Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Today is the first day of final exams and I am amazed at how many words my students do not know the meaning of (studious, economical, just to name two). Next year I will be starting off with a vocabulary unit that will deal with words commonly encounted, but not part of the curriculum.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Summer Reading Project

This is our second year to create a list of activities for our students to do over the summer. Instead of giving them a book list and saying "Read something!" We created a flier with suggestions like read to your younger siblings or cousins, check out a book on tape from the library and listen as a family when you are driving around this summer, watch a video based on a young adult book and we put a list of suggestions on the school website. We added blogging with the librarian or myself. We want them to let us know what they are reading this summer and what they would recommend.
Our Math Specialist added four Math Projects to the flier, calculating miles per gallon, comparison shopping, and we both put in some fun websites to visit.
I'm personally looking forward to the Joy of Children's Literacy Conference in October. Thanks SURN for all you do to keep us motivated!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


I have found that visualization has helped my students get through tough literature assignments. Completing graphic organizers, drawing pictures, and acting out scenes has enhanced student reading comprehension.

Monday, June 6, 2011

End of the year

Power tools has definitely benefited my classroom. We just finished reading Lord of the Flies. I can tell that the strategies have made a difference in how they approach their reading and the corresponding assignments. They are making more connections to what they read, and their comprehension has increased. On my end, I have been able to slide different power tools into lessons with ease.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Devil's Arithmetic AKA TDA

As the year ends we are (in addition to reading TDA) watching the movie (based on TDA) that appears on Showtime each passover season. As it is quite different it allows for lively discussions about the similarities and differences. Plus it is a nice break after SOLs and before finals.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Year End Motivating Tips

As the year ends, students tend to get off task easily. I am finding myself using Power Tools to keep students engaged in the learning process. Reader's Theater works wonders to help student understanding of the novel we are currently reading. The students are given a chapter; they write a script and choose the cast to do the reading from the class. This activity covers writing, reading comprehension and oral presentation SOLs (an added bonus, it's fun).

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Antonyms Can be Fun

Even though antonyms seem simple, some students get confused about what they are. There is this wonderful book that a friend gave to me called Surviving Last period on Fridays that is full of fun language activities. The antonym activity has the students look at antonyms that have no vowels or are separated (example: bgsmll = big/small ) and attempt to figure the words out. When they have finished working independently each student will think of five additional antonyms; leave out the vowels and move the letters together. The students will trade papers and solve the new puzzles made by their classmate.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Happy Feet

As a way to stimulate creative writing this year, I am showing my students the cartoon Happy Feet and will have them write an alternative ending to the movie. So far we are just now in the viewing stage, and I cannot wait to see the different endings the students come up with. They are really getting into the music and story (this is the most involved I have seen them all year), I hope this means that the writing will reflect the enthusiastic involvement I am witnessing.

Picture Books for Figurative Language

Thanks to SURN, I've been able to order at least five picture books for each of my Language Arts teachers. Each grade level will have a different set of books to illustrate hyperbole, idioms, similes, metaphors, and onomatopoeia, plus double duty for personification. Now we can avoid the complaint of "We did that one last year!" Each grade level will be able to teach and review figurative language with original material. Students' horizons will be broadened!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Planning For Next Year

Last year the Math Specialist and I created a Handbook for all the teachers scheduled for Seminar classes. A Seminar might be enrichment or it might be remediation. For the first 4 1/2 weeks, the students went back to their homerooms for Seminar. We used that time for testing and placement. The Handbooks we created helped the teachers run through the school handbook, fire drills, daily procedures, study skills, etc. We included several Get-to-Know You activities including the Bio-Poem from Power Tools. The Handbook was well received.
As I edited the Handbook for 2011-12, I pulled out the iTune to Literacy notebook from last August. If you attended that session, a whole section was devoted to Getting to Know You activities. I've selected Getting to Know One Another - THE IMPORTANT BOOK, A Penny For Your Thoughts, Web of Knowledge, and Exit Tickets to include in our Handbook for this year.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Power Tools Help with Reviews

The ABC Graffiti works wonders for reviews. After the alphabet has been filled in, the student writes in depth details about each word. The template can be projected onto a screen and the entire class can work together.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Let Katy Perry Help With Figurative Language

One of my English teachers downloaded the words to Katy Perry's hit song FIREWORK. She then made copies for all her students. Every adolescent in the world is familiar with the song!
Giving them highlighters, they were challenged to find as many examples of figurative language as they could.
The song is brimming with metaphors, has some good similes and examples of onomatopoeia. It also has poetry elements like rhyming and repetition. Not to mention, what is the main idea and author's purpose?
The students have really enjoyed this activity, which, of course, can be done with other songs and hip artists. FIREWORK is clean as far as inappropriate language. Some of the other things I hear on the radio, not so much. Be selective.
B. Spencer

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Novel Approach

Next week we will be starting our novel unit on The Devil's Arithmetic. The book contains many Yiddish words that most students are not familiar with. I am looking forward to using the vocabulary Power Tools in order to enhance student comprehension.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Preparing Students For the Reading SOL

As I am beginning to prepare my 11th grade students for the English Reading SOL, I am thinking about everything I learned from the I-Tunes Literacy conference. I am trying to implement different strategies for helping my students become better readers. My seniors are taking the Reading SOL the day we get back from spring break--keep your fingers crossed that they keep in mind all that I have taught them this year!:)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Graphic Novels Help Student Comprehension

After a rocky start, the graphic novel Romeo and Juliet has finally helped some of my struggling readers. At first the students complained that it was hard to follow the cartoons and dialogue. However, we are making progress with overall comprehension as they become more comfortable with the format.


Looking for an activity that will incorporate all points of the Magnificent Seven? Collect from your library or public library all the Cinderella picture books you can lay your hands on. I have 15 different ones in my chalk tray right now. The Cinderella story is in almost any culture you can name. ( There are believed to be almost 300 versions) Her name is Sootface, Princess Furball, Ashpet, Rhodopis, Yeh-Shen, and even Becan, the Irish Cinderlad. I have my students read five from my collection. For each one, they fill in information about location, who helped them, who hindered them and the outcome. Then, they have to do a little research and write a couple of facts and opinions, they write descriptions of the Cinderella character using figurative language, write two cause and effect situations and they take two of the stories to compare and contrast. I will be reading aloud ASHPET- An Appalachian Tale and we will watch the video when we complete our readings. Most students can't stop at five and continue to read until everyone is done. (This takes about three days) If you would like a copy of my Cinderella Project, email me and I'll send it to you. Don't worry about the boys not liking the project, some verisons have the stepsisters slicing off toes and heels and birds pecking out their eyes!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Teaching Figurative Language With Picture Books

Working with reluctant/struggling readers, using picture books to teach figurative language is a great help. For example, I read aloud THE BLIND MEN AND THE ELEPHANT. It's a very easy picture book, but the examples of metaphors are priceless. "The elephant is a wall, the elephant is a fan, the elephant is a tree, etc." Each blind man has a different perception of the elephant. Other books I use include ANIMALIA for alliteration, NIGHT IN THE COUNTRY for onomatopoeia, IF YOU HOPPED LIKE A FROG for similies, EVEN MORE PARTS, for idioms, SWAMP ANGEL for hyperbole and CINDERELLA PENGUIN for personification. As our picture book collection grows, we have five or more books we can use for each figurative language lesson. One of our lists came from CRASH, BANG, BOOM: EXPLORING LITERARY DEVICES THROUGH CHILDREN'S LITERATURE. Sorry, I don't have the author for that. Brooks Spencer - CLMS

Third Quarter

At last, the third quarter is coming to a close. My classes are finishing up their assessments and hopefully we will finish Romeo and Juliet in a couple of weeks. Even with the Power Tools, getting my students through this play has been excruciating.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

One of our 8th grade English teachers created the neatest bulletin board for the Winter Holiday. The title was Figurative Furs. She cut out and stapled four large, at least 4 ft "Christmas Tree" silhouettes. One Fur was the Metaphor Fur, one was the Simile Fur, the Personification Fur and the Hyperbole Fur. She gave each student four ornament shaped cutouts. Their assignment was to write a seasonal metaphor, simile, idiom and hyperbole, then decorate the cutout. The ornaments were then attached to the corresponding tree. It was so creative. I took all my classes down to look at and read their examples.
I'm currently putting up a Simile Snowman and a Metaphor Mountain outside my door. The students love to have their work up and admired by others.
Talking about rice, have you had your students go to Freerice.com? It was in our SOL Review Ideas for High Student Engagement. Thank you SURN! It is a lot of fun and addictive, too.
Brooks Spencer - Cedar Lee Middle School - Fauquier County

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Rice Picture Book

I was telling another teacher about the picture book about the grains of rice book....what was it called again???? I don't believe it was one we were given, and I think I want to order it!

Semester Ending

As the semester is ending, I feel like I have not accomplished all that I had hoped to do....I have definitely made progress, but the juggling of responsibilities has left me wanting summer to arrive so I can plan better for next year!!

Julius Casear project

Wow! I implemented the lesson plan I wrote and it was exciting to see the students so engaged!! I had a crime scene investigation and even with interuptions (due to snow days), the students were loving reading real world texts about blood splatters, studing scenes to find out facts about suspects, etc! It created really strong interest and desire to get into Act 3!!

School wide focus

Due to a school wide focus on improving test scores, I have been totally amazed at faculty meetings hearing other core content areas joining in the literacy focus and supporting reading instruction! It is very encouraging and I sincerely hope that all our classes will begin to implement the Magnificent Seven!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Passport Project

I wanted to expose my students to a larger selection of myths and legends. Therefore, I created a project where they could use selected sites on the internet to explore myths and legends from different countries. The students have to select five different stories from five different countries. They have to create a stamp representing the country and the story, rate the story out of four stars, summarize the story, and evaluate what makes it a myth or legend and how they liked the story. Through this project, they will be using the Magnificent Seven Comprehension strategies we have worked such as determining important ideas and summarizing!
The students are currently looking through stories on the laptops and will have two weeks to complete the project. I created a document that allows them to input the information they find and save it to their account. I hope they are going to read way more than five stories. I'm honestly hoping that they will go "story shopping" and read until there are five that they actually enjoy. I can't wait to see how if it's a success.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Welcome Back

Welcome back, I hope that everyone had a restful winter break. This week marks the end of The Odyssey for all of my English classes. I am looking forward to using new Power Tools in the new year.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Poetry Concept Maps

We just finished up poetry a little bit ago. Concept Maps were a great help with all the terms the students needed to learn. It helped them organize them terms and provide their own examples. They even shared in groups and could combine their notes. It was definitely a good tool to help them study for the test.