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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Library Permission Slip



If you watched my video, The 4-1-1 on Reading Instruction, then you likely heard me mention my library permission slip. Since I published that video, a bunch of you have reached out asking for a copy of the one I used.

I am going to attach my letter below, but a few things first:

1. I do not remember where this letter came from originally. I know that I made a bunch of modifications to the model that I used, so most of it is my work. But, I cannot find the original source of that model and I wish I could give him/her credit for this.

2. Please modify this letter to fit your needs and accommodate your classroom library. You want parents to give permission for kids to use your library, not mine.

3. It is always good to check with your school librarian and administration to be sure that you can even have YA and adult books on your shelves. Luckily, my district is very open to all literature and our school libraries are stocked with all kinds of books! All of the books on my shelves are available in our building library, so technically I don't even need a permission slip, but I do like having one just to keep parents aware and to keep me on the safe side :)

Okay... that being said, here is my letter:

 Dear Parent(s)/Guardians,

        Reading is one of the most important skills your child will develop during their school years. It is also the cornerstone of our classroom.Throughout this year, your child will read, and read, and read some more, as practice is the only way to ensure our kids will grow as readers. Some reading will be required, but your child will also have opportunities to choose his or her own book for independent reading. I work to help all students find a book that he or she will enjoy and will help him or her continue to grow as a reader.
        In order to better match students and books, I maintain a large classroom library. I work hard to keep my library updated and full of books that are interesting, challenging, and accommodating for all the learners in my classroom. I am sensitive to ensuring that I have appropriate material in my library, but you and I may define the word “appropriate” in different ways. Because of this, I ask you to be aware of what your child is reading, so you may approve of the content. The books range from elementary to college level (everything from the beloved picture book, Goodnight Moon, to the works of Stephen King, master of the horror genre), so your participation is essential in guiding your child to appropriate and challenging material for him or her. Some books have been donated/purchased recently, and I have not had a chance to read them all, but I do my best to ensure the quality of the books available in my library.
        The books in my classroom library are never assigned, and some students may choose to read books from home or from your local library instead. Some students use the library often; others never at all. But, any student who checks books out of my library must have a parent or guardian sign below indicating that this classroom library letter has been read and understood.
        If you would like to meet and/or discuss our classroom library, feel free to call or email me. Thank you for your understanding!
(Your best bet would be to copy and paste this onto school letter head (or any document of your choosing) and include a line for them to sign at the bottom.)

Hope that helps!


Saturday, April 8, 2017

The 4-1-1 on Reading Instruction!

Hey friends!

I've got a new vlog for you... and it's all about reading instruction!! Check it out and let me know what you think:



Monday, April 3, 2017

The Debating Game!


Okay... I've mentioned before that I'm super uncomfortable writing a blog post that is all about one of my TpT products. But, with that said, welcome to a blog post all about one of my TpT products!

And, I'm okay with it.

Because, for real, this product ROCKS! If I do say so myself :)

So, argument writing is hard stuff. I love teaching it. And eventually, I think the kids like knowing how to do it. But, it's hard. SO.HARD. Especially in the beginning.

I was looking for a cool way to ease us into it. A way to slide in so that it didn't seem so intimidating. An approach that made it seem exciting, even a little bit FUN! But, I couldn't find anything! And so, like anytime Google lets me down, I got creating and this little gem is the fruit of my labor!

The Debating Game is fun. My kids LOVED it! So much so that they asked to play it every day for almost a week during free write time.





And while playing, they are practicing supporting claims with reasoning and evidence... exactly the skill necessary for opinion/persuasive/argument writing! It's a total win-win. Fun and learning!

You should know, this product does take some time to put together, so please don't buy it if you need to use it exactly five minutes later. There is laminating and cutting and organizing involved in putting these together.


I made six total games for my classroom (I stored each complete game in a pencil case). I also went to the dollar store and bought one-minute sand timers and golf pencils to put in the case along with the game pieces for easy playing (though they are totally not necessary!). And you'll see I used a standard die, but there is a template for making your own dice to use when playing, so it is not necessary to have your own.

It took me about an hour to print, laminate, cut, and organize all 6 games. But, now that they are together they are ready-to-go anytime we need them. I definitely see myself putting these in a writing center, using them for an anchor activity for early finishers, and leaving them in my sub plans. The kids enjoyed playing far too much to put them into storage until next year!

So, if you teach opinion/persuasion/argument writing and you are looking for a fun way to practice the skills necessary for this, The Debating Game might be for you!

My own students loved it and if you try it out, please let me know what yours think about it!

Happy Teaching!!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Teach This Lesson Tomorrow - Blackout Poetry


So, the other day, I have 8 kids that needed a catch-up day in writing. That meant that I had 18 other kids that would need something else to do! I wanted something quick and engaging, yet completely higher-level and creative. Enter BLACKOUT POETRY!

Blackout poetry is a blast and could not be easier! All you need are some markers and a couple of busted-up books that Duck tape can no longer save...

Newspapers can also work!!

The idea is that you give the kids a page and they block out or circle some letters, words, phrases, and sentences that, when read together, resemble a poem. Next, they use some markers to darken the rest of the page so that the words pop.

Here are some examples:





Cool right?!?

Anyway, this makes the perfect "in between" writing assignment, center activity, or sub plan! The kids really enjoy it and they have to do some serious thinking to put together something that makes sense. And when they are finished, they look awesome hanging in the hallway :)

Are you or your students blackout poets? I'd love to see some of your work!



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I'd be remiss if I didn't share the most popular blackout from the other day... from the minds of "trending" middle schoolers:

 (Don't worry if you don't get it! I had no idea what it meant until a few weeks ago!!)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Writing from Lists - The Video!!

If you've been a reader of my blog, then you know that writing from lists is my JAM! It's definitely one of my best practices and I can't tell you how much better, more authentic my students' writing became once I started using lists to generate writing topics.

I put this video together to give you a better picture of how I make list writing work in my classroom. I'd love some feedback, as I see more and more "vlog" posts in the future for Musings from the Middle School :)


Do you use list writing in your classroom? Think you'd like to give it a try? I'd love to hear from you!



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PRODUCT LINK:



Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Academic Vocabulary


Every once in a while, I find some lesson or strategy or routine that fundamentally improves the learning in my classroom. One such routine is the systematic teaching of academic vocabulary words. Academic vocabulary are words that are routinely used in academic dialogue and text. They are the words that can often be found in questions/assessments for all subject areas and are scattered throughout standardized tests.

Long ago, during a guided reading group where I was working on writing structured responses to literary analysis questions in preparation for the NJ ASK, I discovered that, despite using the word at least a million times frequently in class, my kids had no idea what the word "cite" actually meant. I thought back to how many times I mentioned or saw in directions "be sure to cite from the text to support your answer" over the course of the year. Time and time again these kids were being asked to "cite" but they had no idea what that meant they were supposed to do.

After a little research, I discovered the world of academic vocabulary and from that moment on, I taught these words to my students.

There are dozens and dozens of words that can be considered academic vocabulary, but after spending some quality time with our district's reading and social studies series, I've narrowed the list down to the following words essential for middle school students:

  • affect
  • analyze
  • apply
  • argue
  • assess
  • cite
  • claim
  • compare
  • consider
  • context
  • critique
  • demonstrate
  • determine
  • differentiate
  • discuss
  • distinguish
  • effect
  • evaluate
  • explore
  • identify
  • illustrate
  • infer 
  • interpret
  • oppose
  • organize
  • paraphrase
  • process
  • recall
  • refer
  • strategy
  • summarize
  • symbolize
  • theme
  • valid
  • vary
  • verify
I introduce the words a few at a time and we practice using them. I point them out everywhere I see them and we talk again and again about their meaning. I hang posters of the words with their definitions in my room and refer back to them all.the.time.

This has made a HUGE difference in my students' learning. Their answers to structured response questions improved and I had a lot less confusion/questions about assessment items. (Before, I'd find kids would often say, "I don't get it" about certain test questions. I had always assumed that kids meant the concept the question was assessing... it never occurred to me that they were actually struggling with the wording of the question itself!)

Do you teach academic vocabulary to your students? Do you have a system for doing so? I'd love to hear about it!








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The academic vocabulary posters featured in this post can be found here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Teach This Lesson Tomorrow - Writing a Parody


Hi Folks!!

Hope everyone is well. My family has been plagued with the stomach bug for almost two weeks now. We are just starting to emerge from the haze and put ourselves back together again. (I've had to miss two days of school, and as you know, there is nothing worse than unplanned sick days when you are a teacher!) Phew!! It was a tough one. I can't ever remember being THIS ready for spring to arrive!!

Anyway, I've got a quick one for you today, but trust me when I tell you that this lesson is a HOOT! This is second year that I've done this with my students and we all have such a blast.

The idea is for the students to write a parody of a song.

I start by showing Adele's "Hello."


Next, I show them this AMAZING parody done by third grade teacher, Mary Morris, from Tennessee.


Then, we discuss the meaning of "parody" (an imitation of the style of a particular writer, artist, or genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect) and I show BOTH videos again while we note the parts of the performance Mary Morris parodied.

Finally, the FUN part! The kids write and perform their own parodies! Now, you can allow them to select their own song, but in order to keep this lesson short (we spend three class periods total), I have them all use "Hello."


For students who struggle with this, have them select a topic and then brainstorm some vocabulary associated with their topic. In the picture above, the girls wanted to do a song about softball, so they made a list of words that go with sport to help them while the compose.

Last year, each and every kid SANG their parody to the class! This year, only about half sang... the other half read theirs like they were at a poetry reading while the "Hello" instrumental music played in the background.

Unfortunately, I didn't record our performances so I don't have any to show you (blogger FAIL!!) and I don't collect their papers because this is a speaking/listening grade (so I grade them on the spot while they perform). So, you are just going to have to trust me that this lesson is a blast! And it served as the perfect little "break" in between our compare/contrast and argument units :)

Let me know if you give this a try and how it works out! I'd love to hear from you!