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Ideas and Features For New Teachers 
and Veterans with Class

Volume 2, Issue 18

September 2006



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

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Writing Paragraphs 

by Frank Holes, Jr.
Middle School Teacher

Writing paragraphs in our school's program means following a specific rubric.  We teach the students to use the same format and steps.  We follow the five-step writing process, focusing on brainstorming, drafting, and revision.  Paragraph writing for us means drafting, which will be full of mistakes and correctible areas (which we can edit later on).  When first introduced, students will be practicing writing paragraphs every day until they master the format we use.  Then we will shift focus from format to working closely on organization, then to content, and finally to writing conventions. 

The first step is brainstorming.  We require a specific number of 'triggers' for each topic.  Students generally choose between making a web or a list to visually show their brainstorming. For example, our 7th graders must include eight triggers, while seniors must have at least fifteen.  You and your school will decide what is appropriate.  Then all triggers are ORGANIZED by order of importance, chronological order, etc.  Students are asked to number the triggers 1-8.  Of course, students are always encouraged to write down more triggers (sometimes we even offer extra credit for more triggers!).  We also encourage students to freewrite as brainstorming.   Students look over their prewriting and start using their organized triggers to form the ideas presented in the paragraph. 

Students then create a topic sentence (T.S.).  This is an introductory sentence which captures the reader's attention and gives the reader an idea of what the paragraph is about.  We require students to restate the topic in the T. S. This begins to create flow (the connectedness of ideas and transitions) by using several key words in the topic. 

At least three body sentences follow (we require six in the 7th grade).  These will include details and examples, as well as data in the form of facts or statistics.  Make sure these all support the topic sentence.  The body sentences also will include a personal life experience (PLE) which connects the topic to the writer's life or to a real-life situation (7th graders must have two sentences for each PLE).  We've found, in particular, that papers with a well developed PLE scored much higher on the MEAP than those without a PLE.  The body sentences must connect to the topic sentences, and be sure their details flow in a logical manner. 

Finally, wrap up the paragraph with a CLINCHER STATEMENT.  This again restates the topic, brings closure to the paragraph, and summarizes the ideas presented.  The clincher should leave the reader satisfied that he/she understands what was presented in the paragraph.  It may also leave the reader wanting more, and provide a means to find more information.  The clincher may also be a transition to another paragraph or subject.

Always have your students write a title for the paragraph.  This is really an advanced skill, requiring students to think about what they really wrote and condense down the ideas into a short phrase that must also catch the reader's attention.  It's a great skill to practice each time they write.   


Q: How long is a typical paragraph required for class?

A: This is always hotly debated among teachers.  We have set limits at each grade level, based on what our MEAP requires and a progression up the grades.  These minimums ensure our students are forced to include examples and details to enhance the paragraph's supports.  Our 5th graders must write at least 40 words in each paragraph (as always, they can always write more).  In the 6th grade, 80 words are required.  At 7th grade, students must write 100 words, and at 8th grade it is 125 words.  There are also sentence requirements.  A 5th grade paragraph must have at least 5 sentences (topic sentence, body/support sentences, and a clincher).  6th graders must have 6 sentences, while 7th and 8th graders must include at least 8 sentences

Q: How much time do we give students to write out a paragraph?

A: The paragraph structure was developed in response to the demands of the MEAP test (Michigan's high stakes test) as well as to our own school's curriculum and class needs.  We wanted a structure that could be easily learned and remembered (by both students and staff).  It had to be versatile enough (and adaptable) to use at any grade level or course.  And it needed to allow for students to make it their own - we believe it promotes students' creativity, writing style, and voice while giving them a structure that nearly guarantees success.  Thus, it had to be written in a fairly short span of time to allow for students to proof and edit.  Brainstorming & organizing should take no more than five minutes (most of our students can do it in under a minute with practice!).  The whole paragraph can be written in fifteen minutes or less (again with practice).  We NEVER let these go home, and they're always due in class.  Students cannot take their MEAP tests home to finish, remember!  Time frames start out longer at first, but then we shorten the time as they become more proficient. 

Q: How much do you worry about mistakes in spelling, grammar, mechanics, etc.?

A: Remember, this is drafting.  We always encourage the students to be careful about what they write.  However, we want them focusing on the structure and the logical flow of ideas.  Corrections can be made if/when we revise and proof for a final copy. 

Q: Doe the PLE have to come at the end of the paragraph?

A: Certainly not! It should be inserted where it makes the most sense in the paragraph.  Think about how that story will fit in the flow of ideas in the paragraph.  PLEs can even occur in the beginning of the paragraph;  we call these LEADS. 

Q: Can a topic sentence or clincher be more than one sentence in length?

A: We try to keep these at one sentence in our younger grades, but as students become more mature writers, it is expected that they will attempt and experiment with developing their own personal style.  If a middle school student asked about this, I'd ask back, "Why do you need more than one sentence?"  If there is a compelling reason, I wouldn't have a problem.


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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To The Learning Bank We Go

By Joe Pagano

As a former teacher of high school mathematics, I understand the day-to-day frustrations that any teacher might experience, particularly when trying to teach a subject like mathematics. The first day of class was always interesting. As teacher, I felt like the enemy who was bringing messages of death and despair to the students. I could see in many of their faces how dreaded a subject this truly was. But I would win them over. Yes, one by one I would quench their fear and instill new hope.

If you want to be successful as a teacher—any teacher—you have to refrain from playing the fear trump card. Unfortunately many math teachers do this, thinking that this will set the tone for the year and keep the students in line. This is not the way to go. Remember. You are on difficult turf. Most students despise math because it frustrates the heck out of them. They feel hopeless, lost, and confused most of the time when trying to work through this strange domain of variables, number systems, and word problems. Instilling fear in them will only make the problem worse.

Rather, you need to try alternative learning strategies. Now I know you’ve had this concept rammed down your throats a hundred or more times and I don’t mean to be like another administrator who forgot what it was like to be in the classroom. The truth is you can only lead a horse to water—you know the rest. So what kind of alternative strategies do you try? After all, you’re dealing with teenagers whose racing hormones keep their thoughts grounded on things other than math, English, and social studies.

What about integrating two different subjects, the so called “cross learning” approach. What about integrating math and English through the use of poetry. Now this definitely sounds interesting. What if you could open a lesson by reading a poem on mathematics which teaches a lesson on the subject, or gives some good food for thought? By taking this approach, you’re getting away from the textbook for at least a day and integrating a completely new approach to learning this dreaded subject. Moreover, you’re getting the kids to learn something about reading poetry as well. Could you see the startled expressions on their English teachers’ faces when they find out what’s going on in your math classroom? Now this is an idea that you can take to the bank—the learning bank.

About the author:

Joe is a prolific writer of self-help and educational material and an award-winning former teacher of both college and high school mathematics. Under the penname, JC Page, Joe authored Arithmetic Magic. As a result of this publication, Joe was invited to be a guest on the television show the Book Authority. Joe is also author of the charmingly pithy and popular ebook, Making a Good Impression Every Time: The Secret to Instant Popularity; the seminal collection of verse, Poems for the Mathematically Insecure, and the creator and scriptwriter of an upcoming DVD series that is both visionary and highly educational. The diverse genre of his writings (novel, short story, essay, script, and poetry)—particularly in regard to its educational flavor— continues to captivate readers and to earn him recognition.

Joe propagates his teaching philosophy through his articles and books and is dedicated to helping educate children living in impoverished countries. Toward this end, he donates a portion of the proceeds from the sale of every ebook. Joe makes himself available for speaking, consulting, teaching and inspiration. For more information on Joe, his teaching style, as well as information on how to purchase his books or other writings, please visit his website www.mathbyjoe.com.

This article courtesy of: http://www.ezineplug.com/


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Book of the Month Club:

Applied Magic
By Michael Kett

Our September BOOK OF THE MONTH award is presented to Michael Kett's Applied MagicDiscover a secret teaching tool that will improve writing skills and public speaking, as well as self-confidence and motor skills...while creating a fun learning environment.

"Wouldn’t you love to have a teaching tool to create a fun learning environment for your students regardless of the curriculum or grade level?  How about something that the students beg you to teach them? The secret is: Houdini In  The Classroom!"  
    -  Michael Kett

As a magician, he performs regularly at community festivals, restaurants, and private events. Michael's book, Applied Magic, is a blending of his passion for magic and his physical therapy experience. The author, Michael Kett, has been a physical therapist, as well as a magician, for more than 20 years. His therapy background includes working with neurologic, pediatric, orthopaedic and sports medicine patients. As a magician, he performs regularly at community festivals, restaurants, and private events. Michael's book, Applied Magic, is a blending of his passion for magic and his physical therapy experience. Applied Magic is more than a beginner's magic book. Each of the 52 magic effects and activities was specifically chosen for its therapeutic potential. Specific therapeutic considerations and difficulty level are suggested for each effect. The 93 illustrations make learning easy. Also included are chapters that discuss basic magic principles, how to teach magic, and using magic to tell a story. This book is an outstanding resource for any therapist, teacher or parent looking for innovative methods to improve gross and fine motor control, self-confidence, and social interaction skills. "Applied Magic is a creative addition to any therapist's repertoire." - Peggy Stell, pediatric physical therapist "I think the idea of using magic in a classroom setting to develop social and presentation skills is fantastic."

Amazon.com Editorial Review

Michael Kett has been a physical therapist, as well as a magician, for more than 25 years. He has also taught at Northwestern University and Benedictine University.  His first book, Applied Magic, is a blending of his physical therapy and magic backgrounds.  The magic effects in the book have a therapeutic twist to address specific goals such as fine and gross motor control, sequencing, range of motion, and balance.  Michael has lectured to many professional organizations regarding the benefits of therapeutic magic.

His second book, Houdini in the Classroom, is also the title of the workshop he teaches at conferences, conventions and individual schools.  In this book, Michael has combined basic magic tricks with techniques to enhance creative thinking, cooperative learning, writing skills, public speaking, and self-confidence.  

Houdini In The Classroom....

Assists in projecting your personality

Helps you to develop your sense of humor

Provides an outlet for creativity

Helps you to gain and hold students’ attention.

Sells your product (learning) more successfully

Gives a fantastic advantage to substitute teachers

Is easily integrated into a home schooling curriculum

Is fun and different...that's what makes it memorable

You can order a copy of Applied Magic by clicking the link to our affiliate, Amazon.com 

Michael also has an excellent offer to teachers on his website.  
Purchase the illustrated 124 page e-book version of 
Houdini In the Classroom
... and you will receive 3 additional bonuses valued at $45! 
(including a CD-ROM demonstrating the tricks)

Click on his website for details:  http://www.teacher-magic.com/

Have you read Applied Magic or Houdini In The Classroom?  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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"The Bear and the Two Travelers"
Author Unknown

Themes on Life

Do you really know the strength of friendship?

Two men were traveling together, when a Bear suddenly met them on their path. One of them climbed up quickly into a tree and concealed himself in the branches. 

The other, seeing that he must be attacked, fell flat on the ground, and when the Bear came up and felt him with his snout, and smelt him all over, he held his breath, and feigned the appearance of death as much as he could. The Bear soon left him, for it is said he will not touch a dead body. 

When he was quite gone, the other Traveler descended from the tree, and jocularly inquired of his friend what it was the Bear had whispered in his ear. 

"He gave me this advice," his companion replied. "Never travel with a friend who deserts you at the approach of danger."

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In This Week's Issue 

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Writing Paragraphs

To The Learning Bank We Go

Book of the Month Club

Themes on Life:  
"The Bear and the Two Travelers"

10 Days of Writing Prompts

Summer Book Sale for Teachers

Website of the Month


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10 Days Of


What expectations are set up in each of your classes by your teachers?


Describe THREE different rules you must follow in your room.


Brainstorm 10 ways to develop a positive relationship with other students at school.


What boundaries or limits exist between you and each of your teachers?


Write a short story describing what you learned during your first week of school. 


Describe FIVE ways your class is like a team?


How can you improve the climate of your  classroom?


Why is it  important to be a good team player in your classes?


Create a short 5 question, multiple-choice quiz to cover this week's class information. 


List 10 ways you can help your classmates be better students in class.


10 days of writing prompts


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Where Children Have Fun 
Learning to Read!


Coming Soon:

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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