Get Students Writing Now with Paragraph POW! (Part three: description)

LearningI invented Paragraph POW! as a way to make writing practice more fun. We practice on special paper—lines in a box, just like on the state writing test. One difference: our paper has an awesome Paragraph POW! logo at the top.

Kids live in the moment, not necessarily paying attention to what’s going on around them.  They get impatient—they just don’t care to notice details, and they certainly don’t want to hear about them.

You can see why kids have trouble describing things.

I created several Paragraph POW! prompts that challenge kids to describe.  These prompts are often real brain-busters for the class—I’m warning you!  Don’t load the kids up with too many of these at once.  Have them do one every few days or each week, building their ability to describe.

Some tips:

  • Remind students that a descriptive essay has its own structure.  It’s often built around 3 paragraphs that delve into details about 3 main attributes.  It does NOT devolve into a persuasive essay or personal narrative.
  • Challenge kids to think of at least one attribute for each of their five senses.  That should give them ideas that will flesh out their descriptive essays.
  • Suggest that kids make quick decisions.  This isn’t a contest to see who can design the best treehouse, it’s a prompt to describe a treehouse.  Make some quick decisions about what that treehouse looks like, then spend your effort describing it.
  • Challenge students to make at least one of their descriptions a simile.  Once kids practice this skill, they get pretty good at it.  They can compare a treehouse to a watchtower, a sunset to a fading spotlight.  Whatever.  Any stab at figurative language will be appreciated by the assessors.

It’s very important to praise students’ efforts as they learn to write descriptive essays.  It really is a hard style to master, so compliment progress.  I like to choose several good papers and spotlight them under the document camera.  With descriptive essays, I try to find something special in as many student papers as I can.  It gives students hope as they tackle the next tough descriptive topic.

Here are the Paragraph POW! descriptive  writing prompts. Click on each link for a printable PDF. I have also given you an all-purpose Paragraph POW! sheet so you and your students can write to your own prompts.

Good luck!

Posted in Academics,FREE Worksheets,Tips for Teachers,Writing by Corey Green @ Aug 30, 2013


Your Class Will Love Bruno and Boots books by Gordon Korman

I cannot recommend Bruno and Boots books highly enough!  Prolific author Gordon Korman was a seventh grader when he began writing this sorta-series about two mischievous boys at a Canadian boarding school.  Your students will love these books!!!

Bruno and Boots love to play pranks and cause trouble at their boarding school, Macdonald Hall.  Bruno is the ringleader, a wisecracking con-artist-(or lawyer)-in-the-making who loves to stir the pot.  Boots is his faithful sidekick, a realistic boy who helps Bruno with mischief but also acts as a voice of reason.  The story works because the boys are good at heart.  They love their school and they do the right thing when it counts.  They are never mean to others—they are always in it for fun and looking to recruit new jokers.

The books are great for reluctant readers, boys in particular.  Readers must be reluctant, not remedial, because these books are not simple.  The AR levels range from 4.5 for the first, shortest book to 7.0 for the longer, more complex stories.  Students who can comfortably read at the 5.0 level will be fine with all of these books.  Don’t AR block kids from these books!

Bruno and Boots make good readalouds.  Your students will be in stitches, and you will be exposing them to higher vocabulary, longer sentence structure, and more complex plots that.  Plus, there is an element of rebelliousness to reading these books aloud.  Bruno and Boots operate outside Macdonald Hall law, and it’s pretty cool for a teacher to share these mischief-making secrets with students.  You may find your students attempting Bruno and Boots style shenanigans, but don’t worry.  Real-life kids will probably not achieve the success of Bruno and Boots.

Gordon Korman was in seventh grade when he turned an English assignment into his first book, This Can’t be Happening At Macdonald Hall!  Gordon was the Scholastic Arrow Book Club monitor for his class, and clearly he felt that gave him an “in” to the publishing industry.  After completing the assignment, he mailed his manuscript to Scholastic.  They published the book when Gordon was only 14 years old.

Gordon’s high school years yielded more fun Bruno and Boots books.  He continued to revisit the characters over the years, and readers eagerly devoured new Bruno and Boots books.

Geek out with the Wikipedia page about Bruno and Boots.  You can learn all about the characters, the setting, etc.  Then, learn more about Gordon Korman at Wikipedia or at his website.

Here are the books in order.  You don’t have to read them in order, though.  I didn’t.  As a kid, I read them in the order I found them at my local used bookstore.

This Can’t Be Happening at MacDonald Hall! (AR reading level 4.5, 3 pts)

Go Jump in the Pool! (AR reading level 5.0, 5 pts )

Beware the Fish! (AR reading level 4.8, 5 pts )

The War With Mr. Wizzle (also published as The Wizzle War) (AR reading level 4.6, 7 pts)

The Zucchini Warriors (AR reading level 5.0, 7 pts)

Macdonald Hall Goes Hollywood (also published as Lights, Camera, Disaster!) (AR reading level 4.7, 7 pts)

Something Fishy At Macdonald Hall (also published as The Joke’s on Us) (AR reading level 4.6, 6 pts)


Posted in Book Lists,Fun With Literacy by Corey Green @ Aug 23, 2013


The Qualities of a Good Teacher

ClassAntics recently gave a mini-interview to James Petzke of EducationInitiation.  James’s post, The Qualities of a Good Teacher, really gets to the heart of what the teaching profession is all about.

James wrote about patience, flexibility, organization, passion, constant improvement, and selflessness.  Bloggers  he interviewed stressed the importance of really getting to know the students—everything about them.

I wrote that that a good teacher must truly love the students.  This love affects every aspect of the classroom and the class’s experience during the school year—and beyond.  Students behave differently when they know their teacher truly cares about them—really loves them.  The students feel safer and more willing to take risks.  The students feel more connected to their teacher and their classmates.  The classroom community is healthy and strong.

James comes from a family of teachers and truly values the profession.  James is a recent high school graduate and mega-honors student: he is an AP Scholar, National Merit Scholar Commended.  He has won national awards for his public speaking, website design and PC servicing and troubleshooting.

James is a youth motivational speaker.  If you are near his home base of Idaho, visit his site and see if James would be a good fit for your school’s needs.

I have no affiliation with James; I never met him before he invited me to do a mini-interview for his EducationInitiation site.  I was impressed by James and thought ClassAntics readers would like to know about him.

Posted in Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Aug 16, 2013


Get Students Writing Now with Paragraph POW! (Part two: favorites)

 I invented Paragraph POW! as a way to make writing practice more fun. We practice on special paper—lines in a box, just like on the state writing test. One difference: our paper has an awesome Paragraph POW! logo at the top.

 A lot of people think that favorites make good essay prompts. These people have never watched students chew a pencil and stare into space for forty minutes, trying to decide if they prefer Snickers or Butterfinger.

Seriously.  Any teacher will tell you—that’s what kids do.  A “fun” writing prompt turns into an intense session of soul-searching followed by a few minutes of dashing off a slapdash essay.

It helps to prepare students to pick favorites in high-stakes essays.  More important, it helps to teach students a few techniques and tips:

  • Just pick something!  This is not a lie detector.  No one’s going to know if you chose to write about Snickers even though you really prefer Three Musketeers.  It’s easier to write details about peanuts, satisfying hunger, and caramel than it is to expound on the merits of nougat.
  • Whatever you pick, stick to it.  Don’t go getting bright ideas halfway through the essay.  If you switch from one candy to the next halfway through the essay, you’ll lose points for organization, persuasiveness, and who knows what else.
  • Don’t go off topic.  So you don’t have a favorite candy or you’re not allowed to eat sweets?  Just pick something.  If you turn the essay topic into something other than Favorite Candy, you might get a big fat zero for Off Topic.

Once my students understand the parameters of the assignment, they get really into Paragraph Pow! lessons on favorites.  It helps that I choose the essays that best exemplify what the state assessors are looking for and spotlight them under the document camera.  Everyone likes to have their work acknowledged.

Here are the Paragraph POW! favorites-based writing prompts. Click on each link for a printable PDF. I have also given you an all-purpose Paragraph POW! sheet so you and your students can write to your own prompts.

Have fun picking favorites!

Posted in Academics,FREE Worksheets,Tips for Teachers,Writing by Corey Green @ Aug 9, 2013


Exercise Breaks in the Classroom

Exercise breaks are so good for squirrely kids.  Just a few minutes of physical activity can both energize and relax a class.  Make it fun by creating a grab bag or jar of exercise break activities.  Your class will enjoy the surprise element.

My students and I love this technique.  We make little notecards of our favorite exercises, some of them paired with music.  Only class favorites make it in the jar.  That way, we’re guaranteed a fun few minutes.

Some of our favorites:

  • Jumping jacks
  • Windmills
  • Hopping
  • Arm circles
  • March in place (we like to do this to Stars and Stripes Forever.  That’s a workout!)
  • Jog in place or do the Running Man
  • Macarena, Electric Slide, or similar passé dance
  • Pushups
  • Put on Chubby Checker and Do the Twist
  • Bunny Hop
  • Do an Irish jig, or an imitation of one
  • Simon Says
  • Conga line

As you can imagine, the teacher loves these breaks just as much as the kids!  Try it—you’ll see.  Do several of these each day, and you will definitely feel the benefits—in your health and in your sanity because your class will be much more manageable.

Posted in Classroom Management,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Aug 2, 2013