Friday Five: Infographics You Can Make in Your Classroom

Most people, like me, are vaguely confused about the term Infographic.  I think it is basically a fancy word for a visual version of information–like a chart or a graph.  But the internet and social media have made them more readily available and they have started to permeate our consciousness.  This year I’m trying to use them in my classroom and they seem to be working with students, who appear to be far more familiar with them than I am.

  1. By the Numbers--This is a fairly common type of infographic. Here’s an example about holidays (since I sadly just saw Christmas decorations in the store). I have found one great way for students to use these is to survey classmates and see what the general consensus is–this is a great way to start conversations.  For example, I am teaching Into the Wild and students surveyed each other about whether they admire Chris or think he’s crazy.  My students reading Light in August made some about the book and the author.
  2. Flow Chart--We used an example (should I check my email) to show students what a flow chart was.  Then, students made general flow charts, for school issues and for texts we were reading.  The one about Joe beating people up is a little disturbing, but it actually ties directly to events in the text.
    Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 7.15.20 AMunnamed-1
  3. Timeline–we’ve done these forever, but we can mix them up. I’ve had students do timelines of just a portion of the text, or timelines of one relationship.  One group of students made a timeline and realized there were similarities between Joe Christmas and Batman and they made their poster into a Batman theme, which led to a conversation about how they could actually write a paper comparing the two seemingly different characters.
    Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 4.43.28 PMScreen Shot 2014-09-25 at 4.44.25 PM
  4. Versus–I used to just have students do Venn Diagrams to see similarities and differences, but there are so many ways for students to visualize this.  Below are some character comparisons from Light in August.
    Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 4.48.46 PMScreen Shot 2014-09-25 at 4.48.54 PM
  5. How To–This is a nice way to have students share a skill they are good at, but they can also tie it to a text.  One group of students did a How to use Snapchat, but made it based on Into the Wild, using character names.  Another set of students merged the how to with the versus. (Just a note, it was a group of all boys who made the comparison to Elsa from Frozen.  I would have never know about their love for her had we not done this project.)
    Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 7.15.36 AMScreen Shot 2014-09-25 at 4.43.35 PM

Although I was worried about doing these in class because I hadn’t done them before, the students were familiar with these ways of sharing information and began to synthesize ideas I hadn’t thought of before.  We then talked about how some of these could actually be a type of visual organizer for a paper topic.  Some students shared afterward that it made them think differently about the texts we were reading in class.

If you want to talk more about this, come to my session at the PCTELA conference on Friday, October 24!

Posted by Kate, VP Secondary.

A special thanks to my intern, Shannon Trozzo, without whom I would not have been able to do these!

Friday Five: Infographics You Can Make in Your Classroom

Up Late with Looking for Luck by Maxine Kumin (poetry)

During the school year, I find it harder to read as much as I do in the summer. I’m reading for my two preps, answering emails, and grading papers (as you all are, too). So I find that poetry sometimes is my best option to get in my fix for stories and for prose.

Every year in State College, the American Association of University Women holds an amazing book sale--with thousands of books–over the course of 4 days. This year, I decided to work on my poetry collection, so I came home with about twenty books of poetry. Maxine Kumin’s Looking for Luck was one of them.


What is beautiful for me about her poems is how they are mostly about the mundane and the memory. The book is split into three parts and an epilogue, and I find myself thinking of students or colleagues or myself as I read these. In part one, “Hay,” a long poem about “these late-August heroics” of baling, I am reminded of my students who want to bail of of class to get home to their farms to do chores. In part two, the occasional poem “On Visiting Flannery O’Connor’s Grave” tells the story of a book lover making a stop and an observation “what can an outsider know, except the shell of things?” Part Three offers up “The Chambermaids in the Marriott in Mid-Morning” about the women “who are never done scrubbing with Rabelaisian vigor.”

My love for reading poetry has grown as I’ve grown, and I find myself reading more of it now than I ever have.  Perhaps it is because as I age, I realize my time in life is limited, or perhaps I just better appreciate the precision and skill a finely wrought poem displays.  Whatever it is, I am happy to be able to take short flights of imagination via poetry.  Consider encouraging your students to read and write poetry, too.  I just found out about the Pennsylvania Poetry Society, which offers a poetry contest to students in grades 5-12 .

Happy reading!

Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA

Up Late with Looking for Luck by Maxine Kumin (poetry)

Friday Five: From Student to Teacher

Student teachers are collaborators, confidantes, co-teachers, and co-planners but the start of the year for many student-teachers can be filled with growing pains.

As the co-director of a teacher-preparation program, I supervise fourteen English interns from Penn State University. Each intern is placed with an experienced English teacher, and he/she works closely to learn and grow over the course of a school year.  This month, Melissa, my teaching partner and the other co-director, and I have been having conversations with our interns about making the shift from student to teacher.

Here’s some advice we have offered to our interns over the first few weeks of school:

1. Focus on Students

The best part of our job is working with students and building relationships with them. We believe that interns teach best when they teach from who they are and use their own experiences to connect with students. To emerge as a reflective and responsive teacher, we invite our interns to observe student behavior, notice patterns in learning habits, styles, inquire into students’ interests and activities outside the classroom, and to engage in “teacher talk” with mentors and other colleagues. These observations are critical to making informed decisions in the classroom and offer an intern a means to find his/her voice in a way that will support students.


2. Take Initiative (and what that looks like)

Time and again, we hear from mentors: “I want my intern to take initiative.” For an pre-service teacher this may be hard to visualize. Our best advice to interns would be to take action. Circulate through the classroom or sit and work with students at their workstations. Volunteer to start class or cover the daily agenda with the students. Offer to create a quiz, worksheet, or to take home papers to grade over a night or weekend. Think out loud with your mentor about the ideas you find moving or compelling. Ask your mentor reflective questions about students, pedagogy, and practice.  Bring connections (a movie clip, a song, an article, etc.) from your own experiences to texts and units of study and share freely, openly, and regularly.   Or simply ask, “What can I do to help?”

3. Prepare as if you were guiding the lessons for the day

Interns confess that, “I just don’t know what say” or “My mentor is doing such a great

job that I don’t want to interrupt.” To get interns past this hurdle, we advised them to prepare extensively. Beyond annotating a text, we suggest that interns think through what ideas go well together from a text, article, or unit of study, generate a list of discussion questions to ask students and envision possible literacy activities to extend learning. These steps help interns to build confidence and support in transitioning their thinking from student to teacher.


4. Dress it up!

Often, an internship or student-teacher placement can lead to employment. Attending to professional dress helps others colleagues, faculty, staff, and administrators identify you as a teacher and a member of the school community. Attire can also set an intern apart for his/her students. Sometimes looking the part starts to help interns feel the part.

5. Show up ready to work

A teacher’s day starts well before the first bell and often extends into the evening. Coming to school on time, attending faculty and department meetings, and checking possible distractions at the door goes a long way to support an intern’s understanding of what it is like to live the life of a teacher and how to strike a manageable home-work balance.


Finally, it takes a village to nurture an intern. Melissa and I may be officially responsible for the supervision of our interns, but we could not do it without the guidance, support and experience of our mentors and university consultants and director. We are fortunate to be a part of an amazing and collaborative teaching community.

Written by Veronica Iacobazzo, co-director of the SCASD/PSU PDS program, picture below, on the left, with her co-director Melissa Wager


Friday Five: From Student to Teacher

Up Late with Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt


Students sometimes offer the best book recommendations. I had a handful of hardcore readers who graduated last year who were always giving me great books to read. When these ladies all read Tell the Wolves I’m Home and loved it, I put it on my to-reads list. That it was published in 2012 and still has a waiting list to get it at the library was a sign to me that it was going to be a good read.

I found the book particularly powerful as it took place in 1987, and the main character, June, was 14, just two years older that I was that year. She finds out that her favorite uncle is dying of AIDs and she has to navigate everything scary about losing a loved one while also trying to understand the gravity of this bizarre new disease. I remember that time period, and the fear and blurriness of AIDs. One of my father’s friends from work died of AIDS, and I remember him fondly from when he came to parties my parents had (he had this amazing blue suede jacket I coveted). I found myself thinking back to the late 80s a lot as I read this–from a historic and a personal perspective. But enough about me–back to the book.

What also stood out to me was the way June had to negotiate the changing relationship she had with her sister Greta. As a younger sister, I could understand how her relationship to her older sibling started to shift as the high school world of parties and drinking and boyfriends and secrets and lies started to intrude on her previously magical world of being a sister. June wishes she could go out into the woods and live in medieval times. At one point she tells another character why: “people didn’t know everything then. There were things people had never seen before. Places nobody had ever been. You could make up a story and people would believe it…also maybe it seems like it would be okay not to be perfect. Nobody was perfect back then. Just about everyone was defective, and most people had no choice except to stay that way.” This book does an amazing job of capturing how it felt to be on the cusp of adulthood and to not understand how or why the adult world works the way it does. It allows June to be a little naive and for us to forgive her for that very naiveté.
I highly recommend this book–it is a fast read but it has some powerful observations about life, relationships, love, and loss. I can assure you, you’ll definitely stay up late to finish reading it.
Posted by Kate, VP Secondary

PS If you haven’t seen Dallas Buyers Club yet, that would be an interesting movie to watch after reading this book to consider the climate of the times in terms of the government allowing access to AZT for those who contracted AIDs during this time period.

Up Late with Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Up Late with Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss


The last few weeks have been a bit rough. My son caught that awful hand, foot, mouth disease that is going around daycares, churches, schools, etc. He followed that up with a terrible sinus cold. Now he is teething – fever, restless, stuffy nose, the works. This has all been coinciding with my first few weeks back to school (I teach 9th grade English). Needless to say, my husband and I have been spending many nights rocking B back to sleep. On the bright side, this has also allowed extra amounts of cuddle time and reading time. With that in mind, I am choosing B’s new favorite book to short-review today – Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss.

I’ve read it so much over the past few weeks that I’ve begun to see how fast I can read the book to my son (I actually have timed myself). Full of alliterative phrases and tongue twisters, Fox in Socks is the catchiest book I’ve read to B yet. He definitely picks up on the rhythm and rhyme, as he mumbles and sort of hums along as I read. My favorite part of the book is the Beetle Battle section. Those who’ve read it before know exactly what I’m talking about. And whether you have a child or not, I urge you to visit (or revisit) this Seuss classic.

Happy reading!

🙂 Jennie, PCTELA President, @jenniekaywrites



Up Late with Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss

Nourishing Nonfiction: Pay it Forward

I struggled with what to write about yesterday for this column. Do I focus on the nonfiction books I’ve been reading over the last few weeks to help me grieve the death of my father? Do I write about the tragedy of 9/11? Do I review a book that might support teachers in their first few weeks back to school? I decided to spend my day scouring the internet for inspiration.

The nonfiction articles I spent most of my time reading were linked to a conversation I had with a friend of mine last night about the way people were choosing to commemorate 9/11. I stumbled upon a humbling Pay it Forward movement that I never knew about before. Instead of just taking a moment to remember the victims silently, people all over the country are using 9/11 as a catalyst to change their communities in positive, loving ways. They were inspired by the novel Pay it Forward written by Catherine Ryan Hyde (which was recently adapted into a middle grade novel).

The New York Says Thank You Foundation was developed to focus on the changes people made on 9/12 – who you are the moment after a great tragedy is defining. The founders were inspired by the thousands of people who flocked to NY right after the towers came down to support in whatever way they could.  Many New Yorkers also heeded the call to help their neighbors. Now the New York Says Thank You Foundation is paying it forward by gathering volunteers and funding service projects all over the country in memory of those who served their communities and those who lost their lives in service during 9/11.

Kevin Tuerff of Enviromedia was forever changed by the good Samaritans in Gander, Newfoundland when his flight was diverted on 9/11.  It took him almost a week to get home after his flight was banned from entering the USA.  Read about his story here.  He chose to brighten people’s lives the way the citizens of Gander, Newfoundland brightened his life amidst a very dark time by creating the Pay It Forward 9/11 movement.  Every year on the anniversary of 9/11, he gives his employees $100 and time off from work to go do good deeds for their community. In 2011, he challenged everyone to do 10,000 Acts of Kindness via a Youtube video.

I also found an article from April, in no way connected to 9/11, that describes “16 Stories of New York Niceness” that renewed my faith in humanity.  It is nice to know that people are doing kind things for each other every day of the year (even if some of these kind things are a little strange!).

Activate Good, a volunteer organization based in Raleigh, NC, hosted a 9/11 Day of Service Evening Commemoration yesterday. They asked community members to commemorate 9/11 by joining together in one space to work on several different service projects – making dog toys for shelters, painting pictures to brighten the rooms of hospice patients, donating food to local food pantries, and more. They designed this event to be positive with live music, food, and camaraderie.

I guess the way I feel is, if you’re going to take time out of your day to remember a terrible tragedy, why not make that time more valuable by becoming an advocate for change? Not everyone can do this. We all grieve differently. But if you can do a good deed or some kindness in your local community, rally together for positive change, then commemorating those we’ve lost takes on more meaning and inspires a better future. It requires strength to take something so negative and move forward in a positive direction despite all challenges.

Many schools have volunteer clubs and require service learning projects. The idea of Paying it Forward is something that would be a valuable life lesson to teach to our students – especially on a solemn day like 9/11 when many of our students are no longer old enough to remember the event first-hand. They can still learn from it and Pay it Forward by learning to show kindness and compassion rather than indifference and hatred toward others in our local communities and also our global community.

Nourishing Nonfiction: Pay it Forward

Friday Five: Ways to Relieve Stress at the Beginning of the School Year

The beginning of the year is always hectic. I usually feel like I’m at my best because I’m refreshed from the summer; however, an exorbitant amount of work-related hours are devoted to this time of year. We have back to school nights, phone calls to introduce ourselves to parents, shopping trips at Staples, newsletters that we create, emergency lesson plans to establish, and setting up routines with students at the beginning of the year (while completely worth it) can be exhausting! Here are 5 fabulous ways to relieve stress during this busy time of year.

5. Go to a spa!

There are more spas and salons in your local area than you can probably count. They ALWAYS offer deals and bargains.  Many places will offer a 10%-20% discount just for being a new customer.  Living Social and Groupon are excellent sources for finding spa deals, and usually if you call a place and tell them about the deal you found online, they will honor it directly so you don’t have to use your credit card online (another way to feel a little more relaxed!). I recently found a deal online that is getting me a 60 minute massage, a 30 minute express facial, and lunch for $55 at my local spa.  If I’m working full-time, $55 is about a 1/4 of my daily income.  If I’m subbing, it’s about 1/2 my daily income.  Definitely worth it in the beginning of the year to spend a couple hours in a spa relaxing on a Saturday with my friends!  You could also consider getting a Sports Manicure the next time you get your nails done at a salon. Sports Manicures are a few dollars cheaper but still offer all the bells and whistles of a regular manicure.  The only difference, usually, is that they do not put polish on your nails. If it’s going to save me a few dollars, I’d be happy to have them buff my nails or just put on my favorite color of polish at home later that day. At least using my own polish will allow me to touch it up easier so my manicure will last longer!

4. Try a free gym trial!

Going to a gym for an hour at the end of a long day sounds counterintuitive.  I hate running, I’ve never been terribly athletic, and even now that I LOVE my gym, I still have to drag myself in there some days.  But hear me clearly – I’ve never regretted going once I’ve gotten there. Every gym I’ve ever seen offers a free trial. Some last for one or two classes while others last a full month.  There is no reason to commit to anything right away. It’s ok to say no to a membership after the free trial! You want to look around for a little while to make sure that what you’ve found is a good fit for you. I tried three other gyms before I finally settled on the one I’m going to now. My suggestion for a gym is to find one that offers group classes.  Planet Fitness is fine, I guess, but there’s no motivation to return to a gym like that. Who wants to walk on a treadmill for 45 minutes each night like a rat in a cage… staring at a TV screen? No. When you find group classes, you put yourself into a routine. If the class is offered on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, then you plan ahead each week to make sure you can attend those classes.  If you take group classes, you meet new people from all walks of life and engage in conversation – you laugh and smile at the end of a long day! Making connections with people in class can also motivate you to attend regularly which is something a lonely 24hour gym like Planet Fitness won’t be able to offer you. Make sure you find an instructor that challenges you but doesn’t leave you feeling discouraged.  Use the free trials to try something outside of your comfort zone like boxing, yogaMuay Thai, Haganah, Zumba, Brazilian jiu jitsu, self defense, Crossfit, MMAdance, or a rock climbing gym. Call a Zumba instructor and have him or her come to your school so all your colleagues can take a class together at the end of the day (there are over 350 Zumba instructors just near Harrisburg alone). Of course, the YMCA offers great family packages that include FREE child care while you’re taking their group classes. If you have a family with young children, the YMCA would be a great place to do a free trial. Some YMCAs offer rock climbing walls, outdoor obstacles courses, and pools as well.

3. Plan a movie night!

On your way home from work on Friday, stop by the grocery store to pick up a few snack items.  I love the bags of healthy popcorn that are being sold everywhere now. And I always buy some dark chocolate to snack on too. Think of comfort foods that make you happy and brainstorm healthier versions of them. Fresh fruit dipped in Greek yogurt instead of Coolwhip is yummie! When you get home, turn off your cell phone, leave your computer in another room, and flip on Netflix or On Demand to see what movies are available.  You’re bound to find something – a cheesy horror or sci fi remake, a comedy, a love story, a suspense thriller, a drama – whatever you want. Spend an evening in, all by yourself, and forget the outside world exists for a couple hours!

2. Spend time with family and/or your pets!

This is a tough one. If I had to choose between spending time with my husband and spending time with my Bernese Mountain Dog, I think we all know which one I’d pick! There are benefits to each though. You could go out for a nice dinner with your significant other (nice does not equate to expensive) and enjoy appetizers or drinks outside while the weather is still nice. I particularly enjoy sleeping in on a Saturday or Sunday and then going out for Brunch with my hubby.  Those days are lazy and relaxing.  On the other hand, Fall is the perfect time to take dogs for walks outside.  Most dogs love to hike and swim. Since the weather is a little cooler now, it’s easier to accommodate those hikes and long walks since I don’t feel like I’m sweating lakes as I accompany her on her walks. My dog is just as happy walking around the neighborhood on evenings when I’m too tired to drive out to a nature preserve and hike with her. Being with my dog always puts a smile on my face and relieves tension quickly.

My Puppy!
My Puppy!

1. Happy Hour!

What teacher doesn’t enjoy a good happy hour? Get a few friends together – colleagues or not – and try out a new happy hour each week in November when it’s getting too cold to do much outside.  Every local pub and restaurant offers something in the way of cheap appetizers and drinks during happy hour. Usually chefs will prepare specialty items just for happy hour like bison sliders, garlicky basil fries, buck-a-shuck oysters, or something else fun and unique. Hopefully that terrible post-happy-hour/let’s-stay-for-karaoke hangover is a thing of the past for all of us. Drink responsibly and get yourself home safely. Here is a link to a slideshow with 13 of the best happy hour specials in Philadelphia according to the Philadelphia Magazine. Google your local community and the words “happy hour” to find a similar list in your hometown!

Friday Five: Ways to Relieve Stress at the Beginning of the School Year