Writing with tension


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I use an amazing  ‘program’ with my students called The Seven Steps to Writing Success.  Go here for more info.  If you get the chance to go to a seminar – I suggest you go!

I was working with my kids on ‘Tightening Tension’ and followed one of the suggested activities but of course added to it.  The activity was essentially getting students to think of words to detail an event using the 5 senses – the given example was an erupting volcano.



Hand out the senses sheet. Click here or on the picture for your copy.  I’m pretty sure I’ve used all public domain images.

ImageHave students close their eyes and imagine a volcano erupting.  Talk them through the senses, What would you see? Smoke etc… What would you hear etc.

Now get students to open eyes and fill in the sheet using interesting and emotive words as well as vivid verbs. They can use a thesaurus as well.

Share a few responses.

Handout the sheets again.

Have students close their eyes. Imagine being on the sinking Titanic. This time just say the 5 senses and let students think of their own words.

Now get students to open their eyes and fill in the sheet using the different senses about being on the sinking Titanic.

Share a few responses.

Students are to use their words to draw a detailed image of either the volcano or the titanic. This is kind of like a sketch to stretch – please go here (ReadWriteThink) to read more about this technique and a free printable. 

They have to include the ship or the volcano in the background – but what could be happening in the foreground?

We use posters to help us draw because suddenly being in junior secondary means you’re too cool to draw anything but a stick figure.  You can get your posters from here.  You would be surprised at how much kids will use the How to Draw a Person poster.

After this the students can then write a diary entry that starts with The tension was thick as…  Students could start with The tension was as thick as the smoke that belched from the mountain… or with The tension was thick with dread… I could go on really.

Share a few responses.

I’m going to get my kids to write their entries on this type of paper (this one is from Mary Sauer). Can you imagine how good a wall of their work is going to look?  Visitors are always impressed with that jazz.


Check In?


Opps, I forgot.

I told you I had some memory issues.

Plus life got really busy! I’m serious, so real (cereal) like a box of Rice Bubbles. That cracks my kids up all the time, really breaks the tension.


So,,, what can I share with you today? Something worth the how many months of awaiting my return?


This is going to blow your mind. It blew mine and it is something so simple.

It’s for when you want to check in with your kids, like say how they feel about their assignment, or how happy they are with a decision.


 You get them to put their hand up and hold up fingers: 1 finger is not so happy all the way through to 5 super confident… or whatever your scale is going to be.


Count down to five and get them all to do it at once, and very quickly scan the room. It will tell you exactly what you need to know. But do it quickly before peer pressure starts to alter the results.  Also do it quickly so ‘that’ boy doesn’t start giving out a free finger. You know that one I’m talking about.


This came from Anne Todd at the 2012 SWPBS Qld Conference.

A little verb action – but I do mean relating verbs not action verbs.


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I really like this lesson.  There are two good reasons for doing it.

  1. For some reason, kids seem to think that verbs are ‘doing words’ only. Like ‘jumping’ or ‘kicking’.  A well meaning primary school teacher teaches them this, and it forms a very strong neural path. It’s hard to break it. So you have to give them something memorable to do it.
  2. Students love eating in class. Our state has limited the number of unhealthy foods we can give kids but seriously this isn’t going to affect their nutritional needs too much.

You will need

  • something that contains some wisdom about relating verbs – you might call them something else like linking verbs or even use the term processes. I’m not going into the specifics here for you – just Google it. You may like to use my brochure that I’m using for the first time tomorrow. Click here. Photocopy onto neon coloured paper. The list of verbs comes from Gerot & Wignell, ‘Making Sense of Functional Grammer’
  • Fortune cookies


Start your lesson – get them excited about it – tell them they are going to eat.

Get through relating verb information.

Handout fortune cookies.

Kids open and read fortunes.

Kids eat cookies.

Students identify relating verbs in fortunes.

Students share fortune and the relating verb to the class or small group.

If there isn’t a relating verb – they can id the other type.

Debrief the students.


I came across this lesson eons of years ago – so I have no idea who came up with it, all I can say is that I took the idea of the fortune cookies and ran with it.


It’s also interesting to note how many students have never had a fortune cookie before.

Homework. Full stop.


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I’ve read a bit about homework and I know that there isn’t much of a correlation between the doing of homework and actual grades. I believe one of the strongest ‘for’ for homework is about responsibility.

I take personal responsibility of learning very seriously in my class.

Have a present.  This is a homework check-in sheet. To download click on the pic.

homework check-in sheet

Set up a folder in your classroom that students store their weekly homework in at the end of the week. Each kid gets a plastic slip each. They check off whether the work was completed, attempted, not completed or not here. I know you have kids that are forever saying ‘I’ve done it, but it’s not here.’  At the end of the term they then circle the comment that most matches their actions. Makes reporting easier too.

So lets talk about what homework looks like in my class. I don’t send worksheets home.  You know that ones that don’t relate to anything that you are actually teaching in class but you send them home because parents expect homework.  They certainly don’t do anything to improve your student’s learning.

Instead I send weekly spelling home. This year I will be more specific. I will be sending home find-a-words, word scrambles etc.  I love using Puzzle Maker.  I’ve talked it over with one of my classes and they agree that it would be good. I haven’t met a high school kids that won’t do a word search.

I also tell my students to read, read, read.  So I’ll make sure to put that on the ‘homework sheet’ as well.

‘But what do I do with the kids that haven’t done their homework,’ I hear you say. Well my philosophy may be different to yours so prepare yourself for my answer… Nothing.

  • Homework is done at home – as a teacher I have no right to influence what a family does in their own time – this includes homework. If parents don’t want to get their kids to do homework, then that is their right as a parent.
  • Giving kids a detention because they haven’t done their homework can ruin your relationship with them.  To be a good teacher you have to have good relationships!
  • Positive reinforcement – use your in-class reward system to reinforce homework expectations. If students do their homework – reward them.  You might use stickers, lollies, high fives, a positive postcard/note home, funny money, class honour roll etc.

So anyway, that’s my stance on homework. Full stop.



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Monitoring has not always been a strong point in my teaching.

I was schooled by mostly ‘bucket’ teachers I guess and so when I started teaching that’s how I taught.  I would fill my kid’s buckets with information and hopefully at the end of term when it can to assessment they could empty the buckets out and show me how much they retained.  This obviously didn’t work well so I quickly adapted.  I still don’t understand how I did so well at school with some of the caliber of my teachers.  I have a shocking memory.

I have tried heaps of ways (and still use heaps) to get feedback on how kids are doing before their assessment but I thought I would start with one I use at the moment.


My other teaching area is very practical and hands on so checklists are something I’m all over.  I have sat at assessment moderating meetings with other teachers in the state though that don’t use checklists so as soon as they see my samples they are like, gotto get me somo that!

This is the current checklist that I am using in English.  I don’t fill it in in front of the kids.  Once we complete a task that I want to record, I will work my way around to every kid in the class – look over what they have done – and sign their work.  This signing every kids’ work is a new thing in our school and not something that I’m aces at yet – I keep forgetting. Shocking memory.

After the lesson, I quickly tick away where the kids are at – it’s easy to remember the kids that struggled and easy to remember the kids that were successful. Everyone else was suitable. If you can’t remember then write initials on sticky notes as you wander around the class.

It’s not exactly pretty but it gets the job done.

For notes, I might write what adjustments I’m going to make for them.

monitoring checklist

You can have a copy!

So where do I store this finished checklist? Well, in the past I’ve kept it on my (messy) desk or in my assessment tidy tray. I don’t file very well. I’m working on it.

This idea came from a friend but haven’t put it into practice – yet.  Basically you get a display folder, label each slip a kids’ name and keep a few for whole class checklists. Bam! Filing done!

I’ve made up some front pages to laminate and tape down onto the front of my folders…

ImageI made them up for my each of my classes and used a different colour scheme for each one.  I got the awesome background images from GreatGraphics. Seriously, you need to check out her shop because there are some great backgrounds and she is amazingly quick to get back to you. Go, go and make your stuff pretty – but in a high school way and not in a baby primary school way…

Theme and Rheme


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I love to teach theme and rheme. In fact, before this particular English class yesterday, I was telling my principal that I was going off to teach theme and rheme – I performed a fist pump into the air all rock star like. Errr… he may think I’m a little nusto.

Intro to theme and rheme

I begin the lesson by handing out sticky notes. Sticky notes feature heavily in my classroom. They make learning fun – the colours, the shapes, the fun!!!

Each kids gets 2.

They need to write a noun on each.

They give them back and are given 2 other random notes.

I demonstrate what I want using my mammoth magnetic laminated notes. Basically I write a sentence with one of the nouns in theme; the other somewhere in rheme and then I swap them around and write another sentence.

Cue hilarity, because someone always writes booger and someone always writes my name.  I usually pair them up… so we get…

Miss Pamela eat boogers.

Boogers are eaten by Miss Pamela.

Yep, that’s right. I eat boogers.

I then hand out the theme and rheme info slips, which they glue in. We read and then I demonstrate how to find the theme. The kids find the theme in their own sentences.

To finish up we share some quality (funny) sentences using the document camera.

You can use my info slips.

Theme and rheme poster and slips

This really is a fun intro lesson to a possibly difficult subject. It gives kids confidence that they can do this stuff and they enjoy learning about grammar, so much so that I get asked if we can do it again.
Want some more?

Mammoth Magnetic Laminated Notes



These are the easiest and most useful things to have.

 They are like huge sticky notes that you can move around your whiteboard, that you can clean off when you need to, or keep forever and a day if you need to.

 They are cheap to make – so you can have quite a few in back up.

 You can write on them before your lesson so you’re fully prepared.

 They are pretty impressive for guests and kids in your room. Especially if you choose cool colours.

 Have I sold you on them yet?

To make your own Mammoth Magnetic Laminated Notes you will need:


 – laminator

– A3 paper in light colours of your choice

– A3 laminating sheets

– scissors

– sticker backed magnets


  1. Turn on laminator
  2. Fold a A3 sheet hot dog style. Cut along the fold – trim a little off the edge.
  3. Place strips within a laminator sheet. Leave room between the strips.
  4. Feed through laminator.
  5. Rub face along warm plastic. 
  6. Cut between the strips.
  7. Place uncut A3 sheet within a laminator sheet.
  8. Feed through laminator.
  9. Rub face along warm plastic.
  10. Peel off waxy paper from a few magnets and place onto corners.  The strips will only need a magnet in the top corners. The A3 sheet will probably need one in all four corners. 
  11. Repeat steps 2-9 for as many Mammoth Magnetic Laminated Notes you need.
  12. To use the notes – write on them with whiteboard markers.  After the writing dries it does become harder to rub off so you may have to use a bit of whiteboard cleaning spray.

Mammoth magnetic laminated notes in action

Another one?


Yep, another one.

Lately I haven’t had time to do much other than think about work.

My work is teaching.

I teach high school.



Teaching consumes most of my time away from school.

If I let it.

At the moment I’ve had to.

Might as well blog about what I do, while I’m thinking about it!

Today a student asked me,

‘Hey Miss, how long have you been teaching for?’

10 years.


Still loving it!

What will you probably read here? Teaching tips, ideas for lessons, ideas about behaviour management. Stuff.

What won’t you read here? Rants. I love my job. Sure there are things outside the classroom going on due to government changes and industrial stuff etc but there’s not much I don’t like about being on the coalface.

What else? This is a BLOG; it’s informal. I’m not really one of ‘those’ English teachers. I make typos and I type too slow for my brain, so I make mistakes. I’m not going to apologise for those – this isn’t make or break like an assignment for my Masters. Obviously grammar trolls are not welcome!

Change of topic goes here…

Yesterday one my students said to me as we worked, ‘Hey Miss, do you know the movie Anchorman? Well you are just like Ron Burgundy but true. I’m kind of a big deal.’ Greatest compliment I’ve ever gotten.

NB: Student quotes are roughly how I remember them.