endlessly creating

teaching, books, projects, & other things i love


Liebster Award!


Thank you to Dawn-Reneé Rice for nominating me for the Liebster Award! I’ve mostly been off blogging in my own little corner, so I’m honored to have been noticed and excited to do the same for others :) The Liebster Award is intended to recognize up-and-coming blogs with fewer than 200 followers. There are some rules to follow when you get nominated:

  • Post eleven facts about yourself
  • Answer the questions posed by your nominator
  • Pass the award on to eleven new recipients
  • Post eleven new questions to your recipients
  • Post a copy of the badge on your blog (Google image search “Liebster Award”)
  • Notify your nominees and include links to the originating blog as well as the new recipients

My answers, questions, and nominees are below.

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Thoughts on The Giver Quartet

I wrote this around 1:00am after finishing the YA novel Son by Lois Lowry. Yet another case of “writing to think” getting a little out of hand… let’s call it a tribute to a story that has stuck with me for quite a long time.

Warning: I tried not to say anything too spoilery, but something you didn’t want to know might have slipped in somewhere!

I’m having trouble deciding how I feel about Son. It’s an excellent novel. There are things I love about it and things I don’t. But it’s hard to be sure what I think because it’s tied up in how I feel about The Giver, and those feelings have had 15 years to develop.

Few books have impacted me like The Giver. I don’t think I’d ever read science fiction before that year, so there were plenty of things that amazed me and creeped me out, and I’ve been obsessed with dystopian literature ever since. I’m pretty sure Jonas was my first book character crush. I love Jonas and Gabe, and I’ve had 15 years to wonder what happened to them. You’d be surprised how often I’ve wondered.

In her Newbery Award acceptance speech for The Giver, Lois Lowry told her audience, “Those of you who hoped that I would stand here tonight and reveal the ‘true’ ending, the ‘right’ interpretation of the ending, will be disappointed. There isn’t one. There’s a right one for each of us, and it depends on our own beliefs, our own hopes.” She went on to share a few different interpretations from kids who wrote to her, and commented on how real each version was to each reader. Even as a kid, I thought that was fascinating – we all come away with our own stories.

In seventh grade we read The Giver again and did an assignment where we wrote the next chapter (an assignment I later stole when I did The Giver during student teaching – the only whole-class-novel unit I’ve ever taught). I think it was the only fiction I wrote between elementary school and NaNo 2010, and I distinctly remember being both embarrassed and pleased by my dramatic chapter.

I remember loving Gathering Blue because in a sense it was more of the same – Lowry’s amazing writing, teen with a gift, dystopian society – but it was also its own unique world. There’s a brief mention of someone who might be Jonas, which was fun but didn’t necessarily change my reality of The Giver.

But Messenger derailed all that. Worlds collided and we were told, definitively, what happened to Jonas. To me, it felt cheap. Maybe because I read the other two as a kid and read Messenger as an adult, or maybe because I was genuinely disappointed – Lowry made this big deal of not revealing her truth about Jonas and Gabe, then turned around and revealed it anyway. I think Messenger, overall, is the weakest of the series, and I haven’t bothered to re-read it like I did the first two books. There were other things I hated about it, but that’s not really important at the moment.

And now I’ve read Son. I was nervous, because it’s about the girl who “produced” Gabe, and I knew it might further challenge my 15-years-in-the-making assumptions about what happened after The Giver ended. The book is split into three parts, and the parts actually mirror the rest of the series rather well. Book I takes place in the community from The Giver, paralleling those events from a different perspective, and it is awesome. I loved seeing things from another point of view, especially the insights it gave into Jonas’ father – I found him much more sympathetic in this book and much less creepily detached. Wonderfully, though, it made his detachment in The Giver even more interesting, rather than taking away from its impact.

Book II introduces an entirely new community. I was a bit disappointed not to see all the ramifications of Jonas leaving in the first book, but the new society was engaging enough and unique enough that I didn’t mind. It struck me as more rustic, just as the society in Gathering Blue did, and it was enjoyable to read about even if it didn’t fascinate me the way the first community did.

Book III brings us full circle, to the community from Messenger, and of course as someone disappointed in Messenger I couldn’t help being disappointed again. I don’t like the “outside forces” they have to deal with – dystopian literature is great because it’s usually based on the choices humans make, and feels real. I don’t like the neatly-tied-together lives and relationships of characters from past books, even though yeah, I guess I shipped it.

Writing this, I realize that yes, overall I loved Son. How could I not? (Well, I guess I could have hated it – look at poor Messenger). What I didn’t love was having my own reality – the 15 years of life Jonas and Gabe have been living in my mind – stripped away from me with the canon version of events. I love Jonas and Gabe, and I loved the vast, unknown possibilities of their lives after The Giver. It’s more real to think of them out in the world, but out of reach, than it is to see “what really happened.” I don’t want neat coincidences that tie the books together. I want them to be out there living their lives, whether I get to see how they turned out or not, just like anyone else I knew when I was younger.

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Sand Dollar Shadowbox

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, so I adore cold, rocky beaches. Every time I went to the coast as a child, I always, always wanted to find a whole sand dollar, but never found anything more than some broken pieces. When I moved to Texas, it was hard for me to realize that I wouldn’t get to see those beaches again for a long time, so I planned a trip with some friends as a kind of farewell, and much to my delight I finally found my first sand dollar!

I stood there on the beach, staring at the perfect shell in my hand, cherishing a moment I’d been waiting for my whole life. It was like a sign, a miracle – the coast saying goodbye to me with this last, lovely gift.


Moments later, one of my friends inexplicably smacked the sand dollar out of my hand, and we all stared in shock at the broken pieces on the ground.

Luckily, I found another one farther along the beach, so looking back on that moment and how dramatic it was just makes me laugh. And I finally figured out how to display my sand dollar, so now it serves as a lovely reminder of both the coast and that ridiculous moment on our trip!


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Poetry Activities

I looooove poetry and have so much fun teaching it, even though most students tend to hate it. I’ve been planning to share some of my more successful poetry activities for months now, so here they are!

Kisses & Kiwis

Sadly, I can’t take credit for coming up with this awesome activity – a coworker demonstrated it at a PD session over the summer (he uses kumquats, but my grocery store didn’t have any) and I had to try it. It’s a fun way to emphasize sensory details and produce some impressive writing!


Each student received a Hershey’s Kiss and each table group got half a kiwi (which I cut into individual pieces when we got to touch/taste). We created a chart including columns for each of the five senses, then spent 30 seconds per sense jotting down our observations. It’s important that these 30-second sessions are silent so kids can focus on their observations, and I encouraged them to explore their subjects in detail – crinkle the wrapper, peel back a bit of the kiwi’s skin, try to squish/tear/break it, etc. It can get pretty silly, especially when we’re thinking about how the objects sound, but the students enjoyed coming up with weird ways to make observations. After the charts were complete, they used their observations to write brief poems full of sensory details. I also encouraged them to try to include metaphors or “deeper meaning”, which led to one excellent-but-inappropriate poem (they’re talking about putting things in their mouth, what did I expect?), so be careful to frame the assignment more specifically than I did.

Scavenger Hunt

One of the great things about poetic devices, especially similes and hyperbole, is that they’re everywhere (not even intentional! POINT PROVEN). Students don’t realize that poetry can pop up in songs, stories, advertisements, and even casual conversation, so this activity is designed to help them understand poetic devices by identifying them in the real world. I had students try to collect examples that appeared naturally in their daily lives, then write them on notecards and post them on the wall, creating a kind of bar graph of poetic devices.


Terrible picture, but you get the idea.
Hyperbole came up so often in conversation that students still point it out sometimes!


Students put the quotation and source on one side of the card,
and their name and the poetic device on the back.

The student who found the most examples in each class received extra credit on the final, but making the assignment optional led to a disparity in how much everyone participated (the reason it was optional was because I wanted them to pay attention to their surroundings and naturally find examples – not just google “examples of personification” and print out a list). I think next time I’ll give students a “bingo card” type of thing so they can keep track of how many examples they find and be more motivated to find a variety of poetic devices.

Haiku Posters

I’ve done this assignment a couple of times and find it to be a good way to teach the emphasis on natural subjects in haiku, as well as providing a break from our usual writing routine. You could also go outside and find a place to make observations on your campus, but if you don’t have a very pretty area to do this you might get a lot of haikus about gravel or something, haha. Instead, I had students choose an image of nature from a magazine to write about. Many public libraries have old magazines you can just take, or you can find old National Geographics for pretty cheap at some used book stores. Luckily for me, I was given a subscription to Smithsonian Magazine as a gift and that had tons of great images for my students to use as inspiration! After choosing an image, they wrote three haikus based on what they observed, then created a poster featuring the image and their best haiku. They had to get their haikus “approved” before starting the poster, which ensured that they’d written the proper number of syllables and made an effort to write a quality poem.




Ed Tech! Ed Tech!

I have to start by saying I’m not always thrilled with the push to get technology into the classroom. It often feels like tokenism or trying too hard to connect with “kids these days” – oh, hey, they like Facebook, so I guess if we do some computer stuff in class they’ll learn better? Technology for technology’s sake is not a magic solution for motivation/engagement/whatever you’re trying to accomplish, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be useful and fun… and I finally found a way to use it that has been super effective so far!

My sixth graders just finished a unit on feature articles, and since most of our mentor texts came from news sites and blogs, I decided I wanted their final draft to be published in blog format as well. A coworker had suggested Kidblog a few months back, so I decided to check it out.

It’s pretty simple, and one thing I loved right away was that students don’t need an email address or any other Internet “presence” – which has been a real problem in the past since many of my students are still too young to sign up for accounts without lying about their age. You create the class blog, and students can edit their password and profile from there. You have access to their accounts, which came in handy when several of them immediately forgot their passwords :) Only members can view blog posts, so you don’t have to worry about information becoming public, although we still discussed internet safety and protecting your privacy before getting started.

I posted a blog entry with the assignment details so students could check the expectations without needing to dig through their folders for a handout, and I used my own blog to teach them how to format their work and provide an example to refer back to as needed.


Not pictured: a great way to show that sentences should vary. Yikes.

My students loved posting their feature articles online. Many of them actually went and read each other’s posts when they were finished, rather than playing games or other “when you’re done” computer lab activities, and they had a lot of fun commenting on each other’s work. I randomly assigned three classmates to each student, and they had to read those three articles and post positive, constructive, and meaningful comments (we’ve gone over how to do this during other publishing activities throughout the year), but beyond that I allowed them to more casually interact with one another. Of course, I still moderated all the comments so I was able to make sure students were behaving and expressing themselves appropriately, even if they weren’t particularly academic about it.

Two things really sold me on using Kidblog in my class. First, a few students asked if they could use the blog outside of class to post other things (writing for fun?! I’m not sure if I should allow such a thing!). Secondly, some of the students who didn’t publish before the grading period ended actually went back and finished the assignment later, knowing they wouldn’t get a grade for it – they just wanted their classmates to see what they’d written!

Our next unit is drama and I hope to go on a field trip to a movie or play, so I’m thinking we’ll use the blog to write reviews or advertisements for the show. I’m also considering finding a way to use Kidblog for reading responses or book club discussions!