Tag Archives: lessons

Stargirl and Lit Circle Projects

4 Mar

I recently blogged about the literature circles I was doing in my classroom. Students were grouped in ability level and read three different books: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. We recently ended the unit and I wanted to share some of the amazing book projects they put together.

I gave students a choice for projects including making a fake Facebook, doing journal entries as one of the characters, a book cover, a collage, scrapbook, power point or Prezi presentation…and many more. There was even a choice to do an essay and one student picked that!

Here are some of the good ones:

A student’s Prezi– Prezi is a great tool for presentations if you haven’t already seen it.  It’s more interactive than power point and allows you to zoom in, show relationships between ideas, and embed pictures and video. Take a look at the Prezi my student did on symbolism in Fahrenheit 451.




A student’s  book cover Stargirl.


Awesome collage!!


The inside


Stargirl scrapbook


Awesome job!!



Facebook project


More scrapbooks

End of book projects for the book Stargirl

Students did a great job! I love projects like these to assess their understanding of a book rather than giving a pencil and paper test.

AIS Writing Skill Charts

10 Feb

The NYS test in ELA is fast approaching (cringe) and raising my students’ reading levels and improving writing skills has become a priority in my classroom. I’ve taught AIS in the past, but wasn’t given the ability to have flexible grouping based on skills or any control over who was or wasn’t in my class. It essentially turned into another English class where

a) Students don’t receive a real grade….. you can imagine what a motivator that is.


b) AIS students are students are, by default, struggling writers and readers.

So they just love English, obviously. And since they struggle- this causes them to be on their best behavior and be very respectful of me and what I ask them to do, again, for no affect on an actual grade or GPA.

Are you getting my drift? Sounds like great fun, doesn’t it!?!?

This year, I have the ability to hand pick students by skill sets and group them according to how I want them grouped (taking into account behavior as well). The fact of how blessed I am because of this is not lost on me.

I wanted to design a way to motivate students, make sure they are working on individual skills, and actually make some REAL progress in AIS this year. Not just design worksheet after worksheet that students know have no affect on their grade and just give me a hard time about.

I designed two ‘skill sheets’, one for reading and one for writing AIS. The students’ job is to display the given skill a certain number of times before being *considered* to be taken out of AIS (which again, miraculously I have control over).

I picked skills for writing based on midterm and benchmark assessments. I picked skills for reading based on the common core standards AND results from a reading achievement test that my district had our students take. I made a chart and place each skill at the bottom of each column.


For writing, students have to display the skill a certain number of times during activities that we do in AIS as well as English. It makes it really helpful that I have ALL of the 8th graders in English so I know exactly what skills all of them need help with and also can carry over whatever we are doing in ELA into AIS. Again, a HUGE benefit. Before when I had AIS, the students all had different English teachers so they could all be doing different things at different times.


Then, they have to receive a 90% on a writing based assignment in English more than 5 times to be removed from AIS writing. This has them working furiously without me even DOING ANYTHING (Well, I walk around and provide them individual support). It makes it easy on me because I didn’t even design new lessons yet- I just gave them back the midterm and benchmark and asked them to rewrite the writing items they scored poorly on. Then they can work on other stuff from English class. I laminated the sheets and then check them off with dry erase marker when the students come to me with a completed writing piece. I can then reuse the sheets when I get new AIS students. *Patting myself on back*


Stay tuned for a different post on the reading AIS charts. It is a little more complicated and I this post was really word heavy. Plus I haven’t finished totally with my reading program yet, so I’ll keep you posted. If you read my blog for the healthy living content, I thank you graciously for actually reading to the end of this post!

If you’re a teacher- what have your experiences- good and bad- been with AIS?

Tips for holding literature circles in the classroom

23 Jan

Today we kicked off literature circles in my classroom. Students are divided based on (sort-of) ability level into groups. The three books we are reading revolve around individuality, conformity and fitting in.


The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Well, Fahrenheit 451 is a stretch…..it’s about a future society where no one is allowed free or individual thought, TV takes over the world and firemen burn books instead of put out fires. I wanted something challenging for some of my more advanced students…and it sort of fit the bill with ‘going against the grain’ and ‘individuality’ since the main character tries to break free of this oppressive society. Think Hunger Games. Anyways, here are a few things I’m using to help the literature circles run smoothly. Nothing groundbreaking in my opinion but class went well today!

Students assigning roles

This obviously isn’t a new idea. Each person picks a particular role including connector, discussion director, literary luminary and travel tracer. The roles will switch periodically. My co-teacher made this cool chart so students can keep track of which job is theirs.




Students establish rules

Today, I had each group make two columns in their notebook- one for behaviors that might make the circles run smoothly, and one for anticipated problems. The students came up with this list.


Ew my white board is gross

Then, I had them make a list of 5 rules the group had to adhere to. Most came up with rules like being prepared, staying on task and participating in conversation. Some students wanted to make up funny consequences for not doing the reading- like singing a song to the class or wearing a funny hat. They are harsher than I am!


Distribute a reading calendar or schedule

I gave them a calendar with

1) The activities for that day’s class.

2)The homework due that day.

3) The homework due for NEXT class.


I hope that things go smoothly, I am quite nervous about having three different books going on at one time and keeping up with everything. Hopefully students will take responsibility and get the work done so I can just sit back and watch them learn!

Vocabulary Groups: Update!

16 Jan

Awhile ago I posted about the vocabulary word groups that I was doing in my classroom. That was when I first started the strategy. Now we’re about four ‘word groups’ in and I thought I’d give an update. I think so far this strategy is more successful than any other vocabulary strategy I’ve used.

I’m not going to say every single kid knows every single word inside out and upside down, but I am actually seeing them retain some of the words through repetition. Right now, we are doing the ‘important’ words.



I haven’t left the other word groups (sad, happy and different) behind because the kids really need the repetition of the words in order to retain them. I have thrown the other words on quizzes, done review activities, and recently, the kids made Frayer diagrams using one word of choice.

I made word walls with them and posted the three word groups all over the classroom.


Words that mean different



Words that mean sad. Kids like to pick fun at me and my cat, Frank. I didn’t think this particular drawing was very nice.



I would be very somber if Frank died! How rude!!


Happy/Good words

Hopefully these word walls will help further reinforce the words as they will be looking at them every day. Just don’t know what I’m going to do when I run out of wall space for all of our word groups….. 

Facebook for School!

5 Jan

I think I mentioned the program ‘My Big Campus’ on this blog a little while ago, but I finally had the chance to put it into action this week in my classroom! The kids seem excited about it. One student exclaimed ‘This is like Facebook for school!’’

The first project we will be doing with this program is……you’ll never guess it….but blogging! I wanted my students to start blogging to design a digital portfolio of sorts via Edublogs (a WordPress program); however in order to make the students’ information and work private, I would have had to pay or the school would have to purchase a license :/.

I went to training for the My Big Campus program shortly after my blog project was derailed, and I realized that the My Big Campus profile allows you to have a blog through the program and it is totally private. Score!


Screen Shot of home page and ‘wall’.


Screen shot of profile

So this week students started gathering work to put on their digital portfolios. Students have to pick three pieces we’ve done so far:

1, 1 of 4 essays we’ve completed  (I know, 4 essays in 3 months, I’m mean)

2. A quiz, classwork or homework

3. A close read article with questions.

First, they will write a reflection about the piece based on these three questions:

– Why did you decide to include this piece?

-How did the piece allow you to grow as a student?

-What skills did you learn while completing this piece?

Then, they will either take a picture of the work and upload it on the My Big Campus blog, or copy and paste their paper from the word document into the blog. Finally, they will type their reflection under it and publish the post. When they are done they will have three separate blog entries that will serve as a digital portfolio and showcase of the work they’ve done this year. I’m hoping parents can also go on to access the student’s work.


Screen shot of sample ‘blog page’. I was showing this to students yesterday to demo what they would be doing. The picture came up sideways.  onIMG_0232[1]

Sample ‘reflection’. I was sharing this with them to get them to see what the reflection would look like.

With the My Big Campus program, you can also post announcements like homework and reminders, create tests and quizzes to assign to students, and hold forum-type discussions.


Assignments Page


Track students’ progress

I can’t wait to see what else I can do with this! It’s the first year so I’m sure as the students and I get more familiar with it it will be easier. Of course there’s the conversation that has to be had regarding what is appropriate for students to post, how to use it ethically, etc., that needs to happen. I’m sure I’ll run into students who want to abuse the privileges….

Question: How do you feel about the idea of a "Facebook for School”? Important tool or breeding ground for inappropriate behavior?

Christmas Classroom Fun

17 Dec

Four more days. Four more days. Four more days…..the week before Christmas vacation has been traditionally crazy for students and teachers. I’m just trying to get through it all…..A couple of fun things going on are keeping me optimistic and hopefully will make the week go by fast:

First- our completed holiday door decoration: Ugly Sweaters. This was the kids’ idea. Judging is tomorrow. WE MUST WIN!!!!!! I threatened to sabotage other teachers’ doors taught the kids about being a good sport and about how as long as we have fun that’s all that matters.

ugly sweaters

Yes, my students photo-shopped my picture onto a cat’s face. This is why we must win.

In order to combat week before break craziness, I implemented a reward system in addition to other reward systems I’m doing in some classes. Each class can earn three stickers per class period for behavior, effort and being prepared for class. At the end of Wednesday the class with the most stickers will receive ‘treats’ (Not sure what said treats will be. I envisioned Little Debbie Snacks. They’ll probably complain. Oh well).


Yeah…not sure how effective it’s going to be since it only goes until Wednesday (I have block scheduling and the last time I would see a class before break would be Thursday and Friday). Also, I have a feeling once the classes realize they’re losing, they’ll give up. Oh well, it’s fun and just another something to pass the week.


Had to change ‘xmas’ in order to be politically correct!!!!

Also, I’m pretty excited about this Pinterest find for teaching. Wasted no time today putting it into action. This eliminates the need for my random post it notes throughout the week of my to-do lists. I like making to-do lists, but I have the constant adding and crossing out. Instead of using the post its-I will make one of these sheets and just have a running list for the week. The next week, I’ll start a new one. Hope it helps make me more organized.



Anyone have any classroom ideas to help the week go by faster??? Please!!!

How to deal: when your lesson doesn’t go as planned

4 Dec

MP910220894Yes, it’s been one of those days. Only Tuesday. Eek. Everyone has them- days when the students just aren’t getting what you intended and you become frustrated. This happened today. The students are struggling with the material, and quite honestly I am a planner. I have everything planned out perfectly until after Christmas break and already set and copied. But the problem is everything doesn’t go as planned. Even veteran teachers run into problems and I am no veteran. I had to calmly talk myself down today and reminding myself of these things helped quite a bit:

1) It’s okay to stray from the plan. It’s easy to get caught up in “I have to get this done” and “I need to get through this material” and “This doesn’t go along with the plan”, but when it comes to following a plan, if I have to change something and put what I initially had planned on hold, IT’S FINE! My main goal is for the students to learn, not for me to “get through material”.

2) If you don’t cover the material now, it will cause problems down the road. I’m not a math teacher, but I could only imagine if I ignored the fact students were having problems doing addition, and just pushed ahead because I had to ‘get through things’, there would be an even bigger problem when I tried to teach them how to multiple. Skills build on one another, so slowing down now will be worth it in the end.


3) The main goal is student learning. Yeah, I might have to push my unit back a week. Yeah, we might have to spent more time writing thesis statements. Who cares? The main thing to remember is that the goal is student learning. If I have to push things like paperwork, planning and extra curricular activities aside, so be it.


It’s going to be okay!

Whew! I feel better already. After the day I’ve had, I decided to revamp a couple of lessons that I plan on doing in the next few days and slow down the instruction to insure that students are really getting it before moving on. I hope this will help me avoid problems in the future.

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