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Games to Help Students Write More Precisely and Concisely

I always seem to have students who believe that effective writing is verbose. If they exceed the page minimum, they expect a high grade.  These students tend to applaud themselves for the hard work on essay assignments, and it can be very difficult to convince them that their style of writing is actually quite lazy. As English teachers, we try to teach students that writing should be precise and concise. In order for students to accomplish this goal, they must have an extensive vocabulary and clear command of syntax. In short, we teach the adage:

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Below are two games that can be used in the English classroom to emphasize these writing traits.  They can be used as a warm-up, brain break between lessons, after test activity, or any other time that works for your instruction.

Game 1: The Synonym Series

Procedure:

  • Before the game begins generate a list of precise, high level vocabulary words that your students would be familiar with. You need 1 word for every two students in your class.
  • Divide students into 2 groups.
  • Invite 1 student from each group to face off.
  • Show the first word to the students who are not in the face off. Make sure face-off students cannot see it.
  • Then, each side will take turns giving one word clues to their team member.  Clues can be synonyms or descriptors like: stronger, weaker, formal, informal, and the like. No rhyming, sound clues, or other shenanigans.
  • The first person who guesses the correct word scores a point for his or her team.

Example: Elated

Clues: Happy, Stronger, Stoked, Formal, Euphoric, Jubilant, Joyous, and so on until one member guesses correctly.

Benefits: This game enhances vocabulary by recognizing and using synonyms. It also helps students pay attention to connotation (stronger, weaker, angrier, etc) and audience (formal, informal, jargon, etc).

Game 2: Least Words

  • Before the game begins write long sentences that can be written more concisely.
  • Divide the class into 2-3 teams.
  • Project or write the first sentence on the board.
  • Have students re-write the sentence using more concise language.
  • The group that writes the shortest sentence, retaining the most precise language scores a point.

Example: The football game was seen by us as a way to suggest the fact that we are not as talented a school as our cross town rival.

Revisions would omit and reword phrases like “was seen by us as a way”, “the fact that”, and other overly wordy parts of the sentence.

Benefits: In this game the teacher overtly places value on concise sentences, reinforcing them for students. It also allows for several teachable moment grammar mini-lessons when evaluating which condensed sentence best retains the original meaning.

What strategies do you use to teach precise and concise language?  We’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.

5 Tips for Remembering Students’ Names

While some teachers can have everyone’s name down pat by the end of the first period, others need a little more help. If you are struggling to remember your students’ names, here are 4 time tested tips and 1 new, fun project idea to get you going:

  1. Create a seating chart right away. Seating charts will help you quickly connect names and faces during attendance and when calling on students. If you keep the seating chart on the podium in the front of your room or on a clip board, you can covertly glance down at names when needed so students won’t be the wiser! I suggest marking the seating chart with students’ preferred names to avoid confusion (e.g. Chris instead of Christopher).
  2. Greet students at the door. I like to stand at the door and casually greet students as they come in. I’ve had collogues who effectively and joyfully shake hands with every student as they walk in. I take a less formal approach, smiling and saying good morning, using names whenever possible to reinforce them in my brain. I also make quick chit chat with them because knowing a little about them helps me solidify a relationship, not to mention remember names.
  3. Make name cards. If the seating chart doesn’t help or you choose not to use one, paper tent name cards can also help. You can ask students to tuck them in their books and reuse them all week until you have a better grasp on their names.

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  1. Say their names when you call on them. It may sound weird at first, but it is a networking trick in the business world and beyond. The adage says that saying a name 3 times when you meet a person will help you remember. You may be hard pressed to use every student’s name 3 times in a class period, especially if your numbers are creeping up to 35+ like they are in my area. However, after a few days of diligence, you can sure get in your fair share of naming and remembering.
  2. Make a fun selfie project! Why not harness the incredible technology so readily available to today’s teens? Sample directions: Take a selfie with something important to you. All photos must be school appropriate. Include your name and period number in the picture. Students could turn them in to you via google docs, celly, email, schoology, evernote, or any other technology that you are comfortable with. Then you can easily study their pictures with names attached and as an added bonus you have great conversation starters built in for getting to know students. Here are to samples of a teacher and a student:

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The student is posing with a piece of his art from sculpture class and I am posing with my new baby Willa!  Both of these could be great memory devices and conversation starters!

What helps you remember students’ names? How long does it usually take you to know them all?

Episode 4: 5 Tips for Leaving Work at Work

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Leaving Work Podcast Pin

Episode 4: Five Tips for Leaving Work at Work

Every school day, teachers everywhere arrive an hour before school starts and leave at least an hour after school ends, often hauling a bin or crate of grading or prep to complete.  We spend hour upon hour researching the best methods to teach, to differentiate, to engage.  We spend hours, creating, preparing, and tweaking lesson plans, activities, and assessments. At the elementary level, teachers spend hours decorating and cutting and laminating and stuffing little sandwich bags for new activities.  At the secondary level, English teachers, for example— sift through, read, correct, and comment thoughtfully on 120 students’ 3 page papers (which totals 360 pages of material – for one assignment.

If you are that teacher – If you are taking home hours of prep and grading per day, every day, you could be working in excess of 60 hours per week – and many of you know you are guilty of spending in excess of 3 or 4 hours per day working overtime. It’s no wonder that teachers feel run down and drained by the end of the school day – let alone the school year.

We know why we do it.  In our minds…we have to.  Ultimately, it’s for the kids.  But where does that leave us?  Drained, exhausted, irritable, and uninspired.  In very few professions do employees take their work home with them.  So why do teachers take work home?  We are pushing ourselves to get more work done at home, blaming it on more testing, more students, more pressure.  All of these are true – we do have more testing, students, and pressure than before – all with less support.  But we don’t get compensated for that extra work. Teachers don’t get extra pay for spending time working at home or during the summer – especially at back to school time or when grades are due, when we tend to work extra hours daily to get our expected work done. (Don’t get me started on teacher pay – that’s a whole other rant, for sure!) I know it’s not about the money (Lord knows I know it cannot be about the money) – I know it is about the kids – I get that.  My concern here is burnout.  What can we offer the kids if we are burned out and exhausted?  What can we give our students if we are not there because we are out dealing with health issues?

What if I told you that you can still be effective by working 8-9 hours a day.  40-45 hours per week?  What if I told you that with a little change in mindset and a few active steps, you can get everything you need to get done – and have time for yourself and your family without sacrificing your teaching or hurting your students? With a firm commitment, and a few changes in habit, we can win back time with our family, ourselves, and get back our health.

Tip # 1 Change your mindset.

As with any change in behavior, before you begin to change your habits, you must change your mindset. such as taking on a new workout plan or diet, we have to commit ourselves to the change.  Just as we must set goals with a new workout or weight loss plan, we must also set some goals for cutting back and eventually eliminating the amount of work we take home.  Ask yourself, what will cutting back give you? More time with your family?  More time with your kids?  More time for yourself?  Better health? Less stress?  Decide on your ultimate goal, and write it down.  This will be your driving force – your ultimate motivation.  Once you have this, decide specifically what you could be doing with that time.  If spending time with your family is the ultimate goal, what about spending more time working with your kids on their homework, or going over their homework, or having a family game night, or sitting down to dinner – together, or watching TV with your husband before bed?

There is absolutely no reason you should feel guilty for not taking work home with you every day.  There is no reason you should feel guilty for wanting time with your own family.  Get rid of the mindset that you have to take things home or have to spend hour after hour after school “getting things done” to feel as if you are giving the most you can for your students.  You can still give everything you have to your students without sacrificing yourself.  All it takes is a change in mindset and habits – working smarter not harder.

Tip #2 – Plan Ahead.

Keep a calendar of assignments and due dates. Plan what you are going to do at least a week before you do it.  Every Thursday (I recommend Thursdays rather than Fridays because on Fridays we tend to want to get the heck away from school and start our weekend) spend 20-30 minutes planning your next week’s lessons, assignments, and activities.  Have your planning done before you head into the weekend, so that you GET a weekend to relax and not have to think about what you have to do the next week. 

Use your planner to keep notes throughout the year.  Jot down notes to yourself on what worked and what didn’t for next year.  Knowing this ahead of time will free you for the next year.  As you plan the next year, you will then know what you should continue to do, and the ideas you should tweak or trash and replace.  With your planner, keep a file with copy of the assignment, any directions or notes, plus your notes, and  – very important – keep an exemplary student sample.  Not only could this help you with future grading, as they say a picture – an actual exemplary finished project to show students – is worth a thousand words, leaving you with a thousand words you won’t have to say that day!

TIP #3 Stop trying to recreate the wheel.

Are you trying to start every project, lesson, or activity from scratch, wanting the material to be 100% your own?  Why?  So you can say you did?  So you don’t have to pay for lesson plans and ideas?   This is your ego talking and you have to get over it.  In an ideal world you would be compensated for those fabulous materials – and the time it took to create them.  Your kids would be engaged through every activity, and confidence, skills, and test scores would zoom up the charts. 

Take an honest inventory of your skills.  Are you better at teaching and engaging the kids, or are you better at creating the materials with which to teach?  If you are better at teaching, your time is better spent teaching – not creating materials.  Instead, rather than spending hours working on creation, try finding innovative, and successful ideas that have already been classroom tested, and put them to use in your classroom.  If you are an elementary teacher, there are a TON of blogs out there giving out free ideas and materials.  For both elementary and secondary, TeachersPayTeachers.com literally has over 250,000 FREE items at the time of this podcast.  The site also has over one MILLION items in the $1-$5 range.  To not take advantage of this resource is foolish.  Even if you don’t have the money, there are enough free resources and ideas on this site alone to buy you hours of family time.  If you are better at creating materials, you may want to sign up to sell your materials on TPT – and make a little money while doing it!  Some teachers – including myself – have now created a career out of this, and have left the classroom altogether.  Here’s my referral link if you do! https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Signup/referral:secondarysolutions

TIP #4 Make everything you – and your students – spend your time on count. 

Take a step back and look at what you are giving your students to do.  Why are you assigning that project?  That paper?  That homework?  Everything you give your students to do will eventually end up back on your desk to grade, right?  Take an assessment of what and how much work you are giving your students.  Busy work is worthless.  Kids hate it.  You hate grading it.  It doesn’t do anyone any good.  Get rid of the busy work, and instead, be cognizant of what you hand out or assign your students. 

Ask yourself:

What is this homework assignment/project/activity expected to do for the student?  Is it introducing a new skill?  Is it reinforcing a new skill with practice?  Is it assessing a skill? Or, is it just making more work for you to have to look at?

What do you need to get out of this assignment/project/activity? Is the assignment just to send something home for homework’s sake? Is it going to show you once again that the same kids do their homework and the same kids don’t?  Is it going to make you spend time putting a check in a box, just so that you have something to base a participation grade from? Or is the assignment really going to tell you how well the students have grasped your lesson?

If it is expected to introduce a new skill, consider that this is risky.  Simply assigning an assignment or homework introducing something new may not give you the return you are looking for.  Expect to feel disappointment from wrong answers, incomplete work, and work not turned in.  Instead, commit yourself to ONLY introducing new skills and information in class, during class time.  This will save you TIME, as you will not have to spend time sifting through these papers, only to realize that you have to go through the information because the vast majority of kids didn’t pick up on the skill or information.

If the work you are assigning is expected to reinforce and practice a new skill, this may be more effective – if the assignment is good.  When giving students work to do, whether for classwork or homework, decide whether the work you are giving them TRULY practices what you have taught.  (Remember, no new information should be presented if you are going to grade this work.)  If it does address the skills/information you have taught, is an adequate amount of practice given?  I have seen worksheets that have two menial questions on them.  Not only does this kill trees, but what is the point?  It won’t show you anything about who actually learned the material.  It won’t give students practice.  Instead, evaluate the assignment to see if an adequate amount of practice is given at VARIED levels of difficulty.  For example, if you are teaching how to answer text-dependent questions using evidence from an article, the practice/assignment should range from very easy (pre-lecture knowledge) to very difficult (above grade-level knowledge).  This is much more effective than giving students 100 questions, all at the same level, over and over.  If they got 10 right, chances are they will get 100 right, so why would you spend the time grading all 100? Do you want to grade all 100 for each student when you could grade 10 for each?

If the work you are assigning is expected to evaluate how well you taught or how well the students grasped a lesson, choose your assessment wisely.  The assessment should not be more practice.  If you want to assess whether your students read the chapter you assigned, ONE well-crafted question could show you who read and who didn’t.*  I’m not talking about asking a question such as “What color were Joe’s shoes?” as this is not going to give you a true evaluation of the reading.  A student could read the chapter, but not pay attention to unimportant details.  Instead, create one question that is something students could not easily Google or use Cliffs Notes for.  Asking students to “evaluate a decision” a character made based upon the events or to “explain the importance” of an event in that chapter could split readers and non-readers right down the middle – and rather than having 10 answers per student to grade, you have one per student, significantly cutting down on the amount of work you have to do.  This could also be the case for in-class quizzes or tests.  We are stuck in the mindset that quizzes and tests need to be a long, drawn-out compendium of questions, when asking ¼ – even one eighth of these questions in a particular, well-crafted manner means not taking an entire period to assess students, and cutting grading time down to a quarter of the time.

*Be sure to have separate questions for each class, or a selection of 5 or 6 questions that students can randomly receive – word can spread quickly what your quiz is on from class to class.

By taking a little more time to find excellent materials or tweak others, you can buy yourself hours of time.  More focused, deliberate effort in the beginning will save you time and frustration later.

TIP #5 Cut your grading load in half.

There are two ways to do this – either grade only half of what you get turned in to you, or grade only half of what you get turned in to you.  Huh?  What I mean is that you can cut your grading in half by splitting your stack in half.  For example, rather than grading 120 essays, let your students know ahead of time that you will be looking at and grading a random selection of papers, maybe half.  The students will not know whose will be picked, so they must put forth their best effort in case theirs is chosen for a grade.  Very important!!  Keep any and all of the papers that were not graded in that round.  Let students know that if it comes down to the difference between getting a B+ or an A- or passing or failing, that you will refer to these essays as the decision maker.  It is also important that you let students know that just because their paper was chosen before, does not mean that they are exempt from being picked randomly again.  Of course, you will want to “randomly” choose wisely to be sure you eventually see every student’s work.

Another way to cut your grading in half is to only grade half of the assignment.  Focus on only certain aspects to grade.  With the essay example, remind students that you may look specifically at mechanics the next time so they should always turn in their best work, but that this time, (unless it was distracting) you chose to ignore grammar, punctuation, and spelling things for the purposes of this essay assignment. The next essay, you can focus on two or three different aspects of the essay.  Don’t tell your students ahead of time, so they turn in their best work, but for your sake, don’t try to do it all.  There is nothing worse than watching hours with your family being tossed into the trash can when the student couldn’t care less about the comments you made on his or her paper.  Another option is to try grading only the odd or the even questions.  I don’t recommend only grading the first half of an assignment, because the more difficult questions tend to be towards the end.  If you really want to do it that way, start in the middle and move to the end from there.  This will help you get a better idea of the students skill level or grasp of a concept.

Finally, lighten your load with more peer-editing.  Students can effectively grade simple assignments, quizzes, worksheets, and even essays, with the right directions and tools.  Done right, grading and peer editing can become an effective learning tool  – making it a “win-win.”  I have a blog post on How to Integrate Peer-Editing on my blog.

Ultimately, changing your mindset and working smarter – not harder, will help you reach your goal of leaving your work at work, allowing you more time for what is most important to you.  Take baby steps towards your goal, and almost immediately, you will be able to feel the difference!

I hope this podcast helped.  Please leave a review – I am interested in your thoughts, and truly appreciate hearing from those who may have benefitted from this session.

Good luck, and

Happy teaching!

Links Referenced in this Podcast:

Sign up to sell on TeachersPayTeachers.com – My Referral Link

Tips for Integrating More Peer Editing in Your Classroom

Creative Summer Reading Assessment Ideas

creative summerSummer reading can be a struggle for students who can sometimes lack time, motivation, and skills to complete the task. Not to mention, with all of the internet shortcuts and summaries at the tips of their fingers it is an equally daunting task for teachers to assess whether or not the reading has actually been completed. Although this struggle is formidable, personally, I do not think it’s time to throw the baby out with the bathwater. As English teachers, we work everyday to hopefully make small strides toward creating a love of reading among our students. One way that we accomplish this goal is through a three prong assessment structure:

  • Accountability assessments: traditional tests and assignments that aim to keep students accountable to completing the reading.
  • Critical thinking assessments: higher level thinking assignments that encourage students to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate the reading material.
  • Creative assessments: projects and other assignments that require accountability and critical thinking, but also include an element of creativity and, dare I say, fun!

These three prongs of assessment overlap more often than not, but today I want to focus on using creative assessment as part of the summer reading evaluation.  I think that fun and teen relevant assignments like the ones suggested below reward students for completing the struggle of summer reading (or any other reading for that matter) and when used effectively can motivate students to read future novel assignments as well so that they can fully participate in the next creative adventure.

Below are a few ideas for creative summer reading assessments.  I’d love for you to add more in the comment section below!

1. Snap Chat Conversation: Secondary students all over the nation are snap chatting constantly.  The widely used phone app allows users to “add to their story” through a series of pictures with text and other visual overlays. Students could create snap chat conversations from the point of view various characters.  Screen shots of those snap chat images could then be added to a PDF, powerpoint, or other medium to turn in or present.  The images and captions would need to reference the reading in meaningful ways. I wouldn’t worry too much about explaining to students how to create snap-chats. Chances are, you have a room full of experts!

2. Award Ceremony: Students could create a mock award ceremony, giving creative awards to various characters with the accompanying explanation for why he/she received said award.  (For example: Boo Radley could receive the award for “Hero Least Likely to Need Sunscreen” for his valiant rescue of the Finch children after years of reclusive behavior that stemmed back to his rebellious youth and stern father.) To add to the fun, another student could come up to receive the award and give an acceptance speech in character with references to the text.

3. Character Letters of Recommendation: Upperclassmen, especially seniors, are all too familiar with the pressure and weight of letters of recommendation.  Take this stressful college application requirement and turn it around so that the students are doing the writing.  They can praise, thinly sugarcoat, or criticize characters using the voice of a high school teacher/counselor. Clear references should be made to specific character traits and plot points.

How do you assess summer reading?  Would you add any of these ideas to your current repertoire?  What other ideas can you add?

These are a Few of My Favorite (Back to School) Things:

sound of back to schoolMove over Von Trapps, it’s time for the sound of school:

New sharpened pencils and fresh ink in pens
Bright stadium lights and warm woolen letterman’s
Brown paper lunch bags tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite back to school things

With all of the stress, busyness, and seemingly endless meetings that greet teachers at the beginning of each school year, I thought that today would be a good day to reflect on some of my favorite parts of the back to school season.  Feel free to share yours in the comment section below!

1. Shopping for supplies: I absolutely LOVE going shopping for school supplies (even if I do have to foot the bill myself).  I like freshly sharpened pencils, white board markers that write brightly, and pens that still have matching caps.  I like tape rolls that are new and easy to use and fresh butcher block paper that is just calling out to be used for mind mapping and student presentations.  Hands down, my favorite thing to shop for is a new academic planer to fill with to do lists, which quickly transform to lists of accomplishments and proud moments. I also always splurge on fun post-it notes like the ones shaped like arrows or apples. What are your favorite supplies to purchase or receive?

2. Setting up the space: Decorating and creating functional spaces for learning is another exciting part of the back to school season.  I can get lost for hours in the sea of amazing ideas on pinterest (<- click to follow us)! And there is something beautiful about a room all freshly set up to expand the minds of today’s youth.  For some ideas, here are links to a literature based classroom decoration and a grammar bulletin board idea that I have shared in the past.

3. Trying out new tech: Although new tech can be added during any point in the school year, the new year gives me the guts to try out new apps, software, and hardware. Here are some of my favorite classroom technology posts: Google DriveGrammarlyCollaborize ClassroomQuizlet, and more!  (Click on the tag “technology” in the right hand margin of this page for a full list). I can’t wait to try out some new things this year and share them here.  If you have suggestions for cool tech tools I need to try out, please leave them in the comment section.  ;)

4. Getting back into a routine: As much as I enjoy sleeping in, using the bathroom whenever I want, and losing track of which day it is, my body always appreciates getting back into the structure of a new school year. Even with the craziness of my teaching schedule, I find that I eat healthier, sleep more soundly, and drink more water when the school bell rules my day.

5. Starting fresh relationships: Every new school year is an opportunity to reset relationships, raise expectations, and let go of frustrations. I frequently have some of the same students during their freshmen and junior years, but even then conscious effort can allow us to find new appreciation for each other and our collective growth since our last classroom experience.

What are your favorite things about back to school?  We wish you the very best school year yet! Don’t forget to stock up on great resources at simplynovel.com.

Challenged and Banned Books – By the Numbers – Infographic

BANNED BOOK INFOGRAPHIC - SIMPLY NOVELWith the start of the new school year, and Banned Books Week quickly approaching – typically held the last week of September (this year, it is Sept. 27 – Oct. 3), it is time to remember how important our freedom to read is.  I decided to create this infographic to help teachers broach the subject of challenged and banned books and get a quick visual to some of the interesting facts surrounding banned and challenged books.  Information was gathered via ALA.org/bbooks.

Here are the top ten challenged books for 2014:

1)      The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie – Reasons: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying”

2)      Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi – Reasons: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint. Additional reasons: “politically, racially, and socially offensive,” “graphic depictions”

3)      And Tango Makes Three, Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

Reasons: Anti-family, homosexuality, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “promotes the homosexual agenda”

4)      The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison – Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues”

5)      It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris – Reasons: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group. Additional reasons: “alleges it child pornography”

6)      Saga, by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples – Reasons: Anti-Family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group. Additional reasons:

7)      The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini – Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence

8)      The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky – Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “date rape and masturbation”

9)      A Stolen Life, Jaycee Dugard – Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group

10)  Drama, by Raina Telgemeier – Reasons: sexually explicit

Out of 311 challenges as recorded by the Office for Intellectual Freedom; remember – 4 out of 5 challenges go unreported!

Banned Books Week 2015

For posters and other promotional materials, check out the ALA Banned Books store.

What are your thoughts on this top ten? What do you do for Banned Books Week in your classes?  Please share!

The Literary League Back to School SALE on TPT!

Oh, HOLY MOLY!  While I shake my head, wondering (yet again) where the summer went, I am excited to be a part of the TpT Back to School Sale!  I am a part of an amazingly talented community of Secondary Sellers on TpT, many of whom I have had the pleasure of getting to meet in person in Vegas this summer!  Because we all believe in our products, and we believe in the power of the Secondary element of TpT, we are determined to be sure everyone out there who needs our resources, knows about TpT!  Of course, especially when there is a SALE!

August 3rd and 4th, TpT is having a site-wide sale, and both of our stores will be discounted to the fullest!  That means, with the TpT discount applied, you can save up to 28% on all our products throughout the sale.  USE BTS15 at both our elementary store and our secondary store (which also now has some elementary products as we make the transition to one store) to save 28%!

But we are not the only ones, of course!  First, I introduced many of these sellers the other day for our Back to School Linky, but I want to give a shout out to THE LITERARY LEAGUE!  AH-MAY-ZING group of talented secondary ELA sellers – be sure to check out their stores as well (links are below the image)

lit_league_sale_BTS Click the seller’s name or store to be taken directly to their store! Of course, be sure to visit us! Secondary Solutions-Simply Novel Danielle Knight (Study All Knight) Darlene Anne- ELA Buffet Mrs. Spangler in the Middle Created by MrHughes The Classroom Sparrow The Daring English Teacher ELA Everyday Juggling ELA Nouvelle Literary Sherri Making Meaning with Melissa 2 Peas and a Dog Addie Williams Linda Jennifer Fisher Reyna Education The Creative Classroom Stacey Lloyd Room 213 Brynn Allison Open Classroom Perfetto Writing Room Secondary Sara Tracee Orman James Whitaker The Superhero Teacher Created for Learning Brain Waves Instruction

Simply Novel Goes Back to School!

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 8.51.48 AMWelcome baaa–ack!  (Almost!)  You know Back to School is quickly approaching when the kids get squirrelly and bored even doing their favorite things, and Target is readying their shelves with aisle after aisle of empty storage bins holding the place for the incoming barrage of school supplies.  I have to admit, while I no longer need to buy supplies for myself and my classroom, I have already begun to stock up on my daughter’s supplies, plus a few extra for donations to her classroom and for needy children.  You have to admit, a shiny new pen, a few clean composition books and a spiral notebook with an adorable kitten can give you a rush!

With these preparations, teachers everywhere (most straddling the emotional spectrum from thrill to dread) are getting ready for school, planning out their days and looking for practical new resources for the new year.  So, Simply Novel has jumped on board with a little blog hop, as several bloggers go Back to School with some fabulous back to school tips!

First, who is Simply Novel?  Usually Emily does our blog posts (and a FABULOUS job, I might add), but occasionally I (Kristen) will jump in for a promo or something like this. As many of you know, we have been in the process of rebranding – from Secondary Solutions and Elementary Solutions to Simply Novel.  Why?  Let me tell you, trying to keep track of two different companies is rough.  Long story short: it just became too difficult to manage, and I felt that our products and service would ultimately suffer by trying to handle the two companies separately but equally.

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Me and my 6 year old daughter on our recent trip to Big Bear, CA.

I taught for 7 years before I had my daughter and decided to work from home to be with her.  I taught high school English: freshman, juniors, seniors, Creative Writing, CAHSEE prep (High School Exit Exam), Honors prep, SAT prep – you name it.  (Never did teach a full sophomore only class, though!)  I am currently running Simply Novel full time while I write, train and support other writers working for us.

 

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Me several years ago at a small conference.
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My TPT Store image with the new Simply Novel logo

My favorite novel to teach is To Kill a Mockingbird, but I especially like teaching Shakespeare (yes, I know – not a novel, but go with me on this).  I majored in Theater, and my heart is in Shakespeare since I did a lot of work deconstructing his plays, especially in my junior and senior years in college.  I have a way of understanding Shakespeare that kids seem to love – I am sure because they can sense how much I love him and his writing.  I cannot help but infuse my passion for his words in my teaching, and I some of my fondest moments in teaching – the “AHA” moments, the entire class engaged, the entire class involved, and the entire class laughing with understanding – all happened while teaching Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Macbeth.  I always told my freshman before beginning to study Romeo and Juliet that if more people actually understood Shakespeare, he would certainly be on the banned book list every year!  That always gets them totally hooked, of course.

Early in my teaching career, I had already planned out my first month and new how many things I needed to accomplish, so I would quickly run through the syllabus and rules on the first day of class. (Oops!)  The last year or two, I decided to take things a bit slower and try to let them know a little about me  before jumping in the the rules.  One thing they loved is when I showed them pictures of me when I was their age.  Letting them know a little more about who I was and who I am now allowed them to see that I did understand what it was like being a teenager, and I did have their best interests and a positive future for them in mind.

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Me in 1992 at my Senior Prom

I was honest with them, and shared that it was tough for me in high school, and that high school was not the be-all-end-all, and once you leave it, there is so much more of the world to see.  I would leave that picture up all year right behind my desk with other treasures and family pictures to remind them, that A) even though it seems like I am pushing or being strict with them, it is because I want them to realize their potential, and B) that even though high school (or middle school) drama can seem like the end of the world, they can make it through, and they can flourish and become what they want to be.  Of course, share only what you feel comfortable sharing.  I didn’t spend a whole lot of time talking about myself, nor did I go into a diatribe about high school versus the real world.  I spoke a bit to make a spark, then put the picture on my board and moved on to talk about all the amazing things we would be reading about that year.

first-day-of-school-pin1For more of my recommendations for the first day of school, check out my First Day of School Tips, or Emily’s recent post on Five Things I Won’t Be Doing on the First Day of School for another perspective.  Of course, definitely be sure to check out some of my other favorite ELA teachers for more ideas for a productive and successful Back to School!

Have you ever used personal pictures and stories to help connect with kids?  How did it work for you?  I’d love to hear your story.