Tag Archives: middle school

Grammar Book Give-Away

I saw some interest in my post a week ago on Maupin House’s Giggles in the Middle: Caught Ya! Grammar with a Giggle for Middle School. Seems a lot of teachers have been struggling with the “how to teach grammar” and even the “should I teach grammar?” issues.

Maupin House just announced that they’ll give a copy of Giggles in the Middle: Caught Ya! Grammar with a Giggle for Middle School to one lucky winner. Just visit their site to see how to enter (so many ways to win!).

But Keith, I already bought the book! You said to! Well, in that case, Maupin House has generously agreed to let the winner choose any other book from their wide array of original titles for teachers. I’m thinking of grabbing a copy of Amazing Hands-on Literature Projects for Secondary Students and Razzle Dazzle Writing for myself .

All entries must be entered by Thursday, February 25th at 11:59 pm EST.

Good luck, folks!

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Grammar Instruction Made Easier

Want to start a fist fight among middle and high school teachers? Ask them how you should teach grammar. Don’t believe me? That was the topic of a recent conversation at the English Companion Ning. It runs for over five pages! Even after reading what so many experienced and intelligent educators had to say, I have to admit, I’m still confused.

But I did chime in. The first paragraph of my response read as follows:

Most recently I’ve taught grammar in context of real literature, but then I began to realize that not only was I missing some key concepts, but some students by their learning natures were not seeing connections. I really needed a program that was more systematic, recursive, and explicit. Wow. I didn’t realize that was what I needed until I just typed it. (Lesson to be learned: writing can create thinking, as well as vice versa).

A colleague warned me that I should be careful what I wished for, since I probably didn’t want a program that was systematic, recursive, and explicit. But, oddly enough, that’s what I do want, and that’s what I feel is needed.

Unlike reading, which is open to many interpretations, grammar actually functions by certain rules. Some of those rules must be understood before others (hence my emphasis upon systematic). I also know from years when I looped (from third to fourth), and more recently when I taught my former fourth graders as sixth graders, grammar rules are often forgotten, or need to be retaught in context of more difficult literary contexts (hence the recursiveness). And yes, I feel that grammar needs to be explicit. In the same way that mathematicians share a universally understood vocabulary, so should readers and writers. When discussing a piece of writing, for example, even a third grader should know what is meant by “the writer’s use of specific adverbs.”

So how can we teach grammar in a way that is not only systematic, recursive, and explicit, but also creative and engaging? Jane Bell Kiester seems to offer one solution in her Giggles in the Middle: Caught Ya! Grammar with a Giggle for Middle School. Using daily correction exercises, middle school students can dramatically improve their knowledge of grammar, vocabulary, and writing structure.

But how are these daily exercises different from other types of daily corrections? First of all, Giggles in the Middle is one continuous story, which helps to increase student engagement while providing meaningful context. Secondly, the exercises focus not only on grammar but also vocabulary development. A third difference is that this program integrates creative, original writing, with a new Writing Idea offered every three to four days.

In the Caught Ya approach Kiester offers a lot of teaching tips, having used and tweaked this program in her own class for many years. She also discusses a number of variations to the approach which teachers might want to adopt, depending upon their individual preferences and student populations. In all cases, however, emphasis is upon students understanding not only what is wrong, but why (see this sample student Caught Ya).

The book includes enough Caught Yas for sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. Each day’s passage is presented with errors, corrections, and explanations of those corrections. Teachers with limited knowledge of grammar will find all the information they need to teach the lesson with confidence. The books also includes “almost midterm” and final exam tests, should a teacher choose to conduct summative assessments.

What I like best of all is that all exercises are included on an enclosed CD. For teachers who routinely use interactive whiteboards, or for those who need to print out exercises for absent or special needs students, the CD is a real timesaver.

If you’re looking for a grammar solution that delivers results, I suggest you check out Giggles in the Middle: Caught Ya! Grammar with a Giggle for Middle School or, for the high school crowd, Chortling Bard: Caught’ya! Grammar with a Giggle for High School. Need more convincing? Read more about the Caught Yas and also see what students and teachers have to say over at Maupin House.

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Web 2.0 Classroom Conversations

If your students are anything like mine, they love getting into heated conversations over ideas from their novels and related readings. Being typical sixth graders, all students have an opinion to express and a story to share. What I wanted to find was a way for that conversation to continue beyond the classroom; many times I needed to cut it short when students were just getting started!

Having had a lot of experience with Ning, I thought that would be the perfect vehicle. The problem is, Ning, like Facebook, requires that users be 13 years old. I couldn’t knowingly ignore this. So after searching around for a similar online experience, I finally chose Edmodo.

Edmodo is a closed, private community which looks and acts like a Facebook/Twitter hybrid. It allows for threaded discussions, polls, video uploading, and discussion groups. It totally fit the bill. Read more about why I chose Edmodo (over at my Teaching that Sticks blog) and find out how I felt about the choice after five days. Then decide for yourself is this tool is right for your class.

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Reading Strategies: A How-To for Teachers

At Thinkport you’ll find a pretty awesome series of online guides, videos, and tutorials aimed at making you a more effective teacher of reading strategies. What’s most amazing is that this site is actually aimed at middle school teachers, that oft-forgotten cadre of souls wedged between elementary and high school.

So what’s Thinkport? From the site:

Thinkport is the product of an on-going partnership between Maryland Public Television (MPT) and Johns Hopkins University Center for Technology in Education (CTE), two of the most trusted names in Maryland education.

Thinkport aims to help teachers teach more effectively, inspire students to learn, build bridges between schools and homes, and fulfill Maryland Content Standards for education. We’re focused on harnessing technology in the service of education.

Well, I’m not from Maryland, but I absolutely love the Reading Strategies resources offered here. You first investigate discrete reading strategies through videos, interviews, and examples, and you’re then given printable aids to help incorporate those strategies in your classroom.

You then see these strategies in action, assisted by a teacher’s guide.

Finally, you see how reading skills can best be implemented using a number of online virtual field trips available from this site. Although many relate specifically to Maryland’s history, others can absolutely be used by anyone.

Lots to see here for both novices and pros!

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Under What Rock Have I Been Living?

Under what rock have I been living?

That’s a question I really need to ask myself if I’m just now discovering Tracie Vaughn Zimmer. Yes, she’s an author, and I do recognize a couple of her titles (and the others look promising!). But somehow I missed that she has created this awesome site (absolutely no hyperbole intended) containing hundreds of original teaching guides for picture books, middle grade and YA books, and poetry. And yes, my fellow frugal teachers, they’re all there for free. All Tracie asks in return, if you like what you see, is that you buy a copy of her book. Trust me, even if you buy all of her books, you’re getting the better end of the deal! Free resources and her critically acclaimed titles for your own library.

So in an atypical move for me, I’ll shut up now. I’ll let Tracie’s web site speak for itself (and you can check out her blog as well). Thanks, Tracie, for your terrific resources!

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Teaching Metaphorically

In response to my prior post about Metaphors & Analogies: Power Tools for Teaching Any Subject, I received an email from Adriana who asked, “Can you give an example of a metaphorical lesson? Not a lesson that teaches about metaphors, but a lesson that uses the idea.”

While I had a few ideas, I thought the best way might be to show a lesson in action. Check out this clip from Mr. Langhorst’s 8th grade in Liberty, Missouri. It’s a perfect example of an extended metaphor.

I love this approach! In my third and fourth grades, where I’ve taught the Revolutionary War as well, I’ve taken a slightly different approach. Students were presented with a letter from the school board, announcing that due to last year’s low test scores several drastic measures would be put into place: extended school hours, summer school for all students below a 3.5 average, school on Saturdays, and no more Physical Education. Students became quite upset that neither they not their parents were in attendance at this meeting, and that they were being punished for last year’s bad scores (purely fictitious as well). Seeing how distraught my students were, I graciously allowed them to draft letters to the testing coordinator (Mr. Itzal LaSham) expressing their feelings. Without fail, students created the most articulate, persuasive writing of their lives! When read aloud, the letters of protest were impassioned and convincing.

But then I wondered aloud, “I’m not sure if we should have done this. Perhaps Mr. LaSham will get upset, and call your parents. Are you guys really willing to take that risk?” Out come the erasers, but not for all. Most students are so adamant in their beliefs that they refuse to erase their names, no matter what the consequences!

It’s usually at this point, although sometimes much earlier, that some student will exclaim, “This is exactly what happened to the colonists! We’re being forced to live by rules that we didn’t help to make.” And eventually, of course, I do let students in on the secret: The letter is fictitious, and so is the testing director (Mr. It’s All a Sham). We then discuss the similarity between their letters and the Declaration of Independence. Both documents express extreme dissatisfaction, but the latter is further expressing outright rebellion. Should the colonists lose this war, the bold Declaration will serve as King George’s hanging list.

In nearly twenty years of implementing this lesson, students have been faithful to not share it with their siblings or friends, and each year’s new class faithfully falls for the trick: hook, line, and sinker. But the real payoff is that years later, when students return from high school and college to visit, they’ll ask, “Did you do the letter yet?” and they’ll vividly recall every aspect of the lesson, including (here’s the clincher!) its point.

Now that’s a lesson that sticks.

If you’re a social studies teacher, check out Eric Langhorst’s blog for more great resources and insights. You may also want to check out the six elements of “stickiness” found in Dan and Chip Heath’s Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.

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New Teacher’s Guides at Harper Collins

Looks like Harper Collins has reformatted their homepage for teacher’s and readers’ guides. Lots of great free resources here for many popular books at all reading levels.

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