January 13

Upcoming Holiday

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is on the horizon and I’m sure some folks are planning lessons to coincide with and commemorate the holiday.  So, I thought I would share some resources and ideas…

Why not have students analyze the persuasive concepts used in King’s Letter from Birmingham City Jail or I Have a Dream speech?

Students could also read the text of those documents and use it as a mentor text.  Students could brainstorm to come up with topics they feel passionate about persuading someone to agree with their perspective on or allow them permission to do.  Then, write their own letter or speech.

Students could access The King Center website and read the draft of King’s I Have a Dream speech and compare important changes that Dr. King chose to alter or omit completely.

Students could consider the focus of King’s I Have a Dream speech and write a speech focusing on their own dream for national or community change.

Students could compare the script of King’s speech to the video of the speech and analyze the similarities and differences.

Excellent resources for supporting student studies focused on this topic:

The King Center

Discovery Education

Teaching Tolerance

National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel

Corporation for National and Community Service

Education World

NEA Classroom Resources


January 9

Bowl Games

Do you remember the old television program College Bowl?  (Yes, I know that I’m giving away my age!)

Well it came to mind recently when I got a news feed from the U.S. Department of Energy.  They were encouraging middle school folks to participate in the Official National Science Bowl (NSB).  There is a special webpage for NSB Middle School Coaches.  What a resource!  There are sample questions, strategies for success, sample score sheets, a video with coaching tips, and other helpful hints.

What a fabulous educational strategy!

Why wouldn’t such a concept work in any content area classroom?  Wouldn’t it be great to set this up as a center for student rotations?  I can see it being a valuable resource for introduction of terms or vocabulary, practice while learning new concepts, or review before a summative assessment.  It would be a fabulous way to provide remediation or enrichment for students.

Why wouldn’t this work as a way to get students to contribute to our curriculum?  Students could formulate the questions that are compiled for use in the competition.  These questions could be collected using a Google Document or a Google Form.  The teacher (or even a designated student) could then edit the document or spreadsheet to remove duplicate questions.

I’d bet a teacher could also use a tool such as Socrative.com as a way to deliver the questions to students by creating a quiz with the compiled questions.  The questions could be posed to a panel of students who represent different groups of students in the classroom.  Then, the panel participants would have automatic ‘cheerleaders’ who would be encouraging and supporting the student.

Who says all competitions have to be athletic?  Why couldn’t we host academic contests?  Students could form teams and compete with one another in an intermural-type format.  They could have larger competitions that are hosted during the lunch hour.  Then, no teaching time is lost and students are still learning – even those who are not competing will observe, absorb, and learn.

We love television programs like Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader, The Chase, or Jeopardy.  We try to answer the questions before the contestant and test our knowledge.  Why not implement this practice in our classrooms or school-wide?  Sometimes simple things that are tried-and-true like College Bowl from the 1950s bring back the fun and challenge of learning.

January 8

Baby It’s Cold Out There!

I enjoyed the song by that title probably more than I should have during the recent holiday season.  I seem to like most every version and artists who recorded it.  The lyrics never fail to bring a smile to my face, either.  The truth today is that it really is cold out there!


I’ve been in a nice warm classroom all day and now I’m dreading stepping out the door and sitting in a cold truck till I’m about half-way home and it is warm.

On days like this a good thing to do is to focus on the topic and let it guide our lessons.

The teacher I worked with today used the wintry day as a topic for writing.  She simply wrote on the board: Will a snow day ever come?

Another teacher used the negative temps as a springboard for her math lesson.

The science teacher down the hallway asked students to make a conjecture about how the cold temperature would impact a recent experiment they had conducted.  Then, students created hypotheses for more science experiments which were weather related as a springboard for her weather-related lesson.

The social studies teacher was out due to water problems at his home.  However, the lesson he emailed in for the substitute focused on Chinese dynasties and the reflective question was asking students to determine the season of the year for an event in Ancient Chinese history based upon the facts they learned in class.  Then, students were to write how they thought a change in weather – primarily temperatures like we are experiencing here today – would have impacted the event.

The music classes had a weather focus, too.  The school started off with electricity issues and we began the day with a generator because of local electric transformer issues.  So, the music classes were moved into the main building from the nearby theatre building.

What kind of lessons did you use with a weather focus relating to our frigid temperatures?


January 6

Best list of reading response questions – ever!

Do you expect your students to read outside the classroom?  If so, how do you hold them accountable for their reading?  Looking for an alternative to the traditional book report?

I love the ideas found in The Best List of Reading Response Questions Ever.  The ideas and questions are absolutely fabulous.  There is such a large selection!

The Caffeinated Librarian also shares an excellent way to use the student responses. Students were expected to keep a reading response journal.  The teacher used their posts when conferencing with students and pulled questions from the student posts.  I’m sure that really helped to assess student understanding, comprehension, and knowledge about their books.

How would these be assessed, you ask?  Here are some example rubrics:

Setting high expectations is important.  Holding students accountable for rising to those expectations is important.  Making reading something that is reflected upon and shared in a discussion is important.  By taking these simple actions, we are preparing students to perform well when writing responses on high-stakes tests and in performing with accountability in the workplace.

January 5

Reading Assignments

How do you handle reading in relation to your class?

Are we encouraging or assigning reading?  Do we attract the flies with honey or turn them away?

One simple way to do that is to share what we read with students – even if it is a simple sports page article or editorial.

One of the schools I support has a faculty lending library.  There are all sorts of books to be found there…biographies, professional teaching books, best-selling novels, audio books, and more.  Folks simply bring in books they read and found interesting but didn’t want to keep and borrow something other folks brought in to read.  There is no check-in/check-out system.  There is no date stamping.  There is no monitoring at all.

I have heard several groups of teachers at that school discussing what they are reading or making recommendations based upon what they have read.  Sometimes these educators will have in-depth discussions sharing their opinions and sometimes there are simple book talks where a person gives a brief overview and opinion.

I wonder how many of us have ever done that with students?  I wonder what impact something like that would make if we took a few minutes to provide such an opportunity for students during class…  I bet that would only take about ten minutes if we provided that time during class once per month or once per week.

One school even bumped up their reading discussions/recommendations to a more formal level.  They have a book-a-week posting near the coffee machine that is close to the shelves for the lending library.  Originally the book-of-the-week posting was a simple sticky-note recommending a good book. A few days later there was another note responding to the original posting.  At this point, folks sign up to post about what they recently read and there is a book-a-week posting with a waiting list of recommendations/opinions of folks who will offer the next ‘book review’ right there near the coffee machine.

Why not do something like this in the classroom for students?  The teacher could start things off and students could contribute.

Just how do you handle reading in relation to your class?  Are you taking the catching flies approach?