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Writing Instruction Hacks to Reach All Learners

Help middle school struggling writers with visuals and mnemonics!  #teaching #essays

In Florida, we teach text-based essay writing.  Some people call this evidence-based writing.  No matter how you slice it, there are some students that just plain struggle.

So, to help them, I came up with a mnemonic system to help them remember the structure of such an essay.

We always begin with informative essays and here are the mnemonics I use:

Introduction = HAT:

For essay introductions, I tell my middle school students "Just like you put a hat on the top of your head, you put a hat on the top of your essay!"  #teaching #hack

Hook:  TAGS (title, author, genre and a short summary of the texts)
Arch - a bridge sentence that gives a "fun fact" that connects the text to the thesis
Thesis:  Answer to the prompt with the the reasons

Just like you put a hat on the top of your head, you put a hat on the top of your essay!

Body = ACEIT (ace it)

Your middle school students will surely "Ace it" when writing their essay body paragraphs following this pattern!  #teaching #writing #hack

Answer to the prompt with transition and reason
Cite evidence
Explain with commentary (by answering the questions "Why is this important?  How does this prove the point?"
Ingeminate (Fancy word for repeat - as in repeat the cycle of cite and explain with new evidence.)
Top it off with a conclusion.

Conclusion = ATT

When writing conclusions to essays, I say to my middle school students "What's the last thing you grab before you leave?  Your phone - your AT&T!"  #teaching #textbased #conclusions

Affirm the thesis (restate it)
Trim the point
The call to action

What's the last thing you grab before you leave your house?  Your cell phone - your AT&T.
Ok, so not everyone has AT&T but they get the idea!

Because I have an extensive special needs background, there have been years where my general education ELA classes were comprised of about half students with special needs.  And you know what?  We worked this mnemonic system like no one's business and when the time came for the students to take the test, they used the mnemonics in their planning and 

This was huge, honestly, because some students on our campus who did not have special needs did not do as well.  Everyone wanted to know my secret.  So I put together a little video, but I thought it was pretty boring and I really wanted to motivate the students. So I came up with a secret agent theme with the help of my son.  :)

Before I knew it, those videos "went viral" at my school and soon students that were not in my classes would come to me and tell me that they liked the videos and asked if they could follow me on YouTube!  

The teachers really loved the videos because not only were the students into it, but it helped them reach all learners.  The videos did all the talking so they could focus on the individual students.

Now you can try this system too!  My video unit includes:

★ Over 35 minutes of video lessons with examples and a secret agent theme for engagement full of tips and tricks to help your students remember the basics.
★ 40-page supporting document that includes all that listed below this line:
★ Pixanotes® for the entire unit. Pixanotes® are a blend of traditional 2-column notes and interactive notebooks that use the right brain benefits of visuals combined with the left brain advantages of structure to boost comprehension and recall! Say hello to higher test scores! They come in 4 formats to meet your students' needs. (choices include pre-printed content and pictures, fill-in-the-blanks content with picture flaps and two other combinations)
★ A Writing Prompt
★ TWO original nonfiction texts about Pipestone National Monument and Mount Rushmore
★ TWO dominoes games to practice learning
★ THREE planning sheets - one is featured in the video as a bonus
★ A sentence starter sheet
★ An Anchor Chart
★ Unit Bonus: Using the planning sheet 

One of the matching planning sheets is in my Teacher Troop Resource Library - freely available to all members - so join the Troop today!

Thanks for stopping by!

New Year, Better Teaching with #2ndaryELA

Join secondary English Language Arts teachers Tuesday evenings at 8 pm EST on Twitter. This week's chat will be about starting a new year with new ideas for teaching in the classroom!Brynn Allison, The Literary Maven, & Lisa Spangler, Mrs. Spangler in the Middle, host #2ndaryELA on Twitter every Tuesday evening from 8 - 8:30 PM EST. #2ndaryELA is a weekly chat for secondary English Language Arts teachers focused on a topic. Every Sunday, we post the topic and questions on our blogs to allow you to prepare for the upcoming Tuesday evening's chat. Thank you to everyone who joined us last week and we hope that you will join us again.

We'd also love for you to join our 2ndaryELA Facebook group, even if you aren't on Twitter. 2ndaryELA is a group of middle and high school English Language Arts teachers looking to share ideas and best practices. This group is an extension of our Twitter chat and a place for collaboration, questions, and encouragement. Feel free to post teaching ideas, success stories, resource links, photos, etc. that will enhance our instruction.

On Tuesday, January 15, our #2ndaryELA chat will be about starting a new year with new ideas for teaching in the classroom!

The Directions:
1. Log into Twitter on Tuesday from 8-8:30 PM EST.
2. Search for tweets with the hashtag #2ndaryELA in the search bar. Make sure to click “Latest.”
3. Introductions are for the first 5 minutes.
4. Starting at 8:05 (@literarymaven or @2peasandadog) will post questions every 5 minutes using the format Q1, Q2, Q3, etc. and the hashtag #2ndaryELA.
5. Respond to questions using the format A1, A2, A3, etc. with #2ndaryELA.
6. Follow any teachers responding and who are also using #2ndaryELA.
7. Like and respond to other teachers' tweets.

You can schedule your responses to the questions ahead of time using a scheduler like TweetDeck or HootSuite (but don't forget to use A1, A2, etc. and #2ndaryELA). Links are encouraged, so be sure to use a link shortener like tinyurlbitlygoo.gl or ow.ly Just visit one of those links and paste your long link to shorten it for Twitter. Using images is also encouraged when relevant.

New to chats? Here are the rules:
1. Stay on topic & stay positive!
2. Please do not post or promote paid products unless specifically asked.
3. If you arrive late, try to look through other posts before beginning.
4. Feel free to just read, like, and/or retweet.
5. Always use our hashtag #2ndaryELA, including in your replies to others.
6. Make sure your twitter feed is set to public. (Also keep in mind that Twitter is completely public – that means students, parents, and administrators can and will read what you tweet.)

You can also check out a quick video tutorial in this blog post.

Be sure to spread the word to any teacher friends who might be interested in joining us as well. We look forward to chatting with you Tuesday evening and in our 2ndaryELA Facebook group!

Get caught up on past chats here:

Ring in the New Year in the Classroom!

Start off the New Year in your classroom with a review of expectations, a Picture Book and a crafty piece of inspiration!  #middleschool #teaching #freeprintable

When we return to school after any break, I always find it helpful (and I daresay necessary) to spend a day reviewing expectations and setting the tone for learning.

I do this by first playing an interactive expectations game that goes something like this:

1.  I write out questions on one set of index cards like
-What does it mean to be on time?
-Where can a student find make-up work?

2.  Then I create a matching set of answer cards.  

3.  As students enter the room, they each get one card.

4.  After the bell rings, I welcome everyone back and then ask them to find the person that has the answer to the question or the question that matches their answer.

5.  Once all partners have been located, we stand in a circle.  For each pair, the question person reads their question out loud and then the answer person reads their answer out loud as we go around the circle.  I elaborate as necessary.

Expectations reviewed!

Next, to set the tone, I like to read a picture book and discuss how this relates to our learning path for the semester.

This time, I'd like to share "The Book of Mistakes" by Corinna Luyken

This book does a great job of showing how one can turn mistakes into something bigger and better.  To me, this book shows that progress, not perfection is the goal.

And that is a perfect message for students to hear because I have found that perfectionism actually drives a great deal of anxiety in students.  

Now I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist by any means, but I have been told by my students year after year that letting them know that they are not expected to be perfect actually took a burden from them and made them feel more comfortable in the classroom.

And for those students that struggle, the message of progress is music to their ears as this seems like something they can manage and even achieve.  

To help students frame their progress, I created a little "craftivity":

Free Printable for your Middle School students to start the New Year with in your classroom!  #teaching #goalsetting #fun #ideas

It's a quilt square that each student can make and determine how they can make progress.  It will show how we're all connected and will make a nice bulletin board display, don't you think?

The print and digital version are in the members-only resource library which is an extra for joining the Teacher Troop!

Thanks for stopping by!

Beat the Winter Break Madness!

Life as a middle school teacher can get hectic around the winter break!  Beat the madness!  #teaching #classroom

Madness!  That's what some people think of the days leading up to the Winter Break.  Or some of you may think this of my idea to prepare for the New Year before the break!

Whichever camp you're in, I'd like to share how to beat the madness with preparation!

First, plan to have students complete final projects for the second to last week before the break.  I'm a fan of having students present during the last week before the break with a rubric to grade the project during the presentation.   Then when the presentations are complete, so are the grades!  All that's left is to input them and celebrate!  

Need some ideas for a final project?  What about a little holiday fun, research and writing all in one?  Try this:

Use this flipbook to create an authentic holiday writing experience for your middle school students! #teaching #christmas #research

Now while students are working on these projects, I circulate the room and let my mind wander to January and ask myself some questions:

What will I be teaching?
What copies do I need to make? Digital or paper?
What are my passwords?  (I place these under my keyboard!)
What other materials do I need?  (I look on Teachers Pay Teachers now!)
Will we have new seats?  (I make that new chart!)

Then I proceed to make my list and check it twice to make sure all these things are done before I leave for the glorious two-week vacation! 

I clean off my desk and set it up with notes to myself on top of my copies or laptop just so I remember what to do when I get back.  Now I can truly relax because everything is done and ready for the New Year!

Now is the time!  Get your last assignments all lined up for your students and begin your checklist!  Let your break be truly a break!!

Thanks for stopping by!

Get more ideas, resources and other extras by joining the Teacher Troop!

New Ideas for Growth Mindset & Grit in the Classroom

Get new growth mindset lesson & activity ideas for your Middle School students.  #forteachers

After the school year gets underway and students get into a routine, sometimes they seem to need a little something extra to get them over the finish line.  

Get some new ideas for growth mindset and grit from fellow secondary English Teachers when we discussed this topic during a recent Twitter chat - just scroll on down!

Welcome! What and where do you teach? Include a link to your blog if you have one.
Tonight's chat is hosted by so look for questions coming from me!
Q1: How do you define grit in the classroom?
A1: In the true sense of the word, I think grit in the classroom is the innate motivation to not only learn from the experience, but to think about how it can be taught from a different perspective.
A1: In education, I define "grit" as having the stamina to find solutions to the problems we encounter. Both Ss and Ts can show grit in the classroom (sometimes together and sometimes separately)!
A1: Grit in the classroom is students building, collaborating, problem-solving, discovering, exploring, failing, revising, improving, disagreeing (and all the other infinitives you can think of) for the purpose of learning or creating something valuable.
A1: - and doing all of this with a growth mindset! Never give up! Keep encouraging each other to try again! I don’t know it yet, but I will!
A1: For me, I define it as when students represent perseverance and determination, even when met with some sort of obstacle(s)
A1: Being willing to persevere, stamina
Q2: What are the best ways to introduce students to grit?
A2: I like to show clips from movies and then talk about those to introduce grit. I also talk about well known fictional characters and we can have great conversations from those.
A2 I think the best first way to develop is to start developing relationships and build a student-centered classroom from day 1. Kids won't feel safe to explore and take risks if they don't trust you!
Teaching growth mindset and the POWER of YET! Also, have them revise something simple like a paragraph multiple times to see the growth.
A2: I think introducing grit as soon as possible will have long-term benefits. By giving S’s plenty of time to develop their own definition of grit, they may have a better chance at grasping & sticking to the commitment.
A2: Maybe a picture book Like "My Fantastic Elastic Brain"?
Using picture books can be so powerful!
Q3: What types of activities and assignments help students to build grit in the classroom?
A3: The first thing that comes to mind is an assignment w/ a similar model to a flow chart. S’s continue to do work that brings them to a final answer, & at the end, they have a finished product they can take pride in.
A3 I have a series of units to build a as well as a set of videos/Google form reflections.
A3: I have never used them but hope to incorporate them in the spring -- genius hour projects! I truly feel like these can help students build grit, especially as they build from their own interests and sustained passions.
A3: In ELA, the writing process is a great tool to use.
I can do this. This is hard but with work I can succeed. I can find a way to do this. --Just a few off the top of my head.

Replying to 
Thank you for those. Maybe having them as visual reminders around the room would be great as well.
Q4: How can we assist parents in encouraging grit at home?
A4: I would like to implement a question of the week that relates to students' passions and long-term goal setting that parents/guardians could be a part of.
A4: Communicating the importance of revision. If parents don't know students are able to improve their work, they cannot encourage the student at home.
A4: We can assist parents by including growth mindset statements in our communications with them.
A4: On a basic level I would say enforcing how grit will benefit everyone involved: T’s, S’s, AND P’s. Teachers & parents should want to work together to provide a strong support system so students can feel comfortable with their education.
Q5: How can you build a culture of grit in your school building or district?
A5: A culture can be developed only if everyone is on board and speaks the same language.
Replying to 
Yes, but it can begin as a small group first. When others see the results, they will usually jump on board too!
A5: There are great resources available. PD, PLC time - however you get the information out.
A3 this is an awesome resource !
Thank you for joining us tonight nation with an extra special thanks to for guest hosting!
This is our last chat for 2018. Join us on January 15, 2019, for our first chat of the new year - New Year, Better Teaching!
You can even get reminded of the chat by joining our Remind Group:
We keep the conversation going all day every day at our Facebook Group and we would love for you to join!
Thanks for stopping by!