Monthly Archives: May 2014

An Open Call to Discuss Blogs and Blogging

As a relative newbie to the blogging world, I wonder how to create conversation among colleagues. Although I have the opportunity to work with colleagues each day, as an instructional coach, much of my work is responsive to their needs. I look at blogging as an opportunity to engage others in my own professional interests and learn from them.

As a blogger, I am still finding my voice and my community. I understand that, like every new endeavor, time and practice make all the difference.

I want to begin a conversation in the comments. Here are a few questions I have:

1. What are your favorite blogs, and why do you return to them?

2. For what reasons do you search out blogs? Practical advice? Inspiration? Research?

3. What advice would you give to aspiring educational bloggers?

5 Young Adult Classics that are Still Relevant Today


In honor of #IReadYA week, I wanted to share a few of my favorite young adult novels.

The stories in young adult literature encompass the important questions about life itself. So many “old” adults read young adult novels today because they explore the complex questions we grapple with as humans and as society.

Here are five young adult novels that transcend time and place by connecting with universal human conflicts.

1. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton


Widely recognized as the first young adult novel, The Outsiders still connects today. S. E. Hinton wrote the book when she was sixteen years old because she didn’t see any authentic portrayals of teenage life in the novels she read. Although some of the slang, wardrobe, and technology (what’s a drive-in movie?) are dated, the novel’s exploration of conflicts between greasers and socs demonstrates the impacts of classism and poverty, which are extremely relevant today. Most importantly, I have seen so many students fall in love with this book; many state that it is the first chapter book they have ever read from beginning to end as pre-teens or teens.

2. Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling


The Harry Potter series is a titan in the publishing world. The ongoing saga of Harry and his friends at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has hooked both young and old alike. These books are just so entertaining, and they have great scaffolds for struggling readers (an interesting illustration at the beginning of each chapter to aid predictions, a formulaic sequence in the earliest books). As an adult, I hang on to every word of advice that Albus Dumbledore gives Harry, and I feel like he is speaking directly to me and what is happening in my world. That’s powerful. Also, the novel demonstrates that even the most wonderful people and places have darker elements. We either continually fight this darkness or we surrender to it.

3. The Giver by Lois Lowry


Jonas, the protagonist, is selected to be the Receiver in this futuristic novel. As the Receiver, his job is to acquire all knowledge of human history from the Giver. In his society, ignorance of the past is bliss, but Jonah learns that knowledge empowers a person to have liberty over his life. Students’ jaws literally drop when they discover what it means for people to be “released.” So does mine. If you like The Giver, there are companion books (Gathering Blue, Messenger) set in the same reality.  Is it better for individuals to challenge the status quo, or be complacent and happy living in a world controlled by “others?”

4.  Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli


One needs to look no further than Stargirl Caraway to see someone living life on her own terms.  She carries around a pet mouse, plays her ukelele in the halls, and attends the funerals of strangers. She is certainly an individual, which makes her a target for students who are preoccupied with conforming.  A fellow student, Leo, is entranced by Stargirl, and the two begin a relationship. Although he loves her, he feels pressured to conform. He eventually convinces Stargirl to do the same, and she eventually must choose to be true to herself or please Leo. The novel connects with many students as they are shaping their identities.

5. Holes by Louis Satire


Holes is such an engaging, interesting read that appeals to both voracious and struggling readers. Stanley Yelnats is wrongly incriminated for stealing a pro basketball player’s sneakers, and he ends up spending his summer at a desert work camp with a group of “juvenile delinquents.” The story interweaves flashbacks from three separate time periods along with the present action to explore the family histories of Stanley and his friend, Zero, as well of the story of Kissin’ Kate Barlow and Camp Green Lake. Much of the novel explores the influence of fate versus choice in the way our lives turn out.

The Vocab Games: Flyswatter

All you need to play this fun game is two flyswatters, a whiteboard, whiteboard markers, and a vocabulary list.  I first observed this game in a colleague’s Spanish class, and it remains a favorite for world language teachers.  However, excitement about it has spread, and I now know science and CTE teachers who also regularly play it.


The game is simple.

Write a series of words that your class has been studying on different spots on your whiteboard.  If you have a BenQ , Smartboard, or projector you could also project them from a computer file (such as PowerPoint or Word).

Divide your class into two large teams. Have one representative from each team come to the front with a flyswatter.

Provide an example, definition, or clue for one of the vocabulary words.  Once students determine the word, they slap it with the flyswatter. Whoever’s flyswatter lands on the word first scores a point for his or her team.  The defeated player leaves, and the “winner” selects a new challenger from the opposing team.

This routine goes on until all words have been discussed or until a pre-designated score has been reached.

This is a video of Flyswatter that a teacher has posted on YouTube. 

At first, I thought that many students would not been engaged during this game, since only two players are doing the actual swatting. However, I’ve noticed that students really enjoy watching their peers play, seeing whether or not they know the words, and anticipating of when they might be called and what word they will be asked to determine.

I have only used a Flyswatter a couple of times, but, as I said, many of my colleagues love it.  Have you used Flyswatter before? Would you do it again? What do you do differently from what I described in this post? Please share your expertise in the comments.

The Vocab Games: Dinner Party

Dinner party is a fun game that you can use to expand vocabulary. The game develops students’ word consciousness by having them explore the morphological patterns between words.  Morphology, or teaching students to recognize the spelling-meaning connection of roots and affixes, has been proven to be enhance students’ vocabulary acquisition more effectively than using context clues alone.

Here is how you play Dinner Party.

First, create sets of cards with words that feature the target morpheme.  For example, one set might  focus on the root cand:  candidincandescentcandle, and candidate.  Another set could have pend, pens words:  pendantpensive, appendage, and impendingWords Their Way is a great source, but you can also find many sets by just Googling “words with ______ root.”  Make sure that you have at least one card for each of your students.

Here is a photo from one set I created for a recent game.  It featured nat, which means “birth.”


Now that you have all of the cards, simply shuffle them all together.  You will hand each of your students a card, and you will ask that they find “guests” who have similar cards to their own.  Once students begin to find one another, they are to sit down for their “dinner party.” They will then discuss what their words have in common.  This discussion should lead to students understanding the meaning of the root.  In addition, they begin to see how the root has literal meanings in some words and figurative meanings in others.

One of the best aspects of Dinner Party is that it is inquiry-based. Students discover meaning by connecting the new words to words they already know. In addition, it provides students with opportunities to move, which can increase engagement. Dinner Party can be a short activity, or it can be expanded upon by reshuffling the cards and playing again or by students sharing and teaching their word groups to the class.