It’s the Holiday Season, so get up and Move


The holiday season is probably my favorite time of year.  My family has several traditions we enjoy that only happen at during the months of November and December.  My two children have grown to not only anticipate these activities but appreciate them. From participating in a fun run, to watching a holiday parade, to making gingerbread houses with leftover Halloween candy, to picking the right tree to cut down, to spending quiet time singing and reflecting about all of the action around us.

The excitement of the season paired with the anxiety some students face over the uncertainty of their situation during a break from a structured environment can create challenging moments for the classroom teacher.

Teachers are often coached to keep classrooms relatively normal during this time of year to help reduce the anxiety and stress some students are feeling. Even though the classroom may start to feel a little chaotic during this stretch of the year, it is a perfect time to integrate physical movement in the classroom.  Since there is the potential for an increase in chaos, it is also a time to reinforce physical movement protocols and routines.  Physical movement reduces the levels of stress and anxiety fostering a safe environment for students so learning can occur. Some of my favorite lessons at this time of year include:

Snowball fight:  Questions regarding a lesson are written on a sheet of paper.  The teacher tells students to write an answer on the sheet of paper, wad the piece of paper into a ball, and stand on the sides of the classroom.  When the teacher signals, students throw the balls into the center of the classroom.  Students pick up a ball, straighten it out, add to the answer of the question and then repeat the activity.

Vocabulary Snowflake:  Each student creates a large snowflake.  It may be helpful to show a brief youtube video of a simple design. Once the snowflake has been created, students write a vocabulary word somewhere on the snowflake.  The snowflakes are then hung around the walls of the classroom.  Students then are instructed to quietly find a snowflake and add an antonym, sketch, or sentence for a new word.  Students move around the classroom adding missing elements to each snowflake.

Snow boots Shuffle:  A pair of snow boots is positioned on a table top.  Discussion questions/pictures are color coded and then cut in two.  Students select a piece from the boots and find their matching partner.  The pair discussion the question or prompt with the option of moving around the room.

There are several options for movement, but adding a seasonal flare creates novelty and increases the motivation students have to reflect, review, learn, and explore.



Reaching the Reader with Starbucks


I love this time of year.  The fall season feels like an extended holiday season regardless of the holidays each person celebrates:  Halloween and Thanksgiving followed by the Winter Break holidays. Students, administration, teachers, and parents love giving and receiving  gifts.  With the recent reveal of the 2016 Starbucks Holiday Cups, it is a time to embrace the current season and the holidays to come.

Starbucks has become commonplace to represent coffee around the U.S and the world. Students at all levels are able to identify with the company, logo, and the coffee it serves. In many cities, rural and urban, students have indulged themselves with frappuccinos, lattes, hot chocolate, and steamed milk. Teachers frequent Starbucks this time of year with Peppermint Mochas and Egg Nog Lattes. Admin. teams  and PTA groups often donate carafes of coffee to the teachers’ lounge. Parents and students enjoy peppering teachers with Starbucks gift cards which teachers graciously accept adding to their holiday cheer.

Adding gimmicks to a lesson provides creativity, engages the mind, and increases student motivation.  Gimmicks also help students connect interests to content.  Utilizing physical movement along with gimmicks adds more intrigue and fosters increased brain activity encouraging synaptic connections.

For this activity, Starbucks, movement, and reading have been combined to provide a stimulating experience.

Items You Will Need:

  • Starbucks Coffee Cups (Disposable)
  • Coffee lids
  • Cup Sleeve
  • Coffee Cup Carriers
  • Used Gift Cards


  • Starbucks Coffee Cups (Write a character’s name on cup)
  • Coffee lids (Inference based on character’s actions)
  • Cup Sleeve (Main personality traits of character or textual evidence)
  • Coffee Cup Carriers (Setting description -consider how setting shapes character)
  • Used Gift Cards (vocabulary/literary term written- 1 per card) Hang gift cards from the ceiling or display them around room

To stage the activity, cups will be in one station, lids in another, sleeves in a third, and carriers in a fourth. The gift cards will be hanging or displayed on walls.

To perform the activity, students sit in groups of four.  The teacher informs students that they need to get drinks ready for their study groups. However, unlike going to a real Starbucks, students work together to get their drink orders ready.  Only one person from the groups can be up at a time. The first person must grab a cup. The second-fourth student can go in any order to retrieve the other items. Once each group has one of each item, the group decides if any of the items needs to be returned to its original location.  Groups continue to work until they have four cups (with lids and sleeves) that go together in their carrier.

Depending on the reading content, there can be duplicates. There can be multiple settings at play as well as multiple stories.  This activity can also be used with nonfiction and as a review for a unit of study. At the culmination of the activity, students can decorate the coffee cups and carriers with visuals from the text or additional textual evidence to support their combination.

While the activity takes initial setup time, it is a fun activity to review a text and prepare for a deeper analysis essay or discussion. The activity engages the mind through movement, higher-level thinking skills, and collaboration.

As you start to collect Starbucks coffee cups and gift cards, consider using them to further the education of your students!  Happy Fall and Happy Holidays!



Writer’s Block and Physical Movement

writer-605764_960_720I often present and write about using physical movement in classes that teach reading and writing.  The reading process is often viewed as an easier link for teachers to make between teaching reading strategies and incorporating physical movement activities.  A harder connection for teachers is linking writing and physical movement. I recently wrote an article published by AMLE Magazine about how to help adolescent learners overcome writer’s block with some simple movement activities.  The following link accesses the article.

Addressing Writer’s Block Through Physical Movement


Building Reading Comprehension with Legos


My son loves legos. If given the option to do anything, he would spend all day building, creating, and diving into the imaginary world associated with all things legos.

A pile of legos will make many kids happy. Manipulating various shapes, colors, and textures of blocks excites students from kindergarten to middle school to adulthood. Providing students with the time to use their imagination and creativity to build something and associate it with learning allows them to engage multiple senses and areas of the brain sparking synaptic connections increasing the cognitive experience of students in the classroom.

There are several ways to motivate students to read and to perform necessary tasks associated with reading comprehension and analysis. Giving students opportunities to work with legos before, during, and after reading adds a kinesthetic and visual component to the process.

One activity that can be used during reading is to provide each student, or table groups of students, with a bag of legos. During the before reading process, students should chunk the text.  Preferably, teachers would choose a text that is already set up with heading and subheadings to make the sections of the text visible to students. After students read a section of the text, time would be given to the students to pause and create a lego representation of what was read. The skills involved may range from focusing on simple details to analyzing arguments through inferences and tone. The lego representation could be completed individually or as a team.  When all teams have completed the task, a table group gallery walk could take place for each team to see the work of other teams. The hands-on approach to visualization offers time for mind-body connections to be made associated with a text or reading skill.

A variation of this activity could emphasize lego colors. In this variation, students are provided with specific lego colors. Each color could represent a specific reading skill or concept. For example, groups could be charged with creating a visual representation of a particular section.  Green legos could represent main details of the passage and red legos could represent inferences based on the details.  The overall visual would symbolize the text.  Another example could be based on colors and numbers. Blue legos could form the base of the visual and represent the topic sentence. Yellow legos could be added to represent details, and black legos could represent descriptive words used throughout the paragraph. The activity can be extended to include lego people and objects. The options are endless.

While legos may be intimidating to some teachers, the novelty students experience makes the activity worthwhile.  The levels of cognitive engagement are various as are the levels of high-level thinking opportunities.


Costco, Play-Doh, and Reading


October is one of my favorite months of the year.  Halloween with my kids is one of the reasons despite the loads of candy they receive.  This is why I love Costco and the small containers of Play-Doh they offer so parents have an alternative to candy and what they offer to trick-or-treaters.  There is another reason I love those small containers of Play-Doh….

Reading  nonfiction texts may not be the most exciting task for middle school students.  Add to this task long periods of silently seated work and repetitive highlighting and annotating, and teachers will find students at all levels of reading fleeing away from reading engagement.  Of course, there are times when reading silently is necessary.  And, there are times when highlighting and annotations are important.  In fact, I have led several workshops on close reading and effective highlighting reading strategies.  However, if the process becomes stagnant, readers, especially reluctant readers, will become complacent and reading gains may be limited.

I recently shared a reading strategy that involves tactile movement performed during reading of a nonfiction text.  Adding movement activities to lessons does not always entail having students get out of their seats.  Some teachers shy away from having students stand and move due to time constraints or interruptions to the flow of a lesson.

For this activity, I chose a nonfiction text that could be easily chunked.  Since this text was meant to involve close reading strategies, the text was limited to two pages.  The text features included subheadings, which were clearly marked and placed for a natural stopping point for students.  I handed out Play-Doh to each participant and gave them specific instructions as to what to do and what not to do with it.  Since this was the first time using Play-Doh, class routines had to be set and taught.  The amount of emphasis needed for routine instruction depends on the needs of the students .

Participants listened to the first chunk of reading.  At the end of the first section, participants were informed to sculpt anything that could represent what they read.  They then discussed with their partner pairs their connections.  After the second section, they sculpted something connected to inferences that could be made.  After the third section, they sculpted something connected to the author’s tone.  The goal was to increased the level of thinking of each section and to prepare students for a writing response.

When students connect visually and tactilely with a text, the levels of understanding deepen. Rather than have students highlight and annotate, students are creating, visualizing, and discussing the text.  The basic strategies of close reading are present, but the approach is novel.

Raising Literacy Levels Through Mixed-Ability and Mixed-Grade Activites


Next week I will be presenting at AMLE in Austin, Texas.  I love this conference, and I am thrilled to be able to present and network with colleagues.  My presentation is titled, “Raising Literacy Levels Through Mixed-Ability and Mixed-Grade Activities.” Literacy is vital to the success of students at all levels of learning.  The love for reading can propel students to higher levels of intellect; however, if the love of reading is not captured as students approach middle schools, it is difficult for teachers to successfully encourage adolescent readers to make reading a habit. This results in the absence of reading outside of school and the reluctance of reading in the classroom. Of course, there are several reasons for a reluctant reader, and there are multiple ways teachers can successfully get students to read as well as instill the love of reading in those who may have felt reading was at a loss for them.


When teachers begin to explore outside of their classroom walls and enlist the minds of colleagues, innovative teaching can erupt and something magical can occur. Literature circles have been used in classrooms across the country for years. Teachers who use literature circles can testify to the deeper levels of conversation that students engage in during well-led literature circle activities and discussions. Taking this concept beyond a single-class, single-grade experience sheds light on how impactful literature circles can be for a school.  


In one school, teachers in different grade levels explored ways to mix 7th, 8th, and 9th grade ELA classes in efforts to boost comprehension levels of nonfiction texts. Each grade level had some experience with literature circles in their own classrooms, so some routines were in place.  8th and 9th-grade teachers explained to their students how they would become the leaders when conducting literature circles with grades below them. To begin the process, each group studied video and written articles about growth mindset. The discussions led to community building throughout the school as students grasped growth mindset ideals.  As the literature circles discussions continued, the divide between grade levels subsided and authentic learning inspired students to want to read more and explore texts.  Teachers also were excited about how to proceed with purposeful groups according to student needs, readiness, personalities, and learning growth.


The ideas becomes endless.  Taking a risk is key to innovation. There are different levels of risks teachers are willing to take, but when a group of teachers are supported in trying something new, teaching becomes exhilarating and student success expands. The overview of ideas in this post will be expanded in the AMLE presentation and future posts.




Literature Circles Resource Center


Teaching Channel


Harvey Daniels