Thursday, December 5, 2013

Japanese Internment Camps

Since 90% of Americans do no know about the Japanese Internment Camps, I knew my students would not any different.  To help set the scene and time for the upcoming text, "Baseball Saved Us" by Ken Mochizuki, we shared information about the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  I told them the about Sadako and the Japanese legend that making 1000 paper cranes will grant you one wish.  In order for them to understand how Sadako while in the hospital dying of cancer made 664 cranes, I had each student make their own origami crane.

At Hobby Lobby, I picked up a package of 100 pieces of origami paper for under $10.  I used the directions and video from the International Crane Foundation to teach the students how to make a paper crane.

While making them students did have difficulty.  Many students couldn't imagine how she made that many when they had trouble just making one.  All the students were successful in making one.  I punched a hole in the tails and strung them on a string to hang them from the ceiling in the classroom.

We continued to use the Notice and Note Signposts.

Again and Again
  • word "camp"
  • guard constantly watching them
  • sun glinting off the guard's glasses
  • two strike outs and then the home run

Memory Moment
  • students bullying him all because of "Pearl Harbor"
  • quickly leaving their house and throwing away most of their things
  • not going to the bathroom alone but with a group

Tough Question
  • Why are we here?

Aha Moment
  • No one on the team or in the crowd looks like me

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Notice and Note Signposts for Fish Cheeks

I don't know if our Fear Factor Food Face Off kept the students interested in the story, Fish Cheeks, or if it was the mini-lessons using the Notice and Note Signposts from Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst.

I do know that these signposts had us read deeper and closer into this text than I ever have with students!  We noticed and noted three of the six signposts.

The first was Words of the Wiser.  Students didn't have a difficult time finding this one on their own.  In the story, everyone leaves the dinner except for Amy and her mother.  From her mom's advice, students made the following inferences:

  • Be yourself. Embrace your culture.
  • It's okay to be different.
  • Feel good about yourself so others see you in a good light.

The second was Contrast and Contradictions.  After explaining the signpost and the leading question, students needed more time and peer interaction to find this one.  In the end, the decided on the spot where Amy's father gets Robert's father, who's a minister, to burp.  We analyzed this right to the signal words and wondered why Ms. Tan specifically chose the words "manage", "muster", and "quiet" to describe this incident.  I was amazed by the inference they made:

  • trying to be polite as a guest
  • wanted to be respectful of Amy's customs/culture
  • trying to fit in
  • wanted to show that he appreciated the meal
  • not used to burping
  • didn't want to embarrass his son which is why it was quiet

The final signpost we found was Aha Moment.  Even though this was their first introduction into these signposts, the students found this one right away.  They found it to be at the end when Amy understand why her mom cooked the foods she did.  Students decided that Amy learned:

  • appreciate her culture, herself, and her family especially her mom
  •  She'll stop trying to be someone she's not.
  • She won't have shame for herself, family, or culture in the future.

To analyze how Amy's feelings change over the course of the story, we made a feelings foldable to pull out the best quotes as evidence of the feeling.  Out of the five feelings, we chose the ones that impacted her and caused changes.

To practice writing a response about the text, I used the PEEL graphic organizer from Tracee Orman.  It very simply states exactly what you need to do in your writing.  State your Point. Give Evidence from the text and Explain the evidence.  Link back to your point or to your next point.  As a class, we discuss and decided on what to put in the graphic organizer.  

I took what the classes came up with and created their final versions.  During the next class, I shared the final with them and analyzed how little needed to be added if you fully complete the graphic organizer.  

For three classes, all students were engaged in the story and class even though the food face off was only 15 minutes of the unit.  I believe the food eating put excitement into the unit while the signposts made it easier for students to access and infer what the author was saying, and the PEEL graphic organizer made it easier to understand how to write about what they read.

If you haven't gotten the Notice and Note book yet, you need to run to the bookstore or get Amazon Prime so that you can have it tomorrow.  You'll wish that you had it yesterday because it's that awesome!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Fear Factor Food Face Off

"Fish Cheeks" by Amy Tan has many different foods that most of my middle schoolers are not used to eating.  In the story, Amy is worried about how the boy she likes will view her family's Christmas dinner.

To have my students to completely understand what the foods are and understand why it's not a typical "American" Christmas dinner, I decided to make a Fear Factor competition out of the foods.

The foods mentioned are squid, rock cod, tofu, shrimp, and mushrooms.  I created a video using Animoto that I showed yesterday to hook them to be in today.  Students had to fill out a Fear Factor sign up slip.  On the back, I had them explain why I should pick them.

Last night, I had a blast cooking it all and working hard to have it look as disgusting as possible.  I fried separately the tofu, shitake mushrooms, squid, and cod fish. I made sure each bowl had the tentacles part of the squid.  I was kind and put some pepper on the tofu.  I put half a shrimp and two raw white mushrooms in the bowl.

As students entered, I had the theme song to Fear Factor (from iTunes) playing and displayed a zoomed in picture of the bowl of food on the board.  I pointed out what each item was and what was in it in case of shellfish or soy allergies.

For the first class, I only had four students sign up so they each got a spot.  For my other two classes, I had half the class sign up.  I chose the best reason, and those students were guaranteed a spot.

Student One:  "I want people to see that the small kid can do it."
Student Two:  "If I can eat the school lunch, I think I can eat anything."

I checked if any wanted to back out.  I had two to three in each class change their minds after seeing the bowl of food in person.  I raffled out the other three spots.  The first to eat the entire bowl without getting sick won.  Keep in mind the food was all cold.

I was nice again by having cups of water.  Students cheered them on the entire time while others had their mouths closed with looks of horror.  I took pictures of each student eating so that I could give them a copy.  I loved looking at the faces of the students in the background.  In one class, I had two students almost throw up, but thankfully no one ended up getting sick.  At the end, I gave out mints to all participants.

The teachers I work with said that my class was all the students could talk about.  Even the guidance counselor ended up hearing about it!

My favorite quote of the day came after I talked about the suctions cups on the tentacles of the squid:

"Is it going to stick to my throat?"

Monday, November 11, 2013

Amigo Brothers TLAP style

I have always enjoyed this story, but this year I became passionate about it.  As I pondered what to do with this story beyond focusing on point-of-view, I had many of the question hooks from the Teach Like a Pirate book running through my brain.

I searched to find out more about Piri Thomas.  At one point, I saw the words "seven years in prison".  This peaked my curiosity and had me thinking about Burgess's LCLs (life changing lessons).  I ordered from my library Thomas's memoir, Down These Mean Streets.  I decided to use Piri's life as a LCL to show the students that even if your life it at it's worse you can change the road you are on.

Once I knew I was going to create a boxing ring in my classroom, I needed to get items to make it authentic.  I bid for two pairs of boxing gloves on eBay.  Also I bought two pairs of boxing shorts in the same colors that were mentioned in the story. My neighbor gave me four long cardboard rolls from Christmas wrapping paper to help make the ring.

Since I had the idea of how the boxing ring would look like in my head, I needed to think of a way to start to create student interest.  I had left the hooks I had hanging from the cafe so I used them as my hook.  In the center, I hung the words, Antonio Cruz vs Felix Vargas.  On three of the hooks, I hung Antonio, and on the last three I hung Felix.  Students began asking me what they were all about and I told them to make sure they were in school on Monday to find out.

On Wednesday, I found out that the local boxing club was now housed at the Woonsocket Boys and Girls Club.  I couldn't believe it since I can see their building from my classroom windows.  I got in contact with the manager, Kathy Poirier, to see if it was possible to set up a short field trip to see a real ring.  On Halloween night, I found out that not only would we get to see the ring, but the trainer and professional super middleweight champion, Vladine "Mr. Providence" Biosse, would show them the ring, training area, and talk to them about boxing.

Friday afternoon, I stayed late changing my room into Tompkins Square Park and the Golden Gloves Championship ring.  I created sections in my room around the ring making sure they were under the characters' names that were hanging.  To make the ring, I turned four desks over and put the cardboard tubes over one leg.  I didn't want students stepping on the desks so I put up caution tape around all the legs.  I put a folded piece of paper and duck tape in three measured spots on each tubes.  I wanted to make a little lip so that the string would stay up just like a real ring.  I set up a chair in two corners and laid out the gloves and shorts.  I jotted down the sections and how many seats in each so that I could make tickets for Monday's class.

On Monday, I greeted students outside my closed classroom door.  I made sure they could hear the theme song from Rocky, Eye of the Tiger, playing while they waited in line.  I welcomed them to the elimination bout between Antonio and Felix.  I handed them a ticket and said they needed to find their seats once they entered.  I made sure the tickets had different colors and prices for each section.  Also I assigned the trainers and judges based on the tickets they were given.  When the students entered, they looked for their section and seat number by the tags I made for each desk, and they saw the ring for the first time.  They were extremely excited and said it felt like a real boxing match.  After we discussed the LCL of Piri's life, we reviewed the boxing terms we needed to know for the match.

The next day, we did an interactive practice of the vocabulary terms.  I used these how to videos since they show five of the words and I loved that they were filmed at Gleason's Gym because it's mentioned in the story.  Students were up out of their seat practicing the different jabs, hooks, and crosses.

Finally on the day of the big match, I greeted students with my boxing referee uniform and showed the video I created about Amigo Brothers with pictures of Tompkins Square Park.  After watching it, the two students I chose to act out the parts put on the shorts and gloves.  We listened to the audio version I created over the summer.  When it was time for the match everyone took their places including me.  I reminded all students in the audience that they had to do their part when it was read.  Students did an amazing job faking all the punches and falling to the canvas.

Everyone including myself was super excited to visit the Woonsocket Boxing Club.  After lunch, I walked the first group over the footbridge that goes over the Blackstone River and up the hill to the Woonsocket Boys and Girls Club.  Kathy greeted us at the door and took us up three flights of stairs to the previous attic of the building that used to be a school.  We were amazed at the ring and how it looked up there.  In the twenty minute visit for each group, we learned how the boxing ring is set up, how Mr. Biosse became a professional boxer, and how students can sign up to be part of the club and train for only $12 a year.  In the training area, Mr. Biosse demonstrated the different bags and allowed a few students to give them a try.

"Mr. Providence"

Training Area
The summation of this unit had the analysis of why Piri chose third person omniscient instead of third person limited and if he did what effects it would have on the story and the fight.  I used Erin's ACE lesson from her blog, I'm Lovin' Lit, to teach students how to cite evidence and use it when writing responses to a text they read.

Check out my freebies page for everything you need to do this unit.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Curt's Crazy Cafe

I know that I left everyone hanging at the end of my last post wondering what "Curt's Crazy Cafe" was all about.  Some of my students' first reactions upon entering on the first day were:

1. "Amazing, completely and utterly amazing. It is set up so awesomely!"
2. "My first impression of Curt's Crazy Cafe was that this was going to be a strange experience that I would tell stories about."
3. "This is nicer than some real cafes I've been in!"

What could I have done to get this kind of reaction? A complete transformation of my classroom so that it looked at felt like a cafe.

After about $35 at the local dollar store, I walked out with six different colored plastic tablecloths, six different kinds of fake flowers, six glass vases, six sets of salt and pepper shakers, six tea light holders, and six electric tea light candles.

The Buffet Table
Each Trait Hangs Above 

Welcome to Curt's Crazy Cafe where cooking up great writing is fun and tasty!


Inside each folder is one to two assignments to learn and practice what the different writing traits are. Since there are nine assignments, I set nine days as a benchmark since they should not take more than a class period to complete.  A fellow teacher created/found many of the assignments.  I tweaked them to fit my class and added a few lessons from the writing traits kit that I have from my district. (See Freebies page)

My Name Tag
Since traveling to different countries is one of my passions, I worked that into the unit by having the cafe turn into a different country each day.  Using Grooveshark, I created playlists for each country based on my favorites or ones that were representative of the country.  I made sure to have enough songs to play for the entire period. (Click here to view or use my playlists.) I asked students to dress up and to bring snacks.  If they dressed and brought snacks that matched the theme, they would get LearningEarning bucks (will blog about this great site another time). I am not telling students what the next day's cafe will be until school ends.  They have to check Edmodo or get the message from Remind 101 in order to know.

For day one, I used Caribbean first since I knew many students had Hawaiian shirts or beach hats from our day two experience.  Also, I loved that it was alliteration! 
Curt's Crazy Caribbean Cafe

I chose an American cafe for day two since I figured many students had red, white, and blue to wear.  I played many classic rock songs.  When Bon Jovi's Wanted Dead or Alive came on, many began singing while working.  Excitement went through the roof when Michael Jackson's Beat It started! To have this happen on Friday seventh period is absolutely wonderful.

I really pumped up the cafe on Monday when I made it a Mexican cafe.  I had chili pepper lights that have sat in my attic for years, a sombrero hat, chili pepper necklace, and fiesta signs to make it Cinco de Mayo in the cafe.


Since today was the middle of the week, I decided to surprise them even more.  Last night, I messaged out that I had a surprise.  I decided to make do the Irish cafe since my husband has a very easy soda bread recipe.  It only took two batches to make 75 slices, and I had all ingredients except the sour cream.  Also, I was quite sure very few students have ever eaten it, and I wanted to introduce them to something new.  Many of them loved it.  A few didn't like raisins, but they liked them in the bread.

I'm saving the Spanish (Spain) cafe for Friday since I was able to pick up an awesome Spanish black hat with red pom poms hanging from it.  For our final day, I'm having my favorite, Curt's Crazy Italian Cafe.  I have lots of Carmen Consoli (the more C's the better!) songs to play and will have another food treat, pizzelles.  My daughter's caretaker is loaning me her machine, recipe, and containers.  Since she said it makes two every 30 seconds, I figured it will be super easy to get 75 of them! (I hope.)

As the students work, I remind them how many days the cafe has left and that by then the cafe will disappear and so will my crazy outfits.  Many don't want it to leave nor my outfits. "We love them!"

Since I have had such bad hat head from the chef hat or the other hats I've been wearing, I have had to wear my entire outfit, chef hat and all, to some parent conferences.  I'm amazed that none of them have given me a strange look or question me about it.  Everyone in my building, including all the other students, is used to me and are now asking me what country I am today! I never could have imagined this last year.

Japanese cafe
Spanish Cafe

Pizelles (Pizelli) for Italian Cafe

Friday, October 18, 2013

Infectious Party Atmosphere at Parent Conferences

Thanks to Todd Whitaker's ideas in his book 10 Minute In-service and to Dave Burgess for his presentation ideas and hooks, we were able to make our parent - teacher conferences an unforgettable experience for everyone!

Upon walking down the hallway towards our classrooms, families were greeted by our humongous, handmade welcome banner.  Also, we had pizza and coffee for refreshments.  Since we knew many would have to wait to meet each of us, we created three activity tables.  On one table we had two laptops for use in checking our team web page, students' online grades (we use gradebookwizard), and Edmodo.  The second table had Angry Birds coloring pages, and the third had all the supplies and directions needed to make a monster bookmark.

Since a team member's son, who works at Hasbro, donated the games, we were able to create a family game night basket as a door prize.  We sent home a flyer announcing our plans for the evening and to receive notice if they were going to be able to attend.  Students received an extra raffle ticket for the door prize if the flyer was returned.  Each family received a raffle ticket for each teacher they visited.

Besides a raffle ticket, families received a token of thanks from each teacher.  I made labels for all of the tokens.  See my freebies page for the different labels for apples, popcorn, mounds candy bar, and almond joy candy bar (I forgot to take a photo of this one).  Unfortunately, the QR Code that was to take them to our team web page was too small for the app to read.  Parents were surprised and seemed to love getting the little treats.

Since our corner was a beehive of activity for the entire three hours, a "buzz" started to go around the school.  Other families became interested in what was happening, and other teachers visited, too.  Throughout the following day, many teachers told me that it was amazing.  I created a survey using SurveyMonkey in order to get feedback from the families.

Thank you Todd and Dave for giving me the inspiration to reach for greatness and for getting my creative juices flowing!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Fun Times with Author's Purpose and Inferences

With state testing taking up most of the students' days these past two weeks, I haven't been able to blog about our happenings since not much was happening.

Testing is done so we are off and running now!

While on Pinterest, I saw all kinds of PIE ideas for author's purpose.  I decided to use Erin's from I'm Lovin' Lit and tweaked it with one idea from Pinterest.  I like using foldables and found hers easy to use.  It's one lesson in her Interactive Reading Informational Text Notebooks.  I used the one with the three pockets, but on the pocket I put the definitions and example of the kinds of texts.  Using the blank squares she provided, students looked through Scholastic book club flyers for books that were either persuading, informing, or entertaining.  Students put two books per a square and put them into the correct pockets.  While searching, students had to make inferences about the author's purpose based on the book title, cover, and small blurb.

Final Product
I used the author's purpose lesson as a springboard into our inferences lesson.  Since they will be doing plenty of inferencing on text they read in the future, I wanted the refresher to be entertaining.  What better way to entertain middle school students, especially during state testing, than to use short, animated videos? There are none! I found a few videos myself on Pinterest, but it was few and far between.  I am extremely grateful that I follow and read Jaime's blog over at Technology Up to Speed!  She posted about movie shorts and reading strategies with links to all the movie clips on YouTube and handouts to use.  I used Keepvid to download the videos in case they should disappear and want to use them again.  I used her handout idea, but I added guiding questions to help students know the parts where they should be making an inference.

Visit again to read all about the Pumas' Parent - Teacher Party during parent conferences and how it was received by the parents.  You won't want to miss finding out about Curt's Crazy Cafe - where creating great writing is fun (and tasty).

If you haven't read about my amazing professional development presentations about Teach Like a Pirate, do so now! It will be worth your time if you want ideas on how to TLAP your presentations. You can catch up on it since we're on hiatus this week due to the conferences.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The M&M Guys and Fun Test Prep?

The M&M guys were a hit and they look grate.  Um, I mean great.  I have been having as much fun as the students with these homophone lessons.  We used these M&M guys for homographs (Thanks to Mrs. Russ).  I created this flower/flour one for homonyms.

I used this as a time to review how to make detailed, descriptive sentences.  I told students that if you try to have your sentence answer at least 5 out of the 6 5W and H questions, you're sure to have an excellent sentence.  I chose the most difficult homophones I could find in order to step it up to a seventh grade level. I plan to hang these all over the classroom.


Everyone loves a good joke especially when it's because of a confusion with the words. Using Pam Dahm's idea at Chit Chat and Small Talk, I had students create jokes for other homonyms that they did not use in their M&M guys.  The task was quite difficult based on the difficulty of the words and trying to make them funny.

I expected my test prep day to be the worse, most dull day of the year! Amazingly, it was actually fun once squirrels were involved.  Even though we all hate tests and don't like to teach to a test, tests are part of our entire lives. I explained how to do a process of elimination on multiple choice tests and exactly how they work.  The question of the day was why are they made that way.  A great question that I didn't have an answer to except that it's the format.  (BTW I hate MC tests!) Once I explained that this technique can work every day in all classes that give these kinds of tests, they were more interested.

We had a great discussion about all the tests you have to take your entire life.  Getting your license, getting into college, getting into graduate school even though you have four years of college behind you, and if you want to be a licensed plumber or electrician.  They couldn't believe that you had to take tests to be a plumber!

I told them about my experience having to take the MATs.  They were very curious once I told them that I only had sixty minutes to answer 120 analogies.  I told them you need a game plan.  I stressed how important it is to have a game plan when going in for any test.  "What was your game plan?" they asked.  It was to answer all the ones I immediately knew, go back to figure out all the others, and review all of them.  In the end, I had 10 minutes to spare.  Their mouths were wide open in shock that I had time left! I stressed that a game plan always helps.

Once we started to review the questions and the poem, the "real" fun started once we got to the question about what "in a frenzy" meant in reference to squirrels.  We realized we were able to find the answer in just thinking about all we knew about squirrels without needed the poem.  One of the choices was that they were "cautious".  Everyone shouted out that they weren't cautious at all by darting into the streets and walking on wires.  They loved my impersonation of a squirrel looking both ways to cross the street.  Next, we talked about the "worried" choice not being good either since it's a human trait.  They were laughing at the thought of the squirrel worried getting enough food for the winter or worried about anything.

I was elated that my week ended with fun and not the boring that I was expecting.  Thank you squirrels!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Spreading some TLAP

My team and I hope the students are liking our hallway more since incorporating minions into our latest display case.  Since Despicable Me 2 came out this summer, I loved this idea when I saw it on Pinterest.  I took it one step further by adding many key characteristics of good character which I call "Distinctions" (from a book I read about making writing real for students).  The heading says "Puma students are one in a minion".

One homework assignment I give my students every year is to write about these "Distinctions".  They write about two character traits they feel they are good at and one that they feel they could work on.  I love this assignment because it gives me insight into who they are and their writing skills.  It was very interesting that about 95% of them chose patience as the one trait to improve on.  I was not surprised by this since they have grown up in a world that is filled with instant gratification from watching any TV show they want on demand to instantly seeing and sharing photos that they take.  You can get the homework assignment sheet on my Freebies page.  Check out the Blendspace I made for assignment.  The safety video will have you laughing in stitches!

I love having students apply for jobs in the classroom.  It gives them ownership of our room and keeps me from running around like a chicken with its head cut off.  I shared the application that students fill out on my Freebies page.  This year I tried to have job titles that sounded real and had alliteration.  I have an iHelp board that looks like an iPhone similar to these in Google search.  I already put names on mine so I don't have a picture to share.  Next to this I have my help wanted display with the jobs listed.

I wanted to greet everyone who attended our School Improvement Meeting with a special snack table to start our year of meetings.   I got the cupcake toppers and sign free at Tales of Teaching in Heels blog.  Everyone loved it!

The first thing my students did this week was to finish their word trees that I told you about in my last post.  The students loved seeing many of them on display in the classroom.

Our next topic is homophones.  I remembered the Amelia Bedelia books and how she constantly confused them.  Everyone loves to read books from their childhood even seventh graders.  When I showed them the books, I heard "awww".

I had students read the books, find all the homophones Amelia confused, and write an explanation on why she was confused.  Students paired up and shared their learning with a peer who had a different title.  You can get the activity sheet on my Freebies page.

At night, I texted using Remind 101 with a hook for tomorrow's class.  "Be sure you're in tomorrow because you don't want to miss the M&M guys!"  As soon as they arrived, I was bombarded with questions about who are these M&M guys.

Be sure you visit again to find out who they are!