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.
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