Critical Thinking: Analyzing Quotes

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I have always found great appreciation for a thought-provoking quote. In fact, I can remember having great discussions in class about quotes from whichever novel we were reading. Sometimes I would provide the quotes, and other times I would require students to find their own meaningful quotes. What was most interesting about the process was student application. Students are impressive young people, and when you hit the right cord, they will blow your socks off. And so, a quote activity was born.

 What’s Included

  • 18 weeks of analyzing quotes, 1 for each week.
  • 5 activities for each quote
  • Critical thinking, constructed response, text-to-text, text-to-self, text-to-world activities, and more.
  • Challenges for students to share their own quotes and create activities
  • Opportunities to work with a partner

How It Works

I20170717_101832.jpgf possible, print each student their own booklet of quotes. The booklets can be stored in the classroom so students always have them if there is a concern about the notebooks being lost.

At the beginning of each week, assign students a new quote. Have them complete the paraphrase activity first. This is a great way to assess students’ understanding of the quote because they have to rewrite it in their own words.

As you progress through the week, have students complete a different activity each day. To generate discussion

, you can have students share their responses with a peer or in small groups. For class discussions, have students share their responses and respond to other’s points of view.

At the end of the week, you can collect the notebooks and provide students with feedback. Another option is to use daily discussion to gather information about each student’s comprehension and provide feedback through discussions.

The Purpose

The purpose of the activity is to teach students to think critically. Instead of giving students a grade for a “right” or “wrong” answer, provide them with feedback. Ask them questions as opposed to giving them an answer as there are a variety of ways to answer these critical thinking questions.


By the end of the 18 weeks, students will be able to:

  1. analyze quotes for meaning
  2. make connections between quotes, themselves, the real word, and other texts.
  3. determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in context (RL.4).
  4. analyze the impact of specific word choice on meaning and tone (RL.4).
  5. cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says (RL.1).

To purchase this activity, click here.

Reason #1,145 Why Teachers Need to Require Students to Follow Directions

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I can remember a conversation with a parent about a student losing points for not following directions. Her argument was that he worked really hard. My stance was that none of that mattered if he could not follow the directions. Fast forward 4 years and I stumble across an article about the New Jersey Institute of Technology losing a $1.25M grant because someone did not follow directions. I won’t recap the entire article here. I have shared the link in case you’d like to read about it. What I will say is that there are 2 very important take-aways here:

GREAT Informational Text for Class! 

The first thing I thought when I saw an Instagram post about this article was that this is a WONDERFUL informational text for students to read and dissect. Because it is so relevant, it is only necessary for the teacher to ask, “What do you think about this?” Imagine if students were in small groups discussing the text and then they shared out their thoughts.

(For you 🙂 –  I have copied and pasted the article into a PDF NJ College.)

What’s the Cost of Not Following Directions?
Apparently, it costs $1.25M when you don’t follow directions, and I propose that it costs a upward boundlot more. This may even be a fireable offense. That does not mean that the person in this instance was fired (the article does not say that, and I have no way of knowing). It just means that, I believe, if a university has been offering a college-prep program to low-income children for the past 18 years, and they are no longer able to do so because someone couldn’t double-space an application, firing seems very possible. Furthermore, costs in this situation manifest in several ways:

  1. The students who are unable to participate in this program become collateral damage.
  2. The university’s reputation could be tainted in the community.
  3. The people who work during this program also lose out.

I’m sure there are other costs associated with this faux pas, but that really is not my point. My point is that there are times when not following directions can cost you more than you are willing to give up. It is important that everyone understand the importance of following directions. While the university will appeal this decision, and this program is slated to be cut under the Trump Administration’s proposed budget, these options/outcomes are not always present. In fact, in life, not following directions can cause great heartache.

It’s The End Of The Year, Now What?

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It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over

As we watch the playoffs in my house, I am always impressed with the effort the losing team gives all the way up until the last second. Even if they are down by 10 points, it appears that they are hopeful, and so they persevere. Time-outs are called, they huddle, and the coach gives a play, a strategy… a last ditch effort to win the game…

You don’t have to love basketball to understand my analogy. As teachers, it is not over, until it’s over. The same effort I see when I watch athletes in the final seconds of a game, is the same effort I tried to exert at the end of each school year. I know how taxing it can be to make it through an entire school year and cap it off with standardized testing. Whew! It is exxhauuusting! But we must take a few things into consideration:

  1. Learning is never-ending: As learners, we can all learn new things and polish skills we have.
  2. Develop the whole child: Children deserve to understand all of the opportunities available to them, not just the ones their demographic dictates as possible. Introducing fun, new things at the end of the year can kindle a fire you may never see. But remember, it isn’t about you.
  3. Personalization: This word is buzzing around all over the education world right now, and for good reason. Personalization may feel challenging at first, but the end of the year is a great time to give it a try. Then, ask your students for feedback. Take that information and use it next year. You never know, it may be easier than you think.
  4. Student-Choice: Allow students to choose activities that interest them. Learning is so much better when we like how we are learning.
  5. Data: What does your data tell you? Where were your students struggling this year? How can you incorporate some of those skills at the end of this year so that next year their achievement gap is not as wide?

Now What?

Well, considering all of the aforementioned, here are some things you can do:


  1. Task Cards – At the secondary level, I rarely see these used, but in elementary, they are all the rave! With these, you can hit student-choice and personalization.  Allow students to choose the skill they want to practice, the task, etc. Give them a certain amount of tasks to complete within a certain time-frame (dear God, don’t forget to give them a time-frame🙄), and leave them alone.
  2. Be creative – Take your students on a writing journey. You can make it a collective activity, or give them choice (again with the student-choice). Here are a few examples:
    • Write reviews. Review everything – television shows, meals, movies, shoes, quill-175980_640clothes. The sky is the limit. Whenever I had students write reviews, I was always impressed with what they observed.
    • People watch, and write about it. Take a trip around the building… around the grounds for that matter. Have students write down notes as they walk. Then, come back to the classroom and discuss it. Write about it..
    • Interview people. As a class, come up with different categories – school events, seniors going off to college, first year teachers… anything. Give them criteria and set them free.
  3. Take them to a far away place. How exciting is that?! When I was in the river-690374_640classroom, many, if not most, of my students had not been outside of the immediate area. Taking them on adventures through reading and writing is two-fold. They are still learning, but they are having fun. Choose a country and read their news, learn about their culture, and find literature from, or about, their culture.

Now go off and be great! It’s almost over 🙂

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THAT Is Not Notetaking

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I am often horrified when I see teachers spend 25-30 minutes of instruction time so that students can “take notes.”

Take a moment and think about the last time you needed (originally I used the word “had.” We will talk about that revision in a moment.) to take notes for something – staff meeting, professional development, grad class? Now consider this, did someone actually tell you to take notes? Did you receive a handout? Were you using Cornell Notes?

Probably Not.

Why? Because you did not need Cornell or his notes to figure out the most important or relevant information. Instead, your listening skills helped you decode the conversation or speech. You listened, processed, and wrote the information most pertinent to what you needed to know. THIS is a valuable skill.

Instead of teaching that skill, we often take away the necessity for students to think, and we have them copy down, verbatim, what we say. We pause, wait for them to write, and resume. When this happens, students are not gaining any skill at all, and the teacher has lost valuable instruction time.

Let me reiterate that: When we allow students to copy down everything we say, and call it note taking, we take away their need to think. Additionally, we lead them to believe that they are actually “taking notes,” allowing them to find out later in life, that what they were taught is actually not the process.

Start at Application

Instead of having students fill in the blanks or copy down the presentation verbatim, try giving students the notes and starting at application. Application will yield far better results than faux note-taking ever could.

Consider this:

The teacher is presenting new vocabulary words with definitions. Students are expected to copy down each word with its definition. Students are also expected to write down the expectation for the new words. This could take anywhere from 5 minutes to 20 minutes depending on the number of vocabulary words, the length of the definitions, and the pace of the slowest writer in the class.
Instead, consider Bloom’s Taxonomy as explained by Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching and give students the notes so that they can start at application.


Here’s an example:

Activity: Vocabulary
Teacher “Using the new vocabulary words and definitions, complete a Critical Thinking Vocabulary Organizer of your choice.”
Student: Student chooses the Vocabulary Connections Graphic Organizer and makes word-to-text, word-to-self, and word-to-world connections with each vocabulary word.
Outcome: Instead of spending 20 minutes copying down definitions, the student spent 20 minutes making connections and learning the new vocabulary. The teacher can now have the student apply the skill to another activity, debrief with the student about the vocabulary, or formatively assess the students understanding of the new vocabulary words with an interactive activity.

The NEED to Take Notes

Note-taking is a very valuable skill. Whenever I have meetings, I take a pen and paper, no matter who I am meeting with. I understand the importance of writing things down, and even if I NEVER look at those notes again, I know that writing it down helps store the information in a way that is not possible if I simply listen to the information. Do I actually have to take notes? No. In my adult life, I have never been told that I HAVE TO take notes. Has it been suggested? Absolutely, but once it was “suggested,” it never had to be suggested “again.” That said, it is definitely beneficial for students to learn the skill of note-taking, but we need to make sure that we are actually teaching them how to think so that they can decipher note-worthy information and effectively and efficiently take notes of their own volition.

New Product Alert: Common Core Critical Thinking Task Cards

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Task cards are a great way to break up the monotony of worksheets. In fact, depending on the set-up of the task cards, teachers can offer personalization and student choice all while using the same cards over and over.

Product: Common Core Critical Thinking Task Cards

Task Card Thumbnail4.jpg

What’s Included
– 47 Common Core Aligned Constructed Response Task Cards
– Student Task Tracker Sheets – Turn In
– Student Task Activity Sheet
– Student Task Tracker – Personal
– 4 point rubric


**Ways to Use the Cards**

Student Groups
 Place students in stations. Each station can represent a different standard. Have students choose cards to work on, or you can assign cards. Allow students to work independently and switch cards, or have students work together on each card.
 Assign the number of cards you want completed prior to students beginning the task(s).

For more ideas on student groups, click HERE.

Independent Practice
 Classwork: Assign students specific standards to work on based on data you have accumulated through formative assessments.
 Homework: Assign students additional practice at home with a few task cards.
 Student Choice: Allow students to choose task cards based on skills they need to work on, or activities they are interested in completing.

For more rigorous activities for your students, visit my TpT store HERE.

6 Signs You Are A Teacher Dinosaur

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One of the most profound statements a teacher ever made to me went something like this: ‘I keep getting older, but they will always be 16. I’m trying to deal with that.’

Geesh! Let’s dissect that.

When I started teaching at 26, I was only 8 years older than my oldest student, and  Facebook was a big deal. Now, “Facebook is for old people,” (yes, sadly that is a direct quote), and there are so many mediums to keep up with that I’ve given up. If I scroll too quickly on Instagram, it gives me a slight headache, and I have yet to appreciate recording a video that will disappear (Snapchat).

In contrast, I’ve watched students viciously scroll through Instagram with the appearance of processing everything they deem important. Being “Instagram Famous” is actually a thing, and Twitter has the power to make CEOs apologize and Pepsi pull ads. But in many classrooms, sit-and-get continues to reign supreme, technology is forbidden, and students are still handwriting essays.

In a world where apps are created by 10-year-olds, a businessman is president, and 130 characters can change the lives of many, our students need interactive, dynamic, and thought-provoking lessons that mirror their lives. Technology should be the rule, not the exception. That said, it may be time to evaluate your methods. If you are wondering if you are functioning in prehistoric times, check out my list below.


Take a Closer Look

#1) Consider that if students are taking too long to type, it is probably because no one allows or requires them to, which is problematic because typing is a necessary part of many professions. Additionally, if students are handwriting essays, that means you are wagging stacks of essays around as opposed to giving feedback electronically that students can always access.


#2) To be fair, if you are reading this article at work, you are off task. Also, how often do you get off task in department meetings? The truth of the matter is that the purpose of the group is to build community, teach cooperation, build skills, and to interact. The goal should not be to make students sit and whisper. I don’t know about you, but if I have to whisper in a group, I’d rather not participate.

Try this: place students in work stations with specific goals and time constraints. While they may not be on task the entire time they are working, they will achieve great things when they have parameters.

wp-1492538993647.#3) There is always a reason to have a phone or electronic device out. ALWAYS. I have a friend who Googles everything we talk about. Her phone is at the ready for anything that may need clarity… She’s a lawyer.

My point is, there are purposes for phones in class other than annoying or ignoring the teacher. As educators, we just have to explore reasons for students to use their devices. In doing so, we make it much easier for them to put their phones away when asked.
#4) Google runs the world. There are many apps to support interactive learning. Teachers can create quizzes, share documents, and more. For more information about Google Classroom, click here.

wp-1492539400849.#5) As a mother of a 4-year-old and a 9-year-old, engagement is always coupled with loud, rowdy, rambunctious behavior. In fact, when those things aren’t happening, someone has a fever. Now, to be fair, we obviously have behavior expectations in the learning environment that are different than home behaviors. However, it is unfair to children to expect that they sit quietly for extended periods of time. As a teacher, I enjoyed how “rowdy” they became because I could tell that they were really into what we were doing. What’s more, when I assessed them later, the overall proficiency of the class was far better after “rowdy” activities than when we were totally silent and working independently.


#6) This is not actually a thing. As educators, we should always be learning, otherwise, we cannot teach and prepare our students for their future. It’s like the student who says, “I’m not used to doing homework,” or the one who says, “my mom isn’t good at math either.” These statements are just excuses.


What You Can Do

There are many ways to step out of the time warp and incorporate modern day learning into your classroom. And while it may feel a little overwhelming at first, it will definitely prove beneficial to both you and your students.

If you are a teacher dinosaur, here are some things you might try:

  1. Use alternative formative assessments. This will increase engagement and create an interactive classroom.
  2. Step out of your comfort zone.
  3. Plan with purpose. Ask yourself, where can I incorporate technology in my lesson plan? If daily feels like too much starting out, try to include something every other day.
  4. Look into Google. There are many options available.
  5. Team up with someone who regularly includes technology. Plan together so you have ideas for ways to spruce up your classroom.


The teacher I quoted at the beginning of this post made a very valid point. As we mature in our profession, our children are always the same age. That, in and of itself, requires great adaptation on our part. When we fail to adapt to the needs and/or interests of our students, we miss the mark. As the professionals, our kids deserve our best efforts, even when it takes us out of our comfort zones.

The Class Clown

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A class clown can completely ruin your class, if you allow it. I have had my fair share of class clowns, but I always tried to take into consideration just how much I love comedy.

The Scene

As I finished modeling my introduction paragraph on the board, I turned around to see Jake standing on a desk. I looked at him. There was a pause because I was really thinking about my next move. Students were giggling, and staring at me in anticipation. His face let me know he was awaiting a note-worthy response.

“What are you doing?” I asked, trying to shield the exasperation in my tone.

“I’m TIRED of being the shortest person in here!!” Jake exclaimed. “Now I’m taller than Jeremy!”

You see, Jeremy was about 6’6″, and my class clown was about 5’4.

After staring at Jake for a moment, I turned back to the board and continued my lesson.

The Outcome

As I kept teaching, Jake kept his post. He stood proudly on top of the desk. And yes, he WAS now the tallest person in the room. But you know what, he was also taking notes.

I let Jake stand there the entire period because in all honesty, who was he bothering. Was it dangerous… well technically it is frowned upon to let students stand on desks. However, I just didn’t have the time or patience that day to let him get the best of me. That is exactly what he wanted. He got the giggles from his peers, but he didn’t get the response from me he wanted. I secretly wondered if he stood up there far longer than he had anticipated considering that I did not make him sit down.

The Point

Ultimately, Jake was not the first class clown, and he definitely was not the last. This scenario stands out to me the most though because I was so caught off guard. I have had a student burst out in Cee-lo songs… repeatedly, a child use profanity in their shared constructed response, a fit thrower, and more (mind you, these were 10th-12th graders), but for some reason, on that desk, that day, in an Honors class, really took the cake.

So what’s the point of this post? Simple, every fight isn’t worth fighting, and every student has potential to be something great. I honestly believe that Jake can be the next big comedian. However, I did not need his shenanigans during my class. I could have sent him to the office, written a referral, or responded negatively. But what I hope I accomplished that day was creating an environment that allowed him to be who he was without penalty. At best, I hope that teachers around the world can appreciate that comedians came from somewhere, and if there had been people along the way that broke their spirits when they were simply being who they were, we may not have all of the laughs we appreciate today.