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5 Benefits to Teaching Poetry All Year Long

5 Benefits to Teaching Poetry All Year Long by sugarcubeedu.blogspot.com

The way each student will respond to a poem will vary greatly.  The prior knowledge and perspectives each child brings will evoke different emotions or responses.  And the good thing about poetry is that there is usually no 'right answer'.  Therefore, when children find evidence from the poem to support their thoughts, the variety and breadth of responses will be greater than if you asked what the sum of 2+2 was.  This range of solutions will lead to more in depth discussions in your classroom and encourage students to think beyond the literal and into the abstract.

Poetry lends itself easily to exploring themes because one does not have to read an entire book, but merely a few stanzas or pages.  Some of the greatest poetry explores the theme of human struggle or overcoming adversity which many of our students unfortunately can make a connection with in one way or another.  For example: Many of my students have been able to easily connect with the hardships the main character in the book "Inside Out and Back Again" had to face as she fled from her country seeking a better way of life. Learning a new language, eating different foods, and trying to fit in are all easily relatable for many of our immigrant and migrant students.  You can grab the FREE THEME graphic organizers for poetry you see below HERE.


Another benefit to teaching poetry to your students throughout the year is because it lends itself to so many different language arts components.  When composing a poem, often times it is important to choose just the right word either for rhyming reasons or to create a specific effect.  Poetry is also a great way to explore technical terms such as onomatopoeia (my favorite!), similes, metaphors, alliteration (my students' favorite!), and personification.  Using each of these literary devices correctly in a poem creates imagery and dramatic effect.  Grab your FREE POETIC DEVICES graphic organizer HERE.


Fluency is the ability to read smoothly and automatically, with expression and attention to punctuation.  It includes PACING (the speed or rate at which one reads), PHRASING (grouping words together into meaningful phrases), EXPRESSION (reading with emotion), and PUNCTUATION (paying attention to punctuation).  How does using poetry help build fluency? When students hear a poem read over and over (which is easier to do with shorter passages/poems), they will hear how the speaker uses his voice, volume, inflexion, pitch, pauses and speed to enhance the meaning of the poem.  The students in turn, through repeated opportunities to read the same passage will improve their fluency as they focus on the above elements. Author Timothy Rasinski (2000) adds, "Excessivly slow, disfluent reading leads to less overall reading, has been associated with poor comprehension, and creates frustration for the reader".  Therefore, allowing students chances to build their fluency through poetry (and other means) can greatly enhance not only their fluency, but comprehension skills.

Because poems tend to be shorter to digest than normal reading passages, they can be less intimidating for English Language Learners, and may require less in terms of producing a written response.  Repetition and rhyme often found in poetry can also make it easier when poems are shared orally.  In turn, your ESL students' speaking and listening skills will improve vastly.  Furthermore, since poetry can be written about any subject (personal or academic), it can tremendously increase one's vocabulary.

Here are a few tips for using poems to help your English Language Learners be more successful readers:

  • Choose poems with a single theme so students can focus on a specific set of vocabulary.
  • Select poems with predictable or repeated phrases to make it easier to read.
  • Incorporate poetry into grammar, sentence structure, and other writing conventions since it is more easily digestible in smaller chunks.
Check out this mix of poetry titles sure to inspire your most reluctant poetry lovers!
photo of 9 Upper Elementary Books That Will Make Your Students Fall In Love With Poetry: sugarcubeedu.blogspot.com

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Neighborhood Odes by Gary Soto
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
Because I Could Not Stop My Bike... and Other Poems by Karen Shapiro
Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry
Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander, Ekua Holmes, Chris Colderley, and Marjory Wentworth
Hip Hop Speaks To Children: A Celebration of Poetry With a Beat by Nikki Giovanni
Poems to Learn by Heart by Caroline Kennedy
The Armpit of Doom: Funny Poems For Kids by Ken Nesbitt

Looking for a paperless way to review different forms of poetry while allowing your students a chance to write their own?  
Check out my DIGITAL Poetry Notebook here.

If you'd like to save any of these ideas for later, feel free to pin the images below to your Pinterest boards. Thanks, and happy teaching!
5 Benefits to Teaching Poetry All Year Long by sugarcubeedu.blogspot.com


Reference:  Rasinski, T. (2000).  Speed does matter in reading.  The Reading Teacher, 54, 146-151.

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Celebrating Lent With Kids: Books, Websites, & Projects


While Advent is a time of preparation and exciting festivities, Lent can be a more difficult journey for students to grasp; perhaps because it is more somber, includes sacrifice and self-denial, and waiting patiently for Jesus' resurrection.  Included below are some of my favorite Lenten activities I have incorporated into my religion classes throughout the years.

Every liturgical season I display different books on a table surrounded by other artifacts to help celebrate the season. Here are a few of my favorite books to use during the season of Lent.

1.  The Centurion at the Cross retells the Crucifixion through the eyes of a soldier present at the events.  This easily lends itself to a lesson on point of view.  You could have students tell of the events from others' perspectives present that day as well.

2. The Day Jesus Died is a short read about Jesus' passion on Good Friday. Rhyming verse and bold illustrations make this a quick but informative read.  I like to use this book to help with chronological order.  I would have students divide a paper into sections and then draw and label each of the events in order to help with comprehension.

3. Wild Lent will have your students get outdoors this Lenten season to explore God in the wilderness. Your kids will discover the ups and downs of Jesus' trials and temptations through thoughtful activities that incorporate nature.
4. The Story of the Easter Robin relates the events of Good Friday to a robin caring for its young. One of the morals found in this book is compassion, which is a very important trait for students to learn during Lent (and all year long). Use with a lesson about teaching what compassion is and what it looks like in action.

5.  The Story of the Empty Tomb is another easy and quick read about the events that took place after Jesus' crucifixion.  This book will give your students hope after the grim events that took place on Good Friday. Discuss with your students what brings them hope. 

The following websites can be used alongside any Stations of the Cross activity you are doing; but be aware that some of the links are for older students (more graphic), and others are a little more conservative.  Most of them have reflection questions for students to ponder at each station. 

1.  Loyola Press 

1) Keep a journal.  At the end of each day ask your students what mistakes/failures they felt they've made. Then, have them reflect on how they can learn from those mistakes. What can they do differently next time the same situation occurs? Encourage your students to turn failures into learning opportunities to improve oneself. Lent is a time of prayer, reflection, and growth.
At the end of the Lenten season, encourage your students to create a poster using a tree as the focus and on each limb have them label/illustrate how they have grown through the season, and help them realize that mistakes/failures can actually be good for them if they help them grow. You could have students do this individually or whole class. You might also include bible verses that pertain to overcoming failure or growing in faith such as Philippians 4:13, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Psalms 55:22, or Job 8:19. You can download a FREE, simple journal and poster for this activity here.

2) Meditative Coloring Pages 
Kids love to color!  Why not make it educational at the same time?  Use these meditative Lenten coloring sheets to help students focus on what's really important during Lent.  As they color they can contemplate on the focus of each page. 
You could have students write about examples of each topic in their own lives or find bible verses that pertain to each, and write them on the back of the page.  Use them as a bulletin board or string them together to make a banner.  Click on the picture to get them for FREE!

3) Stations of the Cross Reflective Journal
Looking for a unique activity to help your students better understand the turmoil of the Stations of the Cross?  In this journal students are asked to write a brief message to key persons at each event that took place on Good Friday. Not only will they learn about what happened each step of the way that day, but look at them from different points of view. Click on the photo to find out more.


I hope you've gathered some new ideas to make the season of Lent more meaningful for your students. Don't forget to grab your freebies above, and happy teaching!

Please note: this post contains Amazon affiliate links that help support and maintain this website.  Thank you. 

Presidents' Day For Big Kids: Read Alouds, Websites, & Resources To Make It FUN!

books, websites, and resources to help your students learn more about Presidents' Day: upper elementary, grades 3-5

Celebrating Presidents' Day doesn't have to be just for the younger grades. Take this opportunity to infuse valuable character education lessons from Presidents Washington and Lincoln; two of our most revered presidents.  Today I'm going to share some of my favorite read-alouds, websites, and resources to help your students realize the leadership qualities they have inside them.

Abraham Lincoln was a leader in the fight to abolish slavery.  Here are some books to help your students learn about how he persevered in that struggle.

5 books about Abraham Lincoln for Presidents' Day

1) Abe's Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln (Big Words) by Doreen Rappaport is a beautifully illustrated look at Abe's simple upbringing and rise to national fame in his fight to overcome slavery.  By the same author as the bestseller Martin's Big Words, your students are sure to love this masterpiece.

2) Abraham Lincoln: Addressing a Nation by Torrey Maloof uses both illustrations and actual photos to highlight Abe's childhood and path to becoming one of the most influential presidents of the United States.  

3) Abraham Lincoln For Kids:  His Life and Times With 21 Activities by Janis Herbert will not only provide timelines and biographical information about Lincoln's life, but also hands-on crafts to help your students recreate items related to Abe such as a log cabin, or sewing a carpet bag (which could easily be done in the classroom with felt pieces).

4) DK Biography: Abraham Lincoln by Tanya Lee Stone presents lots of detailed photographs and factual information for your higher leveled readers. Students will learn of his early days, his involvement in the Civil War, and his presidential win with a divided nation.

5) Meet Abraham Lincoln by Barbara Cary is an easy read with simple illustrations and tons of details about Lincoln's childhood, early years as a lawyer, struggles with the issue of slavery, and presidential campaign.

5 books about George Washington for Presidents' Day

George Washington was the first elected leader of our great nation.  His bravery and dedication to the job would create a positive example for future presidents. Check out these read alouds to explore his different leadership qualities.

1) With beautiful illustrations and short prose, George: George Washington Our Founding Father by Frank Keating is a simple introduction to George Washington's life and legacy.  It is a quick read that will make remembering the details easy.

2) Your students will enjoy making crafts related to this president in George Washington For Kids: His Life and Times With 21 Activities by Janis Herbert.  Playing quoits, identifying animal tracks, or writing a letter with a quill pen are just a few of the activities in this book.

3) I Am George Washington #5 by Grace Norwich is a short chapter book that takes a closer look at George's upbringing and his leadership in forming the founding principles of our nation.

4) Short biographies of the presidents with funny anecdotes and how each leader spent his time in the White House, is what you'll learn in the book, I Grew Up To Be President by Laurie Caulkhoven.  This will be a favorite for your struggling readers to gather facts about the presidents.

5) Presidents Of the United States by Time For Kids will give your students an overview of the branches of government, how elections work, and biographies of each of the presidents.

Looking to incorporate technology into your Presidents' Day lessons?  Check out these websites that are part fact-finding, part games, and part critical thinking.

So what should your students do with all of their new-found knowledge of these magnificent leaders?  Try some of these projects to put their knowledge to the test.

1) Interview: Have your students interview a family member about his/her favorite president. What made this president so memorable? What events were  the most challenging during his presidency? What  were this president's best leadership qualities, or greatest achievements?  Grab the FREE graphic organizers for this project here.

2) Quote Posters: Find examples of inspirational quotes by either president.  Have students illustrate the quotes on poster paper and explain what the quotes mean to them. Why do they think each president said the quote? Why would it have made sense for the president to have said it during that time period? 

3) "I Am A Leader" Writing Project
Presidents' Day Writing Project and Bulletin Board Display

I love how this project helps students realize they themselves are leaders just like these famous presidents.  When researching what made these men great leaders, the kids then compare their leadership skills with either President Lincoln or Washington.  It makes a great bulletin board for the month of February! Click on the picture to find out more.

How do you help your students celebrate these great leaders on Presidents' Day?  I hope you've found a few new ideas to add to your list.  Happy teaching!

Note: This post may contain Amazon affiliate links which help support and maintain this website, at no cost to you.  

5 Ways to Help Your Students Appreciate Martin Luther King Jr.'s Legacy

photo of MLK Jr.: pensive look

How much time do you allot to teaching your students about the legacy that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. left behind?  Is it merely a book, a YouTube video, or listening to his famous, "I Have a Dream" speech?  Here are five ways to help your students learn more about the important lessons he wished to instill in all of us.

What do your students already know about this legendary man?  What do they know about his struggles for freedom and equality?  What can they tell you about the era in which he campaigned and boycotted? How much have they learned from reading books, watching videos, or doing previous projects during Black History Month, for example?  You can create a simple chart with a picture of Dr. King in the center and then distribute sticky notes  to allow students to add their knowledge to a schema map. This quick activity will allow you to get a grip on where you should start and if any misconceptions should be addressed before moving on. 

Students can also write down their background knowledge in a KQRN chart and write down any questions they may wish to have addressed during their discovery time.  They can then come back to their charts to write down new discoveries and questions that may arise from their research.  You can grab a copy of this simple KQRN chart by clicking on the picture below. (For interactive notebooks, print at 80% and cut along solid lines to create flaps.)

Use this free KQRN Chart to gather old and new information about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The following selections I recommend for getting the conversations started about standing up for what is right, fighting for change, and recognizing the struggles of different races and ethnicities throughout history.

Separate is Never Equal by Jane Addams takes a look at how segregated schools came to an end in California in the 1940s. The landmark trial that called for desegregating schools in California would help the case of Brown vs. Board of Education nearly 10 years later.

Harvesting Hope by Kathleen Krull will help your students draw comparisons between Dr. King's peaceful struggle for equality with that of Caesar Chavez's non-violent protests for change in the fields of California.  

For the Right to Learn by Capstone Press, is an encouraging story of a teen girl who fought for her right to attend school; even though everyone around her told her she shouldn't have the opportunity.

If your students enjoy graphic novels, try Martin Luther King, Jr.: Let Freedom Ring by Michael Teitelbaum. This comic book style story for older students gives an overview of the major events in Dr. King's life.

I Have a Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., illustrates his famous speech and brings it to life, making it easier for students to understand the importance of this historic speech. 

If you want to go beyond the read-alouds, let your students dive into researching Dr. King, the leader.  I love using this digital interactive notebook with students because it allows them to dig deep into different aspects of Dr. King's life, struggles, and leadership roles throughout his crusade for equality.  Below are just a few of the pages in this INB, perfect for Google Classroom or nearly any other learning management system.  

collage of digital Martin Luther King Jr. interactive notebook pages by Sugar Cube Learning Resources

Once students have become aware of the trials and hardships of the era, let them debate the issues.  What are their views on segregation, unequal pay, discrimination, having fewer rights?  Use this opportunity for opinion/persuasive writing, and classroom debates.  They will need to do their research to gather facts to support their viewpoints, and will learn so much about civics and history at the same time!  You can snag this simple debate graphic organizer below. 

What issues do your students now feel more passionately about after learning more about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?  Help them extend his legacy by encouraging them to write letters to make a change.  What would they like to see changed or improved in their nation, state, town, or school?  For help writing to your legislators, check out this link from the NEA.  On a local level, students can seek support from local city council members, or a prinicpal or school board members at a school level.  What a great way to incorporate ELA standards while instilling leadership qualities at the same time!  You could even encourage your students (with their families) to sit in on city council meetings or school board meetings if applicable. 

I hope this post has given you some new ideas to help you celebrate the leader that was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  I'd love to hear from you if you choose to incorporate any of these ideas in your classrooms. :)

Happy teaching! 

Note: This post may contain affiliate links which help support and maintain this website. 

How to Help Your Students Set Goals Like a Boss!

Goal Setting for Students Monthly Goal Setting and Reflection Digital Resource for Google Classroom

Why is Goal Setting Important for Students?
Goal setting is an important skill for students to master because it helps them take charge of their learning. When teachers are the only ones telling students what is important to learn, students never have the opportunity to realize their own weaknesses and strengths.   Without these realizations, improvements (goals) can never be determined.

The S.M.A.R.T. acronym is an easy way to to help your students outline their goals.  Goals should be specific, measurable, have an action plan, be realistic, and have a defined time limit.  When keeping these details in mind, your students' goals will be better focused, and more likely achieved.

Looking Back:  Monthly Goals Reflections
Goals are great to have; just ask anyone at the new year. However, if one does not take the time to reflect what worked or didn't, one will never fully realize if he or she has been successful.  Questions to ask your students might be:

  • How do you know you've mastered this goal? 
  • What was difficult about achieving this task? 
  • What other strategies can you use if initially unsuccessful?  

Allowing your students the time to monitor what did or did not work will help them see if more effort is needed, or if they are ready to set more challenging/different goals for themselves.

Click here for a simple brainstorming sheet to help your students get started with their goals.

Digital Resources Make it Easy to Keep Goals Organized
How many times have you jotted something important down, and then not been able to find it when needed?  Keeping papers organized, especially goal sheets that might not be used everyday, can be a recipe for disaster for unorganized students. Taming the stray papers in student desks is easy with digital resources.

Designed to work with Google Classroom or nearly any learning management system, my Monthly Digital Goal Setting and Reflection Booklet allows students to create three goals every month.  They could be academic, behavioral, or social goals.  Students are then asked to list specific strategies they will use to help accomplish each goal.

Goal Setting for Students: Monthly Goal Setting and Reflection Digital Resource for Google Classroom

A second page for each month requires students to monitor their progress, reflect on what did or did not work for them, and to determine what they may do differently in order to be successful in the future.  Students type directly in the Google Slides presentation, and work is automatically saved.  If being used in Google Classroom, comments made by the teacher can be made in real-time, so students can get back on track if needed easily and quickly.

This booklet makes a fantastic learning tool for students to look back on throughout the school year. It also makes a great addition to portfolios (digital or traditional).  Use these as a part of parent-teacher conferences to let parents know what their child has been striving towards.  This can also be shared with future teachers of each student to see what strategies have been successful in the past (or unsuccessful).

Happy teaching!

Using Digital Writing Journals to Maximize Your ELA Instruction Time

Do your students let out a long sigh when you say it's time to take out writing journals?  Eek, let's remendy that!  Switching from the traditional spiral notebook to a Google Slides journal format will save you so much time and energy.  Here are my top five favorite benefits of using digital journals in an English/Language Arts block.

With traditional writing journals, students are usually required to copy a prompt from the board (which wastes valuable time), and they are limited to one prompt. (Ever have a kid spend his entire writing time just getting the prompt written, and then just get the creative juices flowing as time is up? Ugh-frustrating.  If students have no prior knowledge pertaining to this singular prompt, they may get stuck with the task before they've even started.  Having a variety of prompts available in a digital resource will give your students a choice in what they'd like to write about, and in turn will most likely increase student engagement.  Another reason I love digital writing journals is because it is easier to accommodate students that may struggle with getting their thoughts down on paper.  For example, a student that is unable (or struggles) with typing could use the Voice to Text tool in Google Docs, and then copy and paste the outcome into their Google Slide.

Does anyone even know what an encyclopedia is anymore, or how to use it for that matter?  The great thing about using digital journals within Google Slides is that research tools once found in the library are now just a click away!  You no longer have to spend precious time taking your entire class to the library so your students can try and find books related to their topics. By using the Explore tool available for Google Docs, kids can find related articles and images for their informational/explanatory writing prompts with just one click.
Check out this quick overview of Google's Explore Tool below.

Please note that Google has done away with the popular Research tool that helped students cite their information correctly and replaced it with Explore.  While the Explore tool is extremely handy, it can also be tempting for your kids to copy and paste information, or use copyrighted images. A quick refresher on plagiarism and copyright is advisable before introducing this feature.
For a quick visual reminder about these digital citizenship skills I like to print these posters four to a page, cut, and place on a metal ring to hang at each lab station.

Wanting to take back your weekends, and not spend them lugging around essays in the back of your car and waiting until Sunday night to tackle them?  Another great thing about using digital writing journals is that you can grade on the go (while kids are in center rotations, at P.E., or when you're at lunch), without having to drag papers around with you.  Students get feedback more quickly which is more beneficial to them because they can enhance their writing the same day while it's still fresh in their minds.   In Google Slides, teacher comments are found on the side of the page so your students don't see the dreaded red ink markings we all grew up with and dreaded.

How long does it typically take for your students to complete a writing project? One, two weeks depending if research is involved, and the rewrites are lengthy?  Quit wasting valuable class time having your students rewrite and rewrite countless pages just for a few revisions. Your kids will tire of the assignment and not have enough steam to finish strong. In Google Slides writing prompts, students can easily add details, subtract unclear sections, and enhance their projects with adjectives and adverbs in places that you've highlighted.  Your writing conferences will take a fraction of the time.  No eraser marks or hand cramps from rewriting required.  Bam, I just saved you at least two class periods! :)

Hate spending half your prep time standing in front of a broken down copy machine?  Been there, done that. Using digital journals will save you all that time because you won't be copying those graphic organizers and such.  In this Digital Writing Prompts resource I've included 5 graphic organizers for each genre of writing, as well as editing/revising checklists on every slide that are aligned to the standards.
Most of your students' organizational worries can be alleviated, because they don't have to rummage through their desks to find their notes.  Going paperless is also great for teachers because it means not having to carry one more teacher bag full of essays home to grade. Awesome!

So there you have it, my top five ways to maximize your ELA instructional time using digital writing prompts.  I'd love to hear what other ways you save time by enhancing your writing lessons with technology!