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Ideas and Features For New Teachers 
and Veterans with Class

Volume 2, Issue 22

November 2006



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The Changing Face of the 
Traditional Book Report 

by Frank Holes, Jr.
Middle School Teacher

Are your students bored with your old book reports?  Looking to jazz up your old presentations?  There are a number of great ideas to change your old assignments and bring them into the modern day.  We want our students to enjoy reading, and to read outside of class, but we don't want to bore students with the same old reports they've been doing for years.

Don't get me wrong, I like my students to find some specific pieces of information.  They will always be required to find info on characters, setting, and plot.  And I like to have them include their evaluation of the book, what they learned and to whom they'd recommend this book. 

Beyond the basic fact-finding is the presentation.  There are many ways to jazz these up too.  Your students could make commercials or infomercials trying to sell their books.  These could be live in class, online, or recorded on video.  Include music and graphics or special effects. 

Students could create a project to represent a scene from their story.  This might be a model, a diorama box, posters, banners, or other art projects using various art class media. 

You might allow students to take an important scene from the book and bring it to life.  Reader's theater, puppet shows, and skits can be performed in class or videotaped earlier. 

Students can vary the old display 'poster' by showing off artifacts in a shadow box.  Find items around the house that represent the story's character, setting, or events and set them up in an interesting display. 

Another idea is to use presentation software such as PowerPoint. Have your students create different slides detailing what they learned about characters, plot, setting, mood, and other literary devices from their books. 

Another neat program we started using this year is the GarageBand from Macintosh.  This enables students to create their own music using basic templates of different sounds, instruments, beats, and rhythms.  Students have created short songs that impart the mood and tone of their books, and we can then present these to class or add them to web pages or PowerPoints. 

If you've assigned a biography or autobiography, you might have students make a website describing the life and beliefs of the individual character.  You could have students create a 'mock' interview with their character, writing in the answers that person might have given.  

There are many ways to change your old book reports so they're more interesting.  And you can incorporate technology easily in these projects.  Don’t be afraid to try out something new.  You can often rely on your students to help you when it comes to technology.  And you'll be making class much more interesting for your students.  Check out our Book Report page for actual forms you and your students can use in class.  These are FREE and printable:



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The Ten Commandments for Teachers

By Christina J. Riggan

First let me say, that I mean no disrespect by using the above title. In fact, I can think of fewer greater indicators of respect than to use the vocabulary of Christianity to offer a lens with which to view our profession of being tutelaries, protectors, for children. So it is with humility and respect I offer my opinions as to the ten standards for one of the highest callings for service to this country, teaching.

  First commandment: 
Do No Harm.

Keep this foremost in your mind before you utter a word of reproach, or criticism, before you speak to parents about their parenting or to parents about their children and their intelligence, their learning ability, achievement, capabilities, handicaps, etc. You get the idea. Think before you speak, and remember that the words we speak can haunt and damage children and their parents beyond measure.

By the way, this includes any written words: suggestions for writing improvement or a letter home about why Johnny is misbehaving in class. I like to remind teachers to pretend you are writing the note or speaking the words to your child. What words would wound you forever? What notes would make you cry?

I will relate a short tale as regards to this. I just came home from the shop of a former parent of one of my students who runs a jewelry shop. I had a dead watch I thought she could fix.

I had taught her son, long ago, in middle school. I taught him English and Literature in seventh grade. He is now thirty, and has just been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, due to forceps use at birth. He is so borderline that it was difficult to discern a problem in school. It was simply put that… he had learning problems. Most of his school life was miserable. He couldn’t tie his shoes, and P.E. teachers made fun of him for this. He couldn’t write, and his third grade teacher made him sit outside the classroom door.

By the time I started to work with him, I realized he had problems, and the parents were up front about it—which helped. We decided to help him and I decided to do no harm. A sweeter, gentler, kinder young boy no one could have found. It would have been easy for me to fail him or write him off, but I did neither. Not because I am a saint. I have made my share of many mistakes, but never through intentional cruelty, usually just through my stupidity.

I simply modified his assignments (quietly) the best I could. His writing was impossible, so either I or his parents transcribed, or I tried oral responses—which he could do. I cared about this sensitive soul and wanted his journey with me to be as joyful and pain-free as I could make it.

Others in middle school and high school helped him too, and he was able to graduate and works with his parents now, is a masseuse part-time, and is functional. According to his mother, he felt great relief when he heard the diagnosis. I can only imagine how hellish it has been for him to not know why he is different.

The truth is that for me, he was a gift. I can still see his blonde hair and cherubic face sitting in the front row of my class. I will never forget his kind ways, and I pray he will not forget mine either, and that I eased his passage to learning and adulthood. Remember this story. It has been over fifteen years since I have seen this boy, who is now a man—but his parents have never forgotten me or I them or him.


Second Commandment: 
Keep the Children SAFE

This means that you are aware of the many factors in schools that can hurt children and take steps to prevent it.

This includes: adhering to fire, disaster drills, and safety procedures in the building (includes attending training and learning, reading manuals, posting exit maps and procedures as required, checking the identification of visitors to the building).

This also includes reporting parents who are abusive—this can be done anonymously now and in most states- it is a crime, and you can lose your license, if you do not report it.

This includes reporting teachers on your campus, whom you have witnessed or have strong evidence regarding, abusing children or using legal or illegal drugs while working. If your evidence is strong enough, it is your obligation to report it to your administrator, and if he/she does nothing, to then report this person to the legal authorities. It is your business, if the teacher next door is drinking while on the job. Not only are our reputations being damaged by immoral or unethical behavior like this, but trust in a community is severely damaged when this happens. Nothing happens in a vacuum, but usually someone knows something or suspects something, but we remain quiet. Why? Our loyalty does not lie with these types of people, but to the children we are sworn to protect.

Last, do not forget that bullying—in all forms—is abusive and many believe that it leads to violence and rage. Witness Columbine and the many other school shootings in this country. While it may seem convenient to blame parents, it is also OUR responsibility to observe, protect, and intervene. This may mean training for your campus regarding bullying and intervention techniques. or lacking that reading a book recommended by your counselor. There are wonderful programs out there, so don’t let your lack of knowledge be an excuse.


Third commandment: 
Love Them, Especially When it is Hard

I will never forget the two incidents in my teaching career that exemplified this commandment.

In walked a surly, long-haired, six foot tall juvenile into my eighth grade English class. With a sardonic grin he fell into a chair, and slumped down, sticking his legs out into the aisle. He was devilishly good-looking and as I was soon to find out very popular with boys and girls in the school—who seemed to respect him a great deal.

Warily heading to the front of the class, I began to teach. Halfway through, I broke for class work and homework assignments. He ignored the work and began drawing. As I drew closer I viewed the most exquisite art work I have ever seen. I expressed admiration for his work and asked him if he was in Art class. No, he replied.

After the day was over I headed to the counselor to find out more about this young man. Apparently he had a very bad reputation. I insisted he be allowed to take Art and went to speak to the Art teacher. Of course, his schedule had to be changed and he was moved out of my room.

I know you may think that was my motivation… but I assure you it was not. He had a talent I had never seen before in one so young.

She said, “One mistake and he’s gone.”

“Fair enough, just give him a chance,” I murmured.

The next morning he was gone to another English class. I saw the Art teacher several days later and asked her how he was doing.

She said,” He’s no trouble. As a matter of fact, he’s a big help. He cleans up and carries materials for me.”

“Is he as good as he appeared to be?”

“He’s teaching me things I didn’t even know,” she said.

In my second year of middle school at another campus, an African –American juvenile, convicted of sexual assault, sauntered into my class and sat across two chairs in the back of my remedial English class. (They had those types of classes then).

He slammed his books down on his desk and gave me a belligerent look. I really was scared to death. Our turning moment came later in the month. We warily tried to respect each other. But one day he refused to stand up for the pledge.

“Get your ass up and stand up. I can’t make you say the pledge, but you can stand up and be respectful of YOUR fathers, brothers, and uncles who shed their blood for that flag,” I said. See what I mean about stupid.

But the funny thing is, is that it worked. I meant it, and he knew it. I helped him think about the fact that probably just as many African-Americans have shed their blood for this country and flag as whites. He was showing disrespect for them, not me. He never gave me any trouble after that. I respected him and helped him learn and I think he respected me.

Due to some events in my life, I had to leave that position that year at mid-year. No, it was not due to stupidity on my part. I heard later that he threw chairs across the room with the new teacher, and was expelled.

It is ironic I mention middle school incidents. I guess it is because, usually, elementary children are so easy to love. Not always, of course, but for the most part. Sometimes, it is harder with the older ones.

 Remember that for some children, you may be the only person that may ever care about them, or believe in them.   


Fourth Commandment: 

Your job is to teach AND help them learn. It is not enough to write assignments on the board, teach beautifully, or assign exciting projects or books to read…if they are not learning.

How do you know if they are learning? Ask them. If they can’t answer, or won’t answer you, use a form of assessment that measures MASTERY. Warning this is not usually a test made by the state, the district, or some textbook, but one you have designed yourself or planned as an assessment when you planned the lesson.

If you do not know to plan assessment for learning and mastery as part of the teaching or lesson plan, then that’s a whole other chapter.

I can tell you briefly these things help: let them teach and re-teach each other when learning, let them work in groups, give them plenty of practice, re-teach often, when needed, do not move too fast, do not assume everyone has learned because you have taught it, and do not take the results of learning as indicators of mastery. Not the same thing. Enough said.


Fifth Commandment: 
Know Your Stuff

It seems to be an unfortunate comment on the times that teachers who are not certified in an area or subject matter are being asked or forced to teach in a subject unfamiliar to them.

I can’t fix that and probably most teachers can’t either. But if you are in this position, be a professional and learn on your own. Take classes, professional development, audit other teachers, seek a mentor, and read professional books and magazines. Many professional journals are online now. There’s no excuse why a teacher can’t spend an hour a day reading to further his/her education.

If you are teaching in an area/subject that you are certified in, do not become complacent. Use last year’s lesson plans as ideas, but do not repeat them. You have a different set of students with different capabilities. You have a different schedule. This all means different learning and achievement.

Also, keep learning. There are few things worse than an experienced teacher who is so sure he/she is right and his/her way is the only way to teach. Not only is this a big turn-off for other kids and teachers, it is for parents, as well. That is arrogance and complacency at its worst.

New information regarding learning bombards us with how little we really know about how the brain works. Keep learning, reading, attending professional development.

I am also in favor of knowing some of the obvious basics that are the foundation of all learning as tried and true pillars:

Simple to complex is usually best.

Alphabet and Phonics mastery precedes reading.

Pre-teach the foundational skills basic to learning your lessons objective.

Spelling and writing are integrative and essential to each other.

Teach the student in the way he/she learns best.

Modify to meet student’s needs.

Keep learning fun.

Observe your students and give them breaks.

Have a passion for what you do.

Enough said.


Sixth Commandment: 
Love What You Do

Easy to say, isn’t it. But you must love teaching, kids, and have a great passion to see the light that enters their eyes when they have discovered new material. There is no greater high in the natural world.

If you are bored with life and teaching, please…please… do us all a favor and find something else to do that lights your fire.

I don’t really know how to tell you to light what might not be there, but you might keep these ideas in mind.

Make sure you balance your life with play, fun, and hobbies. Don’t neglect your own children or spouse for teaching. Get enough rest, eat right, and take frequent breaks.

I really do not think the general public realizes how difficult teaching 25 students can be. It is mentally, emotionally, and spiritually draining. Pray a lot, read for pleasure, and find pleasure in life. Whatever renews your spirits and soul, helps breathe new life into your love for teaching.

I know the pay is often poor, and some teachers have to work second jobs just to make ends meet.

This is a terrible invitation for teachers to leave the field, and communities that support low pay for teachers usually get what they pay for.

I was just thinking the other day how ironic it is that some professionals have no problem buying big, expensive cars, homes, and clothes because …” you get what you pay for.”

But they rarely apply that to schools and teacher’s salaries.


Seventh Commandment: 
Create Communities Devoted to Kids and Learning

How can I do that, you ask?

Good question, and it may be a hard one, but not impossible.

One teacher can make a tremendous difference and we all have heard the stories about those teachers. And you do not have to write a book about it, or make a movie either, to do this.

A first step is to join the P.T.A. or P.T.O. at your school and become active—within reason. Help out with fund raisers, community drives, or ideas to encourage the children to be a helpful part of the community. Serve on the board, if you can.

Serve on community boards, district groups, or brainstorming groups. Work on committees on your campus to improve standards of learning for teachers.

Join professional; organization devoted to learning and helping kids learn.

Become certified in areas of need, and be willing to learn from other great teachers.

Represent your community or school when you are able with pride, confidence, and professionalism. Do not gossip or belittle your school or your district. Dress professionally. Tight, revealing, or sloppy clothes indicate a lack of self-esteem and pride regarding yourself.


Eighth Commandment: 
Support the Other Professionals in your Community

It is not a contradiction when I say this in light of my comments regarding reporting abusive behavior. This is plain old courtesy and good manners, which seems to be a dying commodity, lately.

You can still and should show respect for all professionals in your building; from the janitor to the school secretary. This means being courteous and polite, saying please and thank you, often. Asking politely for something is mature behavior, instead of acting like outraged children that you do not have it NOW.  

The Golden Rule to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” still applies everywhere. Even if other people do not abide by it, you can. You can turn the other cheek, when you need to. I am by no means suggesting that you let others abuse, belittle, or insult you, and take it. But you can respond like an adult without insult and disparagement.

You may have noticed that everyone has a chip on their shoulder lately and flies into a rage over the slightest incident. (Witness road rage, temper tantrums in stores.) This is not assertive behavior, this is adolescence, immaturity… refusing to grow to adulthood.  

A school system is a social group nurtured by courtesy, empathy, and understanding. Do your part to be the adult. Speak to everyone every day. Say Good Morning. Tell people goodbye. Ask if they need help. Help out when you can. Don’t fight with other teachers or gossip about them.


Ninth Commandment: 
Support your Administrator and District Personnel

I admit that at times this has been hard for me. I have seen a change that were made for political reasons or for personal aggrandizement and it was very discomfiting for me.

But in general I can tell you that most administrative personnel care about kids as much as teachers. They have a hard job to oversee the general plan and all the details. It is particularly hard when they want to implement change and they have few supporters.

Most teachers will tell a principal why all the changes they want to implement won’t work, but these same teachers rarely have an alternative solution or have even thought about it. Complainers and gripers bring everybody down.

Remember creating a community of learners can not be done with the leaders. Do your part. Willingly cooperate and help the leaders. They will see you as part of a team instead of someone they wish would leave the community. If change is happening, try to become part of the learning curve, you may be surprised at how much you learn, and this may change your opinion of the change being implemented.


Tenth Commandment: 
Stay in Teaching or Keep Contributing  

Maybe you can’t stay in teaching. Maybe the salary is so low, you can’t survive. No one should be forced to starve, just because they are willing to serve a cause greater than themselves. But if you love it, and are good at it, even if you are approaching burn-out, try to stay in the field of education.

Becoming a principal is not the answer, if you love teaching. Trust me, most of them are handling paperwork and bureaucratic demands; they are not teaching and working with kids on a minute by minute basis. If they were ever any good at teaching, most of them miss it, and envy you.

Taking a leave of absence may work for you. Approaching teaching from a different angle may work. The Peace Corps still needs teachers. Teaching overseas can be exciting. Asian countries always need English teachers. Going back to school may help re-ignite the fire and passion for you.

Taking off a couple of years to try something else is always okay. You may find that you missed teaching and wanted to go back. Schools respect that, so don’t worry that you won’t find a job.

Consider research, writing, other avenues of teaching—dance, gymnastics, cooking. Teaching is really almost everywhere and there are never enough good teachers to fill the need. Stay with us folks, we need you!

Christina Riggan, a twenty-five year veteran of public schools, and a former teacher in a primary (K-5) school in Austin, Texas, has worked with a variety of grade levels from Kindergarten to adults. Her certifications include Kindergarten, Reading, ESOL, Language Arts, and she holds a Principal's Certificate and a Master's Degree in Curriculum and Instruction. She is currently a full-time writer, her chosen area of focus in writing books (fiction and nonfiction) and articles that might help parents, teachers, and students. She is married to David, her husband of thirty-eight years, has two happily married sons, and four wonderful grandchildren.  StarTeaching Featured Writer

You can contact Christina at criggan3@sbcglobal.net  or at her book's website www.howtobeagreatteacher.com

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Book of the Month Club:

The Multiple Intelligences
of Reading and Writing

By Thomas Armstrong

Our November BOOK OF THE MONTH award is presented to The Multiple Intelligences of Reading and Writing by Thomas Armstrong.  This is a great book for any educators working with students from the pre-school to high school and beyond.  .  

All areas of reading and writing, from the 'nuts and bolts' of strategies and activities to holistic overviews are examined in this book. Some of the best methods, tips, and techniques are applications described by Armstrong in relation to the several intelligences our students possess.  This is a powerful view into the important aspects of education and how we can effectively teach our students.   

Amazon.com Editorial Review

We normally think of reading and writing as skills that are a part of linguistic intelligence. In The Multiple Intelligences of Reading and Writing: Making the Words Come Alive, Thomas Armstrong shows how involving the other seven intelligences-logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic-will help students acquire reading and writing skills, especially those students who are not particularly strong in linguistic intelligence.

The Multiple Intelligences of Reading and Writing appeals to all educators who work with reading and writing skills, from the preschool teacher leading the class in phonemic awareness activities to the post-graduate professor helping students examine kinesthetic imagery in Shakespeare's plays. The book combines Howard Gardner's MI theory and recent brain research on reading and writing with historical, anthropological, biographical, and psychological perspectives on literacy. Armstrong pulls the research together to show you how to engage students by infusing the study of words with imagery, logic, oral language, physical activity, emotion, music, social involvement, and nature experiences.

Armstrong provides hundreds of ideas, strategies, tips, and resources for teaching everything from grammar and spelling to word decoding and reading comprehension. His strategic approach synthesizes the best reading and writing methods for application in preK-12 classrooms, literacy programs, speech and language pathology groups, one-to-one tutoring sessions, and all other settings where words are the focus of learning. Armstrong shows you how to empower your students with literacy skills for life. 

"We need to reconnect literacy to all that has come before it, and all that is still connected to it in the brain, by creating environments where reading and writing skills are nourished and supported with music, art, nature experiences, logical analyses, dramatic performances, oral recitations, emotional expression, social interaction, and a wide range of other creative nutrients."  (P. 136)

You can order a copy of The Multiple Intelligences of Reading and Writing by clicking the link to our affiliate, Amazon.com 

Have you read The Multiple Intelligences of Reading and Writing?  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.

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.





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"Changing the World"
Author Unknown

Themes on Life

What do we really have the power to change in our lives?

When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. 

I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation. 

When I found I couldn't change the nation, I began to focus on my town. 

I couldn't change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family. 

Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, 
and suddenly I now realize that if long ago I had changed myself, 
I could have made an impact on my family. 

My family and I could have made an impact on our town. 
Their impact could have changed the nation,
and I could indeed have changed the world.

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The Changing Face of the Traditional Book Report

The Ten Commandments of Teachers

Book of the Month Club

Themes on Life:  
"Changing the World"

10 Days of Writing Prompts

Fall Harvest Book Sale for Teachers

Website of the Month


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10 Days Of


What are FIVE reasons why people hunt animals?


Describe what animals the original Pilgrims hunted.


What did the Native Americans teach the Pilgrims about hunting?  


Brainstorm a list of TEN foods you think the original Pilgrims had on Thanksgiving.  Then research to check the foods on your list.  


Make up a short, 5 question, multiple-choice quiz to cover this week's info.   


What does RESPONSIBILITY mean to you?


What are THREE ways you can show your teachers you are being RESPONSIBLE?


How can you show your parents you are being RESPONSIBLE?


Create a short story or poem describing a situation where a student must display his/her responsibility. 


Write down THREE questions you still have about anything we learned in class this week.  


10 days of writing prompts


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Technology & Teaching: Setting up for Handhelds

Holiday Ideas to Share

Expanding Your Writing Program


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