Relationships Make Compelling Stories: The Hunger Games

Writing tips from Corey Green, National Board Certified Teacher;
use them in class or for fun! 

When creating characters for your story, remember that the relationships between characters will drive your plot.  Here are tips to help you create those relationships.

Writers will tell you that it’s important to know your characters well, especially your main character.  You should develop your characters’ strengths and weaknesses, habits, likes and dislikes, fears, hopes for the future, and favorites.  When I first began to write the Buckley School Books, I developed profiles like that for every kid in Mr. Hoker’s class.

However, my stories really gelled when I realized that the relationships between characters are as important, if not more important, than knowing every tiny detail about each individual character.  The relationships between characters should create conflict in the story.

Here are some common threads between characters.  Weave these phrases between your characters’ names for some great plot ideas!

Ideas for relationships between characters:
> Loves
> Hates
> Envies (Is jealous of)
> Admires (looks up to)
> Rivals (competition between characters)
> Fears
> Protects
> Defies (goes up against, challenges)
> Owes
> Upsets

The Hunger Games is an excellent example of how complex relationships between characters can create a compelling story that captivates millions of people all over the world.  Suzanne Collins created a complex web of characters as she wove her plot.

> Katniss Loves Gale, Peeta, Primrose (in different ways and at different times in the story)

> Katniss Hates the Career Tributes because they are cruel, the Capitol

> Katniss Envies (Is jealous of) Peeta’s ability to deal with the Hunger Games—he does better in front of the cameras, he seems more confident

> Katniss Admires (looks up to) Foxface’s cunning and cleverness

> Peeta Rivals Gale because they both love Katniss

> Katniss Fears the Capitol, the Hunger Games, President Snow, her competitors

> Katniss Protects Primrose, Rue, and Peeta

> Katniss Defies (goes up against, challenges) President Snow, the Gamemaker, and the Capitol

> Katniss Owes Peeta because he loves her, saves her, looks out for her

> Katniss Upsets lots of people!  Gale and Peeta, President Snow, the Gamemaker, Effie, Haymitch…she can be one prickly girl and she is a magnet for trouble.

Now, use this information to create your own story!  Create three or more characters for your story and develop the relationships between them.  You can also practice by figuring out the relationships between characters in stories you love.  Harry Potter, Twilight, Percy Jackson—these are few bestsellers with complex relationships between characters.  Can you list them all?

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Posted in Fun With Literacy,Writing by Corey Green @ Apr 12, 2012


The Hunger Games in the Classroom: How to Write a Dystopia

Use the popularity of The Hunger Games to interest your class in dystopias.  Teach your students how to write a dystopia using tips from Corey Green, writer and National Board Certified Teacher.

People are eternally interested in dystopias.  A new one comes along for each generation.  Fahrenheit 451, 1984, The Hunger Games—these books address issues in our society and imagine a world where the solution takes the problem to its opposite extreme.

A dystopia seems like a difficult and complex genre, but it’s really just another genre in the field of fiction.  That sounds manageable, doesn’t it?  Your students can learn a lot about literature, society, and their own personal beliefs as they create their own dystopias.

Use my printable dystopia planning guide to help your students create their own dystopian story.  Help your students focus on the issue they want to address, create a dystopian “solution” that takes the problem to its opposite extreme, and decide how they want to address oppression.

> What is the problem or issue?
> How does the solution take the problem to its opposite extreme?
> How will the system of oppression work?
> Will the main character overcome oppression?
> Will it be on a large or small scale?
> Or will the character fall prey to the oppression, becoming another victim or even a perpetrator?

Big questions, but your students can handle it if they use my story planning sheet.  After all, a dystopia is really just a story with a beginning, middle and end—students simply need to address the conventions of the genre as they craft a satisfying story.

Good luck to you and your students as you create your dystopias.  May the odds be ever in your favor.

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Posted in Academics,FREE Worksheets,Fun With Literacy,Writing by Corey Green @ Apr 9, 2012


AR Challenge: March 2, 2012

Read the Most from Coast to Coast!

Here is a neat idea for celebrating Dr. Seuss’s birthday on March 2.  Help set a record for Accelerated Reader quiz taking!

Renaissance Learning is sponsoring the program and offering free kits for teachers.  Click here to register your class and claim your planning kit which includes a poster, student bookmarks, and downloadable support materials.  Register by February 14th to ensure that you receive your materials on time. Get event information here.

For extra fun, all participants will be registered for daylong prize drawings.  You could win an iPad, a signed copy of a book from the popular “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” book series by Jeff Kinney, and more.

Teaching Tips

Get ready!  Have students set goals or make book recommendations to each other.  Check out stacks of books from the school library so kids have plenty to read.  If you teach at a school where students have home libraries, ask kids to bring in books to share.

Prepare for state testing!  If March 2 is near your state testing window, you might want to challenge your students to read NONFICTION on March 2nd.  It’s excellent preparation for the test and corrects an imbalance since most students tend to read much more fiction than nonfiction.  If all day of nonfiction is too much for your gang, set a timeframe during which your class reads only nonfiction.  The students will get into it.

Make a day of it!  Set up blankets, have snacks, make forts, and read as much as you can!   It doesn’t all have to be silent reading.  The kids can read in pairs.  Parents can read to the class.  You can read to the class.

Fun data analysis!  Use AR’s reports to show your kids how much they accomplished.

> Print up a word count for your students the day before the event and compare it to their word count after the event.
> Compare class points earned before and after the event.
> See how much fiction versus nonfiction you read during the event.
> Break your class into teams on AR and see which team can read the most.
> Use the quizzes taken report to see which books were most popular that day.

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Posted in Accelerated Reader (AR) by Corey Green @ Jan 31, 2012


Winnie the Pooh Day is January 18th

January 18 is A.A. Milne’s birthday.  Celebrate with Winnie the Pooh Day!  You can adjust your activities to suit your students’ interests and reading levels.  Pooh is not just for little kids!  The books are actually quite challenging—AR levels Winnie-the-Pooh at 4.6.

Disney has a great Winnie the Pooh site where your class can play games, watch episodes, and print pictures to color.  (Veteran teachers know to NEVER let students print without permission!  Print the pictures yourself ahead of time.)

Print Disney’s downloadable Winnie the Pooh activity book.  It’s excellent for students up to grade 3.

Extend your students’ learning by going beyond Disney’s Winnie the Pooh.  Visit the charming UK site for A.A. Milne.  You can teach your students about the author and delve more deeply into his life and books.  He wrote much more than Winnie the Pooh!  He wrote really charming poems, for instance.  They are excellent for your students to study.

I love “Halfway Down,” Milne’s poem about a place of one’s own.  It comes from his book When We Were Very Young.   Check out this awesome Muppets video of Kermit’s nephew Robin singing the poem as a song.

Click here for the text of several of A.A. Milne’s poems.  You can use them for reading comprehension, reader’s theater, fluency practice, or just to color and decorate.  Whatever suits your class!

Your students would enjoy listening to you read aloud from the original Winnie-the-Pooh book.  Have fun comparing it to Disney’s movie and TV versions of the story. has a nice gallery that lets you compare original illustrator Ernest Shephard’s illustrations to the Disneyfied Pooh.

Happy Winnie the Pooh Day!

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Posted in Academics,Book Lists,Fun With Literacy by Corey Green @ Jan 16, 2012


Muppets in the Classroom Part Two

In honor of The Muppets, released November 23, I offer several applications of Muppets to the classroom.  Some suggestions are actually good ideas.  Others have no basis in sound educational theory…but I’m not saying which are which!

Part One covered the 3Rs: Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic.  Now for the really fun stuff—everything else!

Science: Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker have given us so much.  From elevator shoes to make “short, stubby people like Beaker here” taller to alchemy gone bad (turning gold into cottage cheese), these hapless scientists demonstrate what NOT to do in the lab.  They provide fodder for endless discussion on ethics in scientific experiments.  If Beaker could talk, he might have something to say about subjects’ rights!

Social Studies: only on the Muppets can Sly be your guide to Roman history.  My students love to watch him as a singing gladiator in a Muppet recreation of the Coliseum.  Cross curricular connection: if Sylvester Stallone and the lion can agree to disagree, even going so far as to sing Gershwin’s classic “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” can’t we stop poking our neighbors with erasers?  Click here and watch the whole thing or skip to 5 minute mark for the gladiator number.

Music: Obviously, The Muppet Show is full of music, but I think a special shout-out should go to the Muppet Bohemian Rhapsody that catapulted them back onto the World Wide Web stage.  It’s brilliant!  Beaker’s Ode to Joy and Habanera are fun, too!  Also, don’t miss the Muppet band Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, shown here singing Rockin’ Robin in a tree.

Character Education: I just love to use the classic “Why Can’t We Be Friends” number when my class devolves into pointless squabbles.  The number releases tension and students are singing instead of bickering!  (Note: this only works with minor, sibling-type squabbles.  Serious problems need to be taken seriously.)  Cross curricular connection: try to name all the soldiers and battles referenced in this ultimate conflict!

Health: “And now, the continuing stoooory of a quack who’s gone to the dogs,” opened Rowlf’s Veterinarians Hospital, which has many applications to the modern health classroom.  Where else can you encounter so many puns is so short a lesson?  Doctor Bob can help any patient, from a telephone to a train conductor.

We are thankful for the Muppets!

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Posted in Academics by Corey Green @ Nov 24, 2011


Muppets Teach the 3 Rs (Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic)

Muppets in the Classroom

This year, we give thanks for The Muppets!  At long last, a new Muppets movie will be released on November 23.  It promises zany antics, copious cameos, moments of genuine emotion, and probably more than one karate chop from Miss Piggy.  I don’t know about you, but I’m also looking forward to the wit and wisdom of Statler and Waldorf as they resume their posts as official hecklers.

In honor of the movie, I offer several applications of Muppets to the classroom.  Some suggestions are actually good ideas.  Others have no basis in sound educational theory…but I’m not saying which are which!

Part One: Muppets Teach the 3 Rs (Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic)

Reading: On Sesame Street, reading lessons abound.  The Muppet Show has its fair share of teachable moments.  One of my favorites is opera star Samuel Ramey singing “L Toreador” about his love of the letter L.  It’s beautiful!

‘Riting: The Muppet Show itself is a tribute to great fun writing, and mini-lessons abound.  From the Swedish Chef’s Following Directions demonstrations to Alice Cooper offering Kermit legal advice on how to get the best deal when selling his soul to the devil, the Muppets always offer good writing tips.  And there’s the classic Muppet advice for how to spice up a slow scene: when in doubt, blow something up!

‘Rithmetic: Where would we be without The Count?  Okay, so he’s mostly on Sesame Street.  Still, he did make a cameo on The Muppet Show, and he appears in some of the movies.  We tell children that “math is everywhere,” and The Count proves it.  Cross curricular connection: click here to watch everyone’s favorite arithromaniac Count his blessings.

Thank you, Muppets!

Return to Class Antics for Part Two: All the Subjects You Cram in after State Testing (working title, and I bet it gets changed!)

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Posted in Academics by Corey Green @ Nov 21, 2011


Kids Need to Read! A Charity by Nathan Fillion

I have a soft spot for stories about writers. When I discovered the TV series Castle, I was hooked at first sight. I really appreciate the high quality work of the writers of the show- and the constant challenge: can I solve the mystery before Richard Castle does?

Then there’s a fun twist: As a promotion for the show, “Richard Castle’s” book Heat Wave was released in hardcover by Hyperion and debuted at #26 on The New York Times Best Seller list, ultimately moving up to #6. The second novel Naked Heat debuted at #7 on The New York Times Best Seller list.

What’s not to love about a fictional fiction writer portrayed by Nathan Fillion?

There’s a lot more to love, actually.

Castle star Nathan Fillion co-founded Kids Need to Read, an organization dedicated to getting more books into underfunded libraries:

“Growing up, my parents managed to show me the importance of reading without cramming it down my throat. A difficult task, I’m sure. It breaks my heart to think that there are kids out there, ready to have their imaginations lit on fire, excited and wanting to read, and facing naked shelves in their school or local libraries.”

Now I have a soft spot for Kids Need to Read, and I hope you will, too. Kids Need to Read focuses on stressed populations, such as juvenile offenders, impoverished urban teenagers, and youth faced with learning challenges. KNTR assists educators who are devoted to helping such children overcome the odds and succeed through worthwhile literacy programs. You can request donations online.

I can tell you from experience that helping kids in these circumstances select a book to read is both personally and professionally satisfying. Even greater is finding out that your encouragement came at a time that made a difference in that young person’s life.

I’ll be donating and volunteering. Hope you will, too!



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Posted in Fun With Literacy by Corey Green @ Sep 15, 2011


Back to School Catch-up for Families: Write Something!

Assessments abound at back to school time, and one test your child will face is the “Writing Sample.” Shortly after spending a summer goofing off, your child will be tasked with spending several hours (over a few days) to write an essay.

It’s pretty obvious to most teachers that many students never even hold a pencil during summer break. Imagine your child dealing with that on top of the stress of having to write an essay. The results aren’t pretty.

You can help your child by encouraging him to write something—even a paragraph—before school starts. It will make a difference. By the way, this is a good time to have the “what is a paragraph?” talk with your child. I can’t tell you how many children ask me that question during the writing sample. It’s a good thing that last year’s teacher can’t hear them.

Note: I don’t want to cause stress to you and your child about these back-to-school assessments. I merely want to show you how to help your child brush up skills so her work reflects their actual ability, not the results of summer slide.

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Posted in Back to School,Tips for Parents,Writing by Corey Green @ Aug 19, 2011


Remembering Mr. Rogers

When I was a child, Fred Rogers was my best friend.  He opened his show with a simple song, so simple that I could sing along before I started going to school. I knew that he talked directly to me and I talked to him, too.

May 22 celebrates the anniversary of the premiere of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in 1967.  The last original Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood aired on PBS in 2001, making it the longest-running PBS program at the time.  (PBS began its broadcasts of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in 1968.)

Fred Rogers did a lot more:
>> He was the composer and lyricist of over 200 songs.
>> He wrote numerous books for children and for adults.
>> He won 4 Emmy Awards and the Lifetime Achievement Award.
>> He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
>> He advocated before the U.S. Senate for more government funding for children’s television rather than the Vietnam War.
>> He testified before the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of allowing home recording of his television show during the Sony V. Betamax litigation.

His last book, published in 2002 was The Mister Rogers Parenting Book.  One of his famous sweaters is on display in the Smithsonian.  Mr. Rogers was one of my most important role models, even at the age when I called him “Mr. Rog” because I couldn’t say his whole name. 

I salute you, Mr. Rog.

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Posted in Fun With Literacy by Corey Green @ May 20, 2011


Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14

Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14By Chip Wood
Available from

In an easy-to-read format, Yardsticks helps you understand the characteristics and concerns of children at each age from 4-14.

Why are six-year-olds exuberant and seven-year-olds perfectionists?  How should a teacher cope with a third grader’s boundless enthusiasm and limited attention span?  How do parents help thirteen-year-olds build self confidence and personal identity?

Yardsticks is one of the most helpful teaching books I own.  I refer to it often—especially if I am teaching a new grade level.  Children face different concerns at different ages, and Yardsticks helps the adults in their lives guide them.

Yardsticks doesn’t give you a perfect description of every child at every age: it’s a yardstick.  A general measure that is helpful in looking at the personality of your class as a whole.

I recommend Yardsticks for parents, teachers, counselors, social workers, and education majors.

I also recommend Yardsticks to children’s book writers.  Yardsticks will help you identify typical personality traits and characteristics for your characters.  Your story will be more authentic when you anchor school scenes with the truths you learned from Yardsticks.

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Posted in Book Reviews,Classroom Management,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Jun 24, 2010


Benefits of being a substitute teacher

Being a substitute teacher is fun.  Really.

It’s not like the children’s book Thirteen Ways to Sink a Sub.  Elementary kids, at least, are not out to get you.  Most elementary students love all of their teachers.

Children’s book writers can benefit from substitute teaching.  There is no better way to learn about today’s kids.  You will learn a lot about kids and how schools are run today.  You can get a feel for the rhythm of the school day.  You observe typical behavior for each grade and watch  social interactions.  You will get a good sense of how children really read—the books they choose, and the proficiency with which they read them.

Parents can benefit from substitute teaching.  If you have a college degree, you can get a sub license and work in your child’s district.  Your child’s school will be glad to have a parent they can call for last-minute jobs, such as when the scheduled sub doesn’t show up.  Working as a substitute teacher will give you insight into your child’s school day.

Use the summer to get your substitute teacher license.

1.  Visit your state’s Department of Education home page and read the requirements.
2.  Apply for a fingerprint clearance card.  You can get fingerprinted at the police station, and you probably have to pay a fee.
3.  Apply to the state for a license.  This also requires a fee.
4.  You still need to apply to the school district.  If you want to work only occasionally, put yourself on the do-not-call list, but give your resume and cover letter to a few schools.

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Posted in Tips for Parents by Corey Green @ Jun 17, 2010