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Raising the Stakes on Young Writers by Brian Kelley

This is so amazingly cool. I wish I’d had an opportunity to do this when I was in school.


Nerdy Book Club

Towards the end of last school year, I revisited an idea for a collaborative student novel when I received a serendipitous email from Opera Philadelphia. They offered schools free tickets for the 2015 season. All we needed was transportation and some context.

I wondered if this year’s students could reimagine an opera as a middle grade novel.

After exploring the costs of paying for professional editing services, I chose CreateSpace because of the menu of options regarding editing and design services. Additionally, by going through CreateSpace I knew we could publish our classroom novel on Amazon.

In August I had an even one-hundred students in my class. I calculated out the cost of editing and designing a 25,000 word novel–just over $2,100. I sought funding from our student council.

In my formal proposal, I established that each student in my class would write a 250-word section of the novel as…

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Posted in Food for Thought


Not unlike the classics, I’ve had and still have a complex and complicated relationship with poetry. While the classics at least intrigued me in an abstract way, poetry was my nemesis.

I didn’t like poetry, understand poetry, or see the importance of poetry. I hated analyzing poetry because I never saw the hidden meanings; I still often don’t. I firmly believe that sometimes a chicken is just a chicken.

My last semester at UConn I read The Stray Dog Cabaret – Russian poetry. And suddenly something inside me clicked. The beauty of poetry became apparent. Hidden meanings still elude me, but I saw why poetry was important, why it spoke to the soul. I began writing poetry successfully. A whole new world was open to me.

I want to help my students reach that moment. Some will and some might not, and I accept that. But I want to show them that poetry is beautiful and a wonderful means of expression. I want their eyes to open like mine did. Not all poetry will click and connect with everyone. I understand that. I know it was true for me. But I also believe that every student has a poem or poems they can connect  with. I know that was true for me.


Posted in Food for Thought, Teaching Techniques

The Importance of Literary Analysis

In past posts I’ve written about young adult literature and literary classics. In this post I want to talk about literary analysis.

Analysis is one of those things in the world of English that I really struggle with. It’s not the same type of struggle that I face with reading the classics. That’s something I can grow into, learn to love. Analysis is a little bit different. I know that analysis is important. I know that analysis is kind of a big deal. But I struggle with it.

I think that part of the problem is that much of my reading is done for pleasure. I don’t want to analyze a text when I’m reading it for pleasure. I don’t want to be looking for figurative language or themes or anything like that. I want to embrace a story and let it absorb me when I’m reading for pleasure. I just want to love what I’m reading.

But as an English major and an almost English teacher, I have to embrace analyzing literature. I have to actually actively analyze literature. I have to teach students how to analyze literature.

And I will. Over the years I’ve developed tips, tricks, and techniques for analyzing literature. I have Post-Its and annotations and all sorts of other knowledge. And I know that analysis is important, so I’ll teach it as such.

But in the interest of full disclosure, when I’m reading for pleasure, I’m just going to let myself be absorbed by the story. Sometimes that really is the most important thing.


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The Story of I Wish You More, as told by Tom Lichtenheld

This is amazing and beautiful. I need to go buy this book.

Nerdy Book Club

Many years ago, I worked in advertising –  making TV commercials, magazine ads and the like. While casting kids for a tv commercial, this little girl showed up with her sweater mis-buttoned, so I said, “she has more buttons than holes.” Then, of course, I did a doodle…

Wish1 Wish2

Which made me wonder if it could become a book…


which made me do more doodles…



My initial idea was that the book would be a collection of “more this than that” situations.

At the same time, I was experimenting with watercolors and created this random image by sprinkling salt onto wet, blue paint, which was clearly meant to be a snow-filled sky.


I liked many of the situations but there wasn’t much holding them together – no Big Idea to give them context. I had about 20 drawings, which I showed to my very smart friend Amy Krouse Rosenthal, asking…

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Posted in Classroom Ideas, Teaching Techniques

Memory Vocab

I have a confession. I like vocabulary. It’s always been easy for me. I’ve always made vocab note cards. I love making note cards. I love making note cards probably more than is normal. So, unsurprisingly, my favorite study method is to make note cards.

But I’ve seen the memory vocab method in action before, and not only does in include note cards (!) it’s a really fun way to study vocab. Memory vocab can be played individually or with partners. To play, you need 2 note cards for every 1 word (so 10 vocab words equals 20 note cards, etc.) On one note card you write a vocab word. On another note card you write the definition of the word. And repeat for all vocab words. When all note cards are made, flip them over and play memory – match up the words and definitions.

There are a few reasons why I love this method. I like that the students are writing out the words and definitions. I like that this method is more “fun” because students are playing a game. I like that it incorporates note cards. I want to one day use this method in my classroom and see how it works with my students. I have high hopes for it.


Posted in Classroom Ideas, Food for Thought

The Importance of Reading the Classics

Last week I blogged about young adult literature. In that post I talked about the fact that reading the classics is important and is something that needs to be done. Really I wrote an entire paragraph on the importance of balanced reading. So this post is all about reading the classics and my thoughts on that.

Reading the classics has always been something I’ve struggled with. The classics aren’t something that’s ever truly and deeply interested me. I know that some people are really drawn towards the classics, but I’ve always been pulled more towards YAL. It’s where I felt I fit best; they’re the books that felt like home.

But as I’ve grown up and moved forward in life, and especially as I’ve moved closer to becoming an English teacher, I’ve realized I want to be more well read. I think it’s important for a couple of different reasons.

  1. I want to be well read so I can have educated conversations about literature. I majored in English, and I want to be able to sound like I did.
  2. I want to understand the texts I’ll teach my students. A lot of times these texts are classics. Therefore, I need a certain level of familiarity.
  3. The classics I have read, I’ve largely fallen in love with. To Kill A Mockingbird anyone?

These are all good reasons, but there’s one more I think is really important. I think it’s important to model good reading habits for my students. I think to model good reading habits I have to read a variety of books and texts and talk about them. I think we have to be honest about our likes and dislikes and explain why we feel the way we feel. This will allow students a solid example and foundation to build their own reading habits on. And ultimately, don’t we want our students to be readers?


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Top Ten Things Lit Lessons I’ve Learned from Students by Arika Dickens

Important things to remember about books, regardless of age groups!

Nerdy Book Club

As an elementary teacher-librarian, I instruct many students over the course of the year. More important, though, may be the lit-lessons I’ve learned from students.  Over the last 10+ years, here are ten that stand out:


  1. Series are King

“Where are the My Weird School books?”  “Do you have Piggie and Elephant?”  “Is the new Wimpy Kid here?”  Of all the questions asked by students, a disproportionate number relate to series.  It drives readers to stories.  Mention to students that a new book is the first in a series and interest skyrockets.  Some kids will even research when the next book releases! In the library, I’ve learned that labeling series books with shelf-markers helps all students keep track of where to find their favorites as well as locate potential new favorites.

  1. Passion is contagious

All it takes is one kid.  Just one kid who has read a book, loved…

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