The Engaging Classroom

    • In Other Words

    Audio Books and How I Escaped Self-imposed Genre Jail

    This summer, my fifth graphic novel hits shelves. It’s a story about a family from Illinois who decide to move to California in 1846. They join a wagon train and roll west. They try an unproven shortcut, get stuck in the Sierra Nevada, and end up eating each other. It’s called DONNER DINNER PARTY and it’s nonfiction.
    • Teaching Tips

    The “X” Factor—and the “M” and “N” Factors, Too: Fun with Vocabulary Acquisition

    “The X Factor” is literally a special quality. Among reality-show enthusiasts, though, it’s a popular musical talent competition, whose judges last season were Britney Spears, L.A. Reid, Demi Lovato, and the always curmudgeonly concept-originator Simon Cowell.
    • Teaching Tips

    Lights! Camera! Animals! Using Windows Movie Maker to Investigate

    My classroom is filled with hermit crabs, a beta fish, a bearded dragon, a box turtle, worms, and a fire-bellied toad. Outside of the traditional nurturing skills and responsibility children gain from having these classroom pets, they also enrich our classroom learning experiences.
    • Teaching Tips

    Planting Seeds for Fiction, One Fact at a Time

    When I visit schools, one of the most frequent questions students ask is where I get ideas. One way is to find a fact and then ask questions. Many of my fiction books began by reading nonfiction. As I’m reading, I’m looking for something I call a “story seed,” a fact that a story can grow from.
    • Teaching Tips

    Practice Makes Perfect, Especially in Reading

    Children naturally want to learn to read, just like they want to learn to ride a bike or tie their shoes. It is our job as educators to engage and instruct them in the most effective manner. Most successful young readers have support both at home and at school. As educators, we should emphasize the importance of establishing good reading habits with our parents from the get-go.
    • In Other Words

    Crawling Inside Stories in China

    My father is a great storyteller. When I was little, my brothers and I were completely spellbound by his tales of how he survived his childhood in his rural Chinese village. He would begin with, “When I was your age…” and immediately transport us to World War II China, when loud planes flew overhead and Japanese soldiers marched into their village in the mornings and stayed all day, eating their chickens and their rice and then marching away when nightfall came.
    • In Other Words

    Statistically Speaking

    Samuel Clemens once said, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics." Of course Mark Twain plagiarized this quote from him and took vast credit but the point still remains: big data about education consumes us these days and it’s getting out of hand. In fact, it’s gotten so nutty that we not only have tremendous amounts of statistical analysis but we also have meta-analysis, where statistics are provided to give us new statistics about competing and corroborating streams of statistics so that we can remain properly—and statistically—well-informed for future statistical analysis.
    • Teaching Tips

    Using Video Conferencing for Oral Language Learning

    My class and I talk a lot. We ask questions, and we answer them. We share stories with one another. We listen, contribute, and learn. For my students this is just a way to interact with one another, but as their teacher I’ve set up these opportunities specifically to help them improve their oral language skills. For my students this is just a way to interact with one another, but as their teacher I’ve set up these opportunities specifically to help them improve their oral language skills. This past year we’ve taken all this talking and listening a step further by using video conferencing tools such as Skype, Google+ Hangouts, and FaceTime in our classroom.
    • Quiet! Teacher in Progress

    Free Your Mind, and the Rest Will Follow

    Recently, I have been inundated by blog posts and articles about super innovative teachers who are accomplishing all sorts of bananas goals with their children as a result of their out-of-the-box teaching methods. My first thought is, “What a rock star! I totally want to hang out in their classroom and see them in action.” My second thought is, “How did they get to be so brave?” My third thought is, “Why are most of us so paralyzed with fear?”
    • Teaching Tips

    From Telescope to Microscope: Thinking Big and Small about Civil Rights in the English Language Arts and Social Studies Classrooms

    English teachers—and writers—often talk about point of view. From whose POV is the story students are reading or writing told? Does the POV character change throughout the story? In this lesson, the POV “character” is every one of your students (and you probably have a few characters in your classroom), and it’s their POV that changes—from the big picture of what’s going on in the world to the little picture of how world events affect individuals.
    • In Other Words

    Practice What You Preach: Spend the Summer Reading

    It is important for us as educators to read—to experience firsthand not only the reading strategies we teach our students, but most importantly the joy of lifelong reading for pleasure.
    • Teaching Tips

    Telling Stories with Words AND Pictures

    Kids love comics. I know I did (and still do). I wasn’t much of a reader when I was younger, but once I discovered comics and comic books, I became more engaged and interested in reading. To see the action drawn out helped reinforce what I was reading in the word balloons and narration boxes. I retained the information much more easily. The more I understood, the more confident I became. And the more confident, the more I wanted to read.
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