Friday, September 22, 2017

ALA's Banned Book Week ignites oral and written conversations

ALA 2017 Banned Books Week poster
This Sunday, September 24th,  begins the American Library Association's week-long celebration of the "Right to Read."They are focusing this year's celebration on the First Amendment, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances," (

This is a perfect time for students to explore their right to read what they want, when they want. They are shocked when they hear that some schools ban fairy tales written by the Grimm brothers such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (violence and sexual innuendo-Snow White lives with seven men), and Little Red Riding Hood (violence and alcohol infractions-underaged Little Red carries wine to her Grandmother). Then their attention is hooked when they find out that they have probably read at least one banned book since they started their formal education, and more than that through their independent reading.

In many elementary, middle, and high schools, teachers are often required to offer a second "safe" book when a controversial fiction or nonfiction book will be taught. Some do so just to keep possible challenges at bay. I remember being shocked when I found out that a parent of a student at a magnet school for only extremely high achieving high school students challenged the teaching of Ken Follett's, Pillars of the Earth. Her upset began at the start of the book when a number of medieval men and women were traveling between towns on foot and one of the women stopped along the side of the road to give birth. She felt this description was too graphic for her high school senior involved in the study of geriatric illnesses.  In support of the right for teachers and administrators to choose what books their charges will study, many high schools in the same district started "We Read Banned Book" clubs for staff and students at their schools.

This list of the "Ten Most Commonly Banned Books" on the Butler University site ( would decimate many middle and high school English program of studies if a person or group chose to challenge their inclusion in the district's students education. 

  1.  1984 (George Orwell)
  2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)
  3. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
  4. The Color Purple (Alice Walker)
  5. The Great Gatsby (F.Scott Fitzgerald)
  6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou)
  7. Lord of the Flies (William Golding)
  8. Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck)
  9. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Ken Kesey)
  10. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
Although many books are challenged by a person or group, not all of these are restricted in some form, such as not permitted in the school library or kept to specific grade levels, nor do they end up being banned-not allowed in school libraries or programs of study.

Writing Activity - Banned Books Research Project cover
My product, "Writing Activity - Banned Books Research Project," gives students the chance to choose a banned book to read-with parental permission- and to research the reason(s) it has been banned.  Students will explore various facets of book censorship in schools to become more proficient in their reading, critical thinking and writing skills. Whether they choose to investigate the legal, historical, moral or societal aspects of this issue is up to each individual student and his/her personal interest in this topic. In order to illustrate the points for book censorship in the schools, students will read a frequently banned or challenged novel, either from the included list, or a choice of their own. Next, they will research when, where and why it was challenged or banned.  In the last part of the paper, each student will develop his/her opinion on whether the book should be banned or restricted, using points from the paper to support his/her conclusion. 

Here is a student project and five websites for teachers to use to plan their introductory discussion. Students will not only find the sites informative for their research, but will also uncover other links that will aid them in their investigation. Besides Teacher Notes, this packet offers a Permission Slip form students must get signed for the book they will read and research, specific project requirements for students, a list of 60 commonly banned books, and much more. Here is the link: $3.00

Banned Books links:

Students love to argue their viewpoint about the unfairness of restrictions- and they almost always find some aspect of a limitation unfair. This project 
Shows them how to research and support an argument by exploring the fundamental right to read, Helps them to determine the best places to find the reasoning behind Pro and Con challenged book arguments, and 
Lets them create and defend their opinions with logic and facts. 

After completing this project, they will  look at the books they read for class or for personal enjoyment with a clearer understanding of the controversy surrounding book banning.

Enjoy a Teach It Now Day Every Day.


Friday, September 15, 2017

8 thinking, writing and discussing activities to hook students

8 thinking, writing and discussing activities to hook students

Educators know that they must bait their students' brains with activities that will lure their charges into picking up their pens, pencils, or computers, and turning on their minds. Here are 8 activities-4 Free and 4 Priced- that will snag students' attention and empower them to become life-long thinkers, writers and learners.

Teaching Tip: offer one of these activities for students to dig into while you take attendance. Save the  explanation of the day's agenda until after you have baited their brains with a fun and subtle writing and critical thinking activity.

Language Arts Comprehension Check: Ten Sentence Format

Language Arts Comprehension Check: Ten Sentence Format coverLanguage Arts Comprehension Check: Ten Sentence Format example
NOTE: This freebie is NOT an activity, but an invaluable teaching tool. Students should use it for any expository writing piece- from a warm-up to a complete essay, to a short answer response on a quiz or a test.

This Ten Sentence Format reinforces students' basic understanding of the elements of a good paragraph while they practice writing about literature. It also empowers them to write and develop more in-depth essays since they can expand the format to meet any length requirements by adding more body paragraphs. Perfect for clarifying and reinforcing the parts of an essay, teachers may also use it for an announced or unannounced quiz when they wish to check reading and writing comprehension, and for general writing practice or warm-ups.

 The House of Comprehension EBook
The House of Comprehension EBook cover
(Note:The Ten-Sentence Format is a part of the Writing Module of my teacher resource, The House of Comprehension
You can check out the book here: $ The House of Comprehension is a resource for ELA teachers in grades 6-9, written to address their efforts to help students comprehend structure in literature. The program presented in this teacher resource offers educators a complete solution -from Planning to Teaching through Assessment - that shows students how each element of literature works with the others to form a solid literary structure. By following this Show Me, Help Me, Let Me program, teachers facilitate their students' understanding of any text.

Comprehension - It's Good to be Me...It's Good to be You
Comprehension - It's Good to be Me...It's Good to be You cover
These engaging activities will hook students into reading and writing about any text. The two activities motivate students to delve into the literature's subtext as they explore the characters they meet in their reading, while also allowing students to reveal their own personalities and thoughts. This is a great way for young people to turn their private "The Me You Don't Know" traits and thoughts into their, "The Me I Want You to Know" word pictures that they are willing to share publicly. 

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

 Journalism Beat Sheet
Journalism Beat Sheet example
Whether Journalism teachers are veterans or rookies, the Beat Sheet is an absolute necessity to teach students reporting procedures and to develop basic interviewing skills. Because it is important for a school newspaper to cover all of the clubs and activities a middle or high school offers, this FREE Beat Sheet presents a succinct way for journalism students to find story ideas they can develop as a blurb for a column or as a News, Features of Sports piece for the newspaper.

Writing - "Just Say, 'NO!' to Dull Writing"
Writing - "Just Say, 'NO!' to Dull Writing" cover
This year-long "Just Say, 'NO!' to Dull Writing" activity has always been one of my premier writing lesson plans for middle school and high school students. I hand it out the first week of the year, and explain that students are required to refer to it for any writing-graded or nongraded piece- during the whole year. They are to use it to revise warm-ups they want to develop into full length pieces, for short answer assignments during literature studies, for full-length essays or narrative writings, or for projects.  In short- for any and every in-class or homework assignment. Also, I make a poster of it to hang in the classroom and taped a copy of the list to each desk for  continual writing reinforcement. One of my students contacted me from college and asked me to send her a copy she could use in the tutoring center where she mentored peers. (Free)

Language Arts Activity - "This is My Future"
Language Arts Activity - "This is My Future" cover
Here is an activity that helps students get to know peers they view only as acquaintances, and also offers teachers a chance to learn about their students thoughts, beliefs and personalities. In this activity, students consider their futures. What is their dream career? Where do they see themselves in five, ten, fifteen or twenty years? This thinking and writing assignment allows them to ponder who they are now, where they are going, and what they need academically to help them attain their dream. It's also great to use in conjunction with the study of a book such as Into the Wild (Jon Krakauer), The Odyssey (Homer)I Am The Messenger (Markus Zusak) or Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston). In this case, students complete the activity from the point of view of ones of the characters in the book they are studying.

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

Critical Thinking & Writing Lesson: Four Corners Activity
Critical Thinking & Writing Lesson: Four Corners Activity
Engage students by getting them on their feet where they can share their opinions on a variety of contemporary topics. After that, give them time to express their thoughts in writing. These activities allow students to show their analytic and critical-thinking skills in speaking and writing. Also, they offer teachers a clear baseline, so they can assess what areas of writing their students will need to address during the year.
This is an excellent activity because it:
1. Makes the students think
2. Teaches them to express themselves verbally in a non-argumentative manner
3. Requires them to listen to others’ opinions, and 
4. Gets the students actively involved in classroom discussions.

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

Teaching Tip: Snag students' attention and feed their learning appetites with one-or two of these offerings as appetizers. Try this sequence of activities:
  1. Choose a writing activity as students settle in and you take attendance.
  2. Select an activity that gets the students talking. Any of these will accomplish that goal.
  3. Ask a few students to share their responses for this exercise.
  4. Close the class with any instructions re completing the writing activity.
Teacher Bonus: Teacher CLASSMART List
Teacher CLASSMART List cover
This "Teacher CLASSMART List" is comprised of 12 supplies that will save teachers' sanity during the school year. Three of the Items included are:
1. Hand cleanser (extra-large). Classrooms are Free-Range Germ Zones.
3. Antiseptic cleaning spray. This is a must in Germ Warfare Defense to use with students who sneeze or cough on their homework/ tests and then try to hand in the tainted papers. When they do, smile, hand them the bottle and tell them to go into the hall and de-germ those weapons of mass congestion. This is also a necessity for desk cleaning and purifying the air. and
10. Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. Just like burgers need fries and eggs need bacon, grading that stack of essays calls for the fruit of the cocoa bean…in any form.
 If you fill your supply closet with these items, you will enjoy a year that is as germ-free, stress-free and headache-free as possible.

We all know how crucial writing right is in all aspects of students' education: from a warm-up, to a major essay, to standardized testing, to creating skills students will need after high school graduation, and to empower our charges with a lifelong love of the written word. These four free and four paid products offer you the bait you need to hook your students.  As for the CLASSMART List- isn't it time for some coffee, tea or chocolate?

Enjoy a Teach It Now Day Every Day.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Labor Day means a Battle of Emotions for present and former teachers

The last few days, a feeling of having forgotten to do something but not being able to remember what it is has dogged me. Finally, in the middle of last night, I dinged onto the answerI’m missing the last minute lesson plan finalizing, checking off my Things to Do checklist, i.e. copying handouts, gathering textbooks from storage, making sure my sub folder is complete and keeping my stress level in the reasonable zone. My emotions aren't suffering the roller coaster ride of anticipation and anxiety for a new school year, the fear of the unknown and the joy of working with teenagers that always has accompanied every new school year.

During lunch with colleagues still leading classrooms, and through discussions with teachers on Facebook and in emails and texts, I have heard concerns about AYP, PLC, standardized tests, required data collection, and, of course, class schedules, and have felt their excitement, as well as their passion for teaching and meeting new students. Do these situations cause a twinge of sadness for what is now my past? Sure, but on its tail is a sigh of relief. It’s their time, now.

Still, my heart and mind echoes with the Battle of Emotions between the armies of Loss and Relief.
·        Loss because I loved watching my children (as a parent) and other parents’ children (as a teacher) grow academically, emotionally and socially into responsible, reliable and respectful adults.
·        Loss because young people challenged my thinking and kept me authentic.
·        Loss because teenagers kept me laughing, and
·        Loss because I fed on the energy that can only come from teachers, students and administrators.

·        Relief because I don't need to worry about whether I am doing right by my students academically, emotionally and socially.
·        Relief because I don't have to wake up before dawn, to tackle a mountain of papers to grade, or to prep for that night's dinner.
·        Relief because I don't have to face a classroom of recalcitrant adolescents who dare me to turn them on to the love of learning, and
·        Relief because I don't have to deal with administrative directives that detract from teaching and learning.

But…but…the itch that refuses to be scratched is: I loved most everything about school-as a teacher and a student- and always will. As a teacher, I loved seeing the "AHA!  I get it!" lights blink on, relished how kids kept me learning by showing me  a side of a character I never noticed, or an idea or a concept that I hadn't occurred to me, and miss those cherished  moments when struggling students began to believe in their value to themselves, their family, their friends, and to society.

As a teacher,
·        did my frustration level soar when I encountered students who felt they were too cool for school or whose sense of apathetic entitlement challenged my patience? Of course.
·        did the petty dictates of a few administrators puffed up with their newly awarded power cause nights of teeth grinding? Of course.
·        did I despise waking to the clanging of my alarm clock at 4:45AM? Of course.

More importantly, though, I prized lively book discussions with my students and celebrated their happiness when they realized that they could express themselves orally and in writing. Their confidence in their newfound skills and abilities not only warmed my heart but also encouraged me to continue to create lessons that dared them-and me- to keep on reaching higher and trying harder. 

That being said, the arrival of September will always spawn tingles of anticipation, shivers of fear and heart rays of joy. This ninth month of the year will forever be more of a New Year to me than January. From both sides of the desk, I will always, always love school.

Happy Labor Day Weekend.

Enjoy a Teach It Now Day Every Day!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Kick off fall studies with H.G. Bissinger's 'Friday Night Lights'

Classroom Colleagues,
This is a revised post about H.G. Bissinger's iconic book about high school football, Friday Night Lights. I originally posted it a few years ago on this site, but wanted to update it because it is such a terrific way to hook students' fall football psyches into reading as it fuels many an analytic discussion about Academics vs. Athletics and other societal issues.

“I can't wait for high school football to start
'Cause Friday Night Lights will get to play a part.
This is the book that students will cheer
When teachers choose it to begin the school year.”
 (adapted from the song, “I’ve Been Waiting All Day For Sunday Night” sung by Carrie Underwood
and set to the tune "I Hate Myself for Loving You” by Joan Jett.)

Okay, okay, my colleagues, I know many of you would love to find a page-turning nonfiction read that could roll right into the first literature study of your autumn term. But if you could find a book that will engage your students and jumpstart discussions of contemporary issues such as gender, race and class, I bet you would give a cheer. A 24-page unit plan coinciding with this book and that offers you the gift of time at the always hectic beginning of the school year might cause a sigh of relief, too.

Friday Night Lights H.G. Bissinger
Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger is the perfect match. Let me explain how my scoffing at a book about high school football turned into a decade and a half of, "Just say 'Yes! to the book" enthusiasm.

A while back, my husband, Tim, and I were driving through Virginia on the clogged, as usual, Route 95. We were on our way to Hatteras Island's on North Carolina's Outer Banks.
To keep me from groaning about the lines of traffic, Tim began to enthuse over a book about Texas high school football.  Trying to hook my teacher brain, he explained that this book was not just a paean to football, but was a social commentary on how so many towns allow high school football to dominate their whole lives. The author, H.G. Bissinger chose Odessa Texas's Permian High School's 1988 football season to focus his study. 

Friday Night Lights Gender Issues
Tim iterated a list of issues the author develops in the book, such as the special treatment of athletes, athletics over academics, racism,  gender, class, entitlement, etc. He offered anecdotes about how the black football players were considered equal on the field but separate off of it, and how some of the girls felt that  their sole purpose was to take care of their football players with gifts of food and pigskin-themed decorated homes. He regaled me with stories about little kids who wore jerseys with their favorite high school and not pro team player, and how athletes weren't expected to accomplish much at all academically.

Yada, Yada, Yada. I was not impressed and fell asleep.

Friday Night Lights Conflict activity
Fast forward to a week later, our last day on the beach. As I lounged on the deck eyeing the ocean for dolphins, my husband's and son's animated conversation about the book, which my son had devoured in two days, wiggled its way into my sun-drunk  attention span. Soon, I found myself caught on the Football Express. This time, though, after just a few pages, instead of itching to get off, I bought a reading round-trip ticket.

Starting right then, and during the 6-hour drive home the next day, I read. After filling the washer with salt and sand encrusted clothes, I read.  As my husband slept and my dog snored, I read.
By the next day, I had finished H.G. Bissinger's iconic classic and was ready to subscribe to the Odessa American newspaper so I could follow the Permian Panthers' football season that fall. 

The first thing Monday morning, I explained my desire to teach this book to the local HR manager for a national chain bookstore. She contacted whoever she needed to, and within the hour, I was the ecstatic recipient of two softcover class sets of Friday Night Lights-50 books in all! Next, I swung by the high school and begged, pleaded and generally pestered the principal until he gave me the thumbs up to teach it that fall.

The rest of the summer, I developed my Literature - Friday Night Lights Unit Plan. This complete unit plan includes: Common Core standards which you can easily adapt to your state's benchmarks, the grade level and time frame, assessments, and detailed daily plans as well as writing journal openers, essay topics, chapter by chapter discussion questions, a project, a review sheet and a test. Ten analyzing the elements of literature activities go hand in hand with the lessons and follow Bloom's Taxonomy.

Reading this book along with viewing the movie is sure to generate some terrific analytic discussions.

Make a touchdown with your students this fall and Download this 4.0 rated 24-page plan Literature - Friday Night Lights Unit Plan, from ($).Before you know it, your students and you will be under the spell of Bissinger's football fever and will be singing,

“I can't wait for this fall's school term to start
When Friday Night Lights will win my students' hearts.
This is the book that they will certainly cheer,
'Cause it speaks in such depth to all that they hold dear.”

Enjoy a Teach it Now Day Every Day.