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    Thoughts to Share with Students

    Children’s Books Teach Us All We sometimes think children’s book are only for children. But there is wisdom to be gleaned for us all. Invite your students to bring in their favorite children’s

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    Prepare in the Fall for Spring Assessments

    Practice Debates ⇒Argumentative Essays Meeting Common Core State Standards is not the only reason to have students learn to think about claims, reasons, counter-aguments, and evidence.  The four major assessments

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    Maximizing Meetings and Maintaining Morale

    Department chairs regularly seek for ways to use meeting time more efficiently and to keep up the spirits of their department members.  Attached are ideas planned for the “Learning to

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    Students Starters Enhance Teaching

    Student Starters Now is a good time to plan on releasing more responsibility for learning to your students. The first quarter/semester is when you model reading and writing strategies, making, connections,

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Making Masks to Reveal Character

Why Did They Do That?

Students sometimes miss the significance of a fictional character’s behavior because these inexperienced readers may have missed direct and/or indirect characterization clues authors incorporate to show what motivates their characters to act or reaction they way they do.  This is especially true with indirect characterization. Consider in-class activities that require a return to the text.
Reading - surprise
Two ways to help students understand the reasons characters interact and relate to others are to explore values and to make masks.

for sample in-class activities that invite students to consider what they value and why they are drawn to or repulsed by characters or arguments in the texts they read.  Then, ask students to consider what the various characters a
nd writers seem to value and ways both mount arguments to get others to change their minds or their behavior.

for sample in-clacooperative learning groupsss activity during which students locate quotations from the texts to guide their choice of color, imagery, and arrangements on masks for specific characters that show who they are and what they value.


Reflecting and Projecting on Practice

Midyear – A Good Time to Start Anew?

Are you a new teacher? A veteran in the classroom? Or a student teacher just starting to plan for and work with students on your own?

cooperative learning groupsWondering how to get off to a good start in the middle of the school year? Yes, the beginning of the new semester can be great time to start all over again – even if you’re teaching a full year course. Sounds paradoxical, huh? Think about it.

You’ve had a full semester with most of your students and you now know more about them as individual Black Man Thinkinglearners and also as groups of learners. Why not start fresh, planning ways to adapt your spring lessons to what you’ve learned about this particular group of energetic youngsters?  How are you progressing on plans to meet Common Core State Standards or whatever curriculum goals you’re charged to meet by the end of the school year?

Consider developing a reflection/projection lesson. You could set aside a class period the opening day of the new semester and ask the students to reflect on what they’ve learned so far and what they can learn by the end of the school year.

There’s no need to leave those as open-ended questions. Instead, you can provide students with a list of department grade level objectives and ask the students to rate themselves on a scale of 1-6 on how close they are to reaching those objectives. Then, write a couple realistic strategies for maintaining, raising those rating or setting goals for reaching the remainder of the objectives for their grade level. Keep them encouraged by reminding them they have the rest of the year to reach those goals, improve their skills and expand their learning.

Thinking - MetacognitionYou may use your school standards for your course instead. Pulling this lesson together will refresh your memory, too. It’ll remind you of what you have accomplished and what you still can aim to accomplish before year’s end.

See a sample a self-reflection you could adapt for your students. Here’s a link to one of the Semester I Self-Reflection forms I’ve used. If you’ve never had your students take a “How Do I Learn?” quiz, consider administering one of the on-line versions. Very insightful and enlightening. Here’s one.

What’s Your Learning Style?  This on line quiz can help reveal how individual students learn, providing teachers valuable information for planning more engaging and effective lessons.

If you’d like a brief video to share with your students to review the writing process, consider this one presented by Leslie K. Joubert when she was a student teacher.  It’s concise enough to use as a jumping off place the second semester as you release your students to work more independently.

See my two recent books on Teaching Writing and Teaching Reading.  One or both may be just what you need to rejuvenate you for the coming semester.



Values Influence Reading, Writing and Viewing


One way you can have your students step back a moment before they begin looking at articles, viewing video clips, and writing summaries and abstracts about controversial issues is to have a short presentation on values and look at how what we value, think is important to and for us, influences our behavior and colors our lenses.

Depending on the environment in the class, you could do the following:

1.  Share with them this Value_Words_List_KB . (I’d reduce the list to 40-50 words appropriate for the grade/age of students)

2.  Ask students to highlight ten words that represent their own values. Collect and enter the words in to a wordle.net which will create a word cloud that shows the primary values of your class.  It’ll be enlightening for your students to see the range of values among their peers.

I found it worthwhile to collect and redistribute these anonymous lists to students on opposite sides of the room (left side gets right side’s lists, and vice-versa).  Then as students read the lists aloud, one student volunteer, an accurate and speedy word-processor, enters all the words as they were read.  Repetition is fine.  The number of times a word appears on the final list will determine the size the word will appear in the word cloud created in Wordle.

After hearing and seeing what the class values, the students will have a common language to write and talk about these controversial topics.

3.  Then, using that same list of value words, ask students to consider what the writers of the articles, creators of the media, etc. value. Ask them to point out words, phrases, images, what’s missing, who’s quoted, etc.

Often when students see these kinds of differences, they can understand why intelligent, thoughtful people disagree on topics important to them both.

Your students may find it interesting to read pro/con arguments found on this website: http://www.procon.org/

This lesson works well with one on Responding to Literature – Nine Yardsticks, a structured way to look at, evaluate, and critique literature.  One of the yardsticks is PERSONAL BELIEFS which takes into consideration the fact that personal beliefs determine ones response to what one reads, hears, and views.

Sample application on A Lesson before Dying – Essay Assignment – Ethics

Career Planning


Quit Now or Stay in School?

Spring term is good time to offer students the opportunity to consider why continuing their education will expand their future choices.
Here’s a sample Career Research Project I’ve used with Sophomores. Here’s link to an assignment that requires similar thinking and is adaptable for eighth graders. The presentation can be by individuals or small groups.  Invite students to determine logical groups.  For example: Similar fields (farming, manufacturing, medicine, teaching) or similar kind of preparation needed (apprenticeship, internship, on-the-job.)


General Outline for Career Paper
(5-7 Word Processed Pages)

(Be sure to keep accurate notes on sources of information.  You will need these sources both for end notes and bibliography required for this assignment.


  • Interests and abilities
  • Strengths and weaknesses

II. WHAT CAREER IS FOR ME? (YourFreeCareerTest.com)

  • Specific Skills needed
  • My interests and abilities that prepare me for this career



  • Schooling needed
    1. High School
    2. College
    3. Vocational, Technical or Business School
  • Training needed
    1. Apprenticeship
    2. Internship
    3. On-the-job
  • Money I need to prepare
    1. Tuition
    2. Fees (lab, equipment, tools, supplies, books)
    3. Room and board
    4. Transportation
  • Military options
  • Financial help available
    1. Family
    2. Own job
    3. Scholarship
    4. Grants


  • Salary
  • Hourly wages
  • Commission



Career Search Check List

Your Career Search Folder should contain the following documents, worksheets, and/or pieces of Check Listinformation.  Check them off as you complete them.  You will NEED most of information in your folder to access data for the RESEARCH PAPER and PRESENTATION you will complete LAST.

  1. ____ BUDGET (What are current costs to live independently? (Housing, transportation, insurance, food, clothing, recreation, utilities, etc. )
  2. ____ HOW MUCH CAN I EARN IF I QUIT SCHOOL NOW? (Use real job advertisements in your area to determine income without high school diploma.)
  5. ____ MY SKILLS PREFERENCES LIST (Print results of on-line survey)
  6. ____ MY TALENT CHECK LIST (Print results of on-line check-up)
  7. ____ AM I LIMITING CAREER OPPORTUNITIES? What jobs utilize my skill and interests?
  10. ___ CAREER RESEARCH PAPER – (See suggested outline above) w/END NOTES

Grading Rubric Ideas based on Customizing Rubric
and Describing It When Assignment Given

C = Complete = Everything turned in completed and on time

B = Complete and Correct

  • Career Paper – Earned mainly 4-5 on Six Traits Rubric - Customized
  • Presentation
    • Complete – Responds to all elements in assignment
    • Each group member contributed 4-5 slides
    • Balanced number of minutes spoken by group members
    • Graphics supported, expanded, enhanced oral remarks
    • Completed within time limit

A = Complete, Correct and Creative

  • Writing earned mainly 5 and 6 on Customized Rubric
  • Presentation – Unusual, creative, and effective use of graphics, music, props, or movement

Writing Historical Fiction

Historical_FictionHISTORICAL FICTION is a made-up story set in specific time and integrates references to real people, places, and or events and writing one can help meet both English Language Arts and History/Social Studies Content Area Standards.

Writing historical fiction can be an efficient way for students to utilize what they are learning about Fiction Writing in your class and what they are learning about real people, places, and events in their History or Social Studies class. Could be an interesting Spring term team summative assessment across the two departments. ELA teacher(s) read(s) for ELA Standards and H/SS teacher(s) read(s) for H/SS TeamworkStandards.

This work of creative writing can be a fictionalized version of something the students have read, observed or experienced.

Story submitted for grading should answer five W’s and H questions:  Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How?  The writing could even be a story patterning plot line of a text the class has studied together. But, each student story must include the basic fiction elements of CHARACTER, SETTING, and CONFLICT.

For character, students’ work could have literary character meet a real historical personage.  What if Scrooge, Katniss Everdeen or Esperanza met Abraham Lincoln or Robert E. Lee; Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Harriett Tubman; Cesar Chavez or Frida Kahlo; Martin Luther King, Jr or  John F. Kennedy?

For setting, have students consider your home town or state, or the country or continent your students currently are studying about in their history or social studies class.  (Opportunity for descriptive writing.)

For conflict, have students choose a significant historical event to play a role in the lives of their fictional character(s). The incident may make up a significant portion of the story or simple serve as the triggering action. For example, the main character may be a key character in the historical incident or may simply have observed, heard about, or read about the incident on line, and the main story is the characters involvement or response to that real historical incident or event.

For authenticity, encourage students to

  • use the internet to research housing, clothing, transportation, music, and slang of the Computer Cartoonhistorical period chosen for the story.
  • locate pictures of real places, real implements or tools; listen to music of time, and describe or incorporate real historical details.
  • view photos that show specific physical features, what people wore and how they styled their hair in that specific place or time.

Students should submit with their story a page with the list of resources they consulted that includes one from their history texts as well as a list of other sources they’ve used in the story.

  • Label alphabetically sources used in the order the referenced source appears in the story.
  • If you’ve not yet taught formal citation styles, only require parenthetical citations like (A) referring to source A, (B) for source B.  This will make checking for completeness more efficient.
  • The goal here is to teach academic integrity of acknowledging sources. Another assignment can require and be grade for specific citation style.

Consider adapting one of the graphic organizers used for analyzing fiction to remind students of kinds of details and features their classmates will be looking for during the peer feedback step of this writing project.  Make two copies of the organizer:  one for writer check list after the first draft and another for in-class or homework peer response after second or third draft of story.

Show on your grading rubric the specific Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and General Grading Guidelines -ColorHistory students will be asked to demonstrate and teachers can measure in this assignment.  Attach a version of this General Grading Guidelines for Written Assignments so students are aware of how to earn the grade they crave and understand clearly the grade they ultimately receive.

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