Teach it Tuesday: New Year, New Plans

As this new year is off and running I though I would follow up on last years RESOURCE post with some of the new things that I’m planning to try this year. Currently I’m starting up a grade 6 class but jobs haven’t been filled yet in our district. I’m feeling a bit jaded with the job process this year… well a lot jaded to be honest. BUT I’m feeling very excited and enthusiastic to get going with this school year and I have lots of exciting ideas that I want to try out!

Along with trying Karley’s Fika and Feel Good Friday regulars. I’m going to bring back the Thursday Thought Blocks, and I’m excited to add in two new things this year. Growth Mindset is something you’ve all been hearing lots about for the past couple of years. This year I’m going to dedicate an Advisory block once a week to learning about growth mindset and practicing some of the essentials. The other new thing I’m going to do is dedicate a few minutes each day to a guided meditation practice with my students. I’m hoping with the regular practice students will start to internalize the practice and we can be calm (well as calm as middle schoolers can be) to start the day.

Language Arts:
I have heard about the Global Read Aloud for a few years now but have never been in the position to actually take part. I don’t know what grade I will be teaching yet but I’m really leaning towards doing Pax (unless I get grade 8). Has anyone else participated in this before? Would love to hear some feedback!

After taking Jo Boaler’s online course this summer most of my focus for planning has been in math. I’m going to start off the year using the Week of Inspirational Maths lessons and I really can’t wait! I think this will be such a good way to introduce a year of working differently in math. I’m also keen to start the Collaborative Math Teams approach in my classroom and I’ve signed up for the course. I just really hope that I can find someone else to do this with me at the school I end up at – It would be great to have a partner to run things by!

Since I don’t know what else I will be teaching yet in terms of Science/Socials/French/PE I haven’t done too much planning in other areas. I would love to hear about some of the exciting things you are planning on trying this year! Let me know in the comments.


Teach it Tuesday: Blackout Poems

Yesterday during Fika my grade 8s and I worked our way through creating our very first set of “blackout poems”.  I was inspired to try this technique with my class after seeing it set up for public participation two weekends ago at the Victoria Yoga Conference.  I had never seen a “blackout poem” before, so I was curious to experience them with my students.  The results were incredible.  Allow me to explain!

Blackout poems are a very safe and encouraging way to work with poetry because they are written using text that already exists.  The students use the written work of another author or poet and literally cross out (or black out) any words they don’t want to include.  Additionally, students can rearrange the words to their liking; bits and pieces of sentences can be moved around to create new meaning.  The only rule I established was that students were not allowed to add in new words (I did allow students to change the tense of a word or pluralize words).  That’s it!  I found this lesson differentiated nicely; even my most vulnerable and struggling learners were able to participate in this activity because all the text already existed.  The power was in the hands of the student to delete and recreate, rather than start with a blank sheet of paper, which served to boost the creative self-esteem for many students in my class. I’ve never worked backward like this in any curricular area before, so I was amazed to see the deep and powerful poems my grade 8s were able to create using our predetermined piece of text.  Of course, it helped that our original text was a piece of beautiful work from Shane Koyzcan.

This was the poem we used for our original piece of writing.  I encourage you to listen to the poem first before watching the video.  Koyczan’s voice is pure magic.

So here was the scene in my grade 8 class:  We all had our steaming mugs of tea, lights turned low, heads on desks or eyes closed.  We listened to Walking Through Words first.  Then we listened again, but this time we also watched the video. Some of the girls gasped when they saw Koyczan’s face for the first time; he didn’t look like they expected him to look.  How does a poet look anyhow? But after the initial shock there was a tangible, deep respect and acceptance for the artwork and magic Koyczan creates with his spoken and written word. My class correctly guessed that the video was filmed in Tofino, just a few hours up island from where we live and play.  After this, we listened a third time and the students followed along with the text I had transcribed (I wasn’t able to find the text anywhere on the internet, so I transcribed it myself).  I encouraged everyone to ignore punctuation and listen to how Koyzcan makes short words seem looooong, and long words seem short.  He makes periods and commas disappear, but in the most perfect places.  Then I did a quick poll to see which method each student liked best, and then we moved on to our fourth listen/watch/read.

Listening four times through the poem might sound excessive, but it was entirely necessary because only then did my students start to really grasp the essence of the words.  Once we were done listening we got to work!  Check out the blackout poems in the early stages of recreation:


We worked all through the block and some students didn’t even want to go out for break! We revisited this activity for about 20 minutes after lunch.  One student turned her work into a masterful work of art, and while I won’t share her name, she did give me permission to photograph and share her final piece of work:


Isn’t this just a beautiful piece of art?

I love how diverse this blackout poem writing experience was yesterday- we will definitely do it again.  My most favourite aspect of blackout poems is how each and every student in my class, regardless of curricular reading level or ability, was able to find success and for that I am deeply grateful.

If you try this activity out with your own students, children or even on your own terms, let us know how it worked for you!


Teach it Tuesday: New Curriculum & Science

Disclaimer to our out of province and international readers:  Our curriculum here in BC has been undergoing a massive change throughout the last few years.  While utilizing the new curriculum is not mandatory yet, many teachers here in BC are starting to implement various aspects of it into their teaching.

Back in September, when I was still on maternity leave, I knew I’d be teaching grade 8 science again this year so I went to a Pro D session offering ideas on how to integrate some new curriculum concepts and competencies into science lessons.  I thought, “Great! Perfect! I already worked so hard at making all my grade 8 science stuff last year, so I’ll just reuse it all”.  I thought I’d be able to add in some new curriculum based ideas and be done with it.  It’s now February 2016 and guess how much of that stuff I’ve reused?

Precisely NONE of it.  Absolutely nothing. Nichts.

But this is not a bad thing, you guys.  I know it sounds like a lot of wasted effort and time, but it’s not.  Trust me.  One day I will use those resources I created again, but this year just isn’t the right timing.  This year, instead of reusing my old stuff, I’ve discovered something even more resourceful and brilliant…tapping in to my local community of experts. More specifically, I replied to an email from Green Team BC back in September and together with the coordinators, Amanda and Jenny, whipped up a hands on, outdoors science/ecology education program for my class (and a few others classes in our school joined in as well!)

My grade 8 students have been working in our direct community at a park up the road from our school.  Once a month we work with shovels, clippers, gloves and tarps in the park to remove invasive ivy and plant native species in the designated garden area.  So far we have completed two “field study” sessions and we have two more scheduled before spring break in March.

Jenny, our community leader, visits our class the morning of our field study days and does a short lecture with the students.  Recently Jenny shared with us some of the work she’s been doing with the the native plant species directly in our community and that sparked a whole conversation on seeking the indigenous names for the various native plants in the garden.

What I love most about this project is how it lends my students the opportunity to do some intense place based learning.  The park we are working in is an area that many of my students access every single day.  Since we engaged in our first field session in November, my class is starting to see the park in a new way; the students are leaving a legacy in the place they play and learn.

I encourage all educators who may be struggling with the new curriculum to open your minds to creative opportunities and connections your direct school community might have available.  I am proud to say we aren’t even touching the resources I worked so hard to create two years ago…this work we are doing is much more deep and connected to our space and place.

I am really proud of how professionally my students handled their 15 minutes of fame! Read more about what my grade 8s have been up to in science this year HERE.






Teach it Tuesday: Language Arts Gems

This is going to be a quick post to give a few ideas on some of my favourite activities for language arts right now:

Partner Reading

I started doing this activity last year with a novel study and it has become one of my favourites. It is so simple but allows for some great opportunities! I pair kids up (we have AB partner magnets with their names so that’s quickest for me to do in the morning after attendance) and they read the assigned chapters out loud to each other switching at the paragraph or page, their choice.

Things I love about it:

  • The sound of 15 kids reading out loud (but quietly) at the same time!
  • How easy it is to just read with a partner that you don’t know well (I’ve noticed much easier than having a discussion at the middle school level)
  • The ability to poke my head in and listen to kids read – for assessment or enjoyment!

Beginning, Middle, End Writing

Reluctant writer writing away

This activity is originally from 6+1 Traits of Writing but I’ve adapted it a bit to fit with in class and tutoring. For one of the students that I tutor, this is the only activity that I’ve done where he has willingly sat down and wrote almost a page! Basically you just give students the beginning, middle, and end of the story and they fill in the rest.

Things I love about it:

  • It allows for creativity without that feeling of being totally lost in options that can come with creative writing
  • It can be adapted to different interests and situations (for tutoring we threw in the dogs name – always a hit!)
  • This activity can easily be accessed by students of different ability levels as a quick write with guidance
  • I think already having the ending there takes away the pressure of getting your story to the end and helps students write

Quote and Note

I’ve written about this one before (here) but it continues to be a favourite! I haven’t been able to get as in depth into this one this year due to time constraints but it has still been rather effective after a lot of scaffolding to get them to the right spot.

Things I love about it:

  • The concept is simple for students to understand but the writing you get can be really in depth
  • Again, it allows students to access at what level they are at
  • It really helps me to get a good idea of students comprehension of the novel we are reading

What are some of your classroom favourites these days?


Teach it Tuesday: Holiday Lessons

Hi everyone!

Are you as burnt out and exhausted as we are? Only a few more days and then we will all get a nice break, but until then, here are some links and fun holiday lessons we’ve either created and used ourselves, or found on the internet (and used in our classrooms).  We hope you enjoy these last few days of 2015 with your students!

Christmas math:  These free, printable worksheets and puzzles are suitable for students grade K-8.  Some of the activities involve counting, and others involve order of operations questions, so there is quite a range of skill available here!  I walked into my grade 8 class room this morning and decided to bail on my math plan for the day.  I opened my computer, Googled “Christmas math” and this is what popped up.  I think a few of these exercises will do the trick for today’s math block.

Also for math, these free Christmas logic puzzles are always a hit! I’ve used them a few years now and they are a great way to get some engagement in those last few days of math class before the break.

Christmas themed “Would You Rather”:  Leah and I write a “would you rather” statement on our board everyday with hopes that our students will use their name tags to check in for the day. If you are looking for ideas there is a list of questions here.  Here is our “would you rather” for today:


Clearly our white board eraser doesn’t work that well…

Mad Libs:  I had a TOC yesterday afternoon and she left me copies of this Christmas Mad Libs.  I have no idea where she found them, but I took a picture this morning to share with you all.  I am sure (again) a quick Google search will solve the problem! I like that this Mad Libs is actually lyrics from the real Christmas carol.


I Have, Who Has: This Christmas spin on a classic game is something I am saving for the last day or two with my grade 6’s. It uses “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” to have students figuring out the clues and it is a perfect way to have students work together and talk to each other while I’m still really working on building up community with the group.

Crafty Times: Last week Leah and I worked on snow globes with our grade 8s and used the crafts as gifts for various teachers at our school who have helped us out throughout the term.  I realize these take a bit of prep and planning, but if you happen to have 30 Mason jars on hand, these make for a fun and cute activity!


We laminated small photos of our students participating in various activities this term, filled the jars with bottled water (tap water did not work well) and added sparkles!

Gingerbread Cookies:  Again, something that takes a bit of prep, planning and money (admittedly) but definitely worth it!  Yesterday for Fika my grade 8s decorated gingerbread cookies.  We have a student in our class who is experiencing her very first Christmas, so all these traditional and adorable activities (setting up and decorating a tree inside, cookies, songs, etc.) are extra fun for her right now!  It was great to start off the day calmly with a group of usually very high energy kids.


Other links and activities:

We hope you have a wonderful (and fast!) last week and a happy holiday!


Buying a Car – A Math Lesson

I’ve been back at it in grade 8 for two days and I’m thinking I can get used to this part-time teaching gig!  My schedule is such that I work Monday-Tuesday in grade 8 and Friday in grade 7; this works for me and my family and I certainly do love having two days off with my girl in between work days.  So far, sooo good!

My Monday and Tuesday this week were fantastic.  I was a bit hesitant to walk back into the classroom after 17 months off, but it truly felt right in every way.  My usual plan of attack for getting to know my students is to abandon all academics and just BE with one another for a while. This group is high needs and diverse in every way, but isn’t that the case with all classrooms, really?  My job share partner, Leah, and a handful of other teachers and adults in our building, have done a phenomenal job creating an environment in which our students can be successful in their own ways.  For this reason I decided to bravely try a little math lesson I whipped up the night before.

CarACarBI realize it’s not a perfect math question.  There are pieces of information missing and not a lot of direction.  I panicked a little as my students moved into pairs and started to read the question.  Hands immediately went up and I thought, “Oh no…I wasn’t clear enough! What was I thinking!?”  And then something really cool happened…differentiation.

My students, every single one of them, took this question and ran with it in a way that they were capable of.  One of my students really needs to be challenged in math, so he took ownership of this question and he calculated the costs for both vehicles over the duration of five years (he was really keen on getting me the best deal over a long period of time).  Another student saw the word “electric” and decided that was the best choice for the earth no matter what the cost was.  Two girls, who love my daughter and all other babies, were primarily concerned with how the financials would work out for my family and would it be the right vehicle for my daughter’s needs.  Another pair was totally caught up on resale value and the brands of the vehicles in question (details I didn’t actually provide on paper, but did in person to this group in order to help them make their choice).  And yet another student just couldn’t make up his mind because to him absolutely any car would be awesome.

I watched this “real life” math question unfold over the span of about twenty minutes before most students started to lose interest, so I refocused them with this question, “So, what car should I get?”  They replied, “Well, you won’t listen to our decisions anyhow so what does it matter?”  I then continued to explain that this question is actually a real life situation my husband and I are facing right now – Car A or Car B?  The lesson continued.

“Well, do you currently own one of the cars?” (Yes, I own car B).

“Well, could you sell car B to make up some of the cost and then buy car A?” (Yes, that’s kind of the plan…)

“Well, what if you just don’t get any of the cars and take the bus?” (Been there, done that.  That chapter of my life is over, children!)

It was awesome.  My class was totally hooked for twenty-five minutes.  In the end we did a vote and it was a tie, thanks to the one student who couldn’t decide which car was best for me.  Later that evening I told my husband, Joel, how the lesson went.  He agreed and disagreed with the points my students made and he was impressed by their depth and insight surrounding this topic.  On Monday I need to revisit this lesson with my class and tell them this: You know what, guys?  I totally value your opinion and I am grateful for your insight into which car you think would be best for my family, both financially and economically.  You all raised some points Joel and I did not actually consider.  You think I don’t care about your opinions, but I do…so stay tuned to find out which car we end up buying!

Man, it is so good to be back at it.


Teach it Tuesday: Federal Election


Here in Canada we have our federal election coming up on Monday, October 19th. Along with that we have the “Student Vote” that will take place in schools. Student Vote is a great way to get students involved in the election process and they also have some great teacher resources to help students connect and understand about the Federal Elections. The Student Vote website is a great place to start for more ideas!

Activity and Project Ideas for Teaching About the Election:

  • Inquiry into deep think questions (A great first research project of the year!)
  • Newspaper article review and collection (create a bulletin board of all the articles students bring in)
  • Inquiry/Discussion Circles on some of the top issues in the election
  • Step Up to the Line/Cross the Line… (Karley mentioned this one in her last post – just change to election ideas)
  • Would you rather… (I usually do this one as either a stand up/sit down or a cross the room activity to add some movement)
  • Advertising for Parties (Look at the different forms of advertising, attack ads, etc.)
  • Create your own class debates and have teams research party platforms

What’s Our Role?

I have written a post about this before (read it here), but I think it is VERY important that we understand the role we want to take before walking into the “political zone” with our students. Currently I’m teaching about the election in a grade 7 class – My favourite! I think in middle school kids are really starting to form their own opinions outside of what their parents and families think. But NO! That does not mean it’s time to push our own agenda on students! The classroom is a place for exploration and gaining perspective. Just last week I had a student say to me “Well you’re a teacher so you probably just vote NDP right?” and this opened up a great discussion about thinking for ourselves and not just following along with how the people around you think. I think the best way to get kids engaged in politics is to talk about the different issues that come up. Kids will get really passionate when something seems relevant to them – whether it’s environment, human rights, global issues, business/money, or whatever! To be honest, at the end of the day I would much prefer students not really have a specific party that they are aligned with but to be more aware of how they feel about different issues. I think it is more important to really know where we stand on issues than to follow a voting patter because “My family is Conservative” or “My profession votes NDP”

How do you talk about politics with students?

Are you doing Student Vote at your school?


Teach it Tuesday: Drama, Drama, Drama

Discovery: It is really challenging to write Teach it Tuesday posts when one is not teaching.  That said, it’s only the second week of school in our corner and I feel like a few drama games might be of benefit this week!  So here you go, folks – drama, drama, drama.

Props: I have tried and failed multiple times to find a hilarious and school appropriate YouTube clip of Whose Line is it Anyway’s props game.  I love this game – the skits and stills the comedians come up with is genius, alas, definitely not school appropriate.  A few years ago I created my own bag of props to use and let me tell you, some of the things my students come up with is even better than Whose Line.  When we play this game I lay down a few simple boundaries: keep it classy and respectful, no noises to assist the prop and share with everyone!  Allow students a prop of their choice, or not.  If your students feel comfortable performing solo in front of the class, let them!  If they feel more comfortable being in small groups, do that (and offer a few props per group).  Allow a few minutes for the student(s) to come up with their prop’s use, and off you go.  This game gets noisy and funny very fast, which makes it even better.

Step Up to the Line: This game is interesting because it requires absolutely no materials or props, unless you wish to create an actual line with tape on the floor.  This game can be played across all curricular subjects and it can be light hearted or quite serious.  In the past I’ve played a silly and serious version with students; however, while you and your students are still getting to know one another, I would recommend keeping this game on the lighter side.  You can watch a clip of a serious version from the Freedom Writers movie below (it always brings me to tears, but accurately displays the power behind connection among people).  You are free to create your own list of questions/phrases to ask you students, but some examples for a light hearted version might include:

Step up to the line if…

-you have siblings

-you have a pet

-you’ve traveled outside of the province/country

-you can cook

Act it Out: This one is not so much a game as it is a gentle reminder to get your students out of their desks to enhance and differentiate their learning.  If you are crafty about this, you can likely act out any piece of a curricular topic.  The last time I taught grade 8 science I brought in an acting piece to our digestion unit.  I managed to wrangle a vacuum “hose hugger” (which happened to be the exact length of an adult’s small and large intestine combined – convenient!) and a small ball.  My students and I stretched out in the hall and squeezed the ball along the inside of the hose hugger until it popped out at the opposite end (so much inappropriate fun, even for grade 8s…shall I say especially for grade 8s?!) This little acting session brought to life the real length of a small and large intestine and gave a slight indication at how far our food has to go in order to properly digest.  Be creative!

It takes team work to digest a floor hockey ball through a 33ft long vacuum hose hugger.

It takes team work to digest a floor hockey ball through a 33ft long vacuum hose hugger.

Happy playing!


Teach it Tuesday: Math Games

There are so many different ways that we learn but I love learning through play and I think it’s so important for our students of any age. Walk into any kindergarten class and you will see the importance of play in action but as you go up in the grades it seems to die off quickly. Now I realize there is a lot of curriculum to cover and we can’t teach everything through games but I really believe that games are a great source of student’s independent practice – especially in math!

cards-vs-dice1When I was a kid my family used to play games from this book: Family Math. And even though it’s old, it is still one of my favourites! If you have this book or can get a hold of it check out the Calculator Paths game boards and the Hot Air Balloon game.

Here are some of my other favourite math games:

Multiplication War

Similar to the card game war but you have to multiply the numbers together to win the cards. You can change up the rules depending on the age of the students and assign different values to the face cards.

Divisibility Memory

This is set up like a regular game of memory with the cards flipped over. When you flip two cards you multiply them together and if they are divisible by two (or any other number you choose for the round) then itA’s a match.


I’ve probably talked about this one on here before but it is just so good for practicing mental math and having fun. You need two dice and all you do is roll and keep track of your total in your head. You can roll as many times as you want on your turn but  if you roll a 1 you lose your turn and get a zero for the round. Double 1’s (or snake eyes) knock your entire game score down to zero. Whenever you choose to end your round you write down your score and add it to previous rounds. The first person to 100 wins.

Teachers Pay Teachers Games

Frosty Relay (or there is a Rockstar version for other seasons) – This is a great review game for the full class and lots of fun – Plus you get some pretty ridiculous artwork at the end to hang up – ha!

All Things Algebra – This whole store is full of awesome games and activities for math!

Holiday Logic Puzzles – I love all sorts of logic puzzles but these Holiday ones are perfect for sneaking math fun into the crazy December rush.


Teach it Tuesday: Community Building Links

Happy Tuesday!

Today’s Teach it Tuesday is a compilation of some of our most fun and inspired community building ideas we’ve used in our various classrooms throughout the last three years.  We know the first few weeks back to school are energy filled, pleasantly chaotic and downright exhausting for everyone!  We hope this list of our favourites can ease some of the anxiety you, and your students, might be experiencing this Back to School season.

Communication Calendars – A way to initiate conversation with each individual student, every day of the week.

Feel Good Friday – Begin and end your Fridays with a message of kindness.

Quick Drama Games – Play with your students…they will love it.

Circle Time – You can use this activity for every grade/class/composition of students.

Thought Block – Tap in to some of your students’ genius they bring to the room.

Dreams and Ambitions – What do you students dream about doing, being, becoming?

What’s on the Walls? – Maybe let your new students help you decide this year!

We are heavy on the community building in our classrooms and welcome other ideas you might have (tested or untested!)  Please share with us if you’d like!