Join the GRA Discussion

{F0F0CC0D-D171-4AFD-B3B8-62991F0328E2}Img100.jpgMy class will be participating in the Global Read Aloud this October. We’ll be reading the middle school book, A Long Walk to Water. My kiddos are in 5th grade, but this novel is definitely appropriate for 4th and 5th graders. If you don’t already know about the Global Read Aloud (GRA), it isn’t too late to get on board. HERE is a link to the GRA website for more information. The schedule requires you to read about 3 small chapters a week, so it isn’t overwhelming to add to your plans. With so many classes participating, it is an excellent way to break down the four walls of your classroom and expand your students’ worldview by connecting them with the global community. It’s also an excellent way to generate excitement around reading!

A Long Walk to Water is a short novel that tells two seemingly separate stories that take place in different time periods. One story takes place in the 80s and is about a lost boy of Sudan. The other story takes place over twenty years later and tells the story of a young girl living in Sudan. In the end, the two stories are woven together. This novel is going to lead to valuable discussions.

In order to collaborate with students from around the world, I’ve put together a website where I will post discussion topics based on the chapters of the week. Our students can participate in a global discussion by responding to the discussions questions and one another. I hope you’ll check this website out and consider participating with your class. Please check in HERE to build some excitement by letting others know where your class will be connecting from.

The GRA starts October 2nd. Here’s the weekly chapter breakdown that was published to the GRA website:

Week 1 – Chapters 1-3

Week 2 – Chapters 4-6

Week 3 – Chapters 7-9

Week 4 – Chapters 10-12

Week 5 – Chapters 13-15

Week 6 – Chapters 16-18


Learn Through Play, Stimulate Innovation, Create a “Not-a-Box”

What better way to learn than through play? Want to encourage your students to think outside of the box and utilize their problem solving skills? Read about my “Not-a-Box” challenge and consider doing it with your kiddos.

Last week, my 5th graders were innovators. It began with reading the picture book Not a Box . After receiving a little inspiration from the book, my 5th and 6th graders were presented a 25 minute challenge. With limited supplies, they had to think “outside of the box” to create their own “not a box”.

Guidelines Given to Students

  1. Use your box to create or invent something.
  2. You may use as many or as little of the supplies provided. Supplies provided: construction paper, tape, glue, scissors, yarn.
  3. You may only use the supplies provided.
  4. As long as you are following the first three guidelines, my answer to every one of your questions will be YES. (This is the most critical guideline as it is this freedom that best encourages creativity. Without it, many students will aim to please the teacher or shape their projects based on teacher feedback. This is a rule I use for all of my creative writing assignments as well. )

Note: Students were asked to bring a box to school ahead of time, but they weren’t told what it was for. They were told the box could be as small as a jewelry box or as big as a refrigerator box.

My students were encouraged to be creative and they delivered! Many came up with something original, an invention of their own. After the allotted time expired, we turned the room into a museum. Students were given a piece of folded card stock on which they wrote the name of their creation to display in front of their box.  The students then took took turns touring the museum and showcasing the “not a boxes”. This performance task provided students with a fantastic opportunity to sharpen targeted skills.

You can use this video read aloud of Not a Box if you’re unable to purchase the book.

Of course you do not have to present this activity as a timed challenge, but for me, it added to the excitement and required students to use even more of those problem solving and decision making skills that some of my kiddos so like to keep locked away. My students do not have a lot of timed experiences so I felt it was a needed addition.

Here are a few pictures, shared publicly through the school Facebook page, that show what the activity looked like in action.


Students are hard at work as they start on their “not-a-boxes”.


Creativity at work!


The on-the-go-case can transport items from home into the briefcase. Did you forget your homework? No problem, as long as you have the on-the-go case with you. Hit the homework button inside, close it, and when you reopen it, there it is!


Hungry? Type in any food along with the quantity you’d like delivered, and this gadget will whip it up for you.


Your flowers will grow better than ever when you use this garden planter. It releases a secret potion that keeps your plants alive and strong.


Explore the Genius of Dr. Seuss This Read Across America Day – A Dr. Seuss WebQuest

Last year hundreds of students used the Dr. Seuss WebQuest I created for Read Across America Day. I posted this WebQuest on the blog for the same reason I post everything else – I hoped someone besides myself and my class could utilize my work. Well, I’ve been blown away by its popularity, and I’ve updated it so that it can be better utilized by teachers and classes outside of my own.

I’ve received over 300 survey submissions, and it’s been on my to-do list for quite some time to update the webquest to include survey results, making it more engaging and fun. I finally had time to do so this week. Now, when you submit a survey, you’re led to a results page. Also, since last year, a few links have gone by the wayside. They’ve either been replaced or removed, so everything is fully functioning and ready to go for this year’s Read Across America Day.

It’s time for your class to complete the Dr. Seuss WebQuest (pictured below) and get to know the writer, poet and cartoonist known as Dr. Seuss better than ever. They will explore his books and characters, and even create a Dr. Seuss inspired character of their own! Click HERE to begin.

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Purpose: Students complete a WebQuest to learn more about Dr. Seuss and his books. They then use this to inspire them to create their own Dr. Suess characters. This WebQuest is motivating to students as it allows students to explore and learn at their own pace.


  • Students will use online resources to learn about Theodor Seuss Geisel, the writer, poet and cartoonist known as Dr. Seuss.
  • Students will explore books written by Dr. Seuss, discovering new books and reflecting on personal favorites.
  • Students will create their own imaginative Dr. Seuss inspired character.
  • Students exercise technology skills to compile learned information in a Microsoft Word document. Students will: create a bulleted list, insert a table, use shading to fill table background, use text alignment tools and insert headers.

4 Things That Happen When Your Students Know You Love Them

Take five minutes to watch this video. It might make you tear with happiness, but it will also remind you of the choices we have and the impact we can make if we act with love and compassion in mind.

One particular remark in this video got me thinking. “Teachers are supposed to have these professional boundaries and what not, but really, her heart has no boundaries.” There are two things that I wish teachers would do more:

  1. Hug their students (show some emotion!).
  2. Let their students know they love them. When you mean it, it can transform a student.

I know some schools forbid teachers from hugging their students. In graduate school, I was advised by my professors of the side-hug and that one must never actually hug a child. I began teaching with this in mind. I made sure to only side-hug and to be careful about how much I opened my heart to my students.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that censoring care, kindness, and an outward expression of love was BS. So I hug my students. I tell them that I love them. I tell them whole class. And I tell them at appropriate moments one-on-one. Here are some things that begin to happen when your students know you love them.

  1. Improved self-esteem. They smile and feel good inside. Going to school feels less painful, less of a chore. The perceptions of school can change to a safe, fun and happy place.
  2. Student motivation increases. Love is reciprocal. When students know you truly care, they work harder and take greater risks.
  3. You become a real person. Too often students don’t see their teachers as real people because they do not seem like real people; they do not share or offer real emotions. Attitudes shift when students stop seeing you as a thing or a position and begin seeing you as a person.
  4. They love you back. 

We spend a considerable amount of time with our students in the classroom, and yes, after a couple months, I love them. Why hold that back?

School isn’t all academic. Whether you have a character education program at your school or not, building character is a byproduct of schooling. And what better way to teach strong character than by example. We want kids to be kind, caring, compassionate and loving. So, mustn’t we be the same?

Don’t be afraid to tell your students you love them.

Author Skype: Lisa Graff

unnamedMy class Skyped with author Lisa Graff on Thursday. The entire experience was, in the words of my students, “exciting”. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face throughout our 45 minute Skype meeting, because pure joy was emitting from each and every one of my students.

After the Skype session, my students wrote about their experience and what they learned. One student concluded, “I had so much fun and enjoyed every second of it! It was an amazing experience and I will never forget it! It’s amazing how much you can learn from a person in 35 min and especially when it was so interesting! It was a once in a lifetime experience and was awesome.”

I hope this is an experience I can provide for my students in future years. I learned that Skyping is a great way for students to connect with professionals. The benefits went beyond our 45 minutes on Skype. The preparation process and reflections afterwards were a learning experience as well. For my own personal reference and for anyone interested in setting up a Skype for your own class, I’ve highlighted our process along with the biggest takeaways in the eyes of my students below.


  1. Students wrote questions on post-its and placed them on a board in the back of the classroom.
  2. After completing the book, we read through the questions as a class, grouping like questions together. Students chose to add more post-it questions at this time also. We made a list of questions, making sure to omit repeats.
  3. We had a discussion about how to best organize the questions for the interview. This was 100% student-driven and run as a roundtable discussion. Students decided to group the questions into three categories: General Author Questions, Specific Book Questions, and Personal Questions.
  4. Students then debated the order of the categories. As a teacher, this was my favorite part of the preparation process. Students passionately shared and justified there views and rationales. “I don’t think we should start with personal questions. I think we should ask them at the end when she is more comfortable,” one said. I loved the thought they put into this, and I think they did a fabulous job. Students also had to show restraint and patience while being good active listeners during this process. I love the real-world skills students must apply and sharpen during roundtable discussions.
  5. I put the questions within each category in order and printed a copy for each student. I also emailed the questions to Lisa Graff ahead of time.
  6. The day before our author Skype, the class did a short practice Skype with a staff member. This didn’t take much time, and I believe it was hugely beneficial. We practiced where to stand, how to transition between questions so we could move things along and get all of our questions in, and how to speak clearly and loudly.

Before (1)

  1. I began by saying a quick hello and introducing the students, and we got right to it!
  2. Students asked their 29 planned questions. We finished in 30 minutes! Since we had a little bit of extra time, students asked some follow-up questions and shared some of their own comments.
  3. Students took notes during the interview. They just had a blank paper with which they could record anything interesting that they’d like to remember. I didn’t ask for anything special in the notes, just that they take some.
  4. We signed off in 45 minutes.


  1. We shared with one another. As a class, we discussed what we learned from Lisa Graff.
  2. I asked students to write a four paragraph essay about their experience.

Students churned these four paragraphs out like it was nothing; there was so much excitement, and they had so much to say. Biggest TakewaysLisa shared a number of things that stuck with my kiddos. Here are the top ten takeaways…in my students words.

  1. She has felt like an almost herself sometimes.
  2. Holes was the book that inspired her to be an author.
  3. The first book that she wrote, that was not published, was when she was 14 and the book was called A Speck of Dust.
  4. Lisa Graff said that a lot of her inspiration [for Absolutely Almost] was from living in New York and being a babysitter.
  5. She said that the revising process is always much longer than drafting and that she usually thinks it stinks and wants to quit in the middle. She said she’s never been disappointed once a book is published.
  6. When I hear Mr.Clifton’s jokes I wondered how Lisa Graff got those jokes and it turns out that she just looked up in the internet, “Bad math jokes”.
  7. I found it very interesting that Albie actually at first liked candy bars instead of donuts, but her editor wanted to change candy bars to donuts, which I think was a great idea.
  8. She shows how if you work long enough on the thing you love you will succeed.
  9. What I learned from this experience is that it’s really hard to be an author because it takes a long time to come up with an idea for a book and wait for that book to be published and making changes to your book. It’s a long and hard process.
  10. During the Skype, she told us some advice, “ Write, even if you think it stinks.”

In the words of Mr. Clifton, “You can’t get where you’re going without being where you’ve been.” Lisa Graff told my students to write. She recognized that – yes, it stinks sometimes (or as least you think it does), but you can’t get better without producing some pieces to learn from. Each piece students write advances them as writers. Nearly all of my students quoted the advice, “Write, even if you think it stinks.” This message resonated with my kiddos and gave them confidence. In their eyes, if even a famous author thinks her writing stinks as she’s writing sometimes, then it’s ok if they think their’s stinks too. They learned that it’s normal to feel that way, but they must push through and stick with it until the end. Lisa communicated that, in the end, it’s always worth it. See, this Skype went beyond learning a little more about the background of our read aloud. Students were given writing advice and were able to learn about the writing process directly from an author. I have to do more Skype meetings with my class!

A big, giant THANK YOU to Lisa Graff for offering the opportunity to Skype with classes. For more information on hosting a Skype session with Lisa Graff click HERE.

Teachers Guide to Google Forms: Introduction

What is a Google Form?

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Teachers can create surveys, polls, quizzes, or tests (collectively referred to as “forms”) through Google Drive. Students must have access to the internet in order to utilize this tool.

Benefits for Teachers

  • Easy-to-use for both teacher and student
  • Prevents students from skipping questions accidentally
  • Responses are collected and automatically added to a chart, allowing for easy teacher review and grading
  • Compiles all responses in easy-to-read charts which allows teachers to provide immediate feedback following a multiple choice style quiz or test (students LOVE this!)

Example of Use in Classroom

I’m 100% visual, so here is a short visual overview of how it works.

Google Form Start to Finish

If you don’t already have a Gmail account, it is time to create one. Click HERE to do so.

More info on Google Forms and how to utilize them in the classroom coming soon.