Back to School Shenanigans

15th August 2017

Welcome back teacher friends. I hope that your summer was restful and fun. I know mine was. I can’t believe how fast it went and that my daughter is in KINDERGARTEN and my baby boy is off to DAYCARE. It has been a rocky transition into our new routines (I am teaching 5 classes straight, talk about rocky…) but I think we are finally in the groove now. I will miss hanging all day with these two cuties though…

Well, I am in week three of back to school and there are three things that I am loving so far this school year that I wanted to share: a tool, an idea, and a strategy:


  2. Worst Essay Ever Baseline Essays

  3. My Favorite “No”


This is going to be a game changer guys, I can just feel it. This website allows you to post a question to a class “Queue” and have the students respond in 15, 30, or 60 second video clips! It also allows them to post a written response, comment on each other’s responses and videos, and allows the videos or written responses to be private as well just to the teacher. Can you tell I am pumped? Last week I rolled this out on a whim after finding it on Pinterest the night before.

My Honors Sophomore students and I had close read the poem “My Mother Pieced Quilts” by Theresa Acosta together as a class under the document camera. But then we had a Chromebook roll out, Link Crew Assembly, and Student Policy contracts all run through ENGLISH CLASSES the rest of the week so it was three days between when I first taught the poem and the class period I wanted to build an analysis lesson off of it. So, I decided to have the students go on a “Walk and Talk” and review the strategies, tone, and theme of the poem with a partner or small group as they walked around the campus. At the end of their walk and talk, I told them they had to post a 30 second video to (it gives you a login pin when you create the queue) with what they thought was the author’s most effective strategy she used to develop her overall message and why they chose that strategy. They FREAKED OUT. They didn’t want to film themselves but they reluctantly agreed! I told them they had 10 minutes to walk, talk, and post and they needed to be back in class.

When they returned, I told them that based on the strategy they chose for the video they needed to write an analytical statement that connected the strategy to the audience and theme. They got to work right away following the formula I taught them when they returned. They then posted their analysis attempt right under their videos!!! When I went to grade them, I was able to listen to the videos to see where their heads were at and to see if that translated into a written analytical statement. It was fascinating to compare their verbal responses to their written and it was a fun way to break up the normal warm-up routine.

I am also thinking of using this as a way to record a recap of their literature circle warm-ups on their independent novels. Easy to only grade 8 tables videos instead of 34 individual student videos. I highly recommend looking into this – the “how to” video tutorials are also amazing and there are more features that I haven’t even attempted yet!

  1. NEW IDEA – Worst Essay Ever Baseline Essays

Normally I always give a baseline essay prompt to all my classes to see what I am working with this year as far as my student’s skill levels. I think a lot of us do this and I think it is a good teaching practice. However, my colleague ran across this article and it made me stop in my tracks. I thought I would give it a shot with my Honors Sophomore students and boy, was IT A HIT. I gave the students eight sources the night before to read and annotate and told them they would have a timed synthesis baselines essay tomorrow in which they would receive the prompt at the beginning of the hour and would have an hour to finish. They panicked a little but I told them to trust me.

When they entered class the next day and grabbed the prompt that said: “using at least three sources, answer the prompt by writing the worst essay you have ever written”, they just busted up laughing. I told them they needed to think of five major writing mistakes and incorporate them strategically into their essay of at least four paragraphs. They were energized, smiling, and ready to write —- who knew?

However, halfway through writing it they were struggling. I was hearing, “this is harder than I thought” and “my brain is fighting itself.” Which is exactly what I wanted. The next day, they presented their essays to their teams and then completed the reflection included in the blog post article link above. They had to really think through what good writing is in order to be able to break the rules in a horrible essay. I then gave them the real prompt and told them they had two days to type it and submit it to They were much more ready to write after reviewing what NOT TO DO and the typed essays still needed work but weren’t the result of summer brain.

  1. OLD STRATEGY, NEW USE – My Favorite No

I have used this strategy before but never consistently and so far I have used it twice with my classes this school year and I think I am going to continue it, I am seeing a lot of “light bulbs” go on and improvement in their writing already. Even though this video is a math example, I use it for English when practicing a new type of writing or working through thesis statements, hooks, topic sentences, closures, whatever they are struggling with really.

In this case, I took the analytical statement posts from the lesson and found my “favorite” – the one that was the closest to what I wanted from them. I then found four or five that were my “favorite no’s” – the ones that made the mistakes that most of the partner pairs made and that I wanted to review so that they could correct them. I copied them into a Google Doc and then commented on what I would change or fix. I posted this to Google Classroom and also went over it in class and talked them through them (especially some of my more snarky comments since they don’t really know that they are from a loving place yet).

They were laughing at their mistakes and nodding their heads in my responses and comments. I also allowed them to rewrite their original analytical statements and post their improved statements based on my feedback to the comments under their original post on It was awesome for them to see their video (where the train started), their original post (where the train got off the tracks a bit), and their improved post (where the train arrived at its destination).

These three have really made my missing-my-kiddos-back-to-school-blues vanish. I hope if you need them that they do the same for you!