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Literary Sherri is Participating in an Epic ELA Giveaway!

It's the last week of January and I can't think of a better way to chase away winter blues and blahs than with an Epic ELA Giveaway!

I'm super-excited to join up with Mary Beth from Brain Waves Instruction and Jackie from Room 213 for their amazing giveaway featuring top-notch resources from 17 Secondary ELA TpT sellers!

One lucky ELA Teacher will receive a collection of resources including lessons and activities for reading, writing, research, poetry, speech-writing, media literary, and more! The best part . . . all resources are non-text specific, so they can be quickly and easily integrated with your own curriculum! See why this is epic?!?

Check out the Winner's Prize Package here:
Brain Waves Instruction:  Substitute Teacher Toolkit  
The Classroom Sparrow: A Speech Writing Mini-Book
The Daring English Teacher: Editable English Tests
Presto Plans: Grammar Resource Bundle
The Language Arts Classroom: Write a Tabloid for a Mobile Device
The OCBeach Teacher: Reading Strategies for any Text
The ELA Buffet: Poetry Close Reading
Secondary Sara: Movie v Text Bundle

The best part of this epic giveaway?!? You get up to 50 chances to win! Just follow each seller on TpT, Facebook, and her blog. Every click gives you a chance to win the amazing bundle of prizes!

The winner (AKA "Luckiest ELA Teacher on Earth!") will be announced on Sunday, February 7th at 5pm EST. Follow a few fabulous Secondary Teacher-Authors here . . . and best of luck!

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Happy End-of-January!

Meangingful Prompts for Struggling Readers

When I was in fourth grade, my class had to memorize our math facts to automaticity and quote each family of facts to the teacher within a given time frame (60 seconds per fact family, if I remember correctly). Everyone who quoted all their fact families through 12s by Thanksgiving was rewarded with a Winnie the Pooh party after lunch one day. All the A.A. Milne characters were going to be at the party and the class was going to eat popcorn and a Winnie the Pooh-decorated cake and watch a Pooh movie. This was a really big deal when I was in 4th grade! Now, math has never been my strong suit – I’m a linguistic learner. Sadly, I was the only student in all of fourth grade who couldn’t quote all the fact families in the 60-second-per-family-time-frame . . . and so I sat in the hall with a student teacher, practicing my facts, while my peers enjoyed their hot popcorn and cool Pooh party. At the time, I was devastated. Not because I missed out on the movie and cake, but because I truly couldn’t remember that tricky 8x7 and I felt like a failure. My teacher was disappointed in me and my parents were none too happy, either, judging this failure to memorize my math facts as laziness or a lack of character. How glad I am that teaching methods have evolved since I was a fourth grader (many, many moons ago!) and today we look for ways to help students truly understand math concepts rather than just memorize them by rote. Unfortunately, that change in thinking about how we teach math doesn’t always transfer to how we teach reading.

In many (dare I say most?) classes, when readers are unsure of a word, they pause. Then one of three things usually happens: Either another student calls out the word and the reader repeats it and goes on, the teacher calls out the word and the reader repeats it, or the teacher says, “Sound it out” . . . but our students are so afraid of failure that most of the time they will remain silent until someone calls the word out (or they don’t understand what “sound it out” means . . . or sounding it out doesn’t make sense because challenging words are often not phonics-based words). This is a huge disservice to readers because they don’t learn the skills necessary to figure out words they don’t know. So, I’m here to say: when readers struggle, don’t give them the word – and teach your students not to call the word out, either!

The first few times this happens in my class, students do blurt the word out because this is what they are conditioned to do anytime there’s an awkward pause in reading. I stop everything and we have a teachable moment: thank you for wanting to be a good friend, but giving classmates the word robs them of an opportunity to learn how to figure it out. We all get stuck sometimes in our reading – and we all deserve the chance to learn how to figure out the words we’re stuck on. So, let’s not rob one another of those learning opportunities. After the third or fourth such discussion, it’s rare for students to blurt words out when classmates are stuck. Here’s the kicker . . . I don’t give students the word, either! Instead, I prompt them with thinking-cues, such as:

Struggling readers often freeze and wait for someone to blurt out challenging words, but allowing students to form such habits (either waiting or blurting!) doesn’t give them the necessary tools to repair their own reading and improve their own skills. It’s much more effective to create an atmosphere in which all students know that it’s okay not to know challenging words . . . but it’s not okay not to try to figure them out before getting help!

Students who don’t develop effective reading strategies slide along a downward spiral – they do less and less reading until they stop trying altogether. Students need to hear, “It’s okay to struggle with challenging words. Some words stump me, too! Let’s figure out how to figure tricky words out!”

On a separate (but somewhat related) note, let’s make it okay to struggle . . . even okay to fail in our struggles . . . because we learn perseverance in the struggle. We also learn how to do things differently and better. What? Sounding the word out didn’t work? That’s okay – that means we try a different strategy!

Here are a few great quotes to hang in the classroom to remind us – and our students – that it’s okay to struggle and fail and learn from what didn’t work and keep trying a new strategy until something does work! The key for students is to keep trying . . . and the key for teachers is to keep giving students a toolbox of strategies to keep trying!

Happy Teaching!

Literary Sherri is Coming Out of the Deep Freeze!

’Tis the season . . . cold and flu season, that is! The holly jolly days are over, the bills have arrived, the temperatures have dropped well below freezing, and all manner of colds, flus, and viruses are making their rounds. January is the month we’d all like to crawl back under warm covers for a long winter’s nap . . . which also makes it the perfect month to pull a great resource out of the deep freeze and add some sizzle to our lessons! 180 Review Games and Brain Breaks can help: 

This is one of those go-to resources when you have 5 minutes to fill or 20 minutes to review! Review academic content, take a quick brain break, get students moving, do a quick informal assessment, and energize your lessons with the games and activities on these 74 task cards!

For example, you could play "Pass the Chicken":
Students stand about an arm’s length apart in a circle, with one person standing in the center.

Give the person in the center a task (each student can receive a new category). Their goal is to respond to the task before the students in the circle pass a rubber chicken (or beach ball, beanbag, or other soft object) around the circle three times.
Repeat until each student has been in the circle.

Name 10 vegetables found in a salad              
Name 10 team sports
Name 10 words containing the word “sun”   
Name 10 countries
Name 10 ice cream flavors                               
Name 10 Greek gods
Name 10 nouns
Name 10 multiples of 8

Over 100 variations gives you more than 180 games . . . plenty of games and activities to add some sizzle in January and every other day of the school year!

Thanks to ELA Buffet and Desktop Learning Adventures for hosting this Secondary Smorgasbord! Look below for other fabulous resources that secondary sellers are bringing out of the deep freeze!

Writing Prompts: 15 Super Reasons Every Teacher Should Be Using This Super-Strategy!

I start every ELA class with a short writing prompt that students complete for bell work while I care for housekeeping items, such attendance, lunch orders, checking homework, skimming notes from parents, etc. (I have a few minutes to check in with students while they are actively engaged in a productive learning activity. It's a win-win!)

In my class, we call this a Quick Write. Quick Writes are a super-strategy used to develop writing fluency, build the habit of reflection into learning, and informally assess student thinking! Here's a few other reasons Quick Writes should be used in every class every day (a literacy teacher's dream!):

Quick Writes:
-Help students become fluent, organized, confident, skilled  thinkers and writers!
-Activate prior knowledge
-Help students make personal connections
-Promote reflection
-Foster critical thinking
-Prepare students for discussion
-Increase background knowledge and broaden worldview (when shared)
-Reinforce vocabulary and language development
-Informally assess student knowledge about a given topic
-Increase engagement in Think-Pair-Share activities
-Help students brainstorm their thoughts
-I frequently tell my students that the most important ideas are often the most difficult to articulate. I Especially love Quick -Writes because they help students learn to articulate their thoughts in a safe environment, knowing the content of their writing is not going to be criticized! (See why I call this a Super-Strategy?!?)

Here's how I use Quick Writes:
  • When students enter my classroom, the Writing Task Card of the day is displayed on a Whiteboard. Students go directly to their seats, open their writing journals, choose one of the prompts, and start writing. (I always have instrumental music playing in the background. The students think I'm just plain awesome -- or plain corny, depending on the music genre of the day -- they don't realize I'm just using the music to help them focus and concentrate!)
  • I provide two to three prompts each day so students always have a choice, which is developmentally appropriate for tweens and teens and results in more pencils-to-the-paper and less "I can't think of anything to write!"
  • Sometimes my students beg me to let them write about the other prompt, too, and inside my heart is doing flip-flops because real live students are actually begging to write! (This is the stuff this ELA teacher's dreams are made of!)
  • If I finish my housekeeping chores with time on the clock to write, I write in my own journal. Students love it when I join them on a Quick Write!
  • Students who do not have their writing journals are still responsible to complete their Quick Writes on a blank sheet of paper from a basket I keep in the back of the room. They are responsible to attach these papers to their journal at their convenience (meaning: they come to my room when it's convenient for me -- usually during their breakfast or lunch -- to tape, staple, or glue their Quick Write into their journal . . . or to rewrite it if it's mysteriously lost).
  • Any of the prompts can be expanded, edited, revised, and turned in for an actual grade . . . a lifesaver on days when there is a substitute teacher in the class!

I have done Quick Writes with my students for years and I believe it is one of the most important activities on our agenda! I learn so much about my students that I would never know if I did not invite them to share their writing with the class. This helps me get to know students on a more personal level, builds rapport, and fosters a nurturing and caring classroom environment. I'm not exaggerating when I say Quick Writes frequently prompt my students to laugh together, cry together, and offer support to one another with hugs, fist-bumps, or high-fives.
I know that some of you are thinking you can't possibly come up with 2-3 high-interest prompts a day every day . . . the great news is, over 23 years of teaching, I've developed hundreds of interesting and engaging writing prompts that I'm compiling into resources in my TpT shop!
Here's one example:
Click here for a freebie from this set of writing prompts!

Stay tuned for one free set of writing prompts each month!

Literary Sherri is Getting Nerdy: Nerd Year Resolution

Here's hoping everyone had a terrific first-week-back-at-school after a long winter's nap holiday break!

I always love January because it's the perfect time to push a re-set button with classroom routines and procedures, re-energize the class with some new, engaging resources, and remind students that they are closer to (next grade level) so it's time to really buckle down and be sure they are prepared to succeed the next year! I find (most) students ready and willing to get serious about their studies in January!

It's Saturday morning, and that means a nerd-lib, Mel and Gerdy style, so without further ado, here it is . . .

The truth is, I'd LOVE to take a quilting class, but this is just not the right time -- so on to the bucket list it goes. I think I could still bite my nails with my elbows taped together, so I better rely on the soothing powers of that hot cocoa instead! I don't own a library and sadly, my musical abilities are limited to playing iTunes -- not instruments! I'm not likely to ever perform at The Kennedy Center, although I would LOVE to attend a performance there one day! I better get busy making 2015 amazing in other ways!
One of my top goals for 2015 is to add 50 new resources to my TpT shop by December 31 . . . so I better go get really busy!
Leave me a comment and let me know how you are going to make 2015 amazing!

Let's Hear It for the Teachers! Wishing You a Fabulous 2015!

Happy 2015! After a holiday hiatus to make friends and family my priority, I'm back to blogging with a New Year's Resolution to be a more active blogger in 2015!
I hope this finds you all well and with many sweet memories of Christmas 2014 . . . and much energy for a fresh start -- though, let's be honest, many of us feel "January blahs" when returning to school after an extended break, and that's totally okay normal!
We're happy to interact with colleagues again, but dread the ringing of the alarm long before the first blush of dawn, especially after a night of school-induced insomnia.
We look forward to seeing our students again, but dread the infinite mountains of paperwork.
We're excited about the awesome plans in the back of our minds for some really super-engaging lessons that will captivate and inspire our students, but the excessive workload between now and state testing seems daunting.
We don't mind the hard work, but we do mind the ever-widening gap between our students as learners (and as people!) and the endless testing, artifact-collecting, assessments and evaluations that are designed to emphasize everything they are doing wrong rather than anything they are doing right.
We relish the time spent actually teaching but would enjoy it a hundredfold without the perverse politics that suck the life and the joy out of our otherwise beloved profession. 
To all of us feeling this conflict of emotions, and to all of us returning to classrooms with a bit of dread in the pit of our stomachs alongside the butterflies, I say brava! Let's hold our heads high and remember that we are making our world a better place every single day! We are changing lives for the better, we are empowering our students to believe in themselves and their abilities to reach for the stars, and we are inspiring the teacher down the hall who desperately needs to believe in our profession! We are making a difference! We are teachers!

May your first week back be filled with colossal bursts of sunshine!

Happy Teaching!
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