Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Our "poetry for soldiers" project is almost complete. The poems and letters should be ready for mailing by Monday afternoon. A few students even brought in care package items - snacks and toiletries - enough for two or three care packages. I'll pick up the post office mailing boxes and customs forms Saturday. I'll take some pictures and post here soon :)

Next week I have the iPad cart again! Students will be using the comma/grammar app from Pearson Education and possibly a word association game/app.

Our whirlwindy Chicago Thanksgiving with cousin C was full of laughs, great food, sightseeing, walking, shopping, and many many other blessings. (The overnight train rides were half good, half bad.)

Friday, November 18, 2011


A cart full of iPads arrived at our school about a month ago, and yours truly was the first teacher to sign it out for student/classroom use. I believe this has made me the coolest teacher in my school for the 4 day period of this lesson, even though that's not why I'm teaching with iPads, though it's a nice perk.

We started a poetry unit about a week ago, and my students are now using the iPads to search for a "favorite poem" to share with American soldiers serving our country overseas. I found two free apps, one called "Poetry" by the Poetry Foundation, and one called "Poetry Everywhere" by WGBH that features poetry reading videos (and audio introductions by Garrison Keillor). I require students to browse through one or both of these two apps before opening Safari browser to search for poems. We discussed what poems may interest soldiers, what may be appropriate, how to search for funny poems, nature poems, poems about courage, etc.

Next class students will type a short note to explain why they chose these poems, what literary elements they identify in the poems, and express appreciation for the soldiers' service to our country. (We can't print from these iPads yet, so we'll type on computers in the Library Media Center.) I gathered some holiday card stock paper on which students will cut and paste the poetry and notes, and I'll send everything out the first week of December, using soldier addresses supplied by students and several from

You can probably imagine the students' excitement about the iPads! Most students have not used an iPad before, though many are familiar with the iPod touch. Strict enforcement of procedural rules, zero tolerance of goofiness, and restricted use of the web browser (limited to poetry search only for this lesson) were critical management strategies!

Stars are a a good symbol to describe us right now, rare indeed in my middle school remedial English course. Students were star-struck, they felt like stars, and yes, I felt like a rock star.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

short story workshop

Due to the popularity of the dialogue workshop, in which I gave story starters and students continued the story to practice dialogue punctuation, we used the short story workshop to practice characterization. Story starter examples:

1. Jeff walked out of math class and saw a shiny object on the floor. He picked it up and realized it was an iPod touch.

2. Jake is a terrific soccer player and can make the team if he can pass math class. He needs to pass next week's math test in order to maintain a passing grade in math. (This was inspired by the short story "The Treasure of Lemon Brown" by Walter Dean Myers.)

3. Abby's parents just told her they have to move to Florida because her father found a new job there. She's upset and would prefer to stay here and live with her grandparents.

The lesson emphasized how character's actions, words, thoughts, and feelings contribute to the characterization in the story. After students told their stories, we discussed the character traits exhibited by the characters they created. The big picture goal of the workshop is the students' deeper reading of literature beyond the black and white words on the page.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


I wish all writers and writing teachers a very merry National Novel Writing Month! My students and I participated in the Young Writers Project of NaNoWriMo the past 2 years, but I'm taking a break this year due to the structure of my classes.

Or so I thought!

I'm meeting with my writing group tomorrow, despite feeling zero writing inclination since early August, for the main purpose of supporting my colleague who is writing a REAL NOVEL. Lo and behold, I brought my writer's notebook (seriously, that exists in real life outside the English classroom) to my daughter's piano class and WROTE the start of a short story.

Or something!