May 31, 2012

Writing Workshop: Conflict + Resolution

I love teaching all of the writing genres through Writing Workshop, but my favorite part of the year is Story Writing.  My kiddos write stories all year long when we aren't focusing on one of the Big Three genres (exp, narr, pers), but I like to take a few weeks in winter or sprint and spend some time working on writing quality stories--you know, that actually have a plot and don't end with "to be continued..."!  In reading some of the kiddos' writing this year, I decided that the most important thing for us to nail down in our stories was that they needed a clear conflict and resolution.  Sounds obvious, but I can't tell you how many stories I've read in my short time as a teacher that have neither.

During Day 1, I reviewed the term "conflict" with my students and pulled out a bunch of picture books and novels we'd already read together this school year.  Quickly, I held them up one at a time and had the kids identify what the main conflict had been in the book.  We also differentiated the difference between the "Big Conflict" that guides the plot, and smaller conflicts that make up the rising action.  For example, in My Rotten Red Headed Older Brother by Patricia Polacco, although during the story Tricia eats a bunch of sour rhubarb and falls off a merry go round, the main conflict is that she and her brother do not get along.  The kids did great with this, and we recorded several of the conflicts on an anchor chart.  Next, we brainstormed some possible conflicts to include in their writing.  I reiterated to them that a conflict isn't always a fight--it might be a big problem, it might be a little problem, or it might just be a goal.  Then, during Writing Workshop, I went around to each student and briefly (I mean BRIEFLY) checked in with them to ensure that their story had a clear conflict.  I recorded the title of their project and the conflict in my notebook.
On Day 2, we went back to those stories and the anchor chart and briefly identified how each conflict was resolved.  We added the resolutions to the anchor charts, and I checked in with students again to see if they had a plan to resolve their conflict.  If they did, I recorded it, and if not, I starred their name in my notebook to remind myself to check in again in a few days.  I always do writing conferences during Writing Workshop, but I always seem to "miss" a student or two...what I mean is, I completely forget to check in with them, either because they are writing in some weird corner of the room or because my hands are full with ultra needy students, until the end of the project only to find that they are completely off track.  This was so helpful for me, and by the end of the drafting stage, all of the kids had stories with a clear plot, including conflict and resolution.

Next time I do these lessons, I will also include a day on climax.  It's something we've discussed at length in shared and guided reading, but I never taught the kids to build a "hot spot" into their writing... #keepsinmindfornextyear...

May 30, 2012

What I'm Reading Wednesday

Since I had a few really positive responses to my "Book Love" post the other day, I decided to make reviews and recommendations of what I've been reading a weekly thing (for summer at least, when I can plow through 2 or more books a week most weeks!).  This week I've been continuing my love affair with teen author John Green.

Paper Towns by John Green
Summary from When Margo Roth Spiegelman beckons Quentin Jacobsen in the middle of the night - dressed like a ninja and plotting an ingenious campaign of revenge - he follows her. Margo's always planned extravagantly, and, until now, she's always planned solo. After a lifetime of loving Margo from afar, things are finally looking up for Q . . . until day breaks and she has vanished. Always an enigma, Margo has now become a mystery. But there are clues. And they're for Q. Printz Medalist John Green returns with the trademark brilliant wit and heart-stopping emotional honesty that have inspired a new generation of readers.

When I started Paper Towns, I had mixed feelings--honestly, it felt a little bit like a poor man's Looking for Alaska, another John Green Book.  The thing is, a lot of Green's characters are pretty darn...similar.  That is definitely the case in this book, but as I read on, I loved it nonetheless.  Because even though most of his books have the practically the same characters, I love those characters, so I love all of the books anyways.  I loved the questions the characters raised in this book (and all of Green's books) about why we are here and what friendship and love mean.  Definitely a captivating read.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
Summary from One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical.  Hilarious, poignant, and deeply insightful, John Green and David Levithan’s collaborative novel is brimming with a double helping of the heart and humor that have won both them both legions of faithful fans.

So when I realized that I had read all of the John Green books in existence, I was pretty bummed.  Then I found out that he coauthored this book with another teen author, David Levithan (author of Boy Meets Boy), so I checked it out and hoped it would be as good as its Green predecessors.  I was not disappointed.  The narrator in the book alternates every chapter between Will Grayson 1, a slightly shy resident of Evanston, IL who is learning about love, about himself, and how sometimes friendship is much deeper than enjoying hanging out with someone all of the time, and Will Grayson 2, a resident of Naperville, IL who is dealing with depression while coming to terms with his sexual orientation and learning many of the same lessons as Will Grayson 1.  At first, I was turned off by the Grayson 2 chapters (written by Levithan), and wanted to get through them quickly to get back to the Grayson 1 chapters (written by Green).  But midway through the book, I totally came to love both Will Graysons.  This book had many laugh out loud moments for me (mostly in the Grayson 2 chapters, which surprised me after their somewhat emo beginning!). Ended up totally loving this one too, even loving the contrast between the two narrators.  Another quick read!

All cover pictures and italicized summaries courtesy of, my favorite book website!

What are you reading this week?

May 29, 2012

Triathlon Training Tuesdays: Bricks & Race Clothes

My first tri is right around the corner (T minus 12 days away...eek!), and I realized that while I've been training for it for several weeks, I haven't really talked much about any of the specifics of my training on the blog except to share that I am generally terrified about the race.  That being said, I must not be TOO terrified because I have already picked out Tri #2: The Danskin Women's Triathlon in Pleasant Prairie, WI on August 26th.  As I will be starting the summer with a triathlon and wrapping it up with a second, I've dubbed this "The Summer of the Triathlon," and decided I would take you guys along for the ride with me with weekly tri training recaps aka "Triathlon Training Tuesdays."  Get it? :)  Hopefully this summer will involve posts that are more actual training recaps and less me bemonaing yet another new injury...oh last summer... (< -- That being said, I am still me, so don't worry, you can count on me to complain about my IT bands at least a little bit.)
Since my tri is less than two weeks away, I am well into doing brick workouts on the weekends.  A brick (from my limited understanding) is when you swim, bike, and run (in that order) with minimal down time between them.  I was super nervous before my first brick a few weeks ago, but it turns out I actually kind of like them!  With a long run, when you first start out you know that there are MILES and MILES stretching ahead of you.  Don't get me wrong, I totally love that (most of the time...), but it can be a bit overwhelming.  With a swim/bike/run workout, yes, when you first start out there are THREE sports ahead of you, but I just stay focused on getting through the sport I'm doing NOW, then transitioning, then the next, etc.  In other words, my mind stays busy. :)
My gym is just a few miles from my apartment building, and lucky for me there is actually a bike path that takes me there, so I've been biking to the gym for my bricks, locking up my bike, then swimming in the pool.  Afterwards, I do my best to dry off quickly, pull on my shoes and helmet, and head out to retrieve my bike.  I bike around the nearby bike paths for however long my training plan calls for before heading back to my apartment building where I stash the bike in the trunk of my car, swap my helmet for a running hat, and hit the trail again running.  No, it's not exactly how it will be on race day, but my body is getting the hang of transitioning between sports--and I have to say, I'm a huge fan of running with wet hair and a damp sports bra, as it turns out.  Nice and cool.  :)

Yesterday I celebrated my memorial day with a swim/bike brick, opting to give my legs another day of rest after the Soldier Field 10.  I decided it was about time, though, that I try swimming in a pair of my tri shorts. I know it's dumb, but I've been hesitant to try them out in the pool because I've been worried I'd look silly swimming in shorts.  I know, I know, who cares, right?  It's more important that I know I CAN swim in the shorts come race day than how I look!
Dripping all over the sidewalk as I unlock my bike post-swim...
It turns out that choosing a race outfit is actually a really big ordeal when it comes to triathlons, at least for me.  I have clothes I like to run in, bike in, and swim in, but finding something I can do ALL THREE in has proved...challenging.  I knew I wanted to wear tri shorts because I didn't want to deal with a bathing suit and knew trying to run with bikini bottoms under my running shorts would be a chafing disaster, but FINDING a pair of tri shorts that I actually like has been kind of an issue...  I have tried four different pairs, two of which I nixed almost immediately.  Of the remaining two, one is great for biking but the chamois rubs my legs a little bit uncomfortably when running.  The other is decent for both, but less comfortable overall than the first.  I am hoping that a little body glide in the right places will make the first pair running friendly, but up until this weekend hadn't tried either on a swim.  This week, I tried out Skirt Sports 5-inch Tri Bottoms.
 After all my silly concerns about wearing tri shorts at the pool (I know, SO dumb), it was totally no big deal.  It felt a little weird to swim in shorts tho!  They stayed in place completely the whole swim without me needing to adjust them, thanks to these little grippers around the thighs and waist.  The only weird thing was getting used to the drag feeling in the front panel/crotch.  I'm sure if I had a tighter pair there would be less drag, but I would much rather feel a little drag in the swim than have to run and bike in an uncomfortably tight pair of shorts!!  Hate the feeling of tight clothes when I'm running!
The shorts also have two nifty side pockets that are the perfect size for gu:
I swam about 900 yds this morning, just over my tri swim distance, then hurried to do a quick locker room transition: squeeze water out of hair, wipe excessive water off body, socks, shirt, shoes, gloves, helmet, DONE!
Ready to bike!
I biked for about an hour then, although I don't know how far I went because I wasn't wearing my garmin.  All I know is that by the end, I was ready to collapse on my living room floor with chocolate milk:
My legs were definitely still recovering from Saturday's race!  All in all, a successful brick!  Here's hoping I somehow have the strength to run a 5K after that in a couple of weeks!! :)

May 28, 2012

Race Recap: Soldier Field 10 Mile

Saturday morning, against my better judgment, I ran the Soldier Field 10 Mile!  This awesome race was along Lake Michigan and finished on the 50 yd line in Soldier Field, where the Chicago Bears play.  :)
I'd been looking forward to the race for months, but in the past few weeks, I convinced myself it was going to be nothing short of a complete train wreck because 1. my IT bands have still not recovered from the Kentucky Derby Half Marathon, causing me to 2. not run a single distance over 5 miles in the past month and 3. quit multiple runs at 3 miles because of bad IT band-induced knee pain.  Oh, and the weather forecast was predicting temperatures in the upper 80s.  In my anxiety brain, all of this was bound to equal 1 thing...DISASTER.

Luckily, the anxiety world my brain likes to live in does not control the events that happen in the real world.  Saturday morning, instead of waking up to a scorching sun, I woke up to drizzle, clouds, and cool wind.  Not ideal weather for lying at the beach, but I'll take it on race day!  In an attempt to stay positive and either convince my ITBs to loosen up or my brain to ignore pain receptors for a couple hours, I kept repeating to myself, "It will be fine, it will be okay, it will be fine, you are fine, you are okay..." If we're being completely honest here, I'm sure I said the words out loud a couple of times during the race...I support the "I can't be responsible for things said after 5 miles of running" belief!

The course was awesome.  We started just outside Soldier Field stadium in Chicago and ran down Lake Shore Drive and the lakefront path for pretty much the entire race. Even though there were some pretty strong winds coming off the lake at a few points, it was definitely worth it for the view.  You can't beat a Chicago race. :)  After 3 miles, my left knee was feeling that familiar IT band pain...I forced myself to stay calm, repeated, "it will be fine" about 100 times, stretched, and kept moving.  I ended up stopping to stretch again at 5 and 7 miles, and by the grace of the running gods, managed to finish the race with a few strong and pain free final miles!  There is nothing like running into a stadium, through a tunnel, and onto a professional football field to get the adrenaline pumping--needless to say, I ended the race with a strong sprint across the finish line and negative splits.  My finishing time was 1:57:18.  All things considered, I was definitely happy with it, since I told my parents beforehand that there was a strong possibility I'd be the last runner and crawling across the finish...I know, dramatic as always.  (BTW, isn't it a bummer that the clock doesn't actually stop during a race when I stop to stretch like my Garmin pauses during training runs?)
Seriously, I don't even LIKE football and I still think it's awesome to finish on the 50 yd line!
(No, this isn't a finish line picture of me, but you get the idea.)

After plenty of confusion and wandering around the inside of the stadium and around the grounds, I collapsed in the Runner Reunite area, where Dad found me half an hour later...
I have to say, after 4 weeks of less-than-intense running, plenty of IT band pain, and 10 miles, my legs felt surprisingly good after this race!  Yes, my ITBs were super tight not exactly HAPPY with me, but they have definitely felt WAY worse.  My feeling after both this race and the Derby Half were soooo much better than how I felt last year when I finished the Princess Half Marathon and could barely even get on and off the shuttle bus or walk to the hotel room.  I'd say this is a promising start to the year.  Hopefully 2012 continues like this, but with even less pain. ;)  (It had better, because in less than TWO WEEKS, I'm doing a freaking triathlon...god help me...)
All in all, a fun race that I will definitely put on my calendar for next Spring!

May 26, 2012

Book Love

It's been forever!  While I thought once my job hunt ended I would have *loads* of free time (translation: seriously next to no free time still, but significantly more free time than during the epic job hunt), I quickly managed to fill up that time with one of my absolute favorite things in the world:
Books. :)
And no, I don't mean the books I'm supposed to be reading for my reading masters program...don't be silly.  I'm talking about young adult/teen fiction, duh!  I absolutely adore reading to the point where my attachment to characters is almost a bit much.  (You should have seen me when Harry Potter ended...)  
Tell me I'm not alone...

Every summer I read almost constantly, but this fall with the crazy stress that came along with the big changes in my school, reading fell completely onto the back burner.   (Which for me means just one book a month...)  Around Christmas I decided that stress aside, I was making time for reading in my life no matter what!  And then in the past few months, I have gone completely book crazy, finishing one a week, or more sometimes.  (In fact, I'm a tiny bit concerned about the fact that reading on my balcony has become a regular weekend evening event...seriously, I am 25 going on 50...)  
Stack of library books/loaners from friends that I'm currently working through...

Anyways, in my absolute reading frenzy, I have discovered so many wonderful titles and authors that I wanted to share.  Don't worry, they are exclusively from the Teen shelf at the library...(all cover photographs and italicized summaries courtesy of

Looking for Alaska by John Green
John Green is without a doubt my current favorite author.  He is fantastic.  I picked up Looking for Alaska at the library per a friend's recommendation and devoured it.  From Miles Halter is fascinated by famous last words and tired of his safe life at home. He leaves for boarding school to seek what the dying poet Francois Rabelais called the "Great Perhaps." Much awaits Miles at Culver Creek, including Alaska Young. Clever, funny, screwed-up, and dead sexy, Alaska will pull Miles into her labyrinth and catapult him into the Great Perhaps. Looking for Alaska brilliantly chronicles the indelible impact one life can have on another.  It's a coming of age story with just enough seriousness to make it meaningful, humor to make it fun, and intellectual questions to make you really think about life and friendship.  Loved every page.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
After completely adoring Looking for Alaska, I put my name on the hold list at the library for John Green's newest book, The Fault in Our Stars, hoping it would be as good as my first Green experience.  I was so not disappointed.  From Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs... for now.  Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.   Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

As the protagonist is living with terminal cancer, this book has a more serious premise than LFA, but again John Green finds a way to pepper wit and humor throughout the story.  That being said, I sobbed for a good 60 pages.  I'm talking audible, nose blowing, pausing reading only to get more kleenex, weeping.  Here's the thing though--I wasn't weeping because this book was sadder than any other "cancer" book by Sparks or Picoult...those aren't really my scene.  I was bawling because I came to ADORE and care about the characters SO MUCH that I truly felt their losses!  If that's not the mark of a beautifully crafted novel, I don't know what is.  

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
From What if you only had one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?  Samantha Kingston has it all: looks, popularity, the perfect boyfriend. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life. Instead, it turns out to be her last.  The catch: Samantha still wakes up the next morning. Living the last day of her life seven times during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death—and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing.

I fell in love with Lauren Oliver when I read her dystopian romance, Delirium last summer (see below!!).  This book was totally different, but equally amazing.  In the first few chapters, Samantha isn't even really likable, and neither are her "popular" friends.  But as she relives her last day over and over, she grows and changes, gradually figuring out how much more there is to life than parties and shopping, and eventually coming to understand that both her life and death have a greater purpose.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
From Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers thirteen cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, his classmate and crush who committed suicide two weeks earlier.  On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he'll find out how he made the list.

This book was, in a word, captivating.  My first thought was, what a depressing concept.  But this book is so much more than that.  I loved the way the story was told with almost two narrators--Clay, telling the story, and Hannah, whose voice we hear through the tapes.  I think this one is a must read for those who work with kids, especially teens, because it examines suicide and the events that might lead a teen to contemplate suicide in a different light.  Sad, but beautiful.

Okay, that's all the time I have for pictures and summaries, but here are a few more titles to add to your summer reads list... :)

If you are looking for a sweet, fun teen love story, check out Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins and The Summer I Turned Pretty Trilogy by Jenny Han.  (No Fifty Shades of Grey material here, just a few good old fashioned boy-meets-girl, drama ensues, boy-gets-girl-aww stories.)

And if you are still going through Hunger Games withdrawls, definitely add some of these teen dystopian fiction books to your pile.  No, nothing can ever measure up to the wonder that is Hunger Games, but some of these come pretty close! (Of course, all of them are part of trilogies...)
Divergent and Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Matched and Crossed by Allie Condie
Delirium and Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
Birthmarked and Prized by Caragh O'Brien
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

What's on your Summer Reading List?
What awesome books do I need to add to mine? 

May 12, 2012

Being Fearless: Triathlon Edition

I have this sign taped onto the mirror in my bedroom, directly across from my bed, and when I am falling asleep, waking up, or getting ready for school, I read its simple message to remind myself...
I have a bunch of goals for 2012, but some need more encouragement than others.  For example, I rarely find myself shaking in my boots, terrified about my goal to "Use exit slips weekly in literacy and math."  On the other hand, "Triathlon" is a goal that PETRIFIES me.  What petrifies me even more than the idea of a triathlon, though, is the fact that I am registered for one that takes place, wait for it, four measly weeks from tomorrow!  YIKES!  Worse than that even is the fact that I really just started training with triathlon in mind last week.  Before that, I swam and biked from time to time as cross training, but my focus was on the Kentucky Derby Half-Marathon...and suddenly here we are, weeks away from the tri.  Dear god.

That's where the fourth goal on my mirror comes in: "BE FEARLESS."  It is the most important goal on that list, and the one the other three depend on.  How many times have I sabotaged myself, in running and in life, by letting Doubt and Fear and Anxiety come to call?  I ran for years before even letting myself register for a 5K, too afraid I wouldn't be as good as the other runners or would be walking more.  Fear can be such a pesky yet persuasive little voice...More and more, though, I think that with every finish line I cross, Fear gets pounded a little more into the ground.  Obviously I'm not nervous about 5Ks anymore like I once was!  You  better believe, though, that I was scared like crazy when I lined up for both my first and second half-marathons.  Having dragged myself through two now, though, I think I've shown Fear who's boss a little bit more.  And so, it's on to another goal.

I don't know about you, but I don't feel *alive* unless I'm chasing after one dream or another.  How lucky for us as runners that there is always a new dream to chase--a new PR, a new distance, or right now, a new event all together.  With each new goal, with each new accomplishment, I feel like I'm sending a powerful message to Fear--I am strong.  The hard part, though, is to keep Fear silent during the training--the preparation, the endless hours working towards that goal that seems so far away and lofty and impossible.  "Can I really do this?  Can I really make it?"  It's easy to feel brave on the other side of the finish line looking back, but so much harder from where I'm standing right now, looking at my training plan and realizing how few weeks there are left, how fast time is passing.  
Consider this my personal declaration that I will NOT allow fear to poison my triathlon training and experience, or my pursuit of my other goals.  And so, from now on I am committing to CONFIDENCE, to FEARLESSNESS, to BEING BOLD, and to never for a second falling victim to the poisons of doubt, fear, and self-deprecation.  I CAN do this, I WILL do this--whether it's my brick workout tomorrow morning, my triathlon in a couple weeks, or the goal I take on after that...there's just no room for Fear in the picture.

How do you stay Fearless?

May 9, 2012

Writing in the Content Areas: Social Studies (oh, and vote for me!)

You want to know what one of my absolute favorite things is?  When you are teaching a lesson and the students get SO excited about the topic/concept/whatever that it evolves into something much bigger than you'd planned.  Our pacing/plans are so regimented in my building that I have very little flexibility to change things up in response to students' interests and questions, but I managed to do a little of that in social studies last month.  Let me tell you, it was SO WORTH IT.

Let me back up...awhile back we were reading about the first colonial settlements in our social studies text (Roanoke, Jamestown, and Plymouth), and my kiddos were absolutely FASCINATED by Roanoke and the mysterious disappearance of the early settlers.  To tell you the truth, I was pretty fascinated along with them and was quick to indulge when the kiddos begged to hear more about the settlement.  Since no one is breathing down my neck about pacing and scope/sequence of my social studies instruction, I figured if the kids were at least showing a PULSE about a topic, why not stretch it out and explore it a little deeper?  (Who can resist when kiddos get excited about learning...)

On our second day, I introduced the words "speculations" and "evidence" to the kids.  We talked about how there is SOME evidence from Roanoke, and many speculations, but not even historians know for sure what happened to the settlers.  (This seriously baffled them.  At first they seemed to think I was hiding the truth from them.  They thought it was pretty cool that they were thinking of answers to a question that even historians hadn't solved!)  We watched a short United Streaming video clip, then I read aloud this awesome book:
While I was reading and during the video clip, students took notes in a T-Chart in their learning logs.  The left column was to record evidence we know for sure, and the right their own speculations. After reading and taking notes (with plenty of discussion throughout!), students got into groups and shared their Roanoke theories, adding to their T-Charts.  We then came back together as a full class and created a class anchor chart with our evidence and theories.  I told the kiddos that their theories could be as realistic or bizarre as they wanted, but they all had to be based on SOME evidence.  Needless to say, some of my 5th graders got REALLY creative...
Then comes my favorite part.  Each kiddo chose a theory that they liked best and wrote a story to explain it.  A few chose to explain in an expository format, but several wrote completely awesome journal entries from the points of view of Roanoke settlers.
They turned out fabulously!  Some theories were completely crazy, including bands of pirates and underground settlements, others went so far as to explain how the carving of the word "CROATOAN" was really an anagram for the settlers' TRUE location...all in all, super creative and amazing.  And even though the stories were fictional, all of the students included true facts about Roanoke, so it was a great learning opportunity.  I absolutely loved this assignment and would have dragged out Roanoke even more if I could have, but eventually I figured that I should probably try to squeeze in other important history topics before the end of the know, like slavery or the American Revolution or something like that... :)  But what can I say, kids' getting excited about learning is like crack for this teacher.  LOVE IT!

Are you able to connect your content areas to literacy?  With our structured literacy series, it's tough, but every now and them I try to bridge social studies and writing workshop.  Sometimes it works better than others though!! :)

Accelerated Degree Programs

Oh, and I just found out my blog was nominated for a Fascination Award!  Stop by and vote for me by clicking on the emblem on the side of my blog!  I'll be your best friend... ;)
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