Engagement, Writing

Opinion Journals

As the year ended, some of my students were helping me clean out my room when one of the girls held up a spiral notebook to see if I wanted to keep the stack it came from. It was an opinion journal from several years earlier. I watched the girls as they started to look through them, and then as they opened them and began to read. I had forgotten all about them! I wish I had used them this year. They were fun.

This is a simple project and cost me about $5.00 to implement. I went to Walmart long after the back-to-school sales were over and the prices had been marked back up. I spiral notebookswanted single-subject spiral notebooks, but I wasn’t going to spend $.49 each for them. I explained to the manager what I was up to, and he sold them to me for $.17 a piece. For a total of $5.10, I bought thirty notebooks. Not bad! They should be about ten cents right about now as the Back-to-School – gasp – sales are starting. Maybe a nickel.

On the front of each notebook I wrote with Magic Marker a topic – bullying, dating, grades, cliques, homework, driver’s licenses. Anything of interest to eighth graders. These were now their Opinion Journals. On these blank pages they could write anything they wanted to about the topic on the front cover. The only catch was that they were not able to choose which topic they got.

When my students entered class, an Opinion Journal would be waiting on their desks. It was totally random. What they got was what they got – no switching allowed.  Oh, and they wanted to switch! But the interesting aspect of this assignment was seeing how each student approached a topic they had not ever thought to write about. So a non-athlete would approach the Sports journal with a dissertation on the over-hyped irrelevance of high school sports. Boys would share their views on the time girls spent on makeup. I liked to think they were expanding their thinking by exploring new territories.

Class Favorites

There were several journals that were bigger hits than others.

Gossip was always a hot topic. They didn’t spread gossip; they talked about the damage done by those who did. They talked about online gossip, back-stabbing gossip, and their former best friends’s gossip and how it ruined their friendship.

Sports was fought over mainly because non-writer boys find it is a safe, comfortable topic. This was my husband in school. I doubt his teachers ever got to read anything written by him that wasn’t about sports.

Dress code always stirred up strong opinions. Thoughts ranged from why we didn’t even need one to the short, short skirts that our cheerleaders wore on game days.

The most hysterical one was S-E-X.  That’s exactly how I wrote it on the cover, too. The reaction of fourteen-year- olds to seeing that word on the cover of an Opinion Journal being handed to them by me was priceless. Who was the lucky one to get it? Holding it up proudly for everyone to see. Um, can we say this outloud? Laughter. Always laughter.

??? was a free-write on any topic. Students could sound off on anything on their minds that day. Bad morning with Mom? It was in there. Had it with the science teacher and her pop quizzes? Yep. How short the art teacher’s skirt was? It was all in there. (Not really the art teacher – I’m protecting the not-so-innocent party here.)

So What We Did

These journals were used during our instruction on Facts vs. Opinions. I had taught the difference.

Opinions – Something you think, feel, or believe.

Facts – You can check it, you can test it, you can prove it to be true. We chanted the Facts definition to finger snapping. We read it, said it, heard it, and felt it – there are the learning styles all in one lesson. Snap your fingers on check, test, prove, and true.  Feel the rhythm?

The mind-blower here is that if you can check it, test it, and prove it to be true, what if you check it, test it, and prove it to be false? Isn’t it still a fact statement? Well, yes it is. So we talked about that. If I say This is Mrs. Hamilton’s room, that’s a fact statement. What if it’s not Mrs. Hamilton’s room? Does that change it to an opinion? No, it is still a fact statement – it just isn’t true.

You can check it, you can test it, you can prove it to be true.

You can check it, you can test it, you can prove it to be false.

So we play with these. I throw sentences at them; they throw them at each other. We identify them. It’s cold in here. Opinion. But you can look on the thermostat! Yes, but what if I live in Alaska? Is 65 degrees cold in Alaska? Of course not. It all relative. Besides, if three students think my room is cold, seven more are hot. No, hot and cold are definitely opinions. They really learn this. And it matters when they write argumentative essays. Opinions must be supported by facts.



Back to the Journals

So after we write, we sign and date our opinion entries. This is because someone else will be reading what we have written and adding their own opinions. Next period, someone else will pick up the journal and add their thoughts. Sometimes they agree, and sometimes they don’t. They can answer a previous entry or head off in a completely new direction.

One of these little spirals will hold many opinions – they last for years! Tell them before they start writing to skip a line or two on the same page. Starting a new page wastes pages and fails to encourage the reading of other entries. Students find opinion entries from older friends or brothers and sisters I have taught before them. They love that.

These Opinion Journals are a great change of pace. Sometimes they make a quick-write option as a starter or sponge activity at the beginning of class. Sometimes I passed them out as a transition from Reading Workshop to Writing Workshop. Sometimes students who have hit a wall in their writing can unblock themselves by spending a few minutes in a journal. And those days when your lesson has been destroyed by a fire drill or an unscheduled assembly can be salvaged by a few minutes of quiet writing.

One thing I know for certain is that eighth graders never run out of opinions!



In the Classroom, Vocabulary, Writing, Writing Workshop

How Do You Teach Vocabulary?

I have wrestled with this question for years. My core belief is that the best teacher of vocabulary is reading widely. Flat out. Recently I have amended that to include talking with people who know more words than I do. My evidence is empirical and anecdotal. Please forgive me for using my own brain as our exemplar.

Every year I have explained to my students the many benefits of independent reading. Lots and lots of it. I start my students in a book of their choice in the very first week of school. I don’t test them. I don’t push them in any direction. I just let them get whatever their heart desires. Through observation over the next two weeks, I can know if they are an active reader who is making progress with this expectation in my class. And we continue this reading through to the very end of the year. I take up books the last week of school.

I believe in this reading as the best way to grow vocabulary and improve writing. Books are written about this, so I don’t have to prove it to you here. Instead I want to share some ideas for how to use this information in a practical way in a Reading/Writing Workshop.

First let me tell you about epitome and facetious. I have always been a reader. My childhood was filled with books – good and bad ones. And my personal vocabulary was reflective of that voluminous reading. But there was also a disconnect between spoken and reading vocabulary.

I loved to tell people that my sister was just the EPITOME OF _______. Fill in that blank with whatever I was feeling at the time. Could have been ignorance. Could have been talent. But whatever it was, she was the best example of it in the entire world. Problem was, when I read the word, I pronounced it to rhyme with dome, and I had no clue what that word meant. But I spoke it to end in ME and I knew exactly what it meant. One day while reading, the light bulb came on in my brain, and when I read that word, it finally connected with the one I had been using to describe my sister!

Fast forward to year before last. We were having a mad group text about the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy, and one of my teacher friends used facetious, I had used that word from my teen years as my stepfather had often used it. I knew the word to speak it, but had never read it. It was not until my friend wrote it that I made the connection in my adult brain. In both cases, a written version of the word taught me what the word looked like. 

I was learning vocabulary from someone whose own vocabulary was advanced beyond mine, and then making the connection to what I was seeing on the pages of books.

Now, a teacher could have explicitly taught those two words to me. But how would she know those two were vital in my instruction? And what are the chances she would have selected just the right two words? That’s the problem with vocabulary lists. How do we ever select the words our students really need most? SAT words? Prepared word lists? What if my students already know those words I choose? Should everyone get different words? How would I know which ones? Thus the conundrum.


Writer’s Notebooks

My students have used writer’s notebooks with varying degrees of success over the years. One section that I recommend is WORDS. This seems the most logical place to collect new words we learn through our reading and hope to use in our writing. That requires daily use of the notebook. It would need to be near the student while reading if it is to be valuable.  The examples I am sharing here come from a book I have just finished reading – the childhood classic which I highly recommend to adults – Anne of Green Gables. Lucy Maud Montgomery’s writing is rich with beautiful language, some of which I stopped to define as I was reading. Let’s use it to demonstrate the Words section of WNs.

Anne of Green Gables

Some of the Words section is simply a gathering of beautiful, note-worthy, memorable words. Here’s what we do.

Anne of Green Gables, p. 157 – empurpled.  Anne is describing how the blooming of the wild violets turned the landscape purple. “After the Mayflowers came the violets, and Violet Vale was empurpled with them.”

p. 218 – drabbled. Anne has fallen into a pond and is being rescued by Gilbert, the boy who she had decided will never be her friend because he had made fun of her red hair. She is pulled from the pile “drabbled and furious.” Drabbled just means soaking wet. She had  dragged herself from the water and was wet and dirty.

p. 227 – dissipated. The definition of dissipate that I knew did not fit with its use in the text. It was “lovely and dissipated to be sitting there eating it at eleven o’clock at night!” She was having ice cream after an evening out to a concert. This is an adjective that describes feeling spoiled and indulgent to be spending her time this way.

Do you see how it goes beyond defining the word? It needs instead to jog the writer’s memory of how he was thinking when the learning of the new definition took place. We can picture Anne as she sits on the piling, drenched and angry at being both seen and saved by Gilbert. This is helped by including a quote from the text – just enough to make sense when the reference is reused in writing.

Would I stop to do this as I am reading? No. That would ruin being lost in the story. Instead, I would jot down very quickly the word and page number of the book in which I found it. Later, when I was doing some Word Work, I would go back to organize the words and my thinking. After I finished my reading – maybe for the night or maybe when I finished the  book. I could also do the same thing with sticky notes. Write the word and stick the note in the book on the page where I found it, leaving just a tab sticking out. Devote time for Word Work as one of the activities of Writing Workshop so our students become used to organizing their new vocabulary discoveries.

Now, honestly, not everything is going to be reused in our writing. I doubt I will ever write anything about a vale being empurpled, but the word is just too great to leave behind in the book. I want to reread it and remember it and enjoy it again if I never, ever write with it. Our ‘word gathering’ is sometimes just to celebrate the beauty of the language. But if our writer’s notebooks are to be resources for writing, this seems like a valuable use of the space and our time.

And speaking of words too good to be left behind, I also encourage my students to save memorable quotes. These can be valuable jumping off points for our writing. An example from which I could write?

“I think this story writing business is the foolishest yet,” scoffed Marilla. “You’ll get a pack of nonsense into your heads and waste time that should be put on your lessons. Reading stories is bad enough, but writing them is worse.” 

That last sentence is my favorite, but Montgomery really did use foolishest. I should put that in my writer’s notebook. 

Some other great words found in Anne of Green Gables: foeman, scrupled and fortnight. Fortnight really means 14 nights – two weeks. I never knew that! I thought it was a long weekend. A foeman is someone worthy of being our foe. And scrupled is a verb meaning to think before we do something – should we have scruples about doing whatever we are getting ready to go ahead and barge right into. She should have scrupled before asking that question!

Good words. If we find a book filled with good words, our oral, written, and receptive vocabulary will grow. More than it could any other way.



#bookaday, Celebrations, Engagement, In the Classroom

About Cookies and Books

I spent the day with my husband and grandson, and on the way home I received a text from my daughter wondering what we were up to. My reply: We’ve been to the bookstore and lunch. Bringing home cookies and books.

cookiesThis got me thinking. A few years back, I used to bake cookies for my students for Reading Day. We read on Fridays, and it was a special time. There was not a lot of self-selected reading in those days, and our school library was pretty bare. My classroom library provided most of the reading material, and those Fridays were a reading oasis for my students. I was determined that this reading – students selecting their books and me giving them time to read them – was the most valuable use of this day. This was the beginning of Reading Workshop in our building.

One of my classes was largely girls, and they were just sweethearts. One day I surprised them with some homemade chocolate chip cookies. Well, they were home-baked. They might have been Pillsbury and they might have been break-apart-and-put-them-on-a-baking-sheet. But they were such a hit with my students. They asked if we could do this again – the cookies – and offered to take turns baking for us! So that’s exactly what we did.

It was simple and sweet. It made our reading days just a little more special – something to look forward to. Cookies helped to build our little reading community. I think it is worth doing again. Cookies and books. They’re a good thing!

I baked other goodies through the years. Ghosts and pumpkins on Halloween for my homeroom. Pink cupcakes with candy conversation hearts on top for Valentines Day. Cream cheese brownies at the end of testing week. They earned those.  I did rename them, though. Some kids won’t eat anything that sounds as yucky as cream cheese. I shared the recipe below – they are delicious and so easy to make that I was able to bake up a pan or two for my students when they needed a boost from all their hard work.

By the way, these are the books we bought today. And check below for the recipe and a #bookaday.

Cream Cheese Brownies aka My Best Celebration Brownies

For the bottom layer:  1 Devil’s Food cake mix, 1 large egg, 1 stick softened margarine. Beat it together in a mixer and spread into a greased 9×13 cake pan. Batter will be very thick and will have to be pressed into the bottom of the pan. Top with cream cheese layer.

Cream cheese layer:  1 box powdered sugar, 3/4 block of cream cheese (the large ones), two eggs, and a dash of vanilla. Beat all that on medium speed until creamy and fluffy. Pour over the bottom layer.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. As soon as you remove them from the oven, sift just a tablespoon of powdered sugar over the warm brownies. (I save this from the bottom of the powdered sugar box. The rest of it went into the cream cheese layer.) Let them cool completely before cutting into squares. Makes two dozen brownies.

Serve them on napkins as they are kind of messy. The kids love them as long as you don’t say “cream cheese”.

And another #bookaday update

Coal River
Insights into our country’s history. A great book.

Coal River by Ellen Marie Wiseman. This is an excellent book – historical fiction about inhumane working conditions in the early 1900’s in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. Children as young as five working down in the mines in dangerous conditions. Families are struggling to survive while dependent on the work of the men and boys who work for a callous mine owner under the watchful eye of corrupt officials. One woman works to save them all. This is not an easy book to read, but you won’t be able to put it down, either. I gave it four stars and recommend it to anyone who enjoys rich, descriptive historical fiction that is rooted in truth.


Little Bee
A different book for me…

Little Bee by Chris Cleave. This book is dark. It is full of mysteries and horror. Set in England, it tells the story of a refugee from Nigeria and her unlikely relationship with a couple from London. It is not for young people! It contains explicit sex scenes that I would never give to my 8th grade students and probably wouldn’t use in high school, either. I can’t say I enjoyed this book and could have been perfectly happy if I had never read it. I gave it three stars. It does come highly recommended, just not by me.

I forgot about the children’s books! They count as #bookaday Challenge books, too. I read and can recommend two of the ones we bought on our trip to the bookstore.

Wheels on the Bus
We had to bring one home for little brother. He LOVED this one.

The Wheels on the Bus with some darling illustrations. Its a board book, making it perfect for little hands. And there are finger holes for the movable parts – the wheels, the wipers, the babies, and the vehicles. And of course, the bus. We have sung it over and over and over. He loved this book because it moved. Of course, he already knew the words. Such sweetness and such fun. Five stars for the artwork and the moving parts, it’s one of my favorite board books.

Dog Encyclopedia
There is a new puppy in the family.


The Dog Encyclopedia for Kids by Tammy Gagne. This is the perfect book for a boy who has a new puppy and who loves reading nonfiction. The book tells country of origin, interesting facts about each breed, size expectations, and an assortment of other information. What they are bred for – they hunt or herd or guard. If they are child friendly.

I guess I won’t count this one on my #bookaday challenge because I haven’t read about all of the breeds yet. I do recommend it for young readers. I also think it would be an excellent book for including in a classroom library – even in 8th grade. If we teach kids who don’t consider themselves readers, this book would be a great way to get them reading. And as it says – Over 150 dog breeds! You can’t beat that. Five stars, for sure.



Why Does Everyone Go to Florida?

When May hits in Teacherville, we hear one word more than any other – Florida. Destin, Navarre Beach, Panama City, Ft. Walton Beach…they all run together in my mind. Does everyone  go to Florida? Seriously? Why? 

So we thought we would just find out. Our daughter and her husband invited us to tag along on their vacay. We’ll drive we said. Now, you are probably doubting our sanity as we live in Arkansas, but it seemed like a fine idea. We could see some sights we had missed in the first half (ha!) of our lives. We would need a plan, so I headed to the indispensable vacation planner, Pinterest, and I made a board. That’s what you do. Right?

Screenshot (51)

We would need to spend the night somewhere, and Biloxi seemed like the perfect amount of travel time. We could handle seven hours, and we had never been to Mississippi. Moss hanging from trees. Faulkner. The Old South. Never mind that statues of such were being torn down all over this part of the country. Never mind a couple named Katrina and Ike who tore the place up. Biloxi was the spot. We could stay at the White House Hotel, eat at Shaggy’s down on the beach, see the lighthouse, and tour Beauvoir, the home of Jefferson Davis.

Day 1 – Tejas!

How do you get to Florida, anyway? Wait, we couldn’t go straight there. First we needed to drop off the family dog. He doesn’t kennel. No, he needed to go to Houston to spend the week, so we drove south through Texas, and we had the best Mexican food IN THE WORLD at El Tiempo on Westheimer. Easily the best tamales I have ever put in my mouth. Margaritas that are pretty darned good, too. Got to hang out with the family. A great way to start our trip.


Did I mention music? We needed music! All through Texas, we listened to Willie’s Roadhouse on Sirius. George Strait, Patsy Cline, Robert Earl Keen. Does it get any more Texas that that? Bob Wills is still the king. At least until we get to Mississippi. Then The King takes over.

Day 2 – Louisiana and Mississippi

We headed out I-10 toward Louisiana. And of course we needed to stop somewhere for lunch. Seafood…Cajun seafood. If we timed it just right, we could stop in Henderson for some crawfish or shrimp poboys. So that’s what we had. We wound up at Crawfish Town, USA. Pops had boiled crawfish and some gumbo. I had the best shrimp poboy IN THE WORLD. Crisp yet soft French bread, creamy remoulade sauce, and hot shrimp – as in fresh from the fryer. Darn it was good. And sweet tea, of course. This is the south.

On to Mississippi. Now we had never been to Mississippi, but I knew enough to find Elvis on Sirius. And we listened to him all the way to Biloxi. Through the pouring rain. No, the driving rain. And lightning. It was scary.  Didn’t Elvis have a song about that – Mississippi Rain? Perhaps that was Kentucky. Anyway, I-10 goes on forever. Once you get on, the only way to get off is to drive onto a beach. And it goes over lots and lots of water. Lake Pontchartrain, swamps, the Mighty Mississippi. I don’t care for that. Driving over water reminds me of bridges collapsing. I don’t have a plan for such. I kept my finger on the window button so if we started down, I could push it. Just in case I needed to get out. The window. Fortunately it was unnecessary. I tried to picture Huck and Tom and ignore the water.

The White House was a picturesque, old hotel. Apparently it had been hit pretty hard by Katrina, but they rebuilt it. The moss really did hang from the trees. The beach really was just across the street. And the Biloxi Lighthouse really was in the middle of the street. Yep. Just sitting there like a photo spot at Six Flags. It wasn’t even tall. A little bit let down, we headed off to Shaggy’s for dinner.

Shaggy’s was fun. Very beachy. We sat in the bar and the wind from the ocean blew through the deck. I was starting to feel it. You know. IT – the reason people go to Florida. And we weren’t even there yet. We ordered the best shrimp IN THE WORLD. They were so darned good. Big shrimp sauteed in a spicy sauce. Just amazing. I’ve got to say that I loved Shaggy’s. Their margaritas are the worst, but the atmosphere and the music and our waitress made up for it. Well, and the beach. And the shrimp.

The next morning we headed out to find some beignets and Jeff Davis. The beignets took forever, and while we sat there, we decided that maybe we didn’t want to tour Beauvoir. That’s French for beautiful view, by the way. But it was the home of the President of the Confederacy, and it just felt wrong. I mean, I love being Southern. Southern Living, Rick Bragg, Gone With the Wind. Pat Conroy, for heaven’s sake. But that’s as far as I go. So we skipped it. I think we were wanting to see our boys. ♥♥

Day 3 – Alabama and Florida

Elvis to the border, then Beach Music! I read the book and did the research. Beach Music really does exist. Kids – teenagers –  used to dance to it in pavilions on the beach. If you google it, there are youtube videos showing you how to do the Shag. And you can find beach music on Sirius – The Sixties station. We listed to that all the way to Watersound. We watched road signs – Gulf Shores, Dauphin Island, Fairhope, Orange Beach. I had wondered where they all were. And before we knew it, we were in Florida.

I felt like we were driving off the end of the earth. It was a different world.  The beach stretched in every direction. Life just slowed down. Sitting in the sand doing nothing was not just okay, it was expected. The hypnosis of the ocean is the sound of the wind and the water – and the soft, warm sand under our bare feet. Watching the children. Couples walking along the shore, laughing and talking about who knows what. The storms blowing in and checking the flags. IMG_3268

We did no sightseeing. We read. Worked a jigsaw puzzle. Shopped FullSizeRender (54)for t-shirts and flip flops. We slept in and took naps. No make up, just sunglasses. Stopping to wash the sand from our feet before heading back to the house. Playing hide and seek with the babies. It was glorious.


“No, Pops. You’re not a fisherman; you’re a fisher. Fishermen catch fish.”

So I get it. People go to Florida to leave everything at home. No thinking about work or time or what we should be doing.  No worries. Just rejuvenation. Family. The ocean. And a little beach music.


Books, Reading

#bookaday No. 3

I think I am addicted to historical fiction. World War II, especially. I’m really going to have to work on this…

Bookaday4The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, New York:  HarperCollins, 2017. This is my new favorite book. I mean, look at the cover. The car, the font, the artwork. It’s just all gorgeous. Even the author’s name. And the book is about two World Wars, not just one. This is a book that I had to keep reading because I just couldn’t wait to see what happened. When I started the book, I just knew these spies were real people – that’s the best thing about this historical fiction. We get to learn about real events while reading an action-packed page turner. Two stories are told simultaneously, bouncing the reader from World War I to World War II, but connecting them beautifully. Eve and Charlotte take turns telling their stories in alternating chapters. The unknown creates mystery and suspense and exciting turns, and I couldn’t wait to see how the two stories connected and resolved. This is for adults, though; it is not for  adolescents, even advanced ones. The Alice Network is the perfect summer read. No beaches, but lots of beautiful European scenes. Definitely FIVE STARS.


Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson, Aladdin, 2000. I abandoned this book! I’ve thought of reading it forever, but when I started, it just seemed slow. I have read all of Anderson’s YA books but none of her historical fiction. I just wasn’t getting into this one. I will probably try it again later. I can easily see what some our students experience – just the wrong book at that time. I want to like it because I also want to read Chains and Forge. And I want to like them, too. Another day…


bookaday3The Secret Place by Tana French, Viking Books, 2014. Murder at a boarding school filled with girls who love each other dearly and girls who  despise each other. The book is told in alternating chapters, which seems to be a popular format lately. Half of the chapters are devoted to two detectives who share their strategies with the reader. It is fascinating seeing how they go about solving this murder. The other chapters are told before the murder from the girls’ point of view. Slowly we build the stories of what was going on before a friend gets murdered, with the author dropping clues along the way. This is a great read! It is one of those books that I was dying to know what happens, but I didn’t want to get to the end because I didn’t want it to be over. In the beginning, the girls were confusing, but eventually I sorted them out. It’s. Just. Great. Another good book for summer reading. One thing about this book – if you decide to put it in  your classroom library –  is that all of the R-rated words are in Irish slang. If the kids want to know the difference, they will have to do some research. Makes me laugh just thinking about them looking up the bad words! You know they will.

bookaday2The Paris Spy by Susan Elia Macneal, New York: Bantam Books, 2017. And I’m back in World War II. I’m telling you, it is a bad habit… Just by looking at the cover, we can tell this book is set in Paris after the Nazi occupation. It is told in three parts: spy adventures in France, espionage agencies in England and the British government, including Winston Churchill, and the German secret police in Paris. Because of the cover, I expected this to be a simplified book about World War II – for kids. It definitely is not simple or for kids. Don’t put it in your classroom library unless you read it first. Explicit torture scenes, and an explicit attempted rape, male on male, makes it awfully mature reading. You be the judge. You will enjoy the adventure as MacNeal unravels the mysteries of this novel. Five stars except for the very last page. That one page gets just three.

So now I am ready for some beach reads. No more war…


Celebrations, In the Classroom, Writing

Celebrating the Writer’s Notebook

Walk with me down memory lane. We were getting our writer’s notebooks, and I wanted it to be special. I had read – probably on Twitter – about how some other teacher had made notebooks something her students were ready to receive, that they received them as a message that they were ready to become a writer. She spoke about the excitement in the room when her students were ready. Yes! Some excitement! That sounded fun, so a celebration was in order.

Here’s What We Did

I decided we would have a day called Presenting the Notebooks. It would become a ceremony. With music. And congratulations. And a guest speaker. A celebrity guest speaker. And toasts. Remember Toasting2the scene from The Freedom Writers? Erin Gruwell and her students toasted change. We could toast writing. Why not? So off I went to Hobby Lobby in search of champagne glasses. I found a coupon just in case they weren’t 50% off, and I bought plastic champagne glasses from the wedding department. For 130 students Look what Wedding Flutesthey have – flutes! I could buy 50 of them for $12.99, but with a coupon, they would only be $7.79. When I pulled out the second box, they were reduced to $9.99. I got three boxes for less than $20. That was my big splurge. We used Sprite. Yes, her champagne bottles looked cute, but I filled our glasses with .99 Sprite.

Our school colors are black and gold, so I covered my large table with a black plastic tablecloth, set out the champagne flutes, hid the Sprite bottles, and stacked our writer’s notebooks on the table. That is what students would see when they entered the room. See? Sprite bubbles! Faux champagne…


Of course we needed special music, so a little Pomp and Circumstance was playing on the iPad, Bluetoothed to a speaker, as they entered the room. If you use the extended version from youtube, it lasts 11 minutes. By the time it ended, they were all seated and wondering what on earth we were doing today.

A Guest Speaker

Okay, you’re going to think I’m nuts on this one. Taylor Swift did a Diet Coke commercial, Taylor SwiftStay Extraordinaryin which she is seen writing music in her notebook. She was brainstorming her song 22. You can see the tabs poking out from the pages. So she became our guest speaker. Every ceremony has a guest speaker, right? She was cued on the Promethean board, and I introduced her like she was coming to us live. You’ve gotta have a sense of humor…

The Ceremony

The music for our ceremony was Paperback Writer by the Beatles. I looped it so it would keep playing, and I called them up one row at a time to receive their notebooks. I shook each hand and congratulated each student. Congratulations! You are a writer! Congratulations! Go forth and write! It was CEREMONIOUS! They laughed. They smiled. It was personal. It was fun. And then we toasted with our champagne. Well, I told them it was champagne. I told them not to tell their parents. They almost believed me. So we drank our champagne. And we became writers.

They loved shaking hands!

A production note. I buy my music and store it on my iPad. You can always get it free on YouTube, but sometimes it comes with commercials that I did not know how to control. For $1.29, I just buy it. To me, it’s worth not having the hassle.

The Notebooks

Oh, the drama of the notebooks. So I order these every year for the following year, and comp booksour district was going through a budget crunch. Someone decided that we could cut costs by ordering less expensive notebooks. I had boxes of them waiting – unopened – in my room. When I got them out to put on the table, they weren’t my marbled, hard backed notebooks. They were little, skinny, flimsy…I couldn’t use them! Not for our ceremony! And everything was set up, ready for first period tomorrow. I counted the leftovers from last year – the good ones – and headed for my principal. It was five o’clock and I was desperate to find some of these in the building. I barged into her office and with all the drama I could muster, told her of my EMERGENCY. We started looking through storage and found none. She said she could get some from another school. She promised. I headed to Walmart. They had fifty-cent notebooks. ANOTHER $20. I stopped at the Dollar Store. Another $10. I only needed forty more. They were waiting for me the next morning. My wonderful principal had gone to another Walmart and bought all that they had. ♥ 

I threw on my boa – we all have a boa, right? – and we had a party. I’ve told you I love teaching…


#bookaday, Reader’s Workshop, Reading

More #bookaday!

Two more books for a grand total of THREE so far this summer. Today is just June 3, so I guess I’m on track. Maybe instead of doing these one book at a time, I will wait for a clump of titles to share at once. Like maybe a week’s worth. On Sundays. That’s my plan.

#bookaday 2 and 3

Women in the CastleThe Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck, HarperCollins: 2017. I love Holocaust novels and historical nonfiction. This is a rich telling of life in Germany during the post-war years. It was a horrific time for women and children lost or separated during the war, and only the very strongest, bravest among these survived. Uncommon and inexplicable kindnesses marked the many survival stories as those who lived through the inhumanities of the Nazis now had to survive the Red Army as well. And starvation. And disease. This book walks you through the secrets and suspense of three women and their fight to survive. It is a wonderful book that I hope will make a gorgeous movie someday. I give this book four stars only because it is not my favorite Holocaust novel, but it was certainly worth my while to read this illuminating book.


Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes, LittleBrown, New York: 2018. This book was a gift from the author. She sent a box of her books as a giveaway at the end of May. These are books I look forward to getting into the hands of student readers. Ghost Boys is timely and realistic fiction. It tells the story of a young African-American boy who is playing in his rough, inner-city Chicago neighborhood with a toy gun. He is shot and killed by a police officer who believed him to be a threat. He remains in his neighborhood with his family as one of a group of ‘ghost boys’ which includes the ghost of Emmett Till. This is not an easy book to read because of the emotions it brings forth in the reader. Rhodes does not let her reader off the hook. This is a topic that must be addressed, and her writing is not subtle. Ghost Boys will force your thinking. It will stay with you after you finish the last words. Definitely five stars.

And a Project I Found on Twitter

Even though I won’t be in a classroom in August, I still get excited about good ideas that I would use if I were. Today on Twitter I found a blog post by Jen Roberts. She shares an end-of-the-year digital project where her students created a slide that reviewed their favorite read of the year. She created a template for them to follow, and printed out the finished work for display in her hallway. This is her screenshot.

Jen Roberts

I love projects like this where our students are writing about something they have read. The writing is both explanatory and argumentative in that they are really convincing someone else to try the same book.

A couple of thoughts about her assignment. I think I would use the template only for students who are struggling with designing their own. Maybe give everyone a list of required elements and let them play with the layout. She mentioned in her post that she would try it done in landscape instead of portrait because the slides show better on the screen.

I love her idea of looping the slides on a public screen – maybe in the library or cafeteria. At the end of the year, I don’t know that I would want to use that much color toner to print them out. Shoot, I probably wouldn’t have any left, anyway! So I would probably have them print their slides in black and white on colored paper if I were planning to hang them.

The other thought I had was it might be an assignment that could happen quarterly instead of just the once at the year’s end. That would depend on a run-through with real students to see how much time this mini-project would take from other curriculum. Follow Jen on Twitter @JenRoberts1 and check out her blogging at http://www.litandtech.com. I’m glad I found her!