph, they can easily learn how to stretch their Main Idea paragraphs into more paragraphs to create an essay. The details that they used to develop their Main Ideas can morph into Main Ideas on their own, each with even more explanations, specifics, direct or indirect citations, facts, statistics or any other means that will clarify and develop their Thesis Statement. Students clearly see how this design reinforces, expands and organizes their knowledge and information into a comprehensive paper. 

Use this format frequently

  • to reinforce the elements of a paragraph,
  • to check reading comprehension any time you desire a prose explanation and not a bulleted list, and 
  • So students may address a topic by incorporating the elements of a proper paragraph.
The Ten-Sentence format is comprised of: 
  • 1 hook,
  • 1 introductory/overview sentence,
  • 1 thesis statement,
  • 3 main idea sentences-each with one supporting detail (3 Main Idea sentence + 3 supporting details =6 sentences, total)
  • 1 concluding statement.
Total: 10 sentences 

This format is excellent to use for a quick quiz, too, when you want to check the students' comprehension, when you planned to give an assessment but just didn't have the time to create one, or when students are not participating in the discussion and you want to check if they have read the assigned pages. The ten sentence format does not call for a mad dash to the copy machine to print off enough quizzes the next period class.  All teachers need to do is:
  1. Pick a topic -I usually used one of the questions on the study guide that accompanied the reading or created one to stem from the class discussion.
  2. Write the topic on the board or distribute one of the handouts to each student.
  3. Write the above bulleted points under the topic (only if you did not use the Ten-Sentence Format handout).
  4. Explain to the class what they are to do, and
  5. Set a time limit. Fifteen minutes should be enough time.
NOTE:   For these quizzes, leave out the Hook and Overview statement since they are required for essays but not paragraphs.

For paragraph writing practice and for quizzes, topics can stem from a teacher-chosen topic, the literature under study, class discussions, or the students' minds.  Here are a few ways to incorporate this writing design into daily class schedules  and already prepared lessons without adding a completely separate planning increment: 
  • Warm-up ideas
  • Quote journals
  • Essay choices,
  • Study questions
  • Class discussion point, or
  • for Closure.
This product forms a part of the Writing Module in my book, The House of Comprehension. I am offering it here as a Free Sample Lesson so you can see the quality of the material in The House of Comprehension, as well as how writing and reading comprehension mesh so easily under the Common Core Standards. Teachers who want to show their students how to build strong houses of comprehension can find 40 more activities in the book, most where they can use the Ten-Sentence Format.

Download this primary Freebie on
Besides the Teacher Notes page and the printable handout, the offering includes a sample answer from a student who did not follow the format, and another sample from a student who did follow the format.

What  are your go-to formats for teaching writing paragraphs?

Happy writing,

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

It's Elemental-Planning with the Rule of Three

Last October, I wrote a post, Tone Up Attention Span With Lesson plan Muscle.  My main focus was, The Rule of Three:

"Every lesson should include three major aspects: the lesson (presenting new concepts while building on learned knowledge/skills), an individual activity (check individual students’ grasp of the information) and some type of student-centered group activity (relating, collaborating, sharing understanding of the concepts, and their knowledge). Minor facets of every lesson should include a warm-up activity (settle down time) and closure. The latter are not separate entities but should be tied to the topics/concepts that center the major three portions of the lesson."

On days that the literature aspect of a lesson is the primary focus, it should be divided into the Rule of Three segments as detailed in the last paragraph and which can be re-stated as:Show Me, Help Me, Let Me.This trinity can be erased when some students really become involved in a literary discussion such as what John Proctor (The Crucible) meant when he cried out, "Leave me my name!" or why Meursault (The Stranger) was so cold about his mother's death. The key word here is some. Although animated discussions warm teachers' hearts, especially since it is often as difficult to pull verbal thoughts from our students as it is for a dentist to extract impacted wisdom teeth, we can't forget to notice those students whose interest was not ignited by the passionate exchange. We must pull them back into the learning fold by remembering that we chose various aspects to our lesson in order to reach every student.

The point is, we can't allow even the most avid enthusiasm to void our original plans and chance losing the attention spans any of our students. Don't we welcome eager responses to any facet of a lesson, be it a discussion, group work, or individual work? YES! Must we adhere strictly to the Rule of Three when gusto reigns? NO!  But we can alter its time frame.

Just because Bubba is staring out the window, his whole body language exuding total ennui doesn't mean that he is lost to learning. The aura of excitement still pervades the room. We  need to use this mood to lead our students into the next aspect of the lesson, the one that we planned to include in the first place. This shouldn't be a huge segue because all the parts of any lesson plan should flow together naturally, anyway. After all, any literature lesson is probably focusing on one of the elements and includes time to read and to think about what was read, to discuss, and to write.

We must welcome and rejoice in those times when our lessons stimulate students to be active participants in their learning. To keep these fires burning, though, and all of our students engaged, we must remember to rein in the excitement, to re-channel the zeal so it encompasses every student. The time increments of the Rule of Three aren't set in stone, but they do form a vital structure that must always include Show Me, Help Me and Let Me components.

Happy Teaching,

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Amplified Vocabulary Lessons: When Words Speak, Students Listen

Vocabulary study can be lackluster, unless the words speak to the students on some level. The following 31 activities will turn humdrum into curiosity, and this inquisitiveness will spark learning because these exercises allow students to hear the words' meanings and messages.  Although most of these activities are included in my Word Clouds ($) which corresponds with my product: ($), I have updated them and want to offer them to you for free so you can add them to your bag of teaching tricks.

Why do I say tricks? Because as any ELA teacher knows, without stratagems that allow the students to own the words that they study, the announcement of a vocabulary lesson can create an instant epidemic of eye-rolling, groaning and ennui. Besides, using these exercises fire up students to make these words a part of their life-long vocabularies instead of some definitions to learn for a test. Teachers can choose an exercise to focus on a needed area of comprehension, to accompany a literature-based or general writing assignment or to assign during a study of the parts of speech. The point is-encourage students to write these words, and to speak them, as often as possible.

With every list that they study, students will choose some words that really speak to them.  I remember falling in love with the word, ergo, during an SAT lesson in high school. Since then, it has become one of my favorite words, ergo, I use it often.  I love the sensory explosion of onomatopoeia, too. It caroms off the sides of my mouth like a handful of M&Ms do when they tease me to be patient while the outer layer melts into the rich center (Taste). Onomatopoeic words make writing whiz and whip across the paper. When I say it, I imagine how a xylophone would ping a note for every syllable (Hearing).

The point is, students will choose words to write and to speak that appeal to them on some personal level, too. And the more they include them in their pieces, the more likely they are to travel from the factual and dispassionate world of Denotation to the comfortable and individual country of Connotation. These words will morph from lists to study in school to vital components of their writing and speaking worlds outside of the classroom.

How you choose to use these lists depends on your students' grade levels, their thinking and writing skills and your time frame. I do suggest that you encourage them to use the words as often as possible when they speak and write, from the point they are introduced to the words on. This doesn't need to be time-consuming, but will smoothly fit into any class period.  Ask them to choose an exercise to complete during a 10-15 minute warm-up or for closure at the end of class. You could remind them to use any words during literature discussions, or offer extra credit for any completed exercise they can attach to their vocabulary test. Be sure to clarify a maximum number of points they can earn, though. An idea is 5 points for each test-1 per completed activity. Finally, entice students with one point for every word used in any expository or creative writing assignment assigned during a literature writing or research lesson. Just be sure to explain that you won’t add the points unless they underline or bold the words, and give a maximum number they can incorporate into the piece.

As you read through the list, you will note all of the other ways that you can empower students to make vocabulary study as integral to their lives as eating, texting and talking. Let the words live. Here are a few to whet your appetite:
 31 Vocabulary Enrichment Ideas:
Directions: Students- these exercises will help you to understand the meanings of the vocabulary words, so that they become a part of your writing and speaking lives. Note: when using the words in any of the writing assignments, you might have to change their spelling to show correct usage. This is especially important for nouns and verbs. Choose one whenever you have time to write in class, to help you understand the words and their usage for a test, or when the words urge you to write outside of school.

1. Work alone or with a partner to create a fill-in-the blank story along the lines of a Mad Lib. Earn one point for each word that is used correctly and that gives a clear context clue. If a word changes the part of speech (adj. to n., or adj. to adv., or if it changes its ending : verb), use the correct spelling.
2. For every word that you find in your reading (texts in any class-not just English, newspapers, recreational reading or websites),  copy the sentence where it is used, and underline the word.
3. Try to use the vocabulary words orally in class. If the teacher notices, you earn one extra credit point; if another student notices, each of you earn an extra credit point, and if no one notices and you have to mention it, you earn 2 points.
8. Write a song using a minimum of 7 words.
9. Create rhyming couplets using the words, one vocabulary word per line.
13. Create a haiku that uses a word and shows its meaning.
14. Start a short story using all of the words on the list.  Add to the story as you study the different lists.
15. Choose a headline of the day from a newspaper of your choice-online or hard copy (News, features, sports, or review) and write an article on the subject using at least 8 of the words.
19.  Use the idea/theme of a children’s story as a basis for an original story using all of the vocabulary words. Examples: The Three Bears, Snow White, Cinderella, or Strega Nona.
22. Show the meaning of a list of words through illustrations-your own or pictures that you've found in hard-copy or on the net.  Make them into a booklet. Hint: if you find the pictures on the Net, you can use a program like Publisher to create cool booklets with pictures.
31. Create your own exercise that invites your vocabulary words to live in your world.

Now,  print off this Freebie from,  and hand the list out to each of your students. She Ra, Queen of the Jungle might have gathered power from her Sword of Protection, but after completing these Amplified Vocabulary Lessons, your students will have the strength that only the power of words can give them.
What vocabulary ideas work for you? I would love it if you shared a few here.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Writing Right-Reeling in Readers

Writing Right- Reeling in Readers

Writing Right-Reeling in Readers
"Exhausted from a day spent with students, the majority of who displayed their impacted wisdom teeth mode during class discussions and feeling as if her head was clogged with cold oatmeal, Delaney plucked the first frayed red folder from her worn classroom carry-all. 'Oh, why did I have to pick fourth period first,' she said. A groan rolled from her throat as she leaned back and ground her fists into her eyes, her attempt to sting them into life.
'They hate to write and it shows.' She shuffled through the papers, skimming the first paragraph of a half dozen narrative essays discussing, 'My life-changing moment'.  The only writing most of her fourth period juniors cared about was texting.  For them, writing a complete sentence with properly spelled words and no texting abbreviations was almost impossible.  She yawned as she picked up her purple pen, 'I just wish they cared enough to hook my interest instead of putting me to sleep.'"
Does this scenario ring any bells? Okay, I might have exaggerated a tad. Compared to the fantastical stories my Teaching of English professors fed my peers and I, though, where soon we would be begging, “More, please,” when faced with mountainous stacks of perfect essays because all of our students loved to create word pictures and to write right, these paragraphs exude realism.
In this age of testing and data collection, ELA teachers are challenged to empower their students to proficiently follow an: Introduction (with a thesis)- Body (supporting material)-Conclusion (wrap-up and final thought) format. Various titles for each of these sections exist, but they all boil down to: Introduction-Body-Conclusion. 

What you don’t see mentioned in the various essay outlines is the word Hook. That’s usually saved for creative writing. Why? Don’t those who read essays, for work or recreation, deserve to be lured into writing, too? If we want our students to write pieces that we want to read, our lesson plans must include activities where students can practice writing Hooks.

I discuss this basic aspect of writing in my book, The House of Comprehension. Here is an excerpt from the book:
“If students are to write right, they need to learn to reel in their readers. One of the most important elements of writing is to engage the reader. Good writers know that they must snag readers with the first few sentences. If they don’t, chances are the piece will sink into oblivion. Think of the lead sentences as a fishing hook, and every word that forms each sentence as the bait. The hook has one main purpose: luring readers to the writer’s world.

Writing Right-Reeling in Readers
Readers are more apt to keep reading if the writer grabs their attention.

• Anecdote: relates an emotional or exciting part of a situation
The longer my fingertips wrapped themselves in the scarlet and gold cashmere scarf, the
more my desire for it mushroomed. I closed my eyes, visualizing my neck decorated like
October’s maple trees. My yearning blocked any common sense from my brain. “Just this
once,” I argued to myself as my hands edged the treasure toward my jacket pocket.
• Description of person, place or object: paints a word picture
At eleven o’clock every day, Maude hobbled to the wooden bench in the loneliest corner
of the park and slumped onto its splintery slats. After easing a wrinkled letter from its
envelope, she would study it again and again as tears dripped from her faded blue eyes
onto her tattered gray sweater.
• Example: Develops a specific instead of a general idea
Many factors can erode teenagers’ academic success. Among these are lack of sleep,
extra-curricular activities, and procrastination.
• Stance on an issue: clarifies the writer’s opinion on a controversial point
Any high school that chooses to delay the start of school by an hour or more might as
well have a funeral for interscholastic athletics.
• Startling fact or statement: to shock the readers
Four out of ten adolescent girls will be the victims of dating abuse.
• Question: this is an acceptable format, but is a very, very weak choice. The purpose of
writing is to answer the readers’ questions.
• Strong concrete nouns and adjectives: help create clear mental pictures. They destroy
haziness, erase questions, and incite emotional responses. The use of sensory imagery
(sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing) lures readers. Every sentence should contain at
least one sensory imagery appeal.
• Vivid verbs: Verbs are the backbone of writing. Without vivid verbs, writers’ words will
collapse. Verbs MUST combine the subject’s action plus his/her emotion while performing
this action.
Weak noun:
Concrete noun:
Weak adjective:
Strong adjective:
Weak verb:
Vivid verb:
Weak sentence:
The nice car drove into my driveway. It changed my life.
Strong sentence:
The sleek, red Ferrari roared into my driveway that golden
fall afternoon, destroying my shy-girl image forever.”
Whether our lesson plans are for elementary, middle school or high school students, we must snag our charges' interest and entice them to write by baiting our lesson plan hooks with a multitude of opportunities for them to own their writing because they are involved emotionally.

During a mini-lesson, allow them to practice writing the various types of hooks shown above while incorporating strong nouns and adjectives and vivid verbs. In a matter of minutes, they will experience AHA moments when they see that their writing will tantalize even the most reluctant reader when it flexes one of the types of Hooks along with vocabulary muscles.
Writing Right-Reeling in Readers
When and how do we do that considering the pressures to concentrate on the Introduction-Body-Conclusion? Here are a few ideas where students can practice baiting their writing hooks following the mini-lesson(s):
A. Warm-ups:
1. Let students choose a topic in the Reel in Readers With Magnetizing Hooks handout and give them 10 - 15 minutes to write a two to three sentence hook.
2.  Have them turn clich├ęd expression into fresh similes or metaphors: examples: This sandwich is as dry as dust; The actor/actress was not the sharpest crayon in the box, or The ballerina was as pretty as a picture.
3. Write one sentence each for something heard, seen, smelled, tasted or touched, making sure that the reader mentally experiences  that sense.
B.  Write Now Moments:
1. Hand out the Reel in Readers With Magnetizing Hooks activity. Have the students choose a topic to develop: for a Warm-up, during the time after they finish an assessment but while their peers are still testing, or any time you have a few minutes to fill-like at the end of a period.
2. For each response, let students choose the type of writing: fiction, narrative nonfiction, personal essay, descriptive piece, expository essay, newspaper story, etc.
When students know how to reel in their readers, they will make their teachers exclaim, “More, please,” because they will be hooked by the introduction. They will capture the interest of the people who rate standardized test writing responses, and, most importantly, they will embrace writing because they are Writing Right.

For some terrific articles on teaching kids to love writing and loving what they write, check out the blog:

Happy Teaching,

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Oh, What a Character!

Oh, What a Character!

 Character, one of the seven elements of literature, is probably, the heart of their comprehension. After all, without some sort of entity-human, animal or a living being of some sort- would  a story even exist? Oh, a setting can exist, and certainly an author could create a tone and present a point of view, but what would create the conflict or symbols or theme?
Oh, What a Character!
Let's talk about Characters. When considering how to develop students' comprehension structures,

A story is not a, "Which came first-the chicken or the egg?" dilemma. If pages of words are to capture readers' minds and hearts, a Character must be born so it can breathe life into the setting and give a starting point for a Conflict, which leads to any symbols and themes. The author's tone and point of view create word pictures from these five elements. Aha! Now, we have a story, folks, and one with a solid structure.

Because we are readers as well as teachers, we know, though, that a character can be as flat and depthless as the piece of paper where it is first named, or as round as a soccer ball, with so many sides that few people, if any, ever see all the aspects of this being.

This character might be static, offering distinct physical, emotional and mental traits, but is someone who always remains the same, like the Big Bad Wolf (The Three Pigs), Tiny Tim (A Christmas Carol), Voldemort (the Harry Potter books), or Mollie, the white horse (Animal Farm).

Then again, the character might be dynamic, a being who shows emotional, mental and philosophical growth from throughout the story. Physical growth could occur, too, but this usually just happens without any choice. The other types of growth involve a personal choice due to circumstances and situations the person endures, or something they learn or realize as they move through their lives. The Protagonist and Antagonist must always be Dynamic characters if the story is to be multi-layered and keep the reader's interest.

A number of the secondary characters should change, too. In fact, sometimes these secondary characters seem more dynamic than the leads. Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet comes to mind.  Shakespeare had to make a "worm's feast" of this man because he was so vibrant that he well could have overshadowed his less flamboyant sidekick, Romeo.

We help students understand the Characters, primary or secondary, by teaching them that the author shows these people:
A. through what he/she says about them,
B. by what other say and think about them, and
C. by what they say, think and do.

Still, our students often have a difficult time understanding the inner person because the superficial dominates their media-driven world. We must help them to employ their critical, and analytic higher-level thinking skills so they can see below the surface to the richer, deeper person who lies under their skin, behind their public faces and in their souls.

This Freebie activity, What a Character, offers students a variety of ways to explore a character, to ferret out the inner person so this being becomes three-dimensional. Only some of the choices students will make will be plucked from the words the author wrote. Students will have to dig into the sub-text, to look behind what the character says and does and what others relate about this person to fill in the blanks. Their answers will be opinions, but they must be able to defend and justify them with the words and intentions that the author presented.

To meet any teaching needs, I preface the three-page activity with a Teacher Notes page that includes the Common Core Standards and Bloom's Taxonomy points that are addressed in this activity as well as the Who, What, When , Why and How aspects you need to teach this lesson.

Download this FREE product from

Happy Teaching,

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Creative classrooms Rule!

From My Side of the Desk
Creative classrooms Rule!
Creativity can be found in, well, in the most creative places. The other day I was surfing through my Homepage and came across this teaser headline from, “9 Strange Things Thieves Steal.” Because a shelf of this detergent was the first picture I saw, I expected a joke about a super-hip plexi-glass table top supported by Tide containers perched in a $5.3 million dollar Tribeca loft on an episode of Selling New York. I clicked on the link (

Much to my utter shock, Tide is considered liquid gold ( by in-the-know shoplifters who burn rubber racing their shopping carts out of stores with gallons and gallons of this detergent which they sell all over this country and overseas! My first response was, “What? Tide fanatics can’t buy their own jug at a cheaper rate on sale, with a coupon, at a discount store? The rest of the list was equally outrageous. Check out these Filchers’ Favs detailed in the Money article:

1. Tide
2. Chicken wings
3. Human hair
4. Gold teeth
5. Hay
6. Driveways (those with brick, stone and decorative concrete pavers)
7. Pure maple syrup
8. Cloth napkins (from restaurants)
9. Truck tailgates
After reading this list which, unfortunately, offered very few reasons why these items made thieves salivate in the paragraph accompanying each picture, my second thought, which obliterated the first, was, “How did we teachers miss harnessing that off-the-charts creativity for the betterment of humankind?”

Simply put, teachers can’t teach absentee students. The juvenile delinquents serving a minimum of 6-9 months in a reform school where I taught were quick to inform me that they were, “too cool for school.” Learning how to read and write, two basic life skills, didn’t even earn a place on their My Goals wish lists. Quick money, cool clothes, and eye-turning wheels won them the social respect that they yearned for, not a diploma or a Proficient rating on a standardized test.
Too many students still reiterate this “too cool for school” philosophy. Instructors fully grasp the fact that their number one task is to give these kids a reason to wake up and drag themselves into their classrooms. Only then can teachers lure them into learning
and away from the call of the streets. School administrators and those people they answer to need to comprehend that only hooking students’ minds and curiosity will accomplish this first step to learning, something a proficient score on a state test will never, ever do.

Teachers already have the bait:
1. Engaging lessons that offer students chance after chance after chance to answer the question, “For what reason was I born?” that all young people feel at one time or another,
2. Welcoming and safe environments,
3. Adults who truly care about them, and
4. Peers who will motivate them to value their golden minds and abilities over the quick buck for a sold on the black market, stolen gold watch.

Teachers must be allowed to inspire their charges with the stories of Odysseus (The Odyssey Homer), the three doctors, Sampson Davis, George Jenkins and Rameck Hunt, whose lives are detailed in their book, The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise and Fulfill a Dream and which lead to their foundation with the “mission to inspire and motivate youth through education,” (, and Scout (To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee) who realized that good can come from some people deemed unworthy by society and malevolence from others those same people esteem.

Lessons showing why a Mentos will make a bottle of Coke overflow, how geometry can lead to a career as the next Top Design Star, and why the undesirable blasts from the past are bound to repeat themselves if their historical relevance isn’t understood will hook students. When teachers are able to concentrate on what to present to their charges and how to do this instead of on the data they are told is more important, they will hook students into becoming life-long learners.

Teaching that engages, inspires and stimulates young minds and hearts will show students that they are not alone in their quest for a meaningful life, one where dreams can come true. Practice exams and insisting that teachers focus on the material on a test instead of on ways to open students’ minds so they can reason, analyze and synthesize what they learn will never, ever keep classroom seats full and halls echoing with academic enthusiasm.

Combining students’ knowledge from history, science, math, business classes and each and every course offering with the time to express their thoughts, ideas, feelings and aspirations in writing will arouse these AWOL (Absent Without Learning) kids to invent the next super-selling but economically-priced detergent, a locking tailgate or inexpensive but natural-looking synthetic hair instead of wanting to steal them. Oh, and this type of teaching will insure Proficient ratings, too.

Wouldn’t you rather read a story about how Bubba, who sat in the back of the class staring out the window, figured out how to harness solar power cheaply enough for every person to afford in their homes and cars and think, “Wow! Some teacher harnessed his off-the-charts creativity for the betterment of humankind,” than to sigh sadly because he was caught stealing two flats of chicken wings worth over $65,000.00?

I sure would.