Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What's the Idea?

What's the Idea? cover
Texts that are difficult to understand can turn off students to reading and analyzing the fictional and non-fictional pieces that they study in school. They need to push aside their comprehension fear factors and turn their, "I don't understand this; it's too hard," frowns into, "Wow! Now I get it," smiles. 

They can accomplish this by practicing to deconstruct complicated texts so that they can understand them, and, subsequently, the whole piece. In this free activity, students will select a passage that they find difficult to understand.

Teachers will divide the students into groups of four; each person will share his/her confusing passage with the other three group members. The students will read and revise their group members' passages for clarity.

When their original papers are returned, they will choose the revision that they feel best clarifies the passage, and will discuss, in writing, how/why the revision accomplishes this. Finally they will analyze the meaning of the original passage and explain its importance to the whole piece.

Teachers can use this activity again and again to check the development of their students’ comprehension as well as how they utilize their higher level thinking skills orally and in writing.
“What’s the Idea?” reduces students’ fear factor when they read challenging fiction and non-fiction. This Freebie is aligned with Common Core Standards and Bloom’s Taxonomy, and includes a detailed “Teachers’ Notes” page.

Download this free activity from and say, "Good bye," to reluctant readers. Your students will be fist pumping to, "I read it, I thought about it, I wrote about it and now I get it! YES!"

Happy Teaching,

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Means Should Justify the Ends

Instead of a Lesson Idea this morning, I thought that I' share a few thoughts From My Side of the Desk.

When they are growing up, children hear the adage, “Cheaters Never Win,” echoed from homes, the classrooms, places of worship, and seemingly every mountain top and television set. Each time this adage is reiterated, they nod seriously as if they had never, ever before heard this warning, and share eye rolls with each other while they mouth the words, “Yes they do.” 

From the moment that they learn right from wrong,
·         Children see Aunt Judy, who was instructed by her cardiologist to lose 45 pounds, sneaking that piece of pecan pie she just said, “No,” to at dinner.
·         In the living room, they hear Grandpa Bob chortling about how he just happened to hear the hush hush rumor that XYZ Inc. was ousting their ineffective CEO for the dynamo of Awesome Tech a few days before this news was made public. “I sold the mega-shares of stock I purchased at $11.75 as soon as I got home that afternoon. The price skyrocketed into the three digit range after Super CEO’s first quarter earnings soared and I made a killing.”
·         They see Mom out by the garbage can sneaking a few puffs from that pack of Marlboros  she hid in August when she threw out the  six remaining packs in the carton because she was going to, “… quit for good this time.”
·         They hear their cousins whispering about their football coach who has ‘a guy’ that figured out how to hack into the opposing coach’s headsets during the games so he could hear their planned plays.
·         Through the Internet, social media, newspapers and magazines, they hear and read about celebrity’s cheating hearts, athletes denials about using performance enhancing drugs, illegal drugs, or having prescription addictions, politicians blustering about not accepting gifts from campaign contributors, and school administrators renouncing allegations  that someone(s) at their school changed grades on tests, college admission grades or students’ quarterly grades.
·         They know that Harry writes the definitions to the week’s vocabulary words on a two inch square piece of paper that he sticks to the bottom of his left shoe with packing tape at lunch the day of the quiz, and that
·         Jack was never kicked off the football team, even though all the kids in his junior English class know that Jill wrote every one of his essays (then and now) so he would remain academically eligible his senior year.
·         As for Jill, everyone in hearing range of booming voice knows that she never volunteered at a near-by assisted living home which she wrote so poignantly about in her personal essay for her college application. “Ewue,” she had pronounced repeatedly after her first and only five-minute visit, “It smelled like old people.” The Ivy League college that accepted her never checked.
And so it goes.

Even though they might not understand what Grandpa Bob was talking about or what difference it makes if
some athlete took some ‘vitamins’ to bulk up, they know in their hearts, minds and souls that these actions are wrong, wrong, wrong.  Time and time again, the lessons in their social studies books have revealed the downfalls, disgraces and deaths of many despots who allowed their greed and lust for power to lead them down the End Justifies the Means Road, but see history repeating itself month after month after month.
 And when they question the rightness of any of the above situations, they are told, “You don’t understand the whole situation,”  “It’s complicated,” or, “Oh, goodness, that isn’t any business of ours.” The message is clear- it doesn’t matter how you get to the top of the finance, fame and fortune mountain… just get there.

And so it goes.

Why people act shocked when they hear stories about a cheating scandal in any walk of life is beyond my understanding.  After all, duplicitous deeds have been attached to the underbelly of life, and edging their way into the world’s common knowledge sector since Oog borrowed Moog’s wheel concept idea, smoothed out the rough edges and sold it for millions of Magnon Money and a penthouse cave. Outrage at each new immoral action fuels these stories until it turns to ash and is brushed aside, awaiting the next incident. 

And so it goes.

Instead of wasting the ink and air space on the Whats, we should search out the Whys.  Haven’t researchers done that for many diseases which have been eradicated, such as smallpox and measles? And although progress has been made for lessening the terminal rate of many cancers, scientists are expending their knowledge and energies on finding even more cures instead of questioning its horrific existence.

Can’t we relegate cheating stories to the small print back pages, instead of feigning shock at bold, black headlines that scream about the newest nefarious escapade? We should demand that cheaters show responsibility for their actions and pay their dues. Organizations that stand to lose financial gain, fame and fortune due to these nefarious conducts should accept this reality, too, as should their fan base.

If sports teams are fined for the illegal actions of players and this leads to publicity that could cost the organization millions of dollars in revenue… so be it.

If schools face not making AYP, and need to expend their time and energy turning students into lifelong learners instead of mere test takers… so be it.

If applicants for colleges, jobs, and top secret clearances are denied acceptance because of deception, deceit or fraud…so be it.

We need to quit excusing those who think that they can buck the system but still retain their glow in the public eye, and demand that they pay the consequences for all immoral and illegal actions.
We need to be willing to see our teams lose, our idols fall off their pedestals, and our schools-from kindergarten through college-face up to uncomfortable situations when students or employees ignore the Honor Code.
We need to teach our children that their school work is their responsibility-that grades lower than perfect are acceptable as long as they honestly tried their very best, and that making the team, the cast, the class presidency or the Honor Roll is something to be earned and not achieved by stepping on their peers, bullying or spreading rumors.

We need to love and accept our children for who they are personally, academically and socially, even if…especially if they don’t measure up to our hopes and dreams, or the accomplishments of the children of our neighbors, family, work colleagues, or anyone else.

We need to do the same for ourselves.

The means should always justify the ends.

Thanks for stopping by. Until next week,
Happy Teaching.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Oh, for the Love of Words!

Oh, for the Love of Words!
Last night, (9/9/2013) I found myself thinking about the “Vocabulary Words: Twelve Months of Lists” ( product that I had posted in my TpT store that afternoon, and I realized that I needed to explain why I chose only 20 words for each month’s list. Some teachers might desire 20 words per week, after all.

When I was in the classroom, I would sometimes give students a Word of the Day in lieu of a weekly vocabulary list. That is how I created the original twelve word lists. Here are 12 more! As before, each list is composed of 20 words with definitions and their parts of speech. After a while, I, too, wanted to offer students Bi-weekly lists; that’s how all 24 lists came into existence. On a roll, the next year I added  my 32 lists (15 words each list) to the original 24. These 32 lists compose my
“Vocabulary SAT Word Lists and Quizzes.”  ( and you have 56 weeks of words. That is 960 words!

The thirty writing ideas included in yesterday’s TpT posting ( work with these list, too, of course. As I mentioned, these ideas have been utilized in other blogs of mine, too, such as:
More ideas for helping students make these words an active part of their speaking and writing repertoires can be found on:, and my latest post featuring vocabulary ideas:
If you are interested I have created word clouds for each of the “Vocabulary SAT Word Lists and Quizzes (480 words)” (

Now you can challenge your  students to add to their vocabulary knowledge weekly, bi-weekly or
Oh, for the Love of Words!

Yes, my activities have usually been FREE and these 24 word lists aren't. That's because choosing 480 words, narrowing their definitions to fit onto a table that takes up half a page yet still make sense is time-consuming for me, as I am still in the technology learning stages. As always, my goal is to make your planning and teaching lives less stressful with my classroom tested, tweaked activities.  Rest assured that the vast majority of my posts here will include FREE ACTIVITIES..


Happy Teaching,

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Wordle Me This

Facebook Wordle Cover
When I sat down to create an ELA activity an hour ago, too many general ideas bounced around my brain. Since I couldn’t lasso one, I decided to straighten out my work space instead. My hope was that while I was reading through endless sticky notes decorated with words but no explanations as to why I wrote them down, an idea would gel.
As I sorted them into Blog Ideas, Lesson Ideas, To Do Lists-personal and marketing for my book, Decorating Links- we’re building a home- and Huh?, my thoughts kept returning to a purple sticky note with the words, “Wordle, WORD ART-Lesson Plans?”.  Last spring I created cover art for my Facebook curriculum page,, so I was familiar with this fun program, but what did I mean about “WORD ART-Lesson Plans?”?

from "Jabberwocky" (Lewis Carroll)
Intrigued and hoping to jog my memory cells into Clarity Mode, I Googled “Wordle” and chose their URL, Ah, yes, that was the program that I used. Still, no clarity wooshed away my mental fog, so I scrolled down five entries to, “Wordle - educational uses - LiveBinderand clicked on

“O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” (Jabberwocky  Lewis Carroll), I cried when I landed on the page that brought joy to my teacher heart. Topic links such as, Ways in Class, Wordle in Class, Wordle Ideas, Hamlet Example and much more, kick-started my brain into Idea Mode.
As I read through the slides in the linkO frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”:, the processor in my brain began to spit out ideas.  Were they the reasons behind my cryptic sticky note in the first place?  I have no idea. All I knew was that I wanted to share my Wordle Ideas with my ELA colleagues, even though those of you still teaching probably know all about the benefits of Wordle activities already.
Here are four Wordle Me This ideas for Reading Comprehension to add to your Lesson Idea Files.
Reading Comprehension:
1.  Non-fiction: Have students read a non-fiction article. Teacher Kelly Gallagher’s site, is a great resource for articles. Every week, he assigns his students to read one article (check his Article of the Week Archive) and respond in writing.  He offers topics at the end of each article for students who can’t think of one of their own. If you do not have computers in the classroom, you will need to download and copy off one each of 25-30 articles of your choice to keep in a folder. Initially, this is a bit of work, but each student will now have 25 choices.  Add a few a week, and, “Voila!” before you can say, Kelly Gallagher three times…fast, you will have a year’s worth of articles.
A. Direct each student to create a word list of 25-30 words and phrases from the article that he/she read, revealing  the Thesis and three Main Ideas.
B. In Class- on a piece of copy paper, instruct the students to create a hand-written Wordle using colored pencils or markers (thin-line markers work best). They can emphasize some words by size, all capitals, color and placement. The final products must be neat and look professional.
C. Homework- instruct students to follow the directions under 1B but to create their Wordle from the Wordle, Taxedo or any word cloud generators. Here is a list:
D. Each word cloud must include the article citation at the bottom of the paper (in MLS format- not a word cloud).
E.  The next class day, collect the finished word clouds. Give each student one (not his/her own. Explain that on the back of the word cloud paper, they are to write: the Thesis statement for the article and the three Main Ideas, using the word cloud to focus their thoughts.  When they are finished, they are to read the actual article- this is where the article citation is necessary- and to write the author’s Thesis Statement and three Main Ideas.  Lastly, they are to write a paragraph comparing their choices for these non-fiction components with the author’s.
2. Non-fiction: Follow the same directions for Reading Comprehension #1, but choose an article from the anthology for your grade level, or let students choose one from the local or school newspaper.
3. Poetry: Copy and download short poems (Haiku, Cinquain, Limerick, Clerihew, Epigram, etc.). Like with the articles, you can copy and download these throughout the year to add to the Word Cloud Poem folder. Give one to each student and have each one follow the directions for 1.B and C. For 1.D, the students must include the poem’s title and the poet as well as the poem format. Also, they must turn in a second sheet with the title, poet and complete poem. For 1.E, students must create a poem, following the same format as the original poem, using all of the terms/phrases included in the word cloud. Lastly, they will write a paragraph comparing the effectiveness of their poem with the original.
4. Fiction: As a review of a short story or novel,  assign each student one of the elements of literature (character(s), setting, plot/conflict( Type- character vs. the supernatural, character vs. Self, etc.), symbols, theme, point of view and tone), or one of the points from the Plot Chart (Exposition, Inciting Moment , Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution).
A. Direct the students to choose 25-30 words and phrases that highlight the important aspects of their topic. These can be facts or interpretations; if the latter, the student creating the word cloud must be able to support his/her choices with examples from the text.
B. Follow the same directions as in 1. B
C. Follow the same directions as in 1. C
D. Each word cloud must include the piece’s title and author as well as the assigned topic, i.e. Snowball (Animal Farm George Orwell) or Theme: Corruption of Ideals (Animal Farm George Orwell). Below: Animal Farm character word cloud (

E. Individual Work: Follow the directions for 1.E, but direct students to cite an example for a required number of words (10, 15, all) depending on the skills and abilities of the class.  These answers should be in phrase form.
F. Group Work (One-Day Review): Divide the students into pairs. Give each duo one of the element of literature or Plot Chart topics and have them cite examples. (Two-Day Review): Cover the Elements of Literature one day and the Plot Chart points the next day. Divide students into groups of 3-4 and direct them to cite an example for each of the words/phrases in the word cloud.

You can include a Speaking and Listening component by having individuals, pairs or groups present their examples and answers to the word clouds.

 Note 1: Be sure to collect all articles and poems that you copied and downloaded for continued use throughout the year.

 Note 2: I used Tagxedo ( as Java was acting ornery when I tried to use Wordle.

 Note 3: Remind students that although some words may be used more than once on a word cloud, they are to choose words they will explain only once.

 Be sure to come back on Tuesday, September 9th, for A Wordle Me This Redux list of “Ideas for Grammar, Vocabulary and Writing.”

Happy Teaching,

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Activities for Analyzing Character: Getting to Know Them...Getting to Know Me

It's the first few days of school and you have
    Activities for Analyzing Character: Getting to Know Them...Getting to Know Me cover
  • Reviewed your syllabus
  • Explained and discussed the school's and your classroom rules
  • Assessed students' writing as a jumping off point to empower your charges to develop their skills and abilities
  • Assessed students' comprehension levels so you can decide what elements of literature to use a focal points and activities in your lessons
  • Handed out forms parents need to sign and collected the completed items
  • Enjoyed a few ice breaker lessons, and
  • Attended a variety of department, PLC and whole faculty meetings.
It's Good to be Me...It's Good to be You Activity
Now you need some activities. These engaging printables will hook students into reading and writing about the first text that they will study. The two activities will check off two of your, "Need to Do" boxes. Not only will they 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 publically.

Also, these FREE activities fulfill two objectives on most lesson plans- they will jump start students' higher level thinking skills and also give them the chance to exhibit their thinking in their writing.

Young people love to talk about their lives and to offer what they choose about themselves.  Here is their chance to do so while they are analyzing literature.

Friend or Foe Activity
This product is aligned with Common Core Standards and Bloom's Taxonomy:
Reading: R1, 3, 10
Writing: W1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 10
Speaking and Listening: SL 3, 4,
Language: L 1, 2, 6
Bloom’s Taxonomy
• Remember/Understand: describe, discuss, explain, identify, observe
• Apply: illustrate, compose
• Analyze: infer, differentiate, examine, distinguish, determine, deduce
• Evaluate: conclude, discuss, verify, support, select, give your opinion, justify
• Create: hypothesize, imagine, compose
Download this product from:

Happy Teaching,

Monday, September 2, 2013

There’s a whole lotta tingling going on

Back to School
The first of every August the tingling phenomenon begins, and by the Tuesday after Labor Day it has spread to virtually every state, every home and every school district. This Anticipation Occurrence is the result of the First Day of School, and it affects adults and children in direct proportion to their connection with K-12 academia-public or private.  (College, offering a singular anticipatory outbreak in a league of its own, is not addressed in this post).

Teachers question if the lesson plans they created over the summer-or tweaked and revised from last year- will inspire, engage and motivate their students. They speculate whether administrators will return their autonomy or will continue to demand paperwork that has everything to do with data-collecting but nothing to do with teaching and learning. Their anxiety nibbles at their eagerness by teasing their minds with mental images of children who prefer punching the Apathetic, Off-Task and Oppositional Negativity Classroom buttons instead of the Enthusiastic, animated and passionate Positive Classroom buttons.

Parents fret whether Jack and Jill will march up that academic hill with a desire to learn how to read, write, compute, and think-orally and in writing-and a determination to prepare themselves for the world outside of school. They speculate whether their children’s teachers have the passion, the dedication and the stamina to teach reading, writing, computing and thinking-orally and in writing and to prepare their students for the world outside of the K-12 halls. They hope that their children will choose friends worthy of them instead of being lured by the fools’ gold friendships for popularity’s sake alone and that Jack’s and Jill’s school year will not be plagued by painful social encounters of the mean, petty and heartbreaking kind.

Students hope that the anticipation they hold right at this moment- a willingness, a readiness, and an excitement- to be the best that they can be academically, socially and in extra-curricular arenas- is on a level that they can sustain over the next nine and a half months.  They worry whether their relationships-familial, social and academic-will match their dreams and, if so, whether these associations will withstand the rigors and stress the year will most assuredly dump in their laps. Mostly, they wonder if they will be liked, accepted and treasured, even if they act like they wouldn’t waste a Tweet over these concerns.

A three-part therapy does exist that will alleviate this Anticipation Occurrence for all who encounter it.  From years of experience as a teacher, parent and student-and now as the Nanda (grandmother) of two girls-a first and fourth grader, I know nothing will totally relieve the tingling. Used as needed and in doses that fit the level of anticipatory suspense, though, this treatment will keep the mind itches manageable.
  1. Don’t allow anticipation to mushroom into apprehension.  As my mother used to say, “Worrying won’t solve anything. Don’t dwell in the land of displeasure.” Although I knew that she was right, I also accepted the fact that I was a born fidgeter.  My mind would hone in on an exciting upcoming event and worry it into an obstruction instead of an opportunity.  Although it has taken me decades to own the adage that so many of my family and friends accepted so effortlessly- Don’t worry about things you can’t control- I am in recovery mode. Each day I remind myself that anticipation enhances my life with momentum which is ultimately much more agreeable than stagnation. I have learned how to truly enjoy the tingle of anticipation.
  2. Make sure that any lines of communication form a multi-lane highway. Literature, movies and musical
    Parent and Teacher Conference
    lyrics abound with stories that show how the lack of communication leads to tragedy.
      Yes, talking with others can cause anxiety because we worry about whether they will respond to our concerns with acceptance, empathy and caring or with indifference, anger or any other hurtful emotion.  “Maybe it’s best if I keep this to myself,” we often tell ourselves. This is an understandable reaction if we fear that those we need to talk with will be too busy talking at us instead of with us, will be prone to lecturing and not listening, or will not be open to any side of the story except theirs. But, we will never know unless we try. And believe me- discussing my trepidations about life and relationships with those in my worlds-the private and the public-has often been difficult, and occasionally traumatic, but the result has always been worth the efforts-on all of our parts. Knowing is half the battle (thank you, G.I Joe).
  3. Accept yourself-this includes your weaknesses as well as your strengths. You wouldn’t be who you are without both of these traits. Besides, if you don’t like what you deem as your flaws, use your attributes to turn them into pluses that you are happy to acknowledge.
  • Teachers, if you try to teach in a way that doesn’t reflect your style, objectives and your personality- you will be unhappy and probably ineffective.
  • Parents, if you try to parent like Aunt Mildred tells you to, or the way  that mom and dad up the street does instead of following your values, beliefs and the methods that you most emulate, you will be unhappy and probably ineffective.
  • Students, if you choose to dress, talk, act, or adhere to the likes and dislikes of those you hope will include you in their group or whose expectations of and for you differ from those in your heart and mind, you will be unhappy and probably ineffective.

 All people need to strive to be the best they want to be, not what others think is the best for them.

I love the Anticipation Occurrences August ushers into my life, and the first Tuesday after Labor Day will always be a more meaningful New Year to me than January 1st. All of the other months make me tingle with the anticipation of events out of my Routine Realm, also. 

Just like that elderly lady sitting on the bench in a long ago commercial said, and who  I’ve quoted before, “Every day I have the choice to be happy or sad; I choose to be happy, ” every day I choose to embrace the whole lotta tingling and even the itching going on in my life.  Why? Because they make it worth living.

Until next week,