Teaching Writing with Super Bowl Commercials

Sunday, February 7, 2016
Using picture prompts to teach writing is a great way to get kids to write about a multitude of topics, but have you ever tried to use videos instead?  I've got some great ways to get kids writing, speaking, and collaborating using high-interest and engaging Super Bowl commercials!


For this lesson, I'm using my very favorite Super Bowl commercial of all time: the Darth Vader Kid Volkswagen commercial.  You can use any commercial you want, or have students choose their own.  It's super simple to find them on youtube after the big game.


For this lesson, I was trying to reinforce sequencing, and writing with a consistent stream of thought.  But this strategy will work for teaching dialogue, problem and solution, character development, really any writing trait!  

I like to follow the I Do, We Do, You Do method for teaching writing.  I started by giving each student a graphic organizer for the skill we're learning. So, since my students needed a lot of work with structure, I modeled a simple story like Cinderella, but mixed up all the actions.  For example: first, Cinderella went to the ball, next, she was sad because the stepmother ruined her dress, then she tried on the glass slipper, and last, the prince came looking for her.  We discussed how even with the transition words, my story didn't make sense. I then modeled a simple story like the 3 Little Pigs, using our organizer and making the actions sequential.  We talked about what happened first, next, then, and last, and how the story flowed, compared to my Cinderella story, which was all mixed up.



For the We Do part of my lesson, I showed my commercial.  But here's the kicker: I showed it on MUTE! Leaving the sound off allows students to process the action without the distraction of music or dialogue.  I really wanted them to develop their own ideas about the story without the influence of sound.  As a group, we discussed the first and next part of the video and all filled in our graphic organizers together.


For the You Do part,I had each student fill in the remainder of their graphic organizer. You could easily do this in small groups or as one class story, depending on your objective. And since we're 1:1, I gave each student the link and allowed them to replay the video as often as they needed to come up with their story.

As a closing activity, I invited the students to turn and talk to a partner to share their stories.  Everyone had the same first and next part, but their then, last, and finally had been written independently. We regrouped and watched the video one last time, this time with the sound ON.  An extension or homework activity would be to compare and contrast the original version to the version your students wrote.

There are so many ways to use commercials in your classes- this is just one of them! Have you used ads before? If not, definitely give them a try...you'll be the MVP of your school!




No Name Calling Week (Ideas and Resources)

Thursday, January 14, 2016
Imagine this: a week free of name-calling, teasing, or taunting...sounds heavenly, right?  Many teachers focus on community building at the beginning of the year, but the "honeymoon phase" of a new classroom or teacher can quickly wear off.  Whether it's a few weeks or several months into the school year, a refresher course on being kind may be just the thing your classroom needs.


  There are many many factors which influence name-calling and bullying, which can lead to severe academic and social consequences.  In an attempt to provide a solution, glsen.org (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) co-sponsors a week of kindness and antibullying each January. It has a whole host of resources  for teachers, counselors, and administrators that are ready to implement.  For a quick and easy list you can share with students or parents, check out this list

Here are some other ways to #celebratekindness in your school or at home.

1. Challenge students of different demographics to work together to solve a problem.  This can be peer tutoring, volunteering, or even a STEM challenge.  Let students realize that they become stronger when they put their unique talents together.


2. Try teaching iMessages! I've used this strategy for years with my classes.  I've found that sometimes my kids need to be taught the explicit words to use to solve a problem.  Check out the full lesson and activity plan here.


3.  Build up your classroom or school community with some team-oriented icebreakers.  I love the hula hoop challenge, as well as the Save Sam activity.  They get kids up and moving and provide an ongoing conversation starter! 


4. Share inspirational quotes or posters.  We all have them hanging in our rooms, but do we ever actually discuss what they mean? Kids look at these posters for 180 days in a row, so take one off the wall and talk about it.  Just watch the insightful discussion unfold! Here are two of my favorites to discuss:


Cinderella Have Courage & Be Kind Free Printable:  Child at Heart Blog:

How do you celebrate and promote kindness in your classroom? Share in the comments!





New Year, New Look!

Saturday, January 2, 2016
If you're new to the blog, welcome! I've got lots of ways to help you work with English Language Learners, so put your feet up and look around!


If you're not new...notice anything different?

From this...

 To this!


Megan from I Teach. What's Your Superpower and A Bird in Hand Designs just gave my blog a facelift, and I love it! I hope you do too! 





Teaching New Year's Eve Around the World

Thursday, December 17, 2015
Attention all tired, worn-out, harried teachers: I have good news. Christmas Break is right around the corner!  Bad news: With any break comes the dreaded Sunday Night Blues.  But if you're feeling anything like this guy, then I have just the thing to help you make the transition back to school in January.


  One year after teaching Christmas Around the World before vacation, I realized that many of my ESL students didn't know about the tradition of celebrating New Year's Eve.  Thus, this lesson was born to help us transition back to school in January.  I loved that it was a spiral review of some of the countries we had learned about, and a fun and engaging way to get us back to our typical learning routine.


Sometimes when we return from break we have a short week, so this lesson is designed to take as much or as little time as you need.



As with all of my lessons, I include lots of pictures and videos to appeal to my highly visual learners.  I always start this lesson by discussing NYE traditions in the USA, since it's (somewhat) probable that the kids have watched the ball drop or celebrated in some fashion.  For students who have never celebrated NYE, starting in the USA builds background they can relate to.  From there we hop over to the UK, then I cover Spain and Mexico as one lesson, and finally Canada and France as one lesson. 



To learn about New Year's Eve in the USA, I start by playing a video of the Times Square Ball Drop.  This one is long, but it shows the musicians, the crowded streets, the countdown, and the fireworks.  I usually skip around to let the kids see all the important parts. 




We also learn about the song "Auld Lang Syne" since it comes up in a few other countries we'll read about.  I like the Lea Michele version- easy for the kids to understand!


To learn about NYE in the UK, I play a video of Big Ben and the gorgeous fireworks behind him. 


Did you know about the Spanish tradition to eat 12 grapes at midnight? Some people say to eat 12 grapes in the 12 seconds before the New Year, and some say to eat them in the 12 seconds after...it's up to you which tradition you agree with.  I love to let the kids try the tradition firsthand, so I buy a big bag of grapes at the grocery store and portion them out, and we play along- so much fun! (Just beware of choking hazards!)



Lastly, we learn about traditions from Canada and France.  I tend to focus on Canada, since some people go ice fishing, and my students are always fascinated by it! I've showed this video in the past, but there are plenty available on youtube!


For each country in the unit there are visual vocabulary cards, student friendly definitions, and a paired passage.  There are also some venn diagrams and writing prompts at the end for fast finishers or extension.  


Lesson plans for the first week back? Done! It makes my break a lot more enjoyable when I don't have to worry about what we're doing- no Sunday night blues! 

For Auld Lang Syne, my friends! Happy New Year!





Christmas Around the World Lesson and Resources

Friday, December 11, 2015
It's the most wonderful time of the year! And if you are anything like me, it's also the busiest, most jam-packed, entirely head-spinning time of the year! But, like the sign says- don't get your tinsel in a tangle! I have some great resources to help make your lesson less stressful and more fun!


One of my favorite lessons to teach is Christmas Around the World, which I follow up with New Year's Around the World right when we get back in January. 


For this lesson I focus on teaching Christmas traditions in Germany, France, Italy, and Australia.  We watch lots of youtube videos and read fiction and nonfiction books about each country as we study it.  I try and include videos and visuals about the food, the decorations, and the musical traditions in each country.  Rick Steves has an amazing series of European Christmas videos, and by the end of the lesson my students think they are best friends with Mr. Steves! 

By the end of the week, my students have a really well-rounded view of how Christmas is celebrated around the world. This lesson usually takes me anywhere from 3-5 days, depending on how many questions my kids have! I use Diary of an Elf to guide us on our journey around the world- it's a fiction story about an elf who must travel to 5 different countries to find the North Pole in order to save Christmas.


His journey starts by traveling on Air Claus 1 to Australia, where he learns that Christmas happens during the summer! Here are some videos I use to help teach about Christmas in Australia: 




Next, the Elf travels to Germany and learns about Christkinde. We learn a lot about German traditions from these videos: 




And we also learn a German Christmas carol! 


Back in Diary of an Elf, we continue reading as the Elf travels to France, and then Italy.  

France videos: 


We learn to sing Jingle Bells in French- so much fun! The very last line says "Bonne annee Grandmere," which means Happy New Year, Grandma.  For some reason, the kids get a kick out of shouting that out loud!


Italy videos: 




And I throw in some Dominic the Donkey for good measure (and fun!).



After the Elf travels through Germany, Australia, Italy and France he ends up in New York City, where he--- well, I won't give away the ending! But I usually find a clip of that year's Rockefeller Tree lighting to share with the kids.

Once we've finished reading the diary entries, we answer the comprehension questions and complete the fun activities that follow.  Here's an example!


I let my students choose which prompt to complete- this is also great to send home for Christmas break homework (if your school makes you send work home that week!)


Talk about an engaging and memorable lesson! Not only are we studying world cultures and traditions, we are still working hard on comprehension, prediction, and visualization throughout each diary entry. (Put that in your lesson plan!)  Plus, it's fun!! What better way to spend the last few days before winter break? 

If you're teaching Christmas Around the World, I hope you're able to use some of these fabulous videos and resources! 

Check out some other great Christmas ideas!


Wishing you and yours a very merry Christmas!



12 Days of Elf-Mas (Classroom Elf on the Shelf Ideas)

Sunday, November 22, 2015
If you plan to use the Elf in your classroom this Christmas, I've got some great ideas for you! Rather than make it about behavior, I decided to use the Elf to inspire some Random Acts of Classroom Kindness with my students.  Read on to see how it worked!


I started by working backwards and creating a calendar based on our last day before Christmas vacation.  From there, I planned out each RACK that my students would complete, making sure we had enough time in our schedule each day to do so.  Then I brought out our Elf!


We took a vote and the students named her Melissa. 


The next day, Melissa brought us our first RACK and a special treat!



Each day, I tried to pose Melissa in conversation-starting poses which would enhance classroom discussion.  This day's discussion: can Elves read and write?


Melissa could be found all over our classroom.  I don't have many high surfaces, so I had to get creative!





One day, the students walked in and were so disappointed...they couldn't find Melissa as hard as they tried! 


It took quite a few minutes, but eventually they spotted her. 


I had conveniently posed the Grinch right next to the door with the duct tape...so sneaky, Mr. Grinch!


Melissa wrote us some funny notes on our Easel, too! This confirmed that Elves could write, but poorly!


She even brought some treats for our class mascot!


Melissa even zip-lined across our classroom.  But she got in trouble for breaking a desk while she was climbing up there. *ahem* It was fun to get our custodians involved in that one!


For her last day, Melissa brought us a final RACK by parachuting into the classroom.  She got stuck on the American flag!


Throughout her visit, my students were able to complete RACK's for soldiers, senior citizens, and our school community.  We wrote letters, sent thank-you cards, and sneakily dropped off packages of candy canes to other classrooms.  We decorated the teacher's lounge and sang carols in the classroom.  It only took 5 to 10 minutes out of our day, but it made us a much stronger community! 

Want to try the 12 Days of Elf-Mas in your own classroom? Feel free to use the ideas in the pack below- click here to download it!



Happy RACK-ing! 


5 Questions with a Basic Skills Teacher

Sunday, November 15, 2015
What does it mean to teach basic skills? What does a basic skills teacher do all day? Find out today from Amy, a teacher in Southern New Jersey.


Hi! This is Amy from Eclectic Educating, and I am a Basic Skills teacher in southern New Jersey.  I work with grades K-4.  I previously was a Title 1 reading and math teacher in Ohio for grades K-5.  Currently, I am in my sixth year of teaching and pursuing my Master's degree in Educational Leadership. 
Eclectic Educating


  • Begin the day with any necessary testing: Running Records, DRA's, and I&RS paperwork.
  • Pull out two groups of first graders for guided reading instruction and then rush off to Kindergarten for two more groups, push-in this time.  
  • Make my way to the top floor of the school for pull-out third grade guided reading intervention.  Squeeze in three groups before dashing to recess duty.  
  • Enjoy a 30 minute lunch with some of the funniest, most caring coworkers around in the faculty lounge.  Then, head off to first grade for writer's workshop conferences, followed by 40 minutes of prep. 
  • End the day with a second dose of guided reading instruction to the same first graders from the morning.  Depending on the day, attend PLC, staff, or parent meetings.


  • Working with a variety of grade levels
  • Getting to know students personally through the small group setting
  • Getting to work with and learn from a variety of teachers
  • and of course...working with kids!


  • The need to accommodate a variety of staff members' schedules and preferences
  • Not enough time for quality intervention in 20 minutes!
  • The large amount of testing and paperwork created by I&RS (Intervention and Referral Services)



  • Be flexible.  Working with so many adults and students can be very difficult.  Things will not always go according to plan. 
  • Stand up for what you believe in and don't let others take advantage of you.  Working with a variety of strong personalities can be challenging.  Be confident in what you are doing.



This is a tough one...is there wifi on the deserted island? Since, I'm guessing no...the tablet is out.  So that leaves...post-its.  You can do anything with post-its.  Your own work, text-analysis, written response!

A big thanks to Amy for letting us get inside her head and her job! Still have questions? Leave them in the comments! 

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