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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Conversation Skills for monosyllable responders

Do you have any monosyllable responders in your class? If you get 3 words out of them it's cause for celebration!

I have found it is hard to build a relationship with a student who won't talk!

Well, this summer I have finally found a technique for overcoming the monosyllable response. I am participating in an intercambio with a 19 year old university student. (An intercambio is where you have a conversation partner in another language. For the first half of the time you talk in language 1, then for the second half of the time you talk in language 2.)


This is what our first conversations were like:

Me: What sports do you like?
Him: Soccer
Me: Tell me more
Him: lots of silence . . . I like to play it with my friends.

At first I wasn't sure if his English level was really low, and he needed more help with sentence frames. That was not the case. This was just his conversational style. Then I thought - maybe he just doesn't like me as his conversational partner? Maybe he would prefer someone more his age, into sports etc.  No, he preferred to stay with me as his teacher.

Finally I stopped and tried something totally different. I explained to him about how to have a conversation.



                         Conversation Frame
  • I ask a question.
  • You answer in 2 - 3 sentences.
  • You ask me a question related to the topic.
  • I answer in 2-3 sentences.


It was like a light was turned on, and suddenly the conversation was flowing. We had an amazing conversation about soccer, going to the gym, what he is studying in school etc. While I thought he was uninterested, it turned out he just lacked some basic conversation skills.

Maybe you have students like this? Somehow they have gone through life and not picked up on the unspoken rules of conversations. Sometimes what appears to be a lack of motivation is really a skills deficit.

See what happens if you make those unspoken rules clear!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Guest blogger: Slow summer

It's crazy how early one can start to feel competitive with other parents or families, because so and so is already a soccer whiz or someone else is already a junior black belt or whatever.  Even before we had kids, we didn't want to over-schedule them, but we didn't realize how difficult a line that would be to walk.

We've arrived at having them take one class at a time and having the rest of their activities be with us or playdates with their little friends.  But, especially in the summer, it's hard to know when to sign up for stuff and when to hold off.

There are about a million camps and classes and experiences that they could have, and that many of their friends are having, and part of me thinks that maybe we should enroll them in a bunch of camps and classes and whatever else....but a larger part of me craves just slowing down this summer.

I won't lie - Mateo is taking a little gymnastics class this coming week, is enrolled in a weeklong morning nature camp in August, and both kids are taking three days of morning summer camp at their preschool right before school starts - but other than those things and our upcoming family reunion, we are wide open to whatever comes our way.

It is lovely to just have a summer and no plans to speak of except for travel.  We can wake up in the morning and do whatever we decide to do.  The type-A part of me is a bit freaked out by so much unplanned time and what will we do with it all, but the rest of me is reveling in it.  These days are a rare and special time, while Rosa is still a baby and Sacha has yet to return to work. We are so lucky to be in the middle of five months of Sacha being at home and being a family of five together. 

We'll be busy again soon enough, with everyone running around and doing this and that, but not quite yet.   For now, we are busy with things like picking berries in our neighborhood, making marble mazes, playing outside when the sun actually comes out, making impromptu trips to our local cupcake and ice cream stores (yes, we have both within walking distance, plus a frozen yogurt place and about a zillion restaurants.  It's an embarassment of riches!), going to the farmer's market, checking out a new church, and spending time as a family.  (And agonizing over the short sale from hell, but that's another story.)

And, sometimes, being bored.  After all, what's summer without a little boredom and not knowing what to do with yourself?  Sacha told me that it actually has been shown to increase creativity or something like that.  See, a scientific basis for our low-key summer days!  I say, bring on the open calendar and I'm sure we'll have fun with whatever we end up doing with it.

Guest Blogger: Alayna Luria

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Imagine this . . .

Imagine this . . . you finish teaching your day at school. The students have left. You've talked with some colleagues, spend some time planning. You're about to leave school at the time your contract says you should leave school, when you go over to the copy machine. (What? The copy machine? I'll explain. . .)

Before you stop and think that this is a crazy tale of what could happen in the future, it is not

This blog post describes things I do in real life.

Here we are back at the copy machine. You have a bunch of papers. Here is your thought process:

  • Ok, these are the papers I need graded for tomorrow. You make a note on the top of the papers and include the scoring guide. "Please grade these by tomorrow at 8 am."
  • This is a letter I need typed up. I need it by this Friday. You write that on a page that has an outline.
  • Here are some vocabulary words my students are going to be learning in the next unit. You write a note on that paper, "Would you find an image for each of these words and then make a visual dictionary that has the image, a sentence, the definition and the word. I need that by next Monday please."

You feed all of the papers in the top of the copy machine. You scan and email them to your virtual assistant in another country. She is an education major in her country. While you go home and you sleep, it is her day. She is working on your assignments. They will be ready when you arrive at school tomorrow.

You are actually helping her out. She is a small business owner. Because of the exchange rate, and the economy, you are able to pay her $3 an hour. She sets the price. (Some people charge less, some people a bit more . . .)

You go home early and have lots of energy to hang out with your family. You spend your working time making more engaging lesson plans, really analyzing student papers to improve your teaching, and taking classes after school (which the district pays for . . . and now that you've freed up 5 hours a week, you have time to take). You are less stressed, and are a better teacher at the same time.

Here is an example of some science vocabulary words I wanted her to create visuals for. I used academic language words, because we know that makes such a big difference in long term achievement for ELL students. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1jBajihLkuXOYwsY6fGjVetVso_Tqn9qzu3lZi5o-2ds/edit?hl=en_US

You actually earn more money, while being less stressed!

How can that be?

Virtual assistant - 5 hours of grading a week (@$3 and hour) x 4 weeks a month = $60 a month

Additional Classes - 1 day a month, you attend some extra PD offered by your school district for a few hours. You need 2 hours to break even - but you are saving 20 hours! (2 hr @ $30 an hour x 1 time per month = $60)

It is time you started working smarter, not harder!

Would you like more details on how to set up your own Virtual Assistant? I am happy to share the details to anyone who is interested in learning more. Please give me your email and I will send you some more information about having your own personal assistant.






Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What to do when the kids are doing well . . .

When is "good" fabulous?

So often, I focus on what I can improve.

Are you always thinking about what could be done a little bit differently? how you could be doing better?

Your students are sitting quietly and working with a partner. They are engaged. They are smiling and learning with a partner. They are using a whisper voice, they are on task, they are doing very well working cooperatively.

Do you have this voice that says, "Have you thought about trying ____?" 

I notice that I focus on what I can improve with my own children too. I have three lovely children - Rosa, who just turned 13 weeks old, Natalia, who just turned 3 years old, and Mateo, who is 4 1/2. Summer time is wonderful. I get to spend all of my time with my favorite children. (Of course I love my students too!)

Yesterday I was hanging out with them at a local children's museum. They were playing grocery and having a blast counting different fruits. They were weighing them on a pretend scale. Everything was going so smoothly. Then I had this great idea. They could pretend to bag the groceries and deliver them to people. . .

And then I remembered, when the kids are doing well, sometimes the worst thing you can do is make it "better."

I let them play and just relaxed. We ended up having a lovely time at the museum. We played with blocks, played groceries, made a fort and just played. Sometimes I joined in their games, sometimes I just observed with interest, sometimes I read a book.

There are plenty of times when good is fabulous!

Where in your home, or in your life are things good enough? 

How about summer work.

Do you plan on spending much of August getting read for the school year? If you are like most teachers, you do spend some time in August making plans. Hopefully you find much of this time enjoyable. You are excited about the year to come.

  • How perfect do you make those plans? 
  • Do you spend a ton of time making bulletin boards that must a step above "good enough?" 
  • Where could you let yourself be "good enough?"

What about your children
  • If you have children and a partner, do you let your spouse take care of them? 
  • Do you feel the need to correct his or her performance? 
  • Do the dishes have to be unloaded in the perfect way? 
  • The bed story read in the "right" way. 
  • Where should you let things just be "good" in your life?

Your Do Now (I'm sure you use these. Don't skip this!)
  1. Say in your head or out loud what you are doing. 
  2. After that, make a small change. One that you can do in 5 minutes or less. (If it will take more than 5 min., break it down. Now do that 5 min. step.)
  3. Make that change now and  and then . . .
  4. Let us know how it went!

Go from stress to success!

Share with other people one change you are willing to make or something you noticed about yourself. You will help out other people while helping yourself. When you write things down, you are more likely to make lasting change.  Please leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

I want to be a basketball player!

Do you have students that want to be a basketball player or a football player. They say things like, "Why do I have to learn this?" 

  • You have a hard time engaging them in learning to read and write.
  • You've tried the lecture. You've tried telling them about how unlikely it is that they will succeed. 
  • How do you get them interested in school and learning?

Here is a "Rafael story" just for those students. Feel free to change and make it your own story!




Many years ago there were two athletic, strong boys. They wanted to be basketball players. Their names were Abdi and DeShawn. They were both got ok grades. Sometimes Abdi and DeShawn met, sometimes they were close to meeting.

Abdi and DeShawn were starting 4th grade. Both of them had dreams. They both wanted to become basketball players one day. Both of them loved basketball. They both wanted to become professional players on a team.

Every recess they played basketball together. After school, they stayed at the courts and played some more. This, though, is where the similarity ends.

You see, Abdi wanted to be a basketball player. He decided that he needed a plan. All successful people have plans.

He went to his teacher and asked her, “What can I do to become a basketball player?”

He asked the gym teacher, “What can I do to become a basketball player?”

He asked the librarian, “What can I do to become a basketball player?”

They all said, most likely you will not become a professional player. Almost no one becomes a basketball player. Maybe you want to think about something else.

Abdi said, “I know, but what can I do to try anyway? Basketball is my love.”

His teacher said, “Well, you need to make sure you get good grades and ask for help when you don't understand. Stay after school if you need more help. Make sure you can get a basketball scholarship for college.”

Abdi's gym teacher said, “You need to practice 10,000 hours by the time you are 20. I know that's a big number. Just remember, this means you need to practice 2 to 3 hours every single day from now on.”

Abdi's librarian said, “You should read about basketball and famous players every single day. Do it for your reading homework and for fun. Make sure you read 30 minutes a day, so you learn how to become a great player, and have the reading skills to get a college scholarship.”

DeShawn did not have a plan. He just played at recess and after school. He sometimes did his homework. He sometimes didn't get to go to recess because he didn't turn in his homework. He sometimes missed playing at recess because he got in trouble in class. He didn't really like to read that much. Playing basketball was more fun. So he didn't do much reading outside of class.

Abdi worked his plan. Every day he asked his teacher for help if he didn't understand something. If she didn't have time in class, he would ask her after school. He read about famous basketball players for 30 minutes every day. He did his homework, so he could practice during recess. He didn't get in trouble, so he could practice during recess. He practiced after school and asked the gym teacher to give him pointers.

DeShawn didn't have a plan. By high school his grades were so low that he couldn't joining the basketball team. He eventually dropped out of high school. He doesn't have a job, but he likes watching basketball on TV. He just wishes he could find a job.

Abdi worked his plan. He kept his grades up and joined the high school team. He kept on practicing 2-3 hours a day and asked for help. He got a scholarship to go to college, where he practiced more each day. He kept his grades up so he did not have to pay for college.
When it came the day of the draft, Abdi was not chosen for any team. He didn't let that get him down. You see, he had a plan for if that happened. After reading so many books about basketball, he knew that teams need all kinds of professionals.

Abdi always had a back up plan. If he couldn't become a star, he would work with the star players. He became a physical trainer, and now works with professional basketball players that have injuries. He gets to talk with them every day. He gets to play basketball with the star players to help them get better. He earns a lot of money because of all of his hard work.

Abdi gets to play basketball every day and do what he loves. He helps hurt basketball players get back on the court and back into the game!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Results with special education students

I find that one area my special ed. students really struggle is in the area of writing. It can be very difficult to teach special needs students to write clear, organized stories and essays.


  • You have a large classroom
  • You have more special education students than just one person can really help
  • Plus, you have the rest of your students


It can be really overwhelming, but your special education students can become great writers! It does take work on your part, but it is possible for you to really help your students.



I have started using general patterns to teach sentence and paragraph writing. I didn't start here. I started following the curriculum and using the worksheets. (It kept them quiet, but they weren't learning anything.)

Have you tried worksheets? You have probably figured out what researchers have learned. Worksheets do almost nothing to increase writing skills. Worksheets and Daily Oral Language actually increase errors!


  • So, how do you teach writing?
  • By showing students examples of mistakes, or models of writing that works?

You should show students models of what works. You don't teach your students to read by showing them the letter A and then saying, that is not "B." Make sure you don't say "b" when you see this letter!


  • If this doesn't work, what does work? 
  • How do you really model good writing?

I have also started using more recorded lessons (I video tape myself) with my special ed students, so they can listen to the assignment more than one time, or pause me when they need more time to process.

I am then freed to walk around the classroom and offer personalized assistance as "I" am teaching the class with the pre-recorded video.

Here is an example of one of the intermediate videos I use with my students:



Would you like to learn more?

Would you like more examples of how to model writing, including the first videos I use with my students?



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The videos are not perfect, nor are they professionally created. If you are looking for something really polished, this is not it. 

On the other hand the videos will give you ideas that you can use in your classroom.
 







Organizing your classroom library

Is your classroom library difficult for your students to organize? If they are not able to keep it organized, it needs to be simplified. You have too much work to also be organizing the classroom library! Your time is much better spent creating engaging lessons for your students.

So, how to make a system that is easy enough for your students to organize?

It will take about an hour on your part. And that hour will be the last time your organize your books! Find a time when you have some students who want to help you. It might be lunch or after school one day.

Take all of your books and start putting them in piles. Sort non-fiction and fiction. Then, start taking the groups and sorting them into smaller and smaller groups. If you have a bunch of titles from an author, make that a group.

Once you finish with your groups, you should have about 5 to 15 books in most piles. You are now ready to use your student helpers.

Take some of the colored dots and hand them out to each student helper. They are to write the same number on the dot 20 times. (20 #1's, 20 #2's etc.) You then assign a number to each pile. The number does not matter!

Show the students exactly where you want the number placed on each book. They then place the number on the books for each pile. Place each completed pile in its own basket. Label the basket with the number and the topic.

You also should have the students share their basket with the class. Why? Because they are not very invested that those books stay organized!

I have the students place them cover facing forward in book bins. I use book bins so the cover of the books are facing out. I do this for the same reason cereals face out in the grocery store- it sells the book!

Now the bins each have the number and the topic. It is now easy for the books to stay organized!

This is just one simple thing that you learn in my class on The Daily 5 and Cafe! If you want to learn more, I would love to have you as a student. You will earn 3 graduate credits through the course.

If you just want to earn some credits without doing any thinking, then you might want to look elsewhere. The classes are not busywork, but applying what you learn to your own classroom.

Click here to learn more about these classes: The Daily 5 and Cafe.

Friday, July 8, 2011

If it has a dependent clause, it needs a comma!

I have noticed that many of my students have a difficult time with putting commas in their complex sentences. They just don't seem to know when a sentence needs a comma. It doesn't do them much good to read the sentence out loud. If English is your second language, or you talk non-standard English at home, reading and listening for the pause just doesn't work.

Here is my solution from the book Everyday Editing, and a short video you can use with your students. As I've said before, I don't use the video to teach the concept the first time. The videos are used as a review for those students who need to hear me an extra time, but in a different way.

What do students say about the videos?
  • I love that you can pause Ms. L and have her repeat herself.
  • I don't feel embarrassed if I have to listen to a video 2 or 3 times.
  • The video doesn't mind if I forgot something that Ms. L taught a few days ago.
  • When I'm sick I don't fall behind in school.
  • I can listen to Ms. L when I am doing my homework and out of school.

My story

My name is Sacha Luria, and my biggest pleasure is helping teachers, like you, really make a difference in students' lives! Ten years ago, though, I felt like a total failure. I had graduated from college. I had been selected by Teach For America to work in a low-income school.

After two weeks of training, I had my first day of full-time teaching. 

It was a disaster. 

You have had days like this too! You feel overworked. Your class sizes are too large. Too many students are disengaged. Your students are not on task. You wonder why they don't get it. You feel frustrated. You have too many students to teach. You work hard, and don't hear anything positive about all of the work you put into teaching.

My class was large. I had no aide or parent volunteers. These were students who had failed the year before, and they were all in the same class. They were not engaged. A few students ran around the room like it was gym class (not reading class). They talked about everything except the lesson. It was pure chaos.

My supervising teacher took me aside at the end of the day and said, “We have to talk.”

Uh-oh!” Those are words you never want to hear.

It was all bad enough that in the talk my supervisor let me know that I really might not be cut out to be a teacher. Maybe I should consider a different career. I couldn't get the students to sit down, much less learn how to read and write! 

Have you had days where you wonder if this is the right job? You know that you love children, but you have so much to do. You love teaching, but you feel overworked and under appreciated. You have so many things to try and do. Why can't it be easy? You went into teaching to make a difference, not to just keep your students busy! 

I did not listen to my supervisor. I decided to would be successful. I would learn everything about being a great teacher.

Two years later, three of my students were interviewed on Disney Radio about what it was like to learn to read as teenagers. I was also interviewed on NPR and featured in the newspaper for my successes in teaching at-risk students.

  • My supervisor thought that teachers are born. 
  • Everyone with the passion can become an amazing teacher.
  • You can make a difference in your students' lives every day.



You see, after her frank conversation with me, I decided that I would learn everything.



  • How to manage the classroom. 
  • How to teach reading and writing. 
  • How to engage at-risk students in learning? 



I took classes online. I observed in master teachers' classrooms. I learned figured out what really works.

I want to share what works with you. 

You do not need to listen to more theories. You do not need to hear about the research in a dry way. You need to know about techniques that really work. Techniques that you can take into your classroom. You need to know how to make a difference the next time you walk in the door. 





It does take work to become a fantastic teacher, but you knew that. You didn't choose this job because of the pay! You chose this job because you wanted to make a difference in lives. If you are willing to put in the work, you can become the teacher you've dreamed of being.

The classes are not busywork. 

If you just want to get some credits without doing any thinking, these are not the classes for you. If you just want to move up the pay scale, there are other classes you can take. If you are interested in reading theory, but not really applying it, this is not for you.

If you want to see what really works, and have techniques to take into your classroom, then this is for you.

If you want to take your teaching to the next level, I can't wait to have you as a student!





Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Serial Sentence

Along with SOBA sentences, this is one of the first sentence patterns I teach. In this 3 minute video, I demonstrate to students how to write a sentence that involves a list. Most all students above third grade can master this technique.

If you would like to learn more about how to teach writing, editing and grammar, please take a look at my online graduate courses for teachers.

Friday, July 1, 2011

How I use the videos during writing workshop

Quite a few teachers have asked me how I use the videos during my writers workshop. Do I show all of the videos to the class at one time? How do I decide when to show each video?

Actually, I do not use the videos to introduce a new writing skill. Instead of using the video, I start with a mini-lesson. I will share an interesting sentence that uses the technique I want my students to use. Then I have students share what they like and notice about the sentence. We then, as a class, try finding other sentences that follow the pattern and attempt to imitate the sentence with partners and individually.

I know, though, that not every student is ready for the skill when I teach the lesson. Writing is such an individualized process. It is possible that one student is ready to try the Zooming in on Sentences technique, while another student is still working with capitalization.

This is where the videos become very useful. After a writers conference I assign a video. I used to try to reteach the technique to the student, but I would feel rushed and like I didn't do a good job. Now, instead of trying to take 5 minutes to individually tutor a student (what is the rest of the class doing during that time? how focused am I?), I assign the video.

Now the student gets a short presentation that is consistent with what I've previously taught in class. After the video, we take two minutes to talk about the technique, which is where the most interesting conversation happens. I now spend less time talking about technique and more time looking at writing and helping my students push themselves.

One important thing to remember, is that you have to teach the students how to watch these videos. They are not an entertainment video that you passively watch. I model with the students pausing the video, rewinding the video and taking notes.

Here is one of my videos on using dialogue in writing. It is the first video to introduce this skill, and so I only focus on one pattern.