Month: July 2016

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

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
    • 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. 


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:
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
      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.

London and Paris in 6 Days

It’s crazy to think that just last week I was wandering around London, and now I’m back home in a weird space between awake and asleep- jet lag has been rough! My friend Valerie and I signed up for the EF College Break London and Paris trip on a whim. I have traveled with this company before and it’s really the way to go if you don’t have the time (or the money) to plan a trip yourself. You pay a relatively low cost and EF  books all of the hotels, most activities, like museum visits and bus tours, and provides money for transportation-even metro cards!  With EF you travel with a large group of people, usually around 30, which definitely has its pros and cons. It’s great to meet new people, but a group that big can also slow you down, which isn’t great when you’re trying to see so much in so little time. Valerie and I went back and forth between hanging out with the group and exploring on our own – it was really the perfect balance!

Day 1: Operation Stay Awake

We arrived in London bright and early…but check in wasn’t until 2PM, so we had to keep ourselves awake and occupied until then. While eating at a coffee shop near the hotel with a few of the other early arrivals, Operation Stay Awake was born. One girl suggested that we should all go to Covent Garden, a semi-outdoor market in the center of London (<– a “pro” to group travel, Valerie and I would have never thought of this place on our own!). We all agreed and then somehow made our way to the tube station, despite being half asleep.



Covent Garden was a lot of fun and something I hadn’t seen on my last trip to London. We each bought a few souvenirs, and then found some place to eat real food – at an English pub of course! Later, we checked in to the hotel, met everyone else in the group at a Welcome Mixer in the lobby (food and drinks paid for by EF!), and then went for a bit of sightseeing with the group director. Operation Stay Awake was a success!

Day 2: Shopping and Side Streets

In the morning we went on a sightseeing tour of London with the group. The tour guide was really entertaining and very knowledgeable. The tour ended at Buckingham Palace, where we got to watch the changing of the guards – very cool.

Before the tour and on the tour, people kept suggesting that Valerie and I go to Harrod’s. I didn’t understand this. I kept thinking, it’s a department store how cool can it be? However, with all of the suggestions, we decided it was time to check it out, and upon walking in we immediately understood why it was so much more than just a department store. It really can’t be put into words, so all I will say is: if you’re ever in London go to Harrod’s.





Besides Harrod’s and going to King’s Cross Station, one of my favorite parts of the day was all of the walking we did. A bus tour is great for getting an idea about where to go and seeing everything at once, but absolutely nothing beats just walking around a city. It’s so much fun to walk through side streets and find yourself in places you have never planned on going, or even knew of.

Day 3: Off to the Country! 

Valerie and I have both been to London before, so although there was still tons of stuff we could see and do in the center of London, we wanted to do something different this time. We had signed up for the excursion to Oxford that EF College Break offered, but it was cancelled a few days before the trip, so we decided to go on our own. After sleeping in just a bit (much-needed!) we took a train from London to Oxford, which only takes about 54 minutes! Oxford is one of the most picturesque places I have ever seen. It’s a quiet town filled with beautiful architecture, cobblestone streets, and bikes at every corner – it is exactly what I picture when someone mentions England. I couldn’t believe that people actually went to school there,  it just didn’t seem real!


Day 4: Goodbye, London! Bonjour, Paris!  

Valerie and I both have not-so-fond memories of Paris, but we wanted to give the city of lights a second try. Unfortunately, the bus ride to the hotel from the Gare du Nord train station almost solidified our first impression (the area around the train station is not somewhere you would want to find yourself at night). Thankfully, the rest of our stay in Paris would prove that it’s not so bad after all.

Before I get into the day itself, I want to mention where we stayed. In London we stayed at a hotel, which seemed to be mostly filled with people on business trips, but in Paris, we stayed at a hostel. For most people the word “hostel” might bring up an idea of someplace dirty and maybe even unsafe, but this place was anything but. It was the first hostel I have ever stayed at and it really made for an entirely different experience (in a good way). Rather than being surrounded by middle age men and women in business attire, we were now surrounded by people our own age, here for the same purpose that we were – to have fun in a new city. Not only was the hostel clean and safe (security right at the door), but it also had its own club, cafe, and rooftop bar! It was so much fun, and very convenient! If you’re ever looking into a trip abroad and need somewhere nice, but inexpensive, definitely look into Generator Hostels.

On our first day in Paris we took a cruise along the Siene. It’s my second time doing this, and in my opinion it is the best way to see the Eiffel Tower. After the cruise we went out to dinner with a few of the girls and then went up to the hostel’s rooftop bar!


Day 5: Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame

Today was filled with tourist destinations! We started the day off with a group trip to the Eiffel Tower, but we couldn’t get close to it as it was being blocked off due to a suspicious package. Despite feeling a bit shaken from all of the commotion at the tower, we made our way to the Louvre. Museums are my second favorite place to be (bookstores are first); I love the quiet and the feeling of being surrounded by knowledge and history. Before walking around, we had a bite to eat at Starbucks. I know it’s silly that it’s a chain “restaurant”, but Starbucks abroad is so different – I had pancakes with my coffee! We took in the peacefulness of the Louvre (note: it’s the opposite of peaceful if you make your way towards Mona Lisa), attempted to read the labels next to the art pieces (they’re all in French), and took a lot of pictures!



After the Louvre, we went on a bus tour of Paris, and again the tour guide was amazing! We were able to see so much in a short amount of time and even got to stop at a small cafe for an espresso! The bus tour dropped us off right near Notre Dame so we were able to check another must-see destination off of our list before heading back to the hostel! Once we were back we went out to eat at a nearby restaurant. Paris was filled with going out to eat- I loved it!

Day 6: Act Like a Local 

We started the day by heading to Shakespeare and Company bookstore, a must on my list (remember bookstores are my number one favorite place)! It was great to get away from the city for a bit and wander around the bookstore. I ended up buying a book about Ernest Hemingway, one of my favorite authors. Then we found a cafe and had lunch while sitting facing the street (Parisians often do this so that they can talk about the people who pass by). It was a beautiful day and the lunch was delicious!



At around three we went to the outskirts of Paris to meet up with Valerie’s cousin, Gina, who has lived in Paris for the past eleven years. She took us to several different restaurants around the canal, one of which looked like a house, but was actually a bar (we walked upstairs and people were having a drink in a bathtub!). We then went to pick up Gina’s daughter from the nearby daycare. It was really interesting to see a Parisian daycare! We walked in and all of the kids were sitting quietly, eating a piece of baguette (can’t make this up). Then we all headed back to Gina’s apartment and had our own baguette with cheese and radishes with butter (so French!).  It was so, so nice to see things in a new perspective (a local one) and to just sit and talk with Valerie and Gina over good food in a home setting!

The last event of any EF trip is always a farewell dinner, and ours happened to be at Montmartre, another place we really wanted to see! We met the group at the restaurant, had a delicious meal, and then walked the 270 steps to Basilica de Sacre-Coeur (after meal workout?). The steps were worth it, because the view was amazing! Definitely put it on your list of things to go and see if you are ever in Paris!


Overall the whole trip was unforgettable! It was my second time in both places, but a completely different experience. Despite all of the fun Valerie and I had, it was really nice to come home. I have been feeling sort of disheartened with the state America is in right now, but going away really put things into perspective. Every place has its own set of problems, the grass isn’t greener on the other side. There may be a lot that needs to be fixed, but I’m still proud to say that America is my home.


Note: The EF College Break trip is actually called “London and Paris in 8 Days“, however the two extra days were complete travel days due to the time difference.