Category Archives: Language Arts

Friday Book Review

so I have mentioned before that I write reviews for an professional magazine (LMC or Library Media Connection).  Here are two titles that I have recently reviewed.

18656207The Meaning of Maggie
Maggie Mayfield is a pre-teen who feels has her life pretty much figured out. She is the product of a two loving parents, has two increasingly annoying older sisters, she is a straight A student, owns a small percentage of Coke stock and is working on her bid to run for president one day.  Every thing is planned accept for her father’s mysterious illness.  You see he can not longer walk and soon Maggie must visit him in the hospital.  And this is one event Maggie could not plan for.   Told from Maggie’s perspective in the form of a journal that is chronicling the past year of her life, Maggie learns that her father suffers from MS.  And it is her goal to help cure him.  This is a beautifully written inventive take on a coming of age story.  The author allows for the reader to discover along with Maggie what is causing her father’s illness.  Peppered with typical family drama, the story flows well and offers  very tender moments between daughter and parent.

MuddyMaxMech.inddMuddy Max and the Mystery if Marsh Creek
Getting dirty and muddy is part of being a kid right? So why does Max have to wear five layers of protective clothing when ever it rains?  Because for Max the mud doesn’t just stain his shoes and dirty him up, the mud gives him super powers.   Max discovers by accident that when ever he comes in contact with Mud he develops an array of super hero skills such as, super strength, speed, and invisibility.  But why did Max’s parent wish to keep this a secret.  It appears they knew about his condition all along and wanted to protect him.  However as Max learns more and more about his abilities with mud he soon learns about the family he never knew about. This was a faced paced graphic novel and is perfect for 3rd to 6th grade readers.



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Filed under Books, Graphic Novels, Language Arts, Reading, Reviews

Children Read but not often enough

A report recently came out that states that children are spending less time reading for pleasure than decades ago.  This is leading to large gaps in proficiency.  Here are some of the facts:

  • The percentage of 9-year-old children who read for pleasure once or more a week dropped from 81% in 1984 to 76% in 2013.
  • 1/3 of 13-year-olds and 1/2 of 17-year-olds read for pleasure less than twice a year.
  • About 1/3 of fourth grade students are “proficient” in reading and another 1/3 scored below “basic” reading skills.

Now the report is not taking into account stories that are read online or on social media, but still this is quite shocking.   The pace is growing faster every year with more and more students not reading for pleasure.  However when they are reading, they are reading for a long period of time, but  the fact that their reading for pleasure is dropping worries me.  I know students are reading more and more in school each year, but the they are reading there for information. The book is used for a reading log assignment they are reading more to answer the are being asked to identify for the book (ex. characters traits, central problem, resolution etc)  They are not reading simply because they want to read the story.

I have witnessed first hand the drop in pleasure reading for older students.  Most of my older students come looking for the most popular books (Fault in Our Stars, Maze Runner, Divergent) all of which are movies or becoming movies.  And I gather that they are choosing those books simply because they are the most popular.  A few students I have truly test me (daily).  I am always trying to find books to give them that I think they would like (one student I think might read every book I have in my library).  I have resorted to giving them books from my own personal collection.  These students (the voracious readers) are becoming an anomaly simply because they do read so much and all for pleasure.

I am not sure how to combat this issue. I have taken seminars and attended workshops and spoke with colleagues and read books on trying to reach those older YA readers.  And every trick I try I am not seeing the results I would like.  These students are generation where technology is king and computer games are way more interesting than a book.  This is a constant struggle for all language arts teachers and librarians.  How to get the students to read for pleasure. How to get them to see past the screen and to the page.  How to show them that reading for the 30 minutes each day will have a greater impact on their lives in general than staring at a computer screen for the same amount of time (unless they are reading on that screen than that is OK). But I hope that someday I will crack the code and find the answer to this problem.

To read the article go to:


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A Little A.A. Milne for your Friday

Thank you Mr. Milne for this cute little piece.

Us Two
by A.A. Milne

Wherever I am, there’s always Pooh,
There’s always Pooh and Me.
Whatever I do, he wants to do,
“Where are you going to-day?” says Pooh.
“Well, that’s very odd ‘cos I was too.
Let’s go together,” says Pooh, says he.
“Let’s go together,” says Pooh.

“What’s twice eleven?” I said to Pooh.
(“Twice what?” said Pooh to Me.)
“I think it ought to be twenty-two.”
“Just what I think myself,” said Pooh.
“It wasn’t an easy sum to do,
But that’s what it is,” said Pooh, said he.
“That’s what it is,” said Pooh.

“Let’s look for dragons,” I said to Pooh.
“Yes let’s,” said Pooh to Me.
We crossed the river and found a few–
“Yes those are dragons all right,”said Pooh.
“As soon as I saw their beaks I knew.
That’s what they are,” said Pooh, said he.
“That’s what they are,” said Pooh.

“Let’s frighten the dragons,” I said to Pooh.
“That’s right,” said Pooh to Me.
“I’m not afraid,” I said to Pooh,
And I held his paw and I shouted “Shoo!
Silly old dragons!”–and off they flew.
“I wasn’t afraid,” said Pooh, said he.
“I wasn’t afraid,” said Pooh.

So wherever I am, there’s always Pooh,
There’s always Pooh and Me.
“What would I do?” I said to Pooh,
“If it wasn’t for you,” and Pooh said: “True,
It isn’t much fun for One, but Two
Can stick together,” said Pooh, said he.
“That’s how it is,” said Pooh.

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Filed under Language Arts, Poetry, Reading

Increase Reading Capabilities

So I have been asked by many teachers, how can we help increase the reading capabilities of our students. This is a tough one since no two readers are the same.  I have tried several promotions in the library, but more often than not only die hard readers are acting on them.  It is difficult to get those who are struggling on a daily basis to not only read what is required of them, but to read another book for enjoyment.

I started to search through magazines and professional resources to see what the experts and other teachers are doing. And after reading through The Mailbox April/May 2014 issue I found two great ideas that I feel I should share.

Both ideas come from Njeri Jones Legrand, of Sharon Elementary in Charlotte NC.
TISC (This is So Cool): reading with accuracy to support comprehension
Getting students to interact with their reading material by using text-message shorthand as reading codes.  Begin by brainstorming with students abbreviations that match specific reading strategies you teach. Then create a mini poster showing each abbreviation, review and discuss the meaning.  Next, provide sticky note flag. Have each student track his/her thinking as they read by flagging specific points and coding the flag with the matching text abbreviation. When the student finishes reading, have them use the sticky notes to respond to the selection, summarize it, answer questions about it, or discuss it.
Here are the Abbreviations this teacher used:
QQ (Quick Question): Use this if the text is confusing or makes you think of a question
RUS (Are your serious?): Use this to flag information that makes you think WOW!
WOTD (Word of the Day): Use this to flag important words in the text
IDK (I don’t know): Use this to flag text that is really confusing and if you can’t figure out what’s going on.
411(Information): Use this to flag text that is important information
TSIA (This says it all): Use this to flag text that is the main idea

Ready, Set, Read!
Energize students to build their reading stamina with a daily challenge. Begin by assembling a read-o-meter (example shown at the bottom of this entry).  Next, display the meter and challenge every reader in class to read, focusing only one his/her reading material, for a set amount of time. As soon as students begin to lose focus, end the session and move the read-0-meter’s arrow to show students how long they read independently.  Begin each reading session by displaying the meter and challenging your readers to read productively longer than they did the previous day.














thank you to The Mailbox magazine and especially Njeri Jones Legrand for your amazing contributions to the reading community.

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Filed under Books, Creativity, education, Language Arts, Nonfiction reading, Reading

Some interesting ways to incorporate technology

Sometimes the technology can get the better than us.  Whether it be an updated system, or the latest installment of an app, or maybe there is a new program that is better than the one you just started using.  It is OK.  You are not alone. So many teachers, parents, and even students experience the same feeling.  It is just too hard to keep up, especially when the school systems are requiring that we (as teachers) use more and more technology in the classroom.  Well here are a few easy tricks to get the technology in there, without having a learn a whole new way to teaching.

1) PowerPoint game/quiz review shows.   Face it, reviewing a lesson before a test can be boring, here is a chance to make it fun.  Teachers have been creating reviews lessons using PowerPoint to mimic popular game shows like Jeopardy, Who Want to Be a Millionaire and Are you Smarter than a Fifth Grader? There are free templates online for you to download and make it your own.  This is a great way for those who are not too tech-savy to use an already established program.  I have done this many times, and have even used Prezi to create a few review games.

2) Just Tweet It! Students mission, to summarize a lesson in 160 characters or less.  Not only does this avoid having students repeat themselves over and over and over again, but it forces them to get at the real core of the lesson and what is being taught. This is good for end of the unit/lesson discussions, but also for a quick book review.  You have came them break up the main points of the standard book review to individual tweets (ex. main character, plot, etc)

3) Blogging from a characters perspective.  This is a fun one.  If you have ever had students write letters from the viewpoint of a character you have multiple options now to incorporate technology.  The most popular choice being Blogging.  Instead of letters, the students will post, and can add images and videos as well to enhance the post.  There are blog sites that can be used specficially for the classroom that protects the students from unwanted attention.

4) Surf the Web. This is an oldie but a goodie.  Webquests have been around for a while, and ultimately what it does is guides students to search the internet for specific information.  An idea is have students become curators for their own museum on a particular topic.  But since it is for a museum the students must determine what artifacts belong in their museum.  This hits many common core areas of study but also touches on technology and digital literacy since they must evaluate the sites for validity.

Again these are just a few options for you to ponder while you try to find ways to get that technology in the classroom.

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Filed under education, Language Arts, Math, Presentation, Science, Technology, Twitter

A Merry Scrooge to You

Tis the season.  It is one of my favorite times of year.  Especially since I will get to see so many awesome holiday movies. One of my favorites being “A Christmas Carol,” it is also one of my mother’s favorites as well.   So I was so happy to read in a magazine that they are taking the classic story and creating a language arts activity.  This is post is not me being lazy but I would not have been able to summarize this so I decided I will just share the whole article.   If you want to see what other tips, and lessons some educators have to offer please check out  Think Teachers at

But now here we go:

A Turn of the Scrooge: What in the Dickens is up with our favorite ghost story?

Long before Jim Carrey portrayed Ebenezer Scrooge in Disney’s 3D version of A Christmas Carol the story written by Charles Dickens in 1843 has been performed in countless films, operas, television specials, and live theater.  All of them take on new adaptations of the core story, which has remained pretty similar over the past 166 years: In short, the grumpy old man is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future and teach ole’ Ebenezer the value of values and he finds redemption in the Christmas spirit.  Just like any growing legend, time adds history…Here are some to get you in the spirit of the season:

  • Charles Dickens spend part of his childhood in prison after his father was arrested for failing to pay his debt. At the time, entire families of prisoners would go to jail with this prisoner.
  • In 1843, Dickens was exposed to tin mines where children worked. These impressions helped him relate to the poor working class.
  • Dickens’ book was originally a short story titled A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas.
  • The book was first published on Dec. 19, 1843 and cost 5 shillings (which in today’s money was a little more than $5). The first run 6,000 copies sold out by Christmas Eve.
  • The story inspired American classics such as the 1946 film, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and Dr. Seuss’ 1957 book How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
  • Three different stage productions opened on Feb. 5, 1844 and by the end of the month, eight shows were being performed.
  • Patrick Stewart (aka Professor X in the X-Men movies) has performed his one-man reading/acting of the story throughout London theaters and in New York City on Broadway.

So once you share these little tidbits with your students you would want to get on to the actual activity.  So here we go.

First you would want to get a picture to represent each of the ghosts in the story (Past, Present and Future).

Make three columns on a piece of paper and put a picture at the top of each column.

Next have the students complete the following:
In A Christmas Carol Ebenezer Scrooge learns his lessons after the three ghosts visit him.  If you were to get visits, what would the ghosts tell you?  Write your answers below.

After I read this article I started laughing to myself because depending on the age range the answers will be hilarious.  Remember you can always preview this lesson by reading the book in class, or even watch one of the movie versions or play each ghosts’ section of the movie to emphasis what is being asked.   Thought this was a fun little activity and I wanted to share.
“A Turn of the Scrooge: What in the Dickens is up with our favorite ghost story?.” Think Teachers. Dec 2013: 28. Print. <>.

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Challenging my Students

We have heard this a thousand times before “Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover.”  And mostly we are referring to judging a person.  But I decided to take this back to books.

I have noticed that students end up selecting books by one particular author, or subject matter, or genre etc.  And no matter how hard I tried, putting something else in their hands never worked. They would look at it and then say ehh.  Or they would grab what ever their friends were returning, since it most likely fell into the realm of what they always read.  Well I decided to put a little challenge in front of them.

Allow me to introduce the Don’t Judge a Book by It’s Cover challenge.

Judge a book by its cover

I have 24 book choices

Students will not get to see the covers of the books

They will not get to see the titles of the books

They will not get to see the authors of the books

The only thing they do get are three lines that describe the plot of the book. Examples are: Young girl forced to live with her mean uncle; Unlikely friendship; The bully becomes the bullied; Small town mystery has everyone pointing fingers;  Former boxer turned humanitarian; etc.

The books range from fiction, biographies, poetry,  and story collections.  Once the student picks the plot point he/she likes we give them the book, with these rules

1) they must take it even if they think they are going to hate it after seeing the cover (tough all part of the challenge)

2) they must read it for at least one week. If after the week they don’t like they can bring it back but they have to give us (meaning me and their language arts teacher) reason why they do not like it. We will test them to see if they actually read it.

I thought this was going to be dead in the water, but surprisingly enough the students have really responded to it.  Some have even asked if the books they selected have sequels cause they really liked the story. Others have said they didn’t like it, but read it anyway because they didn’t want to leave undone.  But the good thing is, I now know what they like and don’t like, so when they come to me asking what they should read I can provide them with more informed recommendations.  It has been a fun experiment with a very rewarding payoff.


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