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Enter an Epic Giveaway to Lift Your Spirits!

I'm snowed in. Well, not really any more, because I dug myself out. But I wish I were still snowed in. Because now my back hurts and I'm cranky.

If this wonderful giveaway hadn't entered my life, promising ELA riches to one lucky winner, I might have felt compelled to call in sick and eat a sleeve of Thin Mints. Then I would be sick.

I keep Thin Mints in the freezer for emergencies such as this one. Emergency crankiness.
Before I tell you about the giveaway, I'm going to vent a little. You can skip the venting and head straight to the bottom of this post if you are strictly here for the giveaway.

But I thought you were my friend. Just sayin'.

For every single snow storm, hurricane, heat wave, ice event, and overall crummy weather day in the history of dangerous weather, I have been by myself. Except for my kids and dogs. Who, mind you, used to be babies. Little tiny ones.

My husband works for a major utility that keeps the lights and modems on in a major city. I won't say its name, because even though you are my friend for reading this, you might send me hate mail due to the major rates they charge. Every friendship has limits. Even ours.

When my firstborn was two weeks old, there was a hurricane. My husband refused to leave us alone... until he made sure the flashlights had batteries. He's thoughtful that way.

We were too stupid to think it might not be a good idea. Even though, mind you, only two weeks earlier I was appalled that the hospital was so irresponsible that they just let me stroll out with a defenseless baby. Poor judgment if you ask me. (Case in point: the hurricane incident.)

Firstborn is away at college now, and nothing has changed re: the husband's job. I'm still the one "in charge" every storm. (Don't even talk to me about Hurricane Sandy, that witch.) So, I keep Thin Mints in the freezer.

Believe me, this giveaway is a bright spot in my cold, snowy, minty life. It was put together by the wonderful Jackie, from Room 213, and the terrific Mary Beth, from Brain Waves Instruction, It has AMAZING ELA resources that YOU can win! For free. Like, just by clicking some keys. In fact, this might be a nasty rumor, but Jackie and Mary Beth told me that each person can get 50 chances to win. And wait till you see the prizes!

 I tell you, if I could enter, I would. It's much better than a Thin Mint binge.

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Middle School Nonfiction Books

I'm gnashing my teeth trying to come up with a quick blog post about nonfiction, so I can go read some...nonfiction! I'm finally getting around to reading Unbroken. My son keeps asking me to hurry. He's already read it and he wants to discuss it.

Get that? 

He wants to discuss it. 

With me. Mom.

His mom. 

It's not even my birthday or anything.

People like to discuss books with me. I'm not sure why, but after school I usually have a room full of kids who want to talk about what they're reading. Some of them aren't even my students, but they come in anyway. 

Maybe they're secretly looking for food. I never have any, but I probably look like someone who would have a lot of food around. 

I must disappoint them, so they figure, well since I'm already here, I might as well stay a while and talk about books. Maybe next time she'll tell us where the secret food stash is.

I'm always happy to oblige. Except when a kid I don't know very well asks me a question like Why did the guy in my book go to jail? What does it mean to... clock a john? 

True story. I think I may have pretended there was a violent skirmish in the girls' room, causing me to run in and save the day. 

I am a coward, masquerading as a hero. 

Luckily no one was hurt. Unless you count John.

As I've been saying ad nauseam in recent blog posts, I've discovered a new appreciation for young adult nonfiction. It's a new appreciation mainly because there was nothing much to appreciate before.

So I thought you might like a list of some titles to pick up for your classroom library. I have some more on my Middle School Nonfiction Pinterest board, but clicking on the image will take you to a list of about 20 or so books. 
Right now I only have about three or four nonfiction titles left on my shelves. That's right. My kids are eating these nonfiction books up. 

Maybe I should start keeping food in the room.


I know that based on my title, you are reading on with eager anticipation. You want me to share my knowledge of short-shorts, hair removal, and all things 80s.

Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you. The NAIR I mean is Nonfiction: Accountability of Independent Reading. I'm giving you this cool commercial so you can get your fill of short-shorts, catchy jingles, and hair removal. Then perhaps we can move on and discuss all things teachery.
The first thing I want to say about NAIR is that I think I made it up. I've heard of GRAIR. Guided Reading Accountability Independent Reading. I just switched the GR for the N of nonfiction. Sometimes I can be clever that way. Please don't expect that degree of cleverness every time you visit. I'm not good with pressure.

I've been writing a lot about fostering a nonfiction-rich middle school classroom. You can read about the "Golden Age of Nonfiction" here, and some great classroom ideas here. Getting kids to read nonfiction isn't difficult at all, due to the high quality texts available now. The tricky part is holding kids accountable. 

It's easy to come up with 1,000 ways to hold kids accountable when they are reading a narrative. But not all nonfiction has a narrative structure. And if we look at nonfiction as topic based, which would mean we can accept a book or the reading of a collection of nonfiction articles, ongoing and meaningful assessment is even more difficult. 

Since necessity is the mother of invention, I came up with my Nonfiction Accountability Reading Response Logs and I couldn't be more pleased with them. 
Why am I so pleased with them? To begin with, they are easy to grade. They also address every single Common Core Standard for informational text, and the standard and "I Can" statements are on every page. Kids can complete as many a week as you would like them to, and they have a choice of questions to answer (differentiation, folks!). They also work for books and/or articles, regardless of the structure.
But the best, most amazing, phenomenal thing about them? This. 

 It may not be a cool jingle about hair removal. But it's music to my ears.
(Please note: All names have been changed to protect the identity of Ron Leishman's cartoon characters.)

Come Out of the Deep Freeze!

     Come out of the deep freeze...and have a little fun with your students!
     Those who know me well know that I don't do well in cold weather. Some people have anti-freeze running through their veins, and they're never cold. I'm just the opposite. I don't let the air conditioner go on in my car unless it's 95 degrees out. And if it's below 75, I've got a sweatshirt on.
     So when we decided on Out of the Deep Freeze for a Secondary Smorgasbord blog hop theme, I bristled. I don't even like ice in my drinks. The title alone was making me shiver. Then I thought about it, and I realized that in  my classroom, I AM trying to "warm" things up a little. Last week I had my students complete a fun fun fun activity. They created a "desktop" and blog for a book character.
            We had a blast. I've said it before and I'll say it again: kids are so clever and creative! We had blogs called Freak the Mighty Dragon Tales (They liked the double allusion.) and The Katniss Chronicles. A good time was had by all. 
            Or should I say, a warm and fuzzy time was had by all?

Half Way Sale and Celebration!

Super Secondary teachers are getting together for a sale to celebrate the half-way point of the school year! So stock up, save, and celebrate!

Fabulous Nonfiction Ideas for Middle School Students

Back in the day when Common Core Standards were just a twinkle in the NGA's eyes, I remember English teachers ranting and raving over the water cooler. Rumor had it that 70% of our curriculum would have to focus on nonfiction.
Now we know that the bulk of this nonfiction is accounted for in non-ELA classes, and literature is still a majority of the reading students should do in an ELA class. This proved to be something of a relief, but we still have to address nonfiction reading skills more than ever before. Fortunately, the publishing world is heeding our call for well-written middle grade nonfiction. 
My students and I couldn't be happier. I've always had a "lit-rich" classroom, and now I also have a nonfiction rich (nonfict-rich has no ring!) classroom. Here are some of my tips for creating one for yourself.

1. Fill your shelves with magazines and newspapers.

I keep them in baskets and boxes all around the room.

Early finishers know that if they find an interesting article, they can probably finish it in one sitting. Reluctant readers definitely find short pieces much less daunting than books. Just be careful the magazines you choose are content appropriate. I like Scholastic's magazines, Reader's Digest, and Sports Illustrated for Kids.You don't have to subscribe. Just put out a request for people to donate issues they've finished reading.

2. Utilize the content from free websites. 

There are wonderful sites out there, with more springing up every day. I like Newsela,which offers high-interest current news articles with quizzes and questions. Each article is offered on five different reading levels, which makes it a dream for differentiation.

One of my new favorites is The Nonfiction Minute, where you can find short works of nonfiction on a wide variety of topics. They're written by popular nonfiction writers, and many include short videos and links to longer works. I like to use them as mentor texts, but they also serve to give kids ideas about research topics and independent reading selections.

3. Do some "information dropping." 

Every so often, I throw out a bit of information that I've learned from one of the nonfiction titles on my shelf.

Here's an example of how it works. One day when some of my students were complaining about the cold weather, I mentioned that I had just finished Gary Paulsen's Puppies, Dogs, and Blue Northers, and I learned that sled dogs prefer being in freezing cold kennels. In fact, sometimes the kennels are so cold that newborn pups- born wet-  will immediately freeze to death coming out of the birth canal. 

It was too bad that I only had one copy of that book, because I had about three kids who fought over it right there and then. See? It worked.

(Note: it is not easy to make smooth connections to the conversation at hand. In fact, my information dropping probably seems pretty weird and random at times. Do I care? My kids are reading. Thank you very much.)
Later this week, I'll post my best idea for assessing nonfiction independent reading assignments. In the meantime, you might want to steer clear of me in real life. You never know when I might launch into a random story about our favorite patriotic schoolteacher, Nathan Hale, and how he managed to sneak past 64 guns on a British man-of-war, steal the whole ship, and deliver its supplies to the American militia.

 I learned that from Bill Doyle's Behind Enemy Lines. Don't fight over it, please.

Fortune Cookies and Furry Friend Love

Every Christmas Eve when I was a kid, my father used to take me to E.J. Korvette's Department Store to buy my mother a Christmas present. Being a kid who enjoyed shopping, I loved Korvette's, just like I love Barnes and Noble today. That's a lot.

Korvette's had typical department store fare, with a couple of interesting twists. One being a pet department. With real animals. Critters that walked around freely on the floor. Even baby chicks. I kid you not. Now it seems odd, but when I was a kid, it was just cool. I don't remember anybody working there, just me and my dad surrounded by chicks, puppies, and kittens.

Being a kid who loved animals, Korvette's was better than a petting zoo.
The other twist? Well, in order to get to the pet department, you had to go down the escalator. And directly in front of the escalator stood a gypsy fortune-teller in a big booth. Remember Zoltar in the Tom Hanks movie, Big? This baby was like Mrs. Zoltar. She had these creepy eyes that would follow you no matter where you stood. I was terrified of her-- certain that if I put my quarter in she would predict my imminent and gruesome death.

Being a kid who was a mini-hypochondriac, I kept my quarter to myself.

So is it crazy of me that I enjoy making and serving fortune cookies so much? They are easy to make and fun to serve. I've made them for my family, and I've made them for my students. To my knowledge, no one has ever been scared to eat one.

Being a person who doesn't like to creep kids out, I only include funny fortunes, which I can get right here...

The recipe, along with many others, is in the free 2014 Secondary Sellers' Holiday Recipe Book. It's been compiled by the lovely, Mrs. S., and I know I can't wait to dig in to some of those recipes. 

I also included Sunny T.'s favorite doggie treats in the ebook. We can't forget our furry friends during the holiday season!

You know what? Being a person who is really a chicken, I'm pretty sure that if I saw that gypsy today, I would still be scared.