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A Teacher Appreciation Contest for You!

It's Teacher Appreciation Week in the US, and we would like to show our appreciation to all of those amazing secondary ELA teachers out there.

It's Teacher Appreciation Week in the US, and we would like to show our appreciation to all of those amazing secondary ELA teachers out there.

Four of my favourite secondary TpT sellers have joined me to offer you the chance to win one of four $25 TpT gift cards, so you can find something to help you with your planning for your classroom.  Just take a minute or two to fill out the rafflecopter below. Winners will be announced Tuesday, May 3rd!

Thanks to Room 213,  The Classroom Sparrow, Danielle Knight and Addie Williams.

a Rafflecopter giveaway Brighten your day.

Tips for Teaching Argumentative Writing

A person only has to spend 5 minutes in the company of a middle schooler to find out they LOVE to argue. And if someone is going to encourage them to argue and even teach them how to be good at it, they will form a line at the door to get in.

How to Make Argument Writing Meaningful

If we can help students find topics they are passionate about, teaching the art of argumentative writing becomes relevant. If we impress upon them the need they have right now for learning how to "argue" effectively, they will understand that argumentative writing is the single most important writing genre they will learn.

I like to start by introducing a real-life example that the kids can relate to. The example below clearly shows how the boy prepares his argument based on his audience. It also illustrates the difference between argument and persuasion and how to use specific evidence and counterarguments to one's advantage.
 argumentative writing

Choosing an Argumentative Essay Topic 

Weeks before we start our argumentative writing unit, we begin a topics page in our writer's notebooks. Using the books and articles we've read in class, as well as current events from social studies, the kids begin generating a running list of issues that interest them.

"Every issue that interests them" means we end up with ideas like "Should the Government Prepare for the Zombie Apocolypse?" but this is the time when anything goes. We can weed out the flakes later.

This year we wrote two argumentative essays. The first one was a warm-up essay that didn't require the kids to do research because I supplied the necessary information. I also didn't require as many supporting details in the body. I found interesting short articles from Scholastic and NewsELA and had the kids use those text sets for evidence.

Writing a modified essay before starting our writer's workshop argumentative essay worked beautifully. Students developed a good grasp the essay's structure before we did our "heavy-duty industrial strength" version.

Argument Quick-Writes

After the smaller essay came the BIG KAHUNA, an argumentative writing workshop. This time I wanted the kids to choose one they feel strongly about. We started with quick-writes, which are always a huge hit with the 7th-grade crowd. I slowly read them a list of controversial topics, like the ones from the list below. The kids write fast and furiously, jotting down everything they can think of about the topic before I read the next topic. They write and write and write. Sometimes I accidentally smoosh the topics too closely together and read them really fast. This gets the kids all worked up because they don't have enough time and they hoot and holler about it.

Of course, I don't do this too often. And it's always by accident. I swear.

Some teachers call this kind of writing "throwing up on the paper." I don't, because that gives me a bad visual, and we are dainty and cultured in my class. ;) So I prefer the kinder, gentler term I call "spitting up" on the paper. The bottom line is that the kids write about different topics until their hands ache and their fingers are about ready to fall off right there into the aisle.

(I'm telling you, my kids LOVE quick-writes. Any time they can hoot and holler and spit up and there is at least a possibility that someone's hand might fall off...they're all in.)

Argument Writing is a Real-Life Skill

Not only is argumentative writing a skill kids will find useful their entire lives. It might even serve them in an important way right now. A few years ago, my students attended an anti-bullying assembly called Ryan's Story, a presentation by Mr. John Halligan about the suicide of his young son Ryan. My students were deeply moved by the presentation, and they were angered when Mr. Halligan said that our state had terrible anti-bullying laws. When I saw how passionate they were, I moved our argument writing unit up a bit and we went to work doing research. Not every student chose to write about bullying, because the strength in argumentative writing comes from having a passion and belief in the topic. But most students did choose to write about the need to change our state's bullying laws. 

Our students worked hard, and with our team's wonderful social studies teacher, we turned the essays into letters to state senators asking for changes. One of the senators was so impressed that he came to visit our students! It was quite an event, with news reporters interviewing kids, and flashing lights going off everywhere.

The result? The kids were proud that soon afterward, the laws in our state were improved. Maybe it wasn't due to us. But just maybe it was. Which is pretty cool indeed. 

Poem in Your Pocket Day

 Poem in Your Pocket Day
Me: It's April! My favorite time of year! Tulips are blooming, the sun is strong, days are long, AND it's National Poetry Month!

Kids Groan

Me: What? All of a sudden you don't like poetry?

Kid in the Back: Only teachers like poetry. English teachers, to be exact.

Kids Murmur in Agreement

Me: Hey, then why do you get so excited when you see that Out of the Box poetry writing is a Do Now? (I had them there.) And let me remind you of the amazing Socratic seminar and extension activities we engaged in when we read Frost's Nothing Gold Can Stay and The Road Not Taken. (I had them there too. They decided to create fictional lifestyle descriptions for the narrator's possible "roads." Then they described their own life-choices and "mapped" what they can do to find their path.)

Kid in Mets Jersey: So who decided it's National Poetry Month?

Me: The AAP, which is the...

Interrupting Kid: Wow. Old people must really like poetry.

Me: That's AARP. AAP is the American Academy of Poets. And if you prefer, we can rename it National Poetry Doesn't Stink Too Much Month as we celebrate.

Future Wedding Planner Kid: Celebrate?! Are we having a PARTY?!

Me: Sort of. We're going to celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day. It's awesome! We are going to carry a favorite poem and share it with others all day long. And we're going to plant poetry in unexpected places, so people will stumble upon beautiful language. Look at these pictures.

Slacker Kid: Can we use the poems we've already written?

Overachiever Kid: Can we write some new ones?

Sporty Kid: Can I write a poem on a soccer ball?

Animal Lover Kid: Can I write a poem on my dog?

Future Late Night Host Kid: Does he stay still when you write on him? We all laugh.

Wedding Planner Kid: Can I make posters and invite other classes to celebrate?

Cheerleader Kid: Whoo hoo! We're going to make AARP proud!

Me: Yes! Let's make AARP proud...during...National Poetry Doesn't Stink Too Much Month.

Check out this free Poem in Your Pocket Day resource. Enjoy it!

 Poem in Your Pocket Day

The Best Teaching Advice Ever...

     I was a new teacher at a meeting about one of our more challenging students. He was new to the school and already having major disciplinary problems. We were determined to come up with a behavior plan that everyone could agree with, but it wasn't easy. One teacher in particular was determined to convince us that nothing would work. His "solution" was to give the kid a permanent seat in the in-school suspension room. When we disagreed, this guy stormed out of the room, muttering under his breath.

      The teacher sitting next to me sighed and said, "He might have a point. Even if we come up with something, what are the chances that this kid's parents will be supportive?"

     Right about now I could get all high and mighty and say that I was this kid's champion. I was young and idealistic, and I rallied the troops and reminded all the jaded veterans that we could do it. We could make a real difference in this boy's life.

     But I didn't. In fact, I secretly agreed with the naysayers. I was just too new to admit it outloud. 

     Another teacher took control, came up with most of the plan, and called the parents, putting them on speakerphone during the meeting. 

     It turned out they were lovely people, and it was obvious that they were struggling to deal with some difficult situations at home. They were fully on board with the plan, and the boy's mother cried, thanking us for our help.

     I felt like a loser. I had been certain that this kid had parents who couldn't care less that their son was a terror in school. When I admitted my surprise to the teacher who was the boy's real champion that day, she told me something that I never ever let myself forget, even when dealing with the most difficult students. 

    "Never forget that every child is someone's whole world."  
        It's true and it has made me a better teacher.  Every child is born of someone's hopes and dreams.

     Excellent advice.

Digital Resources to Inspire

Stone tablet and chisel. Inkwell and fountain-pen. Blackboard and chalk. Loose-leaf and Bic pen.

You have served mankind well, my friends. We will look back on you fondly as technology propels us forward into the age of...DIGITAL CLASSROOM RESOURCES.

Hear the echo? I heard it in MY head.  

How will you be inspired? Let us count the ways.

1- Digital resources are paperless; therefore, they are environmentally friendly.
2- Digital lessons are engaging and interactive for students.
3- They are easy to use, even if you aren't the most tech savvy person.
4- Digital classroom units are time savers. You can do a better job, with less effort.
5- Digital resources enable teachers to provide a rich delivery format that is an awesome addition to your repertoire.

Need Sub Plans? We've Got You Covered

Here is the ONLY sub plan you need when you're sick:

Roll out of bed. 

Land softly on the pile of dirty tissues that fell off the nightstand while you weren't sleeping because you couldn't breathe.

Wear the clothes that you carefully prepped the night before. By putting them on your body. Before you went to sleep. 

Because you like to be prepared.

Put on your make-up, which consists of Chapstick and Vaseline. The Chapstick is for your dry lips. The Vaseline? For your nose.

Shove industrial strength antibacterial lotion into your teacher bag. And a maxi pad. Just in case. 

Because you're coughing. And you're not quite... the same... since giving birth. (No need for elaboration.)

Get in your car and just sit a little while. Take a few deep breaths. Try not to doze off. Try not to cough. Try. Not. To. Cough. Because the emergency maxi pad is in your bag, darn it. And you like your car seats. 

Muster up the energy to drive. Because you know you'll feel a little better when you get to school. 

And this is much easier than writing a sub plan. Right?

We've all been there, haven't we? But it doesn't have to be that way

Please. Listen to me. It doesn't HAVE to be that way

The Secondary Smorgasbord teachers have excellent ideas for you. And if you download some of the resources below, all you will have to do is keep the copies in a sub folder. Voila! Ready-made sub plans at your fingertips. 

I prepared a freebie just for the occasion! It's a ready-to-go lesson that will be useful AND so easy for a sub to cover! 

Here's a hint.

Yep. It's a paragraphing lesson! Enjoy it by clicking on the image. 
No antibacterial lotion required.

 Paragraphing Power

The Digital Interactive Notebook Link Up

If you're using Google Classroom in your school, this link-up will be a treat. If you aren't using Google Classroom, stay tuned, because you probably will be someday soon.

In fact, not only will you be using Google Classroom, but you will also probably be driving a Google car, parking it in front of a Google house, eating food grown at a Google farm, and getting your hair cut by a virtual Google hairdresser.

Okay. So I'm kidding about the hairdresser part.

Google Classroom is new to me, but I am excited to see two main benefits of using it with my middle school students:

1- Increased student engagement.
The interactive nature of a well-designed Google Drive assignment will increase engagement naturally.

2- It maximizes learning time.
I can assign work in a flash, and I can customize it in a flash also.