Posts Tagged ‘reading’

March Madness Book Bracket

March Madness Book Bracket (c) Kristen Dembroski


Well I am VERY excited to share a new school wide reading project with you. I created a March Madness Book Bracket for our middle school (grades 6-8). I figured – hey, the kids are really excited about their NCAA brackets. Why not capitalize on their excitement and direct some energy toward books and reading? Of course!

I began by asking our school librarian for a printout of the most popular (checked-out) books at our school. This is our list (in random order):

  • Summer Ball – Mike Lupica
  • 13 Gifts – Wendy Mass
  • The Lightning Thief – Rick Riordan
  • Crank – Ellen Hopkins
  • The One and Only Ivan – Katherine Applegate
  • Legend – Marie Lu
  • The Fault in Our Stars – John Green
  • The Eleventh Plague – Jeff Hirsch
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Jeff Kinney
  • Divergent – Veronica Roth
  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret – Brian Selznik
  • Okay For Now – Gary D. Schmidt
  • Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins
  • Brian’s Hunt – Gary Paulsen
  • Framed – Gordon Korman
  • Holes – Louis Sachar

I then created a presentation to share with all of the Language Arts teachers that includes a picture and a brief synopsis of each book.

The plan is that we will vote on all of the same dates of the NCAA March Madness sweeps:

  • Sweet Sixteen – 3/24
  • Elite Eight – 3/27
  • Final Four – 3/31
  • Championships – 4/4

Students will vote in Language Arts class, and we will use an electronic survey (Google forms). They are asked to vote for either a) their favorite books or b) the most compelling books they would want to read. We will continue until we have one winner for our whole school.

I think this activity is going to generate a lot of interest in these books. I’ve asked the librarian to please use up any remaining budget to purchase a few more copies of this. I can’t wait to report back on the wonderful developments!

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Vocabulary, StudyBlue, and Reading Interventions

It’s been a while since I’ve given an update on my reading intervention crew. I work with a group of seven 8th graders on a weekly basis who can benefit from an extra reading boost.

We first began with Newsela, which is such a wonderful FREE tool. I’ve been able to track their progress and meet with them to discuss strategies. We read one article and completed the quiz together so that my students could see just how much effort it is to find the correct answer. You have to a) read carefully b) monitor your own comprehension, then c) make sure you understand the question d) [and this is SO important] actually go BACK into the text to find the answer e) use process of elimination to check your answer (make sure the others don’t make sense).

Now, we’ve also added a vocabulary element to our sessions. I started by locating a list of the Top 100 6th grade ‘need to know’ words. Since my 8th graders are each about 2 years behind in reading abilities, this seemed an appropriate place to start. First, I had them simply read the words out loud to me. I marked any they miscued – those would certainly become vocabulary flash cards. Later, I also had them go through the list again and prioritize a list of an additional 10 words they want to learn about.

6th Grade Words 6th Grade Words

As it turns out, each of my students had 4 miscues in common: notorious, ominous, melancholy, and unconscious. These 4 words would become our ‘group words’ that we would all study together. Beyond that, their lists became personalized based on individual needs.

I had my group all download the app StudyBlue, a free app for creating flashcards, review, and quizzes.

StudyBlue App

Next, I gave them a handout with each of the 4 group study words, a kid-friendly definition (retrieved from – set the side bar to ‘Intermediate’ or ‘Beginner’), and a list of synonyms. The lists looked like this on their iPads:

Study Blue Review Sheet (c) Kristen Dembroski

Next, the students had time to use the Flash Card feature on the right. The app gives you a choice of either term or definition. You tell the app if you recalled the term correctly or not, and the app tracks your progress.

Study Blue Flash Cards (c) Kristen Dembroski

Once the students are done studying the flash cards, it’s time for a quiz. There is an option for multiple choice:

Study Blue Quiz Multiple Choice (c) Kristen Dembroski

…and True / False:

Study Blue Quiz True False


Obviously this will become more challenging as we add more words to our set.

I love that this app tracks your progress as well.

Study Blue Progress Monitoring (c) Kristen Dembroski


Once the students master the 6th grade words, we will move on to 7th grade words. We will also continue with Newsela, and I have plans to do some word study as well (such as this Word Tower Greek and Latin roots/prefixes/suffixes activity).

Things seem to be going very well with my group. This is due in large part to the fact that they are great kids and all very motivated to improve. It also doesn’t hurt that I maaaaaaybe bribe them with candy. Hey – it’s a teacher’s best kept secret! I will continue to monitor their progress and find new ways to challenge them and help them boost their confidence and soar in the classroom!



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Wisconsin State Reading Association and Books for the Bus

WSRA Quilt (c) Kristen Dembroski

I recently attended the Wisconsin State Reading Association in Milwaukee. I had such a great time meeting wonderful educators and literary heroes. At the end of the first day, there was an awards ceremony for the important, influential people that help promote high literacy standards in Wisconsin. One story brought me to tears. A school bus driver started a program on his bus called “Books for the Bus.” He brought in his daughter’s outgrown books and shared them with the students on their hour commute to and from school. He told them if they liked the book, they could keep it, and if they wanted to donate, they could bring their book to share on the bus. The idea was a hit, and soon spread to all of the busses in that school district. I was so touched! You can read more about this heart-warming story by clicking here.

Lynda WSRA (c) Kristen Dembroski


I was also there to celebrate my friend and colleague, Lynda, who received the “Friends of Literacy” lifetime achievement award. She is completing her doctorate (her topic is helping teachers use rubrics to evaluate iPad apps for the classroom), she is a professor, she is an amazing cheerleader and supporter, and an all-around amazing person who can make friends with anyone, anywhere.

I met other important legislators, authors, professors, student teachers, and inspiring educators. Everyone I met was passionate about literacy and student learning. I remember thinking to myself, “These. These are my people.” I can’t wait for WSRA 2015!

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High Five For Friday! 2-7-14

Week 22 was a long, cold one. Here are the highlights!

Paper Chain Amazon (c) Kristen Dembroski1. Amazon! – I am SUPER excited to announce that my book is up on Amazon. I have to pinch myself sometimes. I did it!! Wahoo!!

Stephen King

2. Stephen King – I introduced my students to the prolific Stephen King this week. At first, they were all, “Who?!?” but when we began listing off his many accomplishments and famous works, they were all, “OOOoooOooh.” In true middle school fashion, they describe this incredibly influential and important American author as a “creeper dude.”

The Boy Who Dared

3. The Boy Who Dared – I finished reading this book in about 2 days. Wow, very powerful. It is a story about a Hitler Youth who dares to stand up for his morals and convictions. As you can imagine, it does not have a happy ending. The reading level is 5th – 6th grade, but I could see this being used in a much higher level Social Studies class for perspective and analytic purposes. It was such a unique perspective on this time period – we don’t often empathize or appreciate the plight of the ‘villainous’ Germans who disagreed with Hitler and fought the status quo. A powerful story for sure!

Sunny Winter (c) Kristen Dembroski IMG_7284

4. More Sun – Have you noticed the longer days? I’m loving watching the sun rise on my drive into work. We had a full 9 hours of sunlight yesterday! The sun has been setting later and later, and I will have to adjust when our automatic lights turn on outside. I just love the eager anticipation of Spring!

Study Buddies (c) Kristen Dembroski

5. Study Buddies – I have been working so very hard on my dissertation these past few weeks. I feel like I want to focus on it now while the weather is crummy and there aren’t as many social distractions. Well I have the 2 best study buddies in the world! They will snuggle and keep you warm, drifting in and out of doggy naps, and only interrupt your train of thought when they need a nuzzle or a belly rub.

I'm Being Watched (c) Kristen DembroskiI took a study break to go shovel, and suddenly I had this strange sensation of being watched…. My guys are such wierdos! They are definitely in the right family 🙂



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High Five For Friday! 1/24/14

S’long week 20, and welcome Quarter 3! Here are the week’s highlights.

Transcripts (c) Kristen Dembroski

1. Transcripts – A huge milestone on my way of reaching my New Year’s Goal to finish my dissertation, I finally finished transcribing over 24 hours of videotapes and interviews. You’re looking at 12 two-hour student interviews, over 120 pages. Feels so good to be on to data analysis now!

Egg Breakfast Muffins (c) Kristen Dembroski

2. Breakfast – These egg muffins are the perfect grab-and-go breakfast for teachers. I can’t even believe I’ve gone my whole career and never discovered these. So easy! I make a big batch on the weekends, and my husband and I have them as a quick breakfast on the run. I microwave them for 1 minute, et voila! To make them, I begin by sautéing any vegetables I happen to have in my fridge, add diced ham or bacon, then stir that all into 8 eggs, a dash of coconut milk, and a dash of coconut flour (with lemon zest and fresh cracked pepper). YUM! And it’s all of your food groups in one healthy bite!

PBIS Videos (c) Kristen Dembroski  Outdoor Recess (c) Kristen Dembroski

3. PBIS Videos – You may have seen my post from earlier in the week about the PBIS Video Project that my students are working on this week. They are having so much fun, and I love seeing how creative they can get. Across 3 classes, I have 20 different groups making 20 very different final products. In the photos above, you can see on the left that they are editing using iMovie. I love the picture on the right of my brave group that is demonstrating how to behave appropriately on the playground (Side note: It is 3 degrees outside, and they are coming inside to warm up between takes. “Where are your mittens?” I ask, and am answered with blank stares…) It’s been a great week, and a much needed break from traditional reading and writing! 

Florida Oranges (c) Kristen Dembroski

4. Florida Oranges – We have a sweet aunt who lives in Naples. For the past couple of years, just when Winter has officially overstayed its welcome, she sends us a care package of native Florida Citrus. This is a LOT of oranges, people! We can’t possibly eat them all, so I will enjoy spreading the sunshine even more! Mmmmm… delicious!

Adolescent Literature Book Study (c) Kristen Dembroski

5. Adolescent Literature – To gear up for my upcoming graduate class that I will be teaching, I am reading and rereading a few favorites that will become required texts for my class. We are definitely going to read Readicide and The Book Whisperer, but then as a class we will select 3 other adolescent fiction books to read and use for our book chats. Which 3 would you pick? Or did I miss your favorite?

Jay the Great (c) Kristen Dembroski

6. Minor Disruption – Okay so you tell me how productive you think we were after the custodian zipped by our room on a giant Zamboni. Hilarious! I just had to pause and take a picture, because we were all laughing so hard!

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Close Reading and Saint Valentine’s Day

The History of Saint Valentine's Day (c) Kristen DembroskiCan you believe it’s almost February? I’ve seen Valentine’s Day items popping up at stores around town, and I suddenly realized it’s only one month away! I have 2 great Valentine’s Day reading activities to share with you.

First, I will share with you a close-reading activity on The History of Saint Valentine’s Day. This 10-page activity includes a 3-page handout about the mysterious history of St. Valentine the martyr, and the evolution of today’s Valentine’s Day holiday. It gives 2 different historical accounts of the Christian martyr’s life and death, plus an explanation of Pagan influence on this celebrated holiday. There is also an explanation of Valentine’s Day as it is celebrated today, and the symbols and traditions around this special day.

The History of Saint Valentine's Day (c) Kristen Dembroski

This is a close-reading or text-based reading activity because the text is divided into smaller, manageable chunks with follow-up questions after each section. The student must find evidence within the text to answer the questions (following Common Core Standards and language) by highlighting or underlining.

Close Reading The History of Saint Valentine's Day (c) Kristen Dembroski

This would be an excellent activity to do with your entire class, or with an intervention group of struggling readers. It would easily align to your Language Arts / English, Social Studies / History, or Religious Studies curriculum as a cross-curricular lesson. You can use this text any time, not just for Valentine’s Day! If you would like to purchase this activity, you can click here.


Author's Purpose Valentine's Day Activity (c) Kristen Dembroski

The next activity I will share with you is Author’s Purpose Guided Practice for Grades 6-10 a FREE activity. In this activity, students will learn about PIE: Persuade, Inform, and Entertain. Then, they will read 3 sample texts and discuss how each is an example of persuasive, informative, or entertaining writing.

If you enjoy this FREE mini activity and want to purchase a full lesson plan on Author’s Purpose, I also have the Identifying Author’s Purpose full lesson plan.

Author’s Purpose (c) Kristen Dembroski

The Identifying Author’s Purpose activity includes 15 writing samples that students will first identify as either persuasive, informative, or entertaining. Then, they will decide what the author is trying to convince them of (persuasion), inform them of (informative), or entertain them with (entertain). It includes a handout explaining the key features and genres of persuasive, informative, and entertaining (PIE) texts, model/sample writing for each category (3 total). Read and discuss as a class, and guided practice sample writing for each category (3 total). Students can read, discuss, and identify the sample texts in small groups, while they also engage in close reading to determine the type of writing (PIE) and the author’s specific goal.

I hope these activities can help you and your students to engage in some close reading strategies and techniques throughout February!

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High Five For Friday! 12/20/13

Hellooooooo, Winter Break! Oh how much I’ve looked forward to seeing you! Here are the highlights from week 16:

Bungee Tension Bands (c) Kristen Dembroski

1. Chair Bungees for Restless Students: I discovered a really great, inexpensive, QUIET, unobtrusive fidget tool for the classroom – chair bungees. There’s not much to it, you just wrap a bungee cord or some kind of sturdy, elastic material around 2 chair legs. This gives students something to lightly bounce their legs against during class. Hopefully, this won’t disturb their neighbors or make any noise, but will provide sensory feedback for the student and a mindless outlet for fidgety behavior. I like that it occupies their legs instead of their hands, which we need for work!

Week 17 (c) Kristen Dembroski

2. Ready for January! I am all set to come back for break, which is a great feeling. I don’t have any correcting or lesson planning to do over my winter break, which means I can focus my energy on my family and on my dissertation. My calendar and assignment board are all set!


3. Phonics Spelling App – I found a great new app for our students struggling with phoneme-grapheme mapping, sight words, and basic foundational skills. Of course this is only one component of our multi-faceted reading intervention program for students who are reading 2 or more levels below grade level. The Simplex Phonics Spelling App costs $5, so I am working on locating the funds to purchase this app for our small-but-growing list of identified students. My hope is that I can introduce them to the app at school, but they will practice the app at home and with their parents. I installed and interacted with the app for a while, and I liked that it offered lots of support and that it didn’t seem too ‘babyish’ for our 6th through 8th graders. Here’s hoping this is a winner for our students!

Spirit Week (c) Kristen Dembroski

4. Spirit Week! Leading up to winter break, we have had a ‘Spirit’ or ‘Dress-up’ day each day this week. Monday = Pajama Day / Tuesday = Twin Day / Wednesday = Blue Day to honor our custodian with cancer / Thursday = Nerd Day / Friday = Red Day. I love dressing up with a theme, so of course I was on Cloud 9 all week!

Front Page TpT (c) Kristen Dembroski

5. Like a Rock Star: I made the front page of TpT! I was so excited to see this!


So how was your week? I hope you are already (or thinking about) enjoying your Winter Break!!! See you in January 😉

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Close Reading and Text-Based Reading

Close Reading (c) Kristen Dembroski

Yesterday morning, I was asked to give a presentation to the staff at our monthly Morning Staff Meeting on Reading in the Content Areas (Science, Math, and Social Studies). Though I am a Language Arts teacher for 3 classes a day, I am also the part-time Reading Specialist for our school, so Professional Development is one of my honors and duties in that role.

For this Professional Development session on Reading, I decided to focus on Close Reading and Text-Based Reading Strategies, which I have been studying as part of my Reading Specialist coursework as well as my PhD in Language and Literacy. I created a 10-age handout on the top strategies that a classroom teacher can implement to modify a text for struggling readers.

I designed this handout by first selecting a short, 1-page text that might be used in a 6th through 8th grade classroom. Then, I described each of the strategies/modifications as well as modeled how I would use that strategy with the model text. This way, teachers will have plenty of examples right at their fingertips. I also offered to help teachers select, create, and implement these strategies in their classroom. The strategies include:

1. Defining Purpose, Learning Targets
2. Boost Prior Knowledge
3. Chunking Text
4. Academic Vocabulary (Tiers 2 & 3)
5. SQ3R
6. Partner Talk
7. Highlight with a Purpose
8. Modified Notes & Graphic Organizers

The great news was that my colleagues had heard of or had experience with each of these strategies at some point, but they were glad to have a resource that modeled how to use them as a refresher. It’s also a helpful idea to have this list of ideas in case you just need a reminder of another strategy to try.

If you would like to purchase this handout on Close Reading and Text-Based Reading, you can access it at my Teachers Pay Teachers Store by clicking the link or picture above. Thank you!

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High Five For Friday! 11/8/13

Adios, week 10! It was a difficult and LONG week, especially with WKCE State Testing, but there are always the highlights to celebrate.

Sharing Photos Tech Poster (c) Kristen Dembroski

1. Share Responsibly –  I love seeing this Technology Poster hanging outside my room and throughout my school. I think it is wonderful that adults are realizing the role we play in modeling and guiding students to make good decisions online. How will students ever learn these skills otherwise? Well, besides the few students who have crashed, burned, and learned the hard way. We need to be proactive and provide lessons in respectful and responsible digital citizenship. Man, I never had to worry about any of this as a kid – it’s tough being a teen today!

Sunny Clouds (c) Kristen Dembroski

2. Sunny Mornings – The end of Daylight Savings is actually a really sad event for me. I try very hard to shirk my season depression each year, but it is a real challenge. Right now in Wisconsin, we only get about 8-9 hours of sunlight each day. And it’s only going to get worse. I MISS SUMMER!!! Even taking the dog for a walk after I get home from work is difficult as the sunlight begins to fade. The one highlight I have (since that is what High Five For Friday is all about) is that I am enjoying seeing the sun a bit more on my way to work in the morning. This was the gorgeous view on Tuesday.

Tiles and Strips (c) Kristen Dembroski

3. Letter Tiles and Highlight Strips – I’ve ordered some new materials for my reading interventions. I tell you, as an 8th grade middle school teacher, these are just not items that we normally expect to see and use in a middle school classroom, so this took some investigating to specifically pinpoint student needs. I have purchased letter tiles and highlight strips. I plan to do some phoneme-grapheme mapping with my struggling readers to help get them up to speed with phonics. I will also use the highlight strips with several students to help them focus on one line of text at a time – attention is a real issue for several students, and I think this will help (while also being somewhat private and not making the student feel ‘stupid.’). I will introduce these tools to my group next week and we will attach these foundational skills head on!!! They will catch up to speed with their peers!!

Long Hallway (c) Kristen Dembroski

4. The Looooooong Hallway – Okay this is just silly, I know. When the students are at their Specials/Applieds classes, this is my prep time. I spend it working feverishly and running around with my head cut off, of course. But the hallways are so… empty. And long! I get a lot of walking in. My Fitbit says I walk around 5 miles a day at work. So one thing I do – I guess just to feel alive – is I close my eyes while I walk down the long hallway. I challenge myself to see how many steps I can get before opening my eyes. I’m at 15, in case you were going to ask.

Rocket & Tyger (c) Kristen Dembroski

5. The Dogs – While my sister is out of town interviewing for dental school residency positions, I have been dog-sitting. My dog Rocket (black and white, left side) and her dog Tyger (white, right side) get along fantastically. As you can guess, they get into a heap of trouble, too! They constantly play fight, which is awesome. It tires them both out, and they love it. In this picture, though, they are both sitting on the back of the couch, a no-no, looking so innocent. “What? We’re just chilling, watching the street for potential people/dogs/leaves/cars/etc. to bark at. Nothing to see here.” Stinkers! I love them <3

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Library & Independent Reading

This week is our first chance to go to the Library. I make a point of bringing my 8th graders to the Library every Monday. This year, however, I knew things would be a little different with the iPads. For starters, our Library is now offering ebooks on loan. For some ebooks, we have only a few licenses, meaning only a few students can ‘check out’ the ebook at a time, and for other ebooks we have unlimited licenses. The students can download the ebook from our Library app (Destiny), ‘rent’ it for a couple of weeks, and then on the due date, **poof** it disappears! This means you can check out a book without ever stepping a foot into the library! This is great for kids who are absent a lot, who go on vacation, or who devour books at a breakneck pace.

To better utilize the iPads for reading purposes, I created this handout to help my students discover new and exciting digital reading materials. There are also some fantastic tips for finding your next great reading book. You can download the entire 3-page PDF file here: How To Find a Great Book KD. Enjoy!

How To Find a Great Book (c) Kristen Dembroski

How To Find a Great Book (c) Kristen Dembroski

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