In the Middle School: Setting Up the School Year in Week One with Expectations, Kindness Goals, One Word Goals, and Six-Word Memoirs



The first week of school is scary for all students. And boring. It is filled with syllabus review and lunch room rules. I want my students’ first day to be filled with friendliness. This year, to do this I started the year with telling my students about me. I have a philosophy that if students see you as a human, they are more likely to respect you and your class. After sharing about me, my family, my history, and my life, we played a fun game of Kahoot about me.

On day one, I wanted to make my expectations clear: I want you to do your best all year. That’s all I ask. To start this conversation, I showed them one of my favorite TED Talks: “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Lee Duckworth, a psychologist who studies grit in many different aspects. When finished with the TED Talk, I asked each class, “Why would I show you this on day one?” One of my 6th grade girls said it the best, “You showed it to us because you want us to do our best all year because effort and wanting to grow is really important.” Our district has been focusing on growth mindset in students and teachers, and the idea of grit fits this goal.

Finally, I also introduced my students to the idea of OneWord365–that instead of setting unrealistic and too many goals, pick a word that summarizes the path they want the year to take. Most of the students’ choices included words that fit the growth mindset. Once each student had turned in their word to me, we then picked One Word for each class that embodied everyone’s word. Our words are: determination, try, and happiness.

Sidenote: I did this activity on our first day of preplanning with my entire staff, and I only got positive feedback about it. Each teacher came up their own One Word then as a PLC (professional learning community) they came up with a summarizing word and a visual representation.


Tuesday was Code of Conduct and Syllabus day, so it was a bit boring; however, I fancied up my syllabus this year, so it was a bit more fun to look at:

I redid my rules this year to be called “Expectations” and to be short, sweet, and what I really see as important in humans:

  • Be kind
  • Be respectful
  • Be responsible
  • Do your best


Wednesday was all about getting to know my students. Each year I have my students fill out an interesting and reading survey to help me get to know them. Wednesday was also BOOK DAY! Students were so excited to be able to dive into my classroom library. As students looked for books and filled out their survey, I went around to help with book selection and make discussion.


Each year in the first week, I make sure to read Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson to my students. With looping students, I try not to duplicate from year to year, but this is a text that I read at the beginning of the school year no matter what. Why? Because it uses Chloe’s tough lesson of not being kind to Maia to teach us about the power of kindness ripples and how they can affect the universe.

When we finished the book, I point out that Chloe wasn’t “bad” nor a “bully” but what she did by excluding Maia was devastating. I asked them to think about something in their life that they could do just a bit kinder: either broad like smiling at strangers more or specific like being nicer to a certain person. They then set kindness goals for the year which I’ll post for the entire year.


Friday it was once again about getting to know my students. I introduced them to the idea of six-word memoirs. First, we talked about Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story (“For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn”) and the power of his six words and how Smith Magazine took the idea and turned it into people writing their memoir in six words.

To help them understand the idea, I showed them the Six Magazine You Tube video with teens’ six-word memoirs:

And I shared fiction characters’ six-word memoirs:

  • Cinderella: Sometimes the shoes you pick matter OR Sometimes fairy godmothers do show up.
  • Simba: Don’t believe an uncle with scars.
  • Alice: Down the rabbit hole yet again.
  • Romeo: Loving someone may very much kill

Then I gave them Smith Magazine’s six tips for writing a six-word memoir:

  1. It only works if it is personal.
  2. Limitations force you to be creative.
  3. Get inspired by reading other memoirs.
  4. Like any story, make revisions.
  5. Put the best six words in the best order.
  6. Publish your story to inspire others. (Though I made it clear this was optional)

And I sent them on their way, and the response has been phenomenal (shared only those with permission given):

  • Fear is my greatest enemy, always. -Amy, 6th grade
  • I fear an average human life. -Anonymous, 6th grade
  • Books are portals, go through them. -Anonymous, 6th grade
  • Music–the best thing that happened. -Anonymous, 6th grade
  • Sibling always wanted. Five years old. -Anonymous, 6th grade
  • Hospital. Diagnosed. Kept on living great. -Daniel, 6th grade
  • If you believe, you can succeed.” -Ian, 6th grade
  • Face what scares you most. -Lorenza, 7th grade
  • The great outdoors is my indoors. -Alexandra, 7th grade
  • Life is like a hard dream. -Anonymous, 7th grade
  • Who I am is not clear. -Anonymous, 7th grade
  • You can die happy or unhappy. -Anonymous, 7th grade
  • Hufflepuff isn’t the same without me. -Vanessa, 7th grade
  • Family means nobody gets left behind. -Anonymous, 7th grade
  • I said it was impossible. “Nevermind.” -Anonymous, 7th grade
  • Stop being worried and live life. -Anonymous, 7th grade
  • Why do people tell unnecessary lies? -Anonymous, 8th grade
  • Why do girls create unnecessary drama? -Emily, 8th grade
  • Don’t think twice, or never achieve. -Anonymous, 8th grade
  • Fake smiles, fake laugh, real tears. -Anonymous, 8th grade
  • It is not just a game. -Christian, 8th grade
  • 2009: Plane ticket–Egypt to America. -Clara, 8th grade
  • Your separation made everything more difficult. -Amanda, 8th grade
  • See you later, Island of Enchantment. -Lucas, 8th grade
  • Dancing is how I express myself. -Ashley, 8th grade
  • Parents can never stick together forever. -Anonymous, 8th grade
  • Try your best; get better results. -Anonymous, 8th grade
  • Divorce can break a child’s heart. -Anonymous, 8th grade
  • Prepared to succeed; failed of hesitation. -Anonymous, 8th grade

It is through these activities that I show my students that I care for them. 

What do you do your first week of school?

Marti’s Song for Freedom | Martí y sus versos por la libertad by Emma Otheguy



Nonfiction Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

Marti’s Song for Freedom | Martí y sus versos por la libertad
Author: Emma Otheguy
Illustrator: Beatriz Vidal
Published July 17, 2017 by Lee & Low Books


Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crece la palma,
Y antes de morirme quiero
Echar mis versos del alma

As a boy, José Martí was inspired by the natural world. He found freedom in the river that rushed to the sea and peace in the palmas reales that swayed in the wind. Freedom, he believed, was the inherent right of all men and women. But his home island of Cuba was colonized by Spain, and some of the people were enslaved by rich landowners. Enraged, Martí took up his pen and fought against this oppression through his writings. By age seventeen, he was declared an enemy of Spain and forced to leave his beloved island.

Martí traveled the world, speaking out for Cuba’s independence. But throughout his exile, he suffered from illness and homesickness. He found solace in New York’s Catskill Mountains, where nature inspired him once again to fight for independence.

Written in verse, with excerpts from Martí’s seminal Versos sencillos, this book is a beautiful tribute to a brilliant political writer and courageous fighter of freedom for all men and women.


“A sensitive and poignant tribute to one of Latin America’s most important historical figures.” – School Library Journal, starred review

“A moving account of [Marti’s] crusade for justice.” -Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A timely story that will inspire many to fight for equality and sing songs for freedom.” -Booklist, starred review

“Spotlights a steadfast hero and brilliant writer still worth admiring today.” -Kirkus reviews, starred review

“A direct and approachable introduction to the life and works of Cuban poet and freedom fighter José Martí.” -Shelf Awareness, starred review

About the Creators: 

Emma Otheguy is a children’s book author and a historian of Spain and colonial Latin America. She is a member of the Bank Street Writers Lab, and her short story “Fairies in Town” was awarded a Magazine Merit Honor by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Otheguy lives with her husband in New York City. This is her picture book debut. You can find her online at

Beatriz Vidal is an award-winning painter, illustrator, and teacher. Her work has appeared in well-known publications such as The New York Times Magazine, Woman’s Day, and the New Yorker. Her artwork has also been featured on PBS programs and in numerous exhibitions around the world, including the International Exhibition of Illustrations for Children in Italy and the Society of Illustrators in New York. Vidal divides her time between New York City and Buenos Aires, Argentina. You can visit her online at

ReviewThis beautiful bilingual biography deserves all the praise it is receiving. The beautiful pieces of art that accompany the poetic verses turns this picture book biography into a piece of art! I also loved that not only is Martí’s biography in Spanish and English, but so is the author’s back matter.

I also am so glad that I learned about José Martí! I didn’t know anything about the Cuban war for independence and emancipation from slavery. Cuba has such an extensive history that is not taught here, so this story definitely fills a gap in history education. While the story teaches primarily of Martí’s life, the back matter goes deeper into Cuban independence and reading both is definitely going to pique interests to learn more. I think this book would pair nicely with books about our Civil War to compare the United States to other countries’ fights for freedom.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Emma Otheguy was kind enough to share an activity guide for the text. All of the activities come in Spanish and English and can be downloaded at

Activity 1: “José Martí wrote many letters throughout his life. He wrote about things he found beautiful or interesting, and also about injustices, and how he though they might get better. Write a letter to a friend, a relative, or an elected official about something you’re passionate about. It can be anything you care about, whether it’s helping your neighbors, caring for animals, or respecting the planet–just share how you feel. Then cut out your letter an mail it.” Followed by a outlined letter for kids to feel out.

Activity 2: “Did you know that José Martí was a poet, and that is poetry book Versos Sencillos was written and published right here in the United States? If you ever hear the song Guantanamera you’ll notice words from Marti’s poetry in the song! Read the first stanza of Martí’s poem, then fill in the blanks to create your own poem.”

Activity 3: “Read the book and solve this crossword puzzle”

Activity 4: “As teenagers, José Martí and his friends wrote and published their own newspaper, La Patria Libre (the free homeland), supporting Cuban independence. Can you create a newspaper? Fill out the boxes with the latest news.” Includes a place for Read All About It, Letter to the Editor, and an illustration.

Discussion Questions: How did José Martí play a part in Cuba’s fight for independence?; Did his age when sent to America surprise you?; Why is Cuba such a mix of culture?; How did the author use José Martí’s own words within her biography of him?; If you were to write to your government about an injustice you see in your country, what would you write about?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Margarita Engle’s books, Henry’s Freedom Box  by Henry Levine and other biographies about the fight for emancipation in the United States, Nonfiction picture book biographies

Recommended For: 



**Thank you to Emma Otheguy for providing a copy for review!**

Author Guest Post!: “Cap’n Rex’s Steps to Writing a Fictional Picture Book” by Henry Herz, Author of Cap’n Rex & His Clever Crew


“Cap’n Rex’s Steps to Writing a Fictional Picture Book”

Today, author Henry Herz joins us. His picture books include: MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES, WHEN YOU GIVE AN IMP A PENNY, MABEL & THE QUEEN OF DREAMS, AND LITTLE RED CUTTLEFISH.  His latest, just out from Sterling, is CAP’N REX & HIS CLEVER CREW. The protagonist, Cap’n Rex, has agreed to offer advice about how to get classrooms excited about a writing assignment, and some of the other things they will learn along the way. Please welcome, Cap’n Rex.

Arrr! It’s a pleasure to be aboard, me lasses. I may be a long-in-the-tooth dinosaur pirate, but I’ve a mess o’ experience teaching wee sailors how to write fictional picture books. It keeps ’em from getting bored on our long sea voyages. There be seven steps on my map to the buried treasure of children’s literacy. Read on, if ye dare!

  1. Form crews – Arrr, there be nothin’ like a little friendly competition to inspire performance. Arrange yer students into teams o’ four. Have each team pick a name. Some o’ me favorites arrr Mystery Marauders, Biography Buccaneers, and Paranormal Pirates. But, I may be biased toward piratey appellations. Each team’ll be writing their own picture book. Savvy?
  2. Define the details – Have each team parley among themselves to figger out the story elements listed below. This here be a bonus learning opportunity to teach them some writing concepts.
    • Main character – What is the main character’s name, race/species, gender, title/role, and personality traits?
    • Other characters – Do the same for yer other characters. Limit yerself to no more than four characters in all.
    • Theme – If yer story will offer a lesson for the reader, what is it? Fer example, do unto others as you’d have others do unto you, or think outside the box.
    • Goal/obstacles – Stories are more fun if there’s tension. What goal is the main character trying to reach (in my case, it’s usually booty). And what obstacle(s) must he or she overcome to reach that goal? One tried and true formula is: try-fail, try-fail, try-succeed. That makes victory all the sweeter, me buccos.
    • Time frame – Will yer story take place in the past, present, or future? How far back in the past or into the future?
    • Setting – Where will your tale unfold? On the high seas? In yer backyard? On Mars? In an ant hill?
    • Genre – Will yer tale be fantasy, science fiction, mystery, historical, comedy, romance, horror, tragedy, or somethin’ else?
    • Point of view – Does it work better if the tale be told by the main character or by a narrator?
    • Tense – Should the tale be told in the present tense, as if it’s happening right now? Or, would it be better described in the past tense as something that’s already happened?
  3. Tell yer tale – Fictional picture books can have anywhere from zero (it’s true!) to 1,000 words. Aim fer about 500 words. Since there are often fourteen two-page “spreads”, that works out to an average of 36 words (three to four sentences) per spread. Picture books are usually written fer three to seven year-olds. So, make sure yer word choices are suitable for younger readers. Not too many syllables per word or words per sentence, or ye’ll walk the plank! Now yer teams can write their first draft of the manuscript.
  4. Time fer inspection – Just as dinosaur pirates have their work inspected by their handsome T-rex captain, yer young writers will need some guidance. Pair up yer teams. Have each member of one team read the other team’s story. Then, they offer feedback, alternating between things they liked about the story and things in the story that didn’t make sense or didn’t seem to help the story. Team members should not defend their writing. Just listen politely and take notes.
  5. Swab the deck – Just as a ship’s deck needs cleaning, so too does yer writin’. Now it be time for the teams to use the feedback they received to revise their story and make it seaworthy.
  6. Draw yer pictures – Now it be time to paint a pretty picture. A spread can be completely filled with a single illustration. Or, it can contain two to four smaller spot images. The latter is often used when the story pace has quickened. Give each team fourteen 11”x17” pieces o’ paper. Each team will divide their revised manuscript text up across the fourteen spreads. Then they’ll draw or paint pictures that help describe what is happening.
  7. Celebrate – Treats and grog (non-alcoholic) fer all when the stories be done! Each team takes turn reading their yarn to the class. Stories can be posted on the mainmast fer later parental enjoyment. What fine little writers ye arrr!

Cap’n Rex & His Clever Crew
Author: Henry L. Herz
Illustrator: Benjamin Schipper
Published August 1st, 2017 by Sterling Children’s Books

Shiver me timbers! It’s the DINOSAUR PIRATES!

Meet Captain Rex and his band of buccaneers. These dinosaur pirates sail the seven seas in search of buried treasure, but whenever they hit an obstacle—like a giant shark or pea-soup fog—the crew members are quick to say they can’t overcome. To this, Captain Rex just glares with teeth bared and says, “CAN’T YE?” And, somehow, the crew always comes up with a clever solution.

A delightful story about using one’s creativity and individual strengths to solve problems. It will encourage kids everywhere to think and say, “I can!”

Learn more about CAP’N REX & HIS CLEVER CREW and author Henry Herz at

We Thank Ye fer Today’s Post, Cap’n Rex & Henry!


Nibbles: The Dinosaur Guide by Emma Yarlett


Nibbles: The Dinosaur Guide
Author and Illustrator: Emma Yarlett
Published 2017 by Kane Miller Publishing

Summary: NIBBLES, the book-eating MONSTER, has chomped his way into this book of DINOSAURS! Has he bitten off more than he can chew?!

What was a very serious book about very serious dinosaurs is suddenly interrupted by a hole – a nibbled hole – in the book. Who would do something like that?

Little ones will love trying to find the culprit – Nibbles – hiding among their favorite, easily recognizable dinosaurs. Is he an herbivore? A carnivore? Or … a bookivore?

Emma Yarlett’s Nibbles: The Dinosaur Guide is packed with flaps, folds, facts and die cuts, plus one very naughty monster and an ending to make Houdini proud. But has Nibbles bitten off more than he can chew?

Themes include humor and science.

Review: We love Nibbles. We have a stuffed Nibbles and have read the first one so many times (and it is one of my husband’s favorite picture books–he says it is so unique.) I am probably majorly biased when it comes to this review because OF COURSE we loved this one also. I mean, listen to this: 

What is so interesting about this new book is that it takes the concept of Nibbles (a book eating monster) and takes him on a time-traveling adventure to the age of the dinosaurs using his eating/transporting powers. It is funny and educational. Just as the first one combined Nibbles’s antics with fairy tales, this one combined Nibbles with dinosaurs education!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: What I love more about this one than the first one is that it has a cross-curricular component to it with the inclusion of dinosaurs and specific information about the dinosaurs. This allows the book to be used in reading, writing, and science lessons. I also think it’d be so much fun to have students write their own Nibbles story with him eating into a different topic than dinosaurs.

Discussion Questions: Which dinosaur was the scariest that Nibbles faced? The least scary?; What new information did you learn about dinosaurs?; What were the similarities and differences between the different dinosaurs Nibbles encountered?; What were the consequences of Nibbles jumping back in time?; If you were Nibbles, what book would you Nibble into? Where in time would you jump to?

Flagged Passages: 

Book Trailer: 

Message from the Author about Creativity: 

Read This If You Love: Dinosaurs, Humor, Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett, Nibbles: The Book Monster by Emma Yarlett

Recommended For:


**Thank you to Lynn at Kane Miller for providing a copy for review!!**

Author Guest Post: “Using Your Personal Real Estate to Create Characters, Setting, and Conflict” by Fracaswell Hyman, Author of Mango Delight


“Using Your Personal Real Estate to Create Characters, Setting, and Conflict”

One of the trickiest things for me, as a writer, is figuring out where to begin. I imagine it could be a challenge for students, too. So many decisions to make as you begin… Who is the main character? What does s/he want? What are their obstacles? Secret desires? What is important to her/him? What are they willing to sacrifice to protect what is important?

I have learned to tackle these questions by first taking stock of my personal real estate. By personal real estate, I mean the things that I own, things I know as much if not more about than anyone else. I’m not talking about property or anything that is tangible, but your own personal experiences, personality traits, interests, values, and lessons learned.

A couple of years ago, I was about to take a “Write A Novel In Six Weeks” class at UNCW. I was not sure of what to write about, but I kept rolling ideas around in my head. One morning I awoke with a name in the forefront of my mind, Mango Delight. I thought, what a ridiculous name! I’d feel sorry for a person with a name like that. Of course, with a name like Fracaswell Hyman I automatically empathize with those saddled with a strange name. As we all know, kids can be cruel, especially if there is something different about you that they can latch on to. My name made me stick out like a sore thumb. At the beginning of each school year, I would cringe when the teacher would make several attempts at pronouncing my name while taking attendance. When I would finally raise my hand and offer the correct pronunciation, the giggling would begin. Then the teasing would commence with several amusing distortions of my name, my least favorite (because I was a chunky boy) was “Fat-caswell.” That one stuck for years.

So, it only seemed natural for me to identify with a character with a weird name like Mango Delight. This was territory I knew intimately, hence real estate that I owned. I also decided to make this character a female, since I didn’t want to make the story autobiographical, changing the sex gave me a healthy amount of distance that allowed me the freedom to let my imagination fly and create an original story.

Next up, what does the character want? This is a hugely important step. What a character wants drives your story. I thought back to what it is that I wanted when I was in middle and high school. I remembered that I had friends yes, but no one who would claim me as their best friend. I wanted to have and to be a best friend and was always trying to figure out how to acquire and become one. The chemistry of friendships is complicated and something everyone struggles with at some point in their lives–even as adults.

I had recently lost a very good friend. It was a wound I was still tending, and so I decided to let Mango start off with a bestie, lose that relationship, and then try to find her way to, not necessarily replacing that friend, but gaining some understanding as to what kind of friend she wanted and what kind of friend she wanted to be. Once you know what a character wants, the obstacles will fall into place if you as the writer let yourself become ruthless. Yes, you love and care about your character, but you have to commit to putting him/her through the wringer to get what s/he wants. There is nothing more boring than an easy path to success, at least not when it comes to reading, so keep coming up with as many obstacles as possible and make each one more challenging than the one before.

Giving a character a secret desire and then making it public reveals something that is important to him/her that they can’t easily back away from. As a kid, I always wanted to be an actor. I’d see kid actors on sitcoms or in movies and something inside me knew that I could do that, but I never shared this desire with anyone.

In middle school, I watched from the sidelines as other students auditioned for the school plays, rehearsed and then had their moments in the spotlight during production. Even though my desire was strong, I was too shy to stand up in front of anyone and sing or try to act. I decided to have Mango share the same trait. Her secret desire was to be a singer, something she did well, but never in front of anyone.

In the book, Mango is set up by her ex-bestie to audition for the school play. It is a mortifying moment for Mango, to get up in front of an auditorium full of students and do the thing she’d only do alone in her bathroom. Yes, singing in front of people was just as scary as taking a shower in front of the entire school. So, how to get Mango to not run away and let her ex-bestie’s dirty trick succeed…? I looked into my personality trait real estate and decided to share my stubbornness with Mango. Yes, sometimes being stubborn can get you in a lot of trouble, but at other times it can lead to success. Stubborn folk won’t give up when faced with a dare or a challenge. So, Mango draws on the stubborn side of her personality and sings in public for the first time and it pays off. The payoff leads her to a place outside of her comfort zone, a lead role in a school production.

By the time I got to high school, I found the courage to try out for a school play and was cast in the chorus. It was daunting, but I had found my tribe. Now that my secret passion was public, I happily became a member of a group of kids that shared my interests. They were a great group whose desire led them to staying long hours after school rehearsing, time at home learning lines and songs and dances. These kids were as dedicated to theatrical productions as athletes were to their sports. With no grades or other rewards at the end they committed themselves just for the opportunity to do the thing they loved along with others that shared their passion. Yes, this was a piece of real estate that I knew tons about and I wanted to share how great these kids were, the ups and downs and challenges of learning to perform, and how important it is to follow your dream no matter how scary it can be at first.

Once I was confident in the real estate I shared with my main character, I was free to let my imagination fly and present her with obstacles, predicaments and other characters that would challenge her and make her a character worth rooting for.

At the end of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy says, and I’m paraphrasing, “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t have to go farther than my own backyard.” Good advice for when you’re looking to create a fresh new character. Explore your own emotional and experiential real estate; there are treasures to be found if you dig deep enough.

About the Book:
What happens when your BFF becomes your EFF . . . EX-Friend-Forever?
When seventh-grader Mango Delight Fuller accidentally breaks her BFF Brooklyn’s new cell phone, her life falls apart. She loses her friends and her spot on the track team, and even costs her father his job as a chef. But Brooklyn’s planned revenge—sneakily signing up Mango to audition for the school musical—backfires when Mango not only wins the lead role, but becomes a YouTube sensation and attracts the attention of the school’s queen bee, Hailey Jo. Hailey Jo is from a VERY wealthy family, and expects everyone to do her bidding. Soon Mango finds herself forced to make tough choices about the kind of friend she wants to have . . . and, just as important, the kind of friend she wants to be.

*“Hyman marries traditional tween elements with a fresh and original plot, and his multicultural cast sparkles with individuality and authenticity. . . . Hyman’s supporting characters, both kids and adults, are vivid and dynamic. Mango is as delightful as her middle name indicates, and middle-grade readers will easily recognize their own experiences in her friendship struggles. This is Hyman’s first novel; here’s hoping it’s not his last.” Booklist (Starred review)

“[T]he characters . . .  are deftly crafted, and their relationships play out in ways that carefully avoid cliché. . . . Mango’s supportive family is also well drawn, particularly her comforting Jamaican immigrant father and her no-nonsense, former athlete African-American mom, who’s a loving but demanding figure. Kids who’d settle for making it through middle school unscathed but still dream of shining in it will find a kindred spirit in Mango.” — Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

Thank you to Ardi for connecting us with Fracaswell!



In the Middle School Classroom: Creative and Argumentative Writing with Papertoy Glowbots by Brian Castleforte


Papertoy Glowbots: 46 Glowing Robots You Can Make Yourself!
Author: Brian Castleforte
Published August 23rd, 2016 by Workman Publishing Company

When I first looked through the book Papertoy Glowbots, after Brian Castleforte wrote an author guest post for Unleashing Readers, I knew that I wanted to utilize these fun robots in my classroom some how! First, let me tell you about the book. It has 46 different robots inside. Each robot has a name, a model name, description, ability, assembly instructions, and a narrative about the robot. In the back of the book, there is a template to remove that matches the assembly instructions and then glow-in-the-dark stickers to add on when done with the robot.

I loved not only the creative aspect of the robots, but the real-life aspect (following directions), and the narrative elements. However, I knew that I had to make sure that the activity I did with the robots was standards-based and fit within one of my units, so when I was building my argumentative writing and debate unit, I felt it fit perfectly (along with the Who Wins? activity I shared also)! My unit learning goal was “Students will be able to present claims and findings with relevant evidence, valid reasoning, and well-chosen details about a particular subject,” and one of my learning targets was “Students will be able to create an argumentative paragraph supporting their claim.” And I got it! Why not have students create an argumentative paragraph stating why their robot is THE BEST robot if the robots were all going to take part in Robot Wars (like Big Hero 6).

With my target set up, the students got to work! They were allowed to add any abilities to their robot; however, they could not change anything that was already stated in the Glowbots book. For example, if their robot didn’t have legs, they couldn’t add them, but they could make their eyes have lasers. Here is an example of Lightning Bee’s paragraph (you can see his information from the book above). Students first wrote up a profile for their robot then turned it into an argumentative paragraph:

My students had to try to think of any scenario and try to put something in their paragraph that proves that their robot would win in the scenario. For example, one of the robots is a submarine–what happens if the other robot is on land? Or vice versa?

After the students wrote their robot profile and creative argumentative paragraph, they were able to build their robot:


When everyone’s robot was built (which was harder than you’d think! It was a real lesson in following instructions and colloborating!), we started our ROBOT BATTLES leading up to the final ROBOT WAR! I used brackets and to set up our battles, and we got started! These battles were a battle of words though, so students came to the front to present their robots and face off using their argumentative paragraphs. (Some got into it more than others!)

The rest of the class then decided based on the paragraphs which robot would be the champion of the battle. If I do this lesson again, I would allow the groups to debate more to help persuade the audience, but I stuck with them reading the paragraphs. Using a double elimination bracket, we determined which two robots in each class would go to the final ROBOT WAR!

My students loved this activity, and we used each robot battle as an opportunity to discuss argumentative and persuasive techniques and why one robot was a winner over the other. And on top of this, I felt that it was a great activity for learning to follow directions, work together, and think futuristically & creatively.

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley, and Marjory Wentworth



Nonfiction Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!


Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets
Authors: Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley, and Marjory Wentworth
Illustrator: Ekua Holmes
Published March 14th, 2017 by Candlewick Press

Summary: Out of gratitude for the poet’s art form, Newbery Award–winning author and poet Kwame Alexander, along with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, present original poems that pay homage to twenty famed poets who have made the authors’ hearts sing and their minds wonder. Stunning mixed-media images by Ekua Holmes, winner of a Caldecott Honor and a John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award, complete the celebration and invite the reader to listen, wonder, and perhaps even pick up a pen.

A Newbery Medalist and a Caldecott Honoree offer a glorious, lyrical ode to poets who have sparked a sense of wonder.

Review: This anthology is beautiful. Alexander, Colderley, and Wentworth beautifully pay homage to each poet. Their tribute poems are impeccably written and not only do the poems follow the style of the poet but also teach us about the lives of the poet. And Holmes’s artwork pushes the book to another level. I also adored the diversity of the poets, as well as the types of poems, chosen.

And Out of Wonder can definitely be a perfect mentor text for a poetry unit, and I can definitely see it being paired with Love That Dog to expand what Creech started.

Teaching Guide with Prereading Activities, Discussion Questions, and Classroom Extensions (by teacher Mary Lee Hahn): 

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Love That Dog and Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech; Poetry by any of the poets honored in the book: Naomi Shihab Nye, Robert Frost, e.e. cummings, Bashō, Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Walter Dean Myers, Emily Dickinson, Terrance Hayes, Billy Collins, Pablo Neruda, Judith Wright, Mary Oliver, Cwendolyn Brooks, Sandra Cisneros, William Carlos Williams, Okot p’Bitek, Chief Dan George, Rumi, or Maya Angelou

Recommended For: 

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