Link up with Teach Mentor Texts

Link up with Teach Mentor Texts

Today is a big day for me. Not only is it my dog Charlie’s birthday (and Labor Day), I am the featured blogger on The Nerdy Book Club. I was excited to be invited to write a post about my reading life. Follow the link: Friend Request an Author.

I am not a reader who believes that every book is made for every one. I have students who adore fantasy fiction. I appreciate this, but I much prefer realistic fiction. I have tried and liked many historical fiction books as well. This week I finished reading Keeping Safe the Stars by Sheila O’Connor. The Stars (Pride, Nightingale, and Baby) are orphans living with their grandfather in the year of the Watergate scandal. For students to fully understand some of the underlying themes, they would need some knowledge of this event. As I recall being a teenager during this time, the whole thing was confusing. Was Nixon a bad guy? Nobody really said so, but he did bad things. Pride is the oldest and is left in charge of the family while her grandfather is ill. She struggles with taking on this huge responsibility, and like Nixon, finds herself telling a few lies. She is only 13. The burden is huge for her. Over and over I wanted to pull her aside and give her my advice. The storyline went on too long for me. I wanted a resolution sooner than it came. Eventually, the people Pride has entrusted rally to care for them, and there is hope for Old Finn’s recovery. This is a story of resilience and independence.

Keeping Safe the Stars


Frank by Connah Brecon will be on sale at the end of September. Frank is a cute little bear dressed in a blue scarf and red vest. He has a problem. He is always late for school, but he has good excuses, such as helping a cat stuck in a tree. When I turned the page, the tree was running off with Frank in it. This does not teach Frank a lesson about being late. He is late again. This time he is challenged to a charity dance-off. His reasons for being late get wackier and wackier. The illustrations are as crazy as the text. In the end, a zombie threatens the school, but Frank saves the day when he challenges the zombie to a dance off. Connah Brecon is a talented artist. The drawings are busy and full of quirky characters. The text lacks a cohesive logic, and the lesson of taking time to make friends is lost in the exaggeration of events.

What are you reading this week? Don’t forget to check out The Nerdy Book Club.

August Chalkabration

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Join the Chalk-a-bration at Betsy Hubbard's site Teaching Young Writers.

Join the Chalk-a-bration at Betsy Hubbard’s site Teaching Young Writers.

birthday cinquain

My students love Chalkabration Day. (Thanks to Betsy Hubbard for inventing this special way to spread poetry love.) My students chalked the sidewalks on Friday despite the threat of rain. Excited about a long weekend, many of the poems have TGIF as a theme. Kielan wrote a cinquain for her birthday weekend.

summer is here

I loaded the pictures onto Haiku Deck. I am disappointed that some of the pictures were cut off. I also wish that WordPress would support the embedded deck, but you’ll have to follow the link. https://www.haikudeck.com/p/OsZPY37VPe I welcome any other digital ideas for publishing our Chalkabration.

Link up your Digital Literacy post here:

Celebration in Action

Discover. Play. Build.

Ruth Ayres invites us the celebrate each week. Click over to her site Discover. Play. Build. to read more celebrations.

What a wonderful week with students! It’s our second week together, and we worked hard. I am requiring three blog posts each week: It’s Monday: What are you Reading?, Tuesday Slice of Life, and Poetry Friday. I thought it might be too much, but so far, my students are meeting the challenge. I am more and more convinced that blogging is the way to get students writing. You can read their writing here. I want to share one of the fingerprint poems. I posted the lesson on Poetry Friday.

Unique Fingerprint

I am the expert: you are the rookie.
You will never see my treasure,
Invisible to you but
Everything to me.
My print shines bright like a diamond,
As beautiful as a bow.
My treasure is one thing I love more than gold.
Maybe one day you will see my unique design,
But for now you have to classify your own.
by Kielan, all rights reserved

I love to celebrate birthdays with my students. For her birthday celebration, Kielan wanted me to bring the apple peeler and apples. She remembered how much fun it was from last year. The kids loved it!

Kim Douillard’s photo challenge this week was action. I did a video of the apple peeler in action. At the very end of the video, you can hear Emily say, “You’re about the best teacher in the universe.”

We also celebrated Andrew’s birthday. Look at the lovely cupcake his talented mother made!

butterfly cupcake

Emily brought me a special gift this week, a happiness box. She gave it to me on Monday which segued perfectly into a discussion of tone. She had turned my irritable mood into joy!

happiness box

Come back tomorrow for DigiLit Sunday and our first Chalkabration. What are you celebrating this week?


Join the Poetry Friday Round-up.

Join the Poetry Friday Round-up.

My favorite librarian, Jone, has the round up today at Check it Out. Go check it out!

Inspired by a post from Linda Baie (who blogs at Teacher Dance) about using Eve Merriam’s poem Thumbprint at the beginning of the school year, I designed this week’s Wonder around fingerprints. We read this article on Wonderopolis. I asked students to select four vocabulary words from the Wonder Words. Then we watched this Prezi about annotating Eve Merriam’s Thumbprint. Then using the chosen words, we wrote our own poems. I also passes around an ink pad so my students could place their thumbprint on the journal page. I taught this lesson twice during the day to two groups of students, so I had the added advantage of writing two poems. Here’s mine.


I own
a God-given design,
uniquely mine,
a painting of swirls
and whorls
imprinting me
on this page.
I own
an invisible touch,
a latent path
left on a note
from me to you,
this fingerkiss.

–Margaret Simon, all rights reserved

Click here to read more #spiritualjourney posts.  Thanks Holly for hosting this roundup!

Click here to read more #spiritualjourney posts. Thanks Holly for hosting this roundup!

Holly Mueller started this inspiring roundup of writing about out spiritual journey. She tweeted the theme: Patience.

It’s raining. Again. This happens almost every afternoon. It’s rather soothing if you don’t have to go to the bank, the grocery store, and the post office, but these errands happen. Rain happens. Patience doesn’t always happen.

Dance in the rain

Patience is a hard won skill. As a young teacher, I was not very patient. I got angry. I would yell. This embarrasses me now. Patience comes with age and for me, patience came after severe pain.

When I was 34 years old, I turned over in bed and blew a disc in my neck. The pain was unbearable, like a blow torch through my shoulder. Muscle spasms throbbed. I lost strength in my right arm. My thumb through my elbow became numb. An MRI showed a herneated disc at C-5. Surgery.

Having surgery of any kind brings death closer and makes it more real. I had three young daughters at the time. I cried and prayed. I lay in bed on pain medication and my mind would play with me. I felt crazy.

The spinal surgery worked. The herneation was removed. Healing came. In the process of healing, patience visited me. I somehow became calmer. Little things did not bother me as much. I found life had a deeper purpose.

I believe in the resurrection. In our lives, we experience many deaths and resurrections. Through each one, God teaches us a new lesson. The lesson of pain and surgery was patience. I may not be out dancing in the rain, but I can look to the wet grey sky and praise God. I know the importance of patience, of kindness, of love.


Hair in My Eyes

  Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.

Now that school is in full swing, I am writing my Slice of Life story with the purpose of modeling for my students. We talked about what a Slice of Life story is by analyzing my post last week about the snake. The board was full of things they noticed, such as having a climax and resolution (Whoa, high five!) A few of you wrote great comments that I could use to teach about making connections in your comments.

Yesterday I read a comment on my Poetry Friday post from Bridget Magee, “Margaret, this poem and the animation are both amazing! I love the lines:’an ornament hanging on a tree,
a bronze clasp pen for my lapel.’ It reminds me of when my oldest daughter was about 5 or 6 (she’s 17 now) and she used to love to walk the neighborhood collecting cicada exoskeletons until one day she pulled one of the tree and the fella was still in there! SHE just about jumped out of her own skin!” This comment models specific feedback and also making a personal connection. I explained to my students that writers like to know people are connecting to what they write. Thank you all for helping me teach valuable lessons about writing and blogging.

You can read some of my students’ SOL stories on our kidblog site. Feel free to leave comments.

This week’s Slice of Life:

My hair has become a problem. This summer (I can’t even remember exactly why) I grew out my bangs. For years I have had short bangs. As they grew out some, I was drying them off to the side, and my husband said to me, “I like your hair. It makes you look younger.” Exactly what any woman loves to hear, right?

On my next scheduled haircut, I told my stylist, “Jeff likes it, so we need to keep growing it out.”

Then the next visit (I schedule my haircuts six weeks apart), I had had enough of the headbands, so I told her to cut it. Keep the bangs long. In fact, I texted a friend to send a picture of her hair, cut in a cute short pixie style. “That’s what I want.”

“Your hair is not going to be straight unless you use a straight iron,” said Gale. Other than using a blow dryer, I do not own or use any other tools on my hair. Gale cut and styled it with the straight iron, knowing full well I would not do this.

My husband goes to the same hair salon. He walked in the next week and announced that he loved my hair. That was a first for Gale, so she was thrilled.

This weekend my husband and I went out dancing which is one of our favorite things to do together. In August the heat is such that no AC can keep up with it, much less when there are warm bodies dancing. The dance hall had placed huge fans around the dance floor. Every time we danced past one of these fans, Woosh! my hair blew across my face. My husband could tell I was getting really annoyed by this.

When we were riding home, he said, “I like your hair even when it’s flying in your face.” I guess I’m stuck with these annoying bangs for a little while longer.

Selfies: old hair style on the left, new on the right.

Selfies: old hair style on the left, new on the right.

For this Slice, I am modeling how you can write a story about anything. Some of my students have a hard time thinking of something to write about. Using my own writing to model, I can share stories of my life and teach them that anything, even your hair style, can become a Slice of Life story.

Technology and Grammar

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Once again it is DigiLit Sunday. I hope you will link up your digital literacy wisdom post and read and comment on others. This is how we build an active online community.

Over the last few years, much has been said about teaching grammar in isolation. Basically, it doesn’t work. Skill and drill is out. These days grammar lessons are embedded into writing instruction. Having such small groups of students, I have the luxury of conferencing individually with a student about grammar using his/her own writing. I also give mini-lessons when a question comes up that everyone can benefit from.

This year I plan to add a new web-based grammar practice. My supervisor in gifted shared this site with us at our recent inservice. She said her high school students told her that many of the skills they practiced were on the ACT. The site is https://www.noredink.com/ It is free to an extent, but there is a premium version we are considering purchasing if my supervisor gets enough interest. I signed my students up and created 3 weeks of assignments in about 15 minutes. The site uses students’ pop culture interests to generate practice sentences. If a student misses a question, an instructional page pops up. My hope is this site will be motivating and individualized and take little effort on my part. I am looking forward to giving it a try.

The other plan I have for grammar is to design mini-lessons from the students’ posts on kidblogs. This gives me easy access to their writing. This week when they wrote their Slice of Life entries, I noticed problems with punctuation of compound sentences. I also noticed that one of my fourth graders used capitalization correctly. I will highlight the correct grammar (celebrate this) and ask for input on the comma problems.

I believe that grammar is important, but I do not want to focus so much on it that our creative writing suffers. By incorporating web-based practice and mini-lessons from student writing, I will encourage good grammar skills and celebrate writing.

Add your Digital Literacy post with Mr. Linky.


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