Category Archives: Teaching Ideas

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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Getting Students to Think Outside the Box

We are always looking for ways to get students to think outside the box and to expand on their thoughts.  My gifted education supervisor gave us the book, Making Thinking Visible, in hopes that we’d use some of the routines in the classroom.  I’ll be the first to say that I immediately thought of this as just ANOTHER thing to do, but quickly changed my mind when I opened this book.

Screen shot 2014-11-17 at 8.14.12 PMI’m not much of a reader, so I randomly picked what I thought was  one of the shortest routines and started reading.  This was a routine called, Step-Inside.  This allows students to step inside the shoes of a character or object from a book, passage, picture, or poem.  This is a wonderful routine to use when you want students to open up their thinking and look at things from a different point of view.

I used this with my first graders.  We were already in the middle of a study on the book, Charlotte’s Web, and Step Inside worked perfectly.  I gave my students some academic choice by allowing them to choose if they wanted to “step inside” Zuckerman’s barn as Wilbur or as Charlotte.  At this point they were given Post-It notes with the chosen name to use for answering the proposed questions.

  • What does Charlotte/Wilbur see, feel, notice in the barn?
  • What might she/he know, understand, or believe?  Why?
  • What might she/he are deeply about?
  • What might she/he wonder about or question?


Notice the keyword is “might” in each question.  This is because we don’t truly know what anyone or anything else is feeling.

After all the questions were answered we went back through each question and discussed the student responses.  This thinking routine helps students explore perspectives and develop empathy.

Our next step is to use what we learned from this thinking routine and create a writing piece from the point of view  as our chosen character.  They, of course, will be writing in first person.  The sentence starters I will be giving them are:

  • Hello there, I’m Wilbur______________________________.
  • Salutations, I’m Charlotte __________________________.

This activity really requires students to think outside the box and look at things from a different perspective.  So far, I’ve been really impressed with the depth my first graders have gone to really “become” their character.  I can only imagine how they will grow the more we explore this thinking routine.

Have you used any Visible Thinking Routines in your classroom?

// Widgets

Plan Now for a Brrr-illiant January!

As we enjoy the last of the busy school days with our students prior to winter break, now is a good time to think about January and helping our students look forward to returning to school! Here are a few things I do each year to prepare:

I introduce a new read-aloud book that we will start in January by reading an exciting paragraph or two that will hook students, then I display the book in the front of the room as a visual reminder that we have something to look forward to! The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo is a wonderful read-aloud (yes, I read picture books to my middle schoolers!). Love that Dog and Hate that Cat by Sharon Creech are great January read-alouds that get students laughing (and thinking . . . and writing).  Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix is a riveting read-aloud for middle schoolers that hooks students on a series — many of them will go on to read the rest of the series — 7 books in all — on their own!

Give students a few minutes during the last day or two to cut out paper snowflakes while you read a book aloud. Provide students with either coffee filters or copy paper (cut into 8×8 squares or 4×4 squares) to make snowflake-cutting more manageable. Use double-sided tape to hang the snowflakes around the room. You may also want to hang a few from the ceiling with fishing wire. Add a few white paper lanterns from the ceiling and return to a Winter Wonderland in January!


Take a few minutes on the last day of school prior to break to have students clean and organize their own desks, tables, cubbies, and work spaces. I also organize my own work spaces and clean the tops of all surfaces (hello, Lysol Dual Action Disinfecting Wipes!). There’s something really energizing about coming back to an extra-clean room! Students seem better able to focus and concentrate when their classroom is clean and organized – it’s a nice re-set button to push!

Bring in a couple of lamps. January’s gray days can be brightened with a little extra light in our classrooms, and a couple of colorful, fun table lamps or floor lamps add an ambience that is much more effective for learning than harsh overhead lights!


Plan a fun activity for the first or second week in January and build it up on the last day of school before break. Activities that work well in January include marshmallow catapults, Snow Ball (a fun day filled with snow-related activities and read-alouds), and snowman-building challenges (students work in teams to build snowmen using balls of newspaper that can later be recycled).


January is the perfect time to either reinforce or re-establish classroom expectations, so I also plan a couple of fun ice-breaker-type activities for our first days back that will provide an opportunity to review classroom rules, routines, and procedures.

Planning ahead for January can help both you and your students look forward to returning to school after a long winter’s nap break! What do you do to re-energize your class in January?

Literary Sherri

Literary Sherri TPT Super Cyber Sale December 1-2

Plan Now for a Brrr-illiant January was written by Literary Sherri.

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Winter and Christmas Brain Breaks

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If you are a teacher, no matter what age group, you will know the frustrations of the time leading up to the Christmas break! Yes, it is a time of festivities and excitement and these are the exact reasons for the frustrations. Teaching ANYTHING during this time is difficult challenging impossible. Students are so busy day dreaming about the magical happenings going on in The North Pole, or whether the marshmallow they left in their mom’s bed by accident constitutes as being “naughty” or whether or not to give Tommy a Christmas gift without it being too obvious of the feelings involved.

Winter and Christmas Brain Breaks

These last few weeks can give even the coolest, calmest and most collected teachers a few extra grey hairs. It’s not exactly the right thing to give in to the excitement and proclaim that the two weeks leading up to Christmas break is  “Movie Time,” (although I do know some teachers who did *frown*).

To help to prevent you from falling into ‘that’ group, I have compiled a list of fun Christmas/Winter brain breaks that can be used as soon as you see your students drifting off into a world of elves, tinsel and cookies.

These YouTube videos offer lots of fun with movement to music. To me there is nothing better that jumping up and moving to a catchy tune to get the blood pumping and the brain juices working! Have a look at the links provided below:
Just Dance Kids 2 – Jingle Bells is a simple yet effective dance routine for younger students. The same movements are repeated so students will catch on quickly.

Winter and Christmas Brain Breaks - Teaching 2 Step

The Dancing Christmas Tree is also perfect for young children. The words are simple and repetition gives students an opportunity to learn them quickly and easily to sing along with the movements.

The dancing Christmas Tree

Jingle Bell Dance. This version of Jingle Bells has such a catchy beat! Students will be very excited to jump up and join in the moves. I have to admit… my favorite part is “Weeeeee.”

Jingle Bells

Just Dance 3 Santa Clone is a more vigorous dance where students need to copy Santa’s dance moves. These moves are more complicated and vary quite a bit and change frequently so I would recommend it for slightly older students, maybe Upper Elementary. The movements are fun and not your average swaying of the arms. The dancing only starts 30 seconds into the 3 minute video, so you might want to avoid students standing around waiting for the dancing to start by forwarding to the exciting bit.

Santa Clone

Let’s not forget about The Sid Shuffle or Continental Drift. Sid, from Ice Age, talks students through his fun and energetic dance.

Sid Shuffle

I would recommend watching YouTube videos in Safe Share. This site requires you to paste the desired video URL onto their page in order to generate a safe, ad-free video. There is a grey frame around the video which blocks out surrounding images and videos. You can also still enlarge the screen to full screen mode.

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For those who don’t have facilities to show a video for a brain break or want to vary the activities, I also loved using this Snowball Fight brain break with my 5th graders, but it can be used for older students as well. This one does not involve following dance moves. I also used it as an informal assessment to check if students grasped the concept I was teaching (while they were thinking of presents and Christmas trees). This is how it works:

After completing an explanation, let’s use ‘properties of quadrilaterals’ as an example, have students draw a quadrilateral on one side of a page. Then on the other side they write down the properties of that quadrilateral. Students then scrunch the page into a “snowball.” I would then tell them to stand up and throw three “snowballs” at one another. Once they had done that (and had a good break) they would each pick up a “snowball,” flatten it out and then write down the properties of the shape on the page. It is a self correcting activity as the answers are on the back of the page.

I’m sure that you (yes, you should also get involved in the fun) and your students are going to love these little brain breaks and they make the time up until Christmas productive and frustration free!

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Gingerbread Man Activities

I love teaching using the Gingerbread Man! My kids in 2nd and 3rd have loved doing all these fun activities.

gingerbread man activities

One of the activities that I have done with my students is a Gingerbread Ornament made with cinnamon. This is so easy and make the whole room smell like cinnamon. The ingredients are cinnamon, applesauce, and glue. That’s it!

gingerbread ornament

These are not mine but click on the picture to take you to the link of how to make them.

Another fun activity that I did with my 2nd graders several years ago involved water, milk, and a gingerbread man cookie. This easy science experiment has kids really thinking why the Gingerbread Man can’t cross the river himself. We came up with reasons why he can’t get wet before doing the experiment. Then I stuck a gingerbread cookie in a glass of water and a glass of milk to see what would happen. Of course the cookies dissolved. This lead to a great discussion of why the cookie dissolves.

dissolving cookie

Click on the picture to see what a kindergarten class did with this Gingerbread Man.

I also love to have the students write their own version of the Gingerbread Man. I have them do a rough draft and then when they are ready the students write the final copy on Gingerbread Man  lined paper. They loved making these little books of their original stories.  You can download this free activity by clicking on the picture.


 I hope you enjoy these activities!


Sight Words: 4 Interactive, Fun Ideas

To type “sight words” into Pinterest will result in hundreds of ideas on how to teach this important subject. I have, however, got my own list of Sight Word activities which I love to use for remediation and practice…

Sight words

An active activity…
Treasure Hunt Sight Words is a lovely outdoor game. It can be done in the garden or on the school field. If the weather does not play along, the school gym would also work. I printed full sets of sight words onto different colored stockcard. (I use these for various other games as well – meaning the sets don’t get mixed up.) Decide on the desired words and take some from each colored pack (so you would have maybe 10 green, 10 yellow and 10 blue words – all of which are different, although, you might decide to have some words repeated but in different colors). Strategically hide these words around the garden. Students then need to race to find a word. Once a word is found, the student returns to the teacher and reads the word. They then need to complete a task in order to move on to find the next word. For example, if they return with a yellow card, they need to do walk to the wall with a bean bag on their head, if they return with a green card they need to hula with a Hula hoop and if they return with a blue card they need to bounce a ball on a racket three times. The aim is to get as many cards as possible.

Treasure hunt

This is such a fun, active activity which is sure to burn off some energy AND get the heart pumping!

A thinking activity…
Astronaut and Aliens: The aim is for Astronaut to try and catch Alien and Alien needs to avoid Astronaut. Astronaut rolls the die and reads the sight word at the top of the pile. If he gets it correct, he moves the number indicated on the die towards Alien. Alien, in turn, moves away from Astronaut when it is her turn to read and roll. Watch out though… there are obstacles along the way which need to be avoided!

Astronauts and Aliens

This is a great activity for thinking and planning as well as practicing sight words!  Click on the picture or here to download the game board for FREE.

A speedy activity…
Race Time is a fun, competitive game that can be played at home or in pairs in the classroom. Students have their own set of words, either those prescribed by the teacher to the whole class or a set of words suited to each individual’s needs. These words are then written in the race track with a dry wipe marker (if the race track is laminated it can be used a number of times with different words). A partner or parent then times the student, using a stopwatch, as they make their way through the words by reading them one at a time as fast as they can. As soon as they get to the end, and read the last word, the timer is stopped. The time is then recorded on the record sheet. The aim is to try to improve on the previous time. Set an attainable goal (time) for students to aim towards. Once this time has been achieved, the next set of words can be written on the board.  Grab this game for FREE by clicking here or on the image.

Race time


A drilling activity…
Stop by my store to for a Christmas Sight Word PowerPoint. This PowerPoint automatically flashes sight words in 1, 3 and 5 second intervals. It can be used as a whole class activity to drill the necessary sight words.



I’d love to know how your students took to these activities!

Margaux signature

Fifteen Fabulous Reasons to Use Quick Writes in Your Class!

Since this is my first post to this blog, let me start by saying I’m over-the-moon excited to hop aboard and join the two-step! I’m Sherri of “Literary Sherri” and I bring 22 years of teaching experience, mostly in Middle School English Language Arts, to this dance. photo

I’m especially passionate about literacy, so the vast majority of my contributions will be literacy-based. Posts such as this . . .

Are you using Quick Writes in your class?

WHAT: Quick Writes (a fancy way of saying, “We’re going to write a quick response to a writing prompt”) is a versatile literacy strategy used to develop writing fluency, build the habit of reflection into learning, and informally assess student thinking. Quick Writes prompt learners to respond in 10 minutes or less to a given prompt, then share their response with peers. (I try to give students 10 minutes to write on most days – but some days we can only spare 5-7 minutes. No worries – this is informal writing!)

WHY: I’ve done Quick Writes with my students for years and I really believe it’s one of the most important activities on our agenda! I learn so much about my students that I would never know otherwise. Their writing helps me get to know students on a more personal level, builds rapport, and fosters a nurturing and caring classroom environment! Quick Writes (when shared aloud) frequently prompt my students to laugh together, celebrate together, and offer support to one another with hugs, fist-bumps, or high-fives.

Quick Writes also help students think critically about significant issues and broaden their worldviews as they hear their peers’ viewpoints. The most important ideas are often the most difficult to articulate. Quick Writes help students learn to articulate their thoughts in a safe environment, knowing the content of their writing is not going to be criticized.

HOW: When students enter the classroom, the Writing Task Card of the day is displayed using a document projector. Students go directly to their seats, open their writing journals, and choose one of the prompts to write about. This allows the teacher to care for housekeeping items, such attendance, lunch orders, checking homework, etc. while students are actively engaged in a productive learning activity.

If I finish my housekeeping chores with time on the clock to write, I write in my own journal. Students love it when I join them on a Quick Write! So without further ado, here it is . . . Fifteen Fabulous Reasons to Use Quick Writes in Your Class:

Quick Writes

When used consistently, Quick Writes:

  • Help students brainstorm their thoughts
  • Activate prior knowledge
  • Help students make personal connections
  • Promote reflection
  • Foster critical thinking
  • Prepare students for discussion
  • Increase background knowledge
  • Broaden students’ worldviews (when shared)
  • Reinforce vocabulary and language development
  • Informally assess student knowledge about a given topic
  • Increase engagement in Think-Pair-Share activities
  • Increase writing fluency
  • Improve writing organization
  • Increase students’ confidence in their writing abilities
  • Develop skilled thinkers

Those are some pretty fabulous reasons to implement Quick Writes, yes?!? I’m in the process of developing Writing Prompts for secondary teachers to use as Quick Writes (meaning, I’ve finished 4 months and intend on having the rest of the months finished before each month rolls around!) If you’re interested, here’s a link to November’s writing prompts:

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Happy (Quick) Writing!
Literary Sherri


Fifteen Fabulous Reasons to Use Quick Writes in Your Class was written by Literary Sherri. If you enjoyed this post, connect with me on Bloglovin, FacebookPinterest, TSU, and TpT!


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Looking for a fun way to review for those end of the week tests or just want to do an informal assessment of how much information your students are really learning?  Well, Tic-Tac-Know is an easy and FUN way to do just that!!

In my gifted classes we do mini-studies on various topics.  For example, one of the most recent was on kaleidoscopes.  After we did our research and had some discussion.  Then, I wanted to see just how much they retained and really comprehended, so we “played” Tic-Tac-Know.

It’s really simple, but fun and effective.  I use painter’s tape to mark off a large, life-sized Tic-Tac-Toe board on our carpet.


I compile a list of questions about our current study or whatever we are reviewing.  Next, I divide my students into two teams (Team X and Team O.)

The teams stand, in rows, on opposite sides of the tic-tac-toe board.  We flip a coin to see which team goes first and I ask a question to the first person on that team.  If it is answered correctly, the person takes a spot on the game board.   X’s will stand and O’s will sit, so at a glance, we can see who’s who.  If the answer it incorrect, no one moves and I move on to the other team.  This continues until one team gets tic-tac-toe (3 in a row.)

This game of human tic-tac-know can be used with any subject and is an exciting way to review skills.

Some other ideas for Tic Tac Know could include:

  • reviewing math facts
  • comprehension questions about a book
  • reviewing antonyms/synonyms
  • homophones/homonyms review
  • stating facts and opinions

What’s your favorite way to review with your students?  Leave your answer in the comments, at the top of this post.

If you enjoyed this blog post, hop on over and follow me at my personal blog, Teaching with a Twist.

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October Bright Idea Blog Hop- Kid Friendly Halloween Food Ideas for Parties

October Bright Idea Blog Hop Kid Friendly Halloween Food Ideas

Welcome to the October Bright Idea Blog Hop. This Blog Hop is all about teaching tip and ideas. It is about inspiring educators with bright ideas. Today, I will be showing you five kid friendly food ideas that you can you use for a Halloween party or create in the classroom for a project. They are quick and easy ideas that require very little prep work and are a healthy fun treat. If your classroom is opting out of the sugar fun, these are some ideas that will still make the kids smile.


Devil Egg Eyeballs
Make your favorite devil egg recipe, dye the filling green. For these I did not dye them since my little ones wouldn’t eat them that way. Though, I imagine that will change as they get older. The olives are for the eyes. I sprinkled on paprika for more of an eye effect, again depending on their age with food coloring and a tooth pick you can draw in the veins and get a more realistic effect. What I like about devil eggs is that they are great for any holiday party, with many different alternatives.

Halloween devil eggs


Jello Molds Creepy Crawlers
Purchase Halloween jello molds and follow instructions as directed to create bite sized colorful treats. They are easy to make, and with a few boxes of different colored jello mix you have a nice set of creepy crawler that kids will eat.

Halloween jello spooky


Pizza Faces
Make homemade pizzas and allow children to decorate using pizza topping such as broccoli, mushrooms, pepperoni, and olives. It is something fun that can be done after first sketching out the faces then creating the face in a group. Afterwards students can write a quick summary of what what they used for each part of their pumpkin faces.

Halloween pizza face


  Pumpkin Vegetables
It is sometimes hard to get kids to eat their vegetables.  By putting together some of their favorite vegetables and creating a pumpkin it gives them a healthy snack to nibble on. Place the dip bowl next to the tray or you can use a small dip tray for the eyes or stem. You can also create a fruit pumpkin tray using oranges, strawberries, bananas and pears.  Both platters sound great for any party.

Halloween pumpkin carrots


 More vegetables!
Yes, how cool do they look with celery fingers coming out of a bowl with broccoli.  You can change this look up a bit by adding dip or another hand. It is simple enough where you can create it in a hurry and it still looks fun and creative.

Halloween witch fingers

Bright Idea Blog Hop Halloween Healthy Food Ideas for Kids

With these kid friendly foods you can inspire your students to create Halloween goodies that are not made of candy. We all love candy, yet I love how fun it is to sneak in healthy treats.

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For more Bright Ideas visit the links in this Blog Hop from Teaching in the Early Years. Choose the grade level/topic that interests you by selecting the InLinkz below. It will show you the links in this collection.

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