Using Personal Failures to Help Your Students

I’ve failed a lot in my 25 years of existence, and I will continue to fail for the rest of my life.  Failure is an important part of our lives and often leads to our successes.  But failure is not a part of our schools.  When students fail, they’re not taught to overcome this failure; oftentimes they’re taught that failure should be avoided.

But with the growing emphasis on “grit” our personal failures are going to become an important part of our teaching.  We need to start teaching students that failure is a part of learning.  And I try to do that by telling students about times that I’ve failed as a person, as a student, and as a teacher.

I have a few students who just don’t turn in homework.  It’s not that they lack support at home or don’t understand the material; it’s that they just don’t want to do the work.  We all have that student, or students, who ace their tests, but get a B because they have 0’s for homework grades.  Hell, I was even that student once.  And that’s where my personal failures can help change these students’ behaviors.

Instead of shaming them or emphasizing the importance of grades, I told a few of my 8th grade students, “I was like you when I was in school.  I did well on my tests, but didn’t do homework.  Mostly because I didn’t want to.  I got pretty good grades in high school, enough to get me into the college I wanted to go to; but when I got there, I failed.  I failed two classes and got Ds in a couple others.  I was on academic probation and had a 1.8 GPA.  Because I didn’t do my homework, I hadn’t built up good work habits.”

“In middle school and high school, for students like us, homework isn’t just to help us understand the material.  It helps us build up the habit of getting home from school and taking care of our work.  So right now, in middle school, it might be alright to get a few Bs or Cs, but when you move onto high school they’re going to stack up.  And by the time you get to college, it’s going to be very hard to change your ways.”

“So instead of trying to get all of your homework done in all of you classes, pick one.  Pick one class to start turning in every assignment.  Once you’ve got that going, add in another class.  By the end of the year you should have an A in every class.  You’re going to forget sometimes, but we all do.  The key is building up those work habits now, instead of trying to dig yourself out of a hole later.”

This isn’t a silver bullet by any means.  And they’re middle schoolers, so they’re going to need reminding.  But at the end of the day, I need to teach them how to get their work done and how to deal with their failures.  And for me, the best place to start was with my own failures as a student.

Brandon BowyerBrandon Bowyer  is new social studies teacher in Virginia. He loves teaching all areas of social studies and is  excited to apply his pedagogical and content knowledge to the teaching profession! You can follow him at Mr. Bowyer’s Social Studies Showroom.

Poetry All Year Round

Although National Poetry Month is almost over, it doesn’t mean teachers need to stop teaching poetry!  Truly, poetry can benefit instruction and provide pleasure for students all year round.  Below are two ideas for how teachers can incorporate poetry into their classrooms while also meeting expectations of the Common Core Standards and preparing students for standardized testing.

1.  Use Haiku

While students rarely write poems on standardized tests or in college English courses, they can use higher-level thinking to write poetry and demonstrate their understanding of prose selections. Haiku is an ideal form for this skill because students need to be concise in order to “capture” the most important ideas.



Here are strategies to implement this lesson:

1.  As students read an assigned story or novel, have them record symbols, images, and motifs.

2.  After they finish their reading, share sample Haiku poems and lead them in a discussion of the poems’ characteristics.

3.  Direct students to review the text examples from their reading and identify recurring images, central ideas, and themes.

4.  Encourage them to organize their words and thoughts into the 5-7-5 syllabic structure of a haiku poem.

5.  Challenge them to defend the word choices and lines in their haiku poems with a literary analysis essay that incorporates text-based evidence from their reading.

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons-8x6

2.  Use Art

Visual learners, English language learners, and students with special needs may benefit from a different approach.  Inspired by the Free Verse Project at, this next activity engages students in reading, analyzing, and then visualizing a line of a poem.


1.  First, students view featured images of poetry lines from and

2.  Next, students search for favorite poems and explain their poetry choices in writing.

3.  Then, students use their own creative techniques to produce images of their favorite lines of poetry.  Here is an example using a student- generated poem:

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4.  Again, students compose short literary analysis essays in which they explain how their images express the meanings of the selected poems.

5.   Finally, students display their original images and participate in a gallery walk.

Undoubtedly, with these ideas in a teacher’s toolbox, poetry instruction can be enjoyed any month of the school year!

OC_BEACH_TEACHER_revised_finalKim, the OCBeach Teacher,  is a National Board Certified English teacher who is currently teaching American Literature and AP English Literature and Composition.  She shares classroom ideas and tips on her OCBeachTeacher Facebook Page.



Sunday Panel: Considering the Environment

Sunday Panel StickyHow do you consider the environment in your classroom choices?

profile pic2Tara, Science in the City:

I am a science teacher, so environmental considerations fit in well with my class topics, and my personal interests.

I try to almost always copy double sided, or if something is small, just copy it on a half sheet. I also only copy a class set (or some extras) of a reading. Most students don’t really need their own copy. Since I use interactive notebooks, students do a lot of their work in their notebook, eliminating the need for extra papers.

EllenBrain7 (1)Ellen Weber:

I display posters in stress-free learning zones as visible reminders to look through another person’s view. The result? Laughter becomes a hallmark of our setting, and music upgrades brainwave activity daily.

Students convert boredom into curiosity in stress-free zones that add play. They cultivate relationships without stress, in zones that foster disagreements by building goodwill with those who differ.

Our stress-free zones  exchange tensions that characterize most secondary settings,  for brain-friendly tools to help students become the person they’d like their peers to see in them.

Stress-free zones  start wherever students see their surroundings through another person’s eyes. They increase when we build brain-friendly spaces across differences.


CDickson Profile PicClair, High School English on a Shoestring Budget: My environmental considerations also end up being money considerations.  I re-use the tri-fold posterboards by having the next class paste construction paper or something over top.  I re-use computer print outs and half-sheets, or even strips of paper, depending on what it is.  I have students clean out their folders every once in a while and collect clean copies of assignments to use again.  I even collect the student folders at the end and reuse those (usually for myself, but some of the really good folders I hand out to students next term.)


new logo 3Jackie,Room 213:

Probably the biggest change I’ve made is to post a lot of information on a class website. I still photocopy handouts they need to use in class, but information that they need for reference just goes on the website. Also, often my kids will submit assignments electronically. I can either mark them on word, using the comments or on, which has a great system for marking, including comment banks that you can just pull into the student document. I still prefer marking on the paper, but am making a conscious effort to do more online, so as to save paper.

Kim,OC_BEACH_TEACHER_revised_final at OCBeachTeacher:

My classroom has a window that looks out to a beautiful courtyard enclosed in the center of our school. It’s maintained by our theater teacher; she has her students care for the gardens by weeding, raking leaves, and trimming the bushes. They have also built a small stage where they perform fall and spring theater productions in the evenings. When they aren’t using the courtyard to rehearse their plays, other teachers can take their students out to the area to enjoy class in the sunshine. It’s a great way for us to appreciate and respect the environment!

Brandon BowyerMr. Bowyer’s Social Studies Showroom

I try to do small things like cut down on the number of handouts, print things on half of a sheet or double sided, or using whiteboards instead of a worksheet to review a test. I know these small changes might not make a difference in just my classroom, but if everyone tries to do what they can the small things will add up!

Planning the Perfect Picnic for Graduating Seniors

CloseHost a perfect picnic to close a senior high school seniors’ school years with a perfect picnic. Read these ideas to create a wonderful afternoon, full of new memories.

Host a perfect picnic to close a senior class’ school career. Give finality to those thirteen long years a class has spent together. The graduation ceremony holds meaning, but it is formal and stiff. Young high school students want to eat and chat with their friends, as a class, one last time.

A picnic makes for a fun afternoon for soon-to-be high school graduates. It creates an everlasting memory and provides different closure for them than the actual graduation ceremony. Senior classes often have extra funds at the end of their year, which can afford them a fun and relaxing afternoon, which they deserve. Continue reading for steps in hosting a perfect picnic for seniors.

Basic Decisions
Decide on the time and location. A convenient time for the picnic is after graduation practice. Seniors will be together, and they will already be signed out of school. Another option is holding the picnic on the last day of school, or late in the evening, after graduation. These might be problematic, as students may already have commitments. A final option is to host the picnic on the weekend. Again, students may be busy with work or other plans. Pick the time that is best for your situation.

Look at location options specific to your school. The class might spread out a few dozen blankets on the football field or sit in the stands. Some schools do not have an on-site sports area, so the cafeteria or physical education gym may work. Schools may also be willing to provide buses to take students to a local park. If students are no longer “technically” students, they could also find their own transportation.

Determine who will serve the food. The class sponsors may be willing to do it, but if they are teachers and the picnic takes place on a school day, they may be unable to do so. Parents may volunteer, or a group of teachers could rotate.

Announce the senior picnic at senior meetings. Create posters and hang them around the school. Make an information sheet and mail it to students, or deliver them in senior classes.

Invite people who helped the senior class. Send invitations to teachers and administrators. It may be appropriate to invite school board members and non-faculty coaches as well. Think of previous years and extend requests to teachers from elementary school.

Decide the type of food to serve. An old-fashioned, stereotypical picnic includes fried chicken, potato salad, lemonade, and apple pie. Stage a backwards-breakfast picnic and set up waffle makers, omelet skillets, and donut trays. Finish off the breakfast picnic with orange juice and fruit.

Build a sandwich line, with every possible topping imaginable. Buy an assortment of breads, meats and cheeses. Bring different flavors of salad dressings, mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup. Set up varying vegetables, from pickles and tomatoes to lettuce and spinach. Give the students plenty of options so they can build picturesque, enormous sandwiches. End the picnic with an ice-cream social and again, line a table with every imaginable topping: nuts, chocolate, caramel, fruits and whipped cream.

For classes with extra money and supervisors with little time, order takeout. Is there a rule that a picnic must be barbeque-type food? No, so order a few dozen pizzas and wings. Call in multiple types of Chinese food. This also easily allows for vegan and vegetarian dishes for classes with students on specific diets.

The menu does matter, but the message of a senior picnic stands as that the class spend time together, for perhaps the last fun time.

After eating, students may lounge, or they may want to play. Map out a bags tournament. Set out board games on tables. Bring a checker and chess set and play in gorgeous, outside lighting. Use the school supplies for entertainment as well. Borrow the science lab’s binoculars for bird watching. Set up a volleyball net or bases for a slow-pitch softball game. Finally, bring a camera and document these seniors’ final, childish fun. Post the pictures on a free blog or social networking site.

At the close of their senior year, students are heading off to jobs, colleges and huge responsibilities. Graduation finalizes a bit more of childhood. Make a perfect ending with a perfect picnic.

LanguageArtsClassroomLauralee Moss, a secondary language arts instructor, has taught for over a decade. She has a B.S. in English Education and a M.A. in Teaching and Leadership; visit her blog for more ideas or store for great products.

Spring into Science Writing

writingWith common core, we are more and more commonly being asked to integrate writing in science classes. This sounds much more intimidating than it is. There are a lot of ways to integrate writing in science classes, or across curriculum. Here are a few ideas:

  1. We can easily think of ways to address non-fiction (lab reports, research projects) in science (or social studies). This is commonly done, and can be expanded upon. To be more successful, consider explicitly teaching students skills for successful writing, and possibly giving sentence frames or scaffolds to students who struggle.
  2. Poetry or songs: Students can demonstrate their knowledge through creation of a poem or song. I have done this with the water cycle (my life as a water droplet, as a drop of water goes through the water cycle), or with macromolecules (what type of food is it found in, when does it get eaten, what does it get used for in the body after it is eaten?) Students really get into it, and they undoubtedly remember better when they create a rap or poem! Students can also sing songs or create a song to remember formulas. My 8th grade math teacher had a song for the quadratic formula, and to this day that’s how I remember it! Students love creating these songs themselves!
  3. Persuasive writing: Science and Social Studies, and even math can lend themselves to controversial topics, particularly in application. Current news events, natural disasters, historical events, microfinancing, taxes, and loans, are just a few examples. Think outside of the box into where adults apply these topics, and would be discussing them at a dinner or conference. This is breeding ground for your students to choose a position and write about it. Students can write a short, very scaffolded position where they choose a position, supply evidence, and write a conclusion (maybe with a handout to help scaffold it).  This can be done in several quick ways at the end of a lesson, through the use of a variety of exit tickets.  Alternatively, students can write a full length paper on a topic, with the inclusion of content facts.persuasive writingI have had students write on whether people should rebuild or move after a natural disaster, the use of stem cells, informed consent, several environmental topics, etc. Students really get into it, and it gives them a chance to process what they are learning in a different way, and see the relevancy and importance of it. I use this persuasive writing guide to help steer their writing (for higher students) or to create a guide (for lower students).

I’d love to hear your ideas of how you integrate different types of writing into your class!

profile pic2Tara is a science teacher from upstate NY. She has taught General Science, Biology, Environmental Science, and Earth Science.

How to Use Sound Devices in Spring

springSky1. Supply whatever poetry you are currently working on.
2. Create a sheet with the terms listed in yesterday’s post (all of these devices or just some of them).
3. Introduce these terms (even if students have heard of them before, we know a refresher always helps).
4. And there is no limit to YOUR imagination application! Have a poetry “read aloud” activity, do an aural (sound) equivalent of a word search where students can mark up the page to show the devices (feel free to invent your own key of odd markers to differentiate devices). For your more advanced classes, extend this Introduction and Application model into a Mastery segment, where students write about the effects such sound device have upon the poem itself and the person reading or listening to it (reader response, poetry sound device analysis).
5. Go outside if you can. The world is a beautiful place.
6. For high school students the transcendentalists or romantics are fantastic opportunities for close-reading and taking apart a poem.
Step one: read for enjoyment;
Step two: read for understanding/discussion;
Step three: read for sound and the assignment at hand.
7. Students should always write their own poetry if only because it gives them a sense of pride, respect for the form, and deeper knowledge.
8. A poetry unit is even better when students mix different disciplines into their work. Why not have students use technology? Students can record their own renditions of sound device poetry, and include pictures of nature or pictures reminiscent of the poems they studied, along with sketches or other media for a cross-disciplinary (art, literature, and technology) ode to spring.
Thanks for Reading!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGina Perfetto is a contributing writer and blogger, who publishes fine teaching products. She lives in New Jersey with her husband Gene and cat Dude.  Perfetto Writing Room Blog

Sounds a Lot Like Spring! – Poetry and Sound Devices

springSkyWith April running away from us all and students seeing the light . . .
of spring,
and of the impending end of school,
it’s even more important to keep them fascinated.

Spring is the best time to read, enjoy and analyze poetry. I thought I’d give you all a quick sprint into literary sound devices you can use with your students. I am more than happy to share with you the devices I have used in my class, followed by suggestions for use. There is no better time than RIGHT NOW to enjoy the beauty of poetry.

The Sound Device Arsenal!

The Big Three – These are the devices we usually associate with sound devices in poetry
1. Alliteration: repeating consonant sounds at the beginning of words that are near each other.
2. Assonance: an example of this might be date and main, in which the vowel sounds in words near other are very similar and create a pleasing sound effect. The consonant sounds end differently, so the words do not rhyme.
3. Consonance: Consonance is when words end in similar consonant sounds though they do not rhyme. An example of this is coat and night.

Other MAIN CONSIDERATIONS! – Remember that without these devices below, we might not have poetry (or at least certain types of poetry…) !
4. Cacophony/dissonance— the use of jarring sounds that are discordant and do not sound pleasing. This may be used to mimic the atmosphere of the poem or the activity occurring in the poem. A line from Hart Crane’s poem “The Bridge: “Under the looming stacks of the gigantic power house/Stars prick the eyes with sharp ammoniac proverbs,/New verities, new inklings in the velvet hummed/. . .” What is important to note here is that you might find some words that are alliterative, or have consonance. The overall effect, however, is one of a “mashing together” or a “grating” or “grinding.”
5. End rhyme – Rhyme found at the end of lines of poetry that are near enough to each other to be a stanza, AND to be remembered be the reader. End rhyme makes stanzas and rhyme scheme possible and creates unity to the poem and a pleasing sound.
6. Euphony – the opposite of cacophony. Pleasing sounds, usually accomplished on purpose, through a variety of ways: assonance; alliteration; rhyme; consonance; which all result in harmony.
7. Internal rhyme – Rhyme that occurs in the middle of a line of poetry. Yet another unifying and effective sound device. The internal rhyme may rhyme with an end rhyming word nearby, an end rhyme in its own line, or another internal rhyme. An example is Rudyard Kipling’s “Pink Elephants:”

Now, Jenny and me were engaged, you see
On the eve of a fancy ball
So a kiss or two is nothing to you
Or anyone else at all.

8. Near-, eye-, slant-, half- or off-rhyme – scholars may argue a difference between these terms – these are all terms for words that almost or nearly rhyme and contribute to the overall sound quality. For example home and come, close and lose. You can debate whether these are also assonance or consonance, or you can also call them off-rhymes!
9. Onomatopoeia – Oh, one of our favorites. Words that are created in such a way that they sound like what they are meant to represent. Flip-flops really do flip, and flop as they move across the pavement. A dog does bark and that is what it sounds like, isn’t it? When something plops into the water, it sounds very different than a plunk or a thud. All of these words and more, are onomatopoetic, and they add sound and fun to your writing.
10. Meter, rhythm, accent – the basis for our most traditional poetic verse. Accents are significant stresses in words that put together into units, form the basis of meter, the feet that make up our iambs, trochees, dactyls, spondees and anapests (there are more, of course!). And all of this is the rhythm of poetry, and the art of the written word.

Visit with us tomorrow for more information on sound devices.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGina Perfetto is a contributing writer and blogger, who publishes fine teaching products. She lives in New Jersey with her husband Gene and cat Dude.  Perfetto Writing Room Blog