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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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!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Get Your Shop On!!

TpT is having a sale and everything in my store is up to 28% off with promo code LOVETPT!

You can't beat these prices, Ladies and Gentlemen :)

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I've recently added some more units to my "Year of Writing Instruction" resources (Part 1 available here and Part 2 available here), so make sure if you already own this resource that you download it again to get the additions. If you don't already own this resource, now is the PERFECT time to purchase, as it is available for 28% off the cover price!

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Now is a great time to try out list writing in your classroom! This MEGA Bundle has everything you need to get your students excited about writing... and the price right now is AWESOME! Head on over to TpT and remember to use promo code LOVETPT at checkout!

Happy Teaching Shopping!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Big News!!

Hey Friends!!

I've been a bit quiet here on the good, ol' blog because I've been working a fun project :)

Musings from the Middle School Video!!

Yes, I've made a few (unbelievably simplistic!) videos using some cheap (unbelievably simplistic!) software in the past... but now, Friends? Hold on to your hats! I've gone total HD!!

I've got a fancy camera, a fancy microphone, fancy Adobe software, and I even hired an editor to make a fancy opener for my videos. I can't even tell you how excited I am for this! There have been so many times in the past when I'd be typing a blog post and I'd think, "Agh! I wish I could just bring you all into my classroom to show you what I'm talking about!!" And now.I.can.

The thing is... "vlogging" is kinda hard... especially if you are a super-type-A-perfection-demanding-mortified-that-I-never-lost-the-baby-weight-everything-must-always-be-just-right sort of girl :) I have a whole new respect for professional YouTubers and now some for-real advice I can give to my students whose only goal in life is to be "a YouTuber." It's not easy, folks. Not easy at all!

Anyway, I'm working on a whole bunch of video stuff. I've got some writing videos in the works, as well a series on reader's workshop. I'm sure once I get better at working the editing software and more comfortable behind the camera, I'll be pumping them out, but for now, it might be a little slow-going on the blog! Hang tight... I've got great stuff coming your way!

For now, I'll leave you with my first "new and improved" video. It took me five, yes FIVE, hours to get this very simple teacher tip from my brain to your screen.

I'd love some feedback! Also, let me know what you like to see/hear more about!

Happy Teaching!!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Host a Gallery Walk to Improve Writing

If you've read my blog or bought any of my writing products from TpT, then you know that I am a huge fan of the Read-Around-Group. I love when kids read each other's writing and learn from each other. I always find that the whole revising/editing process is much more effective after kids have read their peers' papers and can use them as mentor pieces to improve their own writing.

But, just like ANYTHING in the classroom, no matter how effective, at some point, the kids (and you!) need a change and it's fun to shake things up! So, for this writing unit, I decided to forgo the Read-Around-Groups and replace it with a Gallery Walk.

The Gallery Walk isn't something new... folks have been using them for years in the classroom! A quick Google search will show you all kinds of ways that you can implement them in any subject.

Let me tell you how I made the Gallery Walk work in my classroom this week:

1.) Set up the room.

On each desk, I placed a rough draft (this is the 2nd draft of this paper that we've done and, like with Read-Around-Groups, kids didn't put their name on the top - just their birth date). I also put out a number card, a "nuggets of genius" paper, and a votive candle. I turned down the lights, put on some fun jazz music, and put our roaring fire video from YouTube up on the big screen.

2.) Give directions.

When the kids came in, I gave each of them a number and they had to go find the seat with that number card. After they all sat down, I explained that they will have three minutes to read the paper at that desk and leave the author a note about one of the nuggets of genius* they found in their piece.

3.) The Walk.

Every three minutes, the timer sounded and the kids got up and moved to the next desk. We continued this until the end of class. Each kid was able to read about 12-15 papers, and each writer got a note of 12-15 things their peers thought they did well.

4.) Debrief and Revise.

The next day, we talked about some of the good writing that we saw during our Gallery Walk and made a list of it on the board. Then, I set the kids off to work on their 3rd and final draft, encouraging them to include some of that "good stuff" in their own writing.

After all was said and done, I have to say that I liked this method a lot! The kids loved reading about their "nuggets of genius" and I was pleased to see how thoughtful some of the students were about what they observed. I'm thinking that I'll definitely use this method again - maybe even alternating between Read-Around-Groups and Gallery Walks for each paper we write.

Ever use a Gallery Walk? How do you make them work? I'd love to hear from you!

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*This year, I stopped marking all the stuff the kids did WRONG in their paper and replaced it with marking all the things they did RIGHT! What I found was that there were just SO.MANY.THINGS I could find that they did wrong... from incorrect punctuation, to forgetting capital letters, to using the "u" instead of "you," and so on! It was daunting for me and overwhelming for them to get a paper back full of corrections. Now, I focus on all the stuff they did RIGHT - their "nuggets of genius." I encourage them to look all the stuff they can do and keep on doing more of it each time! I am not sure if it's really made great improvements in the quality of their work (but I never found that "correcting" all their mistakes made a big difference either), but their attitudes about writing are a million times better (as is my attitude about grading their writing!) and for me that is the biggest hurdle to overcome!