Thursday, August 22, 2013

4 Young Adult Books to Engage and Inspire Girls

I've been working on "refreshing" my classroom library, and I want to share with you some terrific books I've come across.  There's always a lot of talk about how characters in books provide role models (either consciously or unconsciously) for students, can provide a window into a different world, and can provide a mirror into girls’ own lives.  I, for one, am a big believer in connecting kids to books that will instruct, soothe, and inspire.

Today's list is going to be specifically for girls because -- let's face it, being a teenage girl is not for the faint of heart!  I know some (actually, maybe many) boys will like these books too, but the boys will also get their own post on another day!

** I should warn that this blog post WILL include spoilers.  Sorry!  I will try to keep them to a minimum, but it's the best way to tell you about these books! ** 

Swimming to Antarctica by Lynne Cox
Do you want your female students to have strong, positive role models?  Meet Lynne Cox, distance swimmer extraordinaire!  When I started the book, I thought that "swimming to Antarctica" was metaphoric -- like achieving an impossible goal.  NOPE!  This poetic memoir chronicles Cox's swimming conquests around the world, from the Bering Strait during the height of the Cold War to the Nile River to (wait for it)... Antarctica!  Cox's tenacity, competitive spirit, and warmth is completely inspiring.  I couldn't put the book down, and -- although it is a challenging read -- the students to whom I have recommended it have loved it as well.  Lynne is certainly the epitome of what it means to be a female athlete! 

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Beginning high school is a stressful time in any girl’s life, but for Melinda, it’s a living nightmare.  Raped at a summer party, Melinda called the police, which resulted in many popular kids getting in trouble.  She refuses to talk about why she called the police and becomes the victim of relentless bullying.  As the year progresses, she sinks deep into depression, neglecting her studies, and refusing to speak.  When she begins to connect with her art class and an inspirational teacher, she finally finds her voice, learns to speak out about the rape, and even confronts her rapist.  It might sound like depressing fare, but Speak provides a very honest look at resiliency and empowerment.  This book has also won more awards that I care to list here. Trust me, it’s good!

Divergent by Veronica Roth
This book, which I can't stop talking about, is sort of like The Hunger Games for older teens.  Tris is a girl growing up in a future society in which teens must choose one of five "Factions" to join for life.  Each faction prizes a specific virtue: honesty, bravery, selflessness, peace, and intelligence.  When Tris finds out that she is "divergent," a special type of person with an aptitude for all five factions, she must choose a faction in which she will remain for the rest of her life.  Her choice is Dauntless, the faction for the brave (and possibly foolhardy).  During her initiation to the faction, she struggles to find her identity and establish friends, ultimately becoming romantically involved with another character.  As the plot progresses, Tris’ status as Divergent ends up thrusting her into the middle of a situation that may lead to civil war among the factions.  Tris is an admirable character -- courageous and strong, but also pleasantly vulnerable and flawed. Girls will definitely relate to her!  Bonus: It’s also going to be a movie in 2014, which is sure to motivate kids to read it!

Sold by Patricia McCormick
Sold is a National Book Award Finalist novel composed
entirely in snippets of poetry.  It provides a window into the life of Lakshmi, a Nepalese girl sold by her unsuspecting, poverty-stricken family into the sex trade industry.  Thinking she has procured a job as a maid in a fancy hotel, Lakshmi is brought to India and forced to work as a prostitute.  Obviously, this is not a book for 6th graders, but older students will have their eyes opened to some of the incredible injustices that girls face around the world.  In Lakshmi, they will find an optimistic heroine who triumphs over adversity – a young woman well worth their admiration. Also, contrary to what one might initially think, novels written in poetry are surprisingly accessible for struggling readers, as they have fewer words on each page, allowing students to progress relatively quickly through the book.   

I hope you and your students enjoy these books! Stay tuned for "Engaging and Inspiring Books for Boys" coming soon to a blog near you! :)

Happy reading!

Katrina, The Teacher Lady

Thursday, August 15, 2013

TpT Back-to-School Sale!

Drum roll, please! Do you feel the energy in the air today?  That happy feeling that's pretty much a mix between Christmas Eve and your birthday?  Not sure what I'm talking about?'s almost time for the Teachers pay Teachers Back-to-School Sale!  

In The Teacher Lady's shop, everything will be 20% off in addition to the discount given by TpT!

Let me highlight a few of the great products I will have on sale!  In the caption, I'll link to each product on TpT, so you can access them quickly and easily! 

My Ultimate Back-to-School Survival Packs will be 20% off!  They're already a terrific value, so this is truly a steal!

This Ultimate Back-to-School Pack is specifically designed for elementary teachers.  It has so much good stuff in it, and will also be 20% off in addition to TpT's discount!

I love graphic organizers!  They're so great for scaffolding students' success!  This bundle of 7 Characterization Graphic Organizers scaffolds students through the Common Core Standards having to do with characterization. 

I also have several Common Core Aligned Units that will also be 20% off in addition to TpT's discounts!  Here is my personal favorite: 

I can't wait to use this 3 Week Unit on MLK's I Have a Dream Speech!
My students sometimes tease that I have a card-sort for everything.  They're right!  Card sorts are a great way for students to demonstrate comprehension actively!
I've used this Point of View Card Sort every year.  Students match sample passages to the point of view of the passage.  It's a quick and easy way for me to check if they understand point of view without making them do a boring worksheet or quiz! This summer, I gave it a make-over with cute clip art!

Of course, I have some Social Studies Resources that will also be on sale.  Here's one that is sure to be a time-saver!

This Scavenger Hunt, which was actually created by my amazing AP Government teaching husband, walks students step-by-step through the US Constitution.  It's a great way to help them access a complex document!

Whew!  Those are just a few of the amazing things I'm offering on sale this weekend at The Teacher Lady on TpT.  Just imagine all the other resources available as well!  I can't wait to get shopping!


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Classroom Tour!

10 days ago, I walked into my new classroom (which happens to be in a 1970s-ish portable) for the first time.  Let's just say that it needed a bit of cheer.  Days of blood (not literally), sweat (yes, some), and tears (yeppers, a few!) later, and my classroom is just about ready to go!  Yippee!

Would you like a tour? Here we go!
Oh my goodness!  So much to do!  Thankfully, the kind campus foreman helped me haul all my stuff (and there was a lot of it!) into the room.
Lots of storage...but a
Clearly, I made a giant mess.  See that beige bulletin taped to the wall?  Stay tuned for its transformation!
Yeah for a window!  Also, yeah for hubby helping out in the left hand corner!
I moved the desk, bookshelves, and media cart.  I hoped to make my "teacher work station" a central place for all my stuff.  Moving the bookshelves closer to my desk will allow me to keep an eye on books coming and going from my library. 
Here's how my desk turned out.  Those of you who know me know that this is probably the neatest it will be...ever. 

Here's my organization station behind my desk.  The pennant is available in my Back to School Printable Pack and
The Ultimate Back-to-School Pack.   

New books with room on the shelf to add more throughout the year!  I organized my books by genre this year.  I think that will help students choose books in which they are interested. 

Remember that bulletin board that was taped to the wall?  I promised that it would undergo a transformation!  Here is its new identity as a word wall for my English 1/2 class!
The only other good spot I had for my word wall for my Read/Write 9 class happened to be occupied by a whiteboard.  What's a teacher to do?  No problem!  I covered the whiteboard, stapled up clothesline, and will hang my words by clothespins.  
Remember those drab cabinets?  First of all, they're fabulous storage!  Secondly, they're perfect for displaying all the terrific YA books that will become movies this year!  Kids love reading the book and seeing the movie!
Here's the front of my room.  On the left, you can see my Voice Level Expectations board.  You can read about it here. The rest of the bulletin board is for reading and writing strategies.  Don't you love the zebra print?  It's wrapping paper from Party City!
Here's my Student Center, including supplies, dictionaries, absent work, etc.  Yes, that is a paper-cutter you see on the table.  It will be removed.  There's no way I'm letting students risk chopping their fingers or arms off!
Remember that window?  I wanted to draw as much focus to it as possible!  I think the new drapes (made from fabric I bought for $2 at Goodwill) do the trick!  The pinwheels are so easy to make with some construction paper and a hot glue gun!

So that's it!  I think it's a big improvement, don't you?  I know that traditionally high school classrooms aren't so "decorated," but I can't for the life of me understand why not.  I prefer to work in a cheerful environment, and I think that most students learn better in a cheerful environment as well!

How is your classroom coming along?  Share pictures!


Monday, August 12, 2013

5 Back-to-School Activities to Break the Ice

Creating a safe classroom environment is so important at the beginning of the year!  In order create that positive environment, you've got to get students talking to break the ice. 

Here are a few of my favorite, tried and true ice breakers for getting students comfortable and talking!

The Paint Chip Activity
My amazing teaching partner, Nicole, and I have used this activity many times.  It's so easy and requires almost no time or money.

Here's how to do it:
Pick up paint samples from a home improvement store.  If you get the strips of paint samples, cut them apart.

Give each small group of students several paint samples.  Have students choose which color best represents their summer.  Have them share in their groups.  You can also take volunteers to share with the class.

Helpful Tip:  I like to model what kind of thinking I'm looking for prior to having students choose their paint sample.  I might say something like, "I chose Raspberry Delight" because I picked a lot of raspberries this summer.  It also reminded me of my summer because it's red, and I got a little sunburned at the beach this summer!" If you skip the modeling, I have found that students tend to say things like, "I picked yellow because it was sunny."

I Like People Who...
This is a great activity to help students see the similarities between themselves and their classmates.  Here's how it works:

Standing in the front of your room, say, "I like people who (fill in the blank)." As you do this, put your left hand on your hip.  Then, repeat this process with the right side, mentioning another person you "like."  Invite students to make a chain with you.  Encourage a student who has one similar "like" as you to link arms with you on that side, saying "I like people who (repeat your like) and I like people who (they make up this other like)."  Continue on until you've created a huge chain of students who share likes and interests. 

Question Ball

This activity is fantastic for kinesthetic learners, costs about $1, and can be used for a variety of different purposes throughout the year. 

Here's how to do it: buy a beach ball or playground ball.  I got mine at Dollar Tree for (you guessed it!) a dollar.  

Use a Sharpie to write the numbers 1-10 all over it.  

Create a question to go with each number.  

Here are the questions I use: 
1. If you could have dinner with anyone in the whole world, who would it be? 
2. Tell us about a talent you have. 
3. Do you have any siblings?  Are you the oldest, youngest, or in the middle? 
4. What is your favorite season and why? 
5. Would you rather be loved and poor or rich and hated?  Why? 
6.  What is your favorite subject? 
7. What kind of music do you like? 
8. What is your favorite book or movie? 
9. What are your hobbies? 
10. What is your pet peeve? 

Then, in a large group setting, toss the ball to a student.  Have the student tell you the number that is closest to his/her left thumb.  Read the question that corresponds to the number and have the student answer.  The student then can toss the ball to whomever he/she chooses, and the process repeats.

You can use your "Question Ball" for the rest of the year; simply swap out the get-to-know you questions with appropriate subject material questions!

Helpful Tip: Keep the questions pretty generic, since students will have to answer in front of the whole class.  You may even let students have a "pass" -- if they aren't comfortable with the question asked, you can ask a less personal one.

Snowball Fight

After the first time I did this activity with my 7th graders, a couple of students came up to me and said, "That was the coolest thing we've done at school!"  If that isn't a favorable testimonial, I don't know what is!  The best part is, this activity is so, so easy.  It takes no prep.  None. Here's how to do it: 

Have students take out a piece of paper.  Without writing their names on the paper, have them write down 5 facts about themselves that others may not know about them.  Then, have them crumple up the paper.  Set your timer for a minute and declare a snowball "fight," in which students can throw their crumpled up paper snowballs at each other for a whole minute.  Seriously.  It will be fun. 

Then, have students pick up the snowballs, making sure that every student has one snowball.  Have students uncrumple their snowball and read the facts. Then, tell them that they need to find the person whose snowball they have.  Once students have found their snowball's owner, they can write the owner's name on the top of the snowball. 

You can then have each person share the 5 facts on the snowball in their possession and have them tell whose snowball it is.  

Human Bingo

This is another quick and easy activity!  All you need to do is make a copy of a Human Bingo grid for each student.  (I have the one pictured to the left available here for $1.)  Then, you explain the activity to students: individually, they will look for classmates who have done certain things, such as visiting a mall, living in an apartment, visiting a different state, etc.  Once they have found a student who fits the characteristic, they write that student's name down.  The first one to get 5 student names in a row wins!

Helpful tips: I like to require students to ask a follow-up question, such as "Which state did you visit?" and have them write down the answer to the question as well.  That seems to spark better conversations and make it more likely that students will actually remember some of the facts they learn from their classmates. 

Happy back-to-school season!  Good luck breaking the ice with your new students!
-- Katrina, The Teacher Lady

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Voice Level Expectations: Saving my Sanity Since 2009!

My first year of teaching, I nearly lost my mind, but who didn't?

One of the things that tended to irk me (OK... I'll be honest.  It made me want to tear every last piece of hair out of my head) was the fact that somehow my typically wonderful and intelligent 8th Grade students didn't understand what I meant when I said to be "quiet."

You see, to some, "quiet" meant "silent."  To others, "quiet" meant any sound slightly less deafening than a sonic boom.  If I had a dollar for every time I barked, "Be quiet," I would be rolling in designer handbags by now!

During the summer after my first year of teaching, I did some serious reading and reflecting about my classroom management.  One of the things I realized was that I wasn't exactly sure what "Quiet" meant to me in my classroom, either!  If I didn't know what I expected, how could my 8th graders understand?

This is my Voice Level Expectations display for my 9th grade class this year. 
So, I hatched a plan.  I called it Voice Level Expectations.  It sounded ambitious.  It sounded serious.  It sounded like a sanity-saving machine!

First, I determined what voice levels I typically wanted in my classroom, and defined for myself what I meant when I requested each level.  From Day 1, I started drilling exactly what each voice level meant.  Silent means no talking, rustling papers, sniffling, tapping, etc.  Quiet means no sustained conversations -- only a whisper that one other person can hear. I planned activities at each voice level so that students could practice.  If students didn't adhere to my Voice Level Expectation, I stopped class and gave a quick quiz on what each level meant.

Then, I made a poster representing each voice level: Silent, Quiet, Partner Work, Group Work, and Celebration. I created an arrow to make it clear for students what Voice Level I wanted.

That was 4 years ago.  Know what?  It worked!  I no longer feel like I'm going to lose my mind!  I rarely have to "shhh" students or remind them of my expectations because it's crystal clear!
This year, I hot glued a clothespin to my arrow
so that I can easily clip the arrow to the correct
Voice Level Expectation.  Much easier than tape!

If you're interested in the printables to create your own Voice Level Expectations display as well as more information about how to implement it in your classroom, check out Voice Level Expectations by The Teacher Lady on TpT!

Hope your sanity is also preserved,