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Ideas and Features For New Teachers 
and Veterans with Class

Volume 2, Issue 14

June 2006



A relaxing summer welcome to you all from the staff at StarTeaching.  

Remember to bookmark this page and to visit our website for more great articles, tips, and techniques!

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Context Paragraphs Writing Activity 

by Frank Holes, Jr.
Middle School Teacher

Here's another great writing activity I picked up at a conference in Sault Ste. Marie a few years ago.  This can be used (and adapted) for any age or grade level, or any course or subject area.  Context paragraphs are similar to our Context Sentences, except students are writing out paragraphs to use their word list.

The activity begins with a word list you have generated for the students.  These words can include any terms or vocabulary from your class or unit that you are currently studying.  Students need to use each word correctly (its proper definition) in the context of the paragraph. 

You will also want to add several 'supporting' words or terms to help in writing proficiently about the main terms (and topic).  Finally, you will want to include other words for creativity.  Add in descriptive verbs and adjectives for students to use.  And if you want to make things more interesting (or make your students work harder), include some 'oddball' or unusual words to the list. 

Keep your students in mind as you create your word list.  At the seventh grade level, we use between 16 and 20 words on our list.  But even this number can be adjusted depending on how much time you've allotted for the writing.  The less time available, obviously the fewer words to include. 

You can now decide on the topic of the paragraph.  It could simply be a recap of what you covered in class that day.  It could be a summary of a unit or section of the reading.  This can be a great review activity for any class.

You could even let the students be creative and choose their own topic.  Or have them write in poetry, narrative, or in a story form.  You might allow students to make up a fictional story using the word list.  You might even try out different styles and topics each time you do this activity. 

Context Paragraphs don't have to be a solo act either.  Students can partner up and work together (I've found that groups of three work particularly well, as the 'writer' sits in the middle and the 'idea generators' sit on either side.)  This also works as a 'Write Around'  where one student passes the paper to the next student who continues the story for a given amount of time (1-2 minutes) or amount of writing (1-3 sentences) or a specific number of words from the list (1-4 words). 

As always, allow students to share their writings in class.  Some of the memorable stories I've heard included medieval knights utilizing modern business concepts, chefs cooking with math terms like 'pi', and raindrops following through the water cycle.  Your students can have a lot of fun writing while reviewing their vocabulary terms in a paragraph structure.

Be sure to check out our website for more on writing ideas and teaching writing in your classroom. Simply click the following link: http://www.starteaching.com/writing.htm



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Tips for Choosing a Digital Camera

By Sean Packards

Sales of digital cameras seem to be exploding. This is not surprising as the quality of images from digital cameras improves and they become more affordable. In addition, consumers are becoming more comfortable with the idea of digital photography. There are so many different types of digital cameras available choosing one which is best for your needs can become a very confusing decision. There are several things to consider when choosing a digital camera.

Types of Digital Cameras:

There are three basic types of cameras and this is the same whether you are shooting film or digital media. These three types are: point and shoot cameras, prosumer cameras and professional quality SLR cameras.

1. Point and Shoot cameras are fully automatic. They do everything for you. The camera choosing the correct exposure and whether a flash is needed. The photographer only needs to point and shoot.
2. Prosumer Cameras. These cameras are a step up from point and shoot cameras and allow the user to either shoot in fully automatic mode or to have some control over the exposure by using specific exposure modes. For example, there might be a portrait mode, an action mode, and a close up mode.
3. Professional Cameras. These cameras allow the photographer to actually look through the lens. This means that what you see is what you get. These cameras also provide complete control over the exposure. They have fully automatic mode, specific exposure modes as well as a fully manual mode.


It doesn't matter what sort of camera you decide to get you will have several decisions to make regarding resolution of the camera. The salespeople of most electronics superstores are quick to tell you that the most important thing to consider when buying a digital camera is how many pixels there are. Now while it is important it is not the end all of digital image quality. Pixels are tiny squares and in some new models they're starting to use other shapes as well. The more pixels you have in your image the sharper the detail of the image will be. Most current digital cameras on the market today will produce an image with more than 4 million pixels. That's enough resolution to easily print images up to 8 x 10 with good image quality. Is not likely that you will print images larger than 8 x 10 and so most of these camera should meet your needs.

Try Different Cameras Before you Buy:

Did you know that you could take a memory card into the store with you and place in the camera you are looking at and take a few sample pictures? You can then take these pictures home to compare on your computer or make prints. Various cameras have very different image qualities even though they may have the same number of pixels. This is why it's important to compare. Digital cameras are changing and improving faster than you can imagine. Every few months there will likely be one that is better at a cheaper price and you paid. Don't worry about it. If you take the time to choose a good digital camera you'll be making quality photographs that you and your family will enjoy for many years to come.

About the author:
This article was written by
Sean Packards, the owner of
Filme Cameras Ltd, an outstanding
place to find camera resources and links.
For more amazing resource on this article,
please visit his website at:


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Book of the Month Club:

Performance Appraisals
Made Easy

By Dr. Lisabeth S. Margulus

Our July BOOK OF THE MONTH award is presented to Dr. Margulus' Performance Appraisals Made Easy.  This book has what every principal and district needs:  specific plans, appraisals, and written resources for every aspect of administration.    

The templates consist of job descriptions for all people involved with children.  These include bus drivers, counselors, custodians, food service workers, media specialists, school nurses, paraprofessionals, secretaries, and elementary and secondary teachers, among others.  

The book also contains templates to help coach each teacher in five general areas, Building Community, Designing Learning, Managing Learning, Communicating, and Growing Professionally.  Further subcategories are broken down so the evaluator (the principal) can be more specific on which coaching template he/she wants to use to help better the teacher.  The author continues on to provide templates for support staff too. 

This book reiterates what we constantly are hearing as educators and support staff.  Staff members must be held accountable to perform their responsibilities within the district.  If the job descriptions are in place, and staff is not reaching their full potential, a plan needs to be implemented.  The plan must be fair, concise, and allow opportunity for positive improvement.  This book is an excellent resource that can be implemented within any school district.  It has all the tools to make sure performance appraisals are done effectively.  It also has a great CD with al the templates on it that you can use, adapt, or change to fit your own school and district.   

 This book review was submitted to us by Kim Johnson, a student in Grand Valley State University's Educational Leadership program.  We welcome articles and book reviews from our readers.  Do you have a great educational book to share with our readers?  Write up a summary, along with the pertinent book information, and email it to us at  editor@starteaching.com. Please type in BOOK CLUB SUMMARY in the subject line.  Book reviews will be proofread and may be edited for content or space.

You can order a copy of Performance Appraisals Made Easy by clicking the link to our affiliate, Amazon.com 

Have you read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team?  Do you have comments you’d like to share with our readers about this book? Email your responses to editor@starteaching.com. Please type in BOOK CLUB READER RESPONSE in the subject line. Responses will be posted on our website with the StarTeaching Book of the Month Club.  All responses will be proofread, and may be edited for content and space before publication.




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"The Builder"
Author Unknown

Themes on Life

Life is a Do-it-yourself Project...

An elderly carpenter was ready to retire. He told his employer-contractor of his plans to leave the house building business and live a more leisurely life with his wife enjoying his extended family. He would miss the paycheck, but he needed to retire. They could get by.

The contractor was sorry to see his good worker go and asked if he could build just one more house as a personal favor. The carpenter said yes, but in time it was easy to see that his heart was not in his work. He resorted to shoddy workmanship and used inferior materials. It was an unfortunate way to end his career.

When the carpenter finished his work and the builder came to inspect the house, the contractor handed the front-door key to the carpenter. "This is your house," he said, "my gift to you."

What a shock! What a shame! If he had only known he was building his own house, he would have done it all so differently. Now he had to live in the home he had built none too well.

So it is with us. We build our lives in a distracted way, reacting rather than acting, willing to put up less than the best. At important points we do not give the job our best effort. Then with a shock we look at the situation we have created and find that we are now living in the house we have built. If we had realized, we would have done it differently.

Think of yourself as the carpenter. Think about your house. Each day you hammer a nail, place a board, or erect a wall. Build wisely. It is the only life you will ever build. Even if you live it for only one day more, that day deserves to be lived graciously and with dignity. The plaque on the wall says, "Life is a do-it-yourself project."

Who could say it more clearly? Your life today is the result of your attitudes and choices in the past. Your life tomorrow will be the result of your attitudes and the choices you make today.

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In This Week's Issue 

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Context Paragraphs Writing Activity

Tips for Choosing a Digital Camera

Book of the Month Club

Themes on Life:  
"The Builder"

10 Days of Writing Prompts

Summer Book Sale for Teachers

Website of the Month


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What does Sportsmanship mean to you?


Describe THREE ways an athlete can demonstrate good Sportsmanship?.


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What are THREE ways a coach can help his/her team improve its Sportsmanship?


Write a short story which demonstrates something we learned in class this week. 


Create a short story that could be told around a camp fire.


What are FIVE reasons why people enjoy sitting around camp fires?


Why are 'ghost stories' often told around camp fires?


Describe how to build a campfire.  You can use your imagination if you wish.  


Create a 10 question, True/False quiz to cover this week's class information.


10 days of writing prompts


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Designing and Running a Medieval Fair

Technology & Teaching: Setting up for Handhelds

Using Magic in Class

Preparing for Student Teaching (part 3)


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