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Monday, November 16, 2015

Writing - How Data is Changing My Instruction

I have been fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on your viewpoint) to be involved in numerous programs and committees in my district that keep me informed about district and school strengths and weaknesses. I am the lead for my school literacy initiative and our ESL program and also work with these programs at the district level. I am part of my school leadership team, a group that works to set instructional and student goals. This year, I was invited to participate in a district committee that looks at district and school data. The point of this brief resume is to show that I am fully aware of my district and school needs, and within the past few weeks, a great deal has come to light in a new way. I have had to shift gears in regard to how I teach and how I model my instruction. 

Our eighth-grade English curriculum has focused heavily on reading and less on writing for the past few years. As we (the teachers) become more educated in how to understand and use student data, we have started to balance more writing into our instruction. I feel like teaching writing is much more my area of expertise than reading will ever be, but with limited time for writing instruction, I have to admit that I have truly glossed over the writing process for the past few years. 

For the past couple of weeks, my students have been working on an essay about teens cheating on schoolwork (see NY Times writing springboard). I had my kids using a generic expository graphic organizer to create an opening sentence (thesis) with three reasons for their viewpoint and three supporting details per reason. I chose an organizer that I have used in prior ESL training to best meet the needs of my student population. I created my own example and modeled how to create each part. 

While this was occurring in my classroom, I had a meeting with my principal and instructional coaches. We were having a conversation about what is missing in teacher instruction and came to the conclusion that teachers are modeling, but we are not modeling our thinking and metacognitive strategies effectively. Teachers show how to do something, but we are not necessarily conducting a thorough think-aloud to show the students the thinking process and inquiry involved in the work being done. 

Shortly after that meeting, I had an expository writing workshop to attend that provided some new strategies that I immediately brought to class and applied with more thorough instruction and modeling of my thinking. Here is what changed:

  • I had my students analyze the reasons and supporting details that they created to determine if they had facts, personal experiences, and/or references (this piece was presented to us for planning, but I was already on the flip side of that). The kids also decided that we needed to identify commonplace assertions. I conducted a think-aloud, deliberately asking questions of myself and expressing the steps I took in sorting through my own ideas. Although it was not a thoroughly planned think-aloud, I do feel like I made progress in making my invisible thinking visible. 
  • References were new to my students, and this provided them with an option for making revisions after discovering they had too many facts and personal experiences. Students who lacked personal experiences suddenly had more information to include in their writing. 
  • We used a four-question technique to determine what information needed to be included in our paragraphs. Without this, students were simply copying over their reasons and supporting details without any additional thought. I again conducted a think-aloud on how to answer these questions to build a paragraph, rather than just modeling my writing. 
    • What point am I trying to make?
    • What details support my point?
    • How can I show this? or Why is this important?
    • How do these ideas connect back to my thesis?
  • Another step with the questions was to color code our work to show the thought process. For each question answered within the paragraph, students had to use a different color to ensure that they were actually including all necessary information. 

I still feel like I have a long way to go to provide writing instruction of the quality that I used to when teaching it independently, and working in more focused and specific think-alouds is definitely challenging (and you will hear more about it as I read through Jeffery Wilhelm's Improving Comprehension with Think Aloud Strategies). As adults, it is amazing that we know as much as we know, and it is not very easy to verbalize all of that in order to help students learn how to think on their own. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Comprehension Processing Questions with videos

A few weeks ago, I wrote a short post about using Comprehension Processing Questions. I was asked for some follow-up information, so here is follow-up number one (yes, there is even more to come). 

I teach at an incredibly diverse school. Because we are in Texas, we tend to focus on our Spanish-speaking population, but we have students and families here from all over the world - Vietnam, Nigeria, Middle Eastern countries, South American countries. 

We are moving into a unit on expository text, and our first reading set is about immigrants and the challenges they face. Although some of my kids have a great deal of background knowledge in this area, some have none. So I searched for a video to help, and I ran across this: 

Although it had not come up in my summer training, I wanted to give my students something to focus on with this video. I created a Comprehension Processing Question to guide them: What do immigrant parents give up when moving to the United States? We discussed the question, and I clicked play. 

At first, my kids starting making notes in response to the CPQ, but I noticed that their pencils were being put down very quickly. I sat back and watched, wondering what was happening. As soon as some of my students started getting teary, I declared victory. I had, as the kids say, put my students all up in their feelings. That moment was worth so much more than their responses to the CPQ. 

We did, however, watch the video a second time in order to answer the question. My kids were able to discuss - in detail - what they had heard in the video. I do not show many videos in my class, but this certainly added value to what I was attempting to do with my lesson. 

Up next - CPQ with expository text. Stay tuned. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Spelling Madness
Yesterday was yearbook picture day for my middle schoolers. Because the length of time needed for each class to be photographed varies based on how many other classes are waiting, I was improvising time fillers upon each return to class - organize binders, work on homework, new seating charts. 

One of my classes is fifteen minutes longer than the rest due to our lunch schedule. We took pictures, then came back to class and created our new seat assignments - and I still had thirty minutes left. On a whim, I issued a spelling challenge that worked far better than I expected. 

I had my students take out an index card, and I gave them five words to spell: Wednesday, February, library, university (student requested word), and pneumonia (just for fun). I then called individual students up to the board who thought they spelled the word correctly. If that student was wrong, she/he called on someone else to come up and correctly spell the word. 

I was not expecting the madness that followed. My kids were raising their hands, pleading to be called upon, and jumping up and down.They were determined to show their classmates that they knew something. We do not conduct formal spelling lessons at this stage so having students get excited about spelling is like encountering the Northern Lights. But now that I know it is a way to sneak in spelling, I am certainly going to have to do it again. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Kagan Remixed

I am very fortunate to receive numerous opportunities for training in my district, but somehow, Kagan training has always bypassed me. That does not mean I will allow myself to be left out, however. I have grabbed bits and pieces here and there, and I use them in my classroom legally or illegally, gosh darn it! 

My favorite strategy to use is Stand Up - Hand Up - Pair Up. I like for my students to get up and move (because who wants to sit on a hard chair for seven hours a day), plus it gives them a chance to talk to different classmates. I can also incorporate reading,writing, listening, and speaking in one strategy, addressing the needs of my English language learners. 

from Cooperative Learning

For some reason, my eighth graders are not into the Hand Up part of the routine. So I have put my own spins on the strategy:

  • Remix #1: Speed Friending
    • This concept is similar to speed dating. The kids mix-and-mingle, like they would at a social gathering, sharing their work with different students. They have to communicate with three different people and make it "home before curfew." I call curfew two times. The first time, the kids are expected to wrap up and head back to their seats. The second time, they get "threatened" with grounding (and for some reason, they found this highly amusing). 
  • Remix #2: Dah Club
    • We are still doing the same thing, but I set the scene as a dance party. It's easy to turn on some music while kids are moving around. I even pull out some of my corniest dance moves and work the room while the students are engaged in their conversations. I am silly to begin with, so this is not out of character for me in the least. 
The strategy works without any revisions, but my students seem to be enjoying it more in the remixed versions. It's easily modifiable for any age group by simply adding a scene - playground, mall, football game. And secretly, I have ulterior motives to develop an Oscar-winning actor at some point in time. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Comprehension Processing Question (CPQ) - Fiction

This summer, I was introduced to a simple little strategy that has completely changed the way I have been teaching this year: the Comprehension Processing Question (or C.P.Q.). With one question, I was able to hand over much more responsibility to my students and take a lot of pressure off myself. 

My students struggle tremendously with making inferences. For many, many years of my teaching career, I pre-loaded all the information kids needs in regard to this topic: definition, parts, Total Physical Response moves, props... But not anymore. 

This year, as we sat down to read our first story, I gave my students a C.P.Q. to guide their reading and annotations. Our beginner question: What do we learn about the protagonist? That's it. Short. Sweet. To the point. 

I had my students write this question at the top of their story. Next, they worked in small groups to read the story, making notes in the margin that answered the C.P.Q. When called back together for quick checks, I learned that my students were making inferences without that academic-ness of the concept wearing them down. Once they finished reading and annotating, I went back and discussed how they were already professional inference makers. 

We were also able to transfer their responses to the C.P.Q. to characterization. With a minimal amount of teacher presentation, my students were able to sort through their notes to find both direct and indirect characterization about our protagonist. 

I am excited to continue using this process and providing more complex questions. We read a poem after our short story, and I should have used it then. This is a genre with which my kids struggle, and I had not considered using the C.P.Q. until after finishing the lesson. Next poem, it's on! 

Right now, my focus is incorporating the C.P.Q. into non-fiction reading and training my students to create a question on their own when reading independently. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Getting to know you: Super Empowered Student

In addition to getting to know my students during the first week of school, I wanted my new kids to get to know themselves. I know some kids are always going to be quiet (I was one of them), and I want those students, in particular, to understand that they have a voice in my classroom, that they have something to contribute. I also hate seeing kids get stuck in a rut from one year to the next. Once I moved from teaching seventh grade to eighth grade, I realized how important it was for every student to be granted a fresh start full of new opportunities. So a lesson I was given this summer jumped out at me as a great way to communicate this to my incoming students. 

One of the activities I received from  AVID Summer Institute Culturally Relevant Teaching session I attended is Super Student. Super Student allows kids to examine what empowerment means, discuss people of various groups whom we empower, then find their own personal empowerment. We then use those ideas to create our super hero versions of ourselves: SuperYOU. 

I provided the kids with two separate super hero templates, plus gave my artistic students the opportunity to create their own from scratch. My new students were instructed to pick five skills or tools that they have or use in real life, then magnify those into super powers. For example, I use my super power of engagement strategies to draw my students into lessons without them ever realizing that they are actually learning (insert evil laugh here). They then had to write a short paragraph describing their skills/traits, providing me with an opportunity to formatively assess their writing skills. 

Here are some examples of what they came up with: 

Initially, many of the kids had a hard time getting started with their super heroes. They struggled to find qualities with which they are empowered. It didn't take too long, though. I only spent two days on this in class, and every student ended up with a SuperYOU. 

At the end of the week, I asked what their favorite activity had been. Many choose the Super Student: 

I looked through most of these assignments at the nail salon while my daughter got her mani/pedi. A woman sat down next to me, peeking at my papers.

"Do you teach first grade?" she asked. 

"No," I giggled. "I teach eighth graders."

I am not sure if the woman was simply shocked or disgusted, but her reaction was far from positive either way. Unlike her, I am very proud of the personal empowerment that my new students discovered about myself, and I cannot wait to use this lesson again in future years. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Community Building Activity: Hands On

Tomorrow is the first day of school with my 2015-2016 students. I will have 118 (at last count) new bodies in my classroom, some of whom I know a bit better than others. Some I do not know at all, as we have had many students transfer in from other junior highs, districts, cities, and states. 

With so much newness, it is important for everyone to get to know one another. It is my responsibility to build a healthy and safe classroom community. Our first assignment is going to be an introductory activity called Hands On, another  steal from the AVID Culturally Relevant Training I attended this summer (see Poker Time seating/grouping strategy)

We will be hanging the hands in the hallway to show everyone that we are going to work together. When this year's parents come in Thursday night to meet the teachers, I want them to see that we have been building a community from day one. I am a big preacher about my classroom being accepting of all people, regardless of any type of differences, and the Hands On activity is just one way to begin expressing that. 

In addition, my students will be reading, writing, listening, and speaking with this lesson, all of which are essential components of both English language arts and English language learner instruction. 

There is another, more secret reason that I am using this as my first day lesson. How many of you are still preaching procedures, expectations, rules, consequences, and the like on day one? How does your mouth and throat feel by the end of the day? It took me ten years to realize that coming home with a sore throat was not the way to start my school year, so I stopped that a few years ago. The kids will listen to me a little bit, but for the most part, I get to walk around, monitor, listen, and smile (yes, I smile before December). 

How will you build a safe and welcoming classroom environment?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

It's poker time!

Well, not really, but now that I have your attention, let me share a seating/grouping strategy that I learned about this summer at AVID Culturally Relevant Training: Empowering Students. It involves elements of poker!

Upon entering my second day of the conference, I was instructed to draw a card from a deck. I then had to sit at a table the held a sign of the same suit as my playing card. This forced me to sit with (mostly) different people from the first day of the conference. You know that as teachers, we become very territorial very quickly. We find a comfort zone and stick with it. This training was not allowing that, and I am grateful for the push. 

I like this idea for the classroom. My environment is set up in groups every day. I usually make a seating chart the second week of school for the sole purpose of splitting up friends. Being friends, however, does not mean that students can not learn from one another. After thinking about it, shouldn't students be offered this same opportunity by random draw? 

My intention is to use this method on the first day of the 2015-2016 school year. Students may end up with friends; they may not. Either way, that should not take away from the group-building activity that I am planning on using (keep checking back for future blog post). I am considering using it every day for the first week, just to get the kids familiar with all of their classmates. [One of my biggest issues is always when students do not know the names of classmates after a couple of months. Heck, if I can learn them in a week, they should be able to learn them, too.]


Resource: Table Signs

  • I have doubled the symbols on each page in order to fold them in half to get them to stand up. I am considering using the four-suit image for the last students who come in who may not fit into other full groups. This will depend upon class sizes. 


At the conference, we took the playing cards a step further. Although we sat with one group, we created poker hands to mix-and-mingle with other classmates to answer questions. We took our cards, then paired up by a poker hand that was called out: two of a kind, three of a kind, flush, straight. For each round I participated in, I managed to meet someone new. Sometimes I was with one other person; sometimes four. 

This has unlimited possibilities for the classroom. For the first week, I am considering using this method with a 3-2-1. Students will write down three things they learned (it probably will not actually be about my class), two things they like, and one question they have. Then I will have them create their poker-hand groups to discuss what they have written. My goal is to always to incorporate reading and writing with listening and speaking to address ESL needs. And after twelve years of teaching, it becomes easier and easier to blend different strategies, so why not! 


  • Because I am not terribly familiar with poker, and because I really hope that my students are also clueless (yes, naive), I made myself a display cheat sheet. I will post this to assist with students making their groups. 

The AVID site team is hoping to present these playing card strategies during our in-service week in conjunction with some team-building activities. I only share what I see value in, and I am excited about adding this to by classroom management repertoire. Plus, I can definitely get cheap decks of cards at the dollar store (a teacher's best friend). 

What are your thoughts? How can you use this with your students (aside from teaching them how to play poker)?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

My BEAM Symposium Workshop: Teaching Poetry with the ELPS

Years ago, I was asked to present an in-service workshop for other ELA teachers in my district, and I did it because I do not like (or know how) to say no. Years and years later, this is becoming a thing, and I am really starting to enjoy this thing. I have now presented at my school and in-district for ELA and district-adopted instructional model workshops, as well as at two state ESL/bilingual conferences for English language learner strategies. Last weekend, I presented my first ever, out-of-district, solo workshop presentation at the 31st BEAM Symposium (Bilingual/ESL Education Association of the Metroplex, Texas). 

For my BEAM proposal, I actually reworked that very first workshop. After winning a copy of Kylene Beers' When Kids Can't Read at  a district training, I was asked to present one of her strategies. I conducted a Tea Party experience with the poem "Grandmother Grace" by Ronald Wallace. Because it has been so long, all I remember about this presentation is that it was my birthday, I brought cookies, I made people cry with the poem, and the feedback was good. 

For the English Language Learner presentation, I started with the basic premise - Tea Party with the poem. This is an activity I use frequently in my classroom in various ways, and it is always a success. It gets kids thinking and engaged with poetry (and other genres) before they even see the poem. And getting middle school students to do anything but glaze over at the mention of poetry is success in my book. 

In my revisions of the presentation, I added more activities: Get the Gist from ReadWriteThink, understanding metaphor from Kelly Gallagher's Deeper Reading, and a final word activity, again from Kylene Beers. Although these strategies are not written specifically for English language learners, they work very well for this specific population. 

I did modify the activities to focus specifically on reading, writing, listening, and speaking, the four components of Texas' ELPS (English Language Proficiency Standards). The reading was a given; we had a poem. For writing, I worked with sentence stem responses to the different activities throughout the lesson. Participants shared their sentence stem writing with partners, allowing them to work on both listening and speaking skills. 

Overall, the workshop went very well. I received positive written and verbal feedback. The teachers in attendance were appreciative of the ability to take something directly back to their classrooms. As a teacher, I know that is something that I always want from sessions I attend. 

I have submitted a proposal to present this same workshop at another state organization conference, and it looks like it could be going to a third based on my ESL Teacher of the Year award. My goal is to wear the mess out of it as I practice my presenter skills, and then I will start working on a new one. Because I believe in sharing/stealing in teaching, it is all here for you, as well. 

I considered leaving the classroom last year, but I am glad I did not. I feel like I am in the best possible place. I get to do what I love and work with goofy children every day, plus I get to go outside of the classroom and share what I do with other teachers. Watch out world. I'm comin' to get ya! 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

May I now present myself as...

Until this week, winning and acknowledgement were in no way synonymous in my brain. As a teacher, I have never been concerned with winning something. I have always possessed expectations of being acknowledged for doing a good job. Despite the ego many think I walk around with, I am much more modest and humble than I often present myself to be, and I am quite content with a quick thank you and you did great. I have never really been comfortable being in the stage spotlight, unless it has been by my own doing. 

A few months ago, my district ESL/bilingual representative/mentor asked if she could nominate me for a teacher of the year award. She is affiliated with a local bilingual/ESL organization, and she told me that she felt that I was the perfect candidate for the award. I agreed, without much thought, thinking it would make her happy and would amount to nothing. 

The first thing I learned is that there is a lot of work involved in being nominated. You have to put together an entire portfolio!  Granted, my mentor did most of the work. I helped find some people to write letters of recommendation, and I wrote a biography and a philosophical statement - and put together a presentation proposal for the upcoming symposium. 

My focus for the symposium was always entirely upon the presentation. I have been presenting for many years now, and under the guidance of my mentor, I have been moving beyond district presentations. For the BEAM Symposium, I was modifying and updating a workshop that I conducted years ago within my school district (I believe it was from my very first time facilitating) to make it more strategically focused on ELL strategies. 

Last Monday, as my student teacher and I were walking back to class after lunch, I was checking my email on my phone, looking for something that I was afraid I would forget to check if I did not do it right then. As I walked to my desk, I opened a message informing me that I had won the 2015 BEAM ESL Teacher of the Year award:

Now let me tell you something: I don't cry. I. DO. NOT. CRY. Especially in front of people. Especially in front of my students. But I started crying. My student teacher looked at me with confusion as I handed her my phone. I am getting teary and turning red, she is high-fiving and hugging me, and my students are crying out different variations of "Oh my gosh! What happened? Is it something bad?". I was shaking my head that it was not and yelling at them to get out of my way because I DON'T CRY, and I needed to get to the restroom for a minute. 
I wish I had a logical reason for my initial reaction, but there is not much normal about me. I have won awards in the past, but they are student-chosen awards. There have not been many days in the past eleven and a half years, however, that my students have let me feel unappreciated for what I do with and for them. If they had it their way, I would win everything ever because I am just the best teacher ever (teens do have their shining moments). 

With my peers, I have never needed to win anything, but I have often felt that I do not get acknowledged for much of the work that I do that affects my entire campus (disclaimer: this does not apply to everyone I work with because some of them will be reading this). The email did not feel like a win; it felt like the most gigantic acknowledgement regarding almost twelve years of continuous development and growth as a teacher. 

Aside from telling my students what was going on to ease their concerns, I did not run down the halls yelling my good news at the top of my lungs. I informed my administrators, and I let my principal do the rest. Yes, I posted to my social media pages, but I knew the news would still take some time to get out there. 

I have been completely overwhelmed by both the acknowledgement and the win. My campus colleagues have emailed, texted, hugged, and spoken some of the kindest words I have heard in my entire teaching career, and I think the flattery is enough to tide me over for another twelve years. 

Last night, I was acknowledged at a pre-symposium dinner. I brought my daughter as my date. She was 11 1/2 months old when I started teaching, and she has grown up extremely patient and tolerant of all that I give to my students, many of whom she understands do not have the same support and opportunities as she. 

Yes, she is a few inches taller than me, but she also has on wedges. 
Oh, captain, my captain. 
Today, I was presented to the entire symposium as the ESL Teacher of the Year. 
We are forgiving them for misspelling my name here...

because they spelled it correctly here. 

Once all was said and done this afternoon, I was told that I am now moving along to the next round (I had no idea that I was in a beauty pageant). In May, my portfolio and presentation proposal will be presented to the Texas Association of Bilingual Education, and next October, I will travel to El Paso for the TABE conference. 

On a side note, I was also endowed with a Spanish dictionary and two sets of Texas Rangers baseball tickets, one set being for opening weekend. 

I almost left the classroom this year. I explored other options in education outside of the classroom. It was not meant to be, and part of me knew that even prior to my attempt to try something different. I feel like life is letting me know that I am still meant to be in the classroom with my zany, hormonal, pre-adults, and sharing my classroom lessons and adventures with other teachers is an added bonus to what I give to my kids. 

I am humbled. I am overwhelmed. I keep finding myself tongue-tied, and I promise you, that does not happen often. I did not need to win, but it sure does feel good to be acknowledged on such a grand scale. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

"You can't write a poem about McDonald's"

"You can't write a poem about McDonald's" has been one of my favorite poems for years now. I have been teaching it annually because I want my kids to understand that poetry can be different than what they expect. Most kids hear the word poem or poetry and 
shut down immediately. Honestly, I am not a big poetry fan myself, so it is far from being my favorite thing to teach. For the benefit of my students and for me, I do my best to find off-the-wall poems. 

The focus for this lesson was making inferences from sensory details. To get them thinking about this, I had my students complete a pre-reading writing assignment, describing their favorite meal in as much sensory detail as possible. 

I then introduced three vocabulary words from the poem: fanatic, salvation, and cannibalism. To confuse them, I threw in the phrase "hip huggers and halter tops", showing them a picture from the 1970s. We focused on their meanings, and tried to figure out how they could possibly be connected and used them to make a prediction about the poem. Most of the kids focused completely on 

The next day, we worked on a sorting game. On one set of index cards, I glued images for the five senses. On a second set, I glued phrases from the poem. In groups, my students decided the sense being used to create each description. Adding the words and phrases to the vocabulary from the day before, the kids wrote a new prediction. Again, they seemed fixated on the cannibalism, and I began to question them about the type of teacher they think I am. 

At this point, they were completely suckered in, and I gave them the title of the poem. Many of the kids did not believe me (probably because I am known for pranking them). After a bit of convincing, the resigned their suspicions, and the lightbulbs above their heads began sparking as they made connections between the title and the phrases I had given them: crisp as a pickle, brown as a bun, greasy air, fingers thin like french fries

Once I let them read the poem, there were some realizations that out of the original words I taught them, they should have focused on fanatic rather than cannibalism. I think a few kids were disappointed that the poem was not about a savage murderer ("You did teach us that story about the guy who cut up the body and buried the heart, Miss."). But the more we discussed the sensory details, the more the poem came to life for them. 

As a culminating activity, we are drawing visual representations of the poem. Some kids are creating scenes while others are working on collages of images throughout the poem. So far, I have seen everything from the crazy fanatic to very interesting renditions of a hamburger cashier. Images to come!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Smashing Vocabulary

Today one of my district technology representatives came to my campus to teach my students (and me) how to 

It turns out that most of us are already doing this every day, but I actually learned some things. 

We started by using Pic Collage to create a collage relating to one of our vocabulary words from last week (innovative, amicable, and inquisitive). The kids were able to use text, web images, classroom photos, and app stickers to show the meaning of the assigned word. 

We then imported the collages into Thinglink. This app and website is completely new to me. Thinglink allows you to create interactive pictures. The user can add hover-over icons that contain text, links, pictures, and videos. My students were adding everything from definitions to captions to videos. 

When I asked how the kids felt about this activity versus our usual hand-made creations, most stated that they liked this better. This is definitely one to add to my repertoire, and I can see numerous possibilities already with Thinglink. I definitely have to find some play time for myself. 

Class examples:

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Wizards, Wizards, Everywhere! (Updated 8/29/2016)

Word Wizard is an unexpected success! The first day back from winter break, I presented the idea. By the second day, I was in shock. 

When presenting the idea of being on the lookout for our vocabulary words in the world outside of my classroom, I was not met with the greatest enthusiasm. In every class period, I had students ask if they had to do it. I insisted that this is a truly optional assignment, and many seemed quite pleased. 

In the two following days, student after student approached my class tutor and me about having heard, read, or used (I will explain there creative approach to earning points in a second) our vocabulary words. I honestly was not even expecting them to remember the words we covered for the first semester, especially after two and a half weeks off. 

The really surprising part? The students who came to us with the words have been predominantly male and predominantly the goofballs. And I think that it is important to make a big note of this. Sometimes we think those goofballs are not paying attention because they are screwing around. Challenge them. I bet you, too, will discover that they are more in tune to your class than you may realize. 

So where are they finding words? These are just a few examples. 

  • "Family Guy" - The night I presented the lesson, many of the kids went home and watched this show. In a bar scene, one character called another a runt.

  • Song lyrics - One student sent me a screenshot for the lyrics of the song "Pompeii." He heard the word rubble

  • Conversations - A student came to us at the end of the day, stating she had heard some other students talking, and one had used the word preposterous
  • Text messages - This is where my boys got a little creative. They are having text messages conversations, using our class vocabulary words. I look at it this way: they are using the words! 

  • Books - I have some students double-blocked for my English class and my READ 180 intervention class. In READ 180, we were working on independent reading. A double-blocked student found two of our English class words in his book. 
On my word wall, I have created a Word Wizard chart. Every time a word is submitted, we put a star next to it. If the kids continue at the pace they started last week, I am going to have to come up with a much larger chart. 

Side note: During my team meeting time on Thursday, my math colleague noticed and asked about the chart. He thought it was a really good idea. Now if I could just get him to use it in his class, too...


I am now on year three of my Word Wizard adventures, and my students continue to impress me tremendously. I taught the word empower on the first day of school. By the second day, two students came to me with a life-outside-of-class encounter. A week in, and we are up to eight encounters, plus two from me. Today I found the word empowering on a catalog and empower in a Twitter post:

 And of course, I sent out it to my students using Remind. The school day may end, but empowering my students to continue learning in every environment does not.