endlessly creating

teaching, books, projects, & other things i love


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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!

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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.

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

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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.

Onomatopoeia!

Onomatopoeia!


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Classroom Organization

I’m trying to post more often, so here’s a round-up of some of the things I do to stay organized and provide my students with the resources they need for success!

 Handouts

My desk gets messy sooo fast. Combine that with my students’ tendency to lose things, and we go through a ton of handouts! If I keep extra copies on my desk I end up buried in paper, but if I file them away somewhere I have to stop class to dig them out when students show up without their materials. Here’s how I keep my current papers easily accessible during a unit:

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They’re tacked to the bulletin board next to my desk, along with my schedule and other helpful things!

Yeah, I know, this is probably a no-brainer. I actually found those folders in a random cabinet and figured I might as well use them! Once I’ve handed out copies of a story I just drop the extras in the envelope and put a sticky-note tab on them so I can quickly identify what I”m looking for later.

Color-Coding

I don’t know how I would keep all my classes straight without color-coding. My schedule, file cabinet, turn-in trays, and these boxes with students’ reading folders are all divided by color.

Well, they used to be color-coded. We rearranged the 7th grade classes part-way through the year.

Well, they used to be color-coded. We rearranged the 7th grade classes part-way through the year. Shoulda taken the pictures before the boxes got all beat up!

I even use matching highlighters to identify students on my overdue library book list and when I leave sub plans. Yeah, I’m a little crazy.

Mentor Texts

Even with my lovely hanging organizers and the kids (theoretically) using the file cabinet to keep track of handouts, I like to keep the mentor texts for a current unit out in the open so students can reference them when they’re working on classwork:

These copies include annotations we went over during class to help students identify text features.

These copies include annotations we went over during class to help students identify text features.

During writer’s workshop kids will sometimes come up to the wall to double-check an example text! It’s also a nice way to display what we’ve been working on in case an administrator comes by :)


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Brag Wall

I’ve been using the book Teaching for Joy and Justice as a resource for writing and community-building in my class, and will probably share some thoughts about it here eventually. I was thinking about the author’s use of read-arounds (which I started last week!) as well as the use of graffiti walls and realized I could combine both strategies for a quick, easy way to get students pumped about their writing. Here’s the result:

This was the first day of using the brag wall. Two weeks later, it’s almost covered!
Most students did sign their writing, but I’ve blurred out their names in the picture.

I thought of this in the car one day and had a good long self-laugh about that terrible title. Then I used voice-to-text on my phone to record a reminder of my own cleverness so I wouldn’t forget… probably not the proudest moment of my life :)

Brag wall rules:

A teacher or a classmate must suggest that you share something you wrote – no self-nominating!

You can choose not to share your work. If you do post something, you can sign it, initial it, or leave it anonymous.

You can use other people’s “brags” for inspiration, but never steal their words!

I’ve found that most students are excited about the opportunity to post their writing, even if they don’t sign their names. I’ve had students come up and ask me to read their work so they can find out what to post, and it’s a great way to encourage them to share their work with classmates as well, because if they want to post something they have to convince someone else to recommend it first. When I do journal checks, I try to highlight one or two words/phrases for them to post, and they don’t let me forget to give them time to post! If we end up with a few minutes of down time at the end of class, students often wander over to the wall to read each other’s writing.

I have several objectives with this wall, and so far I think it’s been very successful:

Make students feel awesome about their writing. I might suggest they post a few lines from a poem, a funny comment in a journal entry, or even just a really cool word they used – it doesn’t have to be intentionally well-written or perfect (misspellings and poor grammar do NOT prevent kids from getting nominated for a brag).

Get students comfortable sharing their writing. I originally thought about letting them nominate their own work but decided against it to encourage them to let others read/hear what they have to say.

Encourage them to give each other positive feedback. Knowing someone’s looking for the good in your work makes it less scary to share, and seeing your peers as talented writers plants the idea that maybe you’re a good writer, too!

Teach them that I’m not the sole authority on quality writing. Probably about half the brags posted on the wall were recommended by classmates, not me. I explained to students that I might not suggest a post every time I read their work because everyone has different taste in writing, and that’s why it’s good to have multiple people read it and give feedback. They can suggest my writing for the wall, too, and I try to write with them and ask for their opinions as often as possible.

We’ve been using the wall for about two weeks and it’s almost completely full. Whenever it fills up I plan to just add a layer of paper and start over again!


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Dos and Don’ts of DIY Poster Printing

I saw some ideas floating around on Pinterest recently about creating huge photo art for cheap by ordering engineering prints from Staples. They’re black and white, lightweight prints that are intended for blueprints (not really high enough quality for photos), so I decided to try making some classroom posters… and along the way I made some mistakes that I hope you can learn from :)

I had two posters in mind that I wanted to create, but I wanted the first one to be more colorful and durable so I looked into the other options available online rather than the engineering prints. You can upload your own design or customize the ones they offer, which is what I chose to do because it seemed more likely to turn out well. I wanted to express the sentiment from the poster on the left below (from the Boulder County Health Department), but I wanted the language to more directly hold students accountable and the imagery to be less LGBT-centric. Mine’s on the right!

The small-sized poster was $13.99, plus $2 to laminate. Total cost with tax: $17.31. Would have been only about $5 if I had known better! (see below)

So here’s what I learned about making this type of poster:

DO: Play around with the designs they provide. They appear limiting at first but you can move most of the elements around and resize them, etc, so most formats will probably work out for whatever appearance you have in mind! There are quite a few templates that let you add your own graphic or picture, but I chose not to do that with this one.

DON’T: Order online if you want to pick up your poster in-store. When I picked mine up the woman in the print center told me that it would have only cost about $2 to order on-site, as opposed to $13 online! I’m not sure how that’s possible, and she wasn’t either, but if you’re planning to make something like this you should find out if you can customize in-store before designing one online. You can also have it shipped to your home but I found that the shipping would almost double the cost of the poster, and that wasn’t worth it to me. Cheapest option is to order and buy in store, but again I’m not totally sure what the difference would be as far as creating the poster at Staples versus on the website. Also, the smaller print on my poster is really hard to read from a distance because the lines are so thin, and the color contrast is not as sharp as it appeared online, so make sure your font/colors are nice and bold!

Next I did my engineering print for a CHAMPS poster. This one was more of a pain to put together, mostly because I’m a perfectionist, but ultimately I’m happier with it because it turned out exactly how I wanted AND it was a great deal!

The 18×24″ print was $1.69, plus $6 to laminate. Total cost with tax: $8.34!

The poster is laminated so I can write in the activities/objectives with a dry erase marker. I’d originally planned to attach it to my whiteboard and have each guideline on a separate card with a magnet, but that seemed likely to get disorganized/irritating very quickly. I thought through some other ways of indicating expectations with magnets, but then I remembered those transparent post-its, which I think will work out perfectly. Here’s what I learned with these prints:

DO: Make sure your image is exactly how you want it before you upload – the only real “custom” options with these prints is to size the image to fit the paper. I spent forever creating mine as a Word document using text boxes and tables, but I’m sure there is a better way.

DON’T: Worry if the preview online looks grainy or blurry. I kept trying to find ways to enlarge my file and make it look right online, but when I asked an employee I was told that it didn’t matter as long as my PDF file looked right. My preview looked terrible but I’m very happy with the final product!

A final note: I got both posters laminated (Staples charges $2 per foot) so they would last – I don’t want to have to order replacements every year or semester. The engineering print is only about as thick as butcher paper so laminating it makes it much more durable, and as I said above, it works like a dry-erase board, too.

So, if you do it right, you can create great-looking posters, reusable anchor charts, etc for under $10! Or you can do it wrong like I did the first time around and it costs under $20 :)

UPDATE: I felt like it was too time-consuming to write in the activity every time we started, so I made little cards with the activities on them, and backed them with velcro dots. Much quicker and easier, and the poster/strategy has definitely been effective! Once during the second week of school I forgot to review the CHAMPS before an activity and a student actually checked the poster and asked me if the CHAMPS included talking – I love having concrete guidelines that I can direct their attention toward quickly when they need a reminder.

**UPDATE (ONE YEAR LATER): This post seems to get the most hits out of anything I’ve written, so I wanted to add some info that I’ve learned since writing it. First of all, I changed the wording of my CHAMPS poster because as I got into my routines last year I realized that some of the options were pretty much never relevant, and others were just awkward at describing what I wanted. I also made a matching poster of my expectations for this year. I printed both posters as 18×24″ engineering prints at Staples again, but with the super-money-saving alteration of NOT getting them laminated there! Did you know Lakeshore Learning offers self-laminating for just $0.29 per foot? I was lucky that they had a store a few miles away from the nearest Staples, so it wasn’t too inconvenient to pick up my prints and haul them somewhere else to laminate. And Lakeshore’s laminating equipment didn’t destroy all my posters like the one on my campus, so that’s a plus, haha. I also printed my 11×17 color posters as just color copies instead of posters. The quality is lower, of course, since it’s just regular paper, but it still looks fine, and once it’s laminated it’s plenty durable. The color prints only ended up being about $1 each, so if I’d known more last year, my Safe Zone poster would’ve added up to about $2 instead of $17!