New Year, New Goals

This is the time of the year when everyone starts making New Years Resolutions. One of the more popular New Years Resolutions is about losing weight. This is a New Years Resolution I have made myself countless times. I used to say things like I will not eat chocolate this entire year (yeah right).

Everyone is going to holiday gatherings and indulging. I'm currently a weight watchers member and we were told that the average person gains between 7 and 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Years. If you start counting the holiday season with Halloween it's probably closer to 15 pounds instead of 10. I need to stay focused because I don't want to go back to the old me. I'm not saying I deny myself 100% because that's unrealistic. I don't want to push things off and say "I'll start again after the holidays." No one is perfect but if I indulge, it's just one day, I need to make sure I'm back on track the very next day.

When I used to call them resolutions I never stuck to them so now instead of resolutions I make goals. I also try to set realistic, attainable goals. If I make my goals too big and I don't reach them I'll be disappointed in myself. So I set numerous small goals and I reward myself (not with food lol) when I reach them. I know that using the word goal instead of resolution is just semantics, but I feel like that helps me.

I'm not just talking about my weight, although my weight and my health have been a major focus in my life the past two years. I always say "this year I'm going to be more organized" and that doesn't happen because I don't have a great system. I've tried a folder for each class, I've tried a hanging folder with different pockets, and I've tried having a tray for each class. If you can think of a way to help a teacher that can't find her desk that would be great.

The only thing that's truly helped is collecting less papers. I only collect essays, projects, quizzes and tests now. I don't collect classwork or homework anymore. I walk around with my iPad with my nifty online gradebook and I give them credit on the spot. I do a lot of journal writing with my students and they keep them in the back of the room. I tend to only check those at the end of each marking period. I tell the kids how many entries they should have and I use a rubric.

I have my students make goals in September and we revise/update them in January when we come back from the break. I make them come up with 3 measurable goals that are attainable. We come up with both individual goals and class goals. My school likes to use SMART goals.

What are SMART goals?

•Well defined
•Clear to anyone that has a basic knowledge of the project

•Know if the goal is obtainable and how far away completion is
•Know when it has been achieved

•Agreement with all the stakeholders what the goals should be

•Within the availability of resources, knowledge and time

•Enough time to achieve the goal
•Not too much time, which can affect project performance

Click here for a free PowerPoint Lesson and a SMART Goal template I use in my classes.

I hope you have a wonderful new year. Good luck with setting goals for yourself and helping your students set their own goals.

6 Winter and Holiday Themed Activities for Your Secondary Classroom

It’s December which means one thing in secondary classrooms: everyone is counting down the days until winter vacation. It’s the time of the year when both teachers and students get restless.  You have gifts to buy, holiday menus to plan, decorations to put up, and parties you’ve been invited to. You’re being pulled in all of these different directions and you need to find some engaging activities for your students who have vacation on the brain. Here are some fun and creative things to do in your ELA classroom this holiday season: 

1)  Kindness Quotes Task Cards – These task cards are free in my TpT store. Each task card has a quote about kindness that students will interpret and respond to. This is the time of the year when we want to promote kindness. These task cards can be used for Bell Ringers or a writing center. These task cards can be tied in with different pieces of literature as well. I used these task cards with the novel Wonder by R.J. Palacio

2) Secret Santa - Traditionally a Secret Santa buys a gift for someone else but you can do this in your classroom with a little twist. You can have your students write letters instead of buying gifts. Instruct students to write letters to their Secret Santa telling him/her what they like about them. You can also have students give little hints so that the letters turn into a guessing game or a scavenger hunt. 

3) Winter and Holiday Themed Short Story Starters on Task Cards – These task cards are free in my TpT store. There are 12 short story starters included in this free product. This activity is aligned with the CCSS for grades 5-12. You can use these task cards in a variety of ways: 

  • Give each child a different story starters. You will have to do some repeats. They have to use that story starter as the first sentence (or in some cases 2 sentences) of their story. If you want to give them a page or a paragraph requirement it's up to you.
  • Give each child a choice of 2 or 3 short story starters. They get to pick which one they want to use. They have to use that story starter as the first sentence (or in some cases 2 sentences) of their story. If you want to give them a page or a paragraph requirement it's up to you.
  • Put students in a circle. Have them each write their short story starter at the top of the sheet of loose leaf and write for a set amount of time (3-5 minutes) and then they pass the story to the next person in the circle. That person then continues the story wherever the other person left off. In the past when I’ve done this the stories have been hilarious. Since I work with older students I have to lay down some ground rules about cursing and school appropriate topics. I had the students share them aloud when I used this method.

4) You can have students analyze holiday song lyrics. I often use song lyrics in my classroom when I’m doing a poetry unit. Many students don’t like poetry but they love music. You can have students just read the lyrics or listen to them and follow along. Students should look for figurative language in the lyrics.

5) Winter and Holiday Themed Writing Prompts on Task Cards. This is a product in my TpT store. There are 24 winter/holiday themed task cards in this product. Some of them are journal prompts and some of them are quotes for students to write responses to. You can pick and choose which ones you want to give to the students or let the students decide. You can give each student all of the cards, you can give each student one card or you can give each student a choice of two or three cards. It's up to you how you want to use them. This activity is aligned with the CCSS for grades 5-12. 

6) Watch clips from different holiday movies. This can be a standalone activity or you can relate the film clips to literature you've read in class. Here are a few activities you can do with holiday films:

  • Analyze the characters and review characterization with your students. Example: In A Christmas Carol, the character Scrooge is a round character whereas Bob Cratchit is a flat character.
  • Show your students an example of a movie review from a newspaper like The New York Times and have students write a movie review for a movie you watch in class.

Students are always extremely excited the day before the vacation so my school does a school-wide potluck lunch followed by a student/faculty basketball game. The potluck works because I work in a small school. This might not work in larger schools.

Book Talks vs. Book Reports

When I was a child I had to do traditional book reports. We had to read X amount of books and write a certain amount of words/paragraphs/pages about the books that we read. I've always been an avid reader but once in 6th grade I remember writing an entire book report based upon just chapter one and the summary on the back of the book. Those were the days before the internet and I was still able to pretend I'd read a book. Today it's much easier to pretend you've read a book.

How many books have students read for pleasure in the past year?

As an ELA teacher I give book talks pretty much every day. Students will ask me what I'm currently reading, if I've read a certain book, to recommend a book or to tell them about a book in my classroom library. Also every time I teach a new book I do a book talk before giving out the books. I give so many informal book talks it's like second nature to me.

Many of my students aren't readers and they hate public speaking. As teachers we need to figure out ways to foster a love of reading and try to help students get over their fear of public speaking.

When I started teaching I gave students traditional book reports. I wanted them to read more so we'd have the book we were reading as a class and then they'd have to pick one book to read independently each marking period. The problems are that 1) I didn't know if they were actually reading and 2) book reports are boring. They didn't like writing them and in all honesty I didn't like reading them. I wanted to foster a love for reading and book reports were not the way to do it.

A few years ago my school started having independent reading once a week in all ELA classes. As a department we decided which day to do this. Students could either read a book from the classroom library or bring their own. Obviously everyone reads at their own pace and everyone picked books of varying lengths. I didn't assign a due date but I told students that they had to do one book talk each marking period. I modeled a formal book talk using a book I'd read recently. I used the following format:

Title of Book
Number of Pages
Information about the author
Summary of the book ( a paragraph or two)
Connections to the book
Read a passage to the class and explain why you chose it.
Recommendation (Who would enjoy this book?)

After the book talk I asked the class if they had questions. After each student's book talk their classmates asked questions. Sometimes (not always) after a book talk other students wanted to read a book someone else had read. That never happens with a book report. The more book talks a student did (they sometimes did more than required), the more comfortable they got speaking in front of the class.

How often do your students visit the library?

I still had students that didn't love reading but I think that book talks were effective for many students. Even if you don't have time for independent reading during class, I think you should consider having students give book talks in class. It will help them with public speaking and the class will learn about a variety of books.

Seven Scary Stories to Read in the Secondary ELA Classroom

Halloween is my favorite holiday. I love watching scary movies on TV, I love planning which costume I'll wear this year to my friend's annual party and I love reading scary stories with my high school students. Whenever I think of Halloween I think of Edgar Allan Poe.

I used to always teach "The Tell-Tale Heart" which is one of my favorite stories to teach this time of year. We'd start the story and then all of a sudden a student will say "Is this the story where....?" and all of a sudden the entire story is ruined for every kid who hasn't read it yet. "The Tell-Tale Heart is a wonderful story but so many ELA teachers teach it that you're bound to have a student that has read and can potentially ruin it for others. This scenario has happened with "The Raven" as well. I used to teach "The Raven" every year on Halloween but a few years ago I started doing scary story writing instead because too many students had already read it. This is especially true on the high school level. For this very reason I started looking for other stories to teach. Of course I still love to teach Poe but I tend to stay away from "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Raven."

Below is a list of seven scary stories that I've used successfully in my ELA classes.

"The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe

My students really like this story even though the narrator who is both crazy and an alcoholic abuses a cat. They like that not only does the narrator get caught, but he gets caught because of the second cat. I've used this story with students who were already familiar with Poe.

"The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe

The one thing my students love about this story is that the narrator gets away with murder. Unlike the narrator in "The Tale-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat," this narrator gets away with it. They always wonder exactly what the insults were but that's where our imaginations can fill in the blanks. This story can be used with any high school grade.

"The Bad Babysitter" by R.L. Stine

Most of my students are familiar with the Goosebumps books so when I use a short story by R.L. Stine they get excited. Although this story isn't as gruesome as Poe's stories there is an element of magic and mischief that makes this story ideal for Halloween. (I don't want to give away too much for those of you that haven't read it.) I've used this story with 9th graders in the past.

"A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner

This is a story that I would use with either 11th or 12th graders. When I taught AP Literature and Composition this short story was in the textbook. This story isn't a horror story with gore but it definitely falls into the category of Southern Gothic. The entire story seems like a sad love story until the very end when find out that not only did she kill him, but she slept next to his dead, decaying body for years (the grey hair on the pillow). Other things (that I won't mention here) often come up in student questions when we get to that unique ending.

"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson

"The Lottery" is another story that is taught by so many teachers that you might run the risk of students ruining the ending. Despite the foreshadowing (the children gathering rocks, people being nervous about the lottery, etc) my students are always shocked by the ending. I always get questions about the setting and whether or not this story is non-fiction. This is definitely a story that students will remember. I've used this story with grades 9-12.

"The Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs

"The Monkey's Paw" is definitely a scary story and it even starts out on a stormy evening which you'd expect in this type of tale. I always enjoy the classroom discussions about our own three wishes. I usually do this story with upper grades because there is some difficult vocabulary in it.

"The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

"The Yellow Wallpaper" doesn't seem like a horror story at first. It's the story of a woman who is sick and her husband decides to rent a house in the country so she can recover. What happens in the house is what makes this story a Gothic tale. The language is difficult because the story was written over 100 years ago so I use this story with 11th and 12th graders. This story always brings up discussion about gender equality and traditional gender roles.

I have a free PowerPoint lesson in my TpT store for the poem "Barbie Doll" by Marge Piercy. I often pair up the poem "Barbie Doll" with "A Rose for Emily" or "The Yellow Wallpaper. Sometimes I do all three works of literature.

I usually teach two or three scary stories and then the week of Halloween I have my students write their own scary stories using story starters. In the upper grades we don't celebrate every holiday the way that some do in the lower grades but Halloween tends to easily fit into the secondary ELA classroom.

You don't need to have a fancy color printer. You can print in grayscale and it still looks great. 

For years students have been fascinated by horror shows, horror films and horror novels. Utilize this time of the year to read some stories that will appeal to your students. You can always tie these short stories into the longer works you teach later in the year. (Compare and contrast characters, what would the narrator from ________ story do in this situation,? etc.)

I hope you have a hauntingly good time in your ELA classroom this fall.

First Week Jitters

Everyone knows that your first year of teaching is tough. I remember being told that it gets easy after 5 years. Some things definitely get easier with time but it never gets "easy." Here I am with 17 years experience and I still think that September is hard. Most of my friends are teachers and all I've seen on social media for the past few weeks are people talking about having back to school nightmares. We're not rookies, why are still having first week jitters?

I always love the first day back. I'm not talking about the first day with the kids, I'm talking about the day we have staff meetings. When you've worked in a school for many years the first day is like a reunion with old friends. I saw maybe 4 of my co-workers during the summer. People are busy with their families, some work another job, while others go on vacation. The first day back it's nice to see all of the familiar faces and meet a few new people.

Then there comes the moment of dread....

How many classrooms am I in? How big are my classes? How many grades am I teaching? In a perfect world I'd know my schedule and my room(s) in June but I tend to find out that first day back. This is one reason why my classroom will never look like the classrooms I see all over Pinterest and I'm ok with that. With one or two days notice and anywhere from one to three classrooms I know my teaching environment won't look good until the end of the first marking period when it's covered with student work and anchor charts.

This is my old classroom and it took a lot of time to look like this.

One thing I've learned is that whether I'm teaching 9th grade ELA or AP English the first few days I need to get to know my students and obtain a writing sample. With 9th and 10th grade I usually do "Two Truths and a Lie" which is always a fun activity. I have the students write three paragraphs about themselves and two have to be true and one is a lie. They take turns sharing their paragraphs and we get to know each other and we have some laughs in the process. I always write about things no one would expect and the students always think that my true statements sound fake.  With 11th and 12th grade I usually have them interview each other and present their partner to the class. I think that presentation skills are important and many high school students have stage fright.

When my friends start having the back to school nightmares about coming to school without their lesson plans I remind them that with Google Drive that can't happen. Sure every year is different and every year has it's own set of challenges but one thing that I absolutely love about teaching is that every day is different. I don't have a 9-5 job that's the same day in and day out and I don't think I could be in an environment like that.

Are you new to teaching? Here's a freebie to help you get through those first few days.

We all have first week jitters, it's something we can't get rid of. Each school year is a new beginning. The start of something new is both exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. Have a great school year.

Why I Like To Teach Controversial Literature

When I was in 7th grade I read the novel Go Ask Alice. I was a naive young girl who grew up in the plastic bubble of suburbia. For me Go Ask Alice was a cautionary tale and to this day I've never tried drugs because of that book. The events that the main character went through scared the you know what out of me.

Five or six years ago I read the book 13 Reasons Why with a book club that I was in with some fellow teachers. I wanted to read the book because I had seen several students reading it and the plot intrigued me. After reading the novel I put it in my classroom library and added it as a choice when I did literature circles.

Although the book was on the best sellers list many years ago, the book is drawing a lot of attention (both positive and negative) because of the Netflix series. Some people think that the show romanticizes suicide and will give kids bad ideas. Yes the suicide scene in the show was shockingly graphic. I had read the book twice and I was taken aback. In the novel she took pills and in the show she slits her wrists. I read somewhere that this show was giving kids that are bullied instructions for killing themselves. I'm sorry but that's nonsense.

Maybe Hannah didn't know how to tell her parents. Maybe she thought that since they had financial issues, she didn't want to be a burden. Who knows? Maybe we can ask the author. Maybe like Go Ask Alice, 13 Reasons Why is a cautionary tale. Maybe the critics should focus more on anti-bullying and getting help for sexual assault victims. Did Hannah's friends turn on her? Yes. Did Hannah have a lousy guidance counselor? Yes. The reader/audience knows that she could have turned to Clay but she felt like she couldn't trust guys and to be honest you can't really blame her.

Many teachers are saying that they won't teach the novel because it's about suicide but these same teachers teach Romeo and Juliet which is in essence a play about suicide and death. What's the difference? Romeo and Juliet felt like they couldn't talk to their parents (just like Hannah). Just like Hannah, Romeo and Juliet killed themselves and didn't think about all the people they left behind. Not to mention all of the other people that died because of them (Tybalt, Mercutio, Paris and Lady Montague.)

Life is messy, sometimes friends suck. sometimes you have a teacher that's not trained to be a guidance counselor (in the book at least), and sometimes you feel like you have no one turn to. This doesn't mean that every kid that is bullied is going to pull a Hannah. Maybe it will be a cautionary tale and the depressed/bullied individual will be able to look around and realize that they do have someone they can trust and turn to. Maybe reading a book like this in class (even as independent reading from your classroom library) will help a student in need. I always find that teaching young adult books that deal with these types of issues bring up good class discussion. You never know when discussing a "controversial" topic that's in one of these books can help a student in need.

P.S. I have a friend from high school whose daughter has been bullied for the past 2 or 3 years. She attempted suicide and was hospitalized for many months. She's now in counseling and doing better. This friend watched the Netflix series with her daughter and she wrote on Facebook that she thinks that every parent and teenager should watch the series. The world isn't perfect, please stop being scared of "controversial" literature.

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. I'm not going to post a lot of statistics or photographs that will make you cry. I'm not a historian and there are plenty of sites for you to find that sort of information. I will tell you that I am the granddaughter of 3 Holocaust survivors and because of this fact I find it extremely important to teach about The Holocaust.

In a few years all of the survivors will be gone and as educators it is our responsibility to pass on their stories to the next generation. I have been lucky enough to meet many survivors over the years at The Jewish Heritage Museum. If you're in the NYC area you should definitely pay a visit to this museum. It's in Battery Park in lower Manhattan.

As an English teacher I find it very important to teach Holocaust Literature. In my school it's on the 10th grade curriculum. My students learn about World War II and the Holocaust in Global Studies so when we get to our Holocaust Literature Unit they already have some background knowledge. Sometimes they've already read The Diary of Anne Frank in middle school but that depends upon the school that they went to. I love to teach the memoir Night by Elie Wiesel because it's a real account and the narrator is about the same age as my students so I think they can relate to him.

A few years ago I had what my school calls a "repeater class." It was a 10th grade English class but the students all should have been in 11th or 12th grade. I decided that instead of using the memoir Night with them that I'd teach the fictional novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. I taught the novel and showed the film and my students were really affected by the ending. I won't spoil it in case you have yet to read the book or see the film but it's a Holocaust book so you know it's sad. You can pick whatever memoir or novel suits your fancy but I think it's important to teach our students about this devastating time-period in history

Shakespeare's Birthday

Every year on April 23rd (Shakespeare's accepted birthday) I write on the board next to the date "Happy Birthday William Shakespeare". Every year I get made fun of for this and I don't care. It's one of those things that I love to do.

Have you ever read a book and the language was so rich that you could read it several times and get something different out of it each time? That's how I feel about Shakespeare. I've probably taught Romeo and Juliet eight times but it never gets old. I could teach Hamlet every year and never get tired of it. When a story is that good, it never gets old.

I've worked with some teachers that refuse to teach Shakespeare. I've worked with other teachers that will use the Shakespeare Made Easy books. Those books are great for certain classes but I would never completely abandon the original language. Yes it's difficult, yes the play might take twice the amount of time to teach as another literature unit but I think it's worth it. I always say that no child should graduate from high school without having read at least one Shakespearean play.

The language is difficult but that's why we have footnotes, online summaries and nerdy English teachers like myself. Once you get past the language the stories are universal. Romeo and Juliet are two teenagers that want to be together but their parents say no. Hamlet is a kid that's upset that his dad died and his mom re-married quickly. Othello is about an interracial couple and all the problems that society has with them. Macbeth is about a guy that is greedy for power. I could go on but I think you get the point.

Here we have a man who wrote plays over 400 years ago with themes that still apply to our world today. How many authors can we say that about? I love many modern authors but I highly doubt people will be reading their books in 400 years. So for that reason and that reason alone I will always say Happy Birthday William Shakespeare every April and I don't know the birthday of any other author despite the fact that I'm an avid reader.

Poetry In The Classroom

Many students today dislike poetry. I know that I often hear grunts, groans and other sounds of displeasure when the aim on my board has the word poetry in it. I don't usually have an isolated poetry unit because I fear for my life. LOL just kidding. I don't have an isolated unit because I teach poetry all year long.

I incorporate poetry with every novel and play that I teach. I always find poetry that relates to the theme, the time-period, the genre, etc. Sometimes I'll do an isolated poetry lesson or two but I only do that if I don't want to start a new unit. (Example I end a unit a few days before Spring Break and I don't want to start something new.)

When I teach the play A Raisin in the Sun, I incorporate numerous poems including the poem by Langston Hughes that inspired the title of the play. When I teach the book The Boy in the Striped Pajamas I use poetry about The Holocaust. Before teaching any Shakespearean play I start with some of Shakespeare's sonnets. Without fail I always have a student that has never read Shakespeare and I like to read a few sonnets as an introduction to the language. Those are just a few examples of how I incorporate poetry into my literature units.

When I do teach isolated poetry lessons I try find "fun" poems that I think my students can relate to. One poem that I sometimes use as an isolated poetry lesson is the poem "Barbie" by Marge Piercy. It usually brings up some interesting discussion in class about gender inequality and the affects of bullying. I have a free PowerPoint lesson for the poem in my TpT store for this particular poem.

I always need to teach poetry lessons when I'm preparing students for exams such as the New York State Regents exam and the AP Literature exam. Both of those high stakes exams include poetry. I have another blog post about analyzing poetry. Click here to read that blog post.

I know that April is National Poetry Month and that many teachers dedicate some time this month for teaching poetry. I love poetry so much that I teach a little here and there all year round. I find that teaching a day or two of poetry here and there is tolerated more by my students than spending a full 3 or 4 weeks on poetry. I always get a student here or there that loves poetry as much as I do, but for the most part students aren't into the complexity that poetry sometimes presents. I hear comments like "Why can't the author just say what they mean?" Maybe your students are different than mine but I can only speak from my experiences.

Losing Weight While Teaching

I've struggled with my weight my entire life. I've tried every diet out there...Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Atkins, 21 Day Fix, Whole name it. I'd lose weight, I'd gain it back and then I'd gain it back and then some. Twice in my life I've gotten down to a size that I feel comfortable with (21 and 32) but both times I stayed at that weight less than a year.

When I started teaching I poured all of my energy and time into work. I stayed up until all hours of the night grading papers and writing lessons. I had no time for sleep or the gym for that matter. All I did was work. You don't need me to tell you how stressful teaching is and like many of us I'm a stress eater.

Early in my career I got 4-5 hours of sleep a night and sometimes less. Any doctor will tell you that to lose weight you need to sleep. I'm not a coffee drinker so I started drinking diet coke daily. I would even drink it before teaching. (The thought of having soda at 7 am now grosses me out but I did that for a long time.)

When I was 28 I was at my heaviest and I met a guy who was an athlete and we started dating. Through his encouragement I started going to the gym. At first I went one day a week (one of the weekend days) and then I went twice a week. After 6 months of working out I stopped losing weight so I joined weight watchers. At that point I was going to the gym 4-6 days a week. I was on the program for 3+ years and I was going to the gym on a regular basis. I was down 94 pounds on my 32nd birthday.

Shortly after that I sustained a serious knee injury and I had to stop working out. I was still following weight watchers and my first week out of the gym I gained 8 pounds. I was weighing and measuring my food and I gained weight. That led to discouragement and then I was completely off the program.

Fast forward a few years and I had some serious health issues that I'm not going to get into. After I was better I went to the doctor and to my shock and utter dismay I weighed even more than I had in my late 20's. Here I was 36 and I had tried and failed every diet I had heard of. My doctor basically told me I'd be dead in 10 years if I kept gaining weight.

Fear is exactly what I needed. So I started seeing a nutritionist. I had blood work done and my nutritionist designed a diet that fit my needs. A nutritionist is not covered by my insurance so I only went to her once a month. I cut out soda which was huge for me. I cut back on carbs and I ate more protein and vegetables. I started working out again slowly. It's much harder to lose weight in your 30's than it is in your 20's.

This is what I have been following for the past year and a half:
  • I eat at least 90 grams of protein every day 
  • I eat 5 servings of fruit and vegetables every day (I don't have more than 2 servings of fruit a day.)
  • I drink 6-8 glasses of water a day
  • I eat complex carbs (brown rice, whole wheat bread, etc) but I don't eat carbs with dinner or after dinner.
  • I take vitamins daily
I have a major sweet tooth and I eat sugar-free Popsicles and sugar-free jello when I have my cravings. They taste pretty good. When I'm in the mood for chocolate I have sugar free pudding.

I try to avoid drinks that are high in sugar but every now and then I'll have some juice to satisfy a sugar craving. It's better for me to have a glass of juice that has vitamins in it than a piece of cake or some other sugary treat.

I eat Oh Yeah protein bars after the gym because they are high in protein and have only one gram of sugar. I also eat almonds as a snack (raw almonds not the salty ones).

I go to the gym every Saturday and Sunday. When I have the energy (it varies) I go during the week. Some weeks I have way too much work and other weeks are better. I know myself. I know that if I go home after work I'll never go to the gym. So I keep my gym bag in the car. Also going straight after work is better because the gym is less crowded and if I work out too late I have problems falling asleep.

I'm far from perfect. Every now and then I indulge but I need to do this for my health. I love to cook but with a job that takes over all of your "free" time you can't always cook. I have a few solutions for that:
  • I cook a lot of meals that only take 20-30 minutes. I find tons of these recipes on Pinterest.
  • I cook a lot on the weekends. I have a lot of containers and I portion out meals. This way I have lunch or dinner ready to go. This also saves money because when I'm too tired to cook I won't buy take out. 
  • I use a crockpot. It's very easy to throw some ingredients in my crockpot in the morning and dinner cooks while I'm at work. There are a ton of healthy slow cooker meals online.
  • I make grilled chicken in bulk. I have mastered the art of throwing together a salad in 5 minutes. As long as I stick to a vinaigrette dressing and I avoid fattening things like croutons this is an easy fix for dinner or lunch.

I save money by cooking. I have co-workers that eat out daily. In NYC that's easily $10 a day. I have a Brita pitcher at home. Buying a filter every couple of months is cheap enough. Now that I primarily drink water this also saves money. Sometimes I'll add a slice of lemon or lime to my water.

I've lost 73 pounds in the past year and a half. I still have a long way to go but I'm not giving up on myself.

Things I need to work on: drinking more water, sleeping more and my sugar addiction.

I accept my flaws and I keep going.

Literacy Letters

When I was a kid I used to write letters. I guess it started when I was 11 and in sleepaway camp. I made friends that didn't live nearby and calling them was expensive. We didn't have email or text messaging back then. In some ways I miss letter writing. Now when I check my mail box it's either junk or bills. I used to love getting letters in the mail.

Last year I was talking to a friend of mine that I used to work with. She moved upstate and sometimes we chat on FB messenger or text about what books we're teaching and we'll share ideas, handouts, etc. We were both teaching Macbeth so we decided to do literacy letters. I had my students start. They each wrote a handwritten letter to a student about the book and then they shared a little about themselves. I read the letters before mailing a nice big envelope upstate to my friend's school.

It took time but I remember the day I got a big envelope and started handing letters out in my classroom. The kids were so excited to get handwritten letters from other teenagers.

We wrote back and forth a few times. Suddenly I started hearing that my kids were playing X-Box against her kids and they were friends on Facebook and following each other on Instagram. One of my students was concerned that a boy talked about owning guns in his letter (he was into hunting). I tried explaining to her that deer hunting was popular upstate. Being an inner city kid is very different from a kid from the country. I meant for my students to discuss literature and although the conversations took on a life of their own I found this assignment to be a success that I'd like to try again sometime.

Kindness Matters

Every year I do an anti-bullying unit. Sometimes I find relevant articles about teens who have been bullied, sometimes I show YouTube videos about bullying, a few times I've shown the film Bowling for Columbine because it discusses the possibility that the boys who did the shooting were picked on and bulled in high school. Many people teach anti-bullying units in October and just last year I learned about Pink Shirt Day which is in February.

Certain books that I've taught also lend themselves to discussing bullying in school. One book that I've taught 8 or 9 times is Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. In the young adult novel Speak the main character Melinda is bullied because she called the police at a party and a lot of people got in trouble for underage drinking. The novel traces Melinda through her entire freshman year and it deals with not just bullying but depression, rape and suicide as well. Another popular book that deals with bullying in schools is the novel Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I haven't had a chance to teach this novel yet but I'm looking forward to it. I think it will bring up meaningful classroom discussion.

Whenever I start discussing bullying in school I always have one student (or more) that says, "bullying doesn't happen in this school." Sadly they're wrong and I can list a few examples I've witnessed over the years.

Kids have always been cruel but it's gotten progressively worse with technology and social media. When I was in high school I remember seeing a senior knock some books out of the hands of a 9th grader. I heard some name calling but it wasn't anything horrible. I don't remember what year it was but I remember in the beginning of my career there were two seniors that broke up and apparently the girl had texted the boy a naked photo. He printed out many copies of the picture and posted them all over school with some words I won't be using in my blog but I'm sure your imagination can fill in the blanks. Her parents pressed charges and it would have been worse if they both hadn't been 18. The girl ended up transferring to another school to finish her last few months of high school. In NYC there are so many schools it's easy to transfer.

The 2010-2011 school year was the worst school year for cyberbullying that I ever witnessed in my career. A group of students (no one knows how many) started a Facebook group where students were prompted to post pictures and make fun of people in the school. Many girls were bad-mouthed for being easy (that's not the word they used) and other people were called ugly, gay, fat, etc. I'm sure there was more, I never saw the page myself. What I do remember is that there were 26 fights in my school in one month because of that Facebook group.

The worst of these fights happened right before Christmas Break and resulted in a security guard and an assistant principal getting injured. I had students arrested during that fight. I didn't witness it because I was teaching when we went into lockdown. The principal involved the police and they were able to trace the computer where the Facebook group was created. That one student took the blame for everything even though everyone knew it was more than one person that created that group. He was just the unlucky one whose computer was used.

Two years ago a similar incident happened on Instagram. One of my students created an account and she posted pictures of people in the school making fun of them. She was suspended for about a month but I don't think her punishment was harsh enough. I saw some of the printouts and she wrote some awful things and encouraged others to do the same.

How can we as teachers foster kindness in our classroom? We can show films, read books, read articles and hold discussions. The truth of the matter is, we have to lead by example. I go out of my way to be nice to everyone even if they're mean to me. I work in a poor area and many of these kids view kindness as a weak trait. I find that sad but I'm not changing who I am. I will always treat others how I want to be treated.

I created my Kindness Quotes Task Cards so that I could force students to think critically and analyze an array of quotes about being a kind person. I hope that these quotes foster a positive learning environment. I hope that the discussions that come out as a result of these task cards are meaningful. I've always enjoyed using quotes in my classroom.

The Kindness Quotes Task Cards are free in my TpT store.

I know that many teens today face bigger challenges than my generation did. We have to do everything in our power to try to lead them down the right path. Hopefully we can show them being kind isn't a sign of weakness and they should choose kindness.

Thank you The ELA Buffet and Desktop Learning Adventures for hosting this blog hop.

Playing Educational Games in The Secondary Classroom

Some people think that playing educational games in the classroom is only for elementary school. Some people think that with all the mandates from state exams and getting ready for college that the secondary classroom has to be boring to be rigorous.

I teach in the inner city and my students need fun and innovative ways to learn. Students today don't have the attention span that students had when I was growing up. You can blame technology for that. Although my generation had TV and video games, I was in the generation that went through high school without the internet and definitely without cell phones. Although technology makes life much easier I am thankful that I grew up in a time-period before it took over our lives.

For the most part my students dislike reading. One thing I have always done is create Jeopardy review games before unit tests. I used to do this by hand and write on my chalkboard (go ahead and laugh). When I got a smartboard in my room and all of a sudden I was able to take my teaching to the next level. I use the website to create my own jeopardy games. You can save them on your account or simply email yourself the link. I love this site. You can also find games on there already. You can create other games on that site as well.

The NY State Exam (The Regents) has literary terms on it. Literary terms are also part of the Common Core State Standards. My students have always struggled remembering these terms. This is why I always have a word wall in my room with these terms. Last year I created a Literary Terms Bingo Game for my 11th graders. We played it on a day before a vacation early in the year. I gave out free homework passes as prizes. The kids had so much fun that we ended up playing the game (by request) every time we had either a half day or it was the day before vacation. I ended up posting this review game in my TpT Store.

Jeopardy had always been my go to for review games but to be honest with some classes the game got too loud. Playing with two teams sometimes leads to students making fun of each other when they win. When playing bingo it's every man (or woman) for themselves. This school year I decided to create bingo games to review difficult works of literature. Since my students have always struggled with Shakespeare I decided to start with that. So far I've created bingo review games for five of Shakespeare's plays. They're a fun way to review characters, symbols and terms in the plays. I plan on making more of these review games in the future for other works of literature.

There's no reason why students can't have fun and learn at the same time no matter what age they are. 

Argumentative Writing and The SEE Method

The common core places an emphasis on argumentative writing. In NYC high school students take a city-wide exam every year called the MOSL (measure of student learning) exam and that test has an argumentative essay on it. The NY state exam (The Regents) that students need to pass in order to graduate high school also has an argumentative essay on it.

My students struggled with their writing no matter how many times we practiced this style of essay in class. I tried picking topics that were relevant to them:

Should cellphones be allowed in school?
Should students have to wear uniforms?
Should minimum wage be increased?

Finally another teacher and I came up with a mnemonic device that was easy to remember and it worked every time. We called this The SEE Method.

What is the SEE Method?

  • The SEE Method is just a way for us to remember what we need to include in each body paragraph that we write.
  • One reason why this method is so great is that it is easy to remember, plus it's short and to the point.
I keep this up on chart paper in my classroom: 

State Your Claim
Provide Evidence
Explain Your Evidence
We use the SEE method to help us craft arguments. 

 I hope that you can use this method to help your students with their argumentative writing.


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