Tip for Sparking Conversation on Reading: Table Topic Cards

If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to spark conversation in your classroom around books, I love using Table Topics Cubes: Book Club Edition.  These people seriously should start paying me for all the times I’ve recommended them or given them as teacher gifts.

Whether it’s choice reading or a shared class novels, these cards work wonders for igniting informal book chats.  You can make either a slight investment of either your time—in creating question cards on your own—or with your school funds—however insufficient they might be to purchase the cards yourself.


Sometimes I have my students pick up a couple cards as they’re transitioning out of silent reading.  From there, we slide in to an informal book chat  with our small groups or writing prompt discussing our individual choice reading books.


If we’re sharing a whole class novel at that time, I have the students pick up a couple cards to use as “back up” during our whole-class/small-group discussions.  I always ask that the students come prepared with questions from the reading; however, we keep these back-ups as an arsenal in case someone else already asked our question and we need to keep the convo moving.


Tip for Teaching about the Race-Based Wealth Gap: Monopoly Roleplay

Q: How can I seriously fit a game of Monopoly into a rigorous, time-crunched curriculum? 

Each spring, as an entry event to my oppression unit—where we share To Kill a Mockingbird and discuss civil rights from post-Reconstruction to present day—I try to challenge the students’ assumptions about oppression (i.e. racism, sexism, class-ism, etc.) that exists today.  I’m not sure if it’s just the students in my rural school district or simply all fifteen-year olds, but my classes year after year seem to really struggle with this unit.  It’s not the content that is difficult to understand, but the “hidden curriculum,” if you will, is difficult from them to internalize.  For one, some of them naïvely think that once Dr. King expressed his dream, racism ended. Furthermore, they don’t see how past and present systems of dominance affect our current political, economic, and social landscape.

The Monopoly Roleplay, which I’ll explain shortly, creates a safe and uncomfortable simulation for students to experience some of the oppression that exists today, in particular how the race-based wealth gap impacts our society.

Q: What are the goals of this activity/unit? 

1. understand what oppression is
2. concede that oppression still exists today
3. not yield to pressures to discriminate
4. unlearn our own prejudices
5. work towards an egalitarian society

I know that I’ve modified the language in this list of goals, so I’m struggling to find the original source where I found it and apologize for the lack of citation.  Regardless, one of the most important aspects of this activity is to express our vulnerability and need to create a safe environment for all students.  A friend of mine always says that in order for people to experience true change, they must experience both discomfort and safety.  If we stay comfortable, we don’t feel a need to change.  If we don’t feel safe, we won’t take the risk and move towards change.  I always tell students that this particular set of goals get progressively more difficult to do as we move forward through them.  Depending on wherever each student is on his/her own life journey, each facing their own unique experiences, it’s important to explain that all students will begin and end in different places in terms of these goals, as much of this growth throughout the unit will be expressed through private, reflections.

Q: Where does this idea come from?

I will be the first to admit that this awesome activity is not of my own creation.  I originally learned about from an article in The Journal of Effective Teaching titled “Using Monopoly to Introduce Concepts of Race and Ethnic Relations.” When I was trying to find more information about it, I came across this description from Teaching Tolerance called “The Real Monopoly: America’s Racial Wealth Divide.”  They provide the most direct explanation, which I’m going to draw on below in the step-by-step directions.

Q: What materials do I need? 

Obviously, you’ll need a number of Monopoly games.  I didn’t want to buy a bunch of games, so I sent out a mass email to my district staff requesting boards. Thankfully, our Business Department at the high school has a bunch of them for one of their projects, so I try to communicate my borrowing requests with them in order not to overlap on our lesson plans.  To do the simulation, I set students up in groups of four, so you’ll probably need as many boards as this makes up with your particular class size.  If you can’t find this many boards, you could always operate the simulation as a fish-bowl observation as well.

Q: Okay already, how do we “play” this game?

Step #1: To start off the roleplay, I begin with a little fib: “Because we just finished our last big unit and you all worked so hard, today is going to be a game day.” Of course, they all cheer like we’re actually going to waste a day just playing games.  “But the thing is we have to make it a little interesting, so instead of playing by the normal Monopoly rules, which can drag a game out for days, we’re going to play a modified version.”  This always piques their interest.  At least a little.  I try to psych ’em up at much as possible, saying that it’s essential to be competitive and some trash talk is allowed. (Trust me: this makes for interesting reflection points later on!)

Step #2:  Before students get started with the game itself, we do a Quick Write on the following proposition: A good Monopoly player can be competitive even in a bad situation.  Since we’ve already created a community the loves debate, students have no problem arguing one way or another, trying to draw upon valid reasoning.  Certainly, if you have students that have never played Monopoly, they can substitute another multi-player, strategy game in its place.  The point is, I want them to lock down their original presuppositions in order to reflect upon them after the roleplay ends.

Step #3: I mix the students up however I see necessary at that point in the school year. Remember, we’re trying to create a safe yet uncomfortable environment, so all of the classroom community aspects need to be built up at this point. I can’t really imagine doing this activity at the start of the year when I haven’t gotten a good read on everyone and all their past interactions, but I’m sure y’all are rockstars are creating classroom community.

Step #4: Have the students set up the game boards and distribute the money according to the traditional Monopoly rules.

Step #5: As they’re doing this, I walk around to each group and number the students 1-2-3-4.  Sometimes, this is random.  Other times, it’s not.  You’ll see why in just a moment.

Step #6: Once everyone is all set and hyped up to go, I explain that their numbers correspond to different rules for each player.  On cue, I show the first slide (as seen below).  Student #1, which I try to assign to an easy-going kid that won’t mind taking notes, puts his/her money back in the bank and takes out a notebook and pen.  Once the Observers are ready, I share the subsequent slides.  Over the years, we’ve noticed interesting results from the observations recorded during the showing of the other students’ rules.  They always have really honest responses when they learn about their particular rule modifications.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Step #7: Once everyone has a clear understanding of their rules, we begin to play.  The game generally lasts about 10 rounds in my class period.  Oddly enough, my hope is that at least one kid in the room goes bankrupt before we finish.  I don’t like to extend the roleplay over more than one class period because it loses some of the effect.  While the students are playing, I walk around also writing down snippets of their game comments.  I also try to keep surging up the competitiveness of the room.  “Oooh, he snatched up all the good property and you still can’t buy any!”  Remember a bit of rowdiness is good here.  When I hear a particularly revealing comment, I try to get the student to elaborate on the feelings during the game: “Awww, man, how did that feel when she took all of your money?”

Step #8: Before the class period ends, I collect the students’ final bankroll amounts, grouping them according to each specific role, along with the Observers’ conversation notes.

Step #9: Following class, I review and sort the comments and transfer them onto our unit presentation. It’s important to remove any student names at this point.  Because we will be discussing them together in class, it’s important that the Powerpoint slides become a neutral, third-party point.  This will maintain safety during the sometimes uncomfortable dialogue.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Step #10: As a part of the discussion, I explain how these comments connect the struggle for Civil Rights across history. For example, like the Horses, Native Americans had their property confiscated by European colonizers. Like the Cars, most African Americans were not allowed to own property until after the Civil War – and even then, Jim Crow laws or biased business practices prevented them from buying property in many communities. We continue to discuss the concepts and reality of generational poverty and institutionalized oppression by close reading parts of this infographic on The Racial Wealth Gap.

Step #11: Students conclude this particular entry event by revisiting their Quick Write arguing whether “A good Monopoly player can be competitive even in a bad situation.” Students either rework their response based on their experience playing modified Monopoly or their further elaborate their original position with concrete examples from the game.

Each time I facilitate this experience for my students, I am amazed at the thoughtful and deep conversation that results.  I’d like to find more role-plays like this that promote empathy and broadening understandings.

If you have suggestions for other similar activities or modifications to this one, I’d love to hear ’em!

Tip for Teaching Vocabulary & Word-Level Comprehension: Word Chunks

Q: What are  Word Chunks?

They’re simply the Greek and Latin parts of words (i.e. prefixes, roots, and suffixes) that make up most words in the English language.  Kelly Gallagher and Kylene Beers both talk about teaching vocabulary or word-level comprehension by means of introducing students to these word chunks. Mike Schmoker, author of Focus, explains that the most effective classrooms “repeatedly practice and master…the 50 most common transferable word chunks…to build up students’ reading vocabulary” (2011, p. 104).  In other words, the highest performing teachers make time to introduce these word components to students.

Q: Why should I introduce my students to Word Chunks instead of just teaching them a list of actual vocabulary words?

If teachers reveal what’s behind these repeated Word Chunks, students will 1) have a better grasp of how the chunks make up the meaning of individual words and 2) they’ll also gain a deeper understanding of texts as a whole, because we all know comprehension is essential to the game.  And let’s be honest: not all kids have caught on that these chunks are repeated throughout our language; furthermore, they don’t realize the chunks have meaning on their own.

I always thought that my students would develop better vocabularies by just reading more. (Reading more is the solution to all the world’s problems, isn’t it?) And yeah,  they do learn more words, but only to an extent.  This indirect, cross-my-fingers-and-hope-type of vocabulary instruction wasn’t cutting it, especially for those kids that come from print-poor homes. The word poverty was so dense in my room that students needed serious rehab in order to get back on track.

Initially, I used a list of SAT vocab words given to me by my department chair.  Now, you see, we don’t use the SAT in Michigan, and “list” is a bit of a blurry word for this haphazard collection of overhead transparencies, each depicting a word with a punny cartoon drawing on it: “The condor is full of candor.” (If I actually could find the picture from all those years ago, you’d see a big ol’ bird swooping down to chop on some smaller creature whilst calling out, “Be prepared. I am going to eat you.”) I’ll just speed up the year of agony on this one and let you know that giving kids a random splattering of 100+ words—even if they did have cute pictures—didn’t really work.

Kelly Gallagher’s Word Attack Strategy: “The 30-15-10 List” (from Deeper Reading, p. 73)

Then <cue the cheesy music>, Kelly Gallagher walked in to my life, and a new intellectual crush was born.  Reading Reasons.  Deeper Reading.  Readicide. These books totally changed my understanding of reading instruction provided by my EDU 100-level courses.  

In terms of instruction, most reading/writing workshop teachers have pushed rote memorization out of the classroom; however, Gallagher says that it does have a place—albeit limited—in terms of memorizing the meaning of the most common word chunks.  He’s “not advocating some of those word dissection programs where students are asked to memorize hundreds and hundreds of prefixes, roots, and suffixes. The amount of time spent on these programs takes away from reading time, which is where the most effective vocabulary acquisition occurs. But students can benefit from knowing —that is, memorizing—some of the ‘staples'” (2004, p. 72). <<P.S. This don’t-buy-the-program talk reminds me of Teri Lesesne’s UNprogram post >>. Essentially, Gallagher says that if we want our students to comprehend the vocabulary in complex texts, they need to memorize the meaning behind the core chunks of most words.

Q: How should I roll out my instruction of the Word Chunks?

Gallagher provides 55 of the most common chunks in Deeper Reading: Comprehending Challenging Texts, 4-12 (2004). Like Gallagher, I dole them out to students five terms at time, snowballing the list slowly until I am convinced that they’ve mastered all of the terms.  For example, I might introduce #1-5 in the first week, #1-10 in the second week, and then stick with #1-15 for the third and fourth week, before adding another five terms in the fifth week.

Word Chunks Pre-Test on Google Forms

Initially, of course, I do a pre-test with my students.  This is very quick and informal, because I use Google Forms to create the quiz.

Get the actual document here: Word Chunks – Student Study Pack

After that, my students work from a document that I created, drawing on Robert Marzano’s research about best practice for acquiring vocabulary, which includes drawing visual representations and generating word examples that use the chunk.

Generally, we spend under ten minutes of direct instruction on this each week; however, my students could easily suck up more of our class time as they try to impress one another with more unique examples of the word chunk in practice. So, I caution you to be aware of this early on when you introduce this to your students.

As we move through the 55 terms, I do mini-quizzes about every other week. These quizzes gather the snowballed list in a varied fashion (i.e. the terms that we’ve mastered—or should’ve mastered by now—are absolute fill-in-the-blank and the newer terms—especially when we get later into the big list—have some matching word-bank options). These quizzes are combined with our Mentor Sentences study, so about half the quiz is on the Word Chunks and the other half is on our Sentence-of-the-Week. <<I’ll try to do another post sometime soon to share how Jeff Anderson helped me face my fear of teaching grammar by introducing Mentor Sentences to my students.>>

While it took me a little getting used to, this notion of having my students memorize a concrete list of terms, the impact on their comprehension is just so obvious.  I see the students independently applying the meanings during reading conferences or collectively grappling with the meanings across our curriculum. For example, during our Great Depression unit in U.S. History, they had a very lively conversation about the term “mortgage,” because “mort” means die or death: “Aaagh! It’s ‘mort’ because you’ll be paying the bank ’til you die!” Even the math and science teachers on my team say that our students use the word chunks to help define academic vocabulary in their classes. With that… what more could I ask for? 🙂

Lake Michigan Writing Project

For the last three weeks, I’ve been working as a fellow with the Lake Michigan Writing Project at Grand Valley State University. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll have noticed a crazy amount of #LMWP tweets, so you can probably tell–especially if you’ve participated in a National Writing Project Summer Institute–that these weeks have made some of the best new teacher friendships and powerful professional development experiences of all my years in education. I plan on sharing more details, once I have a chance to step back and reflect, but here is a glimpse of some of the #LMWP.

Tips for Getting Kids to Do More Choice Reading: Celebrate!

Some high school ELA teachers argue that there just isn’t time for choice reading.  They believe that students aren’t motivated to read outside of school.  Well, to that, I can only pass along my students’ pride and excitement:

How do you support your students as readers?  And what do you do celebrate your students’ reading successes?

Tips for Holding Students Accountable to Choice Reading: Reading Ladders

Reading Ladder Organization

Reading Ladder Organization

What is a Reading Ladder, and where does this idea originate? A Reading Ladder is simply a piece of explanatory writing where students rank the books they’ve read according to complexity, reflect on their reading habits, and make plans for future growth.  When teachers question how to hold students accountable to choice reading, this piece of writing is probably my favorite response.  For one, it is nearly impossible to fake, because it requires a ton of thinking that is unique to each student; furthermore, students practice such incredible critical thinking and literacy skills that it’s totally worth spending valuable class time grappling with it. 

Reading Ladder Student Example

Reading Ladder Student Example from Penny Kittle

I originally heard about this idea while attending a workshop with Penny Kittle at Hudsonville Public Schools back in February of 2012.  (Thanks, Steve and Karla!) She mentioned how she was inspired to push kids thinking forward by Teri Lesesne‘s Reading Ladders: Leading Students from Where They Are to Where We’d like Them to Be (2010).  At that time, I’ll admit hadn’t read Lesesne’s book, and we all know Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers (2013) wasn’t even published, so I had to do what teachers do and improvise.  Because Kittle really only mentioned it briefly in the workshop, I didn’t even really know what a Reader Ladder actually was, yet I knew it was good stuff if she mentioned it.  Thanks to this student example [see right] I found online, my students and I figured it out together.  (Now, for the life of me, I cannot figure out where this example came from! I really apologize that I can’t give credit to the awesome educator that shared it online.  Thank you whoever you are!) <<LATER REVISION: That awesome educator was, in fact, Kittle herself! Thanks again, Penny!>> With this mentor text, my students and I worked backwards, noticing what the writer did in each paragraph and then constructing a rubric that we imagined the student’s teacher probably required of her.  For a year, this worked just fine, and now, since Book Love has been released, Kittle has provided a really stellar description of how she uses Reading Ladders in her class (see pages 124-132).  Today, I basically do what she says, but the reason I’m regurgitating it here is to share my interpretations and variations with you and to show that it works with “real-life” students.

How does a Reading Ladder benefit student thinking?   When students construct Reading Ladders, they have to consider the questions “What makes reading difficult for you right now?” and “How will you work to improve?”  We all know the benefits of this kind of internal reflecting and planning conversations: they push students to evaluate their current habits and abilities while making goals for the future.

"The goal of reading ladders," writes Teri Lesesne, "is to slowly move students from where they are to where we would like them to be."

“The goal of reading ladders,” writes Teri Lesesne, “is to slowly move students from where they are to where we would like them to be.”

The students in my sophomore class have thankfully come from a highly supportive, book-lovin’ environment in ninth grade, but as they transition to tenth grade, we always talk about how important it is to “step up our game.”  From the first day of Humanities 10, they take on a new reading challenge.

Within in this challenge, we talk about how important is to consider all the evidence that proves they’ve grown as a reader.  They always say, “I just know I’ve gotten better.” Yeah, okay, that’s great!  I know that feels really good, especially for those developing reading.  Of course, I want to celebrate this good feeling, but this feeling isn’t always going to push them to the next level.  Sometimes, they don’t even know what the next level is.

Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, talks about how powerful it is for students to see intelligence as something more than a fixed trait.  Sadly, far too many kids think either you’re born a good reader or you’re not: “Reading was hard for me when I was little, so I’m never going to be a good reader.”  If they can embrace intelligence as a quality that can be developed and expanded (through grit and other character strengths), they are likely to show even more growth. Isn’t this just crazy-awesome?

One way my students begin to shift their thinking about intelligence is by analyzing their own reading data.  Of course, they take the ACT Reading prototype, and yeah, they also do the Scholastic Reading Inventory, and sure, they chart the books they’ve read, but individually these things don’t paint the whole picture of how they’ve grown as readers.  When they really look at all of these pieces of data combined with their own reflections, they are able to appreciate their progress, recognize effective strategies, and set new goals.

What process do my students take to construct their own Reading Ladders?  To start off, my students #1 compile a list of all of the books they completed and abandoned so far this school year.  Most of them keep track on their genre requirement chart or on Goodreads, but some of them forget to keep up with their record.  Often, they’re revisiting the shelves to look for titles they missed while I’m printing off their “Student Checkout Detail” under the reports section from Booksource’s Classroom Organizer, hoping that they actually remembered to sign out all the books that they read this year. <<Check out these posts where I discuss how I get kids to do more choice reading and how I organize my classroom library using this awesome resource.>>

Look here to find the page number on a Goodreads book profile.

As they list the titles, I ask that they #2 determine the number of pages that they read in each book.  They do this by either physically finding all of the books in our library that they read or by checking the page numbers on Goodreads website.

After they’ve done a bit of digging around,  I ask them to #3 calculate the average number of pages read per week.  Thanks to Kittle, all of my students can tell you that colleges expect students to read between 200-600 pages per week; therefore, we must develop our stamina as in order to compete with other students.  College is competitive, and if we want to succeed, we’ve got to practice daily.  So everyday, we work on reading for an extended time frame and with greater fluency.  I know that in Book Love, Kittle talks about recording students’ reading rates on a regular basis.  I never seem to have time for this, so instead, we talk about it regularly and try to track it at least once a trimester. Students calculate their reading rate by first adding up the total number of pages they read and dividing it by the number of weeks in that trimester.

Reading Rate Reflection

Reading Rate Reflection

Next, they #4 write their first reflection, comparing this reading rate with last trimester.  Before they get started, I model my own reading rate reflection.  Sharing my # of pages/week with them creates a common ground during reading conferences.  I discuss the obstacles that get in the way of my reading and how I try to get around them.

This reading rate calculation primarily helps students pay attention to the reading they’ve done outside of class, along with identifying areas of needed improvement, and celebrating gains.  I also ask students to discuss if/how they are challenging themselves, in preparation for the stamina and grit they’ll need in college.  Most are very honest if they are only reading in class,  a little here and there at home, or devoted to “stealing minutes to read” wherever they go. Whatever their habits are, sharing this reflection highlights that the choices they make have a significant difference in their later success.

These are the characteristics that one of my recent classes came up with to determine the complexity of a book.

As a class, we next #5 discuss what makes a book difficult. Over the years, I’ve done this a few different ways, but now I’m taking Kittle’s most recent suggestion by dropping a pile of books in front of a group. The title are mixed based on genre, level, structure, fiction/nonfiction, etc.  Students work together to re-stack the pile in order of text complexity.  As they’re debating over the characteristics that makes one book more difficult than the next, I walk around and write down some of their spoken statements.  We share our new book stacks with the other groups, arguing why they’re in the order that they are.  Because we have created an atmosphere that supports debate, other groups, naturally, counter-argue, providing alternative evidence. Together, we then discuss their spoken statements and all the qualities that come in to play when determining the complexity of a book. 

From there, students return to their earlier record of books and spend time #6 organizing the titles on the list from the least challenging to the most difficult and write a corresponding argument.  If this is the second or third trimester, students blend new reads in with their older reads, often annotating the new books with asterisks for the sake of clarity.  As with a lot of arguments, there may not be a “correct answer,” but as long as they clearly explain and support their thinking with quality evidence, I’m satisfied that they adequately reflected.

Following the “Why this Order?” paragraph, students #7 write mini-reviews of their favorite books. We spend time analyzing mentor texts to see what other book reviewers do. This year, my students really enjoyed analyzing the amazing YA Lit book bloggin’ work of Brian Wyzlic, of Wyz Reads; Sarah Anderson, of YALoveBlog; Jenn Fountain, of Fountain Reflections; Jillian Heise, of Heise Reads; Aaron Bergh, of Real Men Read YA, and Beth Shaum, of Foodie Bibliophile and Use Your Outside Voice.

As mentioned, the need for students to make plans for improvement is critical to their learning; therefore, each goal should be unique and individual to the student. Often these are derived from our conversations during reading conferences or students’ own awareness of their particular challenges. When #8 writing about their goals, they should be specific: “I will read 15 books by June. I will read at least one non-fiction book. I will read one Jane Austen novel. I will develop an at-home reading habit. I will….” This specificity will make it easier for them to measure if they’ve accomplished what they intended to do when we reflect next time. I also ask them to include a list of To-Read books, which contains at least a few titles that they want to read of increasing difficulty.  This is another great opportunity to do a teacher model. Throughout the year, my students start to learn about my reading challenges and goals, and this helps them see that we all have room to grow as readers. 

The last step that my students take is a new one for me, as of this winter. Kittle shares in Book Love that she asks students to #9 reflect on their reading in a short essay. Check out the assignment description and list of prompts she uses with her students.

I liked all of these prompts and will probably use them next trimester, but this time I wanted to use this moment as an opportunity to do some of that “Hey! Check it out! All these skills we’re learning actually cross over into other facets of writing.” So, we blended the reflection in our work with close reading and argumentative writing.  I gave them an Article of the Week from The New York Times Room for Debate series (I love this by the way. If you haven’t checked it out, it’s killer for studying multiple arguments of the same topic) where the authors argued why young adult fiction become such a phenomenon — even with older adults.  Students close read it, like any other week, following the AoW direction of Kelly Gallagher. Then, like all of our argumentative writing this year, students practiced using Graff & Birkenstein’s “They Say, I Say” model.  They argued their opinions, including both text-based evidence from the authors (“They Say”) as well as evidence from their own engagement with reading this year (“I Say”).  And because this Article of the Week was unique to blend it with the Reading Ladder, I did ask that include more “I Say” evidence than they normally would do in a typical AoW, mostly because I wanted them to do lots of reflecting on their own lives in order to really spur that growth.

In the end, I am always impressed with the thinking my students do as a part of their Reading Ladders.

What does a finished Reading Ladder look like?  The example below comes from one my actual students.  According to power data, this kid is about six grades below tenth grade proficiency.  I’m including it here because, although he struggles, his Reading Ladder shows really deep thinking and awesome grit.

Another Student Reading Ladder Example

Anonymous Student

  • No Right Turn – 256pgs
  • Forever – 178pgs
  • Othello – 154pgs
  • My Orange Duffel Bag – 202pgs
  • Jumping off Swings – 230pgs
  • The Great Gatsby – 189pgs

Reading Rate Trimester Two: 1209 pags / 12 weeks = average of 100.75 pages per week

Reading Rate Reflection: Reading is difficult for me right now mostly because of comprehension problems and lack of interest. My reading rate is relatively low comparing to classmates however 1209 pages in 12 weeks is fantastic to me that is probably more than ive read out of books in my life but i do understand i need to continue growing as a reader and open my mind to different types of literature i have found myself checking in new areas for books and really asking friends who know me best what they would recommend this trimester has been  much different with reading but the main goal from this point forward is to read at home more.

I have improved a lot more than i ever would have thought in the first week of school i came into this class thinking reading is not my cup of tea it made my eyes hurt looking at the pages my brain would pound after reading a chapter and i wasn’t interested in anything but it did not take long and i wouldn’t put some books down i’ve been reading more magazine articles and the newspaper every once in awhile also i started to really dig into deeper thought about what i want to read next and a lot of this growth in reading has given me a mental drive to write more which has always been my favorite topic in school until high school so over all  reading is advancing me in more places than reading.

Book Reviews & Text Complexity: No Right Turn was the easiest book i’ve read this trimester however it was my favorite. i was introduced to this book by Mrs. Beaton and i really enjoyed it i have even considered reading it again. what makes this book difficult for me was the parts when the main character would think back years time and talk about his thoughts but it wasn’t very hard to follow.

The second book would be Forever and this book is a great young adult book in my eyes and a great piece of literature at times the drama and “girl talk” could be hard to follow and the pregnancy issues were interesting to read about i really enjoyed this book because it was all high school drama and because i’m a 10th grade adolescent all i am surrounded by durring the day is highschool drama.

Next i dug up the book Othello this book was difficult not only because its a shakespearean tragedy but the form it was written in was a play format and i did not enjoy it in the beginning of the book however Mrs. Beaton had use act it out in class and we were assigned individual parts also when some words didn’t make sense, mostly fault of the old english writing, on the other side of the book a modern version was offered of the same play and this in the end really helped me grow as a reader that constant struggle with reading is not a good sign but i overcame that and finally started to understand the tragedy.

After that, the autobiography My Orange Duffel bag was new in this class and despite the elusiveness of me holding a book at this point i was first on the list to read it and i passed it up at first however Mrs. Beaton told the class a little bit more about it and i felt the need to give it a chance and i have to admit i really enjoyed it. The difficulty with this book was the few moments reading about his college football life and the only reason i claim this is because i’m adolescent not really a huge fan of sports “jocks” also have never had a true interest in football but this book is much more than that and i’m glad i got the opportunity to read it.

the next book can be argued the most difficult out of two but i really enjoyed it Jumping off Swings was an excellent book i think many young adults should read however the most complicated part with this book is the fact it is told from four points of view and each chapter is a different person’s point of view only changing between the four friends and how they see life drive by. This is a style of writing i am not familiar with however i was interested and would love to try it with a story of my own.

finally the hardest book i’ve read ever was this trimester The Great Gatsby however i was not a huge fan of this book but i think if i could totally understand it and compare it to the american dream and view any other perks it may have to offer i feel i would appreciate Gatsby a lot more and my respect would build

Personal Goals: I am more than satisfied with my reading rate and really appreciate the opportunity i have here in class to read like i do the past nine years of school i spent fake reading and  googling books however i am happy to say i don’t really do that anymore i am really enjoying reading in school i still struggle to read at home now and then but as one of my goals i will read 15 books this trimester and i will get there without gimping out on children’s books but on top of that i will start reading 30 minutes at home every night to strengthen my reading skills i may have got a late start on the reading and loving books but i’m glad it’s now and not never  really happy to see how blind i was up until this year when it came to books. Next i would like to read a nonfiction.

I’d love to hear how you’re using Reading Ladders in your classroom, so please share your ideas below. I’m always hungry for more student examples and variations of the process.

Why Do I Stay in Education?

This week, Beth Shaum is asking teachers the big question of why they persist “despite educational policies that are having a deleterious effect on good teachers staying in the classroom.”

Here’s what makes me stay:

Check out what reasons motivate teacher across the country in Beth’s video embedded below.

Then, be sure to visit her blog http://useyouroutsidevoice.blogspot.com/



Tip for Teaching the Great Depression: Economics Roleplay

What is a role-play, simulation, or re-enactment?  I’ve learned that within the realm of Social Studies instruction, teachers use these different names and varying twists on methods to help students come away with a deep understanding of cause/effect, sequencing, and historical appreciation. Basically, role play is a “learning strategy in which students act the part of another character, thereby gaining an appreciation for others’ points of view as well an understanding of the complexity of resolving issues and problems in the real world.” In fact, it’s worked so well that the Battle of Gettysburg is celebrating its 150th re-enactment this year. Crazy cool, right?

Why not just use the textbook? In my class, when it comes to the 1920s and ’30s, students could just memorize textbook bullet points of cause and effect; however, they still would have a difficult time coming to the somewhat abstract understanding of where the money goes.  It isn’t until my sophomores see the money actually moving around the classroom that they can ask these deep, quality questions, like: “If we had so much money during the ’20s, how’d people lose it all in the ’30s?” “Where did the cash that was invested in the stock market actually go?” “Why couldn’t we just print more money?” “If “cred,” like credit, means believe, are we seriously just running on belief?”

Why not just lecture? Aside from the fact that an interactive lecture on the foreign and domestic economic policies of the 1920s-1930s would take days upon days, I’m willing to open up here and say: I’m a History Newbie. Extended lecture–while probably what my kids will receive in AP and college–is something that scares me.  I’ve been teaching English for a number of years, but I’ve only been teaching U.S. History since 2011. Based on the teacher certification spread at my school, it didn’t seem likely that I’d ever teach history, and now I find myself in love with my two-hour Humanities block.  Essentially, I think it’s my growing confidence in social studies instruction that has helped me (weirdly enough) identify that in this particular unit–where there is a lot of confusion–students need solid interaction that goes beyond a lecture. 

How did you design this roleplay? I have to put out a disclaimer, this role play, like all of my curriculum, is always in make-over mode, so it’s bound to change and adapt over time, but I basically designed the roleplay from the “script” laid out in my textbook. I took the sections on the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression and shifted the paragraphs into actions and dialogue for my cast of students. This probably could be done with a lot units, but I don’t want to over do the roleplay option nor do I want to scaffold something that doesn’t need the breakdown.

Which characters are cast in this role play? — Basically, I started by gathering the cast of characters who are essential to the time period. When students come in to class, they randomly choose a Cast Card and find their way to their assigned desks,  which are labeled and arranged in my room based on the photo above. Some “characters” of course need more than one student to represent that role, like the U.S. Government needs two kids because there is some interaction within the government during the Tea Pot Dome Scandal, and other characters don’t show up until Act Two or Three during the New Deal.

  • President Harding (1)
  • President Coolidge (1)
  • President Hoover (1)
  • President Roosevelt (1)
  • U.S. Government (2)
  • French Government (1)
  • British Government (1)
  • German Government (1)
  • The Federal Reserve (1)
  • Bankers (1)
  • Stock Brokers (1)
  • Gangsters (1)
  • Social Activists (1)
  • Business Owners (2)
  • Upper Socioeconomic Classes (1) to show the 1%
  • Middle/Lower Socioeconomic Classes (#) to show the represented %
  • Farmers (#) to show the represented %

What kind of props do you need? — Before class, I prepare a basic set of props that help show the information in a concrete way:

  • “Beaton Bucks,” which is basically just a stack of fake cash that we pass around to buy products, pay off debts, invest in the stock market, pay taxes, and bribe government officials. TIP: It helps to have these lamented because kids are handling them for a few days. 
  • IOU Debt Cards to show installment buying, margin buying, and mortgage lending
  • 1920s Advertisement Products
  • Character Cast Cards and Desk Labels. 
  • Social Activist Protest Sign
  • Oil Reserves (we just use a bottle of hand lotion!)
  • Painter’s Tape and Masking Tape, which I lay out on the floor to represent the foreign and domestic economic policies.

How do the students actually move through the simulation? To move through the lesson, I act as “director” of a basic interactive lecture. Students “lazy act” just like we do during our reading of Shakespeare’s OthelloFor example, in one scene…

  • The citizens get up and pay taxes to the government
  • —> The US government trickles cash down to the businesses through tax breaks and incentives.
  • —> Business owners pass on raises to their employees.  
  • —> Employees purchase goods from the businesses through installment buying, stock from the broker through margin buying, and houses from the bank through mortgage lending. 

How do students take notes during the role play? I’ve tried a couple variations of notes during the role play. This year, we went with this “Game Board” method, and it seemed to work quite well. Students drew a mock-up of the “stage” across a double-page spread of their notes. Then, as we moved through each scene, they use different colors to represent different Academic Vocab terms. For example, the yellow line below represents Trickle Down Economics, the blue line is the Dawes Plan, the pink line shows consumerism and installment buying, and so on. 

How does the role-play inspire argumentative writing and debate? After each scene, students can review their notes to process them in another way. Often, we either stop to do a Quick Write or participate in a Pop-Up Debate, tackling one of our Essential Questions.  Some of the questions that I ask are as follows:

  • How might you evaluate Coolidge as President?
    • Consider his domestic economic policy, lack of social change, and foreign economic policy, known as the Dawes Plan
  • How did upper class citizens, middle/lower class workers, and farmers differ in regard to consumerism?
    • Consider the uneven wealth distribution, installment buying, margin buying, and mortgage lending
  • What were the primary causes of the Great Depression?
    • Consider the panic of Black Tuesday, the collapse of banks, the closing of businesses & unemployment, the rise in trade tariffs, and the impact on the global economy

How does the role play affect student understanding of current events? As we start shifting our conversation from the Great Depression to the credit crisis of 2008, the “stage” remains set according to the roleplay. We can then start to pass the money around simulating sub-prime mortgages and using leverage in investing. Ultimately, the roleplay makes these abstract and sometimes distant concepts become real in the hands of the students. 

How do you set up roleplays in your classroom? I’d love it if you provided links to roleplays, simulations, etc. that you’ve done with your students or offered suggestions for my lesson (Seriously! Challenge me. Raise my consciousness.) Hopefully, we can create a plethora of resources for one another.

Tips for Getting Kids to Do More Choice Reading: Classroom Library Organization

Tools for Classroom Library Set-UpThis video is part of the teacher tip series, “How to Create Book Hype.” In this video, I’m discussing how to increase the love around choice reading by organizing your classroom library in a way that will support your students’ access to books. Every teacher organizes his/her classroom library in a way that suits their style and needs. Through trial and lots of time-wasting errors, I want to share what I do now to help both me and my students do more reading.

Q: Where do you get most of your books?

A: My books have come from a variety of awesome blessings. I have purchased a large number on my own, mostly through discounted methods, such as public library book sales, the used shelves at a local bookstores, and used Amazon books. Next, I use DonorsChoose to draw on the amazing help of all those generous souls out there. I was really reluctant to use this method originally, because I didn’t want to beg my friends and family for money. I do post an occasional request on Facebook every once in a while, but I have to say that my cousin showed me that there are people out there looking to donate to causes where they can see their funds actually make a difference. This has been amazing. Following those avenues, I write a number of various grants and place requests from my district.

Q: Where did you get your book shelves?Classroom Library

A: My large shelves came from a local video store that was going out of business. Along with a few of my teacher-friends, we scooped them up for a good deal. All we had to do was the tear-down and assembly, which my engineer husband did. (Thanks, Matty!) While it’s sad that Netlix is squashing these local businesses, we teachers can benefit from these awesome shelves. I like mine because they’re tall (sometimes too tall for my lil’ high schoolers), tilted, and not too deep. These attributes make accessing books easier for my students.

My little classroom library during my first year teaching

Q: How do you label your books?

A: I use genre labels from Demco, reinforced with a strip of packaging tape. I mark my last name on the edge of the book. This helps lost books return to my classroom. I also write the reading level on the inside of the first page; since my students have a basic understanding of Lexile levels, I use those.

Q: What is your student check-in/check-out system?

Inside our defective binder check-out system

A: When my library was still small, during my first few years teaching, I had a binder system. Each time kids checked out books, they wrote their name, the book title, and date. When they returned it, they’d place the book in a basket, find their original sign-out date, and record the return date in the binder. Then, I spent far too much time re-shelving the books and updating the binder. This was a major waste of time. I tried to employ “class librarians,” however, sophomores–like me–have a lot better ways to spend their time. Our former binder check-out system

Now, we use Booksource’s Classroom Organizer. We’re lucky to have one-to-one netbooks in the Tech 21 Academy; however, I can see how if this were not the case, I would still use this resource to check-in and -out books from my teacher computer. To view a tutorial on how to get set up with Classroom Organizer, check out the video below.

Since this organization process is all about getting more books into the hands of students, I’m curious. What do you do ease the access to books for students?

Tips for Getting Kids to Do More Choice Reading: Book Speed Dating

Book Speed DatingFlirt, woo, and start a relationship with a book!

This video is part of the teacher tip series, “How to Create Book Hype,” wherein I discuss how to increase the love around choice reading by doing Book Speed Dating in class with your students. This activity can be modified for at any grade level, even though we compare it to the high school dating scene of checkin’ out potential love interests. I generally do this activity on the first day of a new class, mostly as a way to introduce students to my classroom library and choice reading expectations.

Q: How do I get my students started? 

A: Since this activity works no matter the size of your classroom library, you can start in a couple different ways.  If your library is still growing or you want them to speed date with a specific genre/topic, I’d begin by pulling all of the books off the shelves and arranging the desks in a circle.  Personally, I like to use this structure when we’re beginning a new history unit or after we’ve received a recently fulfilled Donors Choose project.  If I want them to speed date with all of the books, like on the first day of class, I have the kids pull books themselves, but I ask them to grab a specific blend of genres. 

Q: Other than books, what do they need to speed date?

A: Anytime my students are speed dating (or participating in any kind of book talk, for that matter), they take out their To-Read Lists. I have these pre-printed and always up-for-grabs in my classroom, so if a kid fills their list, they can get a new one independent of me. My To-Read List provides space for students to quickly jot down the title, author, genre, and basic story-line gist. This helps kids find books that we previously talked about. I don’t know about your students, but mine continuously say, “Mrs. Beaton, what’s the name of that one book you told us about a few weeks ago? You know, that one where <insert vague comment here>.” This also falls under Donalyn Miller‘s Reading in the Wild idea about teaching kids to always have a reading plan.  It’s great when you’re conferring with kids and ask what they’re planning to read next, and they respond by saying, “Oh! I’ve got like five good things on my To-Read list!”

Q: What does Book Speed Dating look like in action?

A: Once students have a book stack in front of them, we do a mini-lesson on how to flirt with a book by checking out the body of the book: the cover, awards, author blurbs, copyright page summary, etc. At this, without fail, my high schoolers start joking about “how good the backside looks” on each book.

From there, it becomes a free-for-all. Students either work through their self-collected stacks or start passing the books around the circle.  Some kids either know their tastes so well or are stuck in a reading rut that they super-speed date. My students often tease these kids saying they have “commitment issues.”

Generally, the pass-around starts to slow down when kids find titles they don’t want to share. The goal isn’t necessarily to get through all the books but to increase the exposure to titles they might not randomly grab off the shelves on their own. We always save time to not only talk about those “love at first sight” titles and our “potential future relationships” but also to re-shelve the books.