Whew! I made it to the break!

I just realized that I haven't posted since December 1!  Well it has been a busy, crazy 3 weeks!  

I was busy with my own holiday preparations, my classroom holiday preparations (which can be tricky because my special needs kids get anxious), my Granny's 100th Birthday on the 15th and then to top it all off,  I found out that my formal observation was required to be done before the break!

So what did I do?

Well, I pushed the throttle to maximum with preparations, set it all aside to go to NY (from FL) to celebrate with my Granny and then found help from Lovin' Lit!

The preparations just required me to do a little each day (which backfired the night before the last day of school when I had to make 52 truffles for my sons' teachers).

My flight was delayed on the way back from NY (due to snow and crew delays) and I was stuck in Philly.  It was worth it though - 100 is a big birthday!  Plus, since I had to take a day off due to the delay, I was able to get some wrapping done at home!

Then there's the observation.  Because of my flight delay, it was rescheduled for the Friday before break.  This means I needed to be extra creative and I was feeling anxious.  So I was super happy when I found Lovin' Lit's "The Gift of the Magi" unit.

This was perfect!   We had been working on plot diagram in class with learning the terms, analyzing short video clips and placing events on a plot diagram and the like.  My observation had to be in Marzano's Design Question 3 - deepening knowledge. So it was time to use the plot diagram with a short story.  Enter "The Gift of the Magi".


 So the day before my observation, we watched a video of this story, then read the modified version from this unit (perfect for my middle school students with special needs), discussed the plot events and then even did a little writing prompt about gifts.


Plus I motivated them by having hung small stocking across my board at the front of the room which their names on them.  My kids were instantly attracted to the stockings and asked what they were for.  I told them that the next day if we stayed focused and completed all we needed to do and they were on the "nice" list, then there would probably be something in those stockings for them.  They were hooked!

The next day, for my observation, after reviewing the scale, learning goals and critical information, we reviewed the plot elements with a PowerPoint, made the plot diagram foldable from this unit, and then I gave them the 5 events (also from this unit) to place on the diagram.  We ended with the use of my student responders.

I only had 4 (yes, four!) students who came to school that day but we went through with the observation anyway and I earned all "applying" and 2 "innovating".  And the students received their stockings with a candy cane made to look like Rudolph and a pass to the roller skating rink.  They were thrilled and I am so relieved and thankful to Lovin' Lit!

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday
Freebie Fridays

Mentor Text - Polar Express


I am new to the Mentor Text arena since I teach middle school but ever since I started reading about them (and mentor sentences), I am hooked!  And honestly, my special ed. students respond to picture books very positively!

I am sure that everyone uses this book, but it really will be helpful to me as my class will be focusing on plot elements and sequencing events in December.

I have been searching around through Teachers Pay Teachers for more ideas on how to use this book to develop the skills I listed above.  I think I may have to make some of my own activities so it's more middle school.

I don't have that ready to share but what I do have is lots of reading comprehension games and writing lessons and they are all 28% off at Teachers Pay Teachers during the Cyber Sale!

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PLUS, there's a sale at Teacher's Notebook where you can build a bundle.  I am offering both of my quick reference guides there for the bundling which gets you 50% off!

Thanks for stopping by and if you have any tips for me with The Polar Express, please leave me a comment!  :)

A Peek at my Week


First, my students and I will be coming back from being off for an entire week AND then we have to take benchmark tests (math, reading, writing) PLUS begin our "plot diagram" unit with SpringBoard - our required textbook.  Whew!  

With all of that, I want to "lighten the mood" and I know that I can teach the same objectives with something more Christmas-y, you know?  

So...#2....It's a good thing that the Cyber Monday Sales are upon us!!

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#3....And I just saw exactly what I needed at I'm Lovin' Lit!!


#4....I too will be offering my products for the full 28% off at Teachers Pay Teachers.

#5....I would particularly like to spotlight my 12 week Expository Essay unit which I am giving away to one lucky winner!

You can get the whole first week for free HERE to see what you think.  In this file you will find the entire 12 week table of contents/lesson plans.  The unit contains:

And if you end up not being the one lucky winner tomorrow, you can still opt to buy the unit at a nice savings!  

Thanks for stopping by & Enjoy the sales!

Wishlist Wednesday

I confess:  I USED to be a Black Friday shopper.  I did not, however, push, pull or fight.  I enjoyed the thrill of the hunt.  

But this year, the sales just start too darn early and I cannot justify going when I would have to sacrifice that special family time.

So I will just have to settle for Cyber Monday!

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All of my products will be 20% off and that means everyone ends up getting the full 28% off!

My start on TpT was in 2000 with reading comprehension games.  I write setting, character, plot and theme questions using Bloom's Taxonomy for popular novels.  The games are generally played like the TV show Jeopardy but I include other ideas for small groups and even assessments.


I have been recently improving the games' "look" as I have been learning more and more about such things.  I am starting with my best sellers and working my way down the list.  Here is my favorite feedback from my game about Freak the Mighty:

But now, my wishlist:


They are Reading Exit Slips by Melissa O'Bryan.  I do not know her but have her products on my list because I need help with closing my lessons.  :)  Plus they look like they will help give me some direction on my mini-lessons.  And let's face it, with special education, it's all about mini-lessons!

Now for something I just learned from Jivey:

So now you have an even better reason to work on your feedback!  You can get an even bigger discount and completely maximize your cyber shopping!  

There's also a sale at Teacher's Notebook where they offer bundling:

AND, I'm offering a Giveaway for my 12 week Expository Essay Unit:

Thanks & Enjoy!

Tried it Tuesday - Common Core Writing

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As a middle school teacher in Florida, for years we have been entrenched in FCAT Writes.  (FCAT is our Florida Standardized testing).  With the Common Core upon us (although Florida hasn't officially decided if we will go to Common Core or not), I have had to make some shifts.

For FCAT, the pattern for writing a body paragraph is this:
-topic sentence with reason from thesis.
-definition of reason
-example of reason
-anecdote about reason
-closing sentence with connection to thesis.

Now enter Common Core!  This is what we have been told the pattern must be:
-topic sentence with reason for thesis
-supporting detail #1 about reason 
-evidence that backs up supporting detail #1
-supporting detail #2
-evidence that backs up supporting detail #2
-closing (optional)

Now it is important for me to tell you that I have grades 6-8 in the same room at the same time as I teach Special Education because my 8th graders will still take FCAT in February while the others seem likely to take the PARCC next year.  So my challenge was how to make writing essays work for everybody.  Time for some BRAINSTORMING!

What I came up with is using both sets of terms to combine ideas. 

Since my students LOVE Spongebob, we read and watched an episode of Spongebob.  Then the prompt was:   Which is your favorite character?   We made a plan for our three reasons and then filled in a kind of FLEE map with this structure:

-topic sentence with reason from thesis.  
Spongebob is my favorite character because he is kind.

-definition=supporting detail.  [What Spongebob says or does that  seems kind.]
He is very kind to his friend Patrick.

-example & anecdote = evidence (proof that he is kind)
I remember a time when Patrick almost completely beat up Spongebob because he was in a Krabby Patty costume that Patrick thought had eaten Spongebob.  Spongebob didn't get mad at Patrick even though it hurt to be pounded out of that costume.

-definition=supporting detail.  [What Spongebob says or does that  seems kind.]
Spongebob is also kind to Squidward.

-example & anecdote = evidence (proof that he is kind)
Squidward is always yelling at Spongebob because he thinks Spongebob is annoying.  Spongebob never yells back at Squidward and even tells Squidward that he's glad they're friends.  

That's why Spongebob's kindness makes him the best character.

Of course we went back and added different adjectives, synonyms, vivid verbs and so on but at least the scaffolding seemed to help us get ideas down on paper.  

This was tough for my students from the get-go but since they love Spongebob, this made it a bit easier.  They all wrote their final copies on the last day before Thanksgiving break and at a first glance, they look pretty good!  I just hope we can make this shift without too much confusion so my 8th graders still can do their very best on the last FCAT writes.  

I am giving away my 12 week unit for Expository Essays this week. Feel free to check out the Lesson Plan oragnizer for the entire unit and the first week's worth of lessons HERE and then enter the giveaway if you like what you see.  Or you can also purchase it at the Cyber sale!  :)

Thanks & Enjoy!

Expository Essay time with a FREEBIE!

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Happy Thanksgiving week!  

If you are like me, you are doing all you can to maximize this week's "Black Friday" sales for your classroom.

Well I have great news for you!

I am holding a giveaway for my 12 week Expository Essay unit!

I believe that kids think essays are boring and "tune out".  It is important to teach the writing process and six traits along with the terms like "thesis" and "predicate" but the students need some kind of interest catcher to get them engaged.  

How about rich, ooey-gooey, luscious cupcakes?   

I give the prompt:  There are many kinds of different foods for dessert.  Think about your favorite dessert food.  Now write an essay to tell why this dessert food is your favorite.  

Then I tell the students that we will write this essay together and so I picked cupcakes.  And since we need to do a little research, each person will need to eat a cupcake.

You'd think we'd all just won the lottery!  The students LOVE this!  Of course, it's all very structured and no one HAS to eat the cupcake.   However, since we've had such an engaging beginning, students are more invested in the process.  The process I speak of and use in my 12 week unit is all very structured and organized and includes:

So now the FREEBIE!  

Week one of my unit with the lesson plan organizer for all 12 weeks is HERE for free.  Take a look - you might want to enter the giveaway or snag the unit during the sale this weekend!

Freebie Fridays

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Thanks & Enjoy!

Responsive Classroom and a FREEBIE

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Have you heard of Responsive Classroom or Tribes Learning Community?  

These are ways of creating community in your classroom (or even at the school level).  Both are primarily targeted towards elementary schools, but I think why not middle school?

So I have been working on making my own adjustments to make it work for me.   I use the Tribes agreements (some people call them "rules") and now I am trying the Responsive Classroom model to start a lesson.  

First, there is a morning message:

Next, students gather in a circle and greet one another by going around the circle and saying good morning or giving a high five or whatever you choose.  Then students share whatever you prompted them about on the morning message.  Finally there's an active activity related to the learning goal for that day.  

This is where it's challenging for me.  Right now we are working on expository writing.  So on Monday I think I will give each student a different piece of a paragraph we made in class and ask them to put it all together - like a puzzle.   

(Disclaimer:  I teach special education and our paragraph is still a bit awkward so please understand it's a work in progress.)

And that's the FREEBIE for this week!  You can get it HERE  on Google Docs.

After the activity, students return to their seat to move on with the rest of the lesson. So, in essence, this is just an "starter" for the lesson but this is great way to meet Marzano's design question #5 with:
  • Using Physical Movement
  • Maintaining a Lively Pace
  • Providing Unusual or Intriguing Information
  • Providing Opportunities for Students to Talk about Themselves 

There are other pieces to Responsive Classroom and Tribes - but that's a post for another day.  :)

Do you use the College Board's SpringBoard curriculum?

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Monday began a new marking period for us.  I now have one full marking period of using SpringBoard under my belt and have been wondering:

Do you use this curriculum?

The reason I ask is because while I think it is well done, my students, all of whom have learning challenges, need more  - more structure, more review and more reinforcement.  Is this the same for anyone else?  What do you do to add on to SpringBoard?

I have recently tried something new and "added-on" with Mentor Sentences...

I have found that Mentor Sentences work so well for my students because the Mentor Sentences honestly help grammar make sense.  Plus there are so many teachable moments that come from looking at the sentence for evidence of what is happening!  Here's how it works:
  • You start with a sentence from your reading that is a good example of something  - like complex sentences.  
  • You hang this sentence on poster paper clipped to your board.
  • Students glue a copy of this sentence into their notebooks.
  • Then you elicit responses from the students as to why is a good sentence.  You write on the poster, they write in their notebooks.
  • Next, (perhaps on the next day but I do this on the first day) you and the students label the parts of speech.
  • The next day, you ask students to brainstorm synonyms for some of the verbs, adjectives and adverbs so you can revise the sentence.  You write a revision on the poster and the students copy it into their notebook.  This is a good day to do a foldable of the target (in this case - complex sentences) if you have one.
  • The following day, you invite the students to imitate the sentence.  Now they can write their own about a completely different subject using the same style.
  • On the last day you give an assessment where the students edit the mentor sentence that is missing some key items, list some of the parts of speech and identify the target (such as complex sentences).  

If you're like me, you want to see this in action.  Here is the person who started it all for me:

From this the students not only have a great sentence to refer to but you have gone over evidence, parts of speech, revising, vivid words (description), editing for conventions and whatever target you have set.  My students love it!  You can get Mentor Sentences from Jivey on Teachers Pay Teachers for all sorts of wonderful picture books if you're interested.  (This is not a paid or solicited review - I just think mentor sentences make so much sense!)


Instead of using other literature, I am using the SpringBoard literature for my mentor sentences.  I am following a similar pattern to the unit made by Jivey but obviously with a bit of my own twist.

My freebie this week is my first attempt to try my hand at SpringBoard specific mentor sentences.  It is for "How Fire came to the Six Nations."  You can get it HERE  for free on Google Docs.  

I would love to hear from you if you use SpringBoard (or even if you don't :)  )  so please take a moment to let me know what you think.


Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Happy Monday!

It's the end of the marking period for us this week so I am finishing up grades and thinking about how to start the new marking period with my middle school special ed. students.

I found this great little video:

It's the Scholar Ladies that tell us "If you learned it then you should have got an A on it".  

I love this!  

So then I was thinking - how can I use this with my students other than showing it to them?  We would definitely have to have a conversation about it, so I decided I would make a kind of discussion guide with a reflection.  Plus I think I will hang the reflections up as reminders!

And that's the freebie that you can get HERE on Google Docs.  

Thanks & Enjoy!

Getting Organized - still! + a FREEBIE!

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Right now, I am focused on getting organized.  I thought I was all ready to go back to school - I had a theme, a new way to encourage homework completion, lots of new lesson ideas and then... I went to a meeting this week.

We were told that we need specific things from Marzano in our lesson plans and that all lessons have to be day-by-day - unit plans will not suffice.  So I went looking for something to assist me in all of this.

I found a SUPER template on Teacher's Notebook which I truly love that you can find by clicking HERE .

It has all sorts of awesome drop-downs for the common core standards, Marzano elements, integration of technology, assessments and even accommodations that are huge time-savers! 

There's a lot of careful thought that went into this template as it is very thorough.  One example is the daily "I do, we do, you do" format.   I really love this - it makes me carefully consider how to structure the sequence of activities.  

But then there was a new district template that was being highly encouraged.  This template, by the way, required 2 pages of planning for ONE lesson.  So then I began to think - with the new requirements, do I have to use the new district template?  Apparently teachers are not required to use it as per our contract but with what our principal is requiring (which impacts our evaluations), it seems we need something pretty close.  So now I am back to creating on my own.  Sigh.

So now for the freebie!  This is my first attempt at a template in Excel.  It is not perfect or pretty - as I am just learning.  But I thought, why not turn it loose and ask you, dear readers, to leave your kind, constructive comments for ways to improve it?

It has drop-downs for:
-Common core standards
-Marzano design questions 2 and 3
-Formative and Summative assessments
-Exceptional Education accommodations
-Materials and Technology

You can get it HERE  and if you download it, please, please comment.  I need all the help I can get!  :)  :)

Special Education Strategies FREEBIE

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Now that September is nearly done, I am going to shift my focus from behavior management.  (Although I am sure there will be some updates from time to time!  :)  )

This week, I want to focus on accommodations.  As a special education teacher who facilitates in general education classes, I am constantly asked for strategies.  So, I made a booklet!

It starts out with definitions of what accommodation are and ways to create your own "strategies" and ends with a table of the most common issues and possible solutions.

It also comes with examples of some items.

And today, the readers of this blog get it for FREE!

Get it HERE on Google docs.

If you end up downloading this item, please leave me a comment.  I would love to hear from you!  

One more behavior management idea - Harvey the Therapy Dog + a FREEBIE!

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

This month I have devoted my blog to behavior management as I teach special education and this year my core group are all children with behavior challenges.

While I have finally tweaked the system to suit my students' needs, I have one more component to add - Harvey the Therapy dog.

Harvey is my Great Dane and he has been in training to be a Therapy Dog.  I am proud to say that he has finally completed all his evaluations and is now a full-fledged Therapy Dog with Caring Canines.

This means I can bring him to school to hopefully help calm the students that get to feeling overwhelmed at times.  I am very excited to do this but know I have to be strategic.  So my first step is to introduce the idea to my students and to the other teachers who work with my students.

That's where my freebie comes in!  I have written a small story about Harvey that you can get here for free.  You could use it to introduce the concept of Therapy dogs for a special visit or for a small non-fiction reading passage.

Get it HERE on Google Docs.  This is the only way to get it for free.  

If you have a minute, leave me your thoughts on this topic as this a new adventure for me!

Behavior Management - Phase 3 - Cool FREEBIE!

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Eureka - I think I've finally got it!

Since I work with students with special behavior needs, every year I have to find what is going to work.  Some years the students I have respond well to things like tickets and a raffle and other years, they need things like menus... like this year.

All of the students have point sheets.  I am using Class Dojo to show the students how they earning their points - there's even an app!  You might think middle school students would think it's too babyish but they LOVE their monsters!

The last step has been to tie the points to the menu.  So I made my menu into a little booklet with pictures.  I cut out each card, glued it to construction paper, laminated it, punched a hole in the upper right hand corner and then put them on a binder ring.  I made a set for each student in my class.

The idea is that each day the students can turn the booklet to the page that shows the item for which they are working and the points required to earn it.

  What's nice about the booklet is that I can add things to it as I find more things that for which they are wanting to work.

So now the FREEBIE!  My booklet cards!  It's in 3 pages and in Word so you can edit it.  All my clipart is from http://openclipart.org.

Click HERE to get this on Google Docs.  This is the only way to get this for free!  :)

I'd love to hear from you on this topic with your comments here!  :)