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Ideas and Features For New Teachers
and Veterans with Class

Volume 8, Issue 22
November 2012
StarTeaching Store Advertise with us Previous Articles Submit an Article FREE Reports Feature Writers Tech Center New Teacher's Niche

Welcome back to our StarTeaching newsletter, 
Features for Teachers, packed full of tips, techniques, and ideas for educators of all students in all levels.

In This Week's Issue (Click the Quick Links below):

What's New @ StarTeaching   How Do We Jump-Start Early Literacy?   Teaching English Learners in Beginner and Elementary Level With Small Games
NEW! Hank Kellner: 
"Write What You See"
Text Books - Here Today, Gone Tomorrow Going Beyond With Journals
Science Activities for Any Setting   10 Days of Writing Prompts   10 Days of Math Problems
Outdoor Education (part 2) New Teacher's Niche:
Journal Writing (part 1)
Student Teachers' Lounge: Creating an In-Class Cable TV Network
Book of the Month Club:
The Science Teacher's Activity-A-Day
  Website of the Month:
  Themes on Life: 
"Cheap Perfume Gift"
Article of the Week: "Free Speech vs. Violent Video Games"   Autumn Book Sale for Teachers      

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

Also, feel free to email this newsletter to a friend or colleague!


Would you be interested in becoming a Featured Writer for the StarTeaching website?

Our Newsletter is now posting a opening for a Social Studies / History Writer interested in a monthly column focusing on Historical Events and Education.

Email your resume and letter of interest to:  editor@starteaching.com



How Do We Jump-Start Early Literacy?

By Bruce D. Price

Article courtesy of EdArticle.com:   www.edarticle.com 

The more I studied reading, as it is taught in most public schools, the more I understood why we have 50 million functional illiterates. 

The schools say they are teaching children to read. It is often closer to the truth to say theyre teaching children not to read. 

In one of the most famous books of the 20th century, Why Johnny Cant read, Rudolf Flesch explained that English, a phonetic language, had to be taught phonetically. Conversely, if you teach it with sight- words, you will create nonreaders. 

That was 55 years ago. Our Education Establishment went right on doing what Flesch said doesnt work. Despite changes in jargon and emphasis, reading instruction in many schools starts off much as it has for the past 70 years. Children are shown lists of Dolch words, sight-words, high-frequency words, whatever you want to call them, and told to memorize them as graphic shapes. This is the end of the road for many kids.

So, for the past few years, Ive puzzled over this question: how do we work around the policies of our Education Establishment? The best answer I have is that parents should start early, when the kids are two, three or four. Teach the letters, and then the sounds, and then the blends. At that point, even if a child is shown a sight-word, the child will read it as a phonetic word. Presto! The kids have been inoculated.

I also became aware that there are charities giving books to poor families. I wondered what was given with the books. Apparently, in most cases, little is provided with the books. So here came a parallel or complementary question, and a fascinating challenge: what could you put into a disadvantaged home so that parents, not very literate themselves, could initiate the reading process? 

Just think of the things that are commonplace in upper-class homes. Children there play with alphabet blocks. They see toys, games, posters, furniture, etc. with the alphabet brightly displayed. How can we cheaply replicate that environment?  

One idea that came to mind was a laminated place mat with the alphabet on it. Many designs are available on the Internet, at about three dollars each. If a large organization ordered in quantity, maybe with a corporate sponsor, the price would be trivial. Then you have a child at the age of two, lets say, who is seeing the alphabet three or four times a day. 

I also started working on the Bouncing Ball Project, where the goal is to create videos of nursery rhymes with the bouncing ball indicating direction and syllables. 

Additionally, there is a vast amount of wonderful material on YouTube, which might be called early literacy assists. 

I created a new page on my education site, 61: Early Literacy Pack, which chronicles these projects, shows some of the YouTube videos, and links to the Bouncing Ball Project. 

All of these efforts are in permanent R&D, you might say. Im trying to encourage everyone to come up with their own solutions, to find better videos, to devise cheaper, more ingenious ways to accelerate the literacy process. 

The goal is very clear to me. We want simple, foolproof tools that can help a child (or older illiterate) make progress. Who knows what that might be in any given situation? The good news is that lots of material is available. Parents can experiment and show a different video every day if they want to. 

Bottom line, there is no need to let a child show up in K-1 without some basic reading ability. Frankly, if all schools were teaching a good phonics program, parents wouldnt have to worry about any of this. But if children are going to encounter lists of high-frequency words that first year (which will wire their brains the wrong way), then taking these early steps is essential. Not to mention, easy and cheap. 

Its one of those situations where the so-called experts dont seem to have the right answers. In consequence, people need to take the matter into their own hands. Teach the children early.


Bruce Deitrick Price is an author, artist, poet and education activist. He founded Improve-Education.org in 2005. This site now has 65 articles. Some are academic/intellectual; others deal with theories and methods used in public schools


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Feature Writer

Using Photography To Inspire Writing

By Hank Kellner

Hank Kellner is a retired teacher of English who has served as a department chair at the high school level and an adjunct associate professor of English at the community college level.

He is the former publisher of Moneygram, a marketing newsletter for photographer.  He is also the creator of many photographs and articles that have appeared in publications nationwide, the author of extensive reading comprehension materials for a publisher of educational materials, and a former contributor to Darkroom Photography magazine.  His self-syndicated series, Twelve Unknown Heroes of the American Revolution appeared in more than fifty newspapers and magazines nationwide.

Kellner's most recent publication, Write What You See: 99 Photos To Inspire Writing, is marked by Prufrock Press.  His blog appears regularly at hank-englisheducation.blogspot.com.

The purpose of Hank's most recent work, Reflect and Write: 270 Poems and Photographs to Inspire Writing, is to inspire student writing through the use of poetry and photography.  

Most of the poems and photos have been submitted by students, teachers, and others nationwide, though some are directly from Hank.  Although Reflect and Write: 270 Poems and Photographs to Inspire Writing has not yet been published, all of its contents are copyrighted.  Teachers are free, however, to download selected contents for use in their classrooms.

Each selection will include a poem, a photograph, a direct quotation, and four trigger words.

We at StarTeaching kindly thank Hank for his permission to use the materials.


September Day

By Elizabeth Guy

Its a crystal bright
champagne September day.
The sky is crisp and blue.
Im glad to be alive.
Theres not a cloud in view.

I shake my head and wonder why
youd want to turn away
from natures wondrous pride
to sit inside, to slouch and hide,
on such a lovely day.

Thats why I lift my voice to say,
Get off that couch you lazy bum
so I wont have to shout
to make you understand at last
what real lifes all about!









Photo # 37 by Hank Kellner

Life goes by pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.  -Film   Ferris Buellers Day Off, 1986



Where I'm From
by Michele Kelly

Im from my parents,
and their parents,
and all the parents before them.
From the frothy beer of Germany ,
From the rotting russets of Ireland ,
From calloused joints and pioneer dreams
In smoke-filled cabins of logs.

Im from hog holler, cattle cuss, soil till men
who labored from dawn to dusk.

Im from women who fried chicken, canned beans,
and hopped from the table to serve ice with tea
Im from women who served family first,
filled their plates last
and thought nothing of it.
Im from people who wore hardwood pews smooth
with thanksgiving, praise, and plentiful sin
From men well-respected,
And women well-loved.
From people who bore every wrinkle and frown
And always moved upward
Rather than down.

Im from Lukes and Kings and Abels.
Murphys, Vawters, Bullucks, and Wrights.
From the love of my parents.
From the long winter nights.








Photo 38 Courtesy of Michele Kelly


It is worthwhile for anyone to have behind him a few generations of honest, hard-working ancestry.  - J. P. Marquand


Copyright 2009 Hank Kellner

These poem/photo combinations are from Hank Kellner's upcoming publication, Reflections: A Collection of Poetry, Photos, and More.


Hank Kellner is the author of Write What You See: 99 Photos To Inspire Writing. Published by Cottonwood Press ( I-800-864-4297) and distributed by Independent  Publishers Group, Write What You See includes a supplementary CD with photos. 8 x11, 120 pages, perfect binding, ISBN 978-1-877-673-83-2, LCCN 2008938630. $24.95. Available at bookstores, from the publisher,  and on the Internet at www.amazon.com and other websites. Ask your school or local librarian to order it.Visit the authors blog at http://hank-englisheducation.com. The author will contribute a portion of the royalties earned from the sale of this book to The Wounded Warriors Project.


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Each of these modules runs at three different levels, from easy to difficult.

At each level, the individual's performance is depicted as Scores Obtained.

A feedback has been built into the software for all these 18 levels depending on the marks one scores during the test. 

Each individual can assess his/her performance any time by clicking on "history", which gives complete details of date and time of taking the tests, marks scored each time and even time taken to do the test. This builds the confidence level and encourages more participation to eventually culminate in improvement and enhancement of memory and concentration.

Essentially, this software is a SELF AWARENESS tool that surely motivates the individual to realize one's capability and seek or be receptive for improvement. Also, if repeatedly done over a period of time works as Training tool to enhance their capability.
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Feature Writer

Going Beyond With Journals

By Chris Sura

Chris Sura, upon earning his Bachelors at Western Michigan University worked for Central Michigan University in Housing before teaching at River Valley High School. When he moved to Houghton Lake where he currently teaches, Chris completed his Masters in Education at Central Michigan University. A member of the Crossroads Writing Project through Ferris State University, he facilitates a conference on Professional Writing every summer and does online instruction through Kirtland Community College. He is married to Heidi, his wife of twenty years, and has two kids, Christopher and Grace. Chris writes poetry and fiction and has self published a book of poems.

Threetwooneand we are off on a new school year. It is usually a great time to start new techniques, practices or units. After my summer with the Crossroads Writing Project through Ferris State University back in 2006, I brought in a more active journaling program to my classroom.

I have always struggled with journal writing in my own personal writing world because I found my writing voice too forced; I thought certain rules had to be observed. My view, however, was changed with reading Breathing In/Breathing Out by Ralph Fletcher and with practicing journal writing with my summer Crossroads Institute. I was able to run, sometimes with scissors, on the journal page. This led to the use of journals in the classroom.

I used the daily journal writing as a part of creative writing class that fall. It worked well. It was a great tool for brainstorming, gathering information and writing. It fit the writing process well. Plus, I was able to develop several writing prompts and a grading system for its use. It fit the creative process.

So, my next question was could I tie it in to other academic classes. Since they were already taking notes, to use prompts related to notes, textbooks and current events was an easy expansion with my journalism, science fiction and fantasy and drama classes.

Basically, I would put a writing prompt on the board at the start at class. Students would date the entry and respond to the prompt. The prompt would be related to the topic or theme of the unit we were working on. For example, when discussing freedom of the press for journalism, I would put up prompts like What rights do students have? or have them read a news article about an issue with students and their freedom and have the students respond. With my science fiction class, I would ask, What are rules or patterns that we associate with having wishes granted? at the beginning of the unit on wishes.

The journal stays open for most of the class. 

I would either discuss the prompt, or save it for later in the class when we hit it with the lesson. Their notes went into the journal. Also, brief short answer assignments went in it too. The class spent the week filling their journals with information, writing, their ideas and so on. As we went through readings and discussion, the prompt or question would progress to How did the court ruling of Tinker vs. Des Moines affect student rights? or How did todays short story follow the rules or break the pattern of granting wishes? Students would then start formulating their own opinion with support.

On Fridays, Writing Days, we would go to the Writing Lab (computer lab according to others) and write.

Writing Days would be impromptu writings related to the week, or it may be assignments shared at the beginning and developed through the week. Either way, students came with stuff in their journal and did not have to spend time figuring out what to write. As the semesters rolled by, I even started offering two or three writing options for Writing Day. Student liked the choice. They could write on a topic, still in the realm of the topic or there, that clicked with them.

My scoring I wanted to keep simple. On Writing Day, I collected the journals. I would put a plus, check, minus or zero for the week and record it in my grade book. Plus was for the students who went beyond the required material for the week, check for those who did the required writing and notes, minus was for those it did not do all, and zero was for those who did not bring it in on Friday. Before parent/teacher conferences, I converted the marks and added up the score. If there were five weeks of journals, I would set the points possible at 45. A plus was worth 10, checks were 8 and a minus was 6. This way, the student who did more earned a few extra credit points, and the average student would get a around a 40 out of 45, a good grade.

To facilitate more importance on the journal and the writing process, I also let them use the journal on the written portion of the semester exam. 

Experimenting with different classes, I found that the more mature student did not need to have the weekly journal check. With a freshman English class, I found that the journal helped develop organization skills, note taking and using writing to think; it takes the class beyond the note taking by linking notes to the thought process in the same place.

Journaling is flexible to any teaching and learning style.

The big benefits to journaling are free writing, thinking on paper and prompts that take the facts beyond the recall level of education that can develop a students higher level thinking skills, problem solving and application of knowledge.

As a teacher in the classroom, I would encourage you to journal with your students. Role modeling behavior, writing and thinking not only helps your student learn, but it lets the student see more of you through instruction.

In conclusion, a journal can be used in any class to any level. But if used to its full potential, a journal stores knowledge, develops thought, strengthens understanding and enhances writing.


Grand Valley offers a Masters in Educational Leadership in Boyne City and Cadillac. If you would like to find out more about our program feel free to contact me at: jjudge2935@charter.net  or call me at 231-258-2935.

Many of the topics we will present will be for teachers seeking and administration position and for recently appointed administration. I will also receive comments from those who have just completed their first year as administrators. Since the program in Northern began eleven years ago we have placed over 60 GVSU graduates in administration positions.



Student Teachers' Lounge: 
For The Things They Don't Teach You In College

Creating an In-Class Cable TV Network

Ever wonder if you and your students could create your own TV news show? Would you like to have announcements and school/class information available to students all class long? Would you like to avoid those students who were absent constantly asking you, "What did we do in class yesterday?" It isn't only possible to do, but with a few pieces of equipment, it's easy to set up and run.

You, of course will need several pieces of hardware, including a TV or (digital projector) and a computer. You will also need the proper cables to connect the two. We've discovered that sometimes the resolution on some computers needs to be adjusted or changed, so check your monitors setting. You might even need a scan-converter if all else fails. Such a TV network can also be simply set up on a computer monitor which is turned to face the students.

Your computer will also need PowerPoint (or an equivalent presentation software). We've used such programs effectively on Macs, as well as Linux and Windows machines, and they all work well for this application.

PowerPoint has the feature of progressing through information or slides by either clicking your mouse, or by setting up timings between every action. Thus, you can have each word, line, paragraph, or even graphic animated automatically. You can change up the settings for different bits of info you have. Check the top menu for 'slide show', and follow down the menu to 'custom animation' (or look for a similar command). Once there, you can select each element to animate, the type of transition to occur, any sound you want associated with it, and also the timing (automatic, not on a mouse click). You will want to practice a few times until your timing is good, and there are enough seconds to see or read each element before the next animation or transition. Even your slides can be changed automatically. Go to the 'slide show' menu and select 'slide transition' or 'set up show'. From there, you can choose the type of transition, and even its speed of animation.

You may wish to check your computer's settings so the machine doesn't go to sleep on you, or change to a screen saver. That would definitely defeat your purpose!

Now that you know how to set up a show, you have to decide what material or information to put out on display. I put up basic information such as the lunch menu, school or class announcements, and homework assignments. I will also post a class schedule and switch times if the daily schedule is altered. For the students who were absent, we also display class notes from previous classes. Now there is no excuse for students missing assignments or class information!  And this saves you from having to deal with every returning student asking what was missed and where to find it.

If you are brave and want to create a great class project, have your students run your daily announcements. You could partner them up and have your first class of the day create the announcements. Another project is to have your students create storyboards, where a short story is broken up among a number of slides, each slide including pictures, clip art, or graphics to illustrate the story. You can find many good images online or in the clip art of your program. If you have access to a digital camera, you can even have students take their own pictures and insert them.

Yet another project we've done is to create a PowerPoint to summarize one class or a week's worth of class info. This becomes an animated newsletter or magazine. Again, assign a student to take photos on a digital camera during the class and combine these with articles on the various activities you've done. You might want to include students' work as examples.

There are also advanced techniques you can experiment with as you get better with the program. Sound can be added, such as background music, songs, or voice recordings. There are also ways to include video.  Become an expert with the basics, and you'll be ready for these advanced techniques.

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  TECH/21st Century CORNER

Text Books - 
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

by Mark Benn

Mark Benn is a Technology Integration Coach for VARtek Services, Inc. Having just completed almost 25 years as an educator for Inland Lakes Public Schools, and having received a Masters of Science in Educational Media Design and Technology from Full Sail University in 2010, he now works in a position that supports teachers of K-12 classrooms in the southwest Ohio region that are interested in integrating technology into their learning environments. VARtek Services mission is to be the best provider of managed technology solutions for enhanced learning in the K12 marketplace. Our website is: www.vartek.com

Recently, I talked about grades and when they're appropriate. This month I'd like to take a look at something we, as teachers, do every day.

As the opening bell, buzzer, light, or whatever goes off every morning in every school across the nation, teachers have already made many decisions that apply to what the students will learn that day. This has been a time honored part of being a teacher for as long as teachers have been around. In the last century, the learning has centered around textbooks written for every subject. Even today, this practice continues throughout our nation and world.

Each week a teacher plans out their lessons based on the textbook they're using, following page by page and chapter by chapter until they complete the textbook or the school year runs out. You may say, yeah, your point?

My point is that the 21st century (the digital age) has arrived and with it a whole new way of doing things. You may ask, why should I change just because something new has come along? I agree, no one should change just because something new is available. Change should take place when it's more beneficial.

Observe your students and consider what you see. Are they truly engaged in that textbook, or are they checking out? I had a fellow teacher remark to me a year ago that she didn't see students very interested in their textbook anymore. How about you? Does going through a textbook page by page and chapter by chapter really fulfil your state standards, or is it just easier.

In all of this, does it meet the needs of today's students.

In the last two years, brain research has changed what we thought about how the brain works. With the help of technology we can see that today's students are different from the past in how their brain functions. These "screenagers", as some have called them, even prefer different colors then in the past. Blood red and neon green are some of their favorite colors. Their least favorite color is black. We're not talking about what color they like to wear, but what they like to see on the screen or in print. I've watched many students reverse the colors on their computer screens so it's white on black, instead of black on white. Now think of these implications when it comes to textbooks. I've seen students enjoy reading a book on their handheld computer, which is digital, compared to reading a hardcover book.

In the January 2008 edition of Technology & Learning magazine an article entitled "Top 10 Tech Trends" written by Susan McLester states In the recent report, A Revolution in K-12 Digital Content How Soon Is Now? research group Eduventures declares the textbook "dead...or at least dying" as the "primary content delivery mechanism" for schools. In another article from the same edition Tom McHale writes an article entitled "Tossing Out Textbooks" where he talks about a Tucson high school that has done away with textbooks and gone totally digital using laptops.

As we've talked about in the past, today's students are more engaged when it comes to learning in student centered  classrooms vs. the traditional teacher centered approach. So are you ready to make a change? You don't have to have a bank of computers to make the change, but it does help.


Great BLOGS to read on the changes in the way students learn

Doug Johnson The Blue Skunk Blog
Ian Jukes The Committed Sardine
David Warlick Two Cents Worth
Will Richardson WeBloggEd
Kathy Schrock Kaffeeklatsch
Tony Vincent Learning In Hand



Mark Benn received his Masters of Science in Educational Media Design and Technology from Full Sail University in 2010.

Mark Benn earned his B.S. from Western Michigan University and his Elementary Certification from Northern Michigan University.  He is a 25 year teaching veteran of 5th and 6th grade students at Inland Lakes Middle School in Indian River, MI.

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.  

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/ 

Check out our selection of past articles, including more about groups and stations, from previous issues at:




 Guest Writer  

Teaching English Learners In 
Beginner and Elementary Level
With Small Games

By Nevin Tracy

I bet neither the teachers nor the students would like to have the experience of dull and boring class atmosphere, therefore, as a qualified ESL teacher, to well mastering some small games is of great necessity, which will bring you smile and langue while teaching, especially for the beginner and elementary English learners, for if taught in a fun and creative way, they would love to enter the classroom and have your class. It would be a nice beginning of his or her English learning journey. Today I would like to introduce some small games which English teachers can use in their class.

As Christmas Day is coming, so the first two games are related with this fabulous holiday, pass the parcel and Santa's sack.

Pass the parcel - you can prepare some boxes and envelopes beautifully decorated with eye-catching Christmas paper, and in them, there are a great many activities about the English lessons those students have learned, such as filling in the blank in a word, having a conversation with other students, reading a small poet or articles to others. Hide these boxes and envelopes in the classroom and ask your students to find and open them.

Santa's sack - according to the words the students have learned, you can prepare some and put in a sack. And during class, you can divide students into two groups, and ask them to fish out an object. If they can guess correctly what the object is, the group would get one point.

Hot-seat - a student seats with his/her back to the board or to the teacher. The teacher displays a word or a flash card, other students describe what is one the card to enable the student guess what it is. For higher level students teachers can make hot-seat more challenging by writing a number of TABOO WORDs on the board. For example if a teacher shows the students a flash card of say a HAIRDRESSER. Taboo words could be words likes CUT & HAIR. Students cannot use these two words to describe hairdresser. This forces the students to find other ways of describing the word without the taboo words. Taboo words are most often words that can easily make give away the word of the flashcard.

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More English Tutoring Guide for Online English Teachers on Englishtutors

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/5522131



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Outdoor Education
(part 2)

Courtesy of K12Academics.com

Outdoor education (also known as adventure education) usually refers to organized learning that takes place in the outdoors. Outdoor education programs often involve residential or journey-based experiences in which students participate in a variety of adventurous challenges such as hiking, climbing, canoeing, ropes courses, and group games. Outdoor education draws upon the philosophy and theory of experiential education and may also focus on environmental education.

Critical Views

Loynes (1998) has suggested that outdoor education is increasingly an entertainment park consumption experience and Greenaway (1998) has commented on the bewildering array of explanations and theories about the educational value of mountaineering and other adventures suggesting that some of these explanations are adopted simply to add respectability to outdoor adventure.

Later, Greenaway (1998) critiques the practice of what is often called outdoor education If we simply rely on providing new experiences and following learning cycles or processing sequences, we may be doing very little to enhance the quality and effectiveness of courses that are intended to provide development.

In a controversial paper critiquing the algorithmic paradigm Loynes (2002) has also called for an increase in creativity, spontaneity and vitality". These dialogues indicate a need for those working in outdoor education to examine assumptions to ensure that their work is educational.

Whilst acknowledging the value of recreational experiences (both indoors and outdoors), some outdoor education commentators are concerned with the provision of outdoor education which may be essentially recreational in nature but sold as educational. This may be intentional for numerous reasons, for example, outdoor education may attract more participants and therefore perhaps more funding. It may be unintentional if a lack of knowledge, for example, means providers believe they are offering educational experiences when, in fact, they may actually be recreational.


There is much anecdotal evidence of the benefit of the outdoor experience; teachers speak of the huge improvement in relationships that often follows a trip, and delinquent students are sometimes offered an outdoor education program as part of a behavior management program. Hard evidence to show that outdoor education has a demonstrable long term effect on either behavior or educational achievement however is harder to identify; this may be because the variables involved are too complex to be separated.

See more in the next issue!


Article courtesy of K12Academics.com




MythMichigan Books
Novels by Frank Holes, Jr.

Dogmans Back!

  The legends of the Michigan Dogman come alive in six haunting tales by folklore author, Frank Holes, Jr.  Based upon both mythology and alleged real stories of the beast, this collection is sure to fire the imagination!

  Spanning the decades and the geography of the Great Lakes State , Frank weaves:

  A mysterious police report of an unsolvable death in Manistee County

A terrifying encounter in the U.P.s remote Dickinson County

A BLOG, begun as one mans therapy, becomes a chronicle of sightings from around Michigan

A secret governmental agent investigates the grisly aftermath of Sigma

A pioneer family meets more than they expected on the trail north

A campfire tale of ancient betrayal handed down through the Omeena Tribe

Welcome to Dogman Country!


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Year of the Dogman Website
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Haunting of Sigma Website
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Nagual: Dawn of the Dogmen Website 
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The Longquist Adventures, written for elementary students, is excellent for teaching mythology and classic stories to young children.  




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New Teachers' Niche: 
A Place for Teachers New To The Craft

Journal Writing
(part 1)

This is the first in a series on developing Journal Writing in your classroom, a writing technique that is applicable to any grade and any subject area.

We use the journal writing style for several applications in class.  The number one goal of mine is to provide students with a place to record their thoughts and to reflect on their lives.  I also advocate writing activities that can (and should) be done on a daily basis.  I really believe students need to write a lot and often; they become better writers with a lot of practice.  You can't expect students to be good at writing if they only write a few times each month or marking period.  But I also don't believe students need to formally write essays each time either.  Journaling is one way to break up the monotony of the formal style.

Creating journals is a very easy and fun activity that gives the students ownership of the journal. Pass out ten or so pieces of regular lined paper to each student.   I always keep a basket of lined paper at the front and back of my room anyway, so students can add pages to their journal at any time they need.  Then pass out colored construction paper for the front and back covers.  Each student receives three fasteners to hold it all together.  A suggestion is to NOT punch holes in the covers, as the fastener heads sometimes slip through, and the journals can fall apart.  I allow the students to decorate their covers with anything, as long as it's tasteful and appropriate for school.

Students must be given the freedom of choosing their own topics if they wish.  However, I always provide a topic for the students to use if they are unable to generate their own ideas.  Students are allowed to use my topic, or to change any part of it.  I'll share a few of my classroom journal topics in the follow up to this article.  Any idea can be changed into a journal topic - I usually add a few guiding questions for students to consider when making their responses. 

Some students also enjoy writing on the same topic for more than one writing session.  I even have some students who are writing stories, and complete chapters or stanzas during class time.  They may take a break once in a while and write on a different topic, but they usually end up back at their story.

Students are not allowed to stop and think for more than a few seconds - this is a writing activity, not a stopping and thinking activity.  And their grade is based on the amount they write, not the amount they think. "I really believe students need to write a lot and often; they become better writers with a lot of practice."

So what are the rules for a journal write?  Basically you get to decide!  Just keep them consistent and students will know what you expect within the first few writes.  In my class, students are allowed to choose the genre, such as poetry, drama, or prose.  They are encouraged to try out different styles.

Since the journaling is actually a form of active brainstorming, I don't worry about complete sentences, spelling, or mistakes in grammar or mechanics.   These are the guidelines we use, but you can feel free to adjust them to suit your class and needs.

In the follow up article, I will explain the easy grading system that is set up to MINIMIZE the amount of teacher work.  This stress-free system allows your students to write more and write often, without the massive paper stack for you to grade at home.  I'll also provide some of my sample topics to get you started.

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Cheap Perfume Gift

Themes on Life

What are you planning on spending on gifts this holiday season...

Michael wanted to buy something different for his wife for Christmas this year.  He knew she liked "girlie" things, and "things that made her feel special."  He wasn't quite sure what that meant however.

He went to the big department store downtown.  After all, they had counters and counters of ladies things.  They also had helpful clerks that would understand this stuff better than he could.

"How about some perfume?" he asked the cosmetics clerk.

She showed him a bottle costing $50.

"That's a bit much," said Michael.

She returned with a smaller bottle for $30.

"Thats still quite a bit," Michael wined.

Growing disgusted, the clerk brought out a tiny $15 bottle.

Michael was becoming more and more frustrated, "What I mean," he said, "is I'd like to see something real cheap.

. . . . . . . So the clerk handed him a mirror.


What's New @ StarTeaching?


Hello readers!  Welcome to your second November Issue of Features for Teachers in 2012!   

This month, we bring another great poetry/photograph selection from Hank Kellner from his upcoming book, Reflect and Write. We also showcase our series on Outdoor Education and Journaling, as well as articles on early literacy, ESL, and technology.

As always, we have free activities (from Mary Ann Graziani and Frank Holes Jr.) and articles with practical ideas and techniques to be applied directly into your classroom.   

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Day 1 If two angles of a triangle measure 35 and 78 degrees, what is the third angle?
Day 2 If two angles of a triangle measure 12 and 44 degrees, what is the third angle?
Day 3 If two angles of a triangle measure 93 and 64 degrees, what is the third angle?
Day 4 If two angles of a triangle measure 5 and 18 degrees, what is the third angle?
Day 5 If two angles of a triangle measure 54 and 37 degrees, what is the third angle?
Day 6 Solve the proportion:

 4    =    x
 9         18

Day 7 Solve the proportion:

 7    =    42
 5           x

Day 8 Solve the proportion:

 9    =    81
 x          63

Day 9 Solve the proportion:

 x    =   10
 4         80

Day 10 Solve the proportion:

 12    =    x
  7          35


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