Archive for the ‘Activities’ Category

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.

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.

NaNoWriMo 2010@CPN – Days 1 and 2

On November 1, 2010, all the students and English teachers from seventh to twelfth grade at Colegio Puertorriqueño de Niñas (CPN) started writing novels as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

How to use reading to teach editing

My top three strategies

Sustained silent reading/DIVA (Dive Into Vicarious Adventure) time to immerse kids in a self-chosen “word flood.” The point is for students to do what Krashen calls “extensive reading,” in order to develop a sense of how language is used in authentic situations. Extensive reading also helps students to develop a sense about how grammar works and how words are spelled, as Simmons points out.

Reading Like a Writer literature units and discussion. When my students and I discuss literature, we reflect on and analyze the elements of fiction: setting, plot, characters, conflict, theme, point of view, tone, etc. But we also consider why the author might have made the choices she or he made while writing the text, and what different choices we might have made had we been writing the piece ourselves. We apply the insights gained through these discussions during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), when we spend the month of November writing first drafts of original novels.

Read-aloud editing. I also frequently ask students to read their own writing aloud to themselves, in order to use their ear to help their eye. This technique is surprisingly effective in sensitizing student writers to the mistakes in their own writing, as often students tend to speak better than they write (at least grammatically speaking!)

Effective literacy instruction

Recommendations for effective literacy instruction based on my teaching practices

In my junior and senior high school English classes at a private all-girl k-12 prep school, I teach higher-order literacy skills through the selection and use of excellent age- and level-appropriate materials, the strategic use of a daily sustained silent reading (SSR) program, and frequent, direct, explicit vocabulary instruction.

Good materials – In our school, we English teachers have the freedom, flexibility, and responsibility as a department of choosing textbooks, workbooks, and supplementary readings that challenge our students and help them develop their language skills in a consistent, deliberate ways. From seventh grade until twelfth grade, we have chosen to have a comprehensive literature textbook, a vocabulary workbook with three hundred new words, a grammar workbook with the same topics revisited year after year in slightly more complex and challenging ways, and supplementary readings (an average of three novels per semester). We work with materials that have been created for native English speakers, since by the time our students reach middle school they are basically bilingual and can do the work at that level of proficiency.

DIVA time – After much research on best practices of literacy instruction in high school, I decided to implement a sustained silent reading program in my classroom. At the beginning of each of my classes, the students and I have ten minutes of pleasure reading, which we call DIVA time –an acronym for what I think reading is: Dive Into Vicarious Adventure. We have created a classroom library full of English language books that are interesting to teenage girls, and from which the students can borrow freely. Each student must keep her book with her until she has finished reading. Rules for DIVA time are simple: 1) Choose any book –in English– you like; 2) Always bring your DIVA book to class; 3) As soon as you arrive at the classroom, sit down and start DIVAing; 4) No talking during DIVA; and 5) Keep track of your reading by writing the title, author, and number of pages in your Daybook, each time you finish (or switch) a book. That’s it. I try to interfere as little as possible with the reading process, since the point is to help the students discover for themselves that reading can be pleasurable, that they can read actual books, and that they are READERS. We have been DIVAing for half a semester, and I see improvement already, particularly in the girls who self-identified as non-readers. In the longer term, I expect to see an improvement in their vocabulary, reading comprehension, and attitude towards reading. We shall see how it goes.

Direct, explicit vocabulary instruction – In our school we are committed to direct, explicit vocabulary instruction, particularly of the academic vocabulary students need to perform well in national standardized tests. We have vocabulary workbooks, quickly quizzes, online flashcards, monthly and quarterly review tests, etc. But that’s not all we do. Every day we call our students’ attention to words: fun words, weird words, spooky words, foreign words, antonyms, synonyms, roots, affixes, etc. Since we teachers love words, we convey that same appreciation of language to the girls in everything we do. So far, it’s working too. We are seeing steadily rising scores and best of all, the students frequently tell us anecdotes about how they used their new words in non-school contexts!

Workshop on NaNoWriMo in the Classroom

Borinquen Writing Project Workshop

Prepared and presented by:  Gloria M. Custodio, high school English teacher, Colegio Puertorriqueño de Niñas

Date: Tuesday, October 19, 2010 

Title: “I’m a wrimo — who are you? Are you a wrimo too?” Implementing National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in the Secondary School English Classroom

Length: 1 hour presentation. The 3.5 hour version would include how to adapt the NaNoWriMo activities from primary school all the way up to the college level.

Abstract:  In this presentation, we will explore how students can develop into better, more fluent, more confident writers by becoming novelists.

Purpose: Show teachers that yes, students can (and should) write novels!

Theoretical  background:

This activity is connected to the ideas of these educators and experts on writing instruction:

  • Elbow – messiness; process writing; unbridled creativity
  • Graves – write with your students; create a community of novelists who support each other 



Each participating student and teacher:

  • Writes the draft of a novel within one month.
  • Uses new vocabulary.
  • Explores figurative language.
  • Applies the elements of literature (plot, character, theme, conflict, etc.) to create an original novel.

Study and life skills

Each student and teacher:

  • Practices effective goal setting and time management by planning and dividing the month-long project into manageable daily chunks of writing.
  • Builds a community of writers that is working on a common goal.
  • Addresses issues of procrastination and perfectionism. 



The student effectively communicates to a variety of audiences in all forms of writing through the use of the writing process, proper grammar, and age-appropriate expressive vocabulary. 

The student:

W.12.1 Analyzes and assesses word choice to convey meaning; incorporates transitions, correct grammar, syntax, and style.

W.12.2 Evaluates and applies a variety of organizational techniques to write effective narrative, expository, and persuasive essays using the writing process; demonstrates a preferred style of writing.

W.12.3 Uses creative writing styles to produce poems and other literary forms.

Reading selection or other material(s):

Official website:

Official website – Young Writer’s Project:


Edutopia article on the benefits of NaNoWriMo in the classroom:

How to Get Kids to Write a Book:

Explanation of activity:  Each participating student and teacher writes the draft of a novel within one month.  

  • Sign up for free materials at the Young Writer’s Project website.
  • Decide on the word count for you and your students. Maximum word-count is 50,000 (which is what the adult wrimos write); there is no minimum – it depends on your circumstances. Last year my junior and senior high school students and I wrote 50,000-word novels. This year, because we have less time to write in school due to a Middle States reaccreditation visit, our school word counts are:
    • 7th grade: 10,000
    • 8th grade: 15,000
    • 9th grade: 20,000
    • 10th grade: 25, 000
    • 11th grade: 30,000
    • 12th grade: 35,000
  • In the months leading up to NaNoWriMo, use Read Like a Writer literature units to help students notice what choices authors make and speculate about what they would have done differently (and why).
  • Sign up your students at the YWP website, so they can track their word counts. Older students can sign up themselves.
  • Students should access the free materials (by level), which include a workbook full of ideas to spark writing.
  • Gather useful writing resources: writing books, books for inspiration, vocabulary flashcards, story prompt cards, etc.
  • Post the official word count chart in a prominent place with all the participant names, so you are ready to start tracking everyone’s progress towards the goal.
  • Prepare motivational goodies: name cards, stickers, etc.
  • Plan extracurricular events to build community (See our sample calendar).
  • Just start writing! I have found the process works best if you devote all your class periods to writing, and you write alongside the kids. Once they are hooked, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised to see them writing in the hallways, the cafeteria, before and after school…
  • Stress that the process of generating ideas and writing the draft is very different (and separate) from the revision process (which we do not work on yet, though we might get into it as we have more students familiar with the NaNoWriMo process). Students will need reminding – many will get bogged down in trying to find the perfect idea, word, etc.
  • Celebrate the small successes along the way. And really celebrate all those who reached goal. The quality of the writing is not the point with this activity; the point is to build fluency and confidence. Quality will come through other activities involving lots of revision.


  • Self-reflection essay, due the second week of December, after the completion of NaNoWriMo. The novel itself is NOT graded (or even read), though students do receive participation/preparation points for engaging in the appropriate writing activities. 

Alternative assessment activities:

  • PowerPoint or movie documenting the process of writing the novel.
  • Revision of a fragment

Real classroom application: I will show evidence of how NaNoWriMo worked for me and my students last year.

At the Fourth Scholastic Journalism Summit

CPN Seniors Carolina Martinez, Lianis Martinez, Lucia Santos, and Ana Gomez

These are four of my journalism students at the “Cuarta Cumbre de Periodismo Escolar” sponsored by Sagrado’s “Centro de Libertad de Prensa”, this morning at the Opening Conference.

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