Archive for the ‘Language Arts’ Category

Girls in Animal Print are Trouble

The 6 Traits of Writing encourages teachers to use picture books to help students generate ideas and details. For practice in narrative writing, we read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, then used it as a spring board for the students’ individual writing. (Official website of the 6 Traits)


Here is the writing prompt and outline I gave my students. You can see that the student has quite a terrible day to write about. But it was his second point that had me laughing:


Cheetah print? The known calling card of a skank, even to 7th graders! I gave him an A.


Getting Hooked-

Teachers always hear about the importance of a good “hook” to interest students about a particular lesson. People say this because well, it’s true.  The first year I taught A Wrinkle in Time my students haaaated it. I taught it again this past year and the overall opinion was dramatically different. Now, I can’t place all the success on my beginning hook (there may have been an over-reliance on the audio book narrated by the author herself- speech impediment and all….whoopsies!), but it was a fun way to start the unit on science fiction and get everyone excited about the book before cracking it open.

Even if you aren’t reading A Wrinkle in Time, this hook can still work because it is directed at science fiction writing as a genre.

First, tell students to bring with them to class an account of a strange event–a UFO sighting, an example of psychic powers, or anything which could not be explained by our current technology. I gave them extra credit for bringing articles. My pre-AP kiddos eat up extra credit opportunities.

As prior preparation, you should put up the background paper and title for a bulletin board with some eye catching science fiction phrase. Leave space for students to post their pictures, but go ahead and get the ball rolling by posting some articles and pictures on the mind blowing topic of science, technology, space, etc. Leave the zany stuff for the students to bring, because that is what they will likely gravitate toward. I titled my bulletin board “A WRINKLE IN TIME: A LINK TO OTHER WORLDS?”

A Wrinkle in Time

The next class period when students have their articles and pictures in hand we get to have a brief class show and tell and I get to fill them in on the exciting genre of science fiction (yah! Ender’s Game! Isaac Asimov! Cory Doctorow!) annnnd what cool time and space travel adventures will be in store for them while reading A Wrinkle in Time. 

Science Article

Science Article


Drop Everything and Read

Tomorrow, April 12, is D.E.A.R. Day! D.E.A.R. stands for Drop Everything and Read. Sometimes D.E.A.R. is called Sustained Silent Reading. The main focus is to enjoy reading, so students choose their own books/comics/ magazines and silently read for 20-30 minutes. The teacher can even read!

So tomorrow in class-whatever the level- I encourage you to reserve some time to read. However, if you are just now hearing about this wonderful holiday (yes,yes, don’t snicker) and lesson plans are already set firmly, then set your own date to celebrate at a later time. On Thursday I am taking my students to the school’s book fair, which would make it a perfect day to D.E.A.R. Reading for pleasure is often overlooked, and when reading is enjoyable it is continued outside of the classroom!

This is the link to the official website for D.E.A.R…please notice the cute Ramona Quimby inspired art!

Surprise! Kids Love Dogs!

Okay…so it’s really no surprise at all that kids love dogs!

I get so many pieces of writing that include star roles for man’s best friend, from adorable puppies to brave rescue dogs. Here is a description activity involving a dog, but the catch is that students won’t know that immediately! Despite this, the mystery of what should/might come next will hook them in.

Completing a Description

I fell in love the minute I saw him. He had hair the color of November woods and eyes that turned me into marshmallow crème. I knew we belonged to each other.

He raised his head and looked at me. He knew.

Have students write the next three sentences to this paragraph. Students will create interesting descriptions without knowing the true continuation of the story. This exercise can also being used with a small section of a book the class is about to read. When the students later get to that section, they will be excited to see what will come next, and it will give them a sense of ownership over something they also wrote.

My brother and his dog Sherman.


Here is the remainder of the excerpt:

I fell in love the minute I saw him. He had hair the color of November woods and eyes that turned me into marshmallow crème. I knew we belonged to each other.

He raised his head and looked at me. He knew. And when I knelt beside him, he kicked my hand—all the way to the elbow, his long tail thumped on the floor.

“What happened?” I said to the boy who held the dog by a piece of rope.

“Cut his paw pretty bad on something, and he ain’t eatin’ neither.” The boy stroked the dog’s big, shaggy head. He looked worried.

I noticed the dirty, crusted wound on the left forepaw, the matted fur. My new love smelled like a sewer from hell. “What’s his name?”

“Don’t know. Granddaddy says somebody must’ve dumped him out and left him. I was supposed to take him to the pound, but I thought I’d try here first. He’s a good old dog. Maybe Doc Nichols knows somebody who’ll take him.”

“You did the right thing.” I remembered what it was like being “dumped” in a strange place.

I had $149.74 in my checking account, no job, and a house being sold out from under me. “I’ll take him,” I said.

From Angel at Troublesome Creek by Mignon F. Ballard

All credit to Penny Crofford, who gives wonderful Pre-AP workshops.

Word Choice Activities

Teaching word choice in writing can be tricky. It requires a student to already have a solid vocabulary he feels confident with and then asks the student to apply that vocabulary in an interesting, clever way.

So what do you do when you have a classroom of kiddos struggling to use anything other than good, bad, very, and a lot? Here is an activity I picked up at a 6 Trait of Writing workshop hosted by my district’s literary specialist.

Word Garden/ Graveyard

Post on a wall a decorated “graveyard” with tombstones. On these tombstones, write boring or worn out words you want your students to bury. Then require the students to create an “epitaph” of at least 3 suitable replacement words.

Another option is to create a garden of flowers with colorful word choices. A basic word can be in the middle with colorful synonyms on each petal, or one colorful word on each flower. These can be updated throughout the year.

7th Grade Word Graveyard

I did this activity around Halloween, so we used pumpkins and tombstones. I hung up a large sheet of butcher block paper on a wall and then the students were given blank sheets of colored paper to cut, write on, and paste on the butcher block paper. Depending on the level of your students you can judge how much control to have over what they do. For instance, I approved their work before they hung it on the wall. You also might what to select the boring words each student is to replace.

The beauty of this activity is that it is a knowledge gift that keeps on giving. Leave it up on your wall for your students to walk by daily and notice the better word options. Hang it in clear sight of desks for  students to glance up at as they write.

How to Create Writing Prompts

I laugh to think about the time my friend Courtney and I tried to create a writing prompt for 11th graders during our student teaching. We started with “In an essay, tell whether Rappacini is a good guy or a bad guy…” We ended up getting some really low-level papers back, way beneath what the students were capable of. Guess what? Our assignment prompt was really low level!

Here is a guide to making smart prompts in order to get smart work back:

CRAFTS Writing Prompts Guide

C- Context

R- Role


F- Format

T- Topic

S- Strong Verb


Within the novel, Tangerine, by Edward Bloor, the Lake Windsor Downs community has recently experienced muckfires and mosquito infestations. You are the President of the Homeowners Association. In a monthly newsletter to the residents of Lake Windsor Downs, explain what has happened and describe what the association is doing to fix the problems.

C- Lake Windsor Downs community has recently experienced muckfires and mosquito infestations.

R- You are the President of the Homeowners Association.

A-    residents of Lake Windsor Downs

F- Newsletter

T- explain what has happened and describe what the association is doing to fix the problems.

S- Explain, Describe

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