A Turkey and Talking Toys . . . A Girl’s First Writing

January 24, 2013 by  
Filed under Mini-Lessons, Writing Practice

I splurged on composition books for each student in my reading classes this semester; to begin, I am asking students to bring in (or snap pictures of) an early piece of writing they created when they were young.  While the students will have their own web sites to post blogs, I believe good old-fashioned writing in an old-school composition book brings out authentic expression that can’t be replaced.  To initiate that authenticity, I will be sharing my own writings.  Here is a sampling of my first writing experiences**:

Two Early Pieces of My Writing - A Composition and A Book

Two Early Pieces of My Writing – A Composition and A Book

a.  “Thanksgiving” – I was seven years old when I wrote this in the first grade. The only point I remember about the assignment is that we were told to write something about Thanksgiving.  I associated Thanksgiving with my brother’s birthday as he was born around this feast, and I was recalling the special Thanksgiving when my mom was pregnant with my bro.  To this day, I joke with him that my story about Mom having a turkey indeed came true.  🙂  This is one of my first full-length “papers.”  Embarrassingly apparent is my lack  of spelling skills  – thank goodness I grew up relishing spelling bees and Speak & Spell  (true story!).

b.   “The Unusual Christmas Morning”  – I sharply remember this assignment because I enjoyed it immensely – 5th grade, age 11.   It involved drafting, editing, re-writing, and drawing an original Christmas story.  Once the composition and drawings were complete, my teacher sent the drafts off to be “published.”  I recall my anxiousness in waiting for the book to be returned all bound and neat.  This particular storyline is one I was always fascinated with – toys coming to life when humans are not around – and I re-created it again and again using different settings whenever I had the urge.  To this day, I am drawn to similar story lines.  “King of the Dollhouse” by Patricia Clapp, “Wednesday Witch” by Ruth Chew and “The Doll People” by Brian Selznick continue claim to a closet space at this very moment.  I jokingly declare that Pixar needs to send me royalties – Toy Story came after my ‘published’ piece.  My mother still brings this book out to display every Christmas.  Speaking of, I believe one of the reasons I’m driven with my English teaching endeavors is because reading and writing was always celebrated in my home – our fridge was consistently a landing for prized papers coupled with every room in our home accented with books thrown strategically around ( . . . . hmmm . . . sounds familiar!)

My message about writing is this: write every.single.day.  Writing is a release.  Writing is an expression.  Writing is an extension.  Writing is a connection.  I learned this from these very first pieces and I continue to discover more about myself and about the writing process each day.  It is a gift to take full advantage of.

When you cannot write, read.  When you cannot read, write. 

Pieces of Me

**This activity is an adaption from Expository Composition – Discovering Your Voice by Gary Anderson and Tony Romano (a comprehensive resource for writing I refer to again and again!)


Joys of Journaling

February 22, 2011 by  
Filed under Mini-Lessons, Writing Practice

Keeping a journal may be the easiest form of writing there is.  With blogging, it may be even easier – certainly more fun.  Regardless of whether you write in a notebook or blog on a web page, you need only follow three rules:

  • Write freely and honestly, and don’t worry if your entry doesn’t make sense.
  • Make it a habit to write something every single day, even if you think nothing happened that day. Your days are more eventful than you may realize.
  • Finally, make sure it’s kept as private as you want it to be, so you always feel safe saying anything.  If you have a blog, you can make your visibility “private.”  If you have a notebook, you can stash it away for safe keeping.

7 Reasons to Keep a Journal or Blog

1.  Writing is a release.  The act of journaling counteracts daily stress and is a useful tool to learn more about yourself and to clarify your life’s goals. Disorganized in your thinking? Not sure how you feel? Regular journal entries help you to work through everything that is going on in your life and those around you. As you put these thoughts to paper (or screen), you are working through these problems in your mind and subtly figuring out how to solve them.

2.  Journaling also has a lighter side and can be used for the sake of creativity. Journal writing have been shown to improve mental function and stimulate creative thinking for people of all ages, children through senior adults. The process of writing can enable any individual to become a better communicator at home and in the workplace. Creativity begets new ideas and new ways of doing things. It can be producing a piece of art for the pleasure of others. With writing, anything is possible.

3.  Think of journaling as nourishment for your brain. While writing cannot possibly solve all of your problems tomorrow, with some discipline and a regular schedule, gradually you will begin to see improvements in some areas of your life such as mood and mental health. Chances are your physical health will improve as well. As you make decisions, define priorities, strengthen relationships, and generate new ideas, the transformation you will achieve may surprise you.

4.  Even if your life may not seem very exciting now, you’ll have a record of it later, when you’ve forgotten so many details that you now take for granted.  Imagine your grandchildren, years from now, reading about what it’s like to go to a movie (because something tells me that may not be a leisure activity of the future . . . but that’s another post).  A journal is a living part of history.

5.  Your journal will be a record of your best memories, and you will always have access to events that may seem unforgettable now but do fade with time.  I’m so very grateful that I kept a “Mommy Journal” when my daughter was little.  When I read some of those entries now, I’m tickled and realize I would not remember those precious details had I not written them down as they occured.

6.  Write about your favorite people.  Talk about special qualities and what you learn from them.  What’s your grandfather really like?  What is it about Auntie Anne that makes you so happy when you know you will see her?  These people may not always be in your life.  Your journal will keep their memories alive.  I’ve written about a handful of extremely special people in my life – some of which I’ve posted on this site, some of which are private.  Writing about them makes me perceive them as even more special.

7.  If you write honestly, you’ll be able to go back and read entries that will help you learn from your mistakes.  At troublesome times, you can look back and see what went wrong.  If you are always writing about sad or negative things, perhaps it’s time for an attitude adjustment.  If you are writing negatively about one person, perhaps you need to communicate more clearly to him or her.  You can use your journal to solve problems.

Which Punctuation Marks You?!

October 24, 2010 by  
Filed under Mini-Lessons, Writing Practice

You know the line from Coldplay’s “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall?” – “I’d rather be a comma than a full stop.” Which punctuation mark below would you rather be?! . . . .

.                    !                    ?                    ,                    ;

:                    –                   (   )                *                    #

@                 /                    ?!                 &                   =

”                  {   }                ^                  < >                ‘

~               . . .

  • Why did you choose the one you did?  How does this represent and symbolize you?

This was one of the opening activities at an AP conference I attended.  I circled the exclamation point without hesitation because I tend to overuse this mark – both in written and oral expression! In my work emails, for instance, I find myself hitting the back button to delete some to not sound overzealous.  In person, I’m known to exclaim my excitement wholeheartedly and randomly.  I walk into class telling my students how wonderful they are; I clap at the gym; I jump around at home.  True story.  As another example, my colleague claimed the % because she feels her life is divided into percentages:  as teacher, mother, wife, club sponser, etc.  Another example, a friend claimed he’s a semi-colon because he’s misunderstood as the semi-colon seems to be.  🙂  Which one are you?

I Am a Mini Cooper

September 24, 2010 by  
Filed under Mini-Lessons, Writing Practice

WRITING ASSIGNMENT:  Letter of Introduction


Using Metaphors to Identify Ourselves

I probably should have posted this at the very beginning of the school year but it’s been a whirlwind of a year already – and we’ve only reached the very first midterm.  Yippee yikes!  This is the first writing assignment I gave to my accelerated freshmen this year. At the opening of the second day of class, I reveal the assignment; they have the class period in the lab to complete the letter.  During Open House, I pass out the final drafts to parents.

Parents got such a kick out of this. I always try to send them home with something besides a syllabus.  I received numerous emails from parents this year, in particular, stating they usually never receive anything other than a syllabus from other teachers and appreciate the bit of insight to their child’s work. Because of the great response I get, I’d thought I’d pass it on to my English/Language Arts followers. Just because their children are teenagers does not mean parents don’t need or desire detailed information about students’ lives at school.   It really does not take that much more effort on our part to get that information to them; and, it feels so gratifying when we do.

Here’s the assignment.  This doesn’t necessarily have to be given at the beginning of the year:

Letter of Introduction

I also give my own letter as an example.  Here’s an excerpt from my letter:

I am thrilled to get to know and work with each one of you this year.  You don’t know too much about me yet but you soon will.  To give you an idea, I am a Mini Cooper because I look small but have a powerful engine underneath.  I am a wrapped present because you never know what is inside until you try to get to know me.  I am a lioness because I work quietly raising my young but will roar loudly to protect.  Finally, I am an unfinished novel because I have experienced many chapters in life, look forward to experiencing many more, and have yet to know the ending.

Having the students guess who wrote each letter provides additional bonus of fun.  Enjoy this assignment with your students!

Write while the heat is in you.  ~ Henry David Thoreau

Toast a Boast!

January 6, 2010 by  
Filed under Mini-Lessons, Writing Practice


Here’s a way to introduce English Literature in the classroom:

(adapted from an assignment by the great Jeffrey Leathem, a colleague in my department!!)

Anglo-Saxon Boasts

We’re going to do a little old-fashioned chest-thumping Anglo-Saxon style.

Your boast should include the following elements:

A. Self-identification (I am . . .)

B. Your immediate ancestry and something about your lineage

C. Boasts of at least three past achievements and/or hobbies

D. Boast of an achievement to come

E. Include at least three identifiable kennings (Identify in margin)

F. Include at least three identifiable alliterative phrases (monster-mashing, Grendel grater) (Identify in margin)

Should be 20-25 lines – approximate verse form (no need to rhyme)

***Extra Credit will be given to those souls who dress up like Anglo-Saxon Warriors and deliver the boast aloud in class

Anglo-Saxon Boast Example

Hail young thanes who gather about me –
For I am GG, dweller of the creek.
From the land of Lincoln, here in Chicago.
Daughter of the late RC, chief motivator of the crowds,
And N, seller of homes. Sister of D,
Online gamer consult & seller of homes.
From the high plains I come! I roar!
Reader of books, dancer of songs,
Scribe of stories, and essay-assigner.
Commander of the hardwood battlefield,
I approach my foes and float on them with the
Fine fin, wading through water,
Snapping waves, watching for whacks from my foes.
I speak of and boast of the victories of the
Blue and White Small Bear Warriors!
And how ‘bout those Blue and Silver Boys?!
I stretch with force forming a fine angle –
Blasting my limb-movers and walking-propellers with
Momentous endurance.  Defeating my enemies.
Flying on the human-kite at 1300 ft. above ground.
Pale-hosed, I prepare the fire feast – The great celebrations.
Under sweltering sun in the flame’s face.
I barbecue the grub –Party Host Champion I am hailed:
Planner of Surprises!   Host of many!
A challenge is decreed by my heir –
I am  healer of wounds, listener of qualms,
Helper of homework, preparing the way for
My heir to this mighty mead-hall.
I’ll make good on my boast and talk all the louder –
Poets will celebrate my actions with rousing cries,
Shaping my deeds into timeless songs.


Smart Ways to Enter and Exit a Classroom

November 22, 2009 by  
Filed under Mini-Lessons, Reading Fun, Writing Practice

On this relaxing Sunday afternoon, I’m writing strategy suggestions for my school’s Applied Technology departmentAs their literacy coach, I meet with the department every week to discuss, share, and observe their incorporation of reading and writing in the classroom.  A shout out to these six motivated teachers!!! I thought many of my followers would be interested in some of the material I am sharing with them:

Entrance and Exit Slips

One can never have too many pens!!

One can never have too many pens!!

The Applied Techies are looking for a productive way to ‘wrap-up’ class and/or lab time as well as a smart way to re-group and refresh before beginning the next class:

Entrance slips (index cards, sticky notes, small slips of paper, whatever your fancy) are completed before class and students bring them in to enter the door. Exit slips are the students’ passes out of the classroom. This writing-to-learn strategy can be used for many purposes in all content areas:

  • Focusing student attention on the lesson to be taught the next day
  • Setting the tone for the class lesson
  • Accessing background knowledge
  • Troubleshooting
  • Reflecting

Entrance and exit slips are a way to ease students into writing … and, in the course of writing a sentence or two, reveal what they think about a topic, materials, or teaching strategies.

EXAMPLE Entrance Slip
Woods – Fall 2009
Name ____________________ Date __________
Please write an answer to this question in 2 – 3 complete sentences:
How can a worker set up a safe workshop that will meet OSHA standards?  (provide at least three examples)

Some Other Suggestions:
~ How did you respond to last night’s reading?
~ How did yesterday’s measuring problems go?
~ What is a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI)?
~ What worries you about today’s class?
~ Name the three most important things you learned?
~ What are you still confused about?
~ How does what we do in class relate to other things you do or experience?
~ What would you like to ask about today/tomorrow?

*Have students complete exit slips and entrance slips on topics such as : what I learned in class; how it relates to what I know; what is still unclear

*Students reflect on assessments: I prepared by ___; I could have ___; I would change____ if I did it again; doing this made me understand ______

*Have students reflect on the lesson; This lesson I_______; next time I will__________

Teacher challenge:  Reflect on your day or week or particular lesson.  What do you want to change?  How did you function best as a teacher?  How do you learn best – and how have you expressed that to your students?  Share what YOU write with your students as well!

As GG states . . . write it down, write it down, there’s something magical about writing it down!

Have You Ever Been Cubed??

November 4, 2009 by  
Filed under Books, Reviews, Writing Practice

Shhhhh . . . Keep this a secret . . . Don’t tell a soul about this post . . . Read on only if you are ready to be enlightened, tickled and shocked.   from Katie Tegtmeyer on Flickr

Begin if you dare! 

WARNING:  For maximum validity, enlightenment, and fun, do NOT read down to the bottom until you have completed the exercise in its entirety!!!



The Cube - compiled by Annie Gottlieb and Slobodan D. Pesie

The Cube – compiled by Annie Gottlieb and Slobodan D. Pesie

This is the tone you will encounter when you open the book The Cube . . . Keep the Secret.  It is a self-awareness game I play with my students on the day before a holiday.  I’ve been using this book for many years now, and I’ve yet to encounter a class in which the students are not in awe of its accuracy.  When we’re done with the game, I ask the students to write either a one-page analysis of their findings from the game or a descriptive piece illustrating their landscape.  Never is there a complaint for this assignment.  I also have fun with this at family gatherings!!

  • Readers are asked to picture a desert landscape.  In the desert landscape are five specific elements:  a cube, a ladder, a horse, a storm and flowers.  The idea is to write down and describe the very first image of each that arrives in your head to achieve the most accurate results.  Each element represents something about the reader – therein lies the secret.  I’ve always been good at keeping secrets so I’m going to make you wait until you have the book itself in your hot little hands to find out what each represents.
 The 204-page book goes on in-depth to explain each portion of the Cube as well as to provide sample Cube illustrations from entertainment and political figures.  The 19-page key at the back is detailed and promises hours of interest.  There is a listing for just about every detail imaginable that a person might choose for his cube, ladder, storm, horse, and flower (s).  Perusing this key is where the real fun lies . . . you will be amazed at its accuracy!!!!  But don’t take my word for it . . . run to your local bookstore or library and grab this little book.  GG gives The Cube an A+ for unbelievable accuracy, positive enlightenment, and good clean fun!!
Have any of you already played and/or read this book?  I’d love to hear about your experiences with it! 

Mapping Memories with Memoirs

October 19, 2009 by  
Filed under Mini-Lessons, Writing Practice

Mapping Memories with Memoirs

Your first day of school, that time you sprained your ankle in 8th grade, the day you won that special award, your very favorite vacation, the day you learned life is short . . . our lives are full of significant moments.  Memoirs provide a tool to bring those precious memories into clearer focus.

from lowjumpingfrog on Flickr

If you are using this in the classroom, I have suggested pieces that I use with high school students of various reading levels, but you can alter these based on the ability and maturity levels of your students.  At the end of the unit, I design a rubric and have students select a number of the pieces they’ve worked on to place into the final drafts of their memoir.  The rubric includes whatever types of figurative language or conventions we have been working on through the unit. Students design a cover and I also have them do an ‘about the author’ page with their picture and a short biography.

If you are using this for your own benefit, writing about yourself is a great tool for self-awareness.  By creating a written narrative, your past takes shape and offers you a clearer vision of who you are today.  By writing about yourself, you form a connection with each and every person who reads your words.  Writing provides the opportunity to share ideas that can help others grow along with you.  Additionally, writing helps dissolve the hard knots of loss and regret that may keep you stuck in the past.  For instance, I’ve written letters to ex-boyfriends never intending for them to be read.  Just the act of placing my thoughts on paper placed them out of my head and provided the release I needed.  Finally, writing is a challenging mental activity and research shows that challenging yourself mentally improves your mental agility and stamina.  So go ahead . . . put your pen to paper and discover yourself.  Here are some of my favorites:

Memoir Piece #1 ~ Describe someone memorable who you know personally.

Think of an ‘interesting/different’ person you know.  You may want to include the following:

  • Tell something memorable this person does; write something this person always says (his/her expression) or write a short conversation between this person and someone else so we get a sense of how he/she talks.

Memoir Piece #2 ~ Write down a process you could teach to someone.  Think of a process that has symbolic meaning for you or is somehow important of who you think you are.

Memoir Piece #3 ~ Write about the first time you did something.

Memoir Piece #4 ~ Write two rules you learned as a child.  How did you learn this lesson? What is the most important lesson you would want your child to learn?

Memoir Piece #5 ~What do you remember about your first day of school?  OR What was your most memorable day at school?  Write a short description of the place; describe one incident that happened that day; include 20 lines of dialogue that occured that day.

Memoir Piece #6 ~ Write about a time you did something you didn’t want to do.

Memoir Piece #7 ~ If you could take back something you’ve done, what would it be?

What other memoir pieces would you include???

What Bugs You?

September 14, 2009 by  
Filed under Mini-Lessons, Writing Practice

People love to complain, rant, and rave – my students are no exception.  I use this lesson early on in the year to get them warmed up to writing.  They rarely experience brain freezes for this one!

What Bugs Me . . .*

What bugs you??

  • Talking loudly on cell phones at inappropriate times and places
  • Shopping on the day after Thanksgiving and the day after Christmas
  • Subscription cards that fall out of magazines
  • Telemarketers
  • People who lose all manners to get a parking space
  • Filling my car with gas
  • Drivers who don’t observe the rules of the road and crash into your less than 2 month old car!!!!
  • People who say “ta” instead of “to.”
  • People who update their FB status 12 times a day.

. . . You get the picture!


  1. Brainstorm a list of at least ten things that bug you.
  2. Choose ONE to write about.
  3. Type a one-page description of why this particular issue/item/etc. bugs you.

There!  Doesn’t that feel good to get that off your chest?!?

adapted from Kelly Gallagher’s Teaching Adolescent Writers

Find the Fib

September 4, 2009 by  
Filed under Mini-Lessons, Writing Practice

People usually love to write about themselves.  Writing can be therapeutic, it can be a chance to express oneself more openly than one may in person, and it can provide a creative channel to explore.  Here’s an assignment my seniors run with time and again:

Find the Fib*  fingers_crossed

Below you will find five statements about me. Four of the statements are true, one is a fib. Can you guess which one is the fib?

1. My voice is the voice of two characters on a pinball game.

2. I worked as a runway model.

3. I was interviewed and appeared on a national television show to give my opinion about one of the past season’s American Idol contestants.

4. Teri Hatcher is my third cousin on my mother’s side.

5. I hang glided 1400 feet in the air, and later jumped off 100 ft cliff.


Now it’s your turn!

a. Type five statements about yourself. (think of your accomplishments, accidents, travels, mishaps, etc) Four statements must be true and one statement must be a fib.

2. Print a copy of your statements. Go to as many classmates as possible. You must go to at least ten people, but the more the better. Keep track of how many people can spot your fib and how many cannot. Tell me your results here: _____ # of people you fool _____ # of people who correctly guess your fib The person with the fewest correctly guessed fibs will be officially titled the “Best Fibber” of the Class of 2010!!!

3. Now . . . choose one of your true statements to elaborate on. Your assignment is to tell the story of this statement in writing! (minimum one well-developed paragraph)

*adapted from Kelly Gallagher’s Teaching Adolescent Writers

btw – the fib is #4!  🙂

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