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.

Ten Ways to Incorporate Humour in the Classroom

I find the best way to get students involved, retain their attention, and ensure that they recall curriculum is to make lessons interesting and meaningful to them. Overall, the easiest way to do this is to utilize humour in the classroom.

Some of the best comedic gems to use in the classroom can be found on the internet, others (like television shows or movies) can be ordered online, and still others (books, comics) again online or your local bookstore. Here’s a list of some of my favourite lesson plans centred around humourous alternative texts:

10. Teaching creative note-taking with Something Awful

This entry on Something Awful posts the hilarious results that ensue when you ask kids to tell you something about a subject (examples are things like bunnies and dogs) and then you draw their answers. These are mostly hilarious because of the kids’ answers, but I find that the concept can be translated within the classroom (in a way that doesn’t make fun of students).

When lecturing on something particularly interesting or funny (Charles II, maybe?) or dense/confusing (causes of WWI), I find it can be beneficial for students to first write their notes out in a different way (that’s where the pictures come in) and then to share their creative endeavours with other students. Through sharing, students take pride in their work and also have a chance to teach their notes to classmates, which is proven to aid in information retention.

9. Teaching plagiarism with pop music

I see plagiarism way more than I should. Obviously, it’s completely unacceptable and I have zero tolerance for it. But, sometimes when I’ve just started a term with a class, and I find that all of a sudden I’ve received over half of student work which samples from another source or from another student. Rather than fail them all, I like to give them all a warning, the chance to re-do the work, and the clear indication that any other form of cheating in the future will result in an unquestionable fail.

To get their attention with plagiarism, I like to put the following on the overhead or SMARTboard:

For you I would have done whatever
And I just can’t believe we ain’t together
And I wanna play it cool, but I’m losin’ you
I’ll buy you anything, I’ll buy you any ring
And I’m in pieces, baby fix me
And just shake me ’til you wake me from this bad dream
I’m going down, down, down, down
And I just can’t believe my first love won’t be around

When I was 13, I had my first love,
There was nobody that compared to my baby
and nobody came between us or could ever come above
She had me going crazy, oh, I was star-struck,
she woke me up daily, don’t need no Starbucks.
She made my heart pound, it skipped a beat when I see her in the street and
at school on the playground but I really wanna see her on the weekend.
She knows she got me dazing cause she was so amazing
and now my heart is breaking but I just keep on saying.

For those of you as up on tween pop music as I am, you’ll recognize the above lyrics from Justin Bieber’s “Baby” featuring Ludacris. Put the lyrics of a popular song up, tell students it was a poem submitted to you by a former student that you wanted to share, then ask one of them to read it out loud to the class. Act shocked when they awkwardly tell you it’s actually the lyrics to a pop song, and then begin your lesson on plagiarism. They’ll never forget it again.

8. Using Tom Lehrer’s “New Math” to review subtraction

I love this song! It’s just plain catchy! While I don’t find it useful in actually teaching subtraction, on account of how quickly he sings, I find it a fun way to review subtraction after learning it and once students have the hang of it. They enjoy singing along when they understand exactly what’s going on in the video.

7. Teaching to proofread with Taylor Mali

Most teachers know Taylor Mali on account of his famous spoken word poem, What Teachers Make. In the classroom, I like to show students another of his poems to remind them all to proofread, not just spellcheck. Here’s the poem in question:

Students love it and have zero excuses if they hand in a paper after featuring silly errors that could have been avoided if they had simply proofread instead of just spell checking.

6. Teaching social consciousness with

Cracked has plenty of articles that are absolutely hilarious as well as very informative. I find a lot of their list-style articles work very well in a social studies classroom. In social, I like to devote about 10 minutes in every class to talking about world events and, often, students’ perspectives about what is going on in the world has been horribly skewed by the media. Particularly when countries or organizations pose a threat to America.

Here is a great article from Cracked that deconstructs some common myths people tend to believe about America’s “enemies”. Not only does it inform students, it also encourages them to think more critically about news and media in the future.

5. Teaching Twelfth Night with She’s The Man

One of my personal favourite films, She’s The Man, which features the ever-charming Amanda Bynes in drag and falling for her sexy, male, soccer-playing roommate Channing Tatum, is based loosely on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. YAY! Any excuse to show this film in the classroom feels like Heaven to me.

Because the film is only a loose adaptation, I don’t like to waste valuable classroom time showing the entire thing if I’m trying to get through curriculum. Rather, I like to bring in a mix of texts and have the students compare them. Kenneth Brannagh’s filmed play version is excellent, as is the 1996 film version with Helena Bonham Carter and Ben Kingsley

I’ll usually play a quick clip of She’s The Man and have students compare the modern version to the traditional versions and also have them pull out any references they can find. Usually I’ll follow this with an assignment in which I have students modernize a scene from the play.

Just for fun, here’s most people’s favourite clip from She’s The Man (I never show this one, it doesn’t have enough relevance to the original text, but it’s hilarious):

4. Using Facebook to teach plot and characterization

I decided to integrate students’ obsession with Facebook after stumbling upon this gem:

Click for content sourceIn doing a dramatic literature or novel study, it’s a fun way to have students analyze characters and plot conflicts. I’ve allowed students to use whatever craft supplies they feel they need (so they can use the computer, draw their design, or cut and paste) to either come up with a character profile page, a news feed, or a group. In the past I’ve seen character pages for Atticus Finch, a group dedicated to hating Malvolio, and a news feed based on Macbeth. Such a fun activity!

3. Teaching verbal irony using the Onion News Network

In teaching the basic, yet often confusing, concept of irony in English Lit., I find students often getting confused between dramatic, verbal, and situational irony. Dramatic irony is easily enough to teach with Shakespeare, for situational I like to have students write their own stories in which the actual outcome differs from the expected outcome (they LOVE doing this; get them to share their stories with a partner and then write one together to really drive the concept home).

In teaching verbal irony, it’s all well and good to explain the idea of sarcasm, but to really drive the idea home, I like to show this clip from the Onion:

Then I split the whiteboard into two and title one side SAD and one side FUNNY. As a class, we first talk about what was funny in the clip and then about what was sad about the clip. I let them know that verbal irony is done through a character, story, video, etc. presenting something in one way but actually meaning another. In my experience, a good story to bring in to the classroom for this type of irony is Harold Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (it really drives the happy vs. sad thing home).

2. Teaching news and current events with Philip DeFranco

I adore Philip DeFranco, he’s super funny, informed, and opinionated. Every once in a while, I find it really beneficial to bring in one of his recent videos to start a discussion on news, current events, and even pop culture. Even in a reluctant class, I find students will be more willing to share opinions or agree with what’s been said.

*Always make sure you watch the video first, DeFranco’s discussions sometimes aren’t appropriate for the classroom.

1. Teaching grammar with Hyperbole and a Half

Thanks to the hilarious Allie over at Hyperbole and a Half, students never need worry about the “alot” faux pas again. I usually find this works best for younger grades (think grades five and six or junior high), but I also whip it out when I start finding the word “alot” popping up in student work no matter what the grade (sadly, it very commonly needs to be used in grade 12).

Depending on a school’s resources (and how severe the problem is) I will either print all of the students a copy of this hilarious blog entry or else pop it up onto the SMARTboard. With the fact that it’s undoubtedly funny and well-written, coupled with the hilarious image of the Alot, students aren’t soon-to-forget that “alot” is grammatically incorrect and that I certainly don’t want to read it on any of their academic papers.

KIAT Book Club: Becoming a Better Teacher Ch. 6

Chapter six in Becoming a Better Teacher is titled “Portfolios: A Window into Students’ Thinking and Learning” and as soon as I read it, I was reminded of my seventh grade Language Arts teacher who had us work on portfolios throughout the year. To this day, I think it was my favourite year in English. It allowed me to write both creatively and technically, it allowed me practice with peer editing, and it allowed me to grow throughout the year and see my progress as a writer. Every year since then, I was disappointed to not have the same type of assignment.


Portfolios of writing make sense for English, but they’re essentially just a collection of students’ best work, and can be used in most subjects with the proper guidelines and suggestions for included work.

To further tout the greatness of portfolios, they’re also an excellent way to view student growth and thus assess their learning in a natural and meaningful way.

I’ve been trying to think of how I can incorporate portfolios into my classroom, being a specialized program, and I think it will be difficult but worthwhile. The kids will have a change to improve their work by utilizing help from the teacher, collaborating with classmates, and their own self-reflection, all of which are exceedingly beneficial and aid in life skills and development.

If you want to buy this book, here’s the link to find it on Amazon.

KIAT Book Club: Becoming a Better Teacher Ch. 5

This week in Becoming a Better Teacher, chapter five discussed scoring rubrics.

Upon beginning a career in elementary, scoring rubrics were almost non-existent to me. When I went through university and did my practicums in High School English; my professors and mentor teachers both said the same thing to me: “you can just tell what grade a paper should get”. And they were right. Further, the more papers I marker, the more i just “knew” if they should get a 50% or a 95% and so on.

This doesn’t work so well in the elementary classroom. Not only are the kids not handing in papers, I’m also not only teaching one specific subject. Further, students need something to aspire to. They need to know what mark they’re supposed to hit so that they can do their best to actually hit it.


The book discusses the difference between holistic and analytic rubrics, which was the first time in my career I’ve come across the difference on paper and which helped me recognize the fact that my experience as a high school teacher had me using a holistic rubric while my elementary kids need a more black-and-white analytic rubric.

The arguments made for using rubrics indicate that they are beneficial for teachers, who know how to be explicit in giving instructions as they know exactly what they’re looking for through creating the rubric. Further, they allow students to grow and recognize where their work falls on the rubric and what they need to to to get it to the next level. Something I also find beneficial here is including examples of work at each different grade level (this may be difficult for teachers who are just starting out and don’t have student examples or who are pressed for time and cannot create examples for every assignment given, but it is something to strive for over time).

Sweet new library book to read!
Sweet new library book to read!

The chapter is nice in that it provides many examples of rubrics and also lays out helpful tips for involving students (and when you shouldn’t involve students) and great advice for creating rubrics for different types of projects and tasks.

If you are interested in buying the book, here’s the link to its page on Amazon!

Tissue Paper Leaves

It’s September, so here in Calgary it’s already Fall and we’ve got about eight days until it’s Winter. Time to work on the Autumn themed crafts before they seem horribly misplaced with three feet of snow right outside. Hey, it’s also the beginning of the school year for the majority of teachers and students, so happy first day or two back!

One of my favourite crafts to make with my students are tissue paper leaves! They’re an easy concept, but need to be modelled thoroughly because the tissue and glue can get messy if kids aren’t following instructions. Further, I’m obviously a fan of how well this project aids in the development of fine motor skills.

Depending on the class’ skill level, I’ll either give them a large cut out of a leaf on brown, yellow, orange, or red paper, or I’ll have them draw a large leaf in a shape they like and cut it out themselves. This time around, I had the kids draw and cut their own leaves (some ended up looking like random splatters, but most resemble leaves).

This is, of course, the easiest part for the kids. Again, depending on their skill and focus level, I will either cut out pieces of tissue paper in various colours or I’ll have them cut out their own. This time, I cut out a huge amount of pieces, then students cut more if they needed more or if they wanted different colours or shapes.

We covered tables with plastic and poured white glue into egg cups so the kids could wrap tissue around the ends of their pencils, dip it lightly into the glue, and then attach them to their leaves.

I will admit that this art project took much longer than I thought it would; we had some glue issues, and some of the kids got restless (again, I’ll remind you how high the cases of ADHD are in my room). Thus, I now know for the future to really be careful and judge the make-up of the classroom before assigning something that could be daunting for some kids. I would perhaps make the leaves themselves smaller or give the students smaller pieces of paper to cut them out from.

Alas, at least our finished bulletin board looked awesome (bulletin boards are becoming my favourite part of school)!

We're falling in love with reading!
We’re falling in love with reading!

KIAT Book Club: Becoming a Better Teacher Ch. 4

In the last chapter of Becoming a Better Teacher, it discussed curriculum design and went through steps to help teachers implement a functional curriculum in their classrooms.

This chapter is all about assessment. This is close to my heart as I have always been opposed to teachers teaching to end of year or unit exams rather than teaching to their students’ needs and passions.


The chapter focuses specifically on what it calls “authentic assessment”, which states that assessment is authentic when it has students engage in real-life problems. This makes school and our education system less removed from the real-world and what we are, in theory, preparing kids for, but which often gets lost in practice.

The book gives excellent examples of authentic assessment and then delves into the attributes of authentic assessment. It notes that assessment needs to have a purpose, it needs to touch upon learned skills and content, it needs to be explicit in its scoring criteria, it needs to be flexible, and so on and so forth.

This chapter spoke to me; it felt as though it put into words what I already try to do with all of my assessment; make it meaningful and helpful for the students.

If you want to buy the book, here’s the link to its page on Amazon.

Mini Office

A few months ago, a co-worker of mine stumbled upon a Mini Office made by Kristen Vibas on Teachers Pay Teachers (my Heaven!). She forwarded it to me because she thought my students could benefit from it, and I am hugely grateful that she did!


The office itself was created for English Language Learners, but I use it with my fourth graders (who all suffer from Learning Disabilities and are very weak at reading and writing) and it’s an awesome tool! They use it if they’re on writing centres in the mornings or if we’re got a writing assignment, and they have all told me that it is extremely helpful.

Obviously the visuals are excellent for aiding kids in finding and understanding the correct word. Further, when I am trying to help the entire class with writing and spelling, many words they need are here, so it gives me extra time to help elsewhere that’s needed.


I’m trying to find a lot more visual aids to help my students with reading and writing, and this has helped a great deal. I still want more, though! Anything to help my stands improve their reading/writing, as well as their confidence. Any suggestions?