Teaching Roald Dahl’s “The Witches”

What’s everyone’s favourite Roald Dahl book? It’s hard, I know, because they’re all perfection on a page. I’ve spent years reading and re-reading and teaching all of his novels and short stories and have finally decided that “The Witches” is my favourite. It’s especially fun to teach and read aloud just to do the voice of the Grand High Witch!

The Witches

Teaching at a school in which none of my students are able to read at grade level and many have comprehension and memory issues, I had to be creative about teaching my favourite Dahl novel. I didn’t want to skip teaching it in favour of something simpler because I feel like it’s a disservice to students who would otherwise love the story, to not get to learn it because of their learning struggles.

Overall, all of my students enjoy and understand the story; I just need to be create about assessment and activities for the book. I decided to create an activity book to anchor my class through the novel and then add various activities throughout.


I’ll read each chapter of the novel to my class and have them follow along in their own books (very, very few are able to follow along, but I still insist on this as they know many sight words which can help them follow along and catch other common words as well). After each chapter, I have all students draw a quick picture to help them remember what happened in the chapter, which I use as comprehension assessment later (I’ll have a mini interview with them about what has happened in the novel and they get to use the drawings from their activity book as a guide).

The book also has chapter questions, some are basic comprehension questions, but mostly I want to have the students think deeper about what we’re reading so I like to include a lot of “how would you feel if…” or “what do you think will happen next…” type of questions. I’ll also try to mix in more aspects of curriculum, such as having them think of adjectives to describe various characters or having them compare and contrast.


I like to also include other activities outside of the activity book to get students away from basic pen and paper, in-desk activities. I’ll have them act out scenes, or play hangman games to try to stump their classmates, or make The Witches-themed art projects. As with all of my activities in all of my units in all of my subjects, the thing I most want to accomplish is student enjoyment and passion about learning; it’s just all about making sure they’re learning and that I’m finding creative ways to assess along the way!

If you’re interested in my Witches activity book, you can find it here in my Teachers Pay Teachers  store. I also have a similar Matilda activity book, which you can find here if you’re so inclined. Happy teaching!

KIAT Book Club: Classrooms That Work Ch. 1

We recently underwent a huge remodel of our school library and had to get rid of bunch of resources that were being under-utilized. It was bittersweet as our library no longer has some excellent books, but teachers also got to take their pick of what they wanted to keep for themselves and I made out like a bandit. One of the books I scored was actually a double of one I had signed out and intended to read through before our redesign (what luck, now I get to write all over it and call it my own!). The book in question: Classrooms That Work by Patricia M. Cunningham and Richard L. Allington.

Classrooms That Work - what we're all aiming for!
Classrooms That Work – what we’re all aiming for!

Right in the title, the text boasts that all students in these “classrooms that work” can read and write. This immediately grabbed me as I work with kids who have come from regular classrooms and have struggled. They cannot read and write and it’s my job at our congregated school to find strategies to help them succeed. It’s difficult and oftentimes daunting, but it’s outrageously rewarding and can be done. Extra tips from teachers with many more years under their belts? Yes, I’ll take it!

The first chapter is titled The Problem and Some Failed Solutions and starts us out by discussing how our classrooms began failing our students. It talks a lot about phonics and how classrooms fail, not because they’re using bad techniques, but because they’re relying too heavily on one or two methods or because these methods work better in theory than they do in practice. The kids who don’t respond to these methods are left behind, especially if they also have low support at home.

The start of the very first chapter...
The start of the very first chapter…

Also discussed heavily is retention and the negative effects repeating a grade have on children. We attempt to use it as a solution for a child who is behind, but it is not viable for the long term, as they tend to fall behind once again in later grades. The belief that they are “dumb” will set up a barrier between students and their success and retention will only intensify this.

Indeed, classrooms that utilize multiple approaches to reading and writing will be the most effective as they will target the majority of students’ various strengths and weaknesses. The problem which arises here is how to actually organize a classroom that properly and effectively utilizes various methods. That is where our chapter ends; we’ve discussed what doesn’t work and in the next chapters they’re going to be discussing what does.

If you’re interested in buying the book, here’s the link on Amazon. Mine is the second edition, the one on Amazon is the 6th. Chapter two will be up in two weeks!

KIAT Book Club: Becoming a Better Teacher Ch. 9

Chapter nine in Becoming a Better Teacher is basically a summative conclusion. No new information is introduced so, to be totally honest, there’s not much I can say about it.

In case the reader has forgotten, the chapter discusses what was brought up in the first eight chapters and it poses the question: “what does it look like to be a learner-centred teacher?” Indeed, that is what all of the tips and information have been guiding us toward for this entire time; learning how to teach for the kids rather than for the standardized tests.


We are reminded of the important ideas from throughout the book, including essential questions, integrated curriculum, curriculum and assessment design, authentic assessment, rubrics, portfolios, reflection, and finally action research.

It also discusses the fact that we don’t need to follow a specific order or design in order to adopt these practices and change our focus to student-based learning. We can begin with what seems easiest to implement, what we feel the strongest desire to change, etc.

Overall, I found this book extremely engaging and inspiring. As a teacher who thrives on planning and organization, and who always wants to improve her practice, this book offered excellent tips and advice. Albeit, I found myself slightly disengaged through chapter 8, but chapters 1-7 and 9 were excellent resources.

If you are interested in Becoming a Better Teacher, here is the link to its page on Amazon!

The Hunger Games in the Classroom

I read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins for the first time about five years ago when I assigned it to a group of students for a group study project. I ended up falling in love with the book myself and recently decided to re-read it on account of the soon-to-be-released film and the fact that it is becoming evermore popular and I wanted to create a few lesson plans or a complete unit plan around it.

I am often reluctant to teach popular/modern novels in the classroom because, to be perfectly honest, popular novels produced for young adults are often crap (yes, that is the right word for several of them *cough* Twilight *cough, cough*) or else have little substance in terms of themes, reflection, and critical thinking.

However, The Hunger Games is highly useful in the classroom because, not only does it hold “classic” themes such as self identity, courage, power and control, and family. Additionally,  it also plays upon modern issues that have been created out of reality television and violent video games and other media.

For thsoe unaware of the premise of The Hunger Games, it is told form the perspective of 16 year old Katniss Everdeen, who lives in the nation of Panem (a futuristic version of North America). Each year, Panem holds the “Hunger Games”, in which one male and one female from each of the 12 districts of Panem are chosen to compete in a televised event where opponents literally fight to the death. At the end of the games, one winner is crowned.

One of the things that makes Collins’ story so intriguing is that the Hunger Games themselves are literally set up like a modern reality show, in which viewers can vote and bet on their favourite competitors and send in sponsorships to aide in keeping them alive to the end. However, the extreme violence clearly involved begs the question how far is too far?

Indeed, reality shows, television, movies, and so on, continue to push boundaries and limits, becoming increasingly violent, crude, cruel, difficult, and sexually charged, that it makes one naturally wonder where it will end. Collins creates a fictional answer to this question with The Hunger Games.

Through Katniss, readers understand the Hunger Games through the eyes of a girl from the poor state of District 12, who opposes the Hunger Games (put on by the Capital). She questions the power of the Capital, and works within her means to to display this clear oppostion by the end of the novel. She also acts to juxtapose the intense riches and power of the Capital to the other poorer people in Districts of Panem.

With the themes of the novel, English teachers can create an entire unit which applies classic themes to modern day issues. Additionally, they can also discuss issues of power and control and relate them to historical events and politics, relating the story to dictatorships throughout history.

KIAT Book Club: Becoming a Better Teacher Ch. 8

Chapter eight in Becoming a Better Teacher continues on with the importance of questions. The chapter itself is titled “Action Research: Asking and Answering Questions About Practice” and sounded fairly daunting to me upon first read. The essential question posed is “how do questions teach?” and touches upon what has been discussed about questions in previous chapters.


We can ask ourselves questions about our own practice and how we can improve and we can ask students questions to probe them about their learning and (again) our own practice. Is our curriculum and teaching style engaging to kids? Ask them; students know which classes they enjoy and why.

The chapter lays out how to plan and execute action research which can be implemented by teachers to answer important questions about many topics or issues. Steps are laid out for teachers to follow to help them decide why questions they want answered, why it’s important for them to be answered, and how to collect the data which they collect.

Continuing on, the book discussed how to actually assess the data found, how to use it, and how to share it with others.

To be honest, I found this chapter to be the least engaging of the book, though I do see the value in it. Perhaps it becomes more meaningful when the rest of the curriculum design and planning has been put into action in the classroom already (something which I have not fully done yet), but I found the information less engaging than previously discussed through the book.

If you want to buy Becoming a Better Teacher (which I assure you has been extremely informative and helpful prior to this somewhat less-engaging chapter), here’s the link to its Amazon page.

Ten Films to Use as Primary Texts

Teachers tend to show films simply to accompany primary texts in the classroom. In English we’ll show To Kill a Mockingbird as we read the novel, in Social Studies we show films like Passchendaele to accompany our lecture on the historic event. In Chemistry we’ll show those amazing James Bond knock-off films to teach chemical bonds, and so on.

Alternatively, we may also show films to kill off a class when we can’t teach (like if half the students are away for a sports event).

However, I find it particularly effective to occasionally use a film as the primary text in a classroom and base lessons and curriculum off if it. Modern students relate better to films and are more familiar with them, so it is often very nice for them to work with texts they are more familiar with. Additionally, you will often receive work and answers from them that you would have never expected. Here are ten of my favourite films to show in class:

10. Cast Away

In teaching English, Cast Away is absolutely wonderful for teaching literary devices in a different way. Students can visually see such devices as Symbolism and Dramatic Irony.

When implementing this lesson, I like to wait and use it as review for before the final. By the end of the year, Short Stories, Poetry, Novel Study, and Dramatic Literature will have covered all of the literary terms they need for the final and/or provincial, but to review in an interesting way, have them watch the film, write down all of the devices they see and then write an essay that discusses three. The lesson will cover basic essay-writing, ability to compare, and cover literary terms and devices.

9. Hairspray

Hairspray (I prefer the remake to the original) is a fun and hilarious film that students love (regardless of gender). It deals with American 1960s history and racial segregation. Additionally, you can discuss irony/parody as the film takes very serious race and body image issues and makes them humourous.

I use this in Junior High because it’s a good way to introduce students to heavier writing assignments and topics while not being too daunting. It isn’t serious enough or hit enough learning objectives to justify it in high school. However, when students are first learning to write essays, it’s a good topic to write on. Alternatively, it can also be a good source for students to answer serious questions and begin learning how to draw connections between text and world and also learn how to answer academically.

8. Super-Size Me

The documentary attacks fast food and the health and obesity crisis in America. Super-Size Me is great for a Health, Biology, Sports Medicine, Gym, or Foods class.

Morgan Spurlock uses the most famous fast food restaurant chain in the world, McDonalds, to physically show viewers how terrible junk food and lack of exercise are to the body. Have students answer questions while watching the film and then work in partners or groups after the film to discuss their answers.

If you have time and still want to focus on the film while transitioning into healthy choices, have students research and present a diet and lifestyle plan which works to the opposite effect of Spurlock’s McDonalds diet and results in a healthy body and mind.

7. The Sixth Sense

M. Night Shyamalan’s first and best film, The Sixth Sense, is wonderful to show to students. I love to show it when dealing with plot and foreshadowing. Because the film is not as new as it was when I was in high school and junior high, it works really well in the higher grades of junior high (grades eight or nine) or in high school because many students have not seen it and are unaware of the surprise ending.

The DVD special features have a segment which discusses symbolism and foreshadowing (such as the use of the colour red and Dr. Crowe’s lack of physical and verbal interaction with other characters).

In junior high, this is great to use in a short story unit and have students write their own stories (have them include a detailed plot summary and diagram) which includes foreshadowing and symbolism. In high school, you may want to revert to the traditional essay to prepare them for finals and/or the provincial.

6. Shrek

Shrek is a phenomenal movie when dealing with parody. Students love it because they all recognize the fairy tales that the film is based off of.

Have students in junior high or lower level high school use this as a basis for their own parodies. First, have them answer detailed questions on what parody is in relation to the film, then when they have a solid understanding, have them work in groups to create their own parody projects.

5. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat

If you are teaching Religion, students always enjoy Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. While Jesus Christ Superstar is always another popular option, I prefer to show Joseph because teaching the Old Testament tends to be a bit duller than teaching the New Testament.

I simply have students answer questions on the most important points from the film and bible points. Further on in the curriculum, I will often revert back to Joseph and have students make their own stories or retellings of biblical stories in a humourous and fun way.

4. Drugged: High on Cocaine

This is a great documentary to show to students in Health or a life-planning course like CALM or Planning 10 (they differ from province-to-province).

As a student, I specifically remember watching films which simply acted to scare us into refraining from drugs. However, Drugged: High on Cocaine is informative on how cocaine and crack are distributed and sold, how they affect the body, and how they destroy lives. I appreciate showing it because I feel that students are too intelligent to be moved by simple do not do drugs films. Drugged shows them the intricacies behind the drug and gives students more than just surface reasons to avoid the drug.

3. What the Bleep Do We Know

I love to show What the Bleep do We Know to students at the beginning of the semester in Math and Science courses. The film is both story and documentary. It unveils all that we do not know and creates possibilities which we rarely think about.

I show it because I really like to emphasis the fact that there is no one hundred percent correct answer, which students often forget in Math and Science. I enjoy showing the film because I feel that it inspires students to become more passionate about learning, especially in subjects which are often taken too seriously and taught too dryly.

2. Across the Universe

I absolutely love Across the Universe and will use any excuse to show it to a class. I like to have students use it as a guide to create a project in which they take artwork of one form and combine it together in an interesting way to create a different story.

While Across the Universe uses music from the Beatles to create a distinct story, I encourage students to find a way to do the same. For example, they may use poems by a specific author or on a specific topic, or letters from soldiers, or magazine articles, and so forth, to create a separate (while also related) story. I always make sure to discuss various points that were included in the film that relate back to the Beatles’ lives and music and encourage them to find ways of mixing interesting facts in with their stories.

1. Waiting for Superman

No matter what course I am teaching, I love to show Waiting for Superman at the beginning of the year. The film focuses on the education system in the United States, which is failing students horribly. It discusses the discrepancy between schools based on socioeconomic status and the fact that bad teachers are never gotten rid of, but simply moved from school to school.

After the film I will either have students do a bit of research on the education in other specific nations, or else show a power point and lecture on these points.

I do this to demonstrate that, despite its flaws, the education system in Canada is extremely good and students should be grateful and recognize what they have been given. Additionally, I use it to lead in to my points about never accepting anything but their very best and refusing to do such things as curve grades (if the best paper in one of my classes deserves a C, I will never give it an A simply because it was better by comparison).

Overall, I use this film to inspire and to illustrate to students how thankful they should be for the education they are receiving and which everyone deserves.

KIAT Book Club: Becoming a Better Teacher Ch. 7

This week’s chapter in Becoming a Better Teacher is all about reflection. As teachers, we are told consistently to reflect, and we do. I know that personally, I reflect upon each lesson and each day after completion and consistently ask myself what went well and what could have been done better. It’s how we improve ourselves over the days, months, and years to become the best teachers we can be.


This chapter asks the question: “how can teachers get students to invest in and value reflection?” Indeed, we all understand the importance of reflection, but it’s more difficult for students to think about work after it’s been completed. So frequently in our traditional education system, students focus on getting the work in by the deadline, they scan their returned projects for a grade, and they toss it aside. Too infrequently they are asking for clarification and reflecting on how they can improve.

Here, we are given ideas about how to include reflective activities in our teaching practice. It also focuses on having students become more specific in responding to reflective questions. Too often kids can be too broad in answers; if we continue to allow this to happen, they’ll have a difficult time discussing their thoughts and ideas in older grades and post-secondary education.

The chapter offers examples of prompts for reflection for kids, as well as checklists they can fill out which are also helpful for the teacher to improve lessons and activities so that they become more engaging and useful to kids.

If you’re interested in the book, here’s the link to it on Amazon.