Category: teaching

Mystery and Nonfiction

What a busy first week back at school! I feel like it flew by! The students and I started the new year by jumping into the nonfiction unit (okay, so they sort of walked….no, crawled.) For my own sanity, I decided to break things up by focusing on a different standard each week. This past week it was standard RI.6.1. “Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.” At the beginning of the year the students and I spent so much time on making inferences about characters and events in a fictional story, but the kids have a hard time translating that skill to nonfiction (understandably so). Which is why I was so happy when I came upon the site, it is filled with mysteries to solve. The site has mini mysteries (quick solves) and longer mysteries (solve it’s). The stories focus on Nina Chase and Max Decker, two kids who like to solve neighborhood mysteries: Who stepped in the wet cement? Who broke into the local snack shack?. The stories are easy to follow, but definitely require quiet a bit of thinking.

Okay, so how does this all relate to nonfiction? Everyday, after each mystery, we worked on using evidence based terms in relation to nonfiction texts. Here’s how it went:


I introduced the unit and a list of “evidence based terms” (you can find anchor charts on pinterest!). As a class, we read an article on germs (hello, flu season!) in National Explorer Magazine.


Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 10.22.07 PMMystery – The students solved one of the mini mysteries as a warm up.

Nonfiction – We looked more closely at Monday’s article by examining strategies the author used and backing up those strategies with evidence. For instance, “The author connects with readers by using relatable examples”. I provided the strategies and students worked with a partner to find evidence.


Mystery- Students did another quick solve, but this time they had to put to use their evidence based terms and write out who they think did it and why.

Nonfiction – Looking at a new article (from, I provided students with a list of inferences I made and they had to find strong, specific evidence. They worked independently on this and I collected it to grade and provide feedback (They did so well!).


Mystery – Students had to solve one of the longer (and harder) mysteries. It was amazing to see how engaged they were as they contemplatedScreen Shot 2015-01-09 at 10.33.34 PM who stole the “For Sale” signs; the room was completely quiet! For this mystery, I gave them five minutes on their own, then two minutes with a partner. There were so many ideas bouncing around the room – everyone was sure they were right! Again, students wrote out who they thought the thief was and explained why using evidence from the text.

This time I collected their sentences and graded them – not on whether they arrived at the right answer, but on how well they constructed their sentences. I have to say, I’m so glad I did this! They are using the terms correctly and referring back to the evidence, but they are having trouble connecting back to the question. For example, a student might say, “I believe Freddy stole the signs because in the text it says he built a tree house made of wood.” However, it should continue: “….. The ‘For Sale’ signs are made of wood, therefore Freddy likely used the signs to build his tree house.” See what I mean? They are almost there! So, next week I am going to return to this case and we will rewrite sentences as a class.

Nonfiction – Students worked in groups and had a choice of three different articles (again, all from This time, they had to make their own inferences (or Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 10.28.54 PMcomment on the authors strategy or the text structure) and back it up with evidence from the text. This worked really well – especially allowing them a choice of article! On Monday of next week I will have them meet with another group that did the same article and discuss what they found.

*At one point during this last activity a student was feeling very frustrated because she was having trouble making inferences based on the nonfiction article. I said, “It’s just like solving a mystery, pick a part the sentences.” To this she replied, “Ohhhhh!“, then hurried to jot something down. My favorite part of teaching – the light bulb moment!

Happy Friday!


Three Things I Love This Week

1. The Secret Powers of Time. I stumbled upon this today and I couldn’t help but share. The idea of time being such a big divider- in terms of worldviews, money, and choices- is so interesting; and Professor Philp Zimbardo explains it very well. I especially enjoyed when he touched upon the current education model. Pointing out that because technology has changed the way young people think, school should change as well.

2. First Position“. This documentary, which can be found on Netflix, follows several ballerinas on their journey to the Youth American Grand Prix. The intense competition means getting noticed and possibly earning life changing scholarships. I have always been intrigued by ballet, but this documentary made me appreciate it so much more. The dancers are so disciplined and passionate about what they do; it is very admirable.

3. “Taking Flight”. Following suit with my #2 favorite this week, my #3 is Michaela DePrince’s bootaking-flightk, Taking Flight. Michaela, a ballerina featured in the “First Position” documentary, has a very unique story. Michaela was born in Sierra Leone during the 12 year war. After losing both of her parents, she is sent to an orphanage where she feels hopelessly unwanted. When she finds an old magazine with a ballerina on the cover, she clings to it with a dream of someday becoming that girl with the pretty pink shoes.

In the book we follow Michaela from Sierra Leone to the United States – where she strives to become a ballerina despite the negativity surrounding African Americans and ballet. What Michaela went through as a young child is unfathomable and heartbreaking, but her unwillingness to give up and the love of her adoptive mother is truly inspiring. Whether you love ballet, or hate it, this is a must read!


Characterization with Instagram

Happy weekend! I have been eager to share a project with you that I recently created for the novel, Bridge to Terabithia. The project involves creating an instagram profile for a character in the book, and (more exciting news!) can be found on my very new Teacher’s Pay Teachers site! Here is a quick run down of how it went:

At around chapter 11, when the class and I had a good idea of who the characters were, I had the students create an instinstagram1agram for a character of their choosing (Jesse, Leslie, or Janice). I used Jesse’s little sister, May Belle, as an example for the class when introducing the project, so she wasn’t an option. Not only was the project fun, but it also got students thinking deeply about who the characters really were. I gave them each a template, which I created, that included spots for three photos, a profile picture, amount of followers, and an introduction. The project prompted them to think about what the character would want everyone to see. For instance, when talking about May Belle, a six-year-old girl who looks up to her big brother, the students and I agreed that she would likely post a picture of her and Jesse together. As another example, we talked about how Jesse wouldn’t likely post a picture of Bridge to Terabithia, because it was important to him that it was kept secret. However, some students got very creative (or sneaky?) and gave Jesse only 1 follower (Leslie), made their accoinstagram2unt “private”, and then “posted” pictures of Terabithia. Along with the colorful instagram profile, students had to write a paper in which they explained why they created the profile the way that they did using evidence from the story. While the paper earned a big ughhh!”, the students really enjoyed creating the profiles and showing them off when they were finished. We had a “museum walk” at the end of the project and there were a lot of (quiet) giggles around the room as the students looked at all the different characters.

You can download the template + rubric here:unnamed


Sick Days: 1

Oh my goodness! It’s so good to get back to blogging! I apologize for my mini hiatus, but it has been a crazy week (like, crazier-than-usual-crazy). The students were on a trip the week before Halloween, so when they returned it was a rush to teach! teach! teach! I had to substitute fifth grade while my kiddies were gone, and boy did I miss them! Being in the fifth grade really made me appreciate my sixth graders. What a difference it is from one grade to the next! So, I was rushing to wrap up our imagined narratives, and finally jump further into Bridge to Terabithia before Halloween, when life hit me with a big, aching, coughing bump in the road. I got sick.

I started to feel it on a Wednesday night, but my temperature never went above 99, so it just didn’t feel right to stay out of work. Despite feeling icky, I put on my big girl pants on Thursday morning and dragged myself to teach! teach! teach! But it turned out to be a mistake, because by the end of the day I was aching all over, all the while smiling at the kids pretending I felt great. Which sounded a lot like this: “Okay, turn to page four. Isn’t it cold in here? Is it cold in here or is it just me? I’m so cold!” By 3:30 I was climbing (more like crawling) into bed with a thermometer in my mouth that read: 102.7, wonderful.

It killed me to miss Halloween. I was really looking forward to seeing all the costumes (I was going to be Hermione), and hearing the scary stories we had worked on the day before. To make things worse, my dad was flying in from Florida that night. I had been excited about his visit for months, and now I wouldn’t be able to do anything but sit on the couch covered in layers of blankets and wallow in my misery. Okay, I’m being dramatic. My dad and I ended up watching a few movies, but we were planning to go on a road trip and have “Thanksgiving” at our favorite diner, so movies felt kind of sad in comparison.

Being sick as a teacher is the absolute worst. Don’t get me wrong, being sick isn’t fun for anyone, but when you’re a teacher it takes significantly more work to be sick. I remember wishing my teachers would take a sick day when I was younger. I couldn’t understand why they never seemed to be absent, it was so much fun to be absent! Now, I get it. Not only is planning for a substitute difficult, but then you worry all day about how things are going: Are the kids behaving? Does the sub understand my plans? I hope they aren’t forgetting that we have a test tomorrow! Who is going to remind them that we have a test tomorrow?! It’s exhausting. And it doesn’t stop when you feel better, because when you return you are greeted with piles of student work, and tons of catch-up planning to do. I know I sound like I’m complaining, but that’s because I am.

Anyways, I’m happy to be back on track! I had parent-teacher conferences this past week, and they went really well. Going into conferences you see it as a very one sided meeting: You’re there to tell the parents what is going on, and they are there to listen; but it’s not like that at all. The conferences ended up being a productive exchange and great conversation. At the end of everything I learned so much about my students, and gained an understanding of them that I wouldn’t be able to get otherwise. I really wish I had made more conferences than I did!

I have a lot of lessons I’m excited to share with you, so be sure to check back soon!



Throw Away the Post-it Notes

Sometime during the first week of school, a student asked, “Are you going to make us do post-it notes?” I answered a simple no, which triggered an audible sigh of relief around the room, and a few thank you’s. I asked them to tell me why they didn’t like post-its and I braced myself for complaints of extra work, but instead, a student replied, “We just want to read.”

Over the summer, I read Nancie Atwell’s The Reading Zonelarge-5390b3c894dfbThe Reading Zone, and I found myself highlighting every other line. Nancie points out a simple idea that seems to have gotten lost in all of the post-it note clutter. The bare bones of it, is that we need to stop interrupting students from reading, and start making time for what Nancie calls, “the reading zone”. If you were to walk into a classroom that does Reader’s Workshop, you might see students with their independent reading books open, a pad of post-its at their side, and a pen in hand. Students are told to “stop and jot” text connections, tricky vocabulary words, cause and effect, etc. Looking at it passively, it seems like a great concept; but, what Nancie Atwell points out, and what I’m already noticing early on in my career, is that it makes kids hate reading. Atwell puts it in perspective, pointing out that we, as adult readers, wouldn’t want to stop in the middle of  a good book to write down how we can relate to a character. Stop and jot takes away from the largest part of why reading is so enjoyable: it lets us get lost.

Atwell presents a solution to all of this by introducing reading response letters (which are, in most basic terms, – very long post-it notes). I loved this idea so much that I have been working very hard to implement it in my own classroom. Starting the letters from scratch is a bit tricky – especially as a new teacher. While Nancie offers a lot of help and resources in her book, I needed to decide what was best for my class. I had to figure out when to collect them, how to grade them, what a good letter looked like, etc. — all this for 50+ kids (S.O.S.). I went back and forth on a lot of these, especially grading, but I’m happy with where it’s at now, and where it seems to be going. Here’s how it all panned out:

The first week I introduced the letters, it was a bit shaky. The students were confused and if I’m being honest, I was confused. But, I put on my “teacher face” and told the students we were going to learn and grow together (or something along those lines). For the first set of letters I collected all 50 journals and gave every student feedback. It was time-consuming, but definitely worth it. I have already seen an improvement in their second letters, and I finally gained some footing on how I wanted to grade. At first I intended to only grade a few letters each week using a rubric. However, I quickly realized that the rubric wasn’t the best, and that some students would inevitably feel like they were doing work for nothing.

So, here’s how I set up RRL’s now:

Students always know that their reading response letter is due on Friday. This allows them to manage their time, and complete it throughout the week. On Friday, they come in and trade notebooks with a partner to respond to their classmate’s RRL in at least one paragraph. By doing this, students get to peek at another writer’s work, and also get ideas for their next read. They write for about ten minutes, and then it’s silent reading time. During this time, I walk around to read and grade each of their letters on a check scale. While it took a lot of trial and error to come up with this, I’m really happy with the way it worked out. It’s a great way to check in with every student, and it also allows them a good chunk of quiet reading time. We talk frequently about what it feels like to be in the reading zone, and what you should do if you don’t like your book. Also, keeping in line with Nancie Atwell’s stress on teacher feedback, I collect a few journals each week to respond more thoughtfully to students letters. I did this for the first time last week, and it is amazing to see how eager they are to have their notebooks collected. They really do, just as adults, crave feedback.

So far, I feel really good about reading response letters, and I think the students do too (secretly, of course, they are middle schoolers).

Click the picture to purchase my RRL product on Teachers Pay Teachers


Hitting the Reset Button

At orientation a few weeks before school started, the speakers showed us the graph below to say295x201xphases_2.jpg.pagespeed.ic.GChG1LsPKS, “You’re not alone, this happens to everyone.” Most of us shrugged it off, feeling like October was years away, but now I’m realizing just how accurate this graph is. In what felt like a few days, I went from being really positive and on top of things, to feeling unmotivated and completely stressed. It’s all a bit overwhelming!

That being said, I’m starting to understand that while it’s important to focus on work, it’s equally important to take time for yourself. I know it’s hard to step away from your desk when you have so much to do (I’m very type-A), but sometimes it may actually be what you need to be productive. I’ve found that doing things that are good for my body and mind leaves me feeling much more rejuvenated and ready to get back to work, rather than a marathon of reality TV. So, here’s a list of relaxing, but productive, ways to reset.


  • Read a book, the newspaper, a magazine – anything!
  • Go to the gym or take a short walk (consider walking to the store instead of driving). You’ll be amazed at how even a small amount of exercise will improve your mood.
  • Create a blog, start a diary, or write that story you’ve been keeping in your head.51WAhDYHNcL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_ Need some ideas? I love the book “642 Things to Write About“!
  • Browse travel sites for a mental vacation. Become inspired to start saving money for your dream destination.
  • Meet for coffee with a friend and allow yourself to get lost in conversation for awhile. It may be a good idea, however, to give yourself a time limit, so that you don’t get carried away.
  • Paint, draw, or color – remember how good it feels to think about nothing more than staying inside the lines.
  • Yoga is always a good way to relax. Try the app, Yoga Studio, it’s my favorite!cid1217_2
  • Bake that dessert you’ve had pinned since last year.
  • Clip magazines and make an inspiration board. I update mine every time I need a long break, and I always end up feeling refreshed.



3 Things I Love This Week

  • New Girl. I don’t know what made me suddenly give this series another shot, but now that I have, I can’t. stop. watching. I watched a bit of season one a couple of years ago, but it never held my interest. A stroke of boredom (can you believenew-girl-season-3-620x330 I even have time to be bored?), led me to watch season two episode one, and I have been hooked ever since! The lightness of it makes for a good break between everything else I’m doing.
  • The Great Debate. I have been going over commas with the kids this week, so after our lesson I showed this video about the Oxford comma debate. It gets the point across without taking a particular side, and the cartoons are pretty laughable. (P.S. TED Lessons are amazing, I will definitely be using more of them!).
  • Loft. I have absolutely fallen in love with a clothing store. Whenever I’m in Loft I’m tempted to buy everything, but my wallet stops me (you’re a teacher, not a doctor, remember?). Everything is super comfortable, but also very work appropriate. I’ve had my eyes on a pair of boots for awhile and I”m currently kicking myself for not buying them when they had a  40% off everything sale. Speaking of sales, Loft has a a lot of them – so be sure to subscribe to the newsletter! *UPDATE! In the hours after I posted this, Loft announced 50% off the entire site. I finally bought the boots I have been wanting! Use code: OURTREAT, move quickly the sale ends tomorrow (10/9). Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 10.37.44 PMScreen Shot 2014-10-07 at 10.49.36 PMScreen Shot 2014-10-07 at 10.38.11 PMScreen Shot 2014-10-07 at 10.41.26 PM

Do What You Love

I feel like I haven’t posted in forever! With Back to School Night, observations, and SGO’s, the past week was nonstop. It was my first Back to School Night, so I was pretty nervous, but for the most part I think it went well. I even got a few, “You’re my son/daughter’s favorite teacher!”, which is really nice to hear when you put so much time into what you do.

I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately – how to balance it, when to compromise, and when to “ignore the clock”. I have probably mentioned before that I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was in second grade. Now that I’m finally teaching, I have been dedicating nearly all of mrecite-20833--604341407-1b5s14ly time to it. At first it was really overwhelming to realize I wouldn’t have much free time anymore. However, as I got into more of a “groove”, I began to realize it doesn’t matter to me how busy I am, because I enjoy what I do. As cheesy as it may sound, when that struggling student has a lightbulb moment, or the girl who said she doesn’t like reading picks up a book and enjoys it – it makes all of the nights and weekends spent planning worth it.

What I’m getting at, is that you should find what you love and make time for it. As Steve Jobs said, work will take up a large part of your life, so don’t tread lightly on the idea of doing what you love. It should be the most important thing on your “to-do list”, to find the job that makes you happy. And if you’re not doing what you love, I’m a strong believer that it’s never too late to start over.



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.


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!