7 Provocative Ways to Rev Up Your Child's E.L.A. Brain This Summer

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Summer is quickly approaching, and children will be footloose and fancy free.  The last thing kids will be thinking about is school.

However, we know that kids become bored pretty quickly even though the pool, the beach, and their bikes beckon.

During the dog days of summer,  we find them hiding in the basement or their rooms watching television or gaming while they binge on junk food.

And then there is that pesky little problem of summer reading! Teachers prepare packets so kids' brains don't turn to mush!

We know kids rail against this required work until the last possible moment..

Instead, kids need to approach summer brain stimuli in a different way--and, indeed,  this is the challenge we face as parents!

As you will be in the thick of it with them, I tried to think of ideas that are less run-of-the-mill, and ones  I think will actively engage your kids-- and you as well!

1.  BookBub.com

I don't know if you have checked this out as an adult, but it's a great hub for kids as well. 

It began in 2012, and the company is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in case you are wondering.

It was started to help publishers and authors drive their books straight to readers and fans.  

You can get updates about upcoming releases and recommendations from authors about books they love.  

The best thing about BookBub is signing up is absolutely free, which is great, right?

You simply sign up with your email, and you are able to choose the book genres which pique your reading curiosity. They offer over 20.

Here's how it works:   Each day, BookBub will send you a daily email with titles chosen for you and your child based on your genre preferences. You then download the title(s) you want to your Kindle, iPad, Android,or your Nook for  free or for a discounted fee.  Some are as low as $1.99.  

However, there are 2 catches:

  • First, they are down loadable eBooks, so you need to have one of those devices aforementioned.  
  • Secondly,  deals are only for a limited time, so if you see an eBook you want, jump on it or you may lose it!

Again, there are titles for adults as well as children and middle-grades students as well.  Check it out. 

2.  Color-As-You-Go Summer Reading Challenge

This idea is so cute if you have elementary aged kids, but I am sure your older child could be creative and come up with more sophisticated challenges if this doesn't do it for him or her.

The bookmark challenge is on We Are Teachers site, so click on the link and print the checklist and the bookmarks.
All it is is a coloring activity where your child is tasked with a challenge, and once completed, he/she colors in the picture or simply checks it off.

For example:  Read a book your friend is reading.  Read to your teddy bear.

Sounds cute!

3.  Mad Libs

It might be an oldie, but it's a goody!

They have been around since 1953 and were created by Leonard Stern and Roger Price.

The name Mad Libs came about after the creators overheard an argument involving an actor and his agent;  he wanted to ad-lib an interview and the agent thought he was mad, as in insane. 

At the time, Leonard Stern was writing for "The Steve Allen Show" and use this device to introduce guests.

The television audience loved them, so they decided to call their product Mad Libs and released them in 1958.

They obviously caught-on, and they've been selling like hot cakes ever since.
The fun of Mad Libs is:
  •  the person does not begin by reading the story first as he or she fills in the blank!

  • Instead, he/she is asked to fill out a list of random nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs which appear on the back of the story.  

  •  Once he/she has completed the list,  the writer inserts them into the story which makes little sense but more importantly,  creates a whole lot of laughs. My students and my own children love them!  

  • The takeaway is that Mad Libs are a great way to review parts-of-speech in a creative, non-threatening way, and it also stirs up kids' creativity and curiosity. 
  • You can choose to buy the Mad Lib books; here is a link to Amazon.com  There is also a game that can be purchased as well on Amazon.
  • You can also get to the official Mad Lib site by clicking this link. 

4. Blogging for Kids

I encourage you to check out the Website, Kids Learn to Blog.com if you are wondering how to keep your child writing this summer in a way he/she has never done before. 

Since safety on the Internet is paramount, this website is a great place to land to learn the ins and outs of blogging. 

 I also encourage you to read the following article by Dr. Patricia Fioriello entitled, "Blogging for Kids Under 13: Advantages and Disadvantages" which was published on this site.  She acknowledges the benefits and the risks of allowing your child to blog, and it's so worth the read. 

  • The key takeaway is that since parental involvement is the key when your child is blogging, ultimately, it is something you and your child can work on together! 

  • You are encouraging your child to share his/her thoughts with others to increase his/her communication and social skills while you carefully monitor what your child is posting as you establish guidelines and set parameters.

  • Therefore, blogging can be a great way to connect with your child.  He/she will learn to be a responsible online user, and it's a great way to show him or her that you are tech-savvy as well.

  • Think outside of the box and give the idea and a site your attention. 

  • You and your child may decide you have much you'd like to share with the world-at-large!

5. DomiNations

If you've been battling the Fortnight craze in your home, you may want to skip this idea.

Yet, if you are inclined to allocate a certain amount of time for your kid's to access their iPhone, this particular game might be the lesser of many evils.

This game incorporates history and architecture as an integral part of the game as your child will be busy constructing his/her own nation.  It's dubbed as an "Empire builder & battle game."  

Yes, your child will be creating an army, but when he/she is not battling, he/she will be building the infrastructure of his/her own land.

More importantly, he/she will meet interesting historical figures as the game spans from the Bronze to the Industrial Age. 

It's for ages 13 and up. 

There is no sex, offensive language or references to drinking, drugs or smoking, yet there is violence.  

Parents beware: 

1.  Your child can play alone or with friends or anonymous players online in a league. There is a parental code you can enter to prevent this.

2.   Also, in order to advance, your child will be encouraged to make in-app purchases.

**** I encourage you to look it up and decide what is best for your child and ultimately your sanity and budget.

6.  Scholastic.com

This, too, is an oldie and a goody!  It's so timely and fun to read!

I use Scholastic Scope Magazine in my own E.L.A. middle school classroom,and this site is great for kids up to age 14.

 As a parent as well, I urge you to go on and check out the many resources available to you and your child.

1.  When you land on the site, up top you will see the Parents tab.  

2.  Click on it, and you will see all the great resources for you and your child. 

3.  Press on the link,   Scholastic.com and it will take you right to the parent page!  

Scholastic has book clubs, with popular titles at great prices.  You'll also find suggestions for activities for you and your child with printables, and there is even a magazine Parent and Child which discusses pressing parental issues! 

Check it out.  My students and I love Scholastic!  You will, too.  You're welcome! 

7. Would You Rather...

As you may be aware, I did an entire blog on this very fun and effective writing strategy which enables students to practice a short answer response as they employ higher level thinking skills.

Moreover, it is a great way to teach your child how to refute or rebut by encouraging him/her to discuss the choice he/she did not choose and why not.  

For more on this fun writing strategy, you can check out my blog: The #1 Prompt to Get Kids to Buy Into Writing!

There are actual games that you can purchase, and there are also websites that have provocative questions geared specifically toward children.

Click on this link, and it will take you to: Conversation Starters World.com   

Here is an example from the site

"Would you rather be the author of a popular book or a musician in a band who released a popular album?"

I use the Would You Rather writing prompt in my classroom as a Do Now activity every Friday, and my students love it.

Furthermore, I have witnessed great growth in my students' writing as they love to do this, and they don't realize they are practicing their writing skills and the proper way to structure a paragraph:

  • Your child will practice using a topic sentence and a claim- He/she states his/her choice, based on the prompt and why he/she chose it.  

  • Then, he/she elaborates about why he/she feels this way.  Additionally, he/she should also explain why he/she did not choose the other choice and elaborate why. 

  • Finally, he or she concludes his her paragraph by repeating or rephrasing the topic sentence and the claim.  

  • Additionally, you can use an article from the paper or an article from say Scholastic.com and have your child use text-based evidence to back up his/her thinking.  He/she can practice "lifting a line" and using a parenthetical citation.   

So, there you have it.  

I hope these ideas will help you and your child relax, renew, and rediscover the joys of learning this summer in a thought-provoking, less hum-drum way.     

I'd love some to hear some feedback and to know which ideas worked best for you. 

ENJOY your summer with your children! Keep them busy and happy and yourself, too!

My best,


A Real-World Vocabulary Lesson: Should Any Words Be Off-Limits?

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A verbal jab can be just as hurtful as a punch in the face!

This is a different blog for me as I am used to dispensing information in the way of  a classroom tip, or I may give some insight from my own personal writing experience.

However, as a teacher and as a writer, and more importantly, as a parent and human being, I understand the power of words, which is what I wish to briefly focus on in this blog. 

These are my own opinions, so take them for what they are worth in relation to your own way of thinking.

In this graceless age, are our words powerful, or are they lost in the noise of anger?

We all have heard time and time again that words are powerful. It's a cliche that is becoming meaningless...but, I argue, only if we let it.

Words ARE powerful, and they can be catalysts of ideas which enact lasting change and lead to a better society.

However, if used maliciously, we all know that words are demoralizing weapons, and their effects can tear down a society.

Who doesn't remember a hurtful comment that was hurled at him/her either thoughtlessly or maliciously? 

Vicious words most certainly can sting. 

In my eighth grade E.L.A. classroom, we spend much time discussing how our word choice and tone varies depending on the task, audience, and the setting in which we are writing.

I set boundaries for my students.  

For example, if students are writing a formal essay which I shall read and assess, they are directed to work on word choice, and I caution them not to use first person personal pronouns such as I, me, or my, we, us, second person pronouns you/your, or graveyard words such as a lot, things, get, got, hang out, kids, etc.

No matter how many times we work on this, they seem to creep into their formal writing.

In the same way, when I discuss with my students the language of bullying, or words that are inappropriate in school, invariably, I hear them as they reverberate around the building.

And adults are no better.

Most adults, including myself, don't always practice what we preach.

I hear adults speaking poorly on a routine basis.  

I will accept that I am one of  the worst offenders. I am by know means a saint, and I am as humanly flawed as my counterparts.

In my classroom, I model proper diction and verbiage.  I try to be a model citizen.

However, outside of school, I have been known to use an expletive as a way of shocking someone or getting a laugh.

Most people don't expect me to use ubiquitous, derogatory language, so when I do, it is usually to evoke surprise.

All of a sudden, someone is listening.

My words have shock value.

Case-in-point: I am sure, by now, you are aware of  the derogatory word (and this is putting it mildly) Samantha Bee used to describe a picture of Ivanka Trump with her son.

She used the "C" word, and in this context and case, it didn't refer to cancer.

If you are unsure of the terminology to which I am referring, think of the most disgusting word you can think of that begins with the letter c and  which demeaningly refers to a woman's private body part.


In my opinion, there are just some words that should never be used in any setting under any circumstances no matter the objective or the audience!

The "C" word is unacceptable, and call me old-fashioned, but I believe it has no place in our lexicon.

Unfortunately, we most certainly do live in a graceless age, but what is worse, this world now lacks basic social boundaries which in the past would never be crossed.

While some argue this is a great thing, the line between the acceptable and the outrageous is now blurred. There is a huge grey area, and we are all mired in the swamp.

Although some will say my thought process is a threat to the First Amendment, I think it's time to resort to common sense and set some verbal boundaries for the next generation and ourselves.

Many commentators and pundits on television seem angry and are spewing venom in the name of journalism or comedy!

It's everywhere!

It's the same old vitriolic, low-class bashing which has unfortunately become the new normal since Donald Trump was elected.

Clearly, Samantha Bee cashed-in on this momentum toward the downward spiral of effective communication, and she most certainly received the momentary shock value she sought.

However,  I think she should fire her writing team as their communication skills are seriously lacking.

Call me a simpleton, but I still can't derive the correlation between Ivanka Trump's picture, the "C" word, and President Trump's "feckless" immigration policy.

I think the point is that there doesn't have to be.

Right now in our society, if you are aligned to a certain  political ideology, disparaging, unwarranted, rude comments are limitless and boundless.

Conversely, I was just as shocked that she used that particular "f" word  correctly, so I'll give some points back to her team. Few people know that feckless means irresponsible, which perfectly describes her disgusting comment. 

At one time in our society, people who used vulgar, distasteful language were thought to be ignorant and immoral. 

Now, they are celebrated, late-night television hosts who take-in millions of dollars and viewers.

Vulgarity seems to be the rule of the day, and we try to pass it off as acerbic wit.  

It is not. 

I dare say that if Shakespeare was in the audience, he would quip, "I would challenge you to a battle of wits, but I see you are unarmed."

We all know that Samantha Bee's audience tunes in to see her bash conservatives, and judging from their uproarious, positive reaction, they certainly received their money's worth that night.

Now, do not misunderstand my disgust.  I am not a conservative who is miffed that another so-called conservative was under attack.

What's disturbing to me is Ms. Bee's comment was no accident. As a few pundits pointed out, Ms. Bee used the "C" word intentionally:

It was not a slip-of-the-tongue.

It was scripted; then, it was taped.  Finally, it aired.

That word was meant to wound.

It was meant to demean.

There was no punch-line or joke.  

It was a foul-mouthed, personal attack plain and simple.

Her words were not thoughtless; she knew their weight.

Her attack was malicious, and it was her full intention.

Although this is a word men have been forbidden to utter, I think you'll agree it sounds just as abhorrent when a woman unleashes it on a female opponent!

The moral: the word is repugnant and sexist when it comes forth from anyone's foul mouth! The mention of it degrades a woman and cuts her to the quick. 

I will concede, however, that once Samantha Bee received backlash, she apologized on Twitter for her comment.  I will give her points for this as did her network, TBS, which is also owned by CNN.  

As I tell my students all the time, and as I try to do in my own life, if you make a mistake, own up to it and genuinely apologize.

And above all, work very hard not to repeat the same offense!  This action denotes that you are truly sorry.

However, how did using this word serve her?

Did her comment bring her ideas into the fore-front of our collective thinking and elevate our thinking in a profound, auspicious way?

The answer is no.

Moreover, I question whether her own self-aggrandizement, which lasted a few hours until she was forced to go back and apologize and retract her words, was worth it?

Through the use of the "C" word, was the intentional act of debasing herself and bulldozing through a verbal boundary to gain negative publicity and ratings worth more to her than her character and lasting legacy?    

Judging from her actions, I would say yes.

Even if her intention was to shock, the "C"  word has no place on television, but if it does, what does it say about us a society?

Author Mark Steyn's take is that the 'F" word has lost it's shocking punch as it's appearing more routinely on television, so we're on to the next, most vile word we can find to describe and attack those with whom we disagree.

Hence, all of this begs the question that in today's climate, are we teaching children fairness and to take responsibility for their actions? And, are we teaching kids that in our society, the consequences of one's actions are fair and equitable?

I don't think so.

Rosanne Barr's highly rated television show is canceled due to her discourteous, racial comment concerning the appearance of Valerie Jarrett.

Ms. Barr was dealt with swiftly and harshly even after she vehemently apologized just like Samantha Bee did.

Yes, one can argue she has made disparaging comments in the past, and she was warned to stop.  She didn't; thus; she was fired.

Yet, her tweet came in the middle of the night.  No, this does not excuse her harsh words nor does it make them okay, but she certainly wasn't reading it off a teleprompter as her show aired.

Will Samantha Bee be fired for her attack on Ivanka Trump which was just as personal and unwarranted?

I wager to bet definitely not!

While she has temporary lost some advertisers, it seems her apology is sufficient for now and most likely will be well into the future.  

If you really think about it, Samantha Bee did cross a line, but she also did that which she is hired to do, which is to shock and make people laugh. She seems to have achieved her objective.

I am curious to see if Ms. Bee ever does use that word again, and if she does, will she ever use it toward someone with whom she aligns politically, or will she only use it against those with whom she strongly disagrees?

I won't be tuning in to her show to find out. 

No, the consequences of people's actions in our society are by-no-means fair or equitable.

So here is the takeaway:

  • Is this how adults should be acting?

  • Is this the societal atmosphere in which we wish to raise our children, where civil discourse and healthy, spirited debate no longer exist?

Here's the real-word vocabulary lesson I challenge all of us to teach our children:

1.  First, we need to get back to basics in this country.  Children and adults need to think very carefully before they speak, no matter what their peers maybe espousing

As we know, children need boundaries.  They crave and seek them though they rally against them.  

Obviously, adults need them, too.

It is up to us as the role models in our children's lives to tell them there are certain verbal boundaries that should never be crossed!

Once words are said, they can never be taken back even when they are followed by an apology.

This is the real lesson.

2.  There are certain words that should be off limits whether one is a child or an adult.  The "C" word and the "N" word are two that fit that bill.  

Vocabulary is a natural component of any classroom, but it also is how we are judged out in the real world.

The more articulate and well-versed someone is, the more revered and respected he/she is.

Is this still the case?

There  are thousands, essentially millions, of words that can adequately describe our feelings without debasing ourselves and using words which undermine the impact of our intention and ourselves.

 I recently came across an article I read a couple of years ago entitled, "Facing the Consequences of Using the N-Word" by Isaac Bailey, which was posted on CNN's website on May 2, 2016,

"The same goes for any person in power who wields that [N] word not to deepen an important conversation, to add historical context to a debate or discussion, to embrace someone as a loved, respected brother (which is how Wilmore used it in reference to Obama) but instead to demean and belittle."

When my students and I read,  To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee,  before we reach chapter 9, where Atticus is called a 'nigger lover' by a family member for his decision to defend a black man, Tom Robinson, my students and I have a frank discussion about the context of  the 'N" word.

The "N" word  was used during the 1930s during the Jim Crow era in the Deep South.  It was used as a weapon of hate to 'demean and belittle' and was a rampant part of many white southerners' vernacular.

However, while it was acceptable given the time and the place and the mood of Maycomb, Alabama, I make it very clear to my students that there is no place for it in our classroom or in our community in 2018.

So, this naturally leads into lesson number 3:

3.  When in doubt, one should channel his/her Atticus Finch:

A. Do your best to speak the truth when necessary, but do not personally attack someone.  Be forthright, not condescending.

B. Realize that silence is sometimes the most effective weapon in a war-of-words. Think, too, of  John Morley's astute quote, "You have not converted a man because you have silenced him."  Just as Atticus does in chapter 23, pull out your hanky and wipe the spit of someone's hurtful words from your cheek and walk away.

C.  Realize that when a controversial topic comes up, be respectful as you are in essence fighting your friends.  After all, we are all Americans.   Agree to disagree in a civil manner.

 D.  Practice the golden rule and do unto others.  Think before launching a personal attack. If the tables were turned, would you want to be on the receiving end?  

 E.  Stay true to yourself and be the better person.   You can only control your actions, not anyone else's.

F. Build your reputation and your legacy one word, one action at a time.  Your name is synonymous with your character.  Make sure the mention of your name makes someone smile and not roll their eyes in disgust.

 I am all for the First Amendment:

 I don't want speech banned no matter how offensive.

I don't want books like To Kill a Mockingbird banned.

 I want people to hold tight to the constitutional freedoms the founding fathers framed and fought for, which is the right to free speech.

And the only way we will is if we are tireless and brave enough to educate our children about their role as the next generation.

I hope we can teach them to be more thoughtful, kinder, more empathetic people. 

If not, we will have failed in our responsibility to teach them to be verbally articulate, higher level thinkers, and instead, we can look forward to urbane, shock-jocks who will continue to perpetuate and advocate the verbal ruin of us all. 

Don't let it happen!  Speak eloquent truth to power today and every day. 

Or our words will surely come back to bite us!

Most sincerely,


Work cited:

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. HarperPerennial, 1961, 2001.

The #1 Way To Get Your Kids Hyper Yet Keep Them On Their Guard, too!

Monday, April 16, 2018

As a 21st Century teacher, are you tired of seeing your students uninvested, lethargic, detached, bored, and disconnected in your E.L.A. classroom?

Sounds dismal, doesn't it, but when kids think of anything related to the English Language Arts classroom, this is how they feel.

And from my vantage point as their teacher, this is the bleak scene I see spread out before me like a wet blanket at a picnic. 

However, if you use Google Chromebooks in your classroom, or you have access to computers at school, and you want to:

  • learn 2 new tips 
  • no matter what grade or what subject you teach 
  • well then, read on.

I urge you to learn about and to implement HyperDocs in your classroom!  HyperDocs give students the freedom to Engage, Explore, Explain, Apply, Share, Reflect and Extend. 

Additionally, by also using GoGuardian, you can monitor students as they work and make sure this is indeed what they are actually doing in your room. 

So, in this blog post
1. You will find out what a Hyper Doc is and is not. There are a ton of links that show you types of HyperDocs and will even help you to create one of your own!
2. You will learn how I implemented one in my classroom. It will help you to see how it works.
3. You will learn about GoGuardian. I give a brief overview at the end of the post.
4. You can use both no matter which grade or subject you teach.

**And, you should feel free to click any and all the links throughout this post to explore more on your own! 

Let's start with HyperDocs!

I had no idea what a HyperDoc was, for I had never heard the term.  Have you?

  • According to Kristen Berg of Berg's 21st Century Tools, HyperDocs "are digital lessons designed to give students opportunities to develop digital literacy.  They come in many different formats with the general purpose of giving students access to resources, and opportunities to collaborate, communicate, create and think critically."
  • First, if you have no idea what a HyperDoc looks like, visit the Hyperdocs.co. website to acquaint yourself with HyperDocs. The information below comes from their website.

    These are the ladies who created HyperDocs!

These are The HyperDocs Girls- Kelly Hilton, Lisa Highfill, and Sarah Landis!
Here are some helpful tips from their website:

  • Make sure that when you create a HyperDoc, it is not just a digital worksheet.  

"Evaluate your HyperDoc!

Is this a HyperDoc or a digital worksheet? Ask yourself the following:

1. Is your HyperDoc based on a specific lesson design? Shifting from the explain, apply, assess cycle of learning to explore, explain, apply model is a first step in moving from a lecture-based classroom to one which values inquiry learning.
cycles of learning
2. Did you include the 4 C's in your lesson? Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creation?
3. What level of critical thinking and technology did you integrate? Is this a simple recall task or does this push your student's thinking? Is it substitution or is the technology used to transform the learning?"
Click here to see how to build your own HyperDoc!  

**For the purposes of this post, I won't show you how to build one; I encourage youto peruse the various templates, and I shall let you do that on your own.

**However, I will show you how I used one in my classroom and how it is, indeed, a HyperDoc and not a digital worksheet.

 I hope you are ready. Let's begin! 

Tip #1:  How I made my students Hyper!

  1. This is an E.L.A. lesson on how to create an introductory paragraph. 
  2. I go in-depth to let you see how the HyperDoc worked in my room. 
  3. This year, our middle school received Chromebooks, and for me, this was a scary new addition to my E.L.A. classroom.  
  4. However, a HyperDoc helped change my perspective!

A Hyper Doc lesson plan is structured in these 7 steps, but again you customize it to fit your lesson objective:
1. You Engage your students.
2. They set out to Explore the topic.
3. The object of the lesson is Explained.
4. They Apply and Explain what they have learned. 
5. They Share what they have learned by collaborating with their teacher/peers. 
6. Teachers can/will Evaluate student learning using formative assessment and student self-reflection. You can also provide a rubric so students understand how they will be assessed.

7.  Student learning can be Extended by providing further resources for future inquiry, and students will utilize the skill learned in the future by using it in a different situation.

  • Again, if you have no idea to what I am referring, I encourage you to go to this link: Hyperdocs.co  for there are ready-made samples of HyperDoc lessons in many different subject categories. There are a ton of them, and you are sure to find one that fits a subject that you teach.

  • Of course, teachers can manipulate HyperDocs in any way they choose, but again, it must follow the confines of a true HyperDoc and not a Digital Document.  (See that section again for clarification.) Click this link to find customizable lesson templates at http://hyperdocs.co/templates

Set Up: I wanted my students to review how to write an introductory paragraph.

By eighth grade, students have been writing essays for some time, so a whole-class lesson on how to craft an introduction did not seem necessary.  The concept just needed to be reviewed.

Therefore, I decided it would be the perfect time to create a HyperDoc for my students.  HyperDocs aid in the gradual release that all teachers are striving for with their students.  YAY!

ActionIntrigued,  I located one and tweaked it for my own purposes.
  • First,  first I found a HyperDoc template, and I designed it to fit the needs of my students. 

  • Since we are using Google Chromebooks, I created it in Google Slides, and then I created an assignment, made a copy for each student, and voila, I sent it to each of my students. 

  • Click on the link above to see what the HyperDoc looks like that I used with my students so that you will understand the process I explain below.  Mine is very simplistic in its design; yours can be more sophisticated, but nonetheless, it proved to be an invaluable teaching tool for me and my students.

  •  It reviews each of the 4 elements of the introductory paragraph and provides a place on each Google Slide for students to take notes, apply and share what they have learned by color-coding and by practicing writing an introduction, and then applying what they had learned by extending the skills learned as they apply them to the essay class assignment. 

    1. So,  first my students ENGAGED and EXPLORED

   A. They ENGAGED by reading the slide with the specific directions which EXPLAINED the objective of the lesson.  

  B. Then, students EXPLORED by donning their earphones and listening to and watching the video on how to craft an introduction from start to finish

This particular video took students to the next level of writing an introduction:
  • Students were introduced to the importance of the Hook, which should grab the readers attention, 
  • the bridge sentence which explains how the hook relates to the thesis without yet mentioning it.
  • Then, students needed to craft a thesis statement, which explains the focus of the essay, and they must put it last in the introduction, 
  • thereby creating an inverted triangle. Students would start out general and become very specific by the time they arrived at the thesis statement. 

     C.  Though this was a review of an introductory paragraph, it would prove to be a bit more challenging than ones they had crafted in the past. For some of my students, they were never introduced to writing an introduction this way, so they needed to focus as they engaged with the video.

     D.  As they explored, students worked at their own pace, for the HyperDoc enabled them to go back and revisit parts of the video on the introductory paragraph as many times as they needed because it was right at their fingertips.

2. Next, students had to APPLY what they had learned: 
         A. While students listened and watched the video, a slide was provided where they could type notes.
      B.  Then, students were instructed to go to Padlet (I plan to do a future blog on this site) where they would write on a virtual sticky note about what they had learned from the video about the inverted triangle concept of writing an introductory paragraph.  
  • It would then post on the virtual classroom board.  Students enjoy it. It's fun for the teacher, too.  Instead of sticky notes all over the whiteboard, it's all on the computer!  
  • Students could see what their classmates had written.  So, this stage required them to think critically and also SHARE  

      C.  After the Padlet activity, students went back to the HyperDoc and found the slide that had an example of an introductory paragraph. Students had to read it and then identify its parts by color-coding each of the 4 components necessary for an effective introductory paragraph.

      D.  Finally, they practiced writing an introduction as well. On the next slide after color-coding, they had to choose between two prompts, and this is where students would practice and APPLY what they had learned.

      E. Again, they could return to the video or the color-coded paragraph for help. They could also utilize a slide in the HyperDoc that lists the 4 parts of the introduction in the order they appear in the paragraph.

     F.  As students progressed through the slides, they could change font styles and colors to customize the HyperDoc to their own learning style.  So, it taps into a student's modality of learning.

      G.  Moreover, no more paper and pen. This Google Slides presentation will live forever in a student's Google Classroom Stream. None of my students can whine and say they have lost it. I know where it endures forever!  Whenever they need to write an introductory paragraph for any class, not just E.L.A., they can find it right here as they have easy access.

       H.  In addition, every year students tell me they know the basic parts of an introduction, and although they can name the parts, they can't always apply them to an essay we are writing.

  • Thus, this HyperDoc requires not only understanding of the definition of each piece of an introductory paragraph, but the application of each component as well.  The HyperDoc gives students a place to do all of this on their own and at their own pace.

 3.  After I EVALUATED how effectively they wrote their practice introductions, we communicated and collaborated: 

         A.  When my students finished writing the practice introduction in the HyperDoc, they shared them with me, for they "turned them in" to me in Google Classroom.

  • Communication: I reviewed each student's introductory paragraph by commenting on the slides about what was working and what was not. Thus, I was able to very easily and quickly formatively assess who was at mastery level at crafting an introduction, and who was struggling with this application.

  • Collaboration: As a follow-up to my comments, I easily returned each HyperDoc to its creator, and if they needed to make corrections, they would revise and edit and then  SHARE it with me again. 

  • Also, since this was done in the classroom setting, I could help students who were struggling or didn't know how to correct one of the elements of the introduction I had commented on. Students could come forward and ask me a question, and  I conferenced face-to-face with these students.

   4. The next phase is referred to as the EXTENSION or Creation phase:
        A. Now that students had practiced how to write an introductory paragraph, read my comments and made corrections,  they would then return to the essay we were working on in class.

  • Students had already written the body paragraph, so now they were charged with creating the introductory paragraph for a literary essay on Ray Bradbury's short story, "The Veldt." 

  • Hence, as students worked through their first drafts, they needed to engage their higher-level thinking skills as applied the elements of an introduction. This is indeed the EXTENSION phase.  

  • Although they can regurgitate the parts of an introduction, they have difficulty coming up with a Hook, bridging it to the topic without mentioning the TAG, and formulating the thesis statement.  

  • Also, students usually forget the TAG and are not always exactly sure of the focus of the essay.  So while this seems simple, I was shocked to find how many students struggled when they had to write the introduction on "The Veldt."  

  • For some, this was very challenging, and they are most often surprised at how difficult it can be to write an introduction. It seems easy, but it definitely involves the integration of higher-level thinking skills and the application of the components of an introduction. Therefore, I encouraged students to revisit the HyperDoc during the EXTENSION phase as they worked on the rough draft of the introductory paragraph of the essay.   

        5. As an addition to the EXTENSION phase,  students engaged in the revision and editing phase, and students SHARED their introductions with a partner as they peer-edited.  It was great for each student to read an introductory paragraph written by one of his/her peers.  

     A. From my experience, most students learn best from each other.  As they peer-edited, I encouraged them to open and refer to the HyperDoc and comment on their partner's writing and integration of all of the necessary components.

  • I also applied a rubric to the assignment and it clearly delineated what the introductory paragraph should consist of, so the students could use it as a checklist.

  • My students don't always value the Sharing stage, but I do since it affords each student another pair of eyes before it comes to be for a grade.  A peer-partner can read his/her partner's introduction, evaluate it against the rubric, and offer either praise or assistance before it is turned into me for formal assessment.  It gives students another bow before the final curtain.

  • Furthermore, I think students are often more comfortable being constructively criticized by a peer than by a teacher.  I allow students to choose a peer editor of their choice, but I caution them to choose wisely as this person needs to be honest with his/her feedback and not let friendship get in the way of effectively evaluating his/her partner's paper.

  • Furthermore, students come to realize that there is no such thing as one and done.  Writing is rewriting. 

  • Also, by having received the rubric ahead of time, students know exactly how they will be evaluated. They know how they will earn their grade, and it is up to them to make sure their introductory paragraphs have all of the necessary components in the order they should be presented.  

  • So, just as the peer-editor did his/her job, the student must then go back and make any necessary changes that are indicated by the peer-editor. If he/she does not, he/she reaps what he/she sows.

      6.  As a result, I am sure you can see that this was a HyperDoc and not a  digital worksheet! 

    A.  This HyperDoc required each student to engage, explore, explain, apply, share, reflect/ evaluate and extend his/her learning in an articulate, intellectual, and critical manner. 

Hence, students accomplished the 4 Cs, for they:
  • engaged in critical thinking, 
  • communicated with me, 
  • we collaborated through Google and if need be, with face-to-face interaction

  • and from their slides, they worked hard to create their introductions which they are ready to Share. 

So, here's the sum up about how to make kids Hyper in your classroom:

  • If you are a fan of Facebook, I encourage you to join the FaceBook HyperDocs page and share it with your colleagues as well. Once you join, you can search and find ready-made HyperDoc lesson plans to use with your students. You can create your own as well. 

Tip #2: Here's how you can guard your students and keep them on their guard

      Ultimately, HyperDocs certainly give students a level of autonomy that should be an integral part of any classroom where the goal is inquiry-based learning. Working on the Chromebooks certainly allows for this; however...

 If students working at their own pace on a HyperDoc scares you a little as you worry you won't have full control over what they are doing on their Chromebooks or on any computer... 

 Let's briefly talk about GoGuardian!  You can Guard your students and keep your students on their guard!

If you are worried about allowing students to work independently on their Chromebooks I encourage you to use GoGuardian.  

  • Your school district administrator would most likely buy it for administrators and teachers, but if you visit the site, you can try it out and see how it works. 

  • You can create a session for each of your classes, and you are able to monitor students and let them know that you know what they are working on at any given moment. An account is very easy to set up for all of your classes.  

  • You can see on your computer screen what everyone is doing in your classroom when they are online. 

  • And, if your students are not doing what you asked, you can send messages to them to shut down inappropriate tabs, and you can even lock their computers! 

  • It's an awesome resource, for as a teacher, we don't have eyes that can be everywhere! 

  • Try it! Students are shocked when you check them! It's so funny.

So, those are the 2 takeaways from this post on how to make kids Hyper and keep them on their Guard at the same time!  

Try HyperDocs and GoGuardian; you won't be sorry! 

You'll be invigorated, and so will your students. Again, click the links above and peruse them yourself. You will be so glad you did!

As always, I thank you for stopping by and reading my words. Please share this with those you know who might be interested.

If you try either in your classroom, I'd love to hear about it.   

I'd appreciate your leaving comments.   I'd love some feedback.

Until next time, I'll be writingupsidedown!


The #1 Writing Prompt to Get Kids to Buy Into Writing!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

You are going to want to use this in your classroom!

Do your students ever groan when you ask them to write ANYTHING?

Does their writing lack voice and enthusiasm?

Wouldn't it be great to find a writing prompt that will get kids writing?

This worked for my students, and I bet it WILL work well for yours, too!

I didn't invent it, but I use it in my classroom once a week, and suddenly my students are invested in their writing.

Best of all, they want to share it out loud, and it leads to a lively discussion.

It renews my faith that I am teaching them the rudiments of good writing as I hear the components integrated into their paragraphs.

Yet, most importantly, I hear their writing come to life. It has passion.

What is this writing prompt, you ask?  

Would you rather I tell you now, or would you rather wait until the very end of this blog?

Oh, all right! I will share the secret with you:

How did I get kids to buy in?

By Introducing Would You Rather questions into my classroom, and you can, too!

It's easier than you think!

Here's how I structure my classroom and find time once a week for the Would You Rather question, and you may want to try this out as well

As you know, I teach creative writing; however, you may not know that I also teach 3 periods of Eighth grade English Language Arts.

I open each day of the week with a specific Do Now activity.

I find this approach allows me to fit in the myriad of tasks integral to an English Language Arts classroom, but each only takes a few minutes a day!

For example:
  • On Monday, it is called Our Monday Edit, where we review a grammar skill.  
  • Shakespeare Tuesday is the direct result of a request I received from a high school colleague which is to help prepare this group of incoming freshman by introducing them to the language of Shakespeare through his words, idioms, and quotes from his most popular plays. 
  • Word Wednesday is where and when I reinforce vocabulary from the text we are reading or introduce to students a new and interesting word they should incorporate into their writing or speech. 
  • Go to the Video Tape Thursday is where I share a video related to a skill we are mastering or to the literature we are reading.
  • And finally, I end with Would You Rather Friday, which to my surprise is my students favorite Do Now day of the whole week!

Each year I spend an exorbitant amount of time teaching my students to write a well-developed, cohesive paragraph, and it seems like I never get the kind of writing from my students that I want.

Of course, like you, we go through the writing process, and I have my students review, practice and incorporate the 6 + 1 Traits of Writing into their paragraphs and essays. However, even though I use a mnemonic device to help my students learn the essential components of a paragraph, what I usually receive is boring, formulaic writing.

The paragraphs are often flat and lack a real voice.  Voice is hard to teach and even harder for students to grasp and incorporate into their writing.

Students also don't elaborate. They write a sentence or two which are usually repetitive or boring.

Except on Fridays!

My students love Would You Rather writing prompts, and if you, like I, wish to see your students' writing come alive, I urge you to try them in your classroom a.s.a.p.!

This is a link to LifeHacks, which has some really good Would You Rather questions to get your students started.  

Of course, beware: not all of them are appropriate, but the ones I have used with my students have proved provocative and have made my kids employ higher level thinking skills without struggling.  
Students elaborate and also seamlessly incorporate all the components I want in a paragraph.

Would You Rather questions are the win-win writing prompt in my classroom, for sure!

So first, here's what I do each Would You Rather Friday, and you might want to try this, too: 

1. I structure their responses to get the most bang for my buck. While they are having fun, they are also working on the components of a paragraph and their voice!

A. I pose the Would You Rather question for the day; then, I ask students to simply write a TAPES paragraph.

This is an example of a Would You Rather question from LifeHacks:

Would you rather know how you will die or when you will die? (My kids loved this one!)

B. A TAPES paragraph looks like this:
  • First, each student must choose the former or the latter as per the prompt, and this becomes a student's topic sentence.
  • Then, he/she attaches/ adds the claim to the topic sentence with the word because, and he/she explains why he/she chose as he/she did.
  • After the topic sentence and the claim, he/she practices elaborating on his/her claim. 
  • During elaboration, he/she must also bring in the counter choice/claim--the other choice he/she didn't choose--and explain why he/she did not choose it.  This is great practice in persuasive/argumentative writing, for he/she acknowledges the other argument to lend further credibility to his/her own.
  • Then, he/she sums up his/her paragraph. 

C. Another plus is that most students LOVE to read their paragraphs aloud!

As students share, they read with so much confidence and authority.

And, as they do, I listen intently.

I listen to hear if they are using all the components of a TAPES paragraph, and invariably, they do.  If they forget one, I gently critique what I hear, but they usually realize it when they are reading aloud and fix it without my prompting.

I have encouraged students to always read their paragraphs aloud as a great revision skill.

Before doing these types of paragraphs, they never would do it.  Now, they see it's value.

Viola! So many missions accomplished.

D. Here are the best reasons to try this writing prompt in your classroom

When I asked students why they love writing these types of paragraphs, here are the responses I received:

  • "I love that I have a choice."
  • "The topics are really interesting and intriguing."
  • "I find I have so much to write about because the question relates directly to my own experience. It's not boring like the other stuff we usually are forced to write about."
  • "I feel I really have to think in order to choose, and I have to think about how my choice will affect me."
  • "I find I have so much to say, so I don't repeat myself over and over."
  • "I have gotten better at writing a TAPES paragraph because we practice this every Friday."
  • "I can write a TAPES paragraph faster, and I even use this in my other classes."
  • "I look so forward to Friday. I can't wait to hear the choice!"
  • "It's so fun."
  • "I love to hear what other kids think about the choice.  I love to share, too."
  • "Sometimes by listening to the other kids, I get a new perspective I didn't have until we did this kinda writing."
  • "Writing a TALES paragraph isn't so hard when we sorta get to choose the topic with this kind of question."

As a teacher, there is nothing better than positive student testimonials that reinforce that something they actually enjoy is an effective means to an end!  For me, this is huge because it's sometimes hard to get eighth graders to deem anything fun or worthwhile.

Well, I'm here to tell you that Would You Rather questions bring them alive!

Now, for those of you who might be skeptically thinking:

Well, of course, it's easy for students to write a TAPES paragraph because they are only giving their opinion and not providing textual evidence from a nonfiction/fictional narrative. 

Yes, while that is largely true, on any given Friday, I could easily have my students write a paragraph that requires text evidence:

In just 2 easy steps, you can convert a TAPES paragraph into a TALES paragraph:

1. From time to time, you can simply provide a Would You Rather question which requires students to either:

  •  revisit the literature they are currently working in, and ask students to find a line of textual evidence to support his/her choice.
  •  you can provide one article, or two separate articles, that presents a Pro and Con argument, and ask students to find a line of textual evidence to support his/her choice.

2. Here's the easy way to have students "lift a lineof textual evidence from a nonfiction/fictional narrative
  • He/she should find a line of textual evidence that supports his/her claim. Less is more. The line should be short as if it's not immediately evident why/how it supports the claim, the student will have more on which to elaborate!
  • He/she should introduce it with these words: According to the text, it states, or In the text, it states,
  • He/she MUST copy the line from the text exactly as it is written. 
  • He/she should use double quotes if it is not a direct quote or dialogue. 
  • If it is, he/she should use single quotes around the line he/she is lifting. 
  • He/she should provide a parenthetical citation with the author's name and page number. Example: (Traver,1).
  • The period is placed after the final parenthesis. 
Example of a lifted line

According to the text, "Would You Rather questions are the #1 way to get students to buy into writing"(Traver, 1).

Students may moan a little and not find the TALES paragraph as fun as the TAPES paragraph, but it's a creative way to work on incorporating textual evidence.  Kids love choice which is really the appeal. 

And finally, for those of you wondering if a Would You Rather question will work in the creative writing classroom, too?

It sure does!  My students always write for the first 10 minutes of class.  Would You Rather questions are a great way to engage them especially when they moan they have nothing to write about.  

So, that's it for my creative tip this week:)  

I hope it is a game-changer, and I encourage you to try this technique in your classroom!

When my blog is finished being renovated, if you have never knew about a TALES or TAPES paragraph before this blog, I will add an easy template to use with your students; you will be able to find it under the appropriate label in the sidebar section of my blog.

I would love to hear from you if/when you use this suggestion. I'd love to know how it worked for you and your students.  Also, if you put your own spin on it, I 'd love to hear that, too.

Thanks for stopping by my blog.  Please come back again. 

Sharing is caring! Please share and pin this post! Follow me on Facebook and Pinterest.

I'll be back in another two weeks with another writing tip.

All the best to you! I will continue writing upside down to help you and me get write side up!



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