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Ideas and Features For New Teachers 
and Veterans with Class

Volume 3, Issue 3

February 2007


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Creative Writing Inspired By Foods

by Frank Holes, Jr.
Middle School Teacher

A great way to start your students off on creative writing is to use inspiration from foods they are familiar with. Two foods we use are pizza and ice cream sundaes. All of our students are intimately familiar with these two kid foods, and it is easy to discuss and write about them. Generally we partner these writings with our teaching of adjectives and other descriptive words and phrases. These two assignments are for students to practice using (and overusing and even abusing) adjectives.

We first discuss the role of adjectives and their job in writing. Adjectives add much of the description and details for the people, places, and objects your students are writing about. These help to describe shapes and sizes, colors and textures, tones and amounts, among many other details. Especially when students begin creative writing, you should encourage them to try new techniques and to overuse their descriptions. From my experience, believe me, its much easier to 'tone down' the students writing later on than it is to try and pull more out of them.

The first assignment the students complete is the pizza description. We start by discussing how pizzas are made. We talk about crusts, sauces, cheeses, and different meat or vegetable toppings. We try to get the kids thinking about their favorite toppings, and we list these triggers on the board as students write them down. Then next to each ingredient we will list five or more adjectives for details. We'd like to get students with a list of 50 or more triggers to work with when they start writing. We will also discuss methods of cooking, so our discussion is educationally good for the kids too. We will organize our brainstorming these triggers in the order we build the pizza, from crust to the final topping.

Once the brainstorming and organizing is complete, the students start writing the description. We make it competitive, seeing which students can provide the best (and possibly the most outrageous) descriptions of each ingredient, and the pizza as a whole. These are read aloud in class, much to the delight of the kids. We will proofread and peer-edit the writings, and then either type or print them carefully in ink before hanging them in he hallway outside our lunchroom. As a related art project, students create slices of pizza out of construction paper, with toppings to match their written descriptions. We hang these along with the writings, giving students something fun to read while in the lunch line.

The second writing we do a few days later builds on the same concepts as the first, only we now write about ice cream sundaes. We like this second because after doing the leg work in teaching the pizza description, students are much more ready to creatively write on their own. And the sundae description lends to more details and description, since there are more choices students can make concerning ice cream flavors, sauces, and a myriad of toppings. We will up the triggers to 75 total, thus stretching the kids a bit more.

Again, start at the bottom and build upwards. We first talk about ice cream flavors and describe each in great detail. Kids are allowed any types or flavor combinations for the ice cream. Then we discuss sauces and toppings. Hot fudge, caramel, butterscotch, and fruit sauces or preserves are added. Lastly, describe the details of the various toppings, whether they are the old classics or exotic and unusual ones. Possibilities are endless. After organizing these ingredients, students write out the description.

Now if you want to take the writing to the next step, have students create a story that uses their food description. Give it a day or so to rest, then bring back out the kids' descriptions to revise and edit. We have had students write about space aliens trying these foods for the first time. We've had these foods taken back in time and given to pilgrims, vikings, and pharaohs. I think you could be really creative in the story ideas, and even let the students create situations.


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The Obvious Isn't Always Obvious

By Mark Benn
Middle School Teacher

Videos are certainly a part of technology and part of every classroom. With today's students being more visually oriented and not as word oriented in their learning, educational videos and video streaming are great tools. 

The question is: Are our students prepared to learn from these tools? Do they have the skills to work through all that a video brings forth from sounds, music, visuals, and whatever else multimedia can bring? Do we, as teachers, prepare them for what they are about to see, or do we just give them the topic and turn on the show?

As teachers, we need to think about how we approach the use of this tool. When we announce that we are going to show a video, every student ought to be able to ask us the question: What do you want me to learn from this?  We need to be able to answer that question every time. If not, we shouldn't be showing it. We need to help the students focus on what is being learned.

Even before all this takes place, we need to teach the students how to learn from a video and how to handle multimedia. One good way is to take an educational video, or any video for that matter, and show a 30 to 60 second section. Then get feedback from the students about what they just saw. Repeat this procedure over and over. Discuss what was important, not important, or just background. We need to teach them how to discern what is important and what isn't. This practice should not be a one time event. You will see them grow in their understanding and learning through feedback in their note taking and class discussion.

Video length is also important to consider.  Today's students can only handle about 30-35 minutes, at best, regardless of age, when it comes to educational videos. For younger students, keep the length to 15-20 minutes. If it takes two days to show it, that's fine. Our goal is for them to learn, not be overwhelmed or bored because they lost focus.

Using videos with today's students can be very rewarding when we just follow these guidelines.

Mark Benn earned his B.S. from Western Michigan University and his Elementary Certification from Northern Michigan University.  He is a 20 year teaching veteran of 5th and 6th grade students at Inland Lakes Middle School in Indian River, MI.  He is currently working on Masters of Integration of Technology from Walden University. 

Prior to teaching, Mark spent 11 years as Department Manager for Sears, Roebuck and Co. dealing with emerging technologies.  He has been married to his wife Bonnietta for 32 years with one daughter and two sons.  In the summers, Mark works for Mackinac State Historic Parks in the as a historical interpreter.

StarTeaching Featured Writer

Mark Benn is a leading expert in using technology in the classroom.  
You can feel free to contact him on email at mbenn@inlandlakes.org or at his blogsite:  http://www.furtrader.blogspot.com/ 


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Building Positive Relationships 
Around Your School:
Librarians and Media Specialists

This SPECIAL REPORT is from a series of articles on building positive relationships in your school. They include building relationships with your office secretaries, janitors, librarians, and cooks.  All of these people are vital to the running of the school, and its in your best interest to 'get in good' with them as soon as possible. 

This is the third article describing why you should 'get in good' with your school librarian.

A good librarian, or media specialist as they are being called in many schools, is certainly an asset to your district. 

The traditional librarian role has been changing rapidly, even over the past ten years.  With great changes in technology and communication, a media specialist must readily handle the tremendous variety of computer hardware, software, and all of those 'connective tissues' - the cables, wires, peripherals, and even the controls of every piece of equipment from vcrs to dvds to camcorders.

The internet has revolutionalized the world's communication and the way we research.  Libraries are moving away from thousands of tomes to computer terminals where entire buildings of information and texts can be found.  Many books and periodicals are now found on-line.  E-books, with their low cost and easily-updated versions, are quickly gaining both popularity and a share of the literary market.  Hand-held computers, which utilize E-books and downloadable text books, are being used around the country.

Your librarian / media specialist can help you with projects you may wish to have students do in class.  These can include basic book reports or research papers, or they may be elaborate multi-media presentations using PowerPoint or other computer programs.  In many cases, libraries are also school computer labs, and if you can get in good with your librarian, you may be able to schedule optimal times for your class. Librarians may also be the ones to check out tech materials, such as vcrs, dvds, and cameras. 

All in all, it is worth your time to get to know your local librarian, and build a positive relationship.  They can make your teaching life easier and more productive.

Be sure to check out our website for more great information, tips, and techniques for new teachers, student-teachers, and interns in teacher prep programs. Also be sure to check out our Who-I-Want-To-Be teacher plan for preparing yourself to enter the educational profession.  Simply click the following link: http://www.starteaching.com/free.htm

Want to check out the articles in our Student-Teaching series?  Check out our special Student-Teaching page through the following link:  http://www.starteaching.com/studentteachers.htm


Website of the Month:

Learning Math Step By Step

Our February WEBSITE OF THE MONTH award is presented to, KidsNumbers, an interactive site for students, parents, and families.  

KidsNumbers is an interactive website for students to learn and practice basic math skills.  Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, and Division are practiced through online flash cards, games, activities, and simulations.  There is a free worksheet generator for teachers to use in their classrooms, and there is also a spot to pose questions on homework and a math forum.

One great aspect of the website is the Math Foundations, an online course for kids to learn and practice numbers and counting prior to entering kindergarten.   Over twelve weeks, young students will gain confidence while learning basic mathematical skills.  

This is a user-friendly website with quick links to the various parts of the site.  It is a great resource for elementary teachers.  

Check this site out, you'll be glad you did.  Simply click the link below:




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"Lesson from a Terrapin"
Author Unknown

Themes on Life

February is an excellent month to begin thinking about our relationships with people around us.

There was a boy who found a terrapin, more commonly known as a turtle.

He started to examine it but the turtle pulled in its head and closed its shell like a vice. The boy was upset and he picked up a stick to try to pry it open.

The boy's uncle saw all this and remarked, "No, that's not the way! In fact, you may kill the turtle but you'll not get it to open up with a stick."

The uncle took the terrapin into the house and set it near the fireplace. It wasn't but a few minutes until it began to get warm. Then the turtle pushed out its head, then stretched out its legs and began to crawl. "Turtles are like that," said the uncle, "and people, too. You can't force them into anything.

But if you first warm them up with some real kindness, more than likely, they will do what you want them to do."

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In This Week's Issue 
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Creative Writing Inspired By Food

Tech Corner: The Obvious Isn't Always Obvious

New Teacher's Niche:
Building Positive Relationships 
with School Librarians

Website of the Month

Themes on Life:  
"Lesson From A Terrapin"

10 Days of Writing Prompts

Winter Book Sale for Teachers

Book of the Month Club


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Why do people form relationships with each other?


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Make a list of TEN jobs that require workers to have a positive relationship with each other.  


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Coming Soon:

Designing and Running a Medieval Fair

Technology & Teaching: How Life Is Changing For Our Students

Discipline Procedures in School

Setting Up Your Classroom


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