Month: September 2014

Everything You Need to Know About EF College Break

Three years ago, I took a thirty day trip to Europe with EF College Break. The company organizes trips to Europe, Asia, South America, Australia, and Africa for anyone age 18 to 26. The trip you book includes flight, hotel stay, most transportation, and a welcome dinner, and a farewell dinner. You can book alone, or with friends. I booked my trip alone, which at the time, was completely out of character for me. When I was younger, I would actually beg my mom not to take me to summer camp. So, voluntarily signing up to be away from home for 30 days was a big deal – and the best decision I have ever made.

Here’s everything you need to know about EF College Break:

BEFORE THE TRIP you’ll get a chance to “meet” everyone in an invite-only Facebook group for your particular tour (time to change that profile picture to something that says “I’m fun to hang out with!”). The tour guide also uses this group, so it’s a great way to ask questions, collaborate with others about what you’re bringing (a lot of people in my group discussed what kind of phone they were using), and even meet a potential roommate.


Quick Tip: Be wary of securing a roommate before the trip has even started. You don’t want to get stuck with someone before getting to meet everyone else. By not having a set roommate, I got placed with someone new every time we switched hotels, which led me to meet a lot of new people.

ON TRAVELING: You may spend a lot of time in a bus or tIMG_9188.JPGrain. I did the “30 days in Europe” tour and while I had the time of my life, I wish I was more prepared for the long hours we would be spending in the bus. On my trip, we had 5-7 hour bus rides every three days. Though it was exhausting, it’s all worth it because you see so much! The bus trips are usually broken up with short stops along the way. The picture to the right is when we stopped in Assisi (it quickly became one of my favorite places). Another time, we stopped at Pont du Gard in Italy to swim and sun bathe beneath the ancient Roman bridge (how many people can say they’ve done that?).

Quick Tip: When booking your trip, look at the itinerary and beware of the days that say, “Travel to________”. You may want to google the distance to see just how much time you’ll spend in a bus or train.

THE TOUR GUIDES: While I can’t speak for every tour guide (though I’ve heard good things), my tour guide was amazing. She spoke about four different languages fluently and knew all the best spots to eat, sightsee, or just hang out. Not only was she knowledgeable, but she was also fun to be around. So get your idea of the typical tour guide (remember Miss Ungermeyer in the Lizzie McGuire movie?) out of your head, EF tour guides are anything but.

ON TOURING: it’s good to know that nothing is mandatory. Every day your tour guide will have the day scheduled with things to do and places to see, but you don’t need to do any of it. A lot of people go along because it’s fun to be with the group and the trips are, 90% of the time, the exact thing you were wanting to do. However, there are times when a museum or tourist attraction won’t look appealing to you, and that’s okay.

Remember: Nothing is mandatory. Don’t waste your time on something you don’t absolutely want to do, you’re only in each city for 2-3 days.

IMG_9195.JPGON PACKING: I can’t stress this enough, pack light. This is not a vacation where your bag stays in the room and you can live out of your suitcase for a week. You are traveling constantly (see above) and there are many times you’ll have to walk around with your luggage. Often times the bus can’t park right in front of the hotels because of the narrow streets, so you’ll be forced to roll your luggage up and down the cobblestone side streets of whatever foreign city you’re in. And more often than not, the hotels will not have elevators. So when you’re deciding whether to bring that third pair of heels, think again.

Quick Tip: Bring non-perishable snacks from home. It sounds crazy, but you’ll be thanking yourself when everyone is spending money every time their stomach growls (it adds up!). Granola bars come in handy when you’re hungry in the hotel room at 3 AM.

ON GOING ALONE: Don’t be afraid to sign up for a trip alone. While a good amount of people go with friends, plenty of people sign up alone tooIMG_9189.JPG. Like most things worth doing it was scary at the start, but at the end of it all I was a better person. I came home from the trip with a sense of independence, a view of the world (okay, Europe), and friends I know I’ll have for a lifetime.

OVERALL I definitely recommend EF College Break if you’re within the age bracket and looking to travel. It’s the easiest way to go- just sign up and leave the planning to the tour guides- and it’s reasonably priced.


3 Things I Love This Week

1. Monsieur Adi Orchestral Rework of “Pretty Hurts”. This past Saturday I watched the “On the Run” tour HBO special and I soon after became obsessed with Beyonce. Jay-z is already one of my favorite artists, but seeing them together was mesmerizing. What a power couple! I stumbled upon this version of “Pretty Hurts” and it’s been on replay ever since.

2. Reading at the gym. With everything going on lately, I feel like I have no time for myself. I sometimes get frustrated thinking about all the things I want to do – there are just not enough hours in the day! On a particularly busy day I decided to kill two birds with one stone and bring my book to the gym. I wasn’t expecting to like the idea, but it turns out I love it. I try to do at least a mile a day, but when I’m reading I walk two miles without even noticing. It’s the perfect combination; not only have I found time for reading, but also a reason to walk a bit further!

3. Revlon nail polish. I normally don’t buy nail polish, I think it’s a waste of money ($8.00 for a teeny tiny bottle!) and whenever I paint my nails I chip them almost immediately after. So, I have grown to 300love the colorless look and embrace the au-natuarale. On a recent trip to my local CVS, Revlon’s Colorstay caught my eye. At 6.99 it was just the slightest bit less than Essie and OPI, so I decided to give it a try. I really love the way this nail polish looks professional without having to try too hard and it lasts longer than most other polishes. I had mine on for 10 days without chips (a new record!) and that’s without the top coat they suggest using.


Good Afternoon My Name is Russel!

In literature, we are learning about how we can make inferences based on indirect characterization: a character’s dialogue, thoughts, emotions, actions, and Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 9.29.05 PMlooks. When I first introduced this topic I used a clip from the Pixar movie Up (such a good movie!). We watched the clip twice. The first time, students identified character traits of Russell and Mr. Fredricksen and wrote them down in the balloons (I’m pretty happy with the worksheet I created; I found the picture on google images and then made “balloons” in Microsoft Word). Before beginning I did a quick review: “Should we write down that Russell is short?” Nooooo. “Right, because that would be what?” A physical trait! “We are looking for character traits“. The second time we watched, students looked for evidence to back up at least one of the character traits they found. For instance, we said that Russell is persistent because he continuously asks Mr. Fredricksen if needs help, despite the old man insisting he doesn’t.

This was all the perfect prep for the more difficult activity I had the students do next: a characterization worksheet I found here. I let them work in groups for the this one and encouraged them to use the thesaurus to find strong words. I was very impressed with what they came up with!

This clip has stuck with some of my students who now come into class everyday with a “Good afternoon my name is Russell, can I help you cross the street?”. I can’t help but laugh…at least they remember something, right? Haha.


Library Book Sales

IMG_9095.JPGYou know the feeling you get when you wander around a Barnes and Noble? You just want to buy everything…until you look at the price tag. 15-25 dollars for a book is outrageous, especially when there are so many less expensive options out there (I’m looking at you amazon!). Today, I decided to go to a book sale at a local library with the intention of buying a few (keyword: few) books for the classroom. Instead, I walked out with 18 books and six of them were for myself. The best part? All together it only cost me $7.40! That’s 18 books for the price of two cups of coffee. I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to turn around and buy more, but the place was packed; it was really awesome to see everyone out buying good old-fashioned books. I will definitely be looking out for more of these sales and if you’ve never been, do some research to find out if a library near you is having one any time soon!

(P.S. You can find the Central Perk mug at Francesca’s!)


And We’re Off!

The first full week of school started out a bit bumpy (to be expected) and ended on a great note! I’m still trying to get in the groove of things, but so is everyone else – kids and teachers. Here are a few highlights:

  • I’m writing a personal narrative with the students. This week we started brainstorming ideas for our personal narratives, and I decided it would be nice to write along with the students. This turned out to be a great idea! Not only is it a good model, but it helps me to understand what the next step should be. I try out Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 10.16.49 PMtechniques from books and online myself first. If I like them, I share them in a mini lesson. My favorite technique (so far) has to be the 5W’s, it really helped us figure out what our small moments would be! I’m going to write my narrative about my trip to Europe, my small moment being when I wandered off alone in London and realized I could be independent.
  • We read children’s books to learn about plot. I put the students in groups and gave each group a book to read and analyze. It went really well, and I think the students enjoyed the books as much as I did. The books I used (in order of love to like): Henny by Elizabeth Rose Stanton, Boot and Shoe by Maria Frazee, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown, I Don’t Want to be a Pea! by Ann Bonwill. (If you’re interested in using these books for plot, I can share the plot of each with you – just email me.)
  • We used our imaginations to write a fun story. I got the idea from Kristen Bower’s post, “25 Bellringer, “Do Now,” or Early Finisher Ideas to Start Your Year Off Right”, but used it as an assignment instead. Since we were learning about plot in literature, I brought the concept into language arts class by drawing a plot on the Smartboard and only giving students the exposition (Katniss EScreen Shot 2014-09-13 at 11.02.31 PMverdeen, at our school, yesterday). It was so nice to see the kids truly excited about writing; they couldn’t wait to share what they had written! One student even asked me if he could write part two of his story (Yes!! Of course!!). I told the students that although I wasn’t grading them, I was going to read them all. I think it’s important for students to receive feedback on their writing, without the stress of a grade. I will definitely be making this a more regular thing!

Now to plan this week!



Heavy Boots

“In bed that night I invented a special drain that would be underneath every pillow in New York, and would connect to the reservoir. Whenever people cried themselves to sleep, the tears would all go to the same place, and in the morning the weatherman could report if the water level of the Reservoir of Tears had gone up or down, and you could know if New York was in heavy boots.”

While looking through my bookshelf for books with great beginnings to show my students, I came across Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. I flipped through, rereading all of my highlights and underlines, and remembered just how much I loved this book. I’m not a fan of reading books over again, but I can see myself reading this one a second time. The book is told from the perspective of a nine-year-old boy named Oskar Shell, who lost his dad on September 11th,unnamed 2001. He sets out on a “reconnaissance expedition” (as he calls it) that he believes his dad set up for him before he died. On his journey to find his father’s hidden message, he encounters different people and learns that everyone, including himself, is fighting their own battle. Oskar’s voice is wonderful and different. Though it’s never made known, it’s hinted at in both the book and movie that he has some form of Asperger’s or high functioning autism. This gives the book a unique look at the events of 9/11, told through the eyes of a boy with a wonderful imagination and a big heart.


3 Things I Love This Week

1. Sherlock on Netflix 
My fifth grade teacher loved (really, really loved) Sherlock Holmes, so he used that character to make his lessons fun. My favorite memory is when he made one of the mysteries come alive! He set up clues and had a friend stand suspiciously in our school courtyard (which probably would never fly these days). We all stared out the windows with our mouths wide open; we couldn’t believe a real mystery was happening at our tiny school! As fifth graders, we were ecstatic! We were learningsherlock and we didn’t even know it. When I saw that Netflix had a Sherlock series, I had to watch. The episodes are long (about an hour and a half), but worth it! The story takes so many twists and turns that it’s nearly impossible to figure out. But, in true Sherlock fashion, it all comes together in the end and you think: “How did I not catch that?!” The best part? The shows follow Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories almost exactly.

2. Sky Scanner
While I love Kayak and Travelocity, they don’t list every airline (especially Southwest- one of my favorites). On you can see all of the prices at once, rather than flipping between sites!

3. “Henny” by Elizabeth Rose Stanton71y1WC-yztL
Henny is unlike any other chicken…she was born with arms. I came across this book accidentally while I was at the library looking for children’s books to teach plot (more on that another day). I grabbed a few books, only doing a quick flip through to make sure each book was about the same length. When I got home and actually read it, I fell in love! It’s a story about self-esteem in a very subtle way. I definitely recommend it for any age (my sixth graders loved it)!


You’re Off to Great Places, Today is Your Day!

My first week of school has officially ended and I’m so happy to say it went really well. I have been dreaming, no- nightmaring” about this week for months (I’m a worrier). So to finally have it behind me, with no major problems, is truly a thing to celebrate.

I honestly don’t think my first week would have went as well as it did had I not read, “The First Days of School” by Harry Wong. I wouldn’t have set up procedures and consequences and I wouldn’t have spent time practicing them. However, because I spent time this week on my classroom expectations and consequences, I can already feel a positive classroom culture growing. I’m a little hesitant to begin the “yay me’s!” because maybe the students are on their best behavior for the first week of school…but I’ll just keep my fingers crossed and stick to my behavior plan!

Here’s a quick rundown of my first week: 

On Wednesday morning I greeted the students at the door with a big smile that I hoped said, “I’m not nervous!” I introduced myself and included some things I like, such as chocolate ice cream (which seems to be the one thing everyone remembered) and traveling. I also showed them my embarrassing 5th grade photo that read “Future Goal: Teacher” (awwww). In the afternoon, I read the book, “Oh, The PlaIMG_8818ces You’ll Go”, explaining to the students that you can love Dr. Suess no matter how old you are, because his messages are relevant at any age. This book is one of my absolute favorites; it’s all about new beginnings, taking chances, and overcoming difficulties- perfect for the first day of school!

On Thursday, I gave the students a worksheet with questions like, “What color is the inbox?” and “What happens if you forget your passport?”, to see how much they remembered from the day before. They worked together in groups and I was pleased to see that they remembered almost everything. I then had them create a poster with their group showing what one of my Classroom Expectations (Respect, Responsibility, Participation, and Hard Work) would look like. If they didn’t remember the expectations before, I’m sure they will now!

On Wednesday, I had the students write a short story about a quick trip to their dream destination (we all had one picked from an ice breaker the day before). The kids came up with really interesting events, like a monster in the hotel room, that would happen on their trips unnamed. In the afternoon, we set reading goals and life goals for ourselves and then checked with a partner to make sure they were S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound). I really enjoyed hearing everyones life goals, they all have such big plans and great ideas! A few students made their reading goal “To like reading”, and we all agreed that while it wasn’t measurable, it was still a good goal to have. I really hope I can help them reach that goal!

Overall it was a great first week (err…three days), but my one complaint is how badly my feet hurt by the end of the day! Does anyone have any suggestions for comfortable, but work appropriate, shoes? S.O.S.!