29 March 2016

It's (almost) my Birthday!

It's Spring Break, I'm in Florida  (thanks to a quick change of flights and clothing!), and it's almost my birthday!  Where else would I spend it but on Teachers Pay Teachers? (Well... I'll be on the beach with a fruity drink in my hand, but virtually, I'll be celebrating with TpT;)

I'm celebrating, but YOU get the gifts!  My store will be 20% off to celebrate my birthday on 3/31!

Since it's MY birthday, I get to make the rules!  Besides the 20% the entire store, my TpT followers will get an extra bonus, so make sure you click the green "Follow Me" star, then look in your inboxes!

Some items will be more than 20% off, too, so be sure to click around and check out all the items in my store!

Happy birthday to ME, but YOU get the gifts!

25 March 2016

Making Lemonade out of Lemons

My family had planned a fantastic ski trip to Breckenridge this week, but the blizzard in Denver has forced us to cancel the trip.  Major sad face :(

This trip was to celebrate my 40th birthday!  (Even bigger sad face, mixed with a scared face!)

On the happy side, though, I had a great Teachers Pay Teachers day!  I gambled and did my first paid advertisement on Teachers Pay Teachers yesterday and had a great sale day!

Like any teacher worth her salt, I know how to roll with the unexpected punches and the ups and downs of life.  Lesson not going the way you planned?  Switch gears and start over, right?  So, that's what I'm doing! Making lemonade out of the big lemon of the Denver airport being shut down, and celebrating a great TpT day instead!

So...here it is.  A big "Thank You!" to my Teachers Pay Teachers family.  I'm joining up with other fantastic teachers and putting my whole store on sale for an Easter celebration!

This is a collaborative sale with many other sellers, too!  When you log on to TeachersPayTeachers on Sunday, you can search for all sellers participating with the hashtag #eastersale.

This is a great opportunity to prepare for the end of the school year!  Yes, the end is near!  There is light at the end of the tunnel! :)

But that's not all!  If you miss out on this collaborative sale, don't worry too much!  I'm also going to be having a sale to celebrate my big birthday soon!

Happy Easter everyone!

22 March 2016

Gooney Bird Greene - Book Review and Lesson Ideas!

Hello, elementary writing teachers!  This post is for YOU! I have THE book for you!  Do you know Gooney Bird Greene?  The girl with the "absolutely true stories"?  The girl who wears wildly mismatched clothes or even pajamas to school each day? If you don't know Gooney Bird, you must meet her!

Lois Lowry, acclaimed author of The Giver, Number the Stars, and  Anastasia Krupnik, has written the best book for blossoming writers.  Gooney Bird Greene is a master storyteller...yet she is only in 2nd grade!  Her stories are always wild and unbelievable...yet somehow "absolutely true", as she always assures her teacher and classmates.

This short novel is a great read-aloud for grades 2-5.  Your students will be completely hooked by Gooney Bird's stories and will beg you to keep reading.  Better yet, Gooney Bird's stories make for great creative writing brainstorming sessions!  You can encourage kids to think of stories they can write about their own lives, but with a twist.  Gooney Bird is the master of "hooks"...and this is something I know most kids struggle with (even my current 8th graders!)  I've had lots of success using this book in my upper elementary classrooms at the beginning of the year to launch my writer's workshop!

And guess what?  This is not the only Gooney Bird book!  You can find Gooney Bird writing poetry -all types!- in Gooney Bird is So Absurd.  I LOVED reading this to my class during April because it's Poetry Month!  After Gooney introduced a style of poetry, I'd have my students write a poem, just like Gooney Bird.  We invited parents in to have a poetry slam at the end of the month, too!

In Gooney the Fabulous, Gooney Bird introduces her classmates to fables.  When I taught 3rd grade, one of our district-mandated writing assessments was for kids to write a fable.  This book was the PERFECT read-aloud before we began writing!

Gooney Bird on the Map has Gooney and the rest of Mrs. Pidgeon's class learning about U.S. geography, as well as celebrating Valentine's Day and President's Day.  This one is great to read in February or whenever you are teaching U.S. geography.  My students and I had fun finding cities on a giant map and telling stories about vacations we've been on.

I'm not kidding...you can literally use a Gooney Bird Greene book with just about any unit you are teaching! Your students will never tire of Gooney Bird...I promise! She is one of my all-time favorite literary characters.  Happy reading!

18 March 2016

$100 TpT Instagram Giveaway!

Want to win $100 to spend on Teachers Pay Teachers goodies?

...Of course you do!  Click on this picture and head over to my Instagram (@Tween_Spirit_Tpt)

I've joined up with 20 AWESOME middle school and high school teachers to giveaway a TpT gift card to a lucky new follower!  Just head over to Instagram and follow the directions under this picture.  You'll follow a loop around to all 20 amazing teachers' Instagrams.  Like the picture and follow the teacher and you are entered! 

Entry for the giveaway closes ats 7PM EST on March 20th.  The winner will be announced on Monday, March 21st!

This is a great way to find new, fun people on Instagram and to WIN a gift card for things you know you will buy anyway ;).

Good luck!

16 March 2016

Get Your Students Excited about Reading Novels!

Tangerine, by Edward Bloor, is my absolute FAVORITE novel to read with my 8th graders!  Even though our district uses an anthology-based curriculum, I plan my year to allow for 3-4 weeks to spend on this novel!

Tangerine is about a boy named Paul Fisher, who moves with his family from Texas to Tangerine, Florida.  Paul is legally blind due to some mysterious accident when he was younger...this mystery is a big part of the plot!  Paul also happens to be a great soccer player, but he can't play on his school soccer team because he has an IEP.  Paul's biggest problem, though, is his terrible - some might even say evil - older brother, Erik.  Erik is a bully, a criminal, but also a star football player.  Paul is rightfully afraid of Erik and has suspicions about him that no one else seems to see. Paul and Erik's parents are pretty clueless about their kids' problems, which makes this book really interesting for middle school students!

This novel teaches irony in a masterful way...Paul, who is legally blind, is the only person who sees the truth clearly!  The themes of "good vs. evil", "seeing isn't always believing", and the "truth shall set you free" play out in suburban and rural areas. Special needs and IEPs are given the spotlight in a positive "you can overcome this" way.  Socio-economic differences and racial tensions are highlighted in a way that helps kids understand and be sympathetic to the characters.  The author even manages to toss in a science lesson along the way!

Even my reluctant readers end up LOVING this book.  It is fast-paced, and the mystery of how Paul lost his eyesight keep the kids enthralled.  They also get personally invested in the unfairness of how Paul is treated, and they get angry about how rotten Erik is.  This book sparks amazing discussions between students and really makes them think about social topics.

One of my most reluctant readers and writers, who told me, "I hate books", when I assigned this novel, ended up getting so involved with the story that he wrote me this -wait for it!- without being asked!  He did this writing, on his own!  When I shared that with his mom, she was shocked and thrilled to find out he wrote willingly! (Keep in mind, this is from one of my most struggling, least-interested-in-school students ;)
Another student's final response: "I would read the book again, it was that good.  It was also that good that it was the best book I've read for school, maybe even ever!"

Because I knew how much my students would love this book, I didn't want to drag them down with a bunch of questions to answer after every few pages.  So I created a Novel Study Guide that would help them process the book, without nit-picking it apart.  After doing a few pre-reading activities together in class, I gave my students a week to read each of the three parts of the novel.  (Each part is about 90 pages.)  Then, once a week, I gave them time to talk about the book in small groups and to complete a few activities and answer a few questions about the part they read together.  

Kids LOVE being given time to talk...and this book gave them lots to talk about!  Doing the response to reading activities in small groups also helped my struggling students feel successful and helped them understand the plot better through discussion with others.

After finishing the book, there were a few after reading discussion questions and a plot diagram to complete, which could be done whole-group or independently.  Finally, as an assessment, I gave the students a choice of two writing prompts to complete.

If you've got reluctant novel readers (especially in grades 6-9), you have to introduce them to Tangerine!  It would make a great read-aloud, too!  Click the picture below to get your own Novel Study Guide for Tangerine.  I promise you and your students will LOVE this book!

14 March 2016

Why I Teach Part-Time

Those who know me well, know that I love teaching, but my family comes first.  I really struggled trying to give 100% to my students and 100% to my family.  I was burning the candle at both ends and making myself miserable trying to keep everyone else happy!  I'm sure all working moms feel this way!  It is just impossible to be everywhere we want to be and do everything we want to do! So, as a way to maintain (or regain?) my sanity, I cut back my working hours.  I know I am lucky that I could afford to do that...that is not an option for many.  But, thanks to Teachers Pay Teachers and a bit of belt-tightening, I've found some balance in my life.  It also helps that with me being part-time, my husband can devote more time to building his career, which has a lot more earning potential than teaching does these days!

But honestly, the main reason I decided to cut back my teaching hours to part-time, is that I wanted to spend more time with my kids.  I want to be PRESENT when I'm with them; not stressed out and thinking about other things. I want to be able to put them on the bus and be there when they get home.  I want them to see me volunteering in their schools, not only to be there for them, but to show them that volunteerism is something we should value in our society.  I want them to be able to participate in after-school activities, and someone has to drive them there!  I tried to do all that AND work full-time, but when I had to go to Target to buy new socks and underwear between dance and soccer practices because I didn't have time to do laundry in the last week, I knew I had a problem!

Raising tweens is no piece of cake...but I have to say I've hit the jackpot with two kind, hard-working, well-mannered tweens!  We are a busy family, to be sure, but I truly love spending time with my kids and husband.  My kids are good people, and that is what I'm most proud of.  I'm hoping that by being around for them more these days, I can keep them on the right track.

04 March 2016

Teaching with Picture Books - For BIG KIDS!

I am a book addict.  I admit it.  I read ALL. THE. TIME.  Picture books, children's novels, young adult novels, adult novels...it doesn't matter!  I read them all!  Now that my own kiddos are older and I am teaching middle school, I don't read as many picture books as I used to, which makes me kind of sad. Picture books have a special place in my heart...someday I hope to publish one of my own!
Whether I'm teaching elementary or middle school or I'm at home, I surround myself with books of all types!

But, I digress... my point is I LOVE books!  I especially love TEACHING with books and raising readers! Any chance I have to talk to kids about books or read books with kids, I jump on it!  The district I teach in has gone away from novels studies (insert sad face here) and bought an anthology series.  It's not bad, but anthologies suck the joy out of reading in my opinion.  So, I teach the curriculum I'm given, but I still squeeze in a few novels throughout the year because kids get absorbed in full stories- not just excerpts! They also love being read to, so I do that as often as I can, too.

One way I squeeze in books at school is by using picture books in my lessons...even with big kids! Middle schoolers probably won't admit it, but they still like picture books.  Since I don't get to read picture books as much as I'd like to with my own kids at bedtime anymore, I read them with my middle schoolers as parts of bigger lessons!

For example, I start my year off teaching elements of plot (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution).  But instead of jumping into a novel right away, or just having kids copy down definitions, we read a variety of picture books and create plot diagrams!  It is really easy for kids to see the elements of plot in a book that is only 32-pages long!

I especially like using Owl Babies by Martin Waddell for this lesson. It cracks me up when middle schoolers start repeating Bill's line: "I want my mummy!" over and over again!

Just recently, I read But I Read it on the Internet by Toni Buzzeo to my 8th graders.  It is a great book to read before starting an Internet-based research project! This book tells the story of a boy named Hunter who believes that the only place to find true facts is inside a good old-fashioned book, while his classmate, Carmen, is a believer in anything she sees on the Internet. They enjoyed the opportunity to be read aloud to - a few even came up and sat on the floor like younger kids do!  I chose to read this book to my kids as a kick-off lesson to teach about evaluating websites.  The students have been learning about argumentative essays (arguing comes SO naturally to 8th graders!), and will soon be crafting their own research-based argumentative essays.  We head into the library tomorrow to begin our research on various topics, so before I set them loose on the Internet, I want them to know how to determine which sites are reliable and which aren't so good.
Check out my full review on my "Book Reviews" tab!

Don't be afraid to use picture books with your older students!  There are so many great books out there and a clever teacher can find ways to tie them into larger lessons! Happy reading!