Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tips For Helping Older Students Struggling With Reading

Every year students come to us who are performing below grade level.  We are charged with the task of catching them up; and, the farther behind they are the more ground we are expected to cover.  The stakes are high, and I’m not even talking about the relationship between job security and test sores.  Multiple sources from The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander to the new movie The House I Live In illuminate the link between test scores and incarceration.  So, yes the stakes are very high—especially for our students.  I have spent years working with students who are academically behind.  The needs I saw motivated me to go for special training in literacy. 

So, what have I learned?  I’m not going to offer you a magic wand, but here are a few strategies that I rely on:

  1.  Put high interest literature in their hands.  For high school students reading at upper elementary or middle school levels I like the Bluford series.  It is a series of chapter books about a bunch of students all attending them same school.  They sell for just $2.  Also, I've found male students seem to prefer comedy, horror and nonfiction.  They rush to grab up the newspapers and sports magazines.  They need to be reading a lot and the easiest way to do that is to give them something to read that interests them.
  2.  Teach word parts.  Students who have phonics skills, but poor vocabulary will struggle to read longer, unfamiliar words.  Teaching them word parts gives them confidence when approaching grade level vocabulary.  They learn patterns in the language and are able to define more words.
  3.  Don’t embarrass them by making them read aloud a text that they haven’t rehearsed.  The best way to get them to read is to have them read something that they have written themselves.  That way they will be totally familiar with the vocabulary because it is their own.  This gives them success and improves their much needed self esteem when it comes to reading.
  4.  Model, model, model.  Students who struggle do not know what good readers do (visualize, ask questions, predict, summarize, make inferences, etc.).  They need to see and hear what that looks like.  This includes reading aloud to them and modeling your thinking as you read.
  5.  Give them something to do when they read.  Many students have a hard time staying focused. Give them a reading they can mark up and a guide for what to mark up.  This will help them keep their mind and body (…well, hands at least) engaged.  If you can't do this, give them a graphic organizer.
  6. Don't give them a text to read independently if they can't read it independently.  This is huge.  Watch out for this pitfall.  You can calculate grades levels of text online if you don't know what it is.
  7. Teach them the parts of a textbook and have them practice navigating it for information.
  8. Let them work in groups to read and discuss.  The strategies I like the most are the jigsaw and reciprocal teaching.  Social engagement helps keep them focused.  Hearing explanations from a peer instead of a teacher also makes concepts more accessible to them.
Again, I don't have all the answers.  Far from it.  But, if this is helpful and you have any other questions or suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments section.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fun Earth Day Games!

Play games this Earth Day!

Earth Day is coming up in a week on April 22nd and this week is a great time to help your students become more familiar with Earth Day and teach them some new things about this important holiday. Games are a great way to help students learn basic information and new concepts. To help with that, I have two Earth Day games available for purchase on my TPT (Teachers Pay Teachers) store.

First is an Earth Day Memory Game. Included are 48 cards (24 pairs) of Earth Day terms and concepts. This game would work great as a center or large group activity but included are suggestions for a variety of playing options.

Earth Day Bingo is another great option to teach students about Earth Day scientific concepts and terms. I use bingo regularly and it is always a hit, even with hard to reach students. Classes often beg to play the game again and again.

Check out the previews to see if the games are right for you and keep us in mind on Tuesday for an article on using cheap and free recycled materials in your classroom.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Teachers Travel For Free

As a language and literature teacher, traveling to other countries is more than a personal interest of mine.  It is where I've honed some of the skills I need to do my job.  Some of my best memories and learning experiences come from travels to Mexico, New Zealand, Spain and other expensive destinations.  Obviously, money can be a barrier, but it doesn't have to be.  There are some great ways to travel for free.

#1: One of the most popular routes is to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship.  Numerous countries in Asia, Europe, and Africa offer scholarships to teachers covering travel and living expenses.  The experiences are designed to facilitate a cultural exchange and foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of others.

#2: Another option is to take a group of students on a trip with you.  There are a number of companies that organize trips for students.  Depending on the size of the group, teachers travel at free or reduced rates.

#3: Research the vast body of grants and scholarships available.  If doing a bit of traveling peaks your interest, take a few minutes to start doing a bit more research.  You never know where it could take you.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Using Recycled Materials in Your Classroom

Since Earth day is near I am re-posting this article from a few years ago that has some great ways to use recycled materials in your classroom.

Earth Day is coming up and it is a theme I use daily in my classroom. After having taught art in classrooms where the annual budget was sometimes zero, I have the motto that recycling is my friend and there are cheap and easy ways to be kind to mother earth.With more budget cuts in education, supplies are one of the first areas to go. Using recycled and free materials is a great and easy way to teach fun lessons without emptying your own pocketbook.

Where to find recycled materials? I collect some items throughout the year to use in my classroom and bring them in as I get them. Old magazines and newspapers come to mind. If I need something more last minute, I always ask and people are more than happy to share things that would normally go to the trash. Some cities and town may also have places that collect items that would otherwise go the the trash. Here in the Chicago area a great resource is SCARCE. I have gotten many great items from them that seem as good as new to me even though other schools decided there was no need for them. 

Here are some ways you can use cheap and free recycled materials in your classroom.


- Use newspaper torn into strips for paper mache. This could be used to make pinatas, planets, animals, and more. If you are on a very tight budget flour and water mixed make a very cheap paper mache glue. Mix it to the consistency of thin yogurt. Make sure it is not too thick or lumpy!
 - Use newspaper for covering surfaces when you are painting or doing anything messy in your classroom.
- Newspaper can be used as stuffing. I have seen newspaper stuffed in between paper to create 3-D looking animals and more.
- For a cheap origami paper, cut newspaper into squares.
- Use newspaper to create a pot for seedlings and plants. It is environmentally friendly and can be planted directly into the ground!

Cardboard Boxes

- I used these as storage when I had only a small cabinet in my tiny classroom that I had to share with another teacher. I piled two layers of cardboard boxes filled with supplies on top of my cabinet. I kept the supplies I used less often at the bottom and rotated the boxes if I needed to. To keep it looking nice I bought a very cheap piece of cloth that I used like a sheet to cover the boxes.
- Use cardboard as construction materials such as when making things like buildings, a puppet theater, landscape models, and more.

Tubes and Rolls

- I love using tubes (empty wrapping paper tubes) and empty paper towel rolls for many different things. One of my favorite projects is using tubes to make rain sticks! You can find my lesson for making your own rain stick here.
 - Empty tubes can also be turned into kaleidoscopes, imaginative periscopes, totem poles, vases for faux flowers and legs for newspaper animal bodies.
- Cutting tubes apart into rings can make beautiful designs that would be perfect for lessons on symmetry or geometry.

Other Materials

- Whatever you find you can make creative use of! In the photo at the top of this article is a finished product after having my students make things that have to do with nature using recycled materials. They used empty chip bags, soda cans, and whatever they could find and the results were great! This would make a great end of a unit type project. I also have a former colleague that auctioned these off during a parent night and gave the proceeds to an environmental organization. Great idea there!
- Use leftover plastic to create mock Chihuly sculptures with your students. They look gorgeous and the students will feel proud that they used recycled materials.

Please feel free to share how you use recycled materials in your classroom. I am always open to new ideas!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Jelly Bean Glyph Just in Time for Easter

The Jelly Bean Glyph is a great activity to use with your students this spring.  Your students will learn what a glyph is, make their own and analyze class data in this fun activity. They will begin by learning what a glyph is and how to use one to convey and analyze data. They will create one of their very own. Then they will look at their classmates' glyphs and analyze the data using fractions, percentages, and graphs (bar graphs and pie charts). They will have fun doing it. And, when they are all done, the materials can be turned into a colorful class bulletin board! Note: This is the advanced Snowman Glyph activity for 5-8 graders. (For the 2-4 grade version go to my store and check out the other Jelly Bean Glyph activity without the math.)

Want to know what some of my buyers think of it? One person wrote...

Another wrote...

This is fun get-to-know you activity which also assesses maths

For just $3, this is a great cross curricular activity.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Fabulous Freebies: Free School Supplies

There are a couple of hot deals for teachers that I want to share to help you get free supplies!

Half Price Books is having a Kids' Book Giveaway for educators and non-profits. You have to pre-register at least 24 hours prior to the giveaway event in your area. Locations and dates can be seen on their website and books are given away on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Staples is offering a coupon for a free ream of copy paper after easy rebate. Print the coupon from their coupon page when making a purchase. On their coupon page is also a coupon for 50% off a 10 ream case of paper, making each ream less than $2.75!

Enjoy these hot freebies!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

My Favorite Websites for Teaching English

I have a pinterest board dedicated to useful teaching websites.  Here is a list of my favorite ones to use with my English classes...

Poem Hunter will provide you with the poems from any number of poets.  I use it all the time.  Whenever I need to find a poem it is the first place I look.  It has short bios on a ton of well known poets along with online texts of their writings.  It is very handy.  The site is super user friendly and comprehensive.   is a website that allows students to make cooler versions of power points.  It takes them a class period or so to play around with it and figure out how to use all of the tools, but once they know how, they love it.  They can add videos, pictures, objects, colors, themes and pretty much everything else that they can do with powerpoint.  But, the visual effects are unique and fun to play around with.  They can save them online and share them with anyone who has an email address.  It is definitely worth checking out.

Purdue Owl is a great resource with a wide variety of writing tips.  The material is most appropriate for  students in middle school through college age students.  I use it all the time as a reference for how to create bibliographies and citations using MLA formatting rules.  Once my students have shown me they know how to format their bibliographic entries, I let them cheat by using

6 + 1 Writing Traits  is a well known writing, teaching and assessment framework.  The title refers to the traits in writing that we want all of our students to develop over time: ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, conventions and presentation.  The common language is useful in aligning teachers across contents and grade levels to provide united expectations of students.

Writing Fix and English Companion are websites that have a ton of resources for teaching writing and reading.  They include strategies, graphic organizers, etc.  They have a wealth of information and are worth perusing.

Finally, Grammar Bytes  has a wealth of grammar activities to help reinforce grammar rules with yours students.  The sentences are fun and contemporary.
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