Friday, April 30, 2010

Llamas, Zombies, Ninja Deer, and Chuck Norris

Today I had my students get into groups of four to compose sentences with complements. First they were to create a sentence with a direct object.

Example: James ate a sandwich.
Then each group was to create a new sentence using that complement as a subject and introducing a new complement, this one a predicate adjective.

Example: The sandwich was delicious.

In the next sentence, because an adjective cannot be the subject of a sentence, the groups used the complement from the last sentence to modify a new subject.

Example: The delicious juice is sweet.

Then the groups were to repeat the pattern with a sentence using a direct object. If they created a sentence such as "The sweet kitten scratched me," the object pronoun (me) becomes a subject (I) and the next sentence could be "I play soccer." They completed several rounds and recorded their sentences on a large piece of paper with markers.

For the most part, students successfully practiced using complements correctly, but as 8th graders often do, created some pretty crazy sentences:

“The happy llama met the sad llama. The happy llama was very dirty. Dirty llamas run the plains. The plains were filled with milk. The milk cleansed the filthy crias (baby llamas).”

“Brock killed the zombies. Zombies are tough. The tough zombies tasted good. The good citizens killed the zombies.”

“The deer ate corn. The corn was salty. The salty corn was delicious. The man hunted the deer. Dead deer taste delicious. The delicious deer tastes good with corn. The man attacked a ninja deer. A ninja deer is extremely dangerous. The dangerous ninja deer jump kicked Chuck Norris. Chuck Norris chin-punched the ninja deer. The ninja deer lost its ninjaness. The ninja deer is dead. Dead ninja deer have been revived to zombie ninja deer.”

And my absolute favorite of the day…

“Little Timmy danced a ballet. The ballet was difficult. Difficult ballets are little Timmy’s favorite. Susan, little Timmy’s mother, cried and covered her eyes in the back of the theater. The eyes were blue and filled with depression. Blue leotards are little Timmy’s favorite to wear on stage. Stage fright cowers at the sight of little Timmy. The children at little Timmy’s school tease him, but he doesn’t care. He refused to follow the narrow-minded rules of society. Susan has never attended a parent-teacher conference. Conferences always lead to uncomfortable situations and questions concerning little Timmy’s clothing choices. Clothing choices are important to little Timmy because he insists on looking fabulous. Important designer shoes are little Timmy’s most prized possessions and fill him with happiness.”

Ah, it’s May….what else can I say?

Monday, April 26, 2010

SMART User Conference Reflection

Saturday, I attended the first annual Central Illinois SMART User Conference (SMART Feast) held at the Bloomington Junior High School in District 87.  Bloomington Junior High is well on its way to becoming a SMART school, with Smart boards in most classrooms.  In addition to getting to play around with a SMART Table, I met some amazing local educators that are just as excited about integrating technology as I am. 

The first session I attended was entitled ENGAGE:  ENcourage, Grow, Achieve, Gain understanding, Expand - Using SMART capture tools in Grades 3-8 Classrooms.  Here, I learned about a few free websites used in conjunction with the capture tool on the Smart board.  The first websites are EduPic  and Pics4Learning.  both contain an online library of free photographs and graphics for educational purposes.  A really cool site is, which allows kids to create avatars of themselves.  The teacher presenting then used the capture tool on her Smart board to capture the avatars they created and made a seating chart out of them. Another really neat website is  You use the capture tool on your Smart board to capture any image you want and then import it into JigsawPlanet.  This site then breaks up your picture into a puzzle.  You can then recapture each individual piece to use on your smart board for your kids to manipulate. Another example of the capture tool was to simply use it to capture any image you discussed in class (bar graph, math problems, maps, etc) and use that exact image on the test over the material.  Another free tool discussed in this session was Wordle - a site used to generate “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. Finally, this session talked about KissYouTube - a site that makes downloading and importing YouTube Videos easier. 

The second (and best) session I attended was entitled "SMART boards and Web 2.0 tools."  The presenter was Jim Hollis, education consultant and author of a famous blog called "Teachers Love Smart Boards." He discussed how Web 2.0 tools are the future of education and showed us several fantastic tools highlighted in his blog. 

The third session I attended was on how to use the Smart board to teach 6 + 1 Trait Writing. The instructors showed a few premade notebook files where students used pull tabs to reveal editing marks...a waste of time and not worth mentioning further.

The final session was a networking session.  Here, I met an English teacher from Bethel Lutheran and quickly began discussing our language arts curriculum.  This teacher mentioned how it would be nice to network with other local language arts teachers to collaborate and share ideas.  As a result of this conversation, I went home and created a message board/ forum called the Tri-County Language Arts Educators (trila for short).  I hope this becomes a local learning network where 5th - high school level language arts teachers from Woodford, Tazewell, and Peoria counties come to talk about their craft.  So far, there's only member besides myself  (thanks Jeanenne!) but I hope it catches on!

The closing session was the prize giveaways.  Throughout the day, presenters handed out Bradfield Bucks that participants could put into drawings.  The prizes included a Smart board, response clickers, a Smart ELMO (all my bucks went into a chance at winning this one), best buy gift certificates, and much more.  I didn't win a thing, but walked away satisfied about the day.  Overall, the first Annual Central Illinois SMART User Conference was a success.  I hope to be in attendance next year!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Adapting the Four Blocks Literacy Model to the 52 Minute Class Period

This year, I formatted my language arts class based on a modified  Four Blocks Literacy Modelin attempts to create a balanced literacy program that meets the diverse needs of all my students. Although the true four blocks model takes place in a single block class session, I am forced to teach my blocks throughout the week within 52 minute class periods. In a typical week, we study these four basic areas of language arts: guided reading (Monday and Tuesdays), writing/grammar (Wednesdays and Thursdays), self-selected reading (Fridays), and working with words (Daily).

In the Guided Reading block, I choose material for my students to read, designate a purpose for the reading, and then guide them to use reading strategies needed for reading the text with the assigned purpose. I provide guidance focused primarily on reading comprehension strategies in a variety of whole class, small group, and partner formats.

In the Grammar/Writing block, I teach  grammar or writing mini-lesson that provide the students with a model of what good writers do. My students engage in various writing activities from starting a new piece, finishing a piece, revising, editing, or illustrating. Another component includes weekly conferences that lead to a final published piece. In the Author's Chair, students have the opportunity to share their writing and respond to each other's writing at various stages in its development.

In the Self-Selected Reading block, students have silent reading time each Friday to read a book of their choice at their own independent reading level. Students participate in the Accelerated Reader program in the 8th grade at our school, but do not require that their book of choice be an Accelerated Reader book.  I also conduct daily teacher read-alouds.

In the Working With Words block, students conduct a spiral study of Greek and Latin roots, as well as high frequency words we encounter as we read different texts. I chose the roots study to help my students better understand English vocabulary since more than 70 percent of English (and 95 percent of upper vocabulary) comes from Latin and Greek word origins.

In retrospect, this has been a great way to fit everything in that we language arts teachers must teach in the confines of a single school year, but at times I felt like the subject matter was disjointed. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Just Call Me the Post-It Queen

I LOVE post-it notes!  I have students use them in all shapes and sizes for a variety of purposes.  They’re not only a quick way for students to share ideas when working in collaborative groups, but they also help to add a bit of color to my otherwise white classroom walls.

Parking Lot

I got this idea from a conference I attended this summer.  I have an area on a wall in my classroom I call the "Parking Lot."  It's a place where students can "park" their ideas, concerns, or questions about my language arts class.  Here are some of the student responses from my 8th graders currently in the lot:
  • Can we arrange our desks in a big circle?
  • I dont' understand how to find an adverb when it's in between verbs.
  • How many AR (accelerated reader) points do we need this quarter?
  • I think we should read graphic novels for lit.
I then use this as a way to measure what concepts I need to reteach or just simply as a means to get ideas for class. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Internet Safety

Protecting Reputations Online Video

This video discusses the long-term risks of sharing inappropriate information on the Web. It encourages viewers to “think before you click” and offers tips for being responsible with photos, video and stories. Point include:

Why photos are permanent on the web

Future consequences of sharing inappropriate info

Tips for protecting reputations (personal and friends)

What to do when inappropriate info is shared


Today I found it necessary to have a talk with my students about cheating. Together we came up with this list to clarify the definition of cheating.

You are cheating if you:

1. Copy someone else’s work and claim it as your own.

2. Allow someone else to copy your work and claim it as their own.

3. Work on assignments with others when the assignment is meant to be completed individually.
4. Allow one person in a group do all the work for a group assignment and the other group members just copy down the answers.

5. Steal or otherwise view a test before it's given.

6. Write notes on flash cards, clothing, or skin to look at during tests.

7. Pretend you're sick on a test day and get the test questions from other students before taking the make-up test.

8. Use websites to purchase or get free essays/research papers.

9. Write down answers beforehand, get answers from other students, or help others students answer questions during a test.

10. Do not grade your own paper or a classmate’s paper honestly by marking answers correct that are wrong and/or changing the score.

11. Copy text, images, sound files, etc. from a website, paste it into an assignment or a personal webpage and claim it as your own.

12. Copy the ideas of another person and claim them as your own.

13. Turn in an assignment for credit in two different classes or school years.

Seat Pockets

With the help of my mother-in-law's superb sewing skills, I created seat pockets for each student desk in my classroom. I have five rows with five student desks in each row labeled with a number and a letter A1-A5, B1-B5, C1-C5, D1-D5, and E1-E5. I gave each row a different color seat pocket. This is an efficient way to form collaborative groups based on any data you wish (MAP scores, high-low reading levels, personality, etc). All the kids know is that they are in the purple group or is an A or a 4 that day.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Classroom Rules

As this school year draws to a close, I'm starting to reflect on my classroom rules:

1. Be in class on time and prepared (with supplies and completed homework).
2. Respect the rights and property of others.
3. Follow directions the first time they are given.
4. Raise your hand and wait for permission to speak.
5. Stay in your assigned seat unless you have permission to do otherwise.

I've had these rules since I began teaching in 2001. What is absolutely important for my classroom to run smoothly? Do I care if a kid gets up to sharpen his pencil without permission? Maybe I'll change it up a bit next year. I'll put it on my summer to do list.