Being a middle school Language Arts teacher means reading LOTS of adolescent fiction. I do my best to stay on top of what is current and popular amongst my particular demographic of students. That way, I am able to make book recommendations to students and parents.
Even though we do SSR (Silent Sustained Reading) for at least 45 minutes each week, it’s still difficult to find the time to read all of the books I want to read during the school year. I am able to read (and enjoy!) many more books during the summer by spending countless lazy hours suntanning in the backyard with the dog. My other favorite activity is to download the audio version and listen while I run. I have an account with Audible (through Amazon), and I also download a free YA book each week from http://www.audiobooksync.com.
This summer, I was able to read 7 books on my list:
1. Divergent by Veronica Roth
In this science-fiction dystopia, humans are divided into 6 groups or ‘factions’: Erudite (intelligent), Amity (peaceful), Abnegation (selfless), Dauntless (brave), and Candor (honest). Once a person reaches the year of his/her sixteenth birthday, he/she must take a test to determine which faction to join permanently; this may mean leaving their own family. Beatrice Prior takes the screening exam, purported to determine one’s aptitude for a particular faction, yet the results come back… inconclusive. Since Beatrice is intelligent, selfless, AND brave, she must choose a faction for herself. But this means deciding who she really is inside – a tough journey for all teens. Beatrice, or Tris as she is known amongst her new faction, is definitely an underdog that you will root for.
This novel is filled with romance, violence, secrets, mystery, suspense, conspiracy, technology – it’s got it all! I would recommend it to any student, male or female, who likes a futuristic adventure! It is also being made into a movie, which I know increases its appeal to many students.
2. Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Having read Divergent, I simply had to keep going with Insurgent. Tris continues to find herself – no, put herself – in harms way as she works to protect the ones she loves. She is the perfect combination of brave, selfless, and intelligent, but she is becoming reckless with her erratic, unilateral decisions. Throughout the novel, Tris is in constant peril and struggles with loneliness, grief, doubt, and identity. There are definitely some shocking, compelling scenes that took me by surprise. I enjoy Veronica Roth’s ability to give descriptive detail as well as paint a realistic picture of the characters’ inner turmoil.
What a shocker of an ending! I can’t wait to read Allegiant. I’ve already pre-ordered it 🙂
3. Born at Midnight by C. C. Hunter
The protagonist, Kylie Galen, is a teen struggling through a rocky time; her parents are divorcing, her friends are engaging in illegal activities, and her boyfriend doesn’t have honest intentions. While grappling with these issues, she is caught attending a party where drugs and alcohol are present. Her mother, exasperated and looking for help, sends her to a camp for troubled teens at the recommendation of Kylie’s therapist. Reluctantly, Kylie heads off to camp for the summer, expecting the worst. She soon discovers, however, that the camp is one for teens with supernatural abilities. Despite her plans of a quick summer of keeping to herself, Kylie makes some true friends, finds romance, and begins to search for the truth behind her own unique abilities.
I would not be able to recommend this book to my 8th grade students. Not only because it would likely not be found in our middle school library, but also because some parents would object to the topics of drugs, alcohol, and premarital sex.
4. Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Cinder is not your average Cinderella story. In this futuristic science fiction novel, humans, androids, and cyborgs co-exist. There is no glitter, singing rodents, or fairy godmothers. Cinder is described as a homely girl with mousy, stringy hair, no curves, and robotic appendages. She is extremely gifted and slaves away at the family mechanic shop, the only source of income for her step-mother and two step-sisters. One day, Prince Kai, heir to the throne of New Beijing, comes to visit the renowned mechanic Cinder for help fixing a broken android. Their paths now crossed, Cinder and Kai will soon find themselves in a dangerous and forbidden human-cyborg romance. Furthermore, their society is threatened by the brutal Lunar society who wish to engage in an intergalactic power battle. Cinder’s mysterious past is the key to saving the future.
This is a fun read for anyone into romance, steampunk science fiction, suspense, and new twists on a classic. It is a fun mental challenge to compare and contrast the various Cinderella stories I have read and try to anticipate what will happen next – except you won’t expect the twists and turns of this story!
5. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, inspired by Siobhan Dowd
I had no idea when I picked up this book that it would affect me so deeply. Based on a quick flip-though, it appears to be a children’s book with pictures and prose-like text. Don’t be fooled. This book deals with some heavy issues of grief, loss, and inner turmoil. The main character, Connor O’Malley, is a teen boy learning to be independent in the face of his mother’s battle with cancer. To add insult to injury, he is mercilessly teased by bullies at school. Every night, Connor has the same nightmare filled with spinning, darkness, and screaming, One evening, at 12:07, a nightmarish monster comes to life and marches straight up to Connor demanding the one thing Connor is afraid of most… the truth.
I would recommend this to my students who are willing to read something more emotionally demanding. This book really forces you to face your own monsters – fears – and I think it is an excellent soon-to-be classic young adult book. It is a very quick read, probably one or two evenings. The pictures are absolutely breathtaking.
6. Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
I fell in love with Cashore’s Graceling last year, and I was very excited to read the other two books in the series. I loved that Katsa made a reappearance in Bitterblue. This book takes place 8 years after Graceling, and Bitterblue is now Queen of Monsea. The realm of Graceling, Bitterblue, and Fire is one in which some are born with special skills or ‘graces.’ These special skills could range from telepathy and sword-fighting to a photographic memory. The beginning of Bitterblue is very slow, carefully laying the groundwork and establishing the setting. Queen Bitterblue is completely sheltered in the castle, mired with boring paperwork, longing for an adventure beyond the castle walls. At night, she begins sneaking out in disguise, assuming a new identity, and getting herself into trouble. She meets new friends that help her to see the evil legacy that her father, King Leck, left behind.
I would recommend this to students who enjoy longer books (547 pages!) love puzzles, strong female leads, and a touch of romance.
7. Fire by Kristin Cashore
Fire is by far my favorite in Cashore’s series. Fire, who’s hair is the colors of flame, has an irresistibly beautiful appearance. Humans are stunned by her beauty, but fear and hate her for her ability to control minds. The fierce monsters of the realm are attracted to her blood and hunt her. Because of her special abilities, the royal family summons Fire to their castle to help King Nash defend against the traitors who would have his throne. Because of the awful, unspeakable deeds of her late father, Fire is loathed by Nash’s son, Prince Brigan. It turns out that relationships that start as one of pure hatred, then grow into respect and much more, are the steamiest of romances. This is a gripping love story, intertwined in a fantasy adventure. My biggest criticism is that Fire, for a strong female heroine, definitely has some ridiculous and annoying weaknesses. It becomes nauseating how many times the author mentions that Fire has her period and is defenseless against the blood-thirsty monsters. Fire and Prince Brigan also have a more mature, adult relationship. The slow burn is excruciating at points; you just want Fire and Brigan to be happy together!
As you can probably tell from my list, I really enjoy reading YA literature. I gravitate toward fantasy, science fiction, and strong female leads (a la the Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins). I really owe it to my male students to catch up on more novels with male leads – that was my project last summer when I read Bruiser by Neil Shusterman, Peak by Roland Smith, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, and The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.
So what will I read next? Here is a list of YA book recommendations I have received from students:
1. The Host by Stephanie Meyer
2. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
3. Matched by Allie Condie
4. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
5. The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott
6. The Unidentified by Rae Mariz
You can follow me on GoodReads –> Click the widget on the right 🙂
My students can do this amazing magic trick with pencils. Every year, I start with 50 beautiful bright yellow sharpened #2 pencils. By December, I only have about 2 left. WHERE did they GO? My students won’t tell me, because great magicians never reveal their tricks.
Well to combat the disappearing pencil trick this year, I decided to use pencil flags. They are inexpensive when compared with the flower pens, and an easy visual reminder that the pencil belongs in room 204.
I used Duck Tape brand rainbow-colored duct tape purchased from Walgreens for about $3.50.
Some former students (now seniors! ah, where does the time go?) were visiting me today as I set up my classroom. They said the flags were a cool idea and they think they might actually work. Here’s hoping!
Another food prep activity that I am doing before Back-To-School is dehydrating fruit. This makes a great, hassle-free snack at a reasonable price, and without any chemicals or preservatives (NO sulfates!!!)! You can also preserve some of your favorite seasonal items that are about to disappear for a while (sniff, sniff… goodbye cherries!!!)
I’ve got to warn you – once you start, you will become obsessed! I have since moved on to vegetables… dun, dun, duuuun! I guess once I get my electric bill, it may curb my enthusiasm a bit…
In the pictures below, you can see my first batch.
1 Gala apple
1/2 large carton of strawberries
1/3 of a pineapple (not pictured) <— my FAVORITE!!
So as you can tell, it’s not as much fruit as it looks like. I dehydrated the fruit for about 6-7 hours. I probably could have gone longer on the pineapple. I did not do any pre-treatment of the fruit, but I have heard that a dash of cinnamon on the apples is delicious, as well as a lemon/lime spritz over everything for added zest.
Of course I make sure to cut the fruits as thinly as possible. I really like the crisp edges 🙂 For Christmas, I’d love to get a slicer to make the job go faster. I think this mandoline by Pampered Chef would be great, and this slicer by Paderno World Cuisine has nice reviews on Amazon.
Some other fruits/veggies I would like to try:
Right now, we are dehydrating fools as we prepare for my husband’s 9-day camping trip to the Boundary Waters. I am dehydrating a bunch of jalapeños, which will then be crushed into powder and used as a spice in various meals. We’ve also done a pound of carrots, and 4 red peppers. The house is really getting warm, but it smells delicious!
Do you have any recommendations or tips for food dehydrating?
I set up a new interactive bulletin board today that I am very excited to start in the fall! The idea came from the ‘Life is Better Messy Anyway‘ blog. The Reading Graffiti Board is an interactive board in which each student can post one quote per book that they read. This encourages them to make very thoughtful decisions about THE BEST quote from their book, since they must choose only one. I can see a lot of my students getting very excited to write on the wall deface the classroom. 8th graders think they are so bad 😉
I am also looking forward to using this opportunity to teach my students how to correctly quote a source. I will require the following:
Copy the sentence(s) exactly as they are found in the book
Put “quotes” around the entire sentence/passage
Cite the author and the title of the book
I bought 2 silver sharpies, which I will be keeping in my desk. Students will have to have their quote pre-approved first, and I think this will help eliminate any possible shenanigans. If time permits within the class period, I’d love to invite students to read their quotes out loud and share why they chose it as the best quote. I will encourage students to choose quotes that are though-provoking, dramatic, interesting, and rich with word choice and imagery.
In addition to encouraging students to reflect and share their own reading, I hope this is an inspiration to other students who are looking for the next good book to read. I can just see students crowding around the board, reading a really juicy quote, and thinking, “Hey – I’d love to read that!”
To set the example, I started by adding the very first quote. It is from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. “Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.”
If you are interested in the Reading Graffiti banner, you can download it for free here:
Yay! The Back-To-School Fairy stopped by Room 204!
I’m very excited about a few things I ordered in the spring. Back to School shopping is such an exhilarating activity – it’s something I’ve loved to do ever since elementary school. Ahhhh…. the smell of new supplies! It’s better than roses!
What I ordered:
Manilla Folders – one for each student
Stickers (yes, even 8th graders love stickers)
Lightbulbs (I have several lamps in my room for when we are using the SMARTBoard and the room lights are off)
Invisible Tape + Dispenser
EXPO Markers for my whiteboards
Twist-n-Write Pen/Pencil – have you ever tried these? They are fantastic!
An ELECTRIC Stapler! I squeal with excitement!
An ELECTRIC Pencil Sharpener! Be still my heart!
Another crazy super-powered stapler that can do 30 sheets at a time (P.S. WHY do my students always manage to break these? I buy 2 new ones every year!)
A Magnetic File holder (This is where I have students turn in their work)
I have a few things yet that I will be purchasing with my own money:
Candy (incentives). Since I must be mindful of nut and dairy allergies, I usually get Smarties, Dum-dums, Jolly Ranchers, Peppermints, etc. Even those aren’t safe from allergies, however. I had a student who was allergic to food coloring 🙁
Granola bars and snacks for the students who forgot breakfast/lunch.
A silver Sharpie so I can try out this new idea I saw on Pinterest for a Reading Graffiti Wall. Expect a detailed post once I have finished it!
Some fashion duct tape so I can make flags on my pencils. They always walk off!
I’m curious to see how much of these supplies I actually use this year, given that we are going one-to-one with iPads. I know there will still be a significant amount of handwriting, and we aren’t going completely paperless yet. I imagine my supply list will dwindle each year as we get used to relying more on our electronics.
Do you think there is anything I missed? Do you have some Back-To-School items that you always purchase?
Have you heard of Blackout Poetry? This is a really simple, effective, fun way to introduce poetry. EVERYone can do this. As I tell my students, you don’t have to create something from scratch – the something is already there. It’s up to you to liberate the poetry from page – find the secret message and reveal it.
Laura Randazzo, one of my favorite sellers on TpT, created a FREE Blackout Poetry product that my students have classroom tested and approved. We began by watching the free Prezi that she created. If you aren’t familiar with Prezi (nickname for Presentation), it’s basically like an online Powerpoint, but way more fun. You don’t need any special equipment – just Internet access. This Prezi walks you through the process of creating Blackout Poetry.
Teacher Tip: I warned them the day before our lesson to bring dark markers to class (and I rustled up as many as I could find in my teacher stash as well) as well as scissors (in case they wanted to trim their poem).
To prepare for this lesson, I chose several dozen of my favorite classroom novels. I hauled my pile to the copy room, opened each book up to a random page, and copied it. That way, we aren’t destroying any books. Since my students sit in groups in my classroom, I placed a pile of copied pages at each table group and asked them to pick a page that ‘spoke to them.’ Warning: advise your students NOT to read the page. This will put an unshakable idea into their head about what the page should be about. BIG mistake! It’s best to just skim the words, like scanning the food in your refrigerator, for a basic idea of what you want. There was a lot of discussion and paper-passing, but my students settled on their final decisions within a few minutes.
After we watched the Prezi, I asked my students to start with a pencil and look for a special word (anchor word) from which they could build a message. “But Mrs. D., what should the message be about?” Great question. I asked them to think about themes we have learned through our novels and short stories throughout the year. Think about universal messages about life, truths, or observations about humanity. That seemed to be a great place to start for the vast majority of my students. The more advanced poets didn’t need as much direction and just dug right in.
Once they had a potential poem sketched out in pencil, I directed them to try out their poem on a classmate. Ask for a reaction and feedback. Make any necessary revisions, then finally go for the marker and start blacking out what isn’t needed.
As an extension for some students, I invited them to insert a blackout image that complimented the poem. As you can see in the sample images below, the students rose to the challenge!
The beautiful results were then displayed for the remainder of the poetry unit 🙂
A real challenge in middle school is getting an increasingly large group of apathetic students excited about reading. I don’t mean to say ALL of my students – I definitely have some voracious readers – but there is always a hefty, vocal group that seems proud to proclaim indignantly, “I don’t read.” Well, harumpf. What’s a teacher to do with that kind of attitude? I understand that as an English Language Arts teacher, it is my job to get students excited about reading. Confetti, cartwheels, iPhone giveaways – whatever it takes! Okay not really. I’m not a performer, I’m not rich, and I don’t work miracles. I do my best to give students authentic, fun, motivating reasons to pick up a book (aaaaaand actually read/finish it). Of course I have to give a nod to my favorite teacher-author, Kelly Gallagher, who writes about just this topic in his book Reading Reasons. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it!
One of the ways I try to motivate students to read is through my DVD Case / Movie Poster project. It is a project with reading, writing, language, expression, and art – a great way to hit multiple Common Core standards at once. This project has lots of elements that get kids excited: technology, critical thinking, creative writing, photography/images, and the critical elements of publication and display. Here is a glimpse of the final project, which is explained in more detail below:
You are looking at the display cases in the front lobby of our middle school. Each and every student got a chance to have their final DVD case (or movie poster) on display for the entire school. In addition, my students got some one-on-one time with 6th and 7th graders to share their project. They read their summary and review quotes on the back, explained the layout and image choices, and answered any questions their audience had – all in hopes of inspiring the student to go and read the book for themselves.
Here is a closer look at a DVD project:
And a collage of my students’ work:
Students begin by selecting an interesting book (can either be a novel or a biography) that is at their appropriate reading level. I introduce this project about 6-8 weeks ahead of time to get students enough warning to finish the book.
After reading the book, students will write what I call a ‘Review Quote’ (a book teaser summary that discusses the theme/message) to promote the book. To do this, we look at the backs of many books, even visit http://www.rottentomatoes.com and http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews to get a feel for the rich language of a teaser/review.
Next, the students will create either a DVD Case or a Movie Poster to promote the book through images as well as words. They really love this part, and I’m not just saying that. Rarely do I hit the money with a project where every single student is working, but this is it. And everyone is working at his/her own pace and area of expertise – artists, techies, writers; they all find their niche and even help one another.
On the day where I introduce the project, I bring in dozens of DVD covers and movie posters for students to view. We discuss similarities and conventions such as the size of the font, placement, purpose of images, etc.
After introducing the project, I wind up giving students 3-4 more days of in-class work time. Now that students have their own iPads, I may cut down this time and expect them to do more homework. On the 5th day, we do the printing and final touches, such as laminating the movie posters or putting the DVD covers in to the cases (I bought 100 from Amazon for about 25 cents each, totally worth it!). The 6th day is for presentations.
I am excited to do this project with the iPads this year, because students can actually go out and take their own photographs. Their goal is to match the mood of the book through color, layout, font, and images. They really do quite a bit of critical thinking with this project.
One of the only problems I have run into is that if their book has already been made into a movie, some students rely very heavily on the movie images. I had to make a rule outlawing this. The results were great, as this ultimately pushed students to be original and dig deeper into their own interpretation of the book.
Something that I learned last year, and will be repeating this year, is that some students like to make their own movie poster / DVD case from scratch, and others need a template to get started. Here is a template I created in Pages for the DVD Case. Students can ‘drag and drop’ their own images:
The final product can be displayed in your classroom, hallway displays, or as part of a gallery in which you promote the books to other students. The Library Media instructor at our school asked if she could display them in our Library, too!
If you want to purchase and download my DVD case / Movie Poster unit from TpT, the following items are included: * Common Core Standards for grades 8-12 including English Language Arts and Literacy in All Subjects * Suggestions for modifying and differentiating this lesson for students at all levels, from heavy support needed to extension ideas. * Essential Questions * Rubric * Project Description Student Handout * Sample Writing ‘Review Quotes’ with “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen and “The Giver” by Lois Lowry * 2 Sample DVD Cases with “Peak” by Roland Smith, and “Graceling” by Kristin Cashore * 1 Sample Movie Poster * Word Spectrum – ‘interesting’ to ‘boring’ – 65 synonyms students can incorporate into their writing * 5 Pages of detailed lesson plans and teacher tips including guided writing, peer review, modeling, small and whole group discussion.
I loved teaching this unit and collaborating with our school’s Art and 21st Century teachers. We found that this unit hits on a LOT of Common Core Standards and curricular goals, which was a huge plus! By working together, we strengthened student learning and participation. Students have told me that this was their favorite project all year!
It’s true – people DO need to stop misspelling these words. It’s pretty very annoying.
Here’s a sample:
I know my 8th graders would find this absolutely stinking hilarious.
You can purchase the poster for $20, which he says is perfect for the classroom. So here’s my question: Would you post this in an 8th grade classroom?
There is a reference to alcohol, an alien that keeps ‘crapping,’ the word ‘crap,’ referring to misspellers as ‘a-hole,’ and hemorrhoids (but that’s just funny, right?). I mean, good common sense says NO. Maybe this would pass as appropriate in a high school classroom, but 8th grade is just skirting the line?
I wonder if he would ever consider making a few revisions for our younger adolescents. I could see this having a really big impact on my students who would identify with the humor and forget that they were supposed to be learning something. This kind of humor is right up their alley.
In preparation for … (holding my breath)…. Back… To….(gulp) School….. (there, I said it), I am beginning to get things in order around the house. One of those tasks includes grocery shopping and preparing meals. Bless the Teacher-Mothers who are able to come home and cook dinner for their families; I just can’t seem to manage that, and I’m not even a mother! I decided to try frozen Slow-Cooker meals as a new option for my husband and me. I found some excellent recipes from Six Sisters’ Stuff – they really know their stuff! Very easy recipes without crazy ingredients, affordable, and delicious.
Though they have dozens of recipes, I picked 4 to begin: Cilantro Lime Chicken, Chicken Broccoli Alfredo, Hearty Beef Stew, and Chicken Cacciatori.
I began at the grocery store, where the above ingredients cost me only $51.63!!! Since I am making 8 Bags (16 meals), that’s only $3.22 a meal! I was very pleased with this, and I know I could have done better with coupons (new goal for next round).
The preparation took approximately 1 hour, just like the Six Sisters promise. I have a few recommendations if you are going to give this a try:
1. Begin by getting out a Sharpie and labeling all of your freezer bags. The Six Sisters recommend using freezer gallon bags. I did this, but I split each of the recipes into *2* gallon bags. They say the recipes are for approximately 5-6 meals, and it’s just my husband and myself, so I figured why not make it even easier by dividing in half.
2. Prepare all of the meat first. I hate this part and I like to get it over with. I clean and trim all of the meat and separate it into the appropriate bags. Then I can clean my countertops and not worry about cross-contamination.
3. Flip out the zippers of the bag. This makes the bags stand up nicely, and they are open for dumping in ingredients. You probably knew this already 😉
4. Use this as an opportunity to clean out your fridge/freezer! I love vegetables, so I added WAY more than the recipes called for. I cleaned out my veggie drawer and any little bags of frozen veggies I had left over from other meals.
5. Save the frozen ingredients for last.
Here are the final products – 8 frozen meals for 2-3. The directions are right on the bag: they’re ‘Husband-Proof’!
And here they are all stacked up, waiting to go in the freezer. They take up about a third of my freezer space.
A tip I have heard is to use Slow-Cooker liners to speed up the clean-up process. I don’t feel good about cooking my food in plastic bags, so I will not be doing this.
I hope these meals will last us through the crazy first month of September. The investment (financial and time) are definitely worth it!
I have an idea that I am excited to try out this fall. Recently, I learned about two new apps that I think will be very valuable in my classroom. Both of them offer a virtual reality experience of sorts. I think this will be ideal for students who need a break from ‘reality.’
Teachers – you know when you have a student who just seems like they need to take a deep breath and start fresh? Perhaps they are overwhelmed, emotional, or anxious. This is when I would invite them to take out their iPad (or borrow mine) and have a 3 minute Virtual Reality escape. This will replace my old ‘go to’ techniques of “Why don’t you go get a quick drink?” or “Please take this (meaningless) super important document to the office for me (so you can calm down and walk it off).” These apps will hopefully occupy their mind and offer them a brief respite from what is leading them to be off task and unfocused (notice I didn’t say ‘naughty?’).
So here are the apps I am thinking of using for Virtual Reality Escape in the classroom. Let me know if you have heard of any others I can add to my list!
This app is FREE and totally awesome. You can take yourself to some amazing places throughout the world from world famous cathedrals to tropical vacation destinations. As you twist and turn your iPad/iPhone, you get a 360 degree panoramic view of the location – even the sky and ground. I must look like a real fool as I swivel in my chair and contort my body to see every inch of the awe-inspiring views, but I just don’t care! I love looking at Sphere just before bed so I can dream of a vacation.
Of course, there are academic purposes for this app as well. Perhaps there are some locations you are currently studying in the classroom, and your students would love to visit in 3D! My only complaint about this app is that not all of the links work for me all of the time. Hoping some bug fixes are on their way!
2. Sky Guide: View Stars Night or Day – by Fifth Star Labs LLC $1.99
This app was gifted to me, but normally costs $1.99. I honestly had no idea how much I would enjoy it. Basically, the app helps you to identify celestial objects (stars, planets, constellations, etc.). You simply point your iPad/iPhone at the sky, and voila! The app includes ethereal music to accompany your ‘Out of this World’ experience, but I often turn off this feature. As the title says, this works in the daytime, too. Students can imagine launching themselves into the atmosphere, flying through space, across the universe!
Of course there are real academic uses here as well – be sure to share with your school’s Science department!