Posted in Vocabulary

Supplemental Vocabulary Practice

Teachers are advised to “teach vocabulary in context.”  Yet, our textbooks often have just a few word-building questions or activities.  Students–particularly middle school students–aren’t likely to retain those new words without repeated practice.  (To dig deeper into that research read my posts on the Fab Five Vocabulary strategies and using the spacing effect to bolster learning.)  To bridge this gap, I created supplemental vocab activities for the textbook selections my students were reading.  Last year, I shared resources created for the 6th grade textbook.  This year, I’ve started adding units for the 7th grade textbook as well.

I just uploaded the latest addition–a unit targeting vocabulary from the myth “The Flight of Icarus” and the poem “Icarus’s Flight.” For the next couple of days, you can try it for FREE!  Just log into my TPT store to download the new “Icarus Vocabulary Extension for HMH Collections.  Use the TPT link or click here.  A “Rogue Wave” vocabulary unit is already available, and I’m working on one now for the informational texts in Collection One.  If you like “Icarus” please share  your experience with other TPT users. You can also comment below.

Each set includes 5-pages of activities, each designed for use as a daily warm-up or self-contained literacy center.   On average, it takes students about 10-minutes to complete each activity.  You can review the answers using the included key.

In addition to learning new words, each unit focuses on a different type of context clue–with a mini-lesson that includes a list of common signal words.  Each unit also includes a language component–with either  a grammar mini-lesson or word part analysis.  So, this resource goes beyond most vocabulary activities–by teaching students strategies they can apply to ALL future reading.  There’s also a word puzzle included in each set because… language should be FUN!

In designing this resource, I tried to incorporate many “best practices” for word acquisition, including repeated encounters with the word in different contexts and a progressive sequence of instruction for context clues and grammar (this will be most notable if you use multiple units or bundles).

I’d love to know how you use this unit.  Comment below or leave feedback on the TPT product page.

Posted in Other

25 Inspiring Messages for Teachers

As teachers, we are called on to inspire others.  That means, our own passion needs to burn brightly for us to pass it on to others.  Keeping that spark alive can be difficult given how difficult teaching is.  So, like many teachers, I post clever sayings–in my planner, near my keyboard, on the fridge–to remind me who I want to be and why I work so hard at it.  As you prepare for the coming school year, I wanted to share a few of my favorites with you.  If you like them, save them to Pinterest (because what teacher doesn’t have an “inspirational quotes” Pinterest board) or use the link below to download all 25.

Do you have a favorite quote you’d like to share?

Add it to the comments section of this post!

Posted in Classroom Management

Champs 2.0 – My Take on a Classic Behavior Management Miracle

CHAMPs is nothing new, and quite frankly, that may be the best recommendation for revisiting it. Teachers have been singing its praises for more than a decade—which speaks volumes about its effectiveness in an age where educational initiatives turn over faster than a dealer flips cards in Vegas. But I’ll be honest with you. When CHAMPs was first presented to me, I loved the idea of it, but thought, I’ll never be able to keep up with it day in and day out.

Rather than abandon it completely, though, I made a few tweaks and wound up with a system so easy and effective that colleagues kept asking about it, and my principal had me lead a school-wide workshop on it. I call my modified system CHAMPS 2.0, and I’m going to share my changes with you so you can implement it (or update its use) in your own classroom.

Now, this post isn’t a deep dive into CHAMPs itself. If you want an introduction, watch creator Randy Sprick describe it in this video overview . Or, order a copy of the CHAMPs workbook to learn all of the nitty-gritty details. For the purposes of this post, it’s enough to say CHAMPs is all about communicating clear expectations for building a positive and productive classroom environment. What I found problematic about it was how the program recommended I communicate those expectations to students—creating posters, in advance, for each activity, then changing posters whenever we transitioned to a new task.  That’s a big red flag for me.

You see, or maybe you know this from personal experience, middle school students have the attention span of a squirrel. (No judgement-just stating a fact.) We never spend more than 15 or 20 minutes on any one thing. Plus, I tend to use a HUGE variety of learning activities to keep things fresh. That translated to creating dozens and dozens of different posters that I’d have to store and shuffle through, posting and reposting that day’s selections through each class – seven times a day! Nope. I knew myself well enough to know that even if I assigned a student to be my “poster changer,” I’d have to invest time every day sorting through myriads of CHAMPs posters and prepping them for easy access.  Which brings us to my mods.

Modification #1: Display
Initially, I tried adding a CHAMPS slide to each PowerPoint presentation, but unless I could leave that slide up during each activity (and often I wanted to show instructions, text, or examples instead) it defeated the purpose of posting the expectations for easy reference. Eventually, I hit upon this solution… using binder rings and page protectors. It was simple, easy to swap out when we changed activities, and always available to point to whenever students needed a gentle reminder. I’ve seen other teachers use wall charts with similar success, but I wanted something that was easy to read from across the room.

Modification #2: Adding Time
Each letter in the acronym CHAMPs stands for something: Conversation, Help, Activity, Movement, and Participation. Technically, the S stands for “Success” and isn’t so much an expectation as a reminder of the desired outcome. Now, I quickly realized that students also need a timeframe for each activity to help them budget their time. (I realized this, of course, after having to tack the allocated time onto my CHAMPs spiel each and every time I presented a new task.) So, for my display, I changed the S to “synchronize” instead. (Actually, I gratefully credit veteran teacher and author Judy S. Gould for this innovation… offered to me during my first years of teaching. Thanks, Judy.)

While there is no silver bullet putting an end classroom misbehavior (*deep sigh*), CHAMPS is by far the most effective behavior management system in my arsenal. If I had to estimate, I’d say it eliminated about 70% of the errant hijinks and established a non-confrontational way to address the rest. It’s like this quote I found on Pinterest says of disruptive students, “They’re not giving you hard time; they’re having a hard time.” CHAMPS is just a way to reveal and remind students what they should be doing in order to thrive.

Posted in Classroom Management, Other

“Signing” Social Contracts

Boost Buy-In for Class ExpectationsLast year I wrote about a B2S lesson that was wildly successful.  If you didn’t get a chance to read it, you can find it here. Today, I wanted to build on it by telling you how we formalized our social contracts—in a way that made them an oft-referenced classroom fixture.

Social contracts emerge from thoughtful discussion and spell out the expectations the students and teacher have for one another.  Those expectations are written out,  and all the stakeholders sign the document to signify their agreement to uphold it.  Then, it is posted in the classroom as a visual reminder.

I’ve used social contracts for many years, but to be honest, after the first quarter I rarely referred to them—until I found a way to make them more personal.

While mulling over ideas for an upcoming lesson on multiple meaning words, I had an epiphany.  Instead of having students sign their name to a list of rules and expectations—why not have them create a sign identifying a specific contribution they’ll make to enrich our class community. I’d photograph them holding their sign and post the pictures around the room.  Think “pet-shaming” with an affirmation instead of a rebuke.

Part of the process of creating a social contract involves brainstorming specific acts that exemplify each ideal.  So, when we got to that step, I simply had students write their chosen action on a small whiteboard, then I snapped a photo of it.  To reinforce each person’s role in community-building, I asked students to describe their chosen action using an “I will…” statement.  (As you can see, this direction was not always followed…but it WAS day one, after all.) Don’t forget to create your own sign for each class identifying steps you’ll take to establish a respectful and productive classroom.

Now, our school is very particular about photographing students, so I framed each shot so it did not show student faces. Even if your school doesn’t have this restriction, it actually works in your favor to frame shots this way.  Not only is it visually interesting, but students love to study the photos and guess who was behind each sign.

Displaying the resulting document is an important part of the social contract process.  So, I grouped the photos by class, arranged them using PowerPoint (Word works just as well), and printed them out on poster-sized paper.  If your school doesn’t have a poster-printer, you could simply print and group the photos by hand – or better yet, have students arrange and paste photos on a poster.  Then, display them in the room all year.

Using photos differentiated our social contracts from others around the school.  It personalized our agreements in a way a signature just does not do.  It also added a level of engagement that, for whatever reason, called our attention back to the ideal of working together again and again.

 

Posted in Other, Reading

Best Books for Reluctant Middle School Readers

It’s a vicious cycle. Students who do not read well avoid it at all costs. Yet, reading more is precisely they must do to overcome those deficits.  In What Really Matters for Middle School Readers reading expert Richard Allington points out that a key component for improving literacy is expanding the daily volume of “high-success” reading.  He defines that as text students can read independently with 98% accuracy.  Sadly, for struggling readers, school issued grade-level texts are not likely to meet these criteria.

How can those tasked with closing the reading gap for these students overcome this Catch-22?  One element, of course, lies in teaching students the vocabulary and strategies to build their reading proficiency.  Another element, the one this post will focus on, is giving reluctant readers the opportunity to engage with Hi-Lo books—high interest texts written at a lower reading level.

Last year I was fortunate enough to work with Kristin Badger, a school librarian who made such books a priority.  She created a special section in our library and stocked it with over a hundred Hi-Lo titles from Orca Publishing.  These books cover topics of interest to those from ages 10 to 14, but with reading levels ranging from grade 2 to 6.  They look just like your typical tween books and are not identified as “easy” reads, so there’s no stigma attached to checking them out.  Kristin visited all of our intensive reading classes to unveil the new section and let students in on their “secret” purpose.  My 7th and 8th grader remedial readers devoured them—so much so that the library had to purchase more to keep up with demand.

There are many popular mainstream books as well that appeal to middle school readers who struggle.  My classroom library–nearly ten years in the making–includes hundreds of popular books, many geared to the standard-level and struggling readers I teach.  (Read my tips for starting a similar class library and get my 100+ book list here.)  Here are some of the books my students really enjoyed.

NOTE: I’ve linked each title to its Amazon write-up, but I get no compensation—zilch, zip, nada—if you click the link.  These recommendations are based solely on what my struggling readers really read.

THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander

Guys can’t get enough of this novel in verse about basketball and coming of age.  That’s right!  Your struggling reader, middle school boys will clamor to read this book that features different styles of poetry in each chapter.  Even better, this award-winner is the first in a series that includes Booked (a soccer story told in poetry) and Rebound (a Crossover prequel that ups the interest-factor by including graphic novel panels alongside the poetry).

I, FUNNY by James Patterson

James Patterson is such a gifted writer, and since he turned his attention to novels specifically crafted for the middle-school set, he’s put out numerous books that could appear on this list.  This one, though, is the book I can’t keep on my library shelves.  As the name suggests, it’s hilarious—often in a bathroom humor sort of way—that prompts readers to laugh out loud (which piques their peers’ curiosity, ensuring the perpetual popularity of this title).

I SURVIVED… (series) by Lauren Tarshis

These true-life tales are written in a narrative style that makes it easy to get lost in the story.  They are a quick read—just over 100 pages—each focusing on a historical battle or natural disaster that is a sure-fire way to engage the boys in your class.  There are even teaching resources you can use with many of the books to test comprehension or practice reading skills like figurative language or inferences.  The top reads in this series (for my students at least) were The Sinking of the Titanic, The Eruption of Mount St. Helens, and The Shark Attacks of 1916.

OUT OF MY MIND by Sharon Draper

This book reminded me of Wonder, though it proved even more popular among my reluctant reader girls.  The determined female protagonist is a key reason.  The subject matter—dealing with a disability that makes communication a challenge—was another.  Your students will cheer for Melody she finds fights to be heard and appreciated for who she really is.

SMILE by Raina Telgemeier

I was surprised to find that both boys as well as girls enjoyed this graphic novel series by the author of the Babysitter’s Club books.  I LOVE that graphic novels encourage struggling readers to build vocabulary by offering visual context for words like amicable, catastrophe, epicenter and negligence (all found within the covers of this book).

UNGIFTED by Gordon Korman

Reluctant readers can identify with the middle-school underdog protagonist who challenges other people’s perception of him.  Written at a 730 Lexile level (approximately 4th grade), it’s nonetheless designed to appeal to the middle school crowd.  I also heartily recommend other books by this prolific author (more than 50 middle school/teen books), including Restart (about bullying) and The Unteachables (that you just might enjoy even more than your students).

WARCROSS by Marie Lu

This one is for your reluctant girl readers!  Written by award-winning sci-fi author Marie Lu, it has all the ingredients for success – romance, a powerful female lead, a videogame competition, and espionage!  Be forewarned, the action includes some violence, language, and a steamy hot tub scene (all tween appropriate, in my opinion).  This isn’t your unicorns and rainbows book for girls—it’s much more engaging than that.

WHO WAS. . . (series) by Penguin Publishing

Designed to appeal to student in grades 3-6, these books were still quite popular with my middle school readers.  With over 200 titles to choose from (I’m including the related series: Who Is, Where Is, and What Is), students can use them in conjunction with classroom texts to build background knowledge on numerous historical people and places.  Netflix has even created a sketch comedy series based on these books.  (Wouldn’t that be a fun way to introduce reluctant readers to the series?)  My students’ faves in this series were the books about Michael Jordan, Walt Disney, and Abraham Lincoln.

These were the top picks in my classroom. I’d love to hear about the books that hooked your young readers.  Leave a comment below.

Posted in Other, Reading

Tips for Building Your Classroom Library

Build it, and they will READ!  New language arts teachers at my school have asked me if they really need to spend money on classroom books.  I get it.  Books are expensive, and new teachers are already opening up their own wallets for furnishings and other class necessities.  Further, many may reason that the school library is already providing students with easy access to books.  But if you truly want to encourage independent reading (and you should, but that’s another post), you absolutely must have a selection of engaging, quality books on hand in your classroom.  You don’t have to break the bank to do it either.  Here are my tips for curating a classroom library that will entice even the most reluctant readers to dive into a good book.

Tip #1: Making Books Accessible

There are two reasons why having books in your classroom makes reading more accessible.  First, students come in contact with your class books every single time they enter your room.  They don’t have to make a special trip to the library or wait until the whole class visits.  Second, books from the classroom library are often available when school library books are not.  For example, my reluctant readers often forgot to return school library books they’d checked out, making them ineligible for new check-outs.  Also, popular titles are often on waiting lists, so having them on hand in your classroom gives your students an alternative way to enjoy them.

Maximize this accessibility by showcasing your books.  Organize books using student-friendly categories like Adventure, Biographies, Science Fiction, Graphic Novels, Books Girls Like, and Books Boys Like.  Then, group them in labeled baskets, with the covers facing out.  Publishers put a lot of effort into enticing readers to pick up a particular title—catchy titles and appealing cover art.  Take advantage of their marketing to sell your students on reading.

Struggling readers often need different books than those typically carried in a school library.  Who knows your student’s interests and reading ability better than you?  My library offers many Hi-Lo titles with teen themes written in language accessible to struggling readers.  In addition, I stock several popular novels translated into Spanish to encourage my English-language learners to dive into books they can later discuss with their English-speaking peers.  If you’re lucky enough to have a responsive media center specialist at your school, they may be able to order these types of books as well.  Frankly, I just found it infinitely faster (Amazon Prime 2-Day Shipping) and easier (no paperwork) to purchase some myself.

Tip #2: Buying the Right Books… Inexpensively

It won’t matter how many books you make available in your class library—if students don’t find them interesting, they’ll gather more dust than readers.  I’ve put together a list of books that have been wildly popular among my middle grade students [here].  It took nearly ten years to assemble them all, and I rotate new titles in throughout the year (and remove those that are no longer in demand).  A great resource for identifying promising new titles are state reading lists that employ volunteer librarian-readers to peruse several hundred relatively new titles every year before making their recommendations on the very best of them.  These lists are generally crafted to reflect a wide range of reading levels and student interests.  Two of the most well-regarded MS book lists are issued by Florida’s Sunshine State Young Readers and Texas’s Lone Star Reading List.  If you want a turnkey solution, Scholastic has grade level collections recommended by reading expert Laura Robb.  These collections include two copies each of 50 different books at reading and interest levels appropriate for that grade.  Truthfully, I have a few sets of duplicate books for use with reading circles, but I prefer to devote my limited budget and shelf space to as many different titles as possible.

Like all teachers I am, by necessity, frugal.  The only time I pay full price for a book is when I’m purchasing it at a book fair that supports my school.  Most of my books come from eBay auctions or other used booksellers like Thriftbooks or Better World Books (which supports libraries and literacy campaigns).  Where possible, buy hard cover books (they hold up ten times longer with my tough-on-books middle schoolers) rated Very Good, Like New, or New.  I also solicit donations from parents of any age-appropriate books their children have already read by including a slide in my “Open House” presentation and a mention on my class webpage.  Also, find out when your local library is having a sale by checking the Book Sale Finder website.  This is a great place to stock up on quality hardbound books.

Tip #3: Managing Your Collection

When your goal is to put books into the hands of your students, you need to establish an easy system for check-in/check-out and follow-up for missing titles.  If you use a smart phone or iPad in the classroom, there are many free or inexpensive apps that simplify this process such as Bookcrawler, Level It Books, and Book Buddy Pro.  I personally liked Book Buddy.  But for many years, I went Old School, pasting book pockets and inserting library cards inside the cover of each book.  When students checked out a book, I’d file the library card with their name and date (students were trained to do this on Week One) in a small plastic card file.  I organized cards by student last names (to identify students who already had a book out), but you can also organize them by date (to track when books are due) or by title (simplifies reshelving returned books).

One thing I highly recommend is that teachers write their last name on the pinched pages of the top and bottom of each book.  Bookplates with your name on it are nice, but it’s too easy to overlook a lost book left on a bus seat, kitchen counter, or lost-and-found bin if it isn’t prominently advertised as being borrowed.  Before I did this, I’d say I lost several dozen books each year.  Once I added my name in bold black letters, my returns spiked—and I only had to replace six or seven books at year’s end.

This brings up a good point.  Expect to lose a few books each year.  Consider it a fixed cost–like the hundreds of “loaned” pencils we will never see again.  If the book was a popular classic, I replace it.  But if it was an aging fad fiction title (think: Twilight, Maze Runner, Divergent, or any book that has since been made into a tween movie) I use the loss as an opportunity to update my collection.

You probably already have several books lying around that you’ve read either in consideration for a novel study or just to converse with your students about them.  If so, your library is already under construction.  Once you’ve accumulated at least one book for each student you teach, you’ll have enough to start lending them out (not every student will borrow your books).  Until then, just making them available for students to read in class will go a long way toward establishing a culture of loving literature.

Posted in Other

A Checklist to Help Pack Your Classroom

The last round of testing may signal the imminent arrival of summer for students, but teachers still have two big hurdles ahead of them: finalizing grades and packing up the classroom. While I can’t do much to help with the former, I can offer some tips based on years of experience that includes changing classrooms (many, many times) and moving to a new school (thankfully, just once).

Whether you’re moving or just required to pack up to facilitate classroom maintenance, my End-Of-Year Classroom Checklist can help you break this daunting task into manageable steps that take the hassle out of packing up your room. It even includes a suggested timeline that can help you stay ahead of the stress. Of course, you can adapt it to fit your situation and needs.

Anywhere from two to three weeks before the end of the student school year, I start by organizing technology. By starting with “invisible” classroom changes first, I’ve found it minimizes disruption and helps students stay focused on any last-minute projects or make-up work. To be honest, I start my year by organizing files and email as described on the attached list, so by the end of the year I’m just double-checking to be sure I’ve saved all my files and communication in the correct spot. But it’s never too late to create this type of file organization to archive important digital records. I enlist the students’ help in “wiping” student computers—removing any photos or student files residing on computer hard drives. If your school requires you to disconnect your computers, keyboards, mice, and network cables, be sure to take a picture with your cellphone beforehand, so you have a template when the time comes to reconnect everything (and still have it function properly).

One to two weeks out, I start clearing out bookshelves and cabinets, beginning by asking students to take home their consumable workbooks, interactive notebooks, and writing portfolios. Student volunteers always help me reorganize my classroom library. I already have books tagged and grouped by genre (Adventure, Poetry, Graphic Novels, etc.) in sturdy stackable baskets. I’m fortunate to have both open bookshelves and cabinets with doors. We stack all the books inside the cabinets to keep them from getting dusty (or overly exposed to heat and sun) over the summer.

When I first started teaching, I kept everything… every file, every gently used composition book, every student-drawn card. It accumulated so quickly it became unmanageable. Now, I toss all of my extra handouts; I’ve got digital copies that are easier to find. I throw away half-used supplies, most of which dried up over the summer or were eschewed by my new students as “old and gross.” Even those treasured student-created masterpieces are eventually discarded (at home) after I snap a picture of them for my digital “memory book.” After all, it’s the thought that counts, isn’t it? That stays with me forever.

I don’t dismantle bulletin boards or take down classroom posters until the final week students are in school. I create new anchor charts each year, so I offer the old ones to students who wish to take them home. Take photos to help you replicate them down the road.  If you use fabric, like I do, as a bulletin board background, you can leave it in place as long as it isn’t tattered or faded.  However, I  like to replace the bulletin board borders with fresh ones each year to freshen up the room. If removed borders are in good shape, you can roll them up and store in a plastic tub, or stack and secure border strips with a binder clip and hang them on a command hook in a closet or other out-of-the-way spot.

I cannot stress enough how helpful it is to use student labor to organize, pack, discard, and move materials in your classroom. I used to feel guilty about it, until I realized how much they enjoy helping. Even my 8th graders felt honored to play a role in preparations for “next year’s kids” and vied for the chance to move baskets of books to my new classroom. Of course, it never hurts to reward them with some small token of your appreciation as well.

While I may start thinning out items that have accumulated in my desk over the course of the last few weeks of school–by now I’ve amassed an astonishing collection of fidget toys, coins, rubber bands and one miniature rubber chicken (don’t even ask)—I generally save the final desk clean-out for the last day of post-planning—sans students. Again, be ruthless in getting rid of items you don’t really need. The more you purge now, the less you have to sort, pack, and move later.

Record-keeping is tricky, but I’ve found that keeping student files (attendance records, behavior documentation, ESE accommodation lists and details, parent communication, and retake exam documents) for ONE YEAR ONLY has been more than adequate. Some schools also require teachers to save and submit all lesson plans. I keep mine digitally and just turn in a thumb drive where required. When discarding anything containing student information, be sure to shred it or use whatever security protocol your school has in place for disposing of sensitive data.

Last, a few thoughts on packing and storage. I use a mix of cardboard boxes and milk crates. Where possible, use standard sizes to make stacking and storing them a breeze. Some teachers love clear plastic bins, but I don’t find them to be sturdy enough for me. Secondary teachers tend to move from room to room more often, and thin-walled plastic cracks easily when hoisted about, especially when bins get heavy. Plastic milk crates are more durable, and you can see the contents inside. Plus, mine pull double duty as “Lost and Found,” “Returned Books,” and “Student Folders” containers during the school year. Label everything–even furniture–with your name, and classroom number. Include a content description for any boxes you can’t see through.  Boxed belongings and furniture often moves inexplicably over the summer. Properly labeled furnishings find their way back to you again.

Hopefully, these tips will help make this year’s classroom pack-up a little easier, so you can truly enjoy the last few days with your kiddos. You’ve made a tremendous difference in their lives! Enjoy the respite you so richly deserve.

[PDF Checklist]   [Word Checklist]

Posted in Assessment, Reading

A New Resource To Help Students Read Old Classics

Getting a Grip on Classic LitClassic literature is tough for today’s students. The formality, complicated sentence structures and use of archaic words is intimidating. It’s a pretty safe bet, though, it will be part of your state or district’s end-of-year testing. When reviewing my state’s released tests, I found that every one of them—from grades 5 through 10—included text written over a hundred years ago. So, how can we help students prepare, not just for the reading skills they’ll need to master, but for the stamina and confidence required to tackle these uniquely complex texts?

First, it’s important to understand just what makes classic literature so daunting. Take this excerpt from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol:

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

ARCHAIC USE OF WORDS
Seventh graders at our school must tackle this text, and even though it doesn’t contain the even more forbidding thee, thou, and thine (a triple-threat which actually has to be translated into present-day English pronouns), it brings my struggling readers up short every time. Does “Mind!” mean the author is being introspective, addressing himself (as he certainly appears to be later in the paragraph)? Is “Mind!” a command to behave? (My students are apparently familiar with this usage.) In fact, here it means neither and “Mind!” is instead a lost meaning of the word asking the reader to “pay attention.”  Forging ahead, students are then derailed by “ironmongery” and the less familiar use of “trade” to mean business (not a swap).

COMPLICATED STRUCTURE
Old English is quite verbose. Whereas today’s communicator often wants to “get right to the point,” many classic texts feature a great deal of introspection and complex sentence structures that often interrupt one idea with another, parenthetical thought. At times it can be redundant, “…I know, of my own knowledge…” or “I might have been inclined, myself…” It is also painfully formal “You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically…” Obviously, Dickens was never influenced by the Nike motto: Just do it!

All of this is to say, Old English is troublesome because it is not something students encounter every day. Which got me to thinking… what if they did?  What if I could indoctrinate my students in the ways of Ye Olde Tyme texts with brief, but repeated exposure to same? For just a few minutes each day, we’d apply a reading skill they’d already learned to a couple of paragraphs of more challenging classic literature. It was also important to me that they get vocabulary support, where needed, and immediate feedback on their efforts. I combined this idea with my desire to review the important reading skills we’d been working on all year and started creating daily warm-ups that feature challenging texts.

This is how I’m prepping my kids for the state test. Every day, they complete one half-page activity during the first four or five minutes of class. I leave a stack of them at the front of the room, and—with minimal direction—students quickly learned to pick one as they entered and immediately work on it. After I’ve taken attendance and handled whatever pressing business presented itself (inevitably), we review the answers together. I call on student volunteers (or volun-tolds) to share their answers along with their thinking. This creates an opportunity to model valuable test-taking strategies. “What is the question asking for?” “Why isn’t ____ the right answer?” “Why is the answer you chose correct?” The review can be as brief or as extensive as your time or situation requires. If I have time while students are working, I circulate—making a point to consult with any student who seems to be struggling.

I mix it up a little. Some days they get a literary text, other days it’s informational. Even many of the nonfiction pieces are more challenging classics: a speech by Amelia Earhart, a political cartoon from the 1920s, the classic “Yes, Virginia…” New York Sun editorial. That variety, too, is good preparation for year-end assessments.

Using these warm-ups, my students grew more confident and more proficient reading complex texts. A colleague who spotted them at the copier one day asked to use them, too. Our classes couldn’t be more different. She teaches gifted and advanced sixth graders, while I was teaching 7th and 8th grade struggling readers. When we compared notes later, both groups benefitted (and we enjoyed how engaging the task was… truly bell to bell learning).

Even better… this activity takes very little time—about five minutes a day. With so many standards to cover and review before test day, this was a no brainer. We covered dozens of different skills, built vocabulary, and increased student confidence and stamina with complex texts.

If you want to try it in your classroom, I’m including a link to a free one-week supply—five unique warm-ups to give your students practice with classic and complex texts. Since they’re basically targeted mini-assessments, you could also use them as exit slips or quizzes, too. I’d love to know what you think!