Blogging Adventures in Room 213 – Part 1, Getting Started is Half the Battle

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To blog or not to blog?

When I started this page a year and a half-ish ago, I’d always dreamed of having my students start blogging too. But how exactly to make that happen was a little intimidating. I talked myself out of it over and over again, telling myself it would be too much work up front, and too much to manage and keep track of, while all along, there was a tiny teacher voice in my head chanting “Do it! Do it!” You hear that nagging voice from time to time, too, I’m sure. Continually watching several teachers rave on Twitter about their students blogging was a constant reminder that I should just take the student blogging plunge. Still, I waited.

Fast forward to this past August, when I attended #edcampILECbus and sat in a session all about Kidblog, an online blogging platform designed for students and class blogs. I watched in amazement as the facilitators showed off former students’ blogs, some even from 1st graders who were clearly doing amazing work. OK, message received. I vowed to sign up for a Kidblog account and give it a try.

Why blogging?

Blogging has “cool factor” and teens are very intrigued by the idea of creating their own little corner of blogosphere. Some already have Tumblr pages so they were a little less wide eyed, but still pumped that they were now the “experts” in the room. Blogging wasn’t a tough sell, I can tell you that. From day one I kept dropping little hints about starting blogs and they had a ton of questions for me. Questions are some of the highest compliments students can give. It means they’re interested. Really interested.

I want my students to write with an authentic audience in mind. We write in our Writers’ Notebooks “on the daily” as they like to point out, but they don’t publish the majority of these shorter pieces. If their work is out there for the world to see, it is a whole different ballgame. A magnificent ballgame where i’s are capitalized, and spelling and punctuation are checked twice.

Ready, set, stop?

After setting up Kidblog accounts and passwords for my two classes – one an 8th grade inclusion ELA class, and the other a 9th grade English class for advanced 8th graders – I ran into a big bump in the road. While every student in my advanced class has computer and internet access outside of school, only about 1/3 of students in my other class do, and this class is notorious for not taking advantage of lunch and time after school for assignments. Because I don’t have a classroom set of computers, (though one can dream about it. Every.Single.Day.) I knew that some blogging would have to be completed outside of class. I have access to Chromebook carts and computer labs in my building, but once PARCC testing starts I will be lucky to get on my OWN computer during the day. While I wanted to keep high expectations for my students, the reality of requiring students to blog outside of school would probably be a big flop with one of the two classes. Time to reevaluate my plan and rethink this whole thing.

After much thought, I decided that I didn’t want to wait. Let’s do it, tiny teacher voice in my head! My new plan was this – I would start blogging with my 9th grade class and work out all the bugs with them and then bring my other class onboard slowly. If I could sell blogging to class number 1, they could help advertise it to class number 2. [Insert evil English teacher laugh here] Finally, it was time to launch blogging!

We’re officially bloggers!

We’ve been blogging for about a month now in class number 1, and while there have been bumps and pot holes along the way, it has been a welcomed addition to our classroom routines and rituals. My end goal is that after a month or two of everything running smoothly for the first class, class number 2 will soon beg to blog inside *and* outside of class and also want to stay in at lunch and after school. We’ll see how it goes.

In Part 2 of this ongoing series, I’ll talk about students’ first experiences with learning about blogs, and posting and commenting. Stay tuned, literacy lovers. We’re getting to the good part!

♥ Lesley







Coming Full Circle With the Wonder of Wonder & Part 2: Julian’s Chapter

julians chapter

A little background…

During the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year, my school read Wonder by RJ Palacio for our first “One Book One School” event and promoted the book’s “Choose Kind” message all year long. Students embraced the story and it was a great experience! My students and I used this resource from the Help Readers Love Reading blog and it helped tremendously with student background knowledge and prompting discussions. I highly recommend checking both Wonder and pairing it with this blog if you haven’t already. As you can imagine, it was very exciting and rewarding to discuss and refer to Wonder with students and staff members throughout the year.

Fast forward to May….

This spring, RJ Palacio released an ebook companion to Wonder called “Julian’s Chapter”. If you haven’t read Wonder, Julian is the bully and antagonist of the story that creates a lot of trouble throughout the book. Like any good reading teacher, I kept the release to myself, as I wanted to surprise my students with it and wow, were they excited! They remembered Julian as the bully and mean kid and did not have nice things to say about him. We read “Julian’s Chapter” over the course of a little over a week (it’s a lot longer than I thought it would be) and it was a great way to end the school year. I read it with the students and didn’t preview it ahead of time. This lead to some great discussions as we found things out together.The Help Readers Love Reading blog has some great resources for Julian’s chapter, too. It’s no surprise that reading a story from the bully’s perspective is a unique opportunity and students learned a lot from this read aloud. Every story has two sides and by the end, we appreciated that Palacio gave her readers more story.

Without giving too much away, “Julian’s Chapter” gives insight into why Julian acts the way he does, his home life and how he comes to terms with what happened during his fifth grade school year. He goes to visit his grandmother in Paris and this was my favorite part of the story. His grandmother tells a story from her childhood that Julian has not heard, and it kept my students and I on the edge of our seats. Full disclosure, this part really got me choked up and there was a mad dash to get the teacher some tissues that day! Overall, revisiting RJ Palacio’s characters was a great experience, and one that I’m sure students will remember for a long, long time.

Looking back……

As an educator, it doesn’t get better than this. Through two stories, and lots of discussions over the course of 8 months, we ended the school year full circle – promoting the “Choose Kind” message with a shared reading experience that students will not soon forget.



Spine Poetry in the Classroom

spine poetry

I don’t know about you, but I’m always looking for fun and pain free ways to incorporate poetry into my intervention classes. I’ve realized that Spine Poetry is a great activity for students to try their hand at making a found poem. Using someone else’s words is much less threatening than staring at a blank piece of paper and trying to fill it with your own thoughts and *gasp* feelings.

After trying out Blackout Poetry the previous week, I thought doing Spine Poetry on a Monday would be a great way to get students out of their seats and thinking critically about what they wanted their poems to say. It was an extra bonus when students discovered new books in the classroom library and checked them out, too!

Not sure what Spine Poetry is?

Step 1. Choose book spines that you want to use for your poem.

Step 2. Arrange the spines into a somewhat logical order.

Step 3. Share your poem

If you’re students need to see examples ahead of time to get some ideas, do a quick Google Image Search and voila! TONS of Spine Poetry examples.

Here are some examples from my students. I condensed them into collages, but you will get the idea. Some students work with partners while others chose to work on their own. I think the poems turned out great for their first attempt at something new.

Click on each picture to see the individual poems.

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 photo 5

photo 1 photo 2 photo 3 photo 4 photo 5


Blackout Poetry in the Classroom

blackout poets logo

Backstory – Last fall I had an idea revolving around the success I’ve had with blackout poetry in my middle school reading intervention classes. I contacted my Twitter friend Jason Stephenson who also has used blackout poetry in his high school English classes with great results and asked if he’d be interested in co hosting a Twitter wide blackout poetry event. Fast forward to today and we are happy to announce…

 our first Blackout Poetry Week will be held April 7-11th!

Now, to the good stuff…

If you don’t know a lot about blackout poetry, I suggest you check out Jason’s awesome post here. Basically, here’s what you need: enough Sharpies for your entire class, willing students and texts to use for their poems. Anything works, and I have used newspaper and magazine articles, random pages from discarded books and even texts that students have already read.

I like to show the blackout poetry guru Austin Kleon’s work as a starting point before we dive in. This time lapse video captures students’ attention and they are very curious about this activity.

I work with struggling readers and this is something that, with a little practice, they really have success with. Poetry is a tricky temptress – students are drawn to the idea of poetry, but it is scary and elusive and hard to wrap their heads around. Blackout poetry is safe, cool and very, very creative. The visual and text combination is awesome! There’s no doubt that students are definitely doing some higher level thinking and I’ve seen even the toughest critics (aka 7th grade boys) dive in. Truth be told, the sharpies don’t hurt either.

Here are some examples of some blackout poems from last spring:






This is my personal favorite. Eighth graders had recently finished reading a short story version of Flowers for Algernon and Noah pretty much captured the entire beginning of the book with his poem! Love it!

Other Ideas…

  • I’d really like to copy various sections of a read aloud or a text that students have all read in their ELA class and have them create a series of blackout poems that capture the mood, actions or development of a particular character throughout the book.
  • Old Encyclopedias would be an interesting text to use too. It would be fun to use pages containing outdated information and see what students come up with to use for their poems.
  • Younger students will definitely enjoy blackout poetry and this would be a great way to celebrate learning new words.
  • Another cool idea for older students would be to use banned books for this activity!
  • I’d also like to have students get a little more creative with the style of their poems and create a picture or design that fit with the subject or emotions of the subject.

Kind of like these…

blackout-poetry angela wallace

Angela Watson,

pirates black out poem

Tyler Ducas,

tragedy black out poem

Sue Olson,

Aren’t these amazing? Jason and I hope you’ll join us in April for Blackout Poetry week. Follow Blackout Poets on Twitter for more examples you can share with your students and more updates and reminders about this worldwide event!

Engaging Readers with a Picture Book Study & Tournament


Want to engage readers? 

Host a Picture Book Study & Tournament! 

Confession Time: During first semester I had a lot of 8th grade students who abandoned books on a regular basis regardless of how many book talks and read alouds I planned. As we got closer to Thanksgiving, I  knew I needed a plan to really create an environment of positive reading experiences immediately or I might lose them for good.  I thought that if I could supply them with great books that they could finish quickly, it might boost their reading confidence levels, and thus, our first picture book tournament was born. We held our picture book tournament between Thanksgiving and Winter Break and it was a multi step event where students continually hit all of our daily reading goals in room 213: 1. read texts, 2. talk about texts, 3. write about texts and 4. listen to a fluent reader. It was one of my very favorite things I have done during my teaching career and I highly encourage you to try it!

Here’s a step by step walkthrough of how I undertook this project. I’m certainly not the first teacher to have a book tournament, so I encourage you to seek additional sites and resources if you are unsure how to approach this activity.

Step 1: Select and gather books – I wanted to get a variety of picture books from the same authors so that students weren’t just exposed to random picture books, but to an author’s collection of books. They were able to study authors’ and illustrators’ styles much more in depth this way.

The authors/illustrators used: Mo Willems, Dan Santat, Oliver Jeffers, Peter Brown, Chris Van Allsburg, and Jon Klassen. There were 36 books total for students to select from.

Step 2: Figure out what you want students to learn and do – I wanted students to 1. be exposed to a lot of quality books and have a good time reading them 2.  to acknowledge and study characters and plot, 3. to appreciate the text and pick out their favorite lines while citing them correctly and lastly 4. I wanted them to be critical and rate each book. Additionally, I wanted students to start talking about these texts, but knew that once we got going this part would be inevitable.

Students were invited to read at least 20 picture books from the collection. Some read less and some read more, but the majority read right around 20 on their own. I also read a few aloud for modeling purposes and to encourage talking about text.

Step 3: Picture Book Study Form – Students used the form below to capture their thoughts about each book. I copied it on large paper so they had more room to write.

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Step 4:  Complete study and tally results – Students were given several days to finish this study in class. As time when on they looked forward to selecting books from the cart and this was not a quiet activity. While students were respectful of others while reading, there was also a lot of “Hey, you should read this one!” and “This one is my favorite so far”. Students started figuring out who their favorite authors and illustrators were and gravitated to those books. I did, however, make sure that students read at least one book from every author so they had exposure to different styles and writing.

Step 5: Rank the tournament seeds – After almost 2 weeks of working on the PB study, (we were also doing a read aloud at the time, so it took longer than I anticipated)  students ranked their favorites 1 to however many they had read. I then created an excel sheet and awarded points to each book, depending on how students ranked them. This was tricky, and I am not sure if my methods were mathematically correct, but points were awarded as follows – 10 points for 1st through 8th, 5 points for 9th through 16th and 1 point for 17th through 24th.

Step 6: Set up the bracket – I searched online for a free 24 team bracket that enabled editing and simply added the names of the books, printed it off and gave it to my student observer from a local college (who actually is a pre service social studies teacher!) with the instructions “Can you make this on the bulletin board by my desk using materials in the room?” He was up for the challenge and did a fantastic job coming up with a giant bracket as you can see below.

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Step 7: Choose a winner – Before we started voting, students wrote down the book they thought would win the entire tournament on a notecard and I kept them until the very end to see how many of them chose correctly.

Step 8: Fill out the brackets – With the bracket that I chose, the first 8 teams got a bye during the first round. This was perfect vocabulary for a teachable moment because some of the students didn’t know what a “bye” is and honestly, most needed a tutorial on how a bracketed tournament even works. I liked that some real world know how was spontaneously incorporated into this project by using a real bracket.  I gave students their own copy to use as their voting ballot, and during each round we went through each match up and revisited the books one last time before they marked their favorite and I tallies the results. Lots of talking about texts happened and it was awesome! 8th grade boys arguing between Picture Day Perfection and Knuffle Bunny books was definitely a highlight.

In the final round, our top seed This is Not a Good Idea by Mo Willems faced off against our dark horse #14 seed Chowder by Peter Brown and Chowder ended up winning by just a few votes. Two boys in the same class were the only ones who had chosen Chowder to go all the way and they received “Championship Ring Pops” for predicting the winner. I think all of the students that participated really learned a lot about what it takes to write and illustrate picture books and came away with a better appreciation for them. There was a whole lot of #booklove happening and it was fantastic!

One last note – During the book study & tournament my classes of 6th and 7th graders kept a close eye on the bracket and were very interested in what the 8th grade classes were doing. What an amazing opportunity I now had in front of me! When they would ask me questions,  I’d explain exactly how it worked, give them updates on each round, and offer to read one or two books, but “only if they wanted me to”. (Cue semi-evil reading teacher laugh) Of course that got them excited and they begged to be read to, especially my 6th graders, who wanted to read the entire “final four”. They then decided who they thought should win and were shocked (and a little distraught to tell you the truth) when This is Not a Good Idea lost. This was just an added bonus to an awesome project that will definitely be a tradition in room 213 from now on!

(Top picture found on

Making Thinking Visible #3: 3-2-1 Bridge

making thinking visible

This year my school district has embraced the book Making Thinking Visible and we are required to use  three strategies per quarter. You can read about the book in more detail and check out other thinking strategies called Chalk Talks here and Headlines here.

3-2-1 Bridge

This thinking routine is fantastic for activating prior knowledge before and synthesizing it with new knowledge after a topic or unit has been covered. It encourages students to take their thoughts of the “big picture” and narrow them down to the heart of what is being studied. It also gives them a chance to think about “what this reminds me of” which will help them remember key concepts in the future.

Supplies Needed:

  • appropriate content – any key concept or idea, part of a book, a movie, a field trip, a particular lesson in class, any learning experience
  • 3-2-1 Bridge routine instructions (see below)

Before the Routine:

Put the following on the board, in students’ notebooks or whatever works best in your classroom.

When thinking about (whatever concept or idea you are studying) identify:
Initial Response
3 Words
2 Questions
1 Metaphor / Simile

During the Routine:

Like most of the other routines, students can work individually, with a partner or small group. When this is complete, the topic or concept is studied.

After the Routine:

Now that the instruction of the key concept, idea or overall unit is over, students will answer the other half of the thinking routine questions:

NEW Response
3 Words
2 Questions
1 Metaphor / Simile

Identify how your new responses connect to or shifted from your initial response.

NOTE: It is very important for students to be encouraged to share their thinking during the activity. This will help all students see other perspectives and consider the content in a new way they might have not thought about.

Other Uses:

I have found a lot of success with using the 3-2-1 Bridge Routine during book talks in my middle school classroom. I will hold up a book cover and give students time to study it. I will then walk around the room so they can each inspect the book more closely. They then will complete their initial responses. This can be done verbally or in notebooks, or both!

What three words quickly come to mind when looking at this title/book cover?
What two questions come to mind when you look at this title/book cover?
I think this book is going to be similar to ___________ because __________.

Students share their thoughts and what other books or movies/tv shows the cover reminds them of and when everyone has had a chance to share,  I give my book talk. As I am talking, students are completing their “new responses” and it is very cool when they can’t help but shouting out “Yep! It IS exactly like _____” or “I was way off on that one. The cover is a little deceiving”. I have never had such fun, animated book talks as I have using this routine.

There are lots of possibilities with this one and I’d love if you share some of your ideas on how to use headlines in the comments section below!

Final Thoughts:

Like the thinking routine Headlines I love using the after learning part of the 3-2-1 Bridge as a formative assessment tool. I can quickly see if my students get what we are doing and who needs some scaffolding to get there. I don’t think it’s a routine you should use before and after everything that is done in your classroom, but it is something to add to your teaching toolbox that can be used alongside or in place of a KWL chart.

Next up….

What Makes You Say That is a simple thinking routine that packs a LOT of punch and can have a dramatic affect on your students’ responses to content. Post coming soon!

Creating Book Commercials Using StoryRobe

This quarter I assigned the group of gifted sixth graders I am working with for my student teaching practicum the task of writing a book commercial for their self selected independent reading books that they are reading this quarter. Here are the steps we took to create our book commercials. They did a fabulous job and I am so proud of them!

Step 1 – Check out some sample book commercials.
I found a list of sample book commercials here and we spent about 20 minutes listening to some them to get a feel for what they included. This site also has a book commercial guidelines page that is very helpful for setting up expectations for students.

Step 2 – Discuss what a book commercial should and should not include.
We brainstormed on the Promethean board and decided that book commercials DO have: a hook, somewhat of a description of characters and plot, and a cliffhanger. Book commercials DON’T give too much away. We also decided that an appropriate length would be anywhere from 50 seconds to 2:00. I also decided that we would be doing audio only book commercials because students were very intimidated by the idea of being filmed. I wanted this to be a fun and positive experience, so I assured them from day one that we would only be doing an audio commercial.

Step 3 (This is a step that I would add next time) – Students wrote their book commercial rough drafts on paper and were required to read it to a peer before handing in. Did their peer want to read the book after hearing the commercial? Yes or no? Why or why not? These questions led to some fantastic feedback conversations.

Step 4 – Students turned in their rough drafts to me for approval and to double check that they included our big three – a hook, description of characters and plot, and a cliffhanger.

Step 5 – Taping Day! We used the Storyrobe app for the first time and it was very easy to use. First, we took a picture of the book (or student made sign if the book was forgotten) and then recorded their audio. I suggest saving the clips to your camera roll or emailing them to yourself as you finish each one. A few of our clips got deleted when the app crashed. but we just taped them again and they worked fine the second time. Even with this issue, I would still recommend this app for this activity and will definitely use it again in the future.

Step 6 – Share the book commercials and celebrate a job well done!

Here are a few of the book commercials my students made for this assignment. They did a great job and I’m really proud of them!