Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Snowy Winter Vacation Saturday

It's a snowy Saturday and a perfect time to total up the books that seventh graders have read so far. Drumroll.... as of today the number is 367 (6.1 books per student)!
To jump start the post vacation reading, I plan to share more book trailers; you can peruse some of them here.

Friday, December 14, 2012

What's New in ELA Class (week of 12/10)

We're heading into the final week before winter vacation, and our study of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is winding down.
This past week, we read from a stage adaptation of the story by Israel Horowitz, Scrooge and Marley.
We also made a connection to a "modern day" Ebeneezer Scrooge when we read a non-fiction article called "Rich Man, Poor Country" about the world's richest man, Carlos Slim.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Assignment: 12/4

Please read "episode 3" of the BBC radio version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol by Thursday, 12/6. Also, Please answer the following "take home quiz" questions in COMPLETE SENTENCES in your notebook (also please remember to date your work.)
1. Describe, in your own words, The Ghost of Christmas Past's appearance (what does it look like?)
2. At first, Scrooge is afraid to leave with the ghost. Explain why and tell why Scrooge finally agrees to go.
3. The Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge an image of himself as a "solidarity child." Explain what this means and describe Scrooge's reaction to seeing his younger self.
4. Who is "Fan?" After talking about Fan with the Ghost, explain why Scrooge seems, "Uneasy in his mind."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Out With November

The last week of November is here and we'll kick off our study our Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol.
To get some background on the setting of the story (Victorian England) we'll watch this clip from the BBC series Horrible Histories (this one too.)
Then we will dive into this version of A Christmas Carol (also from the BBC.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Different View of Thanksgiving

We ended our pre-Thanksgiving work by reading a discussing Thanksgiving: A Native American View by J. Keeler.
While most of us agreed that Thanksgiving is generally a happy time, we recognized that there is a different perspective to consider.
In other news, we've been keeping track of all the independent reading that the students are doing. So far, seventh graders have read 302 books (average of 5 books per student).

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Thanksgiving Myths: A Different Perspective

The story of the first Thanksgiving is a familiar one, but does it accurately portray the celebration at that happened at Plimoth colony in 1621?
Today we watched a clip from an animated biography of William Bradford, which depicts the story as it is traditionally told.
Then we compared our prior knowledge to what we read about "Thanksgiving Myths" at the Oyate website. Oyate is a Native American organization that lists recommended children's books on Native American history and culture.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Thanksgiving Dinner: Two Toons

We started off the week by examining the message about Thanksgiving dinner as portrayed in two political cartoons.
Next up, some Thanksgiving truths and myths...

Monday, November 5, 2012

Election Time in ELA

We talked about the election today, specifically, whether or not the electoral college system is the best way to choose a president.
We played this game ("The Electoral Challenge") in class and it was almost at hotly contested as the real campaign.
This clip from the documentary "Electoral College 101" illustrates some of the problems with the way we elect the President.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Take Home Quiz Questions: "Crispin" chp.9,10

Here is the take home quiz that is due tomorrow (a little early Halloween "treat.") DUE: 10/31


1. In chapter 9, what are some examples of things that Peregrine does to help Crispin? According to her, why does she help him?

2. “It was rather like a new garment that replaces an old: desired but not yet comfortable.”

What is the author trying to say by comparing Crispin’s name to a garment?

3. What are the most likely reasons why Crispin looks on Peregrine with “fear and fascination?”

4. In chapter 10, Crispin pauses at the cross that marks the boundary of Stromford Village. Even though he is fleeing, what makes him stop momentarily? What feelings is he experiencing about leaving?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Characters with Character Continues

We'll continue to work through our current unit on "characters" this week.
We've paid particular attention to the historical fiction novel Crispin: The Cross of Lead, but this week we'll work in excerpts from Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices From a Medieval Village, which won the 2008 Newberry Medal.
In addition, it's Halloween week, so who knows what tricks we have planned....

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Today's home base challenge:

Where does the tradition of dressing up in a costume for Halloween come from? Leave a comment with your answer and win a "valuable" prize!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Crispin: Chapters 4,5

I've assigned students to read chapters 4 and 5 of Crispin: The Cross of Lead, due Monday, October 22.

To assist with with comprehension, students may wish to preview the chapters by reading summaries of them.

Chapter four spells out the stark contrast between a Lord's and a peasant's dwellings.

Here's an image of a medieval manor, like Lord Furnival's, in which John Aycliff lives.

Asta's Son and his mother would have lived in a peasant's cottage, like this one.

When they are finished reading, students should write answers, in complete sentences, to the following questions in their notebooks (please be sure to include the date):

  1. What service was a peasant, or serf, expected to perform for the lord of the manor? What did he gain in exchange for this service?
  2. Why did the bailiff and the reeve set fire to the cottage where Asta’s son had grown up? 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Historical Fiction: The Dark Ages

Unit two finds us leaving the realm of science fiction and beginning a study of historical fiction.
To begin, we'll study Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi.
We'll read the majority of this novel together in class, and we finished chapter one today.

The Home Base Research Challenge (Update)

After watching the Yankees' diastrous weekend, I've been thinking about The Big Apple. Today's challenge: How did New York City get that nickname? First home base student to leave a comment on this blog with the correct answer wins a great prize!

UPDATE: No takers on the challenge:
You can find the answer the question "Why is New York called The Big Apple?" here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Details: "Halloween Story Contest"

Here are the details about the "Halloween story contest" assignment, as well as a (partial) sample that I wrote:

DIRECTIONS: Write the ending to author Bruce Coville’s story, “Back From the Grave.” Your assignment should be 200-250 words (following the contest rules) in length and typed. It is due Monday, October 15.

Here’s my (unfinished) ending:

Suddenly, a scream exploded in the Avery’s bedroom next door.
I flung off the covers and sprinted toward the sound of Avery’s frantic cries.
I threw open her bedroom door and charged in. She was standing at the window, and I could see Avery silhouetted by the light of the full moon.
“No!” she shrieked.  “Gramma, Run!”
Running to the window, I pushed Avery out of the way. I stared with horrified disbelief at what I saw.
Gramma, in her pink fleece nightgown and furry slippers, scrambled through the back yard. Something was following her.
 I stood there, paralyzed with horror, as the dark figure closed in on Gramma.
Avery sprang into action. Opening the window, she quickly climbed through and lowered herself the short distance to the ground.
“Avery, stop!” I yelled at her.
Ignoring me, Avery ran to Gramma’s tool shed, ducked inside and emerged seconds later carrying a long handled shovel.
Was she crazy? Avery can barely lift that shovel, I thought.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Halloween Story Contest

Central NY writer Bruce Coville has issued his annual challenge to write the ending of his Halloween story.  You can watch Bruce read last year's story, "The Wind Up Goblin" here and read the winning endings here.
For Halloween 2012, Bruce has written the beginning of a story called "Back From the Grave," and we'll be working on contest submissions this week in class.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Create a Creature

This week, students will conclude our science fiction unit by working on the research project described below:

Research your solar system planet and create a creature that could live there based on the environment of your planet. Please be thorough and cover at least four topics listed below. Each topic should be related to the environment of your planet.

Use at least four of the topics listed below:

Body design (how is it shaped and why?)

Diet (what does it eat?)

Acquiring food (how does it get it’s food?)

Shelter (where does it live?)

Protection (what does it use for protection? Does it fight back or hide?)

Skeleton (how does it keep its shape?)

Mobility (how does it move?)

Sensory Ability (what are its senses?)

Communication (how does your creature communicate with other creatures?)

Other unique adaptations/behaviors.

Your essay is to be typed, double-spaced, and in 12 pt font.

This project should be about five to seven paragraphs in length.

Please use full sentences and use proper punctuation and grammar.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Non-Fiction Readings

Several non-fiction articles are coming up this week (as you may know, New York State's  transition to Common Core calls for a greater balance in literary and informational texts).
We'll start with an article by Gregg Easterbrook which first appeared in Time Magazine: "Why We Shouldn't Go To Mars." This article follows on the heels of a story we read last week, Ray Baradbury's "Dark They Were and Golden Eyed," which takes place on Mars.
We will also begin to integrate instruction to address the following Common Core Standard:
:Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing

The students will practice editing by working with timely passages that contain mistakes.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ray Bradbury, Mars and More

This week finds us continuing our unit on science fiction by looking at Ray Bradbury's "Dark They Were, and Golden Eyed." The story takes place on Mars and it has us thinking about the Curiousity Rover landing which happened last summer.
The scientists who worked on the Mars landing were inspired by Bradbury and posted this tribute.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Film and Some Book Recs

I mentioned to several classes that I would post a link to the short film version of Ray Bradbury's "All Summer in a Day" (we viewed the ending in class and compared it to the ending of the short story). That film can be found here.
Also, Ms. Tice (our student teacher from SUNY Plattsburgh) and I gave book talks on Friday. The book I shared was Vivian Vande Velde's All Hallows Eve
In keeping with our current science fiction theme, Ms. Tice shared Feed by MT Anderson and Singularity by William Sleator.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


3-2-1 is the name of an assignment that I like to give from time to time. To complete it, the student writes 3 comments about a story they have read. Then they write two questions about what they read. Finally, they draw a doodle based on the reading.
As an example, I did 3-2-1 based on our viewing of the short film Robbie.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sci Fi Unit Blasts Off

We'll kick off our science fiction unit this week by viewing the short film, Robbie.

Readings this week will include a non fiction article about a robot teacher (yikes! someday I'll be obsolete?!) and Ray Bradbury's "All Summer in a Day."

Our independent reading will continue as well, and for those who'd like to read some science fiction during our unit of study, you may wish to check out this list of titles from the website Story Snoops.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

We Read Here

After a great first day of school, we're planning to launch our independent reading program tomorrow by visiting the library to get books.
Independent reading, or "sustained silent reading" has plenty of benefits.
Finding a book that's "just right" is important to our IR program's success, so Mrs. Kennedy (middle school library media specialist) and I are ready to help.
One of my favorite resources for helping students find books to read is a book blog called Story Snoops. I visit this site frequently to get ideas about book recommendations.
I also like to watch book trailers to find out about new titles. Here's a site with several trailers for you to watch.
Last year, seventh graders read over 1200 books. I'm looking forward to seeing if this year's students can top it!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Twas the Night Before School

And all through the house...
Well, some creatures are still stirring in my house, but I thought I'd share a back to school message for students from one of my new favorite authors, John Green. You can watch it here.
John is the author of Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars (among others).

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Welcome Back!

It's Thursday, August 30th, and the middle school is pretty quiet. There are several teachers working busily arranging their rooms, the buildings and grounds crew are putting the finishing touches on making everything look ship shape, and the office staff are getting everyone what they need for a smooth opening day. Other than that, there is relative calm here.
All that is about to change.
And we can't wait!

This will be my third year keeping a class blog, and I'm hoping to make it a worthwhile place for parents (and students) to visit.
Here you'll find information about what's going on in ELA class, links to books I like, etc.
For example, here a couple of books that I read this summer:
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher: an intense story about teen suicide and the impact on those left behind.
The Secret of the Fortune Wookie by Tom Angleberger: I took a picture that ended up on the author's blog!

If you are interested in how ELA class will change to relect the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, please see this resource from the national PTA:

Feel free to leave me a comment and let me know what you're most looking forward to this school year.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Final Exam Time

Just when it seems like there couldn't possibly be MORE tests this year, here comes final exams.
In light of all the test taking, I've designed the ELA final to be quite manageable for students. First, the test will cover only content from our last ten weeks (the bulk of which has been our "Mark Twain" author study unit). Therefore, please follow this link for Mark Twain review materials that I posted in a blog that I wrote last year. NOTE: the only review materials from the link that are relevent to this year's final exam are the "Mark Twain Author Study" materials.
The final exam will consist of several short answer questions about selected Twain readings that we covered in class, including "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" and the "whitewashing episode" from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. In addition, the students will read additional Twain related material during the exam and answer comprehension questions. Finally, there will be at least one "extended response" (essay question).
The final exam for ELA 7 will be held on Monday, June 18, from 9:30-10:50.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The School Year Winds Down, As Does the "Twain" Unit

Our Mark Twain author study unit continued with a viewing of the Disney's Tom and Huck, followed by a non-fiction article about the author's world wide fame and his family.
Then, we watched an episode of TV's Ghost Hunters, in which the paranormal investigators tried to determine if Twain's Hartford, Connecticutt home was haunted.
We'll conclude our unit by an reading an excerpt of Susy Clemens' biography of her father, as well as an excerpt from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
I'll post information pertaining to the ELA 7 final exam (which will cover only material from the fourth marking period) later this week.

Monday, May 14, 2012

"Opposite Pick Paper" due May 21!

See below for a sample of a written assignment that is due on May 21:

The Clique by Lisi Harrison: My Opposite Pick

I like non-fiction. I know what you’re thinking: non-fiction? Yuck! If you find the right kind of non-fiction, you can actually get hooked on the stuff. Sometimes true stories are better than anything that an author could make up. For example, The Year We Disappeared by Cylin and John Busby is the story of a cop whose family was forced to go into hiding for a whole year after he was shot in the face while on duty (and lived to identify the gunman.) Another true crime story I liked was Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James Swanson. This book was all about one of the most famous crimes of all time, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Both of those books are filled with as much action and suspense as any work of fiction that you’re likely to find.

When I read fiction, I usually go for books that have a paranormal element to them. What I mean by that is that most of the fiction that I read has ghosts, monsters or characters with unusual powers in them. Two books come immediately to mind: All the Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn and The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting. All the Lovely Bad Ones is about a haunted bed and breakfast in Vermont and The Body Finder is about a girl with the ability to know where dead bodies are buried.

First, my experience reading The Clique was very different in that I was challenged to read this book by students. I usually find books by visiting book blogs like or I also frequently get recommendations for books from students. Rarely, however, do students challenge me to read a book.

The Clique is fiction, but not of the paranormal variety (although I suppose one could argue that the girls in this book are monsters!) The Clique is about a close-knit group of middle school girls who are wealthy, popular and envied by just about everyone. When a new girl named Claire comes to live in clique-leader Massie’s guesthouse, the girls have a new target for their teasing.

At first, I was not sure that I would be able to finish The Clique. The main characters are wealthy girls who are very interested in shopping, gossip and the latest trends. There were no characters that I could relate to. Soon, however, as the story began to unfold, I found myself increasingly fascinated by how mean the popular girls were to Claire, and then to each other. I read in disbelief as Massie and her friends insulted Claire to her face and talked behind her back. The more I read, the angrier I became. The I angrier I became, the more I wanted to keep reading to find out if Claire would be ok, and if the mean girls would get what was coming to them.

The Clique has very short chapters, some as small has one or two pages. I realized that a book like that is a nice change of pace for me. I found that even with a busy schedule, I could easily finish two or three chapters and have a sense of accomplishment.

I also learned that I should take on “reading challenges” more frequently. I was compelled to keep reading this book, no matter what, because

I had been “dared” to do it, and I wanted to rise to the occasion.

Overall, I enjoyed reading The Clique. I gained perspective into the world of wealthy, spoiled, mean girls. I feel lucky that I do not know anyone in real life who is like Massie, Dylan, and the rest of their crew. I learned that The Clique is a series of fourteen books, and that book five takes place partly in Lake Placid. I’m planning to read that book (The Pretty Committee Strikes Back) but I’m not sure if I’ll read books 2-4, or just skip straight to book 5.

Even though at first I was embarrassed to be seen reading The Clique, I eventually realized that reading something different is very worthwhile.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Twain Time:2012

May finds our ELA 7 class engaged in a study of author Mark Twain.
We started by reading together the story that put him on the literary map: "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."
You can check out an interesting claymation version of the story here
Next, we read the famous "whitewashing episode" from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
For those planning ahead, The final exam in ELA 7 is scheduled for Monday, June 18. It will be a test that covers only material from the final 10 weeks of school (mostly content from our Mark Twain unit).

Monday, April 16, 2012

It's NYS Test Week

Here's some information pertaining to the New York State ELA Assessment that students will take on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week.

To begin, the test year this is longer (three days of testing, 90 minutes per day).

The students have been working to prepare, and here are some general test taking tips from teacher/blogger Larry Ferlazzo that may be helpful:


Read each question carefully and more than once
Read the questions before you read the longer text
Underline important words in the text as you read
Do easy questions first
Skip the hard questions and come back to them later (put a mark in your test booklet next to the ones you skip)
Eliminate wrong answers and make your best guess
Trust yourself, your first guess is usually the best
If you do want to change an answer, be sure to erase the first one completely

I'm proud of how hard the students have worked to prepare, and I know that they will do their best!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Page to Stage to News

Our annual Page to Stage project is over for another year, but we are already beginning to think about how we can make it even better next time.
The local history plays were mentioned in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and Historic Saranac Lake received some well earned kudos for their involvement with our project.
Many thanks as well for all the assistance that Pendragon Theatre provided our actors and actresses.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Page to Stage

The students are working in groups lately to bring stories of local history to life on the stage. They've been helped in these efforts by members of Saranac Lake's own full time theatre company, Pendragon Theatre.
The Historic Saranac Lake Wiki has been a great resource for the students, who have visited the site for research and historically accurate details to include in their "mini-plays."
Among the topics the students have focused on are Winter Carnival, TB curing, bootlegging, and camping.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Local History: From Page to Stage

Today the students were visited by writer Liza Frenette. She's a magazine writer and author of children's books.
Liza's visit marks the beginning of a month long project (made possible, in part, by an Arts in Education grant from the New York State Council on the Arts) in which students will draw on the resources and expertise of community partners Historic Saranac Lake and Pendragon Theatre to bring local history to life on the stage.
As part of our annual grade seven "Page to Stage" project, the students will work in groups to write "mini-plays" based on people and events from local history. The students will stage these plays for an audience on Friday, March 23 (more information on how you can watch the plays later).
Last fall, grade 7 social studies students teamed with Historic Saranac Lake to research our area's role in the treatment of TB. They also examined historical photographs with local artist Mark Kurtz. Students may decide to use that work as the basis for their plays. Students might also wish to explore a family member's connection to local history and develop that story in the form of a dramatic presentation. I'll be encouraging the students to talk to their families and neighbors for potential story ideas.
I'll be blogging about the students' progress as the project unfolds.

Monday, February 6, 2012

More Monsters

We finished reading Rod Serling's (he's from Upstate New York!) "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street" last week, in honor of Saranac Lake's 2012 Winter Carnival theme.
Today, we looked at the story's epilogue, and viewed a video clip from The Twilight Zone.
We also continued our editing practice by reading and correcting an article about a winter festival in Sapporo, Japan.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Alien Invasion!

Saranac Lake's Winter Carnival kicks off this week, and I always like to try to tie in some classroom content with each year's theme.
This week, we'll examine reports of strange lights in the North Country skies. Then, we'll read together a screenplay about the hysteria unleashed on a quiet street when a suspected alien invasion begins (Rod Serling's "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street").
Happy Carnival!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Injustice and Chocolate

We've had an infusion of non-fiction into our class lately. First, we viewed the documentary film The Dark Side of Chocolate. This film details the illegal practice of forcing children to work as slaves in the cocoa fields of Africa. Next, we looked at an excerpt from a speech that Martin Luther King gave in 1967. In it, he challenges the reader to realize how connected we all are to each other:
 It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. Did you ever stop to think that you can’t leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world?
Today we examined the "Raise the Bar Hershey" campaign. This is an effort that aims to pressure Hershey to engage in "fair trade" business practices.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

"The Fan Club" by Rona Maynard

Rona Maynard's short story, "The Fan Club" is on tap as we open a unit on social justice. Peer pressure figures prominently in this story and many students report that while they face similar pressures from peers, they are confident that that are equipped to deal with it.
We've also begun some language study this week, and classes have discussed the Latin root "uni," as in The students unanimous reaction to the ending of  "The Fan Club" was contempt for the main character, Laura.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Local Author Needs Your Help!

Kate Messner is a local author who has a string of successful books, among them The Brilliant of Gianna Z   and Sugar and Ice.
Recently, Kate asked for students to respond to a survey about their views of the future. Kate's upcoming book (March 2012 release date), Eye of the Storm, has a futuristic setting.
We'll spend a bit of time in class this week responding to Kate's survey.