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.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

My Introduction to Steampunk Novels

I love historical fiction.  Historical fiction is where I began my love affair with books.  I love a book that lets me escape and challenges my imagination.  Honestly, sometimes realistic fiction is my least favorite genre of fiction - sometimes it is too real, hits too close to home.  Later on, I discovered Fantasy novels and fell equally in love.

I am always reading young adult and teen fiction. So, I recently have read a few Steampunk novels.  I may have found a new genre to love.  It's a little bit alternative history, a little bit fantasy, a little bit science fiction, and even often a little bit 19th century Victorian Romance. Here is the definition of Steampunk from Wikipedia.

If you have read a lot of Steampunk, I would love to hear some of your favorites! Here is what I have read recently:

Boneseeker by Brynn Chapman

I reviewed that one in this post.  It was an easy summer, on-the-plane read, but I didn't love it.

The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross

This book is the first book in the "Steampunk Chronicles."  It is ranked high on lists of steampunk books. Here is one Steampunk list I found on Goodreads.  I finished this book over the last week. The main character finds out she has special strength and abilities, but is struggling because she has black outs.  She ends up meeting a group of other people who have special abilities.  The story is sort of a mystery meets Xmen meets Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It was a fun story, and I'm sure I will read the rest.  However, I'm not sure I would rank it is high as many do on Goodreads. This one I would recommend for 8th grade and up or more mature 7th graders.

Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger

I am half way through this now, and I love it!  It is fun and engaging. The plot and the characters are unique.  There is a lot of satire and wit as well, which I always love in a book. The main character is 14 and too tomboyish for her parents.  She is more interested in climbing and inventions than being a lady. So she gets sent to finishing school, except the finishing school secretly trains girls to be assassins and spies. This one to me seems like you could even let 5th and 6th graders read it, especially if they were a little more mature.  This book reminds me a little bit of the Mysterious Benedict Society, primarily because you have a group of kids away at school having their own adventures. It also reminds me of The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place because of the wit and humor about the role of girls and women in history.  If you have not read The Scandalous Sisterhood, it is worth reading.

A couple other Steampunk books I read last year were The Clockwork Scarab and The Spiritglass Charade by Colleen Gleason.  Both of these are enjoyable reads.  I would highly recommend them. I would probably go 7th grade and up for these two. They are about the female offspring of Stoker and Holmes, and they solve mysteries.

What steampunk books have you read? Any must-reads you recommend? I would love to find some appropriate for 5th and 6th grade as well.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Monday Made It: Paleo Recipes

Well, I haven't linked up with Monday Made It in a long time...  But I thought I would link up with 4th Grade Frolics today even though I haven't really done anything crafty.  I thought I would link up with some Pinterest recipes I have tried.

If you aren't on Instagram, you should be.  It's my favorite social media - so much fun to be inspired by those you follow: books to read, recipes, workouts, teaching ideas, and just life.  Last year I decided I really wanted to try the Paleo diet after seeing everyone's Whole30 Instagram posts.  I did a 30 day strict Paleo diet in January (It was more just Paleo than Whole 30).  I would like to do another 30 days of strict Paleo after school starts, so for now I am making an effort to try some new recipes that would meet Paleo guidelines.  I find it is easier to be successful with a strict diet when I have an arsenal of recipe and food ideas I am already comfortable with.  If every meal is a new recipe, it can be overwhelming.

Summer Squash Taco Boats 

I bought some summer squash at the farmer's market, so I thought I would try this recipe for taco-filled summer squash. The recipe calls for ground turkey, but I used ground beef.

I used SmileSandwich's recipe with the taco seasoning part from Skinny Taste's recipe. If you leave off the shredded cheese, it is easily Paleo.  It was very good.  The hardest part was hollowing out the squash with a small spoon. Here was my picture right before I put it in the oven:
Sweet and Sour Meatballs

I really wanted to find a good recipe for sweet and sour meatballs without soy.  I have made Plaid and Paleo's recipe a couple times, and it is very good. It is one of my new favorite recipes.  I did use the Coconut Aminos and Apple Cider Vinegar alternative they mention in the recipe.

I will be honest though; I made a cheat version.  Instead of making the meatballs from scratch I used frozen turkey meatballs and cooked it in the crockpot with all the seasoning from the recipe and with onion, broccoli, and bell pepper.  We had it with rice, but if I was making it more paleo I would make a cauliflower rice.  Crockpot recipes just make things so much easier.  You also can find gluten free frozen meatballs, so I might do that when I do Paleo. I usually cooked it in the crockpot on high for 2-3 hours or low for 4-5 hours.

HERE is my Pinterest board for Paleo recipes.  Have you tried any good recipes this summer?

Monday, July 20, 2015

What I have Been Reading - July 20

I love summer!  It is a time for sleeping in and naps and books and Netflix.  Need I say more?

I have been meaning to link up for #IMWAYR for a couple weeks now.  Earlier this month we went on vacation to California where we went on a bike ride through wine country and went whitewater rafting. I have been slowly returning to the world of productivity since I returned.  What have I read recently?

Adult Audiobooks I recently listened to:

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I really enjoyed listening to this book.  It is a dystopian novel about a group of musicians and actors who travel from town to town in a post-civilization, dystopian setting.  It almost reminiscent of a traveling carnival or circus around the Great Depression or early 1900's. Most dystopian novels focus on years or decades after civilization has fallen.  The structure of this novel flashes back and forth between pre-fall and twenty years after a plague has killed most of the planet. It deals with bigger issues of humanity and the meaning of life.  It asks questions like: What is the role of beauty and art in humanity and civilization?  The book was very well written and very unique.  I would highly recommend it.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I will first say this book is very long.  It will not be a light, easy read.  The audiobook was 26 discs. The novel is about a teenage boy who loses his mom under tragic circumstances and finds himself on this crazy path of loneliness, stolen art, drugs, and complicated relationships.  The book started slow in my opinion and took awhile for me to get into it, but once I did I was determined to finish. Like many long novels, at times it felt some sub-plots went on for too long.  However, overall I would recommend reading it. It is another novel that deals with greater issues on the role of beauty and love in life.  There is also a romance with the joy to be found in beautiful objects and a respect for the history of things.

Books I read:

Flora and Ulysses by Kate Dicamillo

I have been meaning to read this book for many months, and I am so glad I did.  This was the first book in a very long time to make me repeatedly laugh out loud.  The last book that made me laugh out loud was Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. I absolutely love juvenile novels with a great sense of voice and wonderful humor.  Kate Dicamillo did a fabulous job creating fun, unique characters who each have a wonderful sense of voice.  I absolutely intend to use this book as a mentor text next year.  This book alternates between a superhero squirrel's point of view and a little girl who is a self-proclaimed cynic.  It will be such a great text to use to discuss writing about small moments, voice, point of view, imagination, plot, etc. 

Graceling by Kristen Cashore

I borrowed the ebook of this novel from the library and read it on my Kindle app while I was on vacation.  I enjoyed this teen novel.  This is a fantasy novel where some in the land are given graces, which are special abilities.  The main character Katsa has been raised to believe she has the grace of being able to kill others, so her uncle who is a king uses her as an assassin and an enforcer. She meets a love interest in the novel and goes on your typical journey of self-discovery and good versus evil.  It was an easy, fantasy read and overall pretty enjoyable. 

Boneseeker by Brynn Chapman

This book is about a girl who is a scientist and finds herself in the middle of a love story and a mystery.  She is the daughter of Sherlock Holmes.  It was a fun, easy on-the-airplane read.  I do love the idea of heroines solving mysteries in a time period where women had limited roles.  If you are looking for a contemporary spin-off of Sherlock and Holmes with young heroines though, I think The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason is a lot better novel. 

What have you been reading?

Friday, June 26, 2015

Teaching about Archaeology with the Magic School Bus (Quiz and Assignment Freebie)

I will be teaching Ancient Civilizations this year.  I am working on trying to plan out what I will teach next year, and how I will teach it. In so many of the classes I have been taking as a doctoral student, we have discussed the idea that in order for students to engage in deep learning that stimulates creativity, students need opportunities to learn in authentic ways the represents how professionals in those fields think.

For Ancient Civilizations, this means that I want to teach my students to think like historians, archaeologists, linguists, anthropologists, art historians, etc. To introduce what it is to think like an archaeologist, we are going to watch the Magic School Bus "Show and Tell" episode.

I have made a quiz for the video and an assignment.

You can get a copy HERE. Do you have a favorite way to introduce students to the field of archaeology.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Math Weekly Participation Rubric - Freebie

In more and more of my rubrics over the last year, I am trying to emphasize effort.  From the reading I have done on the growth mindset, I think it is important to encourage students to challenge themselves and be self-reflective. I also want students to make the connection between what behaviors and habits lead to certain results.

I have been thinking more about how I want to break down my grading structure for math next year.  I decided I wanted to make a math participation rubric that students could use to evaluate their own habits and effort.  Using the rubric, they will be able to earn up to 20 points per week based on this self-assessment.  I then will also grade their effort and behaviors in math, and we can discuss how my assessment of them compares to their own self-assessment.

This version of the rubric I made for a teacher who is teaching our 3rd and 4th grade students. She will be using Xtramath with her students, so I included that as a component of the rubric.  I will probably change the rubric slightly for myself for next year.  The rubric is a word document, so it is editable.  You can get a copy HERE.

How do you break down your grade in math?  Do you use standards-based grading? Do you grade just based on performance on daily work and tests?  Do you ever give your students opportunities to grade themselves and reflect on their own habits and academic behaviors? How do you try and encourage a growth mindset in math?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Unit Plan and Lesson Plan Templates for Backwards Planning (Understanding by Design) - Freebies

One of things I try to do in the summer besides taking more time to read and enjoy my summer is start doing some planning for the next year.  Especially now that I am in graduate school, I find my time during the school year is always limited.  The more organized and prepared I can be in the summer, the less stressed I feel when school starts.  One of my goals this year is to actually try to incorporate more of the backwards design planning into my unit plans.  I have read and skimmed through Understanding By Design off and on over the last year, but I have yet to really plan a unit this way.

I really like the idea of planning with my objectives and end results in mind and then using that to plan for assessments and learning activities.  I also had read Advancing Differentiation for a class two summers ago and liked the way the author broke down knowledge into conceptual knowledge, procedural knowledge, and factual knowledge. This idea of considering what students should know, be able to do, and understand aligns with Understanding by Design but I liked the descriptions of conceptual, procedural, and factual. For me, it helps me to visualize what I want my students to accomplish and learn.

I kept looking for good templates to plan units and lessons plans using this format.  I found some examples, but nothing that really had all the elements I wanted.  So I decided to create my own templates.  For the unit plan template, I basically used similar templates I had found, but I wanted to add more elements to consider how I would pre-assess and differentiate. I also wanted to add something at the bottom where I could break down the unit into the goals of each individual lesson. You can get a copy of the unit plan template HERE.

For the lesson plan template, I wanted to find something that would flow well from the unit plan and include many of the same elements, but also let me incorporate elements of a traditional lesson plan.  Once again, having options to differentiate was important to me.  This template may be overly detailed and not all elements would apply to all lessons/class periods but I wanted to have the elements if I wanted them.  I do not really have to turn in detailed lesson plans very often any more, but I think it is good to still practice and reflect on my own teaching practices on a regular basis. Another part of considering what students should know, be able to do, and understand is giving students opportunities to learn thinking skills.  Direct instruction of different types of thinking skills is something I want to incorporate into each unit I teach this year. This is a word document that be edited, so columns/row can be typed in, deleted, or edited for size.  You could either type directly into the template or edit the boxes to be the size you want and then handwrite into the template. You can get a copy HERE.
Realistically, for lesson planning on a regular basis I really enjoy using www.planbook.com. You can read my review of different online lesson planning websites HERE.  I would only use a template like this when I decided to make a more detailed lesson plan. However, even on Planbook I can create templates for each class/subject so I will probably incorporate elements of this template into my Planbook templates.

I am looking forward to trying them out.  Have you ever planned units using the backwards design process? Did you feel your units were stronger for using this approach?
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