Book recommendation: Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dina Simpson

Book cover

Book cover

Phoebe is skipping stones one day when she hits a unicorn, who, of course, grants her a wish. And so Phoebe and Marigold Heavenly Nostrils become best friends.

This lovely comic strip chronicles their adventures as precocious Phoebe and not-so-modest, ultra-fabulous Marigold navigate elementary school, bullies, parties, and ordinary life.

Kids will enjoy the colorful illustrations and situations; adults will devour the allusions and witty word play. Love it!

For teachers: Publisher Andrews McMeel Publishing offers a free teacher’s guide with CCSS-aligned activities for grades 3-5.

Book info

Age Range: 8 to 12 (But enjoyable for all ages)
Format: Paperback
Dimensions: 6 x 9
ISBN: 9781449446208
Publication Date: 9/2/2014
Pages: 224
Ebook available too.

My Reading Life

If you want to know what I’m reading, please join me on Litsy (only available as an app for iPhone and Android), where I’m @BookishMarginalia.

On Goodreads: My Goodreads reviews as gmcustodio

And I also review books on NetGalley, where I’ve earned this badge:

50 Book Reviews

See you in the stacks!

Writing on writing: New collection of Vanity Fair essays out now!

If you’re anything like me, you’re always looking for short, interesting texts to complement the assigned readings in our course9780143111764s. This essay collection is perfect for that purpose.

Previously published in Vanity Fair magazine, these essays highlight the breadth and depth of the magazine’s commitment to the literary life. The gimmick is simple but effective: assign one writer to examine the life or work of another and read what happens. The essays are a glorious, eclectic mix of styles, lengths, and vantage points, so every reader will find something to enjoy. This is a collection to be dipped into, savored, and shared with students, who will benefit both from the content and the style of the pieces.

For more information on this book:

Read a Banned Book


Defend the right to read.

Celebrate freedom of speech and thought by picking up a book. Banned Books Week is a great opportunity to remember –and remind others– that access to books is important and must be defended.banned-books-week-logo-2016

Work with your brain turned on.

Work with your brain turned on.

If you don’t use your brain, what’s the point? We don’t want just bodies in chairs in our classrooms or talking heads giving lectures. Both teachers AND students need to work with our brains turned ON.

Tools and Techniques for Effective Grammar Instruction in the Twenty-first Century Classroom

PRTESOL – 2010 Convention – Saturday, November 13, 2010

Presenters: Evelyn Pérez Mass, Universidad del Turabo and University of Phoenix, and Gloria M. Custodio, Colegio Puertorriqueño de Niñas

Summary of the presentation: Since grammar is an essential component of language acquisition and learning, ESL teachers must be enthusiastic grammarians who balance the descriptive (the rules) with the procedural knowledge (the application) that students need in order to become proficient in English. Teachers must prepare and deliver effective grammar lessons that target the specific needs of their students, according to their age and level of proficiency. Technology, particularly the myriad free resources available on the Internet, can help teachers and students in the quest to improve their English grammar skills.

Objectives: By the end of this workshop, the participant will:

  • Undertand the importance of both direct and implicit instruction of grammar in the ESL classroom, regardless of the age and proficiency level of the students.
  • Appreciate the need to develop both descriptive and procedural knowledge of grammar.
  • Know where to find new resources to teach any grammar skill. (Hint: Google your grammar topic!)
  • Have at least one practical, effective activity or strategy for grammar teaching that can be implemented immediately in his or her classroom.
  • Practice at least one activity and discuss it with his or her peers.


  • For links and more information, including an e-version of this document, please visit Gloria Custodio’s blog, My Teaching Life, at
  • You can also follow Gloria’s mostly education-related tweets on Twitter (@gmcustodio).
  • We have also created a group (All About Grammar) on the social bookmarking site Diigo. Visit, create a free account, and join our group, to access an ever-growing array of grammar-related resources. You can also add new resources that you find on the Internet for other group members to use.

Tools & Techniques for Teaching Grammar

Grammar is important! – View Grammar Doesn’t Have to Be Boring: A Response to Elbow and Graves, by fellow English teacher Sheri Viota.

Teachers often encounter obstacles in teaching grammar. The experience of teaching grammar varies depending on the level of the student (both age and proficiency), as well as the teacher’s mastery of the subject, comfort and enthusiasm for teaching it.

But there is help! There are good, free online materials for all levels of age and proficiency which can be used directly by students and also adapted by teachers for own use in the classroom. Resources range from online presentations and handbooks, to online interactive exercises, printable worksheets, lesson plans, etc. Don’t despair: whatever you and your students need, whatever resources you have available at home or at school, there is material online to help you teach more effectively and your students learn more efficiently.

The key to good grammar instruction (well, the key to good instruction in general) is preparation – never step into a classroom to teach a grammar lesson that you haven’t first reviewed, no matter how long you have been teaching. Always do a Google search to see if any useful new resources have become available since you last taught this lesson.

Other keys:

Decide what kids should know and when they should know it – planning is essential.

And no, you do not need to follow the order of your grammar textbook! Teach topics in the order that makes the most sense for your students. That means you need to determine what they know, so give a diagnostic test at the beginning. You might also want to give a post-test at the end of the year, to see how much the students have improved after two semesters with you.

Collaborate with the other English teachers in your school to create a structured, cohesive Grammar Work Plan that shows which grammar skills should be taught (and reinforced) when, taking into account your student population and its needs.

Identify resources to implement the Grammar Work Plan: textbooks and workbooks, Internet websites, PowerPoint presentations, test banks, lesson plans, etc.

In the classroom

Cultivate a positive attitude about grammar (and the other more ‘arid’ facets of language learning)– if you don’t approach grammar with a joyful, enthusiastic attitude, how can you expect students to enjoy learning grammar?

Adjust to the level of the students – if you have markedly different levels, you need to differentiate instruction, which can be done through:

  • small group work,
  • jigsaw teams (different proficiency levels working in one group or dividing kids into specialty groups and then having the groups reconfigure so one ‘expert’ from each specialty is in each group) – the idea is to have kids teach each other;
  • different (more complex) exercises on the same topic for students who have mastered the basics, or conversely, more basic exercises for students who are struggling.

Aim for a mix of activities and instructional strategies that promote both descriptive and procedural knowledge of grammar. Students should know the grammatical terms as well as how to recognize and apply the grammatical structures.

Use both free-standing explicit grammar lessons and integrated mini-lessons within larger reading or writing units.

Review. Review. And then review some more. The goal is for good grammar to become automatic for your students, and that happens after much repetition. Approach grammar instruction in a spiral fashion, revisiting the concepts periodically with greater complexity and depth as the students gain a better grasp of the grammatical structures and how they work.

Correct grammar mistakes – this doesn’t mean that the teacher has to stop everything and explicitly correct the student (which might have an undesirable chilling effect in the classroom), but rather, that the teacher rephrases the student’s words using the appropriate grammar. The teacher also takes advantage of teachable moments to introduce or reinforce concepts that are giving students trouble.

Post grammar posters as reminders in your room – these might be as simple as “they’re, their, there” to remind students to pay attention when using these three often-confused words. Have students do their own posters and display them in the classroom; you could also scan them and post them online.

When targeting mistakes in writing, focus on patterns of grammatical mistakes and tackle them one at a time, instead of drowning students in red ink. Corrections that are too nitpicky only discourage students; they cannot focus on solutions if they are just looking at an overwhelming problem. This strategy also works well for improving performance on standardized tests.

Brush up on your own grammar. You cannot teach what you do not know. You shouldn’t teach what you have not yet mastered.

Grammar Doesn’t Have to Be Boring!

Sheri Viota, my colleague at CPN and the Borinquen Writing Project, created this fabulous slideshow in defense of grammar instruction. Sheri’s blog is My Thoughts on The Matter (in the Other BWP Bloggers list). Enjoy!

How I have grown as a teacher and a writer these past few months at the Borinquen Writing Project

Taking these two graduate courses at USC has afforded me the opportunity to take a break from the bustle and hustle of my daily teaching routine and reflect upon my instructional practices. It has also allowed me to bond more closely with three of my CPN colleagues, renew and refresh my knowledge of Elbow, Graves, and Atwell, and encounter some new and useful theorists and theories which will surely continue to inform my teaching in the future. Most importantly, my time as a student at the Borinquen Writing Project has enabled me to become part of a wonderful community of teachers who are engaged and dedicated to the teaching of writing in Puerto Rico. I look forward to becoming a BWP teaching consultant and expanding our teaching and learning community even more.

In the past two months, I have enjoyed spending time with my fellow teachers, writing, sharing, and responding to each other’s writing. I particularly enjoyed sharing with the other participants my experiences implementing National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in the classroom; preparing my presentation helped me both reflect on last year’s NaNoWriMo journey and plan for this year’s extension of the activity beyond my classroom and my students. I also appreciated the strategies and resources other teachers shared with us, such as Pilar’s innovative use of radio technology to inspire kids to write, Harry’s cartoon-related activities, Jann’s postcards inspired by The Time Machine, Marisa’s concrete writing, Annette’s writing cards, Sandra’s movie-based vocabulary instruction, and of course, Sheri’s defense of grammar.

As a fellow grammarian, I appreciate Sheri’s attention to the conventions of language, and her insistence that teachers must master these conventions in order to both model and instruct their students properly. It behooves us teachers to be careful in our own use of language, and to have enthusiasm for the more ‘arid’ areas of language learning, such as vocabulary and grammar. If we teachers don’t evince joy in and enthusiasm for learning, how can we possibly expect our kids to be joyful, enthusiastic learners?

The truth is that we can’t.

We must work to transmit to students an honest appreciation for the complexities and the beauty of language that is anchored in a deep understanding of how that language works. Perhaps it is my experience with older students, including five years teaching undergraduates and my current position teaching eleventh and twelfth grade students, and conversely, my dearth of experience dealing with young students, that fuels my desire to make sure my students are both creative AND conversant in the rules of the English language. I want my students to let their creative juices flow as they write their novels, but I also want them to do well in the standardized tests that are required for college admission. It’s a delicate balance, but one I strive to achieve every single time I step into my classroom.

So, thank you, Prof. Monllor, Prof. Avilés, and fellow BWP participants, for reminding me of the myriad reasons I love teaching. And of course, for pushing me to start and keep a blog! I intend to continue blogging as way to continue growing, changing, and developing.

What have I learned from NaNoWriMo, so far

As a writer in a community of writers
I have learned that I write much more, much better, and in a much more relaxed, enjoyable manner, when I am working within a community of writers, because I feel more connected and it takes me outside myself. When I look around and see other people writing –particularly when I see my students writing and I know I need to model good writing behavior and strategies and habits for them—it makes me less self-conscious and more proactive. I am not stuck inside my own head bemoaning my perfectionism or my lack of talent, but instead am focused more on channeling my thoughts and listening to the voices of my characters. When I am immersed in writing within community, I feel accompanied and supported, even when we are all actually working on our own manuscripts, silently banging on the keyboard. The mere act of listening to the tap, tap, tap is comforting; looking up and seeing all these writers intent on their creations gives me a rush of good feelings, which I think is essential to sustain the writing process.

Now, the question is, how to sustain this feeling beyond NaNoWriMo? That is something I have to ponder.

As a teacher, alone and in a community of teachers.

Last year as the only teacher whose students were wrimoing, it was a little solitary, though I felt sustained by the hope of having my crazy experiment validated by the kids’ success, which, thankfully, it was. That success is why all of us middle and high school English teachers are now doing NaNoWriMo with our kids, and why the fifth grade teacher and her class also joined in.

It is nice to be able to guide the other teachers through the process, to let them know that there will be days in the adventure when enthusiasm will flag and word counts will stall. In fact, that discomfort is one of the most useful things about NaNoWriMo – we have to face obstacles, such as writer’s block, a lack of motivation, a perceived lack of time or excess of responsibilities, and create and implement plans to muscle through to victory. It is a very useful lesson – that on the path to a goal that takes time and effort, you can lose your way, and you can also choose to find your way back.

%d bloggers like this: