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Ten Middle Grade Books You’ll Love No Matter How Old You Are

Ten Middle Grade Books You’ll Love No Matter How Old You Are

The best part of my teaching day is the fifteen minutes of quiet reading time at the beginning of each literature class. It makes me so happy to look around and see each student focused on their book and lost in their own separate world. Once reading time is over (it kills me to break the peaceful silence), I ask students what they’re reading and whether or not they like it. If a student seems really excited about a book I try my best to read it, and nine times out of ten I am so happy that I did. Middle grade books should not be underestimated- they can make you laugh, cry, and contemplate life’s big questions.

So, whether you’re a teacher looking for new recommendations or someone curious about the genre- here are ten middle grade books you should definitely check out:

  1. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. When I picked this book out to be a class novel I knew I would have to read it toobut I was dreading it! This book was like nothing else I had read before – Monsters? Greek gods? Fighting? No, thank you! I finally forced myself to read it and as you can probably guess, I loved it (it is number one on this list after all). In fact, I loved it so much that I went on to read the entire series!
  2. The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern. It’s hard not to like this book because the main character (Maggie) is so lovable. She tells readers about her daily life as she deals with her dad’s illness and works toward her big dream of becoming the president. One of my favorite things about this book (besides Maggie) is the author’s use of footnotes; they were the perfect fit for Maggie’s Type A personality! P.S. – A portion of the proceeds of this book are donated to the Multiple Sclerosis Society! 
  3. Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick. This is another one that I was reluctant to read, but ended up loving (I should probably stop judging books by their covers). In “Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie” the main character, Steven, remains sarcastic (you will laugh out loud) and lighthearted throughout the book, despite dealing with tough-to-talk-about topics like cancer.
  4. Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo. There’s no way to say this without sounding cheesy, but I just feel warm and light when reading a Kate DiCamillo book. Her stories have a certain magical quality to them -even when there is no magic involved, and this book is the perfect example of that. Raymie is a quiet and introspective character, who only wants happiness, or as she puts it, “for her soul to feel good”. The book follows Raymie as she puts her plan for happiness into action, and of course- meets a few obstacles along the way.
  5. The Trials of Apollo by Rick Riordan. “The Trials of Apollo” is similar to the Percy Jackson series, but instead of having a demigod be the center of attention, this book is all about the Greek god Apollo….except he’s not a Greek god anymore.His father turns him into a teenage boy at the start of the book and he is very unhappy about it: “I will never understand how you mortals tolerate it. You live your entire life trapped in a sack of meat, unable to enjoy simple pleasures like changing into a hummingbird or dissolving into pure light. And now, heavens help me, I was one of you – just another meat sack.”
  6. The BFG by Roald Dahl. Roald Dahl has written a lot of great books, but “The BFG” made it to this list because the the giant is such an awesome character. You will love his funny language (snozzcombers anyone?), his insightful quotes (“two rights do not equal left”), and his rebellious view on eating humans (he doesn’t, but all of the other giants do). The BFJ is funny, like most of Dahl’s books, but it also teaches readers a valuable lesson: just because something is considered “normal” doesn’t mean it’s right
  7. Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo.  Another Kate DiCamillo book (she’s soooo good!). This story follows Flora, who is obsessed with comics, and an unusual squirrel (Ulysses) on an adventure filled with superheroes, villains, oddball characters, and poetry. If I had to pick one thing I loved the most about Flora and Ulysses it would definitely be Flora’s unique catch phrase: “holy unexpected occurrences!” How cute is that?
  8. Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier. This is a graphic novel, so you could probably read it in an hour, but that doesn’t take away from how good it is. The story deals with smaller topics, like the usual growing pains, as well as bigger ones, like dealing with a relative’s illness – all while keeping it light with pictures, soft colors, and a bit of fantasy! I recommend reading this one around Halloween.
  9. The Honest Truth  by Dan Gemeinhart. This past school year I assigned “The Honest Truth” to a book club full of reluctant readers.When they finished reading it they dubbed it to be, “the best book they have ever read” (…and I did a short victory dance in my head). The book follows Mark and his loyal dog Beau as they embark on a mission to climb Mt. Rainer, despite the odds against them.
  10. Courage for Beginners by Karen Harrington. Courage for Beginners is a heartwarming story about Mysti Murphy, whose life gets turned upside down when her dad falls out of a tree. Readers will love Mysti’s take on life, heroes, and cool kids as she navigates seventh grade.

Have you read any of these? What are some of your favorite middle grade books?

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Three Things I Love This Week

I feel so lucky to have summer’s off. Not only it is a much-needed refresher, but it also a reminder of how much I love my job. Though there is still a month left of summer, I have begun to prepare for the upcoming school year because I’m truly excited (okay, and a little nervous) for it to start.

  1. The Book Whisperer by Donnalyn Miller: This is a must-read for any reading 519lHx-UOzL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_teacher! Donnalyn Miller does such a wonderful job of reminding the reader (the teacher) what is truly important about teaching reading (Hint: it has nothing to do with worksheets). With such a large focus on testing lately, it is very easy to fall into “skill and drill” mode, i.e. “read this, answer this, repeat.” However, what we need to focus on as teachers is getting students to love reading, because above all practice, the best practice is to just keep reading! After all, studies show that students who read a lot do better in all subjects, not just reading and writing!
  2. Elementary: I have been a fan of Sherlock Holmes ever since my 5th grade teacher read us The Hound of the Baskervilles. Looking back, reading000.jpg Sherlock Holmes seems much too advanced for fifth graders, but our teacher, Mr. Munerantz was so passionate about it that we ended up loving it just as much as he did. Anyways, about two years ago I started (and finished) BBC’s Sherlock Holmes, and I absolutely loved it. I left it at that for awhile, but then recently decided to give Elementary a try. If you’re a fan of Sherlock, it’s important to know that Elementary is nothing like the books or the BBC show, but there are plenty of Sherlock-esque deductions and surprise endings. Overall – it’s an interesting show and it fills my Sherlock needs until the next season of the BBC show is released!
  3. Ben and Jerry’s Non-Dairy: So I haven’t been able to be completely vegan (a trip to Europe quickly put a stop to my no dairy streak), but I have cut down on dairy significantly. This should be really tough when my absolute favorite food is chocolate ice cream, but it isn’t thanks to Ben and Jerry’s new non-dairy ice cream. It’s delicious, and it tastes just like “real” ice cream! So far I have only had the Chocolate Fudge Brownie flavor (5 stars!), but I can’t wait to try the rest! certified-vegan-blog-779x400
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Book Clubs 101

Since the start of my teaching career, I had been afraid of book clubs. I knew I would have to face them sooner or later, but I wanted to put them off as long as possible. Not only did I not feel confident in how to implement them, but I was also really reluctant to give up control of my classroom. Unfortunately (actually, fortunately), I was “forced’ to start book clubs this year when we finished our class novel way too early. So, I was left with two choices: stretch out the class novel (“Ok class, here’s another project on Tuck Everlasting!”) or start dun dun dun….book clubs! So, I mustered up my teacher superpowers, planned a book club unit in under a week, and kept my fingers crossed that it would all run smoothly. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised! Book clubs have somehow gone from being my worst enemy,  to my new favorite part of the curriculum.

First Things First!

  1. Creating clubs: Students are given the chance to view all of the books and pick their top three choices. I do my best to put students with one of their top choices, but I also need to account for their reading speed and level. It’s really tough for book clubs to run smoothly when the group is waiting for one slow reader, so when stuck between choice and pace – put that student with the better pace!
  2. Setting up: Once I have created the book club groups, I create student folders. Each student will get his or her own manila folder, which will IMG_8503.JPGhave an image of the book on it as well as the items listed below (in the Student Folders category). I do this all for the students ahead of time because it saves time and it’s less of a headache (I can hear it now: “WHICH side did you say to paste this paper on!???!!”). Once you hand the folders out, give students time to create a group name and decorate their folder. It is a fun and easy way to create group morale.

Student Folders:

  1. Calendar (you can print student calendars from http://print-a-calendar.com/)
    • The calendar is used as a large overview of the weeks ahead. Students can use this to get a loose idea of when they can finish the book by counting the number of pages and allocating them among the days. Be sure to fill in (or have them fill in) holidays, assemblies, etc. so that students know what days they will not have time to read/discuss.
  2. Goal Page: “on ___________ we will read from ___ to ____”
    • This is more of an immediate goal sheet. Students in my class usedIMG_8504.JPG it on a day-to-day basis. After reading and discussing, they would figure out what they wanted their goal to be for tomorrow. This was a lifesaver to have written down because It helped students to track and adjust their reading goals (“We read really fast today, let’s set a higher goal tomorrow.”) and 2. It helped absent students know what they needed to do to catch up – without asking their group or me!
  3. Discussion Reflection Sheet (this, as well as the goal page, can be found on my TPT store)
    • I created this sheet last minute on a whim, but it became one of the most aspects because it holds students accountable. After book club discussion, students fill out the discussion log by reflecting on what they did well and what they can improve on. While students are filling this out, I come around to give stickers to groups that I saw working well together that day. Yes, they still love stickers in sixth grade, but there is also an incentive -whichever group earns the most stickers on their folder at the end of book club earns a treat (lollipops). Aside from stickers, I also collect the folders at the end of each day, read their reflections, and then leave my own comments (i.e. “Great discussion today! I really liked how you spent time talking about so and so. Next time, focus on making sure all group members are actively listening.”).IMG_8506.jpeg

It All Comes Together:

  • It’s important to note that prior to book clubs my students would come in to class everyday and right away begin 10-15 minutes of “Quiet Reading Time”. This was a time where they read independent books and worked on weekly reading assignments. During book clubs (only about 3 weeks), students only read their book club books and they did not have weekly reading assignments, other than the book club assignments. I felt I needed to mention this because it may be why the schedule below worked so well with my class (they were used to it), but it may not work with every class; adjust as you see fit.
  1. Upon coming in to class, students will take out their book club folders (I kept them in an accessible cabinet in my room), meet very briefly to review what their goal for the day is, and make any adjustments if needed. For instance, if they had two people absent the day before, that group may decide to do less reading than they had originally planned.
  2. Students will read quietly to reach their goal, and then complete the task of the day.
  • Each day I have two tasks for students to complete after their reading/ before their discussion. The first one is always: 1) Create a discussion question, and the second one varies. Here are some examples:
    • Make a strong prediction (I predict….because….).
    • What is your favorite part so far and why?
    • Make an inference about a character.
    • Sketch a scene (be sure to include a caption).
    • Make a connection (text to text/self/world).
    • Who is your least favorite character and why?
  1. When students are done reading and responding it is time for discussion. Discussion involves each student asking the group his/her discussion question (question 1) and sharing his/her response to question 2. Students will likely have trouble with discussion in the beginning, so it is important to walk around and help them to stretch their thoughts, voice their ideas, and dig deeper. ß This will be easier to do if you have read all of the book club books!
  2. After discussion students will fill out the discussion reflection and the goal sheet. 

Accountability:

How are students being held accountable?

  • Observation
    • Book club relies very heavily on student participation. When I see a student is not participating, I deduct points from his or her class participation grade. While it’s understandable that some students are a shy, it’s still important that they give it their all. Here are some ways to monitor real participation:
GREAT 🙂 FAKING IT 🙁 
Student is actively reading. It is clear he or she is engaged in the book during Quiet Reading Time. Student is restless during Quiet Reading Time (eyes looking at the clock, around the room, etc.)
Student contributes to the discussion with complete phrases and his/her own ideas: “I agree it was really odd when Jenny lied, it was so unlike her! I wonder if she is only doing that to save her friendship with Tom?” Student only contributes to the discussion with short phrases: “Yeah I agree with John.” When it is his/her turn to share he/she uses very basic ideas that could have been picked up through a quick skim or from reading the back of the book: “I can’t believe Harry Potter is going to Hogwarts!”
  • Journal Responses: “Questions 1 and 2” (See number 2 in “It All Comes Together”)
    • I walk around to check individual journal responses as students complete them. If you don’t get to everyone in one day, that’s okay. The good thing about book club is it is a continuous cycle, so you can check on the students you missed the next day.
    • If I want to do a more formal check, I will have students complete their responses on loose leaf, and hand it in at the end of the period.
  • Discussion Reflection
    • As mentioned previously, I check this after every discussion and give groups written feedback.
  • Projects
    • Once a group finishes with their book they create and complete
      IMG_8729.JPG

      Book Club Project     (Student -created)

      a project, time permitting, and hand it in for a grade.

    • Hand out the Project Planner(this can be found on my TPT store) to groups that have finished.
      • Let them be creative – it’s amazing what students come up with!
      • Review their creation, add or subtract as needed, then sign your approval.
      • After they finish the project, the Project Planner becomes the rubric.
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Making Inferences

I really enjoy teaching inferences. I love how most of the kids start off thinking that making an inference is abstract and difficult, but then later realize it’s something we do everyday. I recently came across Chrissy’s (FREE!) Making Inferences MiniPack – and Wow! What a find! In an attempt to get the kids ready for the Instagram project they will be doing later in the week, I decided to kick off an inference boot camp! We started today with Chrissy’s MiniPack, then later in the week I plan to introduce the mystery Quick Solves. I used the Quick Solves last year during my nonfiction unit, but it works out SO much better now because of Halloween (yay for good timing!).

So, back to the MiniPack. Chrissy suggests handing groups of studens different pictures and asking them where they think they’re going. Each group has a picture that’s relative to camping (sleeping bag, marshmallows, backpack, fishing pole, etc.), but when one pictures stands alone it becomes a bit more vague. The point is to model the idea that the more clues you have, the stronger your inference will be. I loved the idea of this concrete model, but I felt it would be too easy considering the kids and I just got back from a school camping trip. So, instead I put a few pictures on the Smartboard and only spent about three minutes on it.

We then moved on to read a short story about a guy named Frank who saves people in a fire. The story, which I believe Chrissy wrote, is so well thought out – it’s the perfect tool for making inferences. As a reader, you start out being not so sure why Frank is so dirty (Did he get in a fight? Is he poor?), but as the story progresses you pick up more clues and eventually it all fits together. It made for the perfect “Aha!” moment.

For “we do”, I placed the inference task cards around the room and had students, with a partner of their choice, move from card to card at their own pace. Since the cards were laminated, I created a simple answer sheet that prompted students to use the same “I can tell…” format as the cards, though I did add a “because…” to practice citing text evidence. I was originally planning on use the cards for independent practice, but I’m so glad I changed my mind. By having students work in pairs, I was able to hear their discussions as they attempted to solve each card; it was the perfect way to check for understanding as I walked around the room!

To wrap everything up I will be using Chrissy’s independent practice worksheet tomorrow, which asks students to make an inference using their independent reading books. I’m confident the kids will make strong inferences – and it’s only Monday!

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Google Classroom

I’m head of the school newspaper this year (very exciting!), but after the first meeting I felt completely overwhelmed. The kids had a lot of ideas and they couldn’t wait to get the first paper out. I loved their enthusiasm, but I was worried about how I would make it all happen. I knew that with my busy schedule it would be nearly impossible to hold meetings every week and I also knew I didn’t want to be tracking down rough drafts from students in three different grades (I was already doing enough of that in my own class!). So, I began the search for an easier way. My first thought was Google Docs, but then I stumbled upon something even better: Google Classroom.

A relatively new platform, Google Classroom allows me to post announcements, create assignments, set due dates, comment on student work, and keep track of who has been an active participant. It’s everything that’s great about Google in one spot.

So, how does it work?

After you create a class, Google Classroom generates a code which allows students to join using their gmail account. Once it’s all set up, you are able to communicate with students, both publicly and privately (similar to writing on someone’s Facebook Wall versus messaging them), post assignments, and create announcements. For Newspaper club, I created documents using Google Docs for each column (debate, sports, advice, etc.) and then linked them to an assignment in Classroom. From the student point of view, they simply click the link and are taken to the document. At first I felt all this linking was an unnecessary middle step, but now I see the benefits. For instance, there are only about four students working on the debate column, but many others offer input, compliments, and constructive criticism in the comments section of the assignment. This way, the document is solely for the team itself, while the comment section is open to the entire “staff”.

Why do I love it?

As I previously mentioned, I was a bit cautious about Google Classroom, but now I couldn’t be happier. It has been so nice to see students discussing ideas with one another and to monitor their work and give my own feedback – without waiting for a face to face meeting (there’s even a mobile app!). It allows students to work on their own time (with a deadline in mind, of course), to hear from peers, and to connect with me. In a matter of days, Google Classroom was able to create a strong sense of teamwork in my newspaper club – which I don’t believe would have been possible with any other platform.

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What’s New in My Classroom 

 After purchasing a First Days of Middle School product from Teachers Pay Teachers, I simplified my classroom expectations to match the ones in the product. I love that it sums up everything important in three short phrases!IMG_4774I’ve placed a whiteboard and markers on top of my bookshelves so that students can recommend books that they like. I started this at the end of last year and the students loved it! The best part is it adds a pop of color to the walls when it’s all filled up!    I got this DIY idea from the Scholastic newsletter. It’s such a fun way to put students into groups. I used the Divergent popsicles on the first week and the students loved it – they were so excited to see which faction they would be in. I will definitely be making more of these throughout the school year.

IMG_4775I have a homeroom this year, so recess rules are a must! I also created a “‘What should I do when I’m finished?’ sign” (classroom journal post coming soon!) for when students ask that all too familiar question. I have become kind of font obsessed ever since I downloaded a pack from KGFonts. A good font makes a boring poster look so much better!  Just as important as the classroom decorations – my planner (aka my best friend for the school year)! I purchased a monogram decal from etsy to add some fun to the solid front. I love the way the navy blue looks against the bright pink!

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It’s Almost Time!

The funny thing about being a teacher is that every year you hit the reset button and start your job fresh again. It’s a great thing, but it’s also a bit nerve-wracking. While the teacher in me is excited to get back to school again, the worrier in me can’t stop stressing about the year ahead. So, to satisfy my Type-A personality, I have begun planning here and there. Here’s how I’m doing it.

1. Review and Reflect: The first year of teaching is a roller coaster. Some weekends you feel ready and knowledgable to take on the week, while others you sit with a bowl of ice cream thinking “What am I going to do this week and how am I going to do it?” To prevent this from happening in Year Two, I have been taking the time to review Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 1.11.19 PMmy old plans and put them into a unit plan format. I made a chart with the approximate time the unit takes, key
points of the subject, and some of the specific resources I used. This year, I’ll be able to know right away what I should be teaching (and how to teach it) month by month.

41O2Td0V5iL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_2. Refresh: One of the biggest things in middle school is classroom management. While I think I did a pretty good job managing my classroom as a first year teacher, there is definitely room for improvement. I really like the small tips from Smart Classroom Management’s website (a lot of “Aha!” moments), so I purchased the book. Much like the website, the book is easy to skim and it gives clear directions on how to go about each procedure. I also purchased See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers, but I haven’t had the chance to start reading it yet.

3. Shopping! I probably spend way too much money on Teacher’s Pay Teachers, but I never feel guilty about it because 1) It’s beneficial to my classroom instruction and 2) I love that the money goes to real teachers, rather than large textbook companies. My most Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 12.57.26 PMrecent purchase has me really excited for the first days of school; it’s filled with first week activities that will encourage a positive classroom community as well as enforce classroom procedures and rules. Click the picture to buy your own pack and to see more from Literary-Sherri (she has a ton of great products!).

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15 Things I Learned During My First Year Teaching

I survived my first full year teaching 6th grade Language Arts! Here’s what I learned:

1. No one knows what they’re doing, it’s not just you.

2. That being said, the most important thing is confidence. The kids will know if you’re freaking out, so smile big and pretend you know what you’re talking about. (That’s not to say you shouldn’t know what you’re talking about, but we all have those days)

3. It’s important for students to like you, but you can’t win them all. Don’t get too hung up wondering why some students dislike you. 

4. Don’t take bad behavior to heart (I’m still working on this one).

5. Be friendly with your coworkers; learn their names and make small talk. Being able to vent or have a light hearted conversation in the copy room can really brighten the day.

6. Send handwritten thank you notes.

7.  The internet is filled with endless ideas for lesson plans and activities. Take advantage of this, but don’t drive yourself crazy. Sometimes simple works best.

8. Remember that two heads are better than one; collaborate with your coworkers – we are in this for the students, not to one-up all of the other teachers.

9. Continuously seek meaningful feedback- from your coworkers, from administration, and yes – even from students.

10. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. More than likely, the person that you ask will be flattered that you thought to ask them.

11. Procedures are important (possibly more important than rules). Set them, practice them (a lot), and redirect the students who don’t follow them. At the start of the year I thought I had all of my procedures ready, but I was wrong. Even the smallest things, like when to use the pencil sharpener, needs a procedure in a busy classroom.

12. Kids appreciate honesty. If you make a mistake, own up to it. They also love to find your mistakes – so check any materials you create multiple times for errors before you hand them out!

13. Follow through! If you say you’re going to call home – call home. Create a discipline plan and stick to it. Kids learn quickly whether you’re serious or “all talk” (I learned this the hard way).

14. Be organized. It doesn’t stop at teaching a lesson – there are papers to grade, meetings to attend, grades to enter, and parents to call (s.o.s.). Find a system that works for you. I write on multiple calendars and a to-do list. During extra-busy-weeks, my desk is filled with colorful Post-it notes.

15. Understand your own rules and reasons for doing things and be confident about them. You will have students and parents who will try to challenge the way something was graded or the reason a detention was given, but if you have confidence in your decision, it will show.

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Falling in Love with Poetry

I have always loved poetry, but teaching poetry has made me fall in love with it even more! With teaching, I’m forced to look at it through the point of view of a sixth grader – which is refreshing and eye-opening. I recently introduced the students to works of the poet, William Carlos Williams (I purchased a product on TPT by Tracee Orman that encourages students to “Write Like Poets”. It is wonderfully put together- it even has audio files of the poems being spoken!) So, after modeling our own poems after “Red Wheelbarrow”, we moved on to look at the infamous, “This is Just to Say”. Immediately after I read it, the kids made a face that said, “This is a poem?” And without ever thinking of this before (teacher auto-pilot), I explained to them that it’s beautiful because William Carlos Williams found poetry in unexpected places (light bulb moment!)

A week prior to introducing actual poems, the kids and I did some close reading with song lyrics. I started out with the song “Let it Go”, knowing it would be easier because everyone is familiar with the song and movie. First, we listened to the song and wrote down any thoughts we had, then I asked them to listen while looking at the lyrics and think about theme, setting, and changes in character. To my absolute surprise: none of them had any idea what the song is actually about…despite singing it for days on end this past winter.rp_Screen-Shot-2015-04-03-at-11.06.52-PM-300x231.png During discussion they brought up the surface facts: she runs away to the mountains, she doesn’t mind the cold, she has magic, etc. So, we worked through it together and found the theme: to just be yourself and not worry what anyone else thinks (at this point there were a lot of ohhh that’s what it’s about!) They went back to work with a new-found appreciation for the song, highlighting important details, and looking for changes in character. I was so impressed with what they found – they even made note of how the tempo of the song changes as Elsa becomes more confident. (Resources for younger kids can be found on Scholastic)

It was a good first experience with close reading, but it was time to move onto bigger things: “Wings” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. I got the idea to use this song from the teacher before me. It was such a good lesson, I couldn’t resist repeating it! Just like with “Let it Go”, we started out by listening to the song (I had to give a mini speech about being mature because there are two “bad words” in it). After the first listen all of the students agreed that it sounded like a shoe commercial. I handed out lyrics and we listenIMG_1658.JPGed again… and they were still set on the idea of a shoe commercial. I had them mark up the lyrics, making note of anything – important or not.

The next day, I introduced the theme: what you wear doesn’t make you who you are, and I had them write down the definition for “consumerism”. I talked to them about consumerism; about how, whether they would like to admit it or not, they have probably worn something with the idea that people would like them more because of it. I pointed out current commercials that use celebrities and how it’s so important to have the most current iPhone and real Uggs. This got them talking….and the lyrics finally became clear! We still had to work through them together, but instead of feeling frustrated they were truly interested. After having them mark the lyrics on their own some more and then going through it as a class (and watching the video!), the students filled out a close read worksheet that I created. The worksheet asks for theme and changes in character, and text evidence to back it up (you can find it on my TPT site!) I have found that most of my students work best with worksheets, as opposed to “this is what I’m looking for, write it on lined paper”.

To end the mini-unit on close reading song lyrics, I gave students a week to print out lyrics for a song of their choice and bring them into class. Students close read their chosen lyrics and then filled out another close read worksheet. It was a fun closing activity, but I didn’t grade it because there was too much variety. In the future, I will have a list of songs that they can choose from, because some songs were really difficult to close read (i.e. Best Day of my Life by American Authors).

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Free Choice RR(L)

I was prepared to feel disillusioned during the month of January (the graph warned me!), but I didn’t realize my students would be in a slump too. Things just feel different in January. The exciting “new year of school” feeling has been long gone and all of the fun holidays have passed. All we are left with is below freezing temperatures and days that get dark way too early. But good news is…February is finally here, bringing us happy Valentine’s Day colors and one month closer to the end of winter!

Okay, back to my point! One week deep in the slump of January, I just couldn’t bring myself to assign an RRL. I knew that if I didn’t feel like reading them, students certainly didn’t feel like writing them (Okay, I’m not delusional. I know students most likely never feel like writing reading response letters, but this week was different). So, I created the Free Choice RR(L) on a whim, and I am so happy with the results! With Free Choice RR(L) students are allowed to create (almost) whatever they want in relation to their book. I gave them a long list of ideas and a few guidelines to follow, and what they created was amazing! I have been noticing more and more how important it is to give students choice; they really respond to it. I will definitely be doing many more of these throughout the year!

The Free Choice RR(L) directions, along with the “classic” RRL directions, can be found on my Teachers Pay Teachers site!

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