How-To Writing

Saturday, January 31, 2015 No comments
How-to writing pieces are a great assignment for emergent writers.  In a how-to piece, the writer describes how to do a task they complete on a regular basis using transitional words and phrases.  After deciding what to write about, it's simple to jot down the steps it takes to complete the task and turn it into an informative writing piece.  But it's deciding what to write about that's the difficult part.  Typically, the task the writer describes is something he has expertise in.  Sometimes, that's not as easy as it seems.  After all, many students in first or second grade don't feel as if they're experts at anything.  Below, I've listed some key attributes of a how-to piece and some ideas to get your students started.

How-To Pieces:

  • Use transitional words, such as: first, next, after, then, finally or last
  • Describe how to do a simple task in a step-by-step format
  • Review the materials needed to complete the task

Examples of Tasks to Write About:

  • How to make a sandwich
  • How to get ready to play outside in the snow
  • How to feed your cat
  • How to have a picnic
  • How to get ready for school
  • How to watch a movie
  • How to brush your teeth
  • How to take a photograph

Words are to Atoms...

Wednesday, January 28, 2015 No comments
Without words, there are no sentences.  Without sentences, there are no paragraphs.  Without paragraphs, there are no chapters.  Without chapters, there is no book.

You can see how words can be important then, can't you?

Words in our books are like atoms in our universe.  They are the basic building blocks which make up everything.  It's understandable, therefore, that we should consider which words we are using in our writing to be certain we are being as succinct and intentional as we are trying to be.
Note: You may be younger than me, you may be older than me; you may read more than I do, or less than I do; but you have surely had different life experiences than I have.  The bottom line is, I may know different words than you do.  If you don't know what a word means, LOOK IT UP!  (Yes, it's that easy!)  Even if you think you can assume its definition by context clues, sometimes it's good to look it up anyway.  I look up plenty of words while I'm reading.  You know what?  That's how I've learned so many words!  It works.  I have even included a dictionary widget in the top left sidebar for your convenience.
I think the worst thing that can happen is that we fall into a comfort zone with the diction we use.  Instead of expanding our lexicons on a regular basis by reading and studying words, we may reach a supposed apex in our knowledge of words and our writing can bottom out into a plateau.  It's important that we continue reading and strive to always improve.  It's a part of being a good writer and a lifelong learner.

Questions to Consider:

  • Which words come to mind when I ask what your favorite words are?
  • Why is it important to have a vast vocabulary?
  • What is the last word you remember looking up?

Flashback to the Future

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 No comments
Ever since my birthday when Nick surprised me with a Kindle for a gift, I have been reading much more (my eyes especially thank him, since it is much easier on them than my iPhone was).  After reading the Divergent trilogy, the Harry Potter series, a few classics, and a few comedic romances, I've found my way back to reading my favorite genre.  Out of anything I read, my favorite subject areas have always included crime, psychological thrillers, suspense, and mystery.  Currently, I am reading Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane.

While I was reading yesterday on my break, a particular quotation stood out to me.  The scene was a between a private investigator and a high school administrator.  The administrator explains that high school isn't what it used to be, but the PI's point of view is just the opposite:
"I kept my face noncommittal.  I wasn't sure if high school was much different than it had ever been; only the accessories were."
I obviously notice differences between my high school experience and the high schools I substitute teach in, but I also notice a lot of similarities.  There have actually been students that I could've sworn I knew when I was in high school; that's how close the similarities of personalities have been at times.  I think that many of the same issues that we dealt with when I was in high school exist in today's classrooms, too.  I believe that people think that things have "gotten worse" in schools or children have changed a great deal, but I don't agree that's so.  I constantly see myself in students I teach and I see my friends in others, as well.  I think that sometimes we lose sight of the people we used to be when we were young and we like to pretend we were more innocent or less jaded.  Perhaps some of us were, but I believe the same is true of today's youth.

Whether we're talking high schools or society, there are always going to be the innocent people and the more experienced.  There are always going to be the "cool kids" and the "black sheep"; the "haves" and the "have-nots"; the leaders and the followers.  I'm not saying you can't have attributes of all different groups and you can't hang out with people who aren't like you, but typically, there are differences.  We may live in a Casteless society, but there are certainly variables that we acknowledge, even if we pretend not to in the sake of being uncontroversial.

Questions to Consider:

  • Do you think that the saying "the more things change, the more they stay the same" is true?
  • Have you ever returned to a place you have not been in a long time and found it to be very similar?

Have It All

Monday, January 26, 2015 No comments
I remember when I was younger and I used to want it all.  I wanted the guy who was right for me and the guy who gave me butterflies.  I wanted the good man who treated me nicely, but the one who challenged me.  I wanted the one who supported me, but let me be independent.  I wanted the guy who would be my shoulder to cry on, but who wasn't too soft that he was afraid to bring something controversial to the table.  I wanted someone to take care of, but who would take care of me, too.

A lot of people used to tell me that I was too picky, that I was too much of an idealist who would never be happy and never find a guy to live up to my unrealistic high standards.  Sometimes I believed them, and I tried dating around, even if guys weren't exactly who I wanted.  Ultimately, though, I realized that I was always much happier single than attached.  I felt like that spoke volumes.  I would much rather be alone than be with someone who didn't contribute to my happiness.  So I continued to listen to the "you're too picky" comments and the naysayers, but I never gave up on finding the right guy.  And you know what?  I did find him.

Nick and I have been together for a year and eight months now.  We'll be married in just about six months.  I can honestly admit that he's not perfect, but I can admit that I'm not either.  But with Nick, I don't feel as if I have to be perfect to be loved.  In fact, sometimes it's when I'm feeling my least perfect that I end up feeling the most loved.  (Go figure that one out.)

I still get butterflies when I hear his car pull into the driveway.  I still wake up easier when I feel him breathing next to me in our bed.  I know that even if we disagree on something or if I'm in a bad mood or if he's stressed out from work, we still love each other and we can lean on each other through anything.  It's an amazing feeling.

I think that no matter what you set your mind to, you can achieve.  You don't have to settle.  You don't have to stop believing (seriously, just listen to Journey on that one!).  You can have it all - I suppose it just depends on what you believe "having it all" means!

Questions to Consider:

  • Has someone ever told you something was impossible, but you have continued believing in it regardless?
  • What desires did you have when you were younger than you have been able to realize through strong beliefs and perseverance?  

Professional Development for Teachers

Sunday, January 25, 2015 No comments
In order to maintain your teaching certification in New York State, you're currently required to fulfill 175 hours of professional development every five years.  The problem is, many of us certificate holders do not have full-time teaching jobs in districts that offer Professional Development workshops and seminars.  Therefore, we are required to find PD opportunities on our own.  I have put together a list of venues I have found valuable PD that will hopefully help you, too!  Some are online resources while others are local to the Western New York area.

If you have additional places to earn PD hours, please leave a comment below!

EdWeb has a huge selection of free webinars about pretty much any educational topic you could ask for.  It is easy to register for upcoming webinars, simple to participate in the chat during the webinar, and effortless to access documents (such as slideshows, audio, and video) after the webinar is over.  After participating in the webinar, a certificate is emailed to you the following day.  What is even better is that you can also watch webinars from the past and take a quiz in order to receive a certificate when you're finished.

PBS TeacherLine

PBS TeacherLine offers self-paced online courses in a variety of subject areas that are relevant to teachers today.  I have found many courses that relate to the Common Core, assessment, and instruction.  Many of the courses are worth 2 or 4 PD hours, which I've found is a great way to add a lot of hours to my ever-growing list of PD.  Some of the courses on the site are paid, while others are free of charge.


The ProLiteracy Education Network offers online courses related to literacy.  They are free of charge and you may take them at your own pace.  After you're finished, your certificate appears on your account page and you are able to download it or print it.

Orleans/Niagara Teacher Center

Orleans/Niagara BOCES has a Teacher Center full of professional development opportunities throughout the year.  They offer workshops, most of which are $5 per hour, across the spectrum of educational topics, including instructional practice, classroom management, and technology.  Many workshops are offered right at O/N BOCES, while others are offered online.  In the latest catalog, they even added book studies that focus upon books popular in today's education community.

Far West Teacher Center Network

The Far West Teacher Center Network offers free seminars at locations around Western New York.  Their website is continuously updated with new events and registration is online.

Buffalo Museum of Science

The Buffalo Museum of Science offers professional development opportunities for teachers.  The topics are interesting and fit a variety of teachers' needs and interests.  Each workshop is 3 hours long and costs $30 for non-members and $25 for members of the museum.

Developmental Disabilities Alliance of WNY

Monthly or bimonthly, the DDAWNY offers a workshop at Temple Beth Zion Play and Learn School in Amherst.  The two-hour, free workshop is usually related to the field of early childhood.  If you attend a workshop and provide your email address, you will receive a flier via email letting you know when the next workshop is taking place.

Introduction to Green

Friday, January 23, 2015 No comments
Once upon a time, there was a little girl who had never heard of the color "green."  The grass, the leaves on the trees, the broccoli on her dinner plate...  None of them seemed to have any color whatsoever.  Then one day, her father pointed out how green a dress she was wearing was.  Suddenly, upon learning the new color, she saw green everywhere...  She saw green in cars that zoomed down the road.  She saw green specks in her baby brother's hazel eyes.  She saw green, green, green, everywhere she looked.

Words are like that, too.  As soon as you learn a new one, you hear it, read it, and see it everywhere!  Perhaps you had never heard the word before, but as soon as you have heard it and assigned it a definition you understand, it suddenly pops up everywhere and anywhere!

Questions to Consider:

  • Have you ever been introduced to a new word, concept, symbol, logo, or idea that you never noticed was all around your environment until after you became consciously aware of it?
  • What is the last new word you learned?

Scare Me

Thursday, January 22, 2015 No comments
Someone silently follows me as I walk from my bedroom to the bathroom for a shower in the dark hours of the early morning.

I reach underneath my bed on a Saturday morning to grab my slippers and feel fingertips graze my hand.

A stranger crouches in my trunk as I drive home alone at night, listening as I sing along to the radio, talk to myself, and breathe in what I believe is total solitude.

My dog barks at something I cannot see in a windowless corner of my home.

I walk alone through the snow and when I turn to see how far I've come, two sets of footprints are on the ground behind me.

Questions to Consider:

  • What scares you?
  • Why does our culture create art and media that entices fear within us?

Make Me Happy

Wednesday, January 21, 2015 No comments
Do you ever think about the little things that make you happy?  I love the simple, unexpected moments that happen on ordinary days.
  • Receiving a handwritten card in the mail.
  • Having rainbow sprinkles on my ice cream.
  • Getting a text message from Nick with a "❤️" in it.
  • Hearing an old favorite song on the radio.
  • Finding out something I want is on sale when I go to buy it at the store.
  • Driving toward an intersection just as the traffic light turns green.
  • Running into an old friend at a store and catching up.
  • Finding money in a pair of jeans I haven't worn in a while.
  • Checking my DVR playlist and find a show I forgot I set to record.
  • Winning a couple of bucks on a scratch-off lottery ticket.
  • Waking up before the alarm clock.
  • Even better... Waking up and thinking it's time to get up, but it's only midnight or 2am.
  • Learning that I have something in common with Nick that we never realized before.
  • Getting a message that I sold something from my TeachersPayTeachers store.
  • Being completely surprised by the ending of a suspense novel.

Questions to Consider:

  • What are everyday moments that make you happy?


Monday, January 19, 2015 No comments
Today, I met with my mom and a Nick's mom to discuss our wedding shower.  I finally feel as if we have most of our ducks in a row when it comes to the wedding and the preceding festivities.  It feels good and I can say that I am finally excited more than stressed about everything.  It's a welcome change, that's for sure!

When I started planning my wedding, I noticed that many people had the same piece of advice for us: enjoy the wedding day as much as you can because it goes by in a blur.  What they didn't say, however, is that the engagement goes by in a blur as well.  Nick proposed on August 15th, just over five months ago.  In that time, we've seen our lawn lose its bright green shade, leaves change and foliage disappear, snow fall and ice harden.  We've celebrated holidays with our families, enjoyed countless football games on lazy Sundays, eaten many meals, played games, celebrated our birthdays, and (enjoyed) wasting time in front of the television.

It will be summer again when we walk down the aisle, but I know it will be here before we know it.  I never imagined it would go so quickly!  If months can pass so swiftly, I can only imagine that the day itself will go by in the blink of an eye.  I just hope I'm not the one blinking because if there's anything I know for sure, it's that I don't want to miss a second of it!

Questions to Consider:

  • Which day or time in your life passed by quickly?
  • Does time only seem to pass by quicker when we have something to "count down" to or does it always pass at the same speed for you?

So Many Thoughts, So Little Time...

Sunday, January 18, 2015 No comments
Life is busy.  There's no doubt about that.  But the fact is, I'm not busy 24/7.  In fact, I'm far from it.  But I would consider my mind busy 24/7.  Even if I'm relaxing, zoning out in front of a rerun of The Big Bang Theory on TBS spending time with Nick and the dogs, I'm still thinking a million miles a minute and my brain is usually not merely focused on Sheldon's latest social faux pas.  What, you ask, is my mind zeroing in on?  Absolutely nothing specific and probably nothing urgent.

Here's an example of my thought process on any given week night:

I need to do laundry... I'm thirsty... What do we have to drink in the fridge?... I wonder if that V8 juice is still in there... If I put a load of laundry in the washer now, I can get it in the dryer by 8:20 and still have enough time to fold it before I want to go to sleep... Hmm, popcorn might be good... But then I'd definitely have to get a drink cause the salt will make me thirsty... I remember finishing that V8 juice because I put the empty jug in the recycling bin... What am I wearing to work tomorrow?... Do I need to do laundry or can I do it after I get home tomorrow?... I need to finish that book on my Kindle before it gets returned to the library automatically... Which day did I check it out?... Let's see, I was subbing in the middle school, so it must've been Thursday... 

And that's just a snippet of about two minutes of thoughts.  There's a whole lot of nothing in that example, but sometimes I must admit that it's difficult to focus on relaxing (sounds like it should be an oxymoron, right?) when I have so much going on in my brain.  The good thing is, I've found a solution that works 95% of the time (the other 5% accounts for when I have overpowering thoughts about deadlines, finances, and relationships).  I write.

It seems as if when I'm writing out my thoughts and feelings, I can expunge them from my mind for at least a little while.  It also helps me gain clarity on everything happening in my head.  Maybe I'm feeling overwhelmed by some looming deadlines or things I need to get done; making a to-do list and writing down each item I need to complete does wonders.  Perhaps I'm stressed about plans for my upcoming wedding; writing out a text and letting my fiance or Maid of Honor know I need some moral support is a huge help.  It's really amazing how much writing aids me on a daily basis.

Questions to Consider:

  • How does writing help you on a daily basis?
  • How do you use the written word for focus, evaluation, or expression?

Writing Challenge #1

Thursday, January 1, 2015 No comments

I may be a cliche first-born who tends to be bossy and adamant about what I want, but when it comes to writing, I don't like to dictate too many rules.  Challenges, however, are another category altogether.  I think that it's fun to put parameters on what you're writing and how you're writing it.  When you enforce limits in your writing, you consciously think about your writing in a different way than you're used to doing.  That being said, I have thought of a few fun challenges for you to try in your writing this month...

Words Per Sentence

Put a limit on the number of Words per Sentence (WPS) you can use.  Let's say each sentence has to be five words or less (choppy, to-the-point sentences).  Or, try the opposite, and write very verbose sentences of five or more words.  Have fun with it.  When you read your stories back to yourself, you'll find that the tone and mood changes depending on the number of WPS.

Alliteration Avenue

Create a list of words that each begin with the same letter.  After compiling a good-sized list, start writing.  The challenge is to try to use mostly the words from your list (and not many other words that begin with different letters/sounds).  Read it back to yourself when you've finished and see how poetic and flowing it sounds.

Playing with Point of View

Think of a situation that you've been in (or could be in).  Write it down quickly from your perspective in the first person point of view (using words like I, we, my, me).  Then, rewrite the same situation from the second person point of view as if it's someone else describing what happened to you (using words like you, your).  Finally, rewrite the same situation a third time in the third person point of view (using words like he, she, it, they) from an unbiased, omniscient perspective.  Notice how details changed in your storytelling across all three perspectives.