Got Sub Plans?

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When I was in the classroom, we had to turn in a sub folder at the beginning of every year. This caused me great angst. What should I leave in it? When would I need it? I didn’t want to leave busy work, but to leave something in a folder for an “emergency” was far too overwhelming for someone like me to process. Honestly, I feel the worst thing you can do is require kids to do something that is absolutely pointless. What’s worse, inadequate plans are unfair to your substitute. Idle children, no matter how well behaved, can become little terrors from sheer boredom alone. Not to mention that wasting instruction time should be criminal in and of itself (but that is a conversation for another day). So, in light of the sub plan debacle, I have created grade-level specific sub plans that are aligned to Common Core and provide relevant practice for students.

For the students:

6th - Grammar

Grammar Practice
Each set provides a specific grammar skill for students. Instead of having students complete meaningless worksheets that don’t help them retain the skill, these grammar sheets introduce rules and have students practice those skills through various tasks. By embedding the skills in their own writing, students better retain the information.


6th - VocabularyVocabulary Practice – Word of the Day
Students get one new word for the day. They are provided the part of speech and the definition. Students then practice the word with 3 different thought-provoking exercises. In the first activity, students find a synonym, antonym, use the word in a sentence and draw a picture that displays the word.

In the next activity, students make connections to themselves, text, and the real world. Lastly, students understand word relationships when they identify the parts of speech for 2 different forms of the vocabulary word. Students then use the word variations in sentences.

6th - ReadingReading Comprehension
Each reading comprehension passage is an original, grade-level appropriate informational text with common-core aligned questions. To engage students, passages are about animals, plants, or insects that most people are unfamiliar with. Also, students can click on a QR Code that takes them to a video displaying what they have just read. (This is definitely the coolest part of the activity per the students who sampled the product for me.

6th - WritingWriting Skills
Students read a short passage and revise and edit the passage to include more descriptive language by adding various types of figurative language, phrases, and parts of speech.

For students that may struggle or need a refresher on certain elements, students have a cheat sheet at the top of the page for their reference.

For the substitute:

To assist the substitute with the plans, there is a chart the details what the substitute can do to model for each activity and how to have students complete each activity. Designed for a 90-minute block, there is more than enough for students to do.

For the teacher:

Answer keys are provided for the activities. Also, the design of the activities allow for conversation and interaction after completion. The teacher can provide meaningful feedback that students can apply in other assignments, regardless of what they are.

For principals and administrators:

Sometimes you are left holding the bag when a teacher has an unexpected absence. These packs would work well for your middle school ELA classes.

This activity is currently available for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade in my TpT store.


One last note:

If you are not an ELA teacher, or this is not something you are looking for, I encourage you to consider what you leave your students to do in your absence. Meaningful work should not disappear in your absence. Instead, consider foundational skills that your students need to work on consistently, and devise a plan around those concepts. This will sharpen students while you are away, and make the most of instruction time. Also, consider how improbable it is for students to sit idly for an extended period of time. Allow them to work with a peer or discuss information with your substitute. You will be amazed at the outcome!

The Power of Vocabulary

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The first time I learned about The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3, I was horrified. To confirm that the achievement gap starts well before a child can even make it to kindergarten is heartbreaking. What’s more, teachers receive much of the blame for under-performing children, and not nearly enough resources to combat the problem. Instead, best practices drop from the sky like candy from a pinata, and districts catch what they can in the process. Teachers sit through professional developments that produce book studies and additional responsibilities, but still not necessarily the solutions needed. This process holds true for vocabulary as well.

It is widely known and accepted that it is best practice to teach students vocabulary through direct instruction, and it is clear that students should be receiving tier 2 words 20170724_095740(words students see in print) on a regular basis. However, the process itself – the actual way that students are taught vocabulary words – is quite murky. Marzano gives us 6-steps, and I often hear all the rave about the Frayer Model, which is a great tool, but many students are still not acquiring words in a meaningful way that allows them to expand their vocabulary. What’s more, I was shocked to learn that of the two different districts where I’ve worked that no one deemed it necessary to require vocabulary instruction. That said, I took matters into my own hands. I worked relentlessly to build my students’ vocabulary through a system that proved to be beneficial to not only their reading comprehension, but also to their verbal and written communication. But before I started randomly throwing word lists together, I considered a few things:

  1. Word Choice: What words should my students know? This is a loaded question. When you consider grade-level, there are words that frequent the grade-level text, and students need to know these words for comprehension purposes, but what about demographic?
  2. Demographic: What we learn from the 30 Million Word Gap is that every child does not receive the same exposure. Consequently, some students need more exposure than others. A vocabulary list in an affluent district may look very different than one in a struggling district. However, I strongly believe some of those words should overlap.
  3. Application: How hard is it for students to apply the words they are given? Where will they hear the words? My word lists came from SAT word lists and class reading assignments, but that left much to choose from. So, to help narrow it down, I also thought about the music they listened to and where they could find relevance in the words given.
  4. Exposure: What role did I play in using those words in the classroom? If I could not use them in everyday conversation with my students, were they actually good words, and how could I expect my students to use them if I could not?
  5. Expectation: How would I require and encourage students to use their vocabulary words? If I was just handing out lists without any follow-up or expectation for continued use, I was wasting my time and theirs.

After considering all of these things, and constantly requiring students to look up words I used, but they did not know, I knew there was an opportunity to make a real difference in their vocabulary and reading comprehension. I began to develop vocabulary lists until I had enough of them for an entire school year. Each set provided 3 days of practice with 5-6 different opportunities for students to use their new words. I quizzed students over the words and gave a summative assessment at the end of each set of 3. The outcome was nothing short of a miracle. Even my complainers used their vocabulary words. In turn, reading comprehension increased and their writing skills were better. The proof was not only in my grade book, but also in my students’ standardized testing scores.

Ultimately, vocabulary is an integral part of all learning, no matter the subject. Every teacher should use direct instruction to teach vocabulary to not only increase student achievement, but to also close the gap.

No Prep High School Vocabulary Activities

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Direct vocabulary instruction was an instrumental part of my daily instruction. Used for homework, stations, and bell ringers, I intentionally taught students words and required that they use them on a regular basis.

Here are two different schedules for instruction:

Daily Instruction

Vocabulary Schedule

Block Scheduling

Vocabulary Block Scheduling

Once the schedule is complete, the breakdown is as follows:

Day 1: Introduction and Direct Instruction

  1. Introduce the new words. Have students use context clues to determine the 20170502_220221meanings rather than just giving the definition or having them look them up.
  2. Provide the definitions. I’ve never found much value in having students look up definitions. For one thing, many words have more than one option. How could I effectively assess students when everyone did not have the same definition? Second, now that we all have Google and Siri, the actual use of a dictionary is pretty lost on this generation. I wanted to maximize instruction time.
  3. Require students to write the words down. In a recent issue of Educational Leadership, there was much focus on the importance of having students write things down. In fact, the stuy showed that…. So, before turning in their vocabulary activities, students were required to write the words in a notebook. Randomly we would revisit previous words or do activities, and I would reward students who had word lists.

20170502_220303Day 2: Independent Practice – Vocabulary Graphic Organizer

I gave students a graphic organizer of some sort that allowed them to break down their words in a variety of ways – synonyms, antonyms, derivatives (different parts of speech), use each word in a sentence, and provide the definition.

FREEBIE: You can download this organizer for free in my TpT store.

20170502_220325Day 3: More Practice

More practice. On this day, students were given 2-3 different activities ranging from analogies, writing original definitions, using the words in a creative story or a reflection, and/or sentence completion. Each of the activities allowed students to take ownership of the word and showed me the level of mastery for each word.

Day 4: Quiz Day

I used to give students a spelling test and have them write the definitions, but this didn’t really bring about the results I had hoped for. Some students had great phonemic awareness and others great context clues, so when I said the word and then read it in a sentence, it still did not prove that each student really knew and could apply the word. As a result, I switched to multiple choice quizzes. These quizzes used original short stories or excerpts and students has to answer common core aligned questions. These proved far more challenging and gave me more information that allowed me to make data-driven decisions.

After a quiz day, an entire set of vocabulary was complete. I then started the process over with a new set of vocabulary words. After 3 sets of vocabulary, students took a summative assessment over all 3 lessons. From definitions to sentences, analogies, and close reading, the assessment required students to put every skill to use. In the beginning, it was a major catastrophe. Students were not prepared to display knowledge in this manner. However, each summative got better and better. Students studied differently. They used their words without prompting. Many even used their words at home and with friends. It was at this point that I knew the system worked.

Resources Available
If you are interested in this vocabulary system, be the first to rate these new products and other vocabulary resources in my TpT store:

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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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.