Thursday, April 9, 2009

Every once in a while . . .

Every once in a while there is a kid in one of my classes who is simply fabulous at doing the creative writing assignments that I give. This year, one of my junior high students always does the best job. I look forward to reading everything that he writes. It is always witty and funny and above the norm.

The other day he told me that he does not want to be a teacher, but if he was, he would love reading the creative 'stuff' that students write. I realized that he always puts so much into each assignment that he does not even know that there are students who are turning in just enough to 'get by.' I gave them the 'Me A-Z' assignment that I did on my personal blog a few days ago. I thought I would share what he wrote.

A-dventures: Stories and movies about adventures are always good. Adventure books are my favorite.

B-ananas: Bananas are the grossest fruits. They are always brown and mushy. They squeeze through my teeth and just give me the chills.

C-laustrophobia: I am very claustrophobic. Tube slides? No! Have I ever asked you if I can get in your suitcase and come with you? Did not think so!

D-ownhill dips: Near Lake Upsilon there is a dip that feels like a roller coaster. I love these bumps. They should make them on purpose.

E-agles: Eagles are simply the best. People train them to land on their arm. That is the coolest thing ever.

F-irefighter: I want to be a volunteer firefighter. My cousin is a firefighter, and he really loves it.

G-rades: Grades are not the most important thing to me. They are important, but not my main concern every day. I still get good grades anyway.

H-alo: Halo is the most ultimate video game. I am really good at it. It is not what people think it is - saving the world from aliens. Haha

I-ce cream: Ice cream is a food I eat in my own way. I let it melt into cream, then I mix it and eat it. It tastes a lot different.

J-uice Box: Juice boxes are lame. One gulp and they are gone. At carnivals, etc., they cost like a dollar.

K-ikomen: A sauce that can be found in the Chinese restaurant in a near by town. This is a sauce that has a name I just love to say and make fun of.

L-eo: He is the coolest janitor ever, and he is very mysterious. He drives this machine around to get the floors clean and that makes the school stink.

M-osquitos: No one likes them. They have no point in life. They are gross and annoying. Period.

N-eopets: Neopets are pointless. I do not even know what they are, but they sound dumb.

O-reos: Oreos are the best cookies. Dip them in milk, and they are delicious. Sadly, they run out fast in the cookie box.

P-arellel parking: Everyone makes it sound really hard. I have never done it, (besides video games) and it does not seem hard at all. It just takes practice.

Q-uarters: Quarters are very handy to have around. Whether you are at college doing laundry or at the Chicken Hut playing video games, they are useful.

R-ise Against: Rise against is one of my favorite bands. They have really good songs, and I listen to them all the times.

S-oup: I burned my leg with a pot of soup. I had blisters and everything.

T-rampolines: Trampolines are the best outdoor activity. I wish I could have one, but apparently, "Our insurance does not support that."

U-niverse: It is the most interesting thing to think about. What is really out there?

V-eternarian: I always wanted to be one growing up. I love animals (not insects).

W-ater: Water is the greatest thing to have after spending five hours outside playing kick-the-can. Ice cold water!

X-rays: Looking at broken bones by using an x-ray is the coolest doctor related thing.

Y-outube: I can spend countless hours searching random stuff. Youtube always makes my day.

Z-oos: I could visit a zoo every day and never get bored.

What makes this so good to me? It is not the sentence structure or the length. It is not the wording choice or the punctuation. It is the fact that one of my students can use the letters A-Z (it is a lot, just try it) and come up with interesting, diverse, nouns that describe him to a 't'. (I know many adults that have a hard time describing themselves in a job interview.)

This students is a fabulous musician, a talented athlete, and can easily find diverse words that sum him up. He was able to talk about his likes and his dislikes, his goals and his future, his family life and his past, and give the reader a little piece of him through his writing. That is one of my main goals for my students. I want them to be able to use writing for themselves, for their lives.

To quote 'G', "Grades are not that important to me. They are important, but not my main concern every day." He did this assignment for the sake of the activity, not just to get a grade. Perfect, in my book.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I love this idea a . . . . lot!

Carla at The English Teacher Blog ( )that I love so much posted this 'lesson' on using the word 'alot.' I love it. Really love it, and thought maybe you would too.

Mr. and Mrs. Alot

Tuesday, April 7th by Carla

A few years back I had a group of students who routinely wrote “a lot” as “alot.” I wanted them to use a more specific adjective, but first I first wanted them to spell “a lot” correctly. The following approach seems to have been helpful.

In advance, I write “alot” in large letters on a long, narrow piece of paper that tears easily. I like to use half a sheet of construction paper for visual appeal.

My spiel goes something like this:

“If you read the paper last night, you might have seen a small notice in the Divorces column. Mr. and Mrs. Alot got a divorce.” (At this point I hold up the sign.)

“Now, divorces usually aren’t friendly events, but this one was especially messy. She caught him running around with other consonants — he accused her of cheating on him with other vowels. He started harassing her, and eventually she had to get a restraining order against him. Now he’s not allowed within 500 feet of her.” (At this point, I tear the paper between the “a” and “lot” and hold them a few inches apart.)

“She has custody of the kids.”

“So when you are using “a lot” in your writing, remember: they got divorced, and there is a restraining order. You have to leave a space.”

I usually tack the two pieces of paper on the tack strip above the blackboard for a few days.

When I run across “alot” again in student writing, I circle it and write “Don’t violate the restraining order” in the margin.

I’ve had good luck with this approach. What do YOU use to help students remember fine points?

Monday, April 6, 2009

North Dakota English Teacher Needed!

I received this e-mail earlier today from Candy Lemer of Velva, ND.


Help!!! I need an English teacher/co-worker in Velva.

Do you know of anyone wanting a change, a challenge, or an adventure? If so, Velva is losing one English teacher to love. (She is moving with her Delta pilot to Atlanta.)

Is it possible to put a quick note on your blog?

Thanks for the help.

Candy Lemer, Velva

As far as small towns in North Dakota go, Velva really has it all. It is located in a beautiful part of the state and only miles from one of the largest cities in ND (OK, ND does not have any large cities, but I think you get my drift!) If you have an English degree and are looking to make a move to the beautiful Midwest, check out Velva's website at and Velva's school website at .

Why I Do This Crazy Job

Two teachers changed me for the rest of my life, and both of them made me want to teach for very different reasons.

When I was in the second grade, I had a very sweet teacher, Miss T. She was as wide as she was tall, and she had these very big eyes that popped out at you. I liked her. I really did.

I was bright and inquisitive, talkative and a little bossy. :) I did everything that was asked of me and to the very best of my ability. We had these little progress charts on the wall that we got to put stars on. I was always in the lead. I was sure that she like me as much as I liked her and her class.

One day, we were going over spelling words that she had written on the chalk board. One of them was the word 'aunt.' She asked me to pronounce it. Now, you have to know that my mom and dad had lived in Iowa until I was five. Then we moved home to Sarles, ND, so my dad could take over his family farm. To me, that word was pronounced 'ant.' So, when Miss T. asked me to pronounce the spelling word, I said 'ant'.

I am not going to go through all of the ways Miss T. could have appropriately handled my mispronunciation, but I will tell you what she did.

She said, "What did you say?" I repeated, "ant." She said, "Danielle, please pronounce that word correctly." I said, "ant," with this funny queasy sickening feeling in my stomach because I knew I was doing something wrong, but was not sure what it was. Finally, after staring at me for what seemed like an eternity, she said in a very stern voice, "That word is pronounced aunt. Your mother's sister is not a small, creepy little bug!" I did not answer. But to this day I remember thinking in my head that I would never make a student feel like I felt right at that moment. I was embarrassed and sick. I was a very strong student and suddenly questioned my intelligence. What happens when those situations happen to students who are not confident at all in the first place?

Fast forward to my junior year in high school.
I had the best English teacher, Mrs. Pederson. She was good to us. She would talk to us about life and literature. We knew when to turn on the work and when we could just 'visit' a little. She created individualized projects for students of different learning levels and spent countless hours after school working with those who were having trouble.

The one thing she did for me was talk to me about the social troubles I was having. I had a boyfriend that my mom and dad hated. He was no good for me, but I was stubborn and did not want to hear it. I saw good in him that really was there even though he was often doing stupid things that hurt me. She would let me come to her room during her prep hour and just talk through what I needed to process about this situation. She did not 'tell' me what I should do.

She would ask questions that would make me explore my own morals. She was not my friend. She was my mentor. I did not really need her to spend countless hours teaching me English. I learned that with lightening speed. What I did need, was someone to care about what was happening to me as a person. She did that.

One year later, that boyfriend died in a drunk-driving car accident. He was the one drunk. I was crushed. I did not want the support or sympathy of my parents because they had never liked him in the first place. In fact, at the time, I did not want anyone near me. But at the burial, as the casket descended into the freshly dug hole, I broke down into sobs that racked my entire body. Suddenly I was wrapped by a very loving and supportive hug. It was Mrs. Pederson. She was there, and I wanted her there. She understood.

In both cases, that of Miss T. and of Mrs. Pederson, what they did right or wrong was not something that a text book on teaching can give you. What they did was see or fail to see me as a person, not just a student. I see my students as people every day. Education is very important to me, and I take my job very seriously. I also take the lives of my students very seriously. I never humiliate them. If I do something that accidentally hurts them, I apologize. I teach them what they need to learn no matter how long it takes. And I am there to care about their lives if they need me.

Friday, April 3, 2009

'In' Boxes

For a long time I had the worst time keeping track of all of the papers that were turned in by all six of my classes. I hated when they would put their work on my desk (disaster area!) or worse yet, hand me their assignments while passing me in the hall.

Where those ended up is anyone's guess. I am pretty sure that where ever I stopped next, whether it was the Principal's office, copy room, lounge, or bathroom, I put it down and it was never seen again.
One summer (summer is my 'thinking' time) I decided that I had to have a really great inbox system. I know there are plenty of them out there on the market, but they are either cheap, expensive, or in some way inconvenient to either my students or me.
Enter Cam.
He is the mastermind who brings my 'needs' to fruition. He took some leftover concrete footing forms from the building of our house, cut them to a little deeper than a sheet of paper, painted them fun colors, riveted on metal tags that could have labels affixed to them, and hot glued them together.
They are great and have been in use for about five years now. You may notice that they are now held together by clips. That is because one of my 'lovelies' tripped and fell on the 'tubes' as we lovingly call them and broke apart the hot glue. BUT, the tubes held up perfectly. The 'crusher' felt so bad that he rounded up a bunch of my black paper clips and put the whole thing back together. Good as new.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Those Students That Make It All Worth It

Kama and her oldest - Eme
Brittney Kaye at My Crazy Beautiful Life wrote a post today entitled "Goodbye." Every teacher who has what it takes to love their students and do everything in their power to make their lives, their hearts, their education, and their world better knows what it is like to worry about having to say goodbye.

Those days are heartbreaking, but once in a great while, one of our students makes it - really makes it. Kama Cutler is just that girl to me.

I remember specifically hoping the best for Kama. She was sweet and so intelligent, especially in English. I loved to read what she wrote, and it was easy to read too. None of those crazed blood stained papers for Kama!

When Kama was a junior in high school, I took her class to Winnipeg to see a theatre production. Kama loved it. On the way home we talked about our upcoming birthdays that were less than a week apart (sadly, I was much, much older!). I am a birthday freak as anyone who has read this blog can attest to.Kama was not looking forward to hers, even though it was her 17th.

As it turned out, she had once loved her birthday, but the year prior, when she turned 16, she was waiting for a party and presents equal to those that her older sister had received.

She was not waiting in greed. She was waiting in anticipation of the attention, the love, the recognition, the significance of reaching 16. The morning of her birthday, no one mentioned the occasion. She assumed it was that they were all waiting to surprise her. Anticipation built. But, when the end of the evening came, no one had remembered.

I'm not sure that any story has bothered me as much as that one. I know there are many kids who do not have lavish birthdays. I know that not everyone goes berserk over every year older. But I will say this. It bothered me that this wonderful, perfect, talented, honest, sweet, and selfless girl was so hurt.

So, on her 17th birthday, her classmates and I gave her a surprise party. We had cake, German Chocolate (her favorite), and presents and candles and decorations. Kama cried so hard that she ended up covered in hives!

Did I use those fifty minutes to teach English. No. I used those minutes to show love. I used those minutes to create for Kama something that I hope she will remember for the rest of her life (in addition to 'dangling participles' hehe).

I love her. I love her like she belongs to me. I am proud of the beautiful articulate woman that she has become. I guess, in a way, she always was. There were about four years where we lost track of each other. I do not even think I can count the number of times I thought of her and wondered how she was. Now I know. She is just as perfect as I remember. She was my student first, but sometimes student is not enough. Sometimes students become family.

Kama, you are my family. I will be here for you always. Never forget that.

Let's Share Thursday

Since we have not shared in a couple of weeks, I felt it was time that we did a little more.

I am enamored with the website .
Read Write Think is sponsored by both NCTE and the International Reading Association and has an amazing plethora of resources for ELA teachers.

One simple visit will open up a world of activities and resources for any grade level K-12. This lesson for grades 3-5 was fascinating to me, and I do not even teach elementary.
And there are many, many more.

“America the Beautiful”: Using Music and Art to Develop Vocabulary


This lesson starts with an online activity to activate students’ prior knowledge about well-known sights and scenery throughout the United States. The activity is followed by a read-aloud and introduction to the song “America the Beautiful.” Next students engage in a vocabulary lesson in which they learn the meanings of the song’s words through shared reading and by reading and using words in a variety of ways. Students then use drawings, descriptive language, and photographs to create a mural shaped like the United States. Finally, through pictures and words, students reflect on what they have learned. This lesson is appropriate and adaptable for any patriotic event or holiday, and many of the vocabulary strategies are adaptable for other texts or word lists, as well.

From Theory to Practice

In her introduction to Lively Learning: Using the Arts to Teach the K–8 Curriculum, Linda Crawford describes her personal difficulty in learning geography when she was in elementary school, until one day her teacher gave the students the opportunity to present information in any way they chose. Crawford found that the active and tactile experience of creating a paper-mâché map of North America helped her learn and remember the topography of the United States. Also tapping creative learning strategies to teach content area knowledge, Michael Graves addresses the importance of teaching individual words using strategies such as giving students opportunities to use words more than once and in a variety of ways. In this lesson, students use visual art, music, and multiple vocabulary-related strategies to help them learn vocabulary words that describe many features of the United States. At the same time, they learn one of the most well-known patriotic songs in American culture.

Further ReadingCrawford, Linda. Lively Learning: Using the Arts to Teach the K-8 Curriculum. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children, 2004.Graves, Michael F. The Vocabulary Book. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2006.

Student Objectives

Students will :

* discuss and identify places, features, and landforms throughout the United States.
* use pictures to help them describe places and scenery located throughout the United States.
* create multimodal vocabulary posters that describe, illustrate, and define targeted words from the song “America the Beautiful.”
* demonstrate understanding of the meanings of selected words from “America the Beautiful.”
* draw pictures and write words that exemplify and describe geographic features of the United
States, and use these resources to create a large mural of the United States.
* use pictures and words to demonstrate what they have learned about the United States.

Instructional Plan


America the Beautiful picture book (Scholastic)
a large sheet of butcher paper cut into the shape of the United States
assorted colored markers
Lyrics for “America the Beautiful”
magazines with colored scenic pictures of the United States (such as Sunset, National Geographic, Via, Smithsonian)
white construction paper, crayons, scissors, and glue
photographic essay book showing scenic features of the United States (e.g., America: A Celebration of the United States)
topographical map of the United States
“America the Beautiful” Extended Book List
“America the Beautiful” Reflection Sheet
Sample Paragraphs and Questions
CDs or appropriately accessed downloads of various versions of “America the Beautiful”
CD player, mp3 player, or computer that plays music downloads
ReadWriteThink Multigenre Mapper
Sample Multigenre vocabulary poster Preparation
Bookmark the
National Geographic United States Photo Gallery Web site on the computers students will use for this lesson.
Find several different versions of “America the Beautiful” on CD at the library or downloaded from the Internet.
Gather several magazines with scenic pictures of various locations and landforms throughout the United States.

Use white butcher paper to prepare a large mural shaped liked the United States. (Tip: Print this map, make an overhead and project it onto the butcher paper).

With a black or brown marker, write the words to “America the Beautiful” on chart paper and hang it on the wall. Have colored markers available to highlight and underline key words.

Review the Sample Paragraphs and Questions, which includes a paragraph and multiple-choice question for each word students study during this lesson, including spacious, amber, grain, majesties, plain, and brotherhood.

Prepare overheads of the Sample Paragraphs and Questions for display to students.

Arrange for students to have access to Internet-connected computers for the necessary sessions.

Test the Multigenre Mapper interactive on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the Technical Support page.

Instruction and Activities

Session One :

Begin the lesson by directing students to the National Geographic United States Photo Gallery to generate their prior knowledge about sights, sounds, and places in the United States. Have students identify and name features of the geography in the pictures they see. Encourage students to use descriptive words and phrases such as “a huge lake” or “a field of purple flowers.”

After some time exploring online, ask students to tell about places they may have visited and the kinds of things they have seen in their travels, as well as the geography of their local area. Chart students’ responses if desired, and keep the chart for later.

Using one word at a time selected from the first verse of “America the Beautiful,” ask students if anyone has ever heard or knows the meanings of the word (e.g., spacious, amber, grain, majesties, plain, and brotherhood). Accept all reasonable responses and tell students they will learn more about these words.

Read aloud the book America the Beautiful, showing the pictures while you read. After reading, do a repeat “picture walk,” and allow students to respond and make connections to the text or the photographs. When students have finished responding, tell them that the words in this book are actually the words to the song “America the Beautiful” which they will learn to sing.

Post and call students’ attention to a chart prepared with the words to “America the Beautiful.”

Play a version of the song for them, or if you are comfortable doing so, sing it. If students know the song, encourage them to sing along while you track the words on the chart.

After singing the song once or twice, ask students to identify any words they do not know.
Underline those words on the chart with a colored marker, and leave the chart posted on the wall. Tell students that they will learn the meanings of these words in the next session.

Session Two :

Gather students into a group where everyone can clearly see the chart with the words to “America the Beautiful.” Have students sing the song with you once or twice while you track the words on the chart.

Then, one at a time, focus on each word you’ve underlined on the chart (i.e., spacious, amber, grain, majesties, plain, and brotherhood). Show students the prepared overhead of each paragraph (from Sample Paragraphs and Questions) for each word, and then read the paragraph aloud.

Next, read aloud to students the prepared multiple-choice question and answer options from the Sample Paragraphs and Questions. Allow enough time for students to consider their answers to the question before giving them the correct answer.

Then discuss the word and any questions students might have about the incorrect answers to the multiple-choice question.

Finally, discuss other ways in which the word might be used, ask a combination of these sample questions and other similar questions.

Repeat steps two through five for each vocabulary word.
Session Three

Review the words students learned in Session Two by writing the words on the board, or have student volunteers write them. Then ask students to read the words and give informal definitions for each word.

Then, have students work in small groups to choose one or two of the words. Alternatively, the teacher can assign words to the groups so that each group will work with a different word, or the teacher can choose just one or two words for all students to work with.

Share with students the Sample Multigenre vocabulary poster, direct students to the Multigenre Mapper, and give the following directions:

Type your word in the space that says “Title of your multigenre text.”
Entitle Space A “Definition” and put the definition of the word there.
Entitle Space B “Sentence 1” and write your first sentence there.
Entitle Space C “Sentence 2” and write your second sentence there.
Draw a picture that shows the meaning of the word in the remaining box.
Check your work and print.

Note: While small groups are working independently, the teacher can ask questions further thinking questions such as these to the student groups orally.
When all students are finished, have them share their vocabulary posters with the entire class. Then display them on the wall.
Add all the words to an existing classroom word wall, or create a thematic word wall just for this lesson’s words. Then encourage students to use the words in their writing and conversations.

Session Four

Before beginning this session, collect magazines with pictures of topographical features or direct students to images available from National Geographic United States Photo Gallery. Also have drawing materials available for students.

Post the cut-out paper for the United States mural on the wall at a height that students can reach.

Review the highlighted words from the song chart and their definitions with students. Ask students to tell you what they might draw to show what the words mean.

Do a picture walk through a photographic essay book of the United States (such as America: A Celebration of the United States) and invite students to comment about the pictures. Be sure to point out any specific photographs that are of places in your own state or places like those mentioned in “America the Beautiful.”

Show students a topographical map of the United States, and point out your own region.
Through questioning and direct instruction, identify the mountains, valleys, plains, lakes, and oceans. Compare this map to the blank United States mural, and, with students observing, show them where these areas would be on the blank mural paper. Post the topographical map near the blank mural paper for reference. If desired, with students observing, lightly draw in lines to show where mountains are located.

Explain to students that they will draw and cut out pictures of places in the United States to place on the blank paper shaped like the United States.

Have students volunteer ideas for drawings. Make sure students understand that the pictures they draw need to be large and colorful.

Distribute drawing paper and allow students enough time to draw whatever features they choose. Alternatively, provide words on slips of paper (such as vast, cliffs, ocean, shore, rocky, river, waterfall) that students can select from a basket, and have them draw an illustration for the word they pick. As drawings are finished, have students label their drawings with descriptive words, especially words that are present in the song “America the Beautiful.” Have students cut their drawings into interesting shapes, keeping the word labels intact. Then have students glue their drawings onto the mural in appropriate places.

Give students plenty of time to fill the mural with drawings and/or pictures, adding an additional session if necessary.


Have students work with partners to create “America the Beautiful” crossword puzzles using ReadWriteThink Crossword Puzzlemaker.
Allow students to work with partners to create “America the Beautiful” postcards using the ReadWriteThink Postcard Creator.
Have students do a red, white, and blue collage with stripes, stars, and scenic pictures on a white construction paper background. Display these around the mural.
Encourage students to continue to use the words in their writing and conversations in and out of school.
During the duration of the lesson, play different versions of “America the Beautiful,” encouraging them to listen and also to sing along.
Have students offer additional words that describe or name places in the United States, and make a word list for the wall.
Read aloud additional related books from the “America the Beautiful” Extended Book List to supplement and extend students’ learning about American symbols, songs, and traditions.
Have students “act out” the different vocabulary words: spacious, waves of grain, plain, brotherhood, etc.
Challenge students by moving into an exploration of additional verses of the song.Web Resources
National Geographic United States Photo Gallery
This page provides images of the United States categorized by state and city.
Maps of the United States
This site offers printable topographic and other maps of the continental United States; these maps could be used for reference for placement of pictures on the mural.
Student Assessment/Reflections
Have students complete an “America the Beautiful” Reflection Sheet. Assess the quality of work, considering the following as you discuss the reflections:
Did students use words and pictures to show what they have learned?
How appropriate were the words and pictures?
Observe each student’s participation in discussions. Assess how well students demonstrate their understanding of the vocabulary words from “America the Beautiful” as well as their understanding of the geography of the United States.
Evaluate students’ vocabulary posters.
How well were students able to use the new words in sentences?
Were the pictures they included appropriate in relation to the words’ meanings?
How well did they respond to the questions they were given?
Evaluate students’ drawings and labels for the United States mural.
Did their drawings reflect an understanding of places and features of the United States?
How effective were the descriptions in the students’ labels?
Were their descriptions appropriate in relation to their drawings?

NCTE/IRA Standards
1 - Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.3 - Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).6 - Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts. 10 - Students whose first language is not English make use of their first language to develop competency in the English language arts and to develop understanding of content across the curriculum. 11 - Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.