Thursday, July 30, 2015

Writing Flash Fiction

So, flash fiction is all the rage out there on the Internets! Everyone is doing it... just ask Google!

What is flash fiction? Well, it doesn't really have an exact definition... just ask Wikipedia! But, basically, it's a super short story.

My students in summer learning spent almost a week writing flash fiction. To say they were obsessed, is an absolute understatement!

On the first day, I started by introducing my idea of what flash fiction is:

We looked at several example pieces and analyzed them. We determined that flash fiction contains all the elements of a regular story: a character/characters, a setting, and a conflict with some type of resolution. We also found that the writers focus more on vivid verbs rather than adjectives to tell their story. Finally, we saw that most flash fiction is void of boring words, such as "very" and "really."

The next day, I had the students rotate around to "genre stations" where they were to write a piece of flash fiction that represented that genre (I did provide a picture at each station for inspiration, but students were not required to write about the picture if they had their own ideas!). The students had FIVE minutes (at first I gave them seven minutes, but this was too long!) to write at each station. The stations were horror, realistic fiction, science fiction, and fantasy.

At the end of each station, I ask students to share within their group. To save time, I didn't let them share their whole piece. Instead, I asked them to share just a small part of their story. On the first rotation, they were to share their favorite sentence. On the next rotation, they were to share their opening sentences. On the third rotation, they were to share their last sentence. And on the last rotation, they shared their favorite sentence again. After students were finished all four rotations+sharing, I asked them to tell me what they learned about each other as writers. It was interesting to hear what they said!

On the third day, I had students revise their favorite piece from the four they wrote the day before. The best part about these flash fiction stories was that the students didn't moan and groan when I asked them to revise their work. Since their pieces were so short, rewriting, and rewriting them again, was pretty simple!

Have you tried writing flash fiction with your students? I'd love to hear how it went!! If you haven't tried it yet, but are interested in giving it a whirl, I do have this freebie in my store:

Happy Teaching!!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Using Context Clues

This is the fifth summer that I've taught in my district's summer learning program. One of my favorite parts of teaching in this program is how relaxed it is! No checking email a hundred times per day. No pacing guides or benchmarking schedules to follow. No interruptions. The class sizes are small, the day is short (ours is three hours), and then there are the three day weekends! It's really my school utopia.

This year, I am teaching ELA to my URSA students (you can read about them here). I've had quite a bit of flexibility (and fun!) designing lessons for them!

Several of the lessons I've taught so far have come from the book Reading Reasons by Kelly Gallagher. These ready-to-use lessons (but easily tweaked... because we all know teachers love to reinvent the wheel :) are so important for creating life-long readers and writers, but are often the lessons that get left on the chopping block during the frantic pace of the school year.

This book is full of "reading reasons." It's not so much about teaching kids "how" to become readers, but making them see "why" they should become readers. The first week of the program, we focused on Gallagher's first reason to be a reader: Reading builds a mature vocabulary.

The first couple of days, we discussed using context clues to help us decipher unknown words. I find that students always, always, always struggle with using context clues effectively! And, I've found that being able to use context clues is one of those skills that is crucial for becoming a true reader. If kids are not figuring out the meaning of the words they don't know over and over again while reading a text, they will struggle with comprehension. And a student who struggles with comprehension is almost always a student who hates to read!!

After teaching Gallagher's "reading reason" lesson, I set up several station activities where students could practice using context clues.

At one station, students had to select a card with a nonsense word on it. Next, they had to construct a definition for their word. Finally, they created a sentence that contained enough context clues in it to help a peer figure out the meaning of their word.

The kids really got into this activity. Several realized pretty quickly that they did not provide enough clues to help their readers and therefore had to go back and make changes. This activity also led to a great discussion on synonyms, as students realized that even though their peers didn't get the "exact" definition of the word, their guesses could serve as synonyms to the definition, and this was okay!

It was a great activity and really gave students a different perspective on using context clues when reading.

How do you teach students to better use context clues? I'd love to hear from you!

Also, are you teaching summer school? Tell me about your experience!

Hope to hear from you!

Happy Teaching!!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

From 6th to 7th

So... next year, I am making a big move! I will be moving from 6th grade to 7th grade. This is a pretty big deal because it means that I have to switch buildings. In our district, the 6th grades are housed in our elementary schools (our district has four elementary schools), and the 7th and 8th grades are in the middle school.

As I mentioned before, I'm really feeling all the feels about this move! I was hired by the building that I'm leaving. It was my first "real job," right out of college. I'm comfortable there. My friends are there. It's my "home."

But, I am a HUGE believer that change is good in education. And I know this to be especially true for me. I like change. It shakes me up, wakes me up, invigorates me in a way that nothing else can! Ultimately, I know that for me, changing things up and trying on new challenges is what keeps me going, so while I am sad to be leaving the building and family that has meant "home" for these last ten years, I am excited beyond words!!

Next year, I will be teaching just ELA. This is going to be a big adjustment for me, as I've always taught both ELA and math. There are parts of teaching math that I will miss, but I cannot say that I am sad about going from two preps per day to one prep per day! And, as I've mentioned before, teaching ELA is my heart and soul. I am so excited to be able to fully dedicate all my time to it! (Though I will keep my math "stuff" up on the blog... I've acquired quite a few great tricks and tips for teaching math over the years and it would be silly not to share them!)

Another exciting part of my move is that I will have the privilege of teaching the URSA program next year. URSA, which stands for United Responsible Students Achieving, is an elective program offered to selected students for 7th-12th grades. Modeled after the AVID program, URSA targets students who, if they graduate college, may be the first in their families to do so. The program attempts to close the achievement gap by providing the supports and resources that are already afforded to affluent students. For our students this means: going on college tours and to college fairs, receiving extra tutoring/homework help after school, getting assistance with achieving a well-rounded resume, etc. The program is THE BOMB! I am so stoked to be a part of it!

My role is that of URSA mentor/ELA teacher for the 7th grade group. These students will be on the "advanced" ELA track, so we have a lot of work cut out for us! And that is one of the reasons why participation in our summer learning program is a requirement.

We are just about through our 2nd week of summer learning. So far, we have spent a LOT of time getting to know each other and learning to work as a team. Our URSA group will pretty much become a family over the next year. They will be together for most of the day next year and then again in 8th grade, so instilling that sense of "community" has been much of the goal for the last several days.

It's a struggle to come up with ice breakers or team-building activities that get my middle schoolers excited! For the longest time, the activities I picked were met with eye-rolls, bemoaning my cheesy attempt to get everyone interacting. But, over the years, I can say that I've finally developed a arsenal of ideas that are sure to get almost everyone excited. One of my favorite activities is the Cup Challenge. For this activity, students need to move a stack of cups from one location to another without touching the cups with their hands. Rather, I provide them with a few "tools" and they have to construct a device to do the moving for them.

It really gets the kids working together and they have a blast at the same time!!

This was just one of the several ice-breaker/team-building activities we did to kick-start the URSA program. I've compiled a sampling of my FAVORITE activities for upper elementary/middle school and many of the ones we did, including the Cup Challenge, can be found in here.

Do you have any favorite ice breakers or team-building exercises that work for well for older kids? I'd love to hear from you!!

Happy Teaching!!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

June Recap

Ahhhh!!! I just returned from a family vacation up in the mountains of New Hampshire. It was great and really helped me relax into summer... BUT JUST FOR A MINUTE!! Because our summer learning program started on Monday and so it was back to school for me!!

We actually have a pretty interesting summer learning program in our district this year. We have teamed up with a local university and combined our summer school with their teacher education program. I have quite a bit to say on this, but I'll be saving those for later posts throughout the summer ;)

I will also be sharing a bit about my big move to a new school for the 2015-16 school year! I'm certainly feeling all the feels about this move! Excited for the "newness," but sad to leave the building and family that has been my home for the last ten years.

So, before I start up my summer-learning-posts and new-job-posts and back-to-school-posts, I wanted to properly recap the month of June because I had some pretty cool stuff going on in my classroom!!



For the last few years, my ELA-partner-in-crime, along with our fabulous TLF (this stands for teaching and learning facilitator), have had our 6th graders conduct a trial simulation. Since argument writing is part of the CCSS for 6th grade and we spend so much time writing in that genre, a trial is a perfect way to end the year. We literally bring an argument paper to life!! It is a lot, lot, lot, lot of work, but so worth it in the end!!

We begin the unit usually around mid-May. We build quite a bit of background knowledge on the role of the justice system in America and its process. As we do this, the students eventually come to see that a trial is basically a real, live argument paper (two of them actually!). Each side presents an opening statement (which tells the thesis), then they present evidence to support their thesis, and finally they present a closing statement (which restates the thesis and summarizes how the evidence supported their thesis).

This is the book that we use for the simulation. It really lays out the entire process for you.

  Here are some pictures from trial day (we hold our trial in the library):

The Witnesses (they make their own masks, Reader's Theater-style!)

Here is one of the lawyers delivering her opening statements:

Here is a picture of the prosecution (don't you love the suit with the sneakers?!?!)

Overall, it's one of the BEST days of the school year. And even though it is a ton of work, the students love the experience and usually rate it as the most memorable part of the year!



Last month, I wrote about one of my favorite ways to end the school year in math. You can read all about that here.

Well, after we finished the Theme Park project, we did this one, as well!

My students LOVED this project, too!! It was the perfect follow-up to the Theme Park project and the students could have spent days-weeks even!-working on it, making it exactly what you need for the often unpredictable end of the year.


My move from 6th grade to 7th grade for the 2015-16 school year, required me to pack up ten years worth of accumulated "stuff." It was great because I think I purged as much as I packed!!  While packing, I did notice that my beloved classroom library was going to need a new "look" for 7th graders. So, I used my Literary Genre Posters to make new labels for my book bins. (I think that I will be getting new bins next year, so this isn't the final, FINAL look!!) In this product, I've included jpegs of each of the posters, allowing you to resize the images, so you can make something other than posters... like labels for book bins!!

I LOVE how these turned out!! I'll be sure to post a picture of my finished library after I set my room up at the end of August :)

Well, I hope you all had a great end to your school year!! Hopefully this post finds you relaxing on a beach somewhere without a care in the world!!

Happy Summer!!