Category Archives: product review

Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in Middle School

As you know, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is right around the corner.  In celebration of King and to build awareness of his legacy, I like to have students read and analyze his speech, “What is Your Life’s Blueprint?”

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Have you ever read or heard this speech?  If not, stop reading this post right now, and check it out!

It’s such a powerful and motivating speech.  My favorite part is that he gave this speech to a group of junior high students.  Now, 48 years later, another group of students is hearing his message…and his words are just as real and relevant and important as ever.

When teaching this speech, I like to have students build background on Martin Luther King, Jr. by completing a timeline.  Then, to help them develop context for the speech, they work in small groups to investigate Jim Crow Laws, Segregation, The Montgomery Bus Boycott, and The Civil Rights Movement.  After reading the speech, students are encouraged to react to the speech, connect to the speech, and analyze the speech.  My favorite part is the reflection they write in response to King’s words.

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King’s message in “What is Your Life’s Blueprint” is clear…

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and it’s just as powerful and inspiring as it was the day he delivered the speech.  Now, that’s something worth celebrating on his day!

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Brain Waves Instruction

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The Totally Cool

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One of the words I avoid using is awesome, (because it’s used so frequently for many things that aren’t, in my opinion, all that awesome at all), but awesome is the word I use to describe  Perhaps I should use “totally cool” instead, because that’s more my style, but either one fits. has been, for me, an ELA teacher and lover of all things word related, the most fortuitous digital stumble-upon, and, over the past few years, I’ve recommended the site to countless students and colleagues. Besides what you’d expect to find on a traditional dictionary website—definitions, parts of speech, synonyms and antonyms— generously provides those elements and much more, giving and giving to its users in manifold ways. Take a look at some of its key features and see if might be the vocabulary website you’ve been searching for. (Click here for Freebie instructions that you can print and use today.)

5 Features That Set It Apart From The Rest

  1. Word Blurbs*

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Far and away, my favorite feature is the “Word Blurb” section that accompanies every word. Positioned directly under the vocabulary word you’ve searched for, the blurb is what you and your students will encounter first—not the word’s definitions. Time and time again, I’ve seen my students move from confusion to understanding as they read the blurb about a word. The need for scrolling down to the actual standard definition frequently becomes unnecessary. The tremendous benefit to this layout is that the humorous, sometimes snarky, and always memorable word blurb engages even those who are loath to study word meanings. As we teachers promote understanding a word’s meaning from its surrounding context, the blurb provides a supplemental context—background, etymology, and scenarios—that bolster a students’ understanding of the word before resorting to the standard, not-nearly-as-interesting definition.

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Try out this handful of words and literary terms. Some, you’ll see, rely on etymology as part of the word blurb, and almost all include at least a bit of humor.

*I have always referred to the Word Blurbs as anecdotes, but when reading a blog post on National Dictionary Day, I noticed their use of “Word Blurbs” and, after looking up anecdote on, I decided to make the switch to Word Blurb, despite the fact it makes me giggle. Word Blurb is, however, an excellent example of assonance!)

  1. Current Word Usage

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Reading a blurb about a word and reading its definitions do a lot for learning a word, but nothing helps students see how a word truly functions in the real world like seeing the word in context. The “Usage Examples” section is ideal for this as it pulls examples from recently published texts (or not so recent ones if more current ones are not available.) Each usage example is one sentence in length, which may or may not be enough context for complete understanding. (See the “Move quickly, Kansas….” example in the screen shot above.) If more text is desired, all you have to do is click on the source name below the sentence, and you will be taken to the full article from which the sentence was pulled. Finding the word in the body of the article is easy if you click Command F, and enter the word in the search box that appears on the upper right of your computer screen. (If you haven’t used command F before, you are going to LOVE it! Command F works on nearly every type of webpage, Google Doc, blog post, Word document, and—with inconsistent results—PDF’s.)

  1. Definitions With Linked Synonyms

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Accompanying the definition for each word are linked synonyms and antonyms, which makes finding a collection of words on the same topic easy.

Look up the word surreptitious, for example, and you’ll see a number of synonyms—furtive, clandestine, and the fun-to-say and use cloak-and-dagger, hush-hush, and hugger-mugger (which sounds like a very affectionate street thief, but is not at all.) Each of these words is linked to its page with all of its word blurb/complete definition/usage example info. When students write on a particular topic or theme—such as the overnight disappearance of items from the school store, for instance—having a collection of related words at the ready makes for more varied word usage and an overall better piece of writing. This leads to #4—Vocabulary Lists: the ultimate word collection system.

  1. Vocabulary Lists

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An interactive feature that makes learning words an individualized experience is the Vocabulary List feature.  From anywhere on the website, click on the Vocabulary Lists menu at the upper right. Here you’ll find hundreds of lists created by fellow users and the folks at ready for immediate use. As I was perusing the lists while writing this post, I came across Jim Burke’s Academic Vocabulary list—something I’ll use for this year’s SLO that focuses on integrating more fully academic vocabulary in the curriculum of College Prep American Lit students.

Create Your Own Vocabulary List

And while there are many useful pre-made lists, you and your students can also easily create your own and personalize them as well.  After creating a list, adding a word, and selecting a definition, an Example Sentence can be selected and/or you and your students can write your own. Notes can also be added as well, creating a complete word package.

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Once you’ve created your own list or found one you would like to use, students can practice the words using the Practice tab


or use the Spelling Bee tab to listen to the word and practice correct spelling.

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Word List + Article Link

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Here is a list I created for students to use with a speech given by President Kennedy. Each word is assigned a brief definition, and each links back to its page. When you create a list, you will be able to add a description at the top—up to 1000 characters—and you can add a link, as I did, to a corresponding article or source creating an all-in-one lesson with article and vocab words combined. Having a few of these lessons ready to go would be ideal for those times when you are absent unexpectedly–an instant substitute lesson plan. (And PLEASE use the Poetry and Power lesson above if it fits your ELA  or social studies classes. Consider it a gift from me to you!) 

  1. Unique Words

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I believe that having a wide lexicon gives students a degree of personal power and cachet . Using the word ameliorate instead of “make better” is, indeed, a better word choice. Saying that something fake is an ersatz copy of it, more adequately expresses its inferiority. And while it’s interesting to call something by its nickname, often that nickname is actually a sobriquet—(and, despite what you might think, it doesn’t rhyme with briquet. Let the audio pronunciation help you with that! )

If you are as impressed with the website as I am, you might want to also check out their app for iOS and Android phones. While it’s a paid app, I use mine often and certainly have gotten my money’s worth out of it. is, indeed, a gold mine of vocabulary word information, a free tool to make learning words far more enjoyable and effective than it has been in the past. It is my hope that the serendipity of discovering new ways to use the site becomes for you and your students as enjoyable as it has for me and mine. Please share your discoveries here so we can all check them out.  Enjoy!

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Click here for Freebie instructions that you can print and use today.  You can also find more ELA and Secondary-level ideas at my Teachers Pay Teachers store and on my Pinterest boards.

All images used with permission. Text from, Copyright ©1998-2014 Thinkmap, Inc. All rights reserved.

I have not been compensated in any way for this blog post.  The opinions you read here are 100% my own based on my own personal experiences with

A Review of Laura Candler’s Geometry: Exploring the Basics

The world is filled with shapes. Being a shape master,  children can  build a house with a few squares and triangles. We see shapes everywhere. Adding on to our love of shapes I jumped right into master geometry with my third and fourth grader last week. We started with drawing shapes since they already can do that. As I was explaining what lines and polygons were the questions started. Arianna wanted to know why a square was a quadrilateral. I started to explain to her that it was not a square, it was a rectangle. A square is a rectangle but not all rectangles are squares.  She looked confused right?

The look you get when you explain geometry to your little ones

Laura Candler's Geomentry cover pageI knew I needed a different approach.  A visual approach. We needed a strong foundation of geometry.  What I found was Laura Candler’s Geometry: Exploring the Basics.  It is a two week power pack filled with ways to engage students to master the basics, this way they are ready for more complex ideas.  We have been working with this pack for a week, creating a lapbook to store their printables and activities.

Beginning this unit you will find lesson suggestions that outline what students will be learning a major help in planning your day to day. Vocabulary will play an important role in teaching geometry.  We continue to add and talk about the new words they are learning.  Arianna created drawings with the vocabulary while Antonio filled in the geometry worksheet found  in this pack. One thing we had to alter was the writing space for the definitions. He still needs practice writing straight on blank paper, with the space provided it wasn’t enough. We used a single sheet of white paper and cut them into strips and glued them to the page. It worked perfectly for him to fill in.

Geometry Notes. Add your notes, worksheets to a lapbook to store the lesson

Geometry Notes. Students use a visual  dictionary to learn math vocabulary

There are activities included that ask students to sort lines and polygons. We created envelopes to store them next to a polygon foldable; there are examples under them.

Is it a Polygon. Use your geometry lapbook to store math games and sorts

Learning geometry with this power pack is great for my visual learners. They have handy charts that name polygons, tell how many sides it should have, shows illustrations and examples. Blank sheets are included to fill in to be used as notes, quiz, or practice.

Comparing Polygons Fill in the chart

Comparing Polygons

At the end of week Antonio wanted to try the quiz included. Using a dry erase marker he was able to complete the quiz . Here he is checking his quiz and he got them all right.

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Geometry Learning the Basics A product review  I really enjoying using this unit in our homeschool lessons this week. It had everything I needed to lay a strong foundation of geometry. With lesson suggestions, activities, printables,  reviewing concepts and games think of a geoboard and tangram challenges it provided the focus we needed. We were able to work on lines, angles, and work with polygons with hands on learning. I am very happy with this product and would recommend i t to educators who are stepping into geometry.

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A review of Laura Candler’s Geometry: Exploring the Basics  is a post written by Celeste DiDonato. If you enjoyed this post join The Education Highway on Bloglovin, Facebook, and Pinterest.