Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Build Enthusiasm with this Reading Challenge!

Using blank book spines from KGFonts to track books students read
We all look for ways to keep kids reading, and in the upper elementary and middle school grades, the struggle is real.  Fortnite is hard (but not impossible) to compete with!

Ever since reading The Book Whisperer years ago, I've challenged my students to read 25 books during the year.  I carve out time for them to read almost every day in class, and expect that they'll read some at home, too.

This year, when I saw that Kimberly Geswein of KGFonts had created letters on book spines, I thought of a new way to keep track of what kids read!  I posted this in the hallway outside my room, and made a ton of white, blank ones to match.

Now, after a student finishes a book, he or she fills out the book spine with the title and author.  We're going to start a trail under this sign and just keep it going until the end of the year.  Who knows where it'll lead?!

Have a great week,

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Take a Shelfie: The Seventh Wish


This book!  

Kate Messner, you threw me a curve ball!  

I was reading along, chuckling at some of the antics Charlie had gotten herself into, and then WHAM! Screech! What?!

The thing is, the plot twist was so genuine and honestly told that it was hard to put the book down.  You just needed tissues.

Lots of tissues.

The Premise

Charlie is the protagonist and younger sister of "Abby-who-does-everything-right."  You know the type; you love her to death but still, you feel like you're always living in her shadow.  Abby is heading off to college, and while Charlie misses her, she has some fun of her own.

She gets talked into going ice fishing with her neighbor, Drew, and his nana, Mrs. McNeill.  Charlie's terrified of the ice, but she also knows that any fish she catches will net her a few dollars when she sells them to a local restaurant owner.  She takes Irish dance and her parents gave her a Christmas present of money towards a dress, but she knows, if she wants a dress with sparkles, it's going to cost a lot more than what they gave her.

But she's scared of going out on the ice.  Sitting at the edge of the lake, she catches one fish to Drew and Mrs. McNeill's 20.  Suddenly, she hears a voice...."Release me....Release me....and I will grant you a wish."

What would you do?

That starts a bunch of humorous antics that will have your students chuckling.  She has a crush on Roberto Sullivan and wishes that he'd like her back, she wants to help Drew, who's feeling pressured to go out for basketball because he's so tall but has zero skills, she want to help Dasha who's trying to test out of ESL classes.  Her intentions are good.  But, just like in all the fables she's read about wishes, things can and do go wrong.

Spoiler Alert

Skip this paragraph if you must.  Abby, the perfect sister, starts falling apart.  And it turns out she has gone from an addiction to Adderall ("all the college kids use it") to an addiction to heroin.  She hides it for a while but ends up in rehab.  And everything that Charlie thought was important gets pushed to the side.  To take care of Abby.

This heartfelt story of a girl coming to terms with life not being fair, with promises not being kept, will resonate with your students.  It really is a beautiful read.  

Kate Messner, in her notes, gives credit to her editor who "remained calm and supportive when I told her I was writing a magical-ice-fishing-Irish-dancing-heroin novel for kids."  

Well done by her editor!  Well worth the read!




If you like, you can purchase the book through the link below.  You don't pay any extra for it but I earn a few pennies as an amazon affiliate.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

A Fun Way for Students to Get to Know Students

Silent interviews to build student community
Are you sometimes surprised a couple of months in to school, to discover that a student doesn't know another student's name?  I forget that when we begin switching classes (we usually have students travel by homeroom the first week and then switch them into their classes).

Here's a fun activity that my students have enjoyed!

I tell my students on the first day that we're in our regular classes, that they're going to interview each other.  That's usually met with groans.  And then I throw out the clincher.

           The interviews will be silent.

"What?!  How can we do that?"

Very simply.  Every student gets a piece of paper and a pencil.  I have them pair up with someone they don't know well, or at all.  Taking turns, they have to write out their questions and their partner responds on the first student's paper.  Then the second student gets to ask a question and the first person responds.

It's a great way to learn about other students (and to learn how to ask good questions!)  There's always an ulterior motive in this teacher's heart! :)

Students can share out later, or move on to another student.  This year, I had students create a Venn Diagram and compare and contrast themselves to their partner.  Good way to teach a reading strategy!  You can create a "Same/Different" sheet and have students add one of their comments to that sheet.


Students sit so they can see everyone in the class, and when you read something from this sheet, everyone in the class raises their hand if they share that characteristic.  It is amazing to see how many things we had in common, even with students we didn't know!

I hope you try this in your classroom!  You'll be amused by the giggles and the deep thoughts as students try to come up with good questions, and by their beginning awareness of how much they have in common!

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Build mindfulness in your students about September 11th

My first year of teaching was 2001.  I was in my third week of school when the planes hit the World Trade Center, and my principal came to my door to tell me.

That day stands out as a "Do you remember what you were doing?" moment for me and many people.  But for our students, this is history.  For many of them, it's history they have misconceptions about.  So how do we make it real for them?

One way is to introduce them to good books written about the day.  These three get passed around a lot in my classroom.  (I am involved in the Amazon affiliate program.  Should you buy a book by clicking on any of these pictures, I receive a few pennies.  There is no increased cost to you.)
Alex's birthday is September 11th and he's sure he's getting a dog, the only thing he's asked for this year.  There's no dog waiting for him at breakfast with his family, but that's fine, it's still early.  Off he goes to school with his younger sister. Then, unexpectedly, school is shut down and he's sent home.  On the way home, he rescues a mangy, stray dog, Radar, faces the challenges of bullies, plays with (and loses) his little sister, and promises his mom that he won't turn on the TV.

The story is told in alternate chapters - Alex's point of view and that of the "man in the white shirt."  I thought I had it figured out.  I was in tears when I got to the end of the book.

A gentle book that gives students a sense of the disconnect that occurred on a day when the world fell apart and no one knew quite what to do.


A beautifully woven story of four middle school-aged kids who don't know each other, but whose lives weave together in the two days leading up to September 11th.  Will is struggling with the death of his father, a truck driver who told him never to do anything stupid on the highway - and then did just that thing.  Naheed is Muslim and in her new school, for the first time, she gets funny looks because she wears a head scarf.  Aimee has just moved to California and her mom has to leave for a business trip to New York.  Aimee's angry because she wants her mom around for the first day of school.  And Sergio, raised by his grandmother because his father is never around.  Except when Will makes the news.
This was another hard-to-put-down book put a human face on the tragic events of that day.  Jewell Parker Rhodes was asked to write this book, specifically for the generation of students who weren't alive on this day.

Deja lives in the homeless shelter near a great school and when she starts there, she comes with a wall built around her, so she doesn't have to share her life with any of the students.  But the students turn out to be pretty chill, and her teacher starts them on a massive project to look back at September 11th.  And in the asking and answering of questions, Deja begins to learn about her family: why her father gets inexplicably angry, why he can't hold down a job anymore, and how she and her friends were impacted by an event that happened many years before.

The second is to engage them to learn more about the day.  Here are some good resources you can turn to.

1)  Develop interview questions as a class and then have students interview someone about where they were that day, and what they remember.  Put those recollections together as a book, poster, or video 

2)  Work with them on one of the lessons from the September 11th memorial.  They have many outstanding choices leveled by grade.

3)  PBS has lessons, also leveled by grades, including ones to help students with misperceptions about who their Arab-American neighbors are.  

4)  Scholastic has plans and discussion guides, leveled by age group.

5)  Newsela is a great source for nonfiction articles written for lower or upper elementary, middle, and high school students.  Some are paired with other texts; each comes with a general writing prompt and a 4-question quiz.


I hope these books and websites provide you with a place to start helping your students understand the events of that fateful day, and how we're still impacted by those events, today.





Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Five Healthy Recipes to get you Out of the House in the Morning

Let's be clear.  Breakfast is an important meal.  As teachers, if we don't get off to a good start, food-wise, it can have an impact on our interactions with our students.  Hangry is not a pretty place!  For me personally, I need protein to jump-start my day.  I can't do cereal-in-a-bowl-with-milk and expect it to last beyond an hour or so.

You know your body and what it needs.  If, like me, you need something substantive in the mornings, here are some suggestions that can be prepared the evening before and be ready to grab-and-go in the mornings.



These Breakfast Berry Bars are the most labor-intensive recipe in this post, and by that I mean you have to bake them.  But they easily makes a week's worth of breakfasts, and they last in the fridge for a while if you don't want to eat them every day.  They are just sweet enough to be almost dessert-like, but filled with so much healthy nutrition that there's no guilt in eating them.  
This Apple Cinnamon Hot Cereal with nuts is another filling breakfast that takes a few minutes to prepare.  I usually make this on Sunday afternoons so I have it once or twice during the week.  The nuts hold up pretty well to being moistened, and I don't mind when they start to get a little softer.  Cinnamon in this one makes the kitchen smell so good!
These No-Bake Apricot Bars take a few minutes to pull together, but the effort is worth the wait!  Although I will eat these if I'm running out the door, I especially like these as a late afternoon snack if I've got to hold off on dinner for a while.

Do you like to make overnight oatmeal?  This German Chocolate  recipe is perfect.  I usually make two of these at the same time, to have an extra one for another day.
Are you picking up on the chocolate theme here?  The recipe for this Chocolate Peanut Butter Chia Seed pudding is one I modify to keep it easy.  First, I substitute a nut butter for the peanut butter, and secondly, I make these as overnight puddings.  Which means I throw everything into a jar, shake it up, and grab it in the morning.

I hope these recipes give you some places to start as you look for healthy breakfast options on your way to school!










Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Take a Shelfie: Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Amal is a young girl growing up in the Punjabi province of Pakistan, in a town so small it doesn't even earn a dot on the map.  She is the oldest of four sisters, and her school, her neighbors, her village, and the sugar cane fields and orange groves are all she knows.  Until one day, she talks back to a man who hit her with his car.

She later learns that he is the son of the man whose family rules her village.  Insisting that Amal pay back her debt, the man takes her as a house servant to his estate.  Here, she learns a new set of rules as she is elevated to maid servant, much to another servant's dismay.  But while navigating this new home and new rules, she overhears something that makes her realize how desperately this family clings to their power.  No one speaks out against them, because of the consequences.

And now, Amal has to decide whether to do anything about what she's overheard.

This book would make a great read-aloud (it is one of the Global Read Aloud choices for 2018) for students in grades 4 and up, and would be a good book for independent reading in grades 5 - 8.  It is filled with information about Pakistani culture and life in small villages, information that many children don't have,  It would also generate a lot of good discussion as students put themselves in Amal's shoes, trying to decide the choices she has to navigate.

I have created a novel study for this book, which you can purchase here, if you're interested.  The novel study, aligned with a number of Reading and Writing Common Core standards, asks deep-thinking questions meant for discussion, while students work through a number of reading strategies.

What books are you reading with your students this week?
If you like, you can purchase the book through the link below.  You don't pay any extra for it but I earn a few pennies as an amazon affiliate.


Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Take a Shelfie: Salt to the Sea

This is one of my favorite books!  I could not put it down!

This books fictionalizes a real event most of us have never heard of, the greatest maritime disaster in history.  It was not the Titanic.  It was the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff.  Never heard of it?  Neither had I.

Please note:  I would exercise a little caution with who should read it.  There is an implied rape in the book, and that might be too much for some of your students.  Although there are no details, you read that one of the characters was dragged off by Russian soldiers, screaming.  You already know she's pregnant.

The Premise of the Book

There are four main characters in this book, each of whom carries a hidden guilt:

1)  Florian, a young Prussian man whose skill is art restoration.  He uses it with a noted professor only to learn that what he thought was noble, was just creating a way for the Germans to steal art from other countries.  So he decides to get even.

2)  Joana, a young Lithuanian woman who became a nursing assistant, a skill that comes in handy many times; she lives with the guilt that, in writing a note years ago, she might have killed her cousin.

3)  Emelia, Fifteen years old, from Poland, frightened, pregnant.  She tells a story.  But it's not really hers.  She's too ashamed to tell the real one.

4)  Alfred, a young German sailor, filled with a heightened impression of what he's doing to help Germany win the war; he writes letters in his head to a girl he admires.

This is a powerfully told story of four people joining together, with others, in desperation to survive the horrors of World War II with Germany pushing from the west and Russia pushing from the east.  There are so many beautiful moments in this book that capture the essence of being human, even in the midst of very difficult circumstances. 

The story flows from character to character, and each moves the story ahead a little bit.  You meet so many people: the "shoe poet" who spouts wisdom and takes Klaus, the little boy, under his care; Eva, who says whatever's on her mind and then apologizes later; Ingrid, who is blind, but can "see" better than most people.  I think this would be a powerful book for middle and high school readers.  Give it a try!

What book are you reading right now that your students will enjoy?




If you like, you can purchase the book through the link below.  You don't pay any extra for it but I earn a few pennies as an amazon affiliate.