Using Mentor Texts to Teach Irregular Verbs

The mentor texts for these two weeks, Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes and The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, are similar in the sense that they are amazing examples of kids working through problems. Both books are easy to sell during the book talk because kids love books where students are handling conflict. I love teaching irregular verbs over the course of two weeks because the first week we learn what irregular verbs are and then do some practicing with examples. In the second week, we combine standard past tense verbs with an -ed ending, AND we also use irregular verbs in our sentences. We are still building on our work with action verbs/verbs of being and helping verbs from previous weeks.

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MCTE Middle School Teacher of the Year Acceptance Speech

Below is my acceptance speech from receiving the Michigan Council of Teachers of English Middle School Teacher of the Year Award at the fall annual conference in Lansing, MI. I so appreciate the support during the speech, and also the kind words that I received throughout the day at the conference. I would also like to thank Dr. Karen Vocke from Western Michigan University for my wonderful award introduction.

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Build Classroom Community with Where I'm From Poems and I Am Poems

I always end the first six weeks of school with narrative poetry. 1.) It is a mindset thing. I want to show the kids who don’t think they can write poetry that they indeed can write poetry. 2.) It is an excellent way to get to know students better. We may think we know each other after six weeks, but in reality, we have spent a lot of that time on testing and expectations. it is powerful to know our students and let our students know who we are as people. Cue Where I’m From Poems and I Am Poems. I use this form of poetry from George Ella Lyon each year to help build community and access important identity work. This post includes all of the assignment materials and my step-by-step process including mentor texts and a read-aloud.

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Using Mentor Texts to Teach Helping and Linking Verbs

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander might be one of my all-time favorite mentor texts. It could be because kids love the novel-in-verse format of this book, or the basketball theme, or the fact that they want to know what happens each quarter. This is an easy book to book talk because it just grabs kids. I love using this book to show helping and linking verbs in the present tense. This continues from the work the previous week where students identified action verbs and verbs of being. This lesson speaks to the easy conversational tone that we all have with each other on a daily basis. Kwame Alexander sounds like me. He sounds like you. This directly links to the ability to make grammar accessible because it is something we already know, we just have to know what to call the writer move when we make it.

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Bullet Journal: October Plan With Me

I love October. I fall for all things pumpkin and leaves and warm coffee. The inspirational books from this month were very deliberate, and yet they all sort of fell into place naturally. I am going to be reading Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes with my classes this month in preparation for her author's visit to Kalamazoo in November. We will be writing ghost personal narratives while studying this mentor text, and also learning skills in scene writing, dialogue, snapshots, and imagery. Some other things I am excited about this month:

  • My husband and my birthday are on the same day this month.

  • Michigan Council for Teachers of English is this month! I am presenting on mentor texts and receiving an award!

  • I am presenting in my district about mentor texts this month.

  • Jason Reynolds Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks comes out on the 8th!

  • The FIRST marking period of the year comes to a close this month.

  • The FIRST round of parent/teacher conferences is this month.

  • I speak at Western Michigan University to a group of pre-service teachers this month.

  • Happy Halloween!

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Using Mentor Texts to Teach Verbs of Action and Being

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt is our all-sixth grade read. Our district gave all fifth graders this book to read over the summertime, so they have a chance to have a common, shared conversation about a single text when they enter middle school. While not all students take part in the rising class read, all students are given books. The best way to promote this text is through a book talk. Often, I hear students say “I didn’t read this book over the summer,” and then they choose to pick it up after they hear it book talked. We can never forget the power of a book recommendation to our students. The goal for this small mentor text mini-lesson will be to show students the difference between verbs of action and verbs of being.

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Using Mentor Texts to Teach Simple Sentences

One of my big mentor text reflections from last year was that I felt like I didn’t spend enough time on the basic parts of the sentence. Things like subject, predicate, verbs, and adjectives. These are the things that middle school teachers are always teaching and re-teaching, but I really wanted to frontload these skills at the beginning of the year. There are so many variations in the English language, so I really want to encourage my sixth-graders to have a strong grasp of the simple sentence before moving forward. Even in my advanced sections where students have reading levels well into the highschool range, they were identified as struggling on identifying the subjects of sentences.

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The Writing Teacher's Guide to Sub Plans

I waited tables at a restaurant during college as many of my pre-education partners-in-crime did. I hated whenever I had to order something OTF or On The Fly. Why? Because immediacy demanded attention out of me, the cook line, and everyone else around me. I would dare say that the entire field of education operates under OTF standards. Everything is an emergency in education, yet there is no fear like the fear that sets in when sub plans have to be made. In my 105 Ways to Make the Most of Winter Break post, I remind everyone to schedule those sick days...even if you aren't sick. However, the ultimate fear of scheduling sick/sub-days-planned or not planned-is making sub plans. These lessons take hours, are a giant hassle, and sometimes will get printed or set up correctly, and then sometimes not. This post strives to give 25 different sub plan ideas for the writing teacher. These could be used for any teacher, but they are particularly helpful if you are an English teacher that focuses on writing. 

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50 Classroom Appropriate Songs to Listen to During Writing Time

I wanted to share these playlists because on Fridays, we do Friday Free Write. Students love to listen to music, but sometimes it also helps if we collectively have music playing overhead. I have two playlists in this post: Music with Words and Background Music. I included as many lyrics videos as possible because I feel like the music that we play in our classrooms is directly related to our personal tastes and the standard of what we feel is “appropriate.” I know my personal tastes in music are represented in my playlists. I did enjoy putting these lists together because it almost felt like I was a teenager burning a CD again. I tried to balance genres, but I tend to be heavy in R&B, Hip-Hop, and Soul. We sometimes have a “one artist” day like Michael Jackson and John Legend. Kids love listening to both current and old hits.

Please make sure you preview music before sharing if you are unfamiliar with the artist, genre, or song. While I would play the music on these playlists, it does not mean everyone would consider them appropriate.

Please make sure you preview music before sharing if you are unfamiliar with the artist, genre, or song. While I would play the music on these playlists, it does not mean everyone would consider them appropriate.

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Start a Mentor Text Routine in 3 Easy Steps

Sometimes the hardest part is knowing where to start. I want to start writing individual posts each week, so that people can follow along with my mentor text routine. It can be daunting looking at all my materials for the first time and thinking:

“How do I find time to read all of these books?”

“How do I teach kids to read like writers?”

“Where do I put this into my curriculum or pacing guide?”

“Can I really teach grammar with books on my shelves?”

The answers to these questions aren’t always easy, but they are possible. We have to make time to show our kids that books have the power to unlock the world of writing in front of them. We have to dedicate space in our own lives for reading because it is one of the greatest forms of self-care. We have to reconfigure our pacing guides to use these resources because we have to prioritize what matters. Figuring out what matters to me as a teacher has always been the struggle. I know without hesitation that the use of mentor texts has changed the way I do business in my classroom. Last year was a road trip of trials and errors, but those experiences and that time spent researching mentor texts was so worth it. Now, I also wanted to share what I am doing to help lighten the load on others.

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Make Your Classroom Better By Understanding the Four Types of Motivation

I wanted to open this blog post with ramblings of how motivation can change throughout the school year, but I decided against it because we all know the deal with motivation: It does what it wants to do. It can come, and it can go. We just have to decide how to fight back against the utter lack of motivation that presents itself in our own bodies and minds and in our students looking back at us in our classrooms. It is important to note the relationships between motivation, expectations, and behavior management as we establish norms for the fall and the beginning of the year. If we understand motivation, we can troubleshoot any foreseeable classroom management issues as well. If we make our lessons engaging and root our energy and enthusiasm in our delivery, we can help students access our expectations in a variety of ways. Because according to Gretchen Rubin, we all have different tendencies towards outer and inner expectations.

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Bullet Journal: September Plan With Me

September is one of those months that everyone has an opinion about. Either people love the start of a new academic year, or they miss the days of summer where things were a little bit slower and more carefree. I fall into both camps; it is a time to reminisce and a time to jump back into routine. September is about re-finding your rhythm. I love the inspiration from this month’s books, and also the idea of of holding onto the ideas of empathy, perspective, and adventure as I get ready to start year 10 teaching middle school.

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How to Complete an Article of the Week!

I wanted to review one of Kelly Gallagher's strategies called Article of the Week that has changed the game of teaching for me. I have tried every method of homework under the sun in the past 9 years. I have tried homework menus, homework assigned on certain days, daily five homework, grammar homework, reading homework, writing homework...and the list goes on. The main method of homework that works for my students and that remains genuine is Gallagher's Article of the Week. The Article of the Week or AOW incorporates the addition of useful non-fiction resources into the classroom, and also provides students with a method of increasing their reading performance and knowledge base. Students are taught skills and purpose with annotation.  I like to assign a new focus for each trimester while doing an AOW.

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Classroom Tour 2019: The Power of a Classroom Library

My classroom is all set to begin the 2019-2020 school year. As per usual, I can make this space as cute and as functional as I want, but it really needs to the kids to make it complete. I have done some minor additions to the layout this year, but I wanted to include some of my important areas just in case anyone needed ideas for their own setup. If you want to check out last year’s setup to see any changes, feel free to head over to that tour. My mission this year was not to get sucked down the rabbit hole of classroom design, but I wanted to improve the small details of my room that I struggled with last year.

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Using Mentor Texts to Analyze How Kids See Schools and Teachers

It might be an interesting experiment to pose some of these questions to your students this fall:

“How do you see your teachers?”

“What do you like or dislike about school?”

“What would you change about how school is setup?”

I bet we would get a ton of answers that would spark debate and some good-natured arguments. Another interesting take on these questions is to look at how school and teachers are represented in popular middle-grade and young adult texts. I originally started working on this post as a way to access narrative writing by looking at how authors portray kids’ thinking about schools and teachers. However, then I got to thinking about the bigger discussion we as teachers need to be having with our students. I am going to use this in my classroom as a way for students to talk about their feelings toward school and teachers, and then connect how they feel to what they want in their own experiences in education moving forward.  I want to keep in mind that these middle-grade and young adult texts are written by adults for young people, but some of their descriptions about school and teachers are surprisingly accurate. It would be interesting to cut up and put some of these passages in front of students to hear what they have to say.

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How Can You Drive Engagement in Your Writer's Workshop? Use Generative Writing.

I have been using generative writing in the writing workshop in my middle school classroom for years. However, I have been using it mainly only in ONE genre of writing: personal narrative writing. After attending a National Writing Project cohort training for C3WP (College, Career, and Community Writers Program), I realized that generative writing really is at the heart of all writer’s workshops because it uses the students’ interests and personal experiences to create the topics, provide the organization, and make the connections that are so necessary for engagement and comprehension. The answer to most things in education is coming back to the relationships and rapport we establish with our students, but these ideas are not new.

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Bullet Journal: Back to School Teacher Planner and Bullet Journal Setup (Year)

Get ready with me for the new school year! I love my bullet journal for keeping my general life focused and for daily morning pages; however, I am going to try to also use a bullet journal for my teacher planning this year. I end up always writing my teacher plans, dreams, and schemes all over the place. This could be in countless random notebooks, my personal bullet journal, and on my little clipboards. My goal is to put all of these things in one location-including my meeting notes-so the end of the year reflection will be easier and I will stay more organized. I also want to take much of my teacher planning out of my personal bullet journal and use that more for life goals, personal reflections, and other writing projects. I recently posted my August Plan With Me for my personal bullet journal, and if you don’t know where to start, here are some amazing Teacher Bullet Journals to follow on my Bullet Journal Round-Up Post. It is important to note that my spreads in this post are not all the way filled in yet. Once our calendar/contract are finalized, I can add in some dates and marking period cut-offs to my schedules. Also, like in my classroom, I like to leave some things blank because I find that there is something about filling things in as you go that is part of the bullet journal process. I think it encourages reflection at the end of one marking period to stop and reflect, and then go on to plan the next six weeks. I will post these as they are updated throughout the year.

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Diverse Texts Resource List: Listacles with Biographies

This fall I am facilitating a training on using diverse texts across the curriculum to help teach comprehension and raise engagement. While preparing for my training, I spent some time looking into activities that use diverse texts regardless of the assigned content area. The text Strategies That Work, 3rd edition: Teaching Comprehension for Engagement, Understanding, and Building Knowledge, Grades K-8 by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis is a great place to start because we all teach comprehension (we want our students to understand what we are talking about) and we all want engagement (attention and participation in the lesson). This lesson sequence uses a reading strategy that involves making lists into short, informal articles (LIST+ARTICLE=LISTACLE). I personally LOVE listacles and use them in blogging all of the time. However, I have not had my students make these short articles as a way to assess their summarization and synthesis skills. The text set I chose to go along with this activity focuses on biographies and narrative nonfiction. I wanted to include this type of text set because biographies connect to ALL content areas, and students can easily search out aspects of a person’s life or accomplishments as they learn the task. I have been busy reflecting on the areas in my classroom and instruction that need attention in regards to diverse texts and representation, and I definitely have some areas that will get my attention first when I enter my classroom for the fall.

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Diverse Texts Resource List: Brainstorming Questions with Princess Books

This fall I am facilitating a training on using diverse texts across the curriculum to help teach comprehension and raise engagement. While preparing for my training, I spent some time looking into activities that use diverse texts regardless of the assigned content area. The text Strategies That Work, 3rd edition: Teaching Comprehension for Engagement, Understanding, and Building Knowledge, Grades K-8 by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis is a great place to start because we all teach comprehension (we want our students to understand what we are talking about) and we all want engagement (attention and participation in the lesson). This lesson sequence uses a current event topic and marries the idea of diverse texts to encourage questioning. Participants will also get a chance to label and categorize questions to lead to further discussion. While I chose a current event topic and this particular text set, this strategy could be applied to a variety of topics or content areas. As teachers, we want our students to question the world around them to become better citizens. The fall is approaching quickly, and I am busy reflecting on the areas in my classroom and instruction that need attention in regards to diverse texts and representation.

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10 Criteria for Choosing Diverse Texts for Your Classroom

Can you hear me clapping? Can you hear me screaming in happiness? If you can't, imagine one excited English teacher from Kalamazoo, MI that is proud and excited her district is approving thousands of dollars in research to help infuse the curriculums and classrooms in it with diverse literature in grades Kindergarten through 8th grade. Currently, I am working on a team of teachers to read, research, and review hundreds of diverse texts. 

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