Tag Archives: writing

Sticky Notes Bonanza

I love using video to share ideas with students. I also love sticky notes. This week I combined both to teach a lesson on the importance of planning before writing.

First I showed this video:

Then we talked about the message, about what happened in the clip. Was the presentation effective? How long do you think it took to make? Do you think they knew what picture came next or did they make it up as they went along?

Then I show the making of video:

Imagine…6000+ stickies each with a little round of tape on them. The second video shows a lot of what the artists did to plan. Since all the kids (really, all of them) like the first video, I can make the point that good things take time to create. When they write, they need to take the time to work out a plan, to decide what it is they want to say before they start saying it. I think these videos helped get that message across. Beats just nagging them to write a web.


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Right Tool for the Blog

I want to start blogging with my students and I’m trying to find a good tool too use. This year, I’ll only be blogging with around 20 students, but next year I want to expand it to all 90 students.


  • Teach focus and elaboration by having student gear their blog around a specific subject/audience and making each entry interesting (as opposed to my latest blog entries).
  • Encourage voice by having students make editorial and content decision (within reason).
  • Show writing growth.
  • Teach how to respond to writing through polite and appropriate comments.


  • Must be completely monitored-both student posts and comments.
  • Must be able to be made private.
  • Must be able to make separate student accounts without using student email address.
  • Must be easy for students to use.
  • Must be easy for me to grade.



  • Pros: No personal info required, free, looks easy to use, all users able to see all new posts on sign-in screen.
  • Cons: Called Kidblog – M.S. kids hate being called kids, immature template look, no individuality.

22 Classes

  • Pros: Can individualize blogs, creates easy hub for class blogs and information.
  • Cons: Limited to only ten free blogs, costs (8.95/month) for additional blogs, students need to give email address.


  • Gaggle offers no easy free solution any more, but gives a phone number for their ad-based one. Not sure if I want ads on student blogs if there is another solution.


  • Pros: Offers helpful videos on YouTube,
  • Cons: Hard to navigate, small text makes it hard to read, school pass code required (but easy to get once you figure it out), address for students is long and complicated, not easy to use at all.


  • Pros: Student blogs can be individualized, teacher has complete control over blogs, most like a “real” blog.
  • Cons: Fee for class accounts (from 3.33 per month), no central hub for class.

At the moment, I think I’m between Kidblog and Edublogs.


Filed under Uncategorized


I used to do this activity where each kid or group would start a story. Then after about five minutes, I would call time and everyone would pass to the right. The new authors had to read what came before them then add to the story. I combined close reading and writing and the kids loved it. I stopped doing it for two reasons:

  1. There was always one kid who would ignore the rest of the story and just write something strange. It was almost always a boy and he did it to be funny, thus ruining multiple stories for his own amusement.
  2. Forty-five minute classes are really short and this is a long activity.

But I just found this site, Storybird. I bet I could do that same activity using that site. Plus the limited writing space can allow me to focus each entry on a specific element of plot.

I’m thinking I could also use it to help student write and illustrate poetry. See this book for an example of what I mean: Take Me Away by ele_202 on Storybird

Plus,  it would be a great tool for my two daughters, allowing them to choose pictures and text while I type. They can write stories to their cousins and grandparents.

Lots of ideas, but I haven’t used it yet…anyone have a feedback on it?

Storybird Quick Tour from Storybird on Vimeo.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Will It Work?

I’m trying something new tomorrow.

Really new, not just variation on a theme new.

I’m teaching my class in Florida while I am away in Georgia. See, I had to take a week off of school when my step-father had surgery. Couldn’t be helped and family comes before career any day. Still, it’s the week before the state writing test and I like to do a day to acknowledge how far students have come. I hate doing that the day before the test, though. Too much pressure on the kids as it is.

So I’ve turned to Edmodo.

They have a chat service that hasn’t been blocked by our state. It allows teachers to create secure chat rooms that students use for discussion. It also asks for a bare minimum of information from students. I took my classes to the library to show them how to use the service one day last week.  They liked it a great deal and caught on quickly.

But I’ve never done this before. Up until now, teaching while I was out of school wasn’t an option. If you had to take a day off school, you just left the best sub plan you could. True, I couldn’t do this all week, I am here for a purpose, but if I could teach just one day…

So many questions. Will I be able to keep my students involved in a discussion when I’m not there to encourage them? Will I be able to know who’s participating and who’s just lurking? Will I be able to keep kids on task when I’m not there to give them The Look? Will our discussion be effective or just a fun activity?

Will it work?

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

8 Non-Tech Must Have Tools for the Tech Deprived Teacher

I’m listening in (so to speak) to this week’s educhat on Twitter about the effectiveness of Interactive Whiteboards. IWB…HA! I’m happy because I’m finally getting a projector that doesn’t require me to throw a cable across a student’s desk. I know that some day I’ll get a IWB, but by then we will be discussing some other must have tool and IWB’s will be passe. While I am not really tech deprived, I’m also not on any list to get a 1:1 classroom, a set of handhelds or any type of interactive anything. I teach in Florida…we’re broke. We make due.

So in defiance of the creed that tech is here to stay, I offer 8 indispensible tools that every classroom needs.

  1. Post-it Notes– These are the best invention ever. Give them to students to use make notes in texts. Put private notes on them then discretely place on a student’s desk as you walk around. Have students write their names on them as they check out books from the class library and put them on the board. Tons of uses.
  2. Highlighters-Again a multifunction tool. Have students highlight key words in directions or key phrases in their reading. Have students highlight a certain word or phrase in their writing to show exactly how often they use it. Have them highlight confusing passages in each other’s writing. But make sure you remind them to not write with them. Reading an essay written in hightligher is hard!
  3. Note cards- Exit tickets are my biggest use of these. The stiffer paper helps them stay whole as the students rush out the door. The 3.5×5 ones help more wordy students edit down their thoughts. The small size also makes writing more accessible for lower level writers…they don’t see all the white space they have to fill up. Plus, they are great for grouping. Ask students a question and use the note cards to divide the groups.
  4. My plastic tubs. One is where I keep student portfolios. The other is my clipboards.

    4. Clipboards-These help students become more mobile. I have great desks in my class,but most students still prefer to sit on the floor. They just grab a clipboard and find a spot. Helps with group work too; students can pass it back and forth without tearing up their paper.

  5. Personal white boards– I don’t really know why these are so effective, but whenever I break them out, my students go crazy. You can buy a set, or you can go to a local home improvement store and buy a piece of shower board. They will usually cut it into whatever size board you want. Have students write a word on their board them get together to create a poem. Have them draw a picture of their reading. Have student complete a sentence then hold up the boards so everyone can read everyone else’s.
  6. My Easy Button on the corner of my desk. The hand sanitizer is also a big draw for students.

    An Easy Button or other goofy desk toy- There are only two real uses for a desk toy. One to give students an excuse to come to the teacher desk without having to act like they want to talk to me. The other is just to make me happy. Happy teacher=happy class.

  7. Large platstic tubs – Work ten times better than milk crates for holding files, clipboards, art supplies, magazines, book sets, whatever. Helps with organization too, especially if you are like me and organizationally challenged.
  8. Cleaning supplies – Kids can be dirty. Enough said.

I’m not saying that some of these couldn’t be replaced by web programs or tech hardware. I would love to have a set of tablets in the class to replace my personal whiteboards. I have used Wallwisher before in the same way that I might use Post-Its. And if I were in a 1:1 school, I would have no need of clipboards; they would have the laptop in front of them. But that isn’t possible now.

And personally, one of the best things about being an old school teacher is that I can teach anyone anywhere with anything. It isn’t the device; it’s the desire…and I’ve got plenty of that.


Filed under Uncategorized

Test Prep…and Other Forms of Teaching

I am torn on this issue.

Part of me abhors the idea (abhors being a vocabulary work that many of my students have taken a liking to). I don’t really care if students pass the state tests…I care that they become good readers and writers. I believe if I can teach them that, then the test is secondary and they should be able to pass or at least make progress. This is especially true when it comes to writing. In middle school, students have no real purpose for writing other than the ones I create or find for them. No college entrance essays, no letters to their employers. Testing, being so artificial, seems like a poor purpose for writing…and the rule of make them be better writers and the test scores will follow seems to still hold true.

However, students have now grown up in the testing culture. They already feel that doing well in class and doing well on a test are different things. They know that the score they make one day on one test will count more towards the classes they are scheduled for in high school than all the A’s they make on their report card. They come into my room stressed over the test. In our state, the reading test changes from seventh to eighth when they have to answer short answer and extended response questions. Shouldn’t I give them some instruction on how to properly answer those types of questions?

They will also be asked to write on  a prompt (odds are a very boring prompt) for the state writing test and the scorers are only going to spend a minute or two looking at their essay. Some students do well in class, make progress in their portfolio, read increasingly difficult novels and more complex non-fiction texts, but struggle with the arbitrary piece of text the state picks since they have no background knowledge of and no interest it. For some more advanced students, the pressure alone is enough to make their score drop. I have one student this year who came to me on the first day of school already worried about the writing test that won’t be given until February. Surely some test prep would help these students? Some practice in cold reading or strict prompt writing? Shouldn’t we let them know what the state is looking for since we as teacher are clear about it when we score?

I ask this now because next week our district is conducting a practice writing test for most of the eighth graders in the district. This test is being given in response to a state directive. I am planning a week of looking at test writing as a genre. We will look at a prompt and at scored results. Student will create a rubric of what makes a 1,2 3, etc. Then we will look at  past essays and what they would have scored. Wednesday we will take the practice test and score them in class on Thursday.  More writing analysis than test prep, but it is still a lesson to help students be aware of what will be asked of them in February.

If I present testing as writing (and reading) for a purpose and one of the purposes we examine is for testing, is that still test prep?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Today They Said Grammar Was Fun

Today my students said grammar was fun. They didn’t realize that’s what they were saying, but they said it. They thought they were saying that working in groups with big sheets of paper and colored markers was fun. They thought they were saying not listening to me lecture while they took notes was fun. What they were really saying was that grammar was fun.


We just finished up Charles, a dialogue rich story, and I though it would be a good time to tie in some grammar, so we looked at how to properly write quotes. Students struggle with this since there are many tiny rules associated with this skill (put punctuation inside the quotations, capitalize the first word of the quote but not the first word of the second part, etc). Very frustrating and very overwhelming. Kids hate this lesson.

So I decided to let them do the work. I found about ten different pieces of dialogue from the text and made sure I had two that illustrated all but the most obscure rules. In groups of three, students had to look at the selections and create the rules themselves. This is hard by the way, but they didn’t really notice.

Some groups latched on right away. Many started listing grammar rules that they already knew without looking at the sentences. For those groups I would ask questions like, “Why is there a comma for this sentence but a period for this one?” to get them started. By the time I called time, most groups had a pretty good list, not perfect but really, really good. Then we came together as a class to create a master list and discuss each rule while looking at examples of it.

At the end of class, I asked them, “Did you like that activity?”

They said, “It was fun.”



Filed under Uncategorized