Tuesday, October 13, 2015

October Essay Writing Menu (On Sale)

Well, better late than never. I finally finished my October Essay Menu and Writing practice.  It's 50% off for the next few days since I finally finished it.

There is an essay menu, graphic organizers, checklists, rubrics, scaffolded practice pages, and publishing paper. I am making them to go with each month. I also have September and December made. Hopefully I will finish the November Essay Writing before the end of October.

Don't forget about the October Spelling and Vocabulary menu, too. This freebie has a menu of themed writing ideas that can be used with any list of words.

Monday, October 12, 2015

What is Mrs. Walker Reading? #IMWAYR 10/12/15

It's Monday which means it is time to link up with Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers for #IMWAYR.  I haven't linked up in a few weeks so I am glad to share what I have been reading.

When I last linked up I was still listening to The Red Queen and The Fairy Tale Detectives on audio. I finally finished both of those books at the end of September. I really enjoyed both books.  I still like The Land of Stories better than The Fairy Tale Detectives, but I do think they will make good selections for a fractured fairy tale literature circle. I plan to read more of the books in The Fairy Tale Detectives series eventually.  I tried to start reading Rump by Liesl Shurtliff, but honestly I wasn't enjoying it so I never finished it. I may consider using it in my literature circles, but I haven't decided.

When I read through some of the #IMWAYR posts back in September, Cheriee at Library Matters wrote a review mentioning The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series and The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates. Both series intrigued me, so the last two audio books I have listened to have been Magic Marks the Spot and The Mysterious Howling. Both books are read by Catherine Kellgren on the audio. I believe she is the one who does the audio for the Bloody Jack series as well. She really is one of my favorite audio book performers. She does such a great job with all the different accents and voices.

Audio Books

The Mysterious Howling is about a young girl who finds herself governess to three young children raised by wolves.  I look forward to reading the next book in the series.  Really the plot in the book is not super exciting or deep, but the narrator is absolutely fabulous.  I think this would make great read aloud to teach students about how a speaker or narrator can have a different point of view from the main characters. There is really a lot of great sentences and vocabulary in this book as well, which also makes it great for read aloud.

Magic Marks the Spot is just pure fun.  It this book, the main character is a young girl who really wants to be a pirate but instead her father tries to send her to finishing school. She runs away to be a pirate to have her own adventure.  I love the Bloody Jack series, so I am happy that this series is more appropriate for my 5th graders. I plan on getting both the The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series and The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series for my classroom library over time.

Books Read

I just finished Curtsies and Conspiracies this weekend. I then started Waistcoats and Weaponry last night.

I am thoroughly enjoying this witty series on a finishing school that secretly teaches its students espionage. I highly recommend the series for a fun read. Most of my 5th graders might not be quite mature enough for them, but 6th and 7th graders would be for sure.

What are you reading?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Persuasive Writing with the Spider and the Fly

I love October and all of the fun fall and Halloween related activities you can do.  This week we will be working on persuasive writing using The Spider and the Fly. We are going to do some research projects this month on spiders and bats so I thought this would be a nice introduction.

You can read a review of the The Spider and the Fly with some other helpful links from Joanne at Head over Heels for Teaching HERE.

To walk through the writing process, we also will be using a video series from LearnZillion. This series walks through writing a persuasive letter in response to "Little Red Riding Hood."  However, we are going to write in response to The Spider and the Fly. The link for the video series of lessons is HERE.  You could easily do all of the lessons to really scaffold the writing process or you could just pick and choose some of them.  LearnZillion does a nice job reviewing over concepts from previous lessons at the beginning of each video. This does give you the option to do just pick and choose some videos. I believe most of my students need the scaffolding so we are going to go through the entire series of videos.  It may take us a couple weeks instead of just one to get through it all.

What are some of your favorite mentor texts for October?

Monday, September 14, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading? September 14, 2015 #IMWAYR

It's Monday which means it is time to catch you up on what I have been reading. I will be linking up with Unleashing Readers and Teach Mentor Texts for #IMWAYR.

Honestly, this week was so incredibly busy with grad school that I mainly started two new audio books. I mentioned in my post last week that I was interested in reading some of the novel fractured fairy tales to possibly look at doing a round of literature circles with my students using these fairy tale spin-offs.  I was first inspired after reading A Tale Dark and Grimm.  This book has a wonderful sense of voice, which would make it a great read aloud for older students. It would also make for a great lesson on narrators. Overall though, it moves a little slow for me to just sit and read.  I started getting bored about half way through.  I did use this book as an introduction to a lesson on voice in my middle school Speech and Debate class this week (with 7th and 8th graders). I still think it is maybe a little too dark for some of 5th and 6th graders, but I may just use it as a choice in my literature circles.

On audio, I began The Fairy Tale Detectives (A Sisters Grimm novel). This book reads better to just sit and read independently.  It has a more smooth and engaging plot.  I am still working through it, but I think this one will make a great choice for my literature circles to use along with The Land of Stories.

The other audio book I began is The Red Queen. I am really enjoying this one so far. Amazon describes it as Graceling meets The Selection.  I would say this is actually a pretty apt description. It also has aspects that remind me of The Hunger Games.

What are you reading right now? I also am finally trying to do better about documenting my food and workouts at my personal blog Balancing the Backpack. You can read about my meal plans for this week HERE as I try to get back in a routine now that school has started.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Why You Should Use the Socratic Seminar in the Classroom

Last year was the first year I truly used the Socratic Seminar in the classroom with my 7th and 8th grade students.  I found it to be one of the most meaningful instructional strategies I have ever used.

What is the Socratic Seminar?

It is a method of discussion that enables students to take ownership and construct meaning. Students are required to have all read the same text.  They show up for discussion ready to ask questions, respond, and participate.  The responsibility is on the students and not the teacher to construct meaning around the text. However, the first couple times you conduct a seminar you may want to be prepared to step in and guide the conversation a little until students get used to taking more active roles.  Assigning  discussion leaders can also be helpful.

There are many different approaches to setting up and managing socratic seminars.  You can read a blog post HERE where I described last year how I got started with socratic seminars and what I learned from the process.

Why Should You Use the Socratic Seminar?

Why wouldn't you want your students to be deep thinkers who are responsible, can think critically, articulate their thoughts, and conduct civilized discussions with their peers?  Socratic seminars can be conducted in any subject or on any topic.

Resources to get started:

Below are some other articles and posts I found on getting started with planning a socratic seminar.  There are many helpful strategies:




Ultimately, you should make a plan and set goals with your students.  Conduct some seminars and always reflect after each one. Help your students have input on went well and what could have gone better. Here is a helpful video I found where a teacher is showing what a socratic seminar looks like in her classroom, gives helpful suggestions on how to prepare students for this type of discussion, and how it can help students meet the Common Core Standards:


Have you used the socratic seminar in your classroom? What strategies did you find helpful? I am teaching 5th and 6th grade this year, so I am looking forward to learning how to best implement this strategy with younger students.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Vocabulary and Spelling Menu for September - Freebie

One of things I started making for class last year was a monthly vocabulary menu. Last year I taught 7th and 8th grade and we worked through a vocabulary program for SAT words. This year my 5th and 6th grade students are working through a vocabulary book that has set word lists and activities for them to complete.

In addition though, we will also practice the words on Spelling City and use my vocabulary menus.  With vocabulary and grammar both, I am much more interested in whether you can apply them than just answer a worksheet correctly.  The menus are fun because they make your students use the words in a cohesive way, but also challenges them to be creative.  They have to tie any list of words into fun prompts chosen by the month.  Students also can come up with their own story ideas, but I saw some really creative stories last year from my 7th and 8th graders. I made several of the months last year, so I will be working on finishing up the months I hadn't done this year.

This month I finally made the September vocabulary and spelling menu.  You can get a copy HERE.

You also can get a copy of the October vocabulary and spelling menu HERE. How do you get your students to apply understanding of their vocabulary words?

Monday, September 7, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading? 9/7/2015 #IMWAYR

Where does time go? I am always amazed when time slips away from me and more than a month has gone by since I last blogged. I wish I knew what happened to August. It was filled with the getting ready for "back to school" craziness. I was setting up my classroom, conducting conferences with parents, and helping our new middle school teacher get settled. There are many positive things about working at a small school, but one of the unique responsibilities is having to wear a lot of hats.

Anyway, I have been reading over the last month. I am excited about choosing lots of good read alouds this year to share with my students. This week we will be talking about setting reading goals and making our lists of books we would like to read.  We also will begin a discussion of the different genres so they can think about making goals around different genres. I look forward to sharing my own reading goals and what I am reading with my students on a regular basis.  One of my goals this year is to make more of an effort to read more biographies.  I read a lot of nonfiction for grad school, but in my spare time I will always be a fiction lover.  However, I think reading more biographies will broaden my horizons as a reader. So if you have any recommendations of good biographies, I'd love suggestions.

I am going to link up with Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers for #IMWAYR to share my latest reads.

Lady Almina and the Real Downtown Abbey

I just listened to the audio version of this book after a good friend recommended the book.  I love the show, and I love history.  This is basically the history of the Highclere Castle in biographic form following Lady Almina, who was lady of the castle around the time Downtown Abbey is set. It was a highly enjoyable read, and the audio version is well done. Lady Almina's husband was also an Egyptologist who was one of the ones who found the tomb of King Tutankhamen, so the history in general in the book was very interesting.

Serafina and the Black Cloak

A couple weeks ago I read Serafina and the Black Cloak.  I thought it was an interesting story with a mix of history, fantasy, and mystery.  With thinking a lot about genre as I was preparing my lessons for this week, it got me thinking that some of my favorite books are the ones the mix genres or the lines between them are blurred. I think this is a book many students might enjoy.  It almost made me think of Brandon Sanderson's The Rithmatist, but for a younger audience and with a female protagonist.

A Tale Dark and Grimm

I have been wanting to read this book for awhile and finally got around to picking it up at the library.  It is a fun read and would make for a great read aloud for 6th to 8th graders.  It would also make for a great selection for a lesson on voice. I love fractured fairy tales and books with a fun spin on fairy tales.  This book uses a lot of wit and humor to tell a different version of Grimm's fairy tales, but makes sure to ensure the tale is "dark and grim." Throughout the entire book, the narrator warns you that it is not safe for little kids and they should turn away. I am actually teaching a grades 5/6 split class this year and have some young fifth graders, so I'm not sure I would use it as a read aloud for this group of kids.  I may do a round of literature circles though using fractured fairy tale novels such as A Tale Dark and Grimm, The Wishing Spell (The Land of Stories), and The Fairy Tale Detectives (Sister's Grimm series). There is also a new novel called Rump about Rumpelstiltskin. I need to read Rump and The Fairy Tale Detectives first though to see what I think. For my higher readers, I also could use Cinder because those books are at a higher level but still pretty clean and appropriate.

What have you been reading? Hopefully you found some time over this holiday weekend to relax and maybe get some reading in.

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