Sunday, July 4, 2010

Week Four

On Monday, Pat Evans presented minutes as a Jeopardy! game. It was so much fun competing for the prize as we answered questions about Friday's class. To create your own games, try this website
The site is called PowerPoint Games, and it offers the templates for Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader, Wheel of Fortune, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and many others. What a fun way to review!

Lee Hudson of Dyer Junior High School visited and shared her Writing Workshop. Lee explained that teaching authentic writing is her passion, and she is opposed to prompts because they don't give the students ownership. She led us in writing on several topics, such as A Time When You Were Scared. We wrote and shared our writing. Lee explained how she, too, looks at every student's writing after other students have read it and made comments. Lee said, "The best tool for writing workshop is tape."

Also on Monday, Nancy Warden presented the lesson "Where Are You Going? Using Story Mapping in Creative Writing." Nancy shared Chris Van Allsburg's book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. Nancy asked us to explore the pictures and think of a creative story to explain what is happening in one of the pictures.  We then mapped our stories on a "mountain," designating a place for the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. We also thought about the characters, point of view, and themes of our stories. This lesson addresses state objectives and inspires students to have fun.
On Tuesday, Jenny talked to us about joining an RSS, a way to easily follow blogs and news events. Jenny uses Google Reader. Jenny taught us that clicking the RSS symbol on most sites, we can subscribe to those sites. Check out these RSS providers:
Shannon Lyon of Obion County Central High School presented Conversation Calendars on Tuesday. Every day, Shannon's students write at least two sentences on their conversation calendars, and Shannon responds at the end of the day. When students return the following day, they are always excited to see what Shannon has written to them. Conversation calendars are a great way for students to share their feelings. Shannon said, "They will write some things down faster than they will say them." Conversation Calendars offer one-on-one encouragement.

To access famous American speeches, try this site:
On Wednesday, David presented "The Givers: Writing Group Exchange." When using this technique, teachers have students share their papers with each other. Students are asked to make comments on their classmates' papers, but they cannot say anything negative. This lesson creates a feeling of community among the students.

On Thursday, the group walked over to the Holland McCombs Center for the read-around. Afterward, we concluded Summer Institute with a delicious lunch at The Opera House. The group will meet again in September at Martin Elementary School. It's been a great month!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pictures of Summer Institute!

To view more pictures from Summer Institute, click here:
Thank you, Jenny Brandon, for posting the pictures!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Week Three

On Monday, Jill McCaskill, a kindergarten teacher from Jackson, taught us that we all have a story to tell. In her classroom, she helps her students write by posting a word wall in her classroom. She encourages her students to write by asking them to list things they know. Her enthusiasm and ideas are an inspiration!

Melanie Sargent, a high school English teacher from Lauderdale County, presented a fun demonstration called “Tea, Anyone? A No Fear Initiation into Poetry Analysis.” She began by handing out invitations to a tea party, and inside each envelope was a card with a phrase on it. The phrase was from a poem, and everyone in the room had a different phrase. Melanie asked us to walk about and share our phrases; afterword, we got into groups and discussed what we thought about the poem. We then shared our predictions about the poem before Melanie gave us each a copy of the poem. It was very interesting to compare our beliefs about the poem and to compare those beliefs with the actual poem.

In Classroom Inquiry, David Carithers continues to help us focus our questions and subquestions. On July 1, we each have to turn in a one-page report of our classroom inquiry plans, including the question, subquestions, background information, steps we plan to take, and gathering tools.

On Tuesday, we enjoyed a presentation by Julie Langford about using tabloids to teach writing. Julie, a fifth grade teacher in Martin, presented “Tabloid Writing: The Power of Exaggeration.” We began by listing similarities and differences between newspapers and tabloids. She showed us a few humorous examples of tabloids, and then she handed out tabloid titles and asked us to write our own. We shared and had a lot of fun!

Tech Tuesday was filled with useful information, as always. The group traveled to the Crisp Hall computer lab, where Jenny led us in exploring,,, online photo sharing, and glogster.

On Wednesday morning, Joanne Stagner taught us about graphic organizers and inspired us to make a change in the world. She teaches expository writing by sharing the Michael Jackson song “Man in the Mirror” with her students. Students listen to the lyrics and think of ways they can improve themselves or society. Dividing a page into four parts, we all worked to organize our thoughts as a pre-writing tool.

In Exercises in Revision Wednesday, David shared with us the difference between revision and editing. Revision is about looking at the order, clarity, flow, continuity, voice, style, topic, tone, and organization of a piece of writing. Editing means finding and correcting mistakes in grammar and spelling.

Thursday began with a demonstration by Cindy Taylor of Finley Elementary School. Cindy uses journaling in her classroom. Sometimes the prompts are content-area topics. She often gives them writing time with no topic, but the class brainstorms about topics before they begin. She has her student draw vertical lines in their journals to separate the days of the week, and one section is left open for her comments when grading the journals. She said several really powerful things during her demonstration. One quote from Cindy is, “We don’t write just for a test. We write because it’s a life skill and an extension of ourselves.”

Following Cindy’s demonstration, we participated in an activity that allowed us to explore many NWP books. A few of the titles we liked were Pam Houston’s Cowboys are my Weakness, Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, Thomas Newkirk’s Holding on to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones, and Nancie Atwell’s In the Middle.

Also on Thursday, we divided into our content areas and discussed the books we’re reading. Following the book discussion, we all traveled to Brandy’s, where we enjoyed a nice meal and another exciting read-around. This was a great week!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Week Two

Week two got off to a great start as Debbie Jones presented the first demonstration. The topic of her demonstration was Using Writers' Notebooks and Writing Groups. Debbie emphasized the importance of sharing writing, and she showed us video clips of her students reading their own writing. To show us how it works, Debbie asked us to make a list of people--not relatives or friends--whom we would like to write. We shared our lists. Debbie then gave us some time to write our letters, and we later shared our letters.

Kamilah Whitley, a sixth, seventh, and eighth grade teacher at Craigmont Middle School, presented us with a demonstration that showed us the possibilities of writing. She started her demo by handing out keys and asking us to describe them. Afterwards, we shared. She then handed out photographs and asked us to write about them. Kamilah taught us that good writers put their F.A.C.E in their writing. F.A.C.E. stands for Figurative language, Appropriate transitions, Compound and Complex sentences, and Elaboration and Examples. Kamilah also read the first chapter of the book The Shakespeare Stealer and asked us to create four-square charts that required us to list important quotations and illustrate the events of the text.  Kamilah says she likes to give her students opportunities to be published, and several of her students have placed in the annual Wordsmith Writing Competition.

During her Tech Ten lesson, Jenny Brandon reminded us of the West Tennessee Writing Project website, which can be accessed by clicking this link:

Pat Evans of Jackson presented Tuesday. Pat read the book Frederick to us and asked us to draw a picture of an image from the book. Afterward, she asked us to write our own stories based on our pictures. This was a fun activity that fostered creativity and solid writing practice.

David Carithers set us to thinking about our teaching stories Tuesday as he led us in answering questions about our classrooms. David asked us to remember something about the last year of teaching that wasn't successful or that taught us something about teaching. After about an hour of writing, we were off to a good start on our teaching stories.

CI=Classroom Inquiry
David has been leading us into thinking about Classroom Inquiry. What questions do we have about education? What questions do we have about our classrooms? Throughout the coming school year, all WTWP Summer Institute participants will become investigators who will work to find the answers to their various questions.

On Wednesday morning, Jenny Brandon had a lot of great things to show us. The group watched as Jenny taught us more about Prezi, an amazing free presentation tool that is online. Jenny also talked to us about blogging and voicethread, and their uses in the classroom. She taught us about Bud Hunt's blog, "Bud the Teacher," and about, a terrific blog by a real pioneer woman who can really cook. Our mouths were watering!

We later visited the UTM Writing Center, where we met Anna Clark and Jenna Wright, UTM English professors and Writing Center coordinators. Jenna and Anna explained the daily workings of the Writing Center. Anna shared some creative ideas for teaching writing, including the haiku maze, wrapping the school in poetry, and letting the students write on a poetry chair. Jenna and Anna were very gracious, as they served us delicious breads and offered us a table of free materials in addition to opening their doors and sharing their time despite their busy schedules. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit!

On Thursday, visitors came and we all ventured out for a Writing Marathon! Participants in a writing marathon must set out with the intention to write. After everyone writes for a timed period, individuals share their writing with the group. No responses are allowed. If anyone in the area asks what the group is doing, the only answer allowed is, "We are writers!" We divided into four groups and teacher consultants found themselves all over the beautiful Martin campus. One group drew quite a crowd in the library.

Read-Aloud was once again fabulous on Thursday afternoon. Among other stories, Tiana shared her childhood experiences with her beloved sister, Debbie shared her true feelings for John Denver, Jill shared her philosophy of life, and Doug read about the good ol' days riding to school on the school bus. It was obvious Thursday that everyone in the group has mastered the art of description, especially Doug.  

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Literary Storehouse

Early Morning Kim Stafford

Entertaining an Elephant
William McBride

Poppy Avi

The Trouble with Poetry Billy Collins

Listen to Billy Collins read "The Lanyard" at this site:

At Home in Mitford
Jan Karon

The Dark Elf Trilogy
R.A. Salvatore

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Judith Viorst

19 Minutes
Jodi Picoult

Flags of Our Fathers
James Bradley

My Day
Eleanor Rooselvelt

David Sedaris

The Fred Factor
Mark Sandborn

The Book Thief   
Markus Zusak


Sh*t My Dad Says
Justin Halpern

Number the Stars
Lois Lowry

Week One

It’s been a tiring and inspiring first week at Summer Institute. I feel like I’ve already learned a great deal that I can implement in my classroom. This experience has made me excited about beginning a new school year.

Jenny Brandon’s demonstration Monday opened us up to the possibilities of Readers’ Theater. Having students get into groups and prepare fun and entertaining skits will help them achieve a better understanding of the text, and the other students observing will be able to hear the text in a whole new way. One thing I really like about Readers’ Theater is it doesn’t require a ton of work from the teacher. I also like "the stare."

Also on Monday Lana Warren presented a demonstration on using music to teach poetry and other subjects. We responded to questions about our favorite songs and also analyzed song lyrics to find alliteration, hyperbole, similes, metaphors, and other literary elements.

On Tuesday, Doug Billings of Lauderdale Middle School presented Mister Pickle: Story and Poetry Starters. His demonstration showed us some great new ideas, and we had a lot of fun. I’ve used the write-and-pass-and write technique before, but I had never seen those cool Story Starter cards before, and the idea to group them and have them choose the best one to share with the class was new to me.

Tara Erwin’s demonstration was a great lesson on adding detail. She gave us a story that lacked detail and we practiced improving it by thinking of vivid verbs and description.  Dana Craddock, a social studies teacher at Ridgemont Elementary, presented a great way to teach history. We paired up and researched various people (peasants, serfs, knights, kings, queens) of the Middle Ages. We then wrote from the point of view of a medieval character we created. 

I liked Jenny’s tech lesson about Mouse Mischief. I would really like for all of my students to be able to point and click correct choices for a test review or a grammar exercise. I am excited that this is free, and I am looking into getting some wireless mice so that I can use this in my classroom.

Michael Bentley’s demonstration “The Reader is an Idiot” was both hilarious and valuable. What a great way to show students the importance of details and clarity. Watching him pick up those Hershey’s Kisses with his mouth was so funny!


Tiana Page of Camden Junior High School presented us with the idea of teaching students about organization by thinking of a hamburger. Her ideas were excellent, and they can be adapted for the eleventh grade TCAP Writing Assessment focus, which is persuasive writing.

I cried my eyes out during the read-around Thursday, but it was a great way to end the week. I’m glad I got to hear them all. The piece Doug Billings read was terrific; I think he should try to publish it. I also liked Michael Bentley’s story, with its scary twist at the end.

The week has gone by quickly, and I have loved it. We have a great group this year!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Immersion Day!

On May 8, 2010, teachers from all over West and Middle Tennessee joined for the first time to kick off the 2010 West Tennessee Writing Project Summer Institute! Dr. David Carithers led the group of participants and SIFTers, including Michael Bentley, Douglas Billings, Jenny Brandon, Dana Craddock, Josephine Crenshaw, Tara Erwin, Patricia Evans, Lydia Freyburger, Deborah Jones, Julie  Langford, Jill McCaskill, Tiana Page, Melanie Sargent, Joanne A. Brown Stagner, Cynthia Taylor, Lana Warren, and Kamilah Whitley.

The morning began at 8:00 with bagels and coffee.


Everyone present made paper name plates, which is harder than it looks, and got to know each other.

At 8:30, David led the group in writing about past experiences with his demonstration,        "The Pull of Memory." We thought back to our favorite childhood books and writing. We wrote about the books our parents read to us, the first books we remember reading, writing that is important to us, and other topics related to reading and writing.

David also asked us to write about our teaching, why we started teaching, and what we would like to write in a letter to school board members.

Jenny Brandon led us in reading a poem titled "To Be of Use" by Marge Piercy. From this eye-opening poem, we developed our own poetry and prose by pulling out our favorite phrases and lines. We later shared our writing by reading aloud. "The work of the world is common as mud...."

For lunch we ate delicious sandwich wraps and chips. Fortunately, the food didn't taste anything like mud.

After lunch, we met in groups to discuss titles for our upcoming demonstrations. Participants also chose days or approximate times when they would like to present: early, middle, or end of the month. David promised us he would be as accommodating as possible.

Shortly after 1:00, Jenny, David, and Lana met in a "fishbowl" to demonstrate writing groups.
Each of them began by stating what it was he or she wanted to know about his or her piece of writing. Then they took turns reading their original written work as the others listened. When each person finished, it was the job of the group members to respond with questions, suggestions, answers to questions, or accolades, depending on what the writer asked for in the beginning.  

Following the fishbowl writing response group activity, David led everyone in reflective writing, and the meeting was adjourned after reminders of our homework for the first day of Summer Institute, Monday, June 7.  

I can't wait to see everyone in June!