Monthly Archives: March 2013

Writing Strategies in the Classroom: A Reflection on RAFT

     I recently came upon a simple, easy to use writing strategy that can come in handy for teaching writing. This activity, called RAFT, aids the student in identifying important elements of writing such as purpose and audience. RAFT stands for Role, Audience, Format, and Topic. Having students identify these major components before beginning a writing activity can be a big help. As a future teacher of writing, I know it’s important to show your students that you are a writer too. I have an example of a RAFT activity that I wrote in class the other day. In a middle grades literacy class, we read a picture book, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka. If you haven’t read this book, I would highly recommend it. This work takes classic tales and nursery rhymes and turns them upside down. Author Scieszka turns these fairy tales into silly, funny, and outlandish stories. The story about the stinky cheese man clearly mimics the tale of the ginger bread man who runs around yelling his famous line, “Run, run, run as fast as you can. You can’t catch me; I’m the gingerbread man.” In Scieszka’s version however, it is the stinky cheese man who runs around filling the nostrils of the towns people and animals with his putrid, half-baked, cheesy smell yelling “Run, run, run as fast as you can. You can’t catch me; I’m the stinky cheese man.” Here is the break-down for my RAFT.

  • Role: My work is told from the point of view of the cow that the stinky cheese man encounters during his story
  • Audience: My audience is another character from a fairy tale story: the fairy godmother
  • Format: The format of my work is poetry
  • Topic: The topic of my work is about my (cow’s) encounter with the stinky cheese man

Here is my final RAFT:

To: Fairy godmother,

I was chewin’ on some grass

chomp, chomp, chomp cow-patty-bingo

When along came the cheese man

clomp, clomp, clomp


I said pee-yew! You stink,

I really don’t think

I want to play with you today

So if you see him coming,

before you turn to start running,

make his day

and shake your wand, index

and in a snap

his stink will be gone

From: Your friend, cow


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A Reflection on Found Poems and “The Lightning Thief”

     Found Poetry is a fun and creative reading/writing activity that I am just now learning about. For those of you who didn’t know what they were either, found poems involve taking a literary work and creating a poem by shaping, rearranging, and stringing together words pulled from the pages. This often involves crossing out words and creating a poem out of what is left. This can be a great way to make beautiful poetry and explore your favorite works of literature. This is personally really difficult for me, but they are some great examples out there. This example comes from a friend of mine, and it was taken from the pages of Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief. If you’re not familiar with this popular young adult fantasy novel, check out my blog post or read a plot summary on the book. This is an excellent example of the inventive poetry that can be pulled from the very pages of your favorite works of literature.

Broken spears
What growl
A howl.
Looking straight yelled
The monster fell.
I was alive, underneath the ruins
Until it disappeared
A trident.
-By Elizabeth Martin, taken from pages 124-125 of Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

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Does Text Complexity Matter? An Essay on Reading Level

     As a pre-service professional student in the University of Georgia College of Education, I have had valuable, first-hand experiences in the language arts middle school classroom. This is where I first heard about Lexile Levels. This system rates literary works based on their difficulty. This might seem like a great way to provide readers with on-level or challenging reading materials, right? Some teachers might think so, but this is a controversial issues. For starters, Lexile levels are not always the best authority on the matter. People are sometimes surprised when they find that Lexile levels don’t always accurately represent the difficulty of literature. Some works are scored far too low, and students are not allowed to read the books they enjoy because they are not challenging enough. Some works are rated too high, and students are not allowed to read them because they are too difficult. Sounds like a double-edge sword, doesn’t it?

     I don’t always trust Lexile scores for more reasons than these. When I was growing up in school, I never heard much about Lexile levels. I was free to read the books I enjoyed. Sometimes, I was cautioned by teachers that books might be too difficult for me to read; this never stopped me from reading and enjoying them. And sometimes, I was cautioned by teachers that certain books were too easy and wouldn’t challenge me; still, this never stopped me from enjoying them. Today, many young adolescents are placed in a box with what they can or cannot read. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard teachers say, “no, you can’t read that; the Lexile isn’t high enough.” Or “no, we can’t use this book in the classroom; the Lexile is too high.” Does this change the fact that students might take interests in books that aren’t necessarily on their “level”? I think not. And besides, leisure reading is called leisure reading for a reason. If we want to encourage our children to become more avid readers, we shouldn’t be telling them what to read.

     Still, I don’t believe Lexile scores or other measures of difficulty or complexity are useless. They can provide a groundwork to help teachers choose which books to use in their classroom. These measures should only be a starting point; the best way to select reading materials for the classroom is to read them and use your own discretion. Lexile scores and other measures of difficulty and text complexity can be helpful when choosing appropriate texts, but they should never be the sole factor when choosing reading material for young adults.

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Book Review for “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief”


Riordan, R. (2005). Percy Jackson & the olympians: The lightning thief. New York, NY: Hyperian Books.

     Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians first came to my attention by popular demand of middle school readers, and any time middle school students are crazy about a book, I usually pay attention. During my experience as a student teacher in my first middle school field placement, this book spread through the school like a wildfire; even the teacher had read it! That’s when I knew I had to try it, and I knew immediately why all the kids loved it. I myself couldn’t put the book down. Every page of Riordan’s work presented intricate twists and turns in the modern-day empire of Greek gods, heroes, and half-blood children. At the particular school where I taught, the arrival of this book on the middle school scene coincided perfectly with the language arts unit on Greek mythology; I guess you could say it was fated by the gods. Students came in contact with traditional Greek mythology in ways they never had before.

     Main character Percy Jackson seems identifiable enough. He is a normal 12 year old boy just like his peers, or so he thought. When strange, legendary creatures find their way from the pages of his Greek textbooks right into his daily life, he begins to suspect something is up. One day Percy finds himself at the very center of his own legend chasing down monsters and traveling to Mt. Olympus. Did I mention, Mt. Olympus has a new location? What really enthralled many students was the idea of the new Mt. Olympus. The book describes that Mt. Olympus and the blessing of the gods coincides with the rise and fall of empires; wherever the height of civilization is, Mt. Olympus and the whole host of Greek gods moves there with it. The very spark of society and creation follows these gods. In the beginning, Mt. Olympus was indeed located in Greece, but over the centuries it moved to Rome. It continued to move throughout history from Rome to Spain, and France, and England. Finally, the height of civilization arrives in the West, The United States to be exact. Much of the joy in reading this novel comes from hearing how famous sties and landmarks in America are undercover mythological locations; students are thrilled to find out that Mt. Olympus is now the Empire State Building. Don’t believe me? Humans can’t see Mt. Olympus because it is hidden from their eyes by a magical mist. That’ll make you think twice next time you decide to stop for a visit.

     Percy Jackson & the Olympians brings young adults closer to Greek mythology than ever before. This novel gives the reader the unique experience of being at the center of a modern-day epic story of gods, heroes, and magical powers. For any student who has struggled to understand Greek mythology before, this novel relates many of the ruling principles of these ancient legends in new and comprehensible ways. This book is a great way to spark in students an interest in traditional Greek mythology; used in conjunction with these traditional stories, this book can be a great resource. I would recommend this novel to any reader, but especially to teachers. A great activity for students to complete following the reading of this book, is to have them create their own modern-day myth. In my experience, this exercise reiterates the purpose, origin, and creation of myths, and students will have fun creating their own stories as well.

     So does Percy ever complete his quest to Mt. Olympus? Don’t leave it to the gods, grab a copy and find out for yourself. Read Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, and you may never look at Greek mythology the same way again.

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Book Review for “The Monstrumologist”


Yancey, R. (2009). The monstrumologist. Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing.

            Looking for a tantalizing adventure that’ll make your skin crawl? At some point in our lives, we have all believed in monsters. Whether they were under our beds or in our closets we feared the things that went bump in the night. Rick Yancey’s The Monstrumologist will entertain you while making your worst fears come true.

Yes, monsters do exist, and the people that study and hunt them are called monstrumologists. Meet Will Henry, a young boy of only twelve years. He is an assistant-apprentice to the New World’s leading, well perhaps only, monstrumologist. Doctor Pellinore Warthrop is a curious specimen. He barely eats, barely sleeps, and spends all of his time in his lab studying his latest find. From tiny bug-like monsters that crawl under your skin, to giant man-eating monsters, Doctor Warthrop has seen it all, and Will Henry is about to as well. Late one fateful night a mysterious visitor comes entreating to the doctor’s door. The monster he has found that night will change Will Henry’s life forever.  The existence of the anthropophagus has been confirmed in the Americas, and the only person that can uncover the mystery of their migration is Doctor Warthrop; of course this means Will Henry too. The anthropophagi are perhaps the most frightening monsters in existence. They have razor sharp claws, and teeth like that of a shark; are headless creatures that see through eyes engrossed in their torso. In one jump they can leap forty feet in the air! Trust me, not many people survive an anthropophagus attack. You would think people would want to stay as far away from these creatures as possible, but Will Henry and Doctor Warthrop are headed for their den. The Monstrumologist follows Will Henry’s adventure finding, capturing, and killing the things people fear most, including the monstrous anthropophagus.

Rick Yancey’s The Monstrumologist is a clever example of a fiction novel. The genius of this novel is that Yancey adds just enough elements of realistic fiction to make this story seem almost believable. Will Henry is a young boy growing up in the Americas. His parents perished in an unfortunate fire, and their beloved family friend takes him in as his apprentice. Pellinore Warthrop, or the doctor, calls himself a doctor of philosophy; together they study and undercover all the creepy, crawly, and downright disgusting monsters that lurk in unexpected places. Have you ever seen an anthropophagus? If your answer is no, that is because the doctor and Will Henry study, chase, and hunt these creatures before they become a menace to society, so you can credit your well-being to these two unlikely heroes of sorts. So can you really be sure monsters don’t exist? After reading this young adult novel, you may not be so sure.

Will the doctor and Will Henry stamp out the presence of the anthropophagus in the Americas forever? How many fated victims will this sickening creature claim before it is found out? Read Rick Yancey’s The Monstrumologist to find out what nightmares are made of.

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Book Review for “Red Scarf Girl”


Jiang, J. (1997). Red scarf girl. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publihers.

     Red Scarf Girl by Jiang Ji-Li is a harrowing journey of a young girl growing up during the Cultural Revolution in China. This young adult novel is  historical fiction account and is based upon the author’s own experience growing up in Communist China. The first-hand experience and historical accuracy is what makes this novel a great representation of life at this time. Not only is this book historically accurate, it conveys ideas about the Communist Revolution in understandable ways for young adults. As the story explains, young Ji-Li is overcome with excitement and fervor when the Revolution hits the scene. Young students are taught in schools about the great accomplishments of their leader, Chairman Mao Ze-dong; these young children are ready to do whatever it takes to expunge the presence of capitalism and western influences from China forever. The lengths they will go to in order to do this is sometimes shocking. Young adults renounce their families and slander those they believe to be “capitalists”. As the Revolution progresses, it becomes clear that things have gotten out of hand. People are severely beaten, detained, or shunned from their communities. Families are broken and children are forced to grow up too fast. At the beginning of the novel, Ji-Li expresses her enthusiasm for this Revolution; towards the middle she starts to question whether the practices resulting from the Revolution are right or not, and by the end of the novel she has the scars to prove that the Cultural Revolution in China did not work out the way she thought it would. In fact, it didn’t work out the way many people thought it would. This transformation of the main character juxtaposed against the transformation of China during the Revolution gives the reader an idea of what life was like during this tumultuous time. This book serves not only as a lesson about the Cultural Revolution in China, but about any political, religious, or social ideology in general. In theory, anything can sound perfect; it is only in practice that we find things go stray. Indeed, increased fervor and zeal can carry things to the breaking point, just like they did in China. This novel can be a great resource or tool for any teacher who wishes to convey the climate of the Cultural Revolution in China to young adults in a tangible and understandable way. Ji-Li Jiang’s Red Scarf Girl uncovers the atrocities of the past, while proving a point for the future.

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Book Review for “The Misfits” and “Totally Joe”


Howe, J. (2001). The misfits. (First Aladdin Paperbacks ed.). New York, NY: Aladdin Paperbacks.

Totally Joe

Howe, J. (2005). Totally Joe. New York, NY: Aladdin Paperbacks.

     Homophobia is a growing epidemic in schools across the country. Even in middle school, young adolescents are forced to hide who they are for fear of ridicule or physical violence. Often times, this issue is avoided altogether because it is too personal or controversial to address in schools; unfortunately, this problem will not go away. Children throughout the school system will continue to be bullied  and intimidated for being themselves are unless we are all taught the importance of tolerance. James Howe’s The Misfits and Totally Joe are not just stories about the journey of one adolescent boy, but the story of his school community as well. As Joe struggles to come out to his parents and muster the courage to talk to a boy he likes, the school jointly struggles to accept the gay community and recognize LGBT clubs and organizations as well. These stories serve not only as an inspirational story and support system for young adolescents experiencing the same things as Joe, but it also illustrates a realistic model of the ways in which a school or community can change to love and accept all aspects of diversity. Of the many useful and redeeming qualities about Howe’s work, one of them makes the greatest statement. Joe is a normal kid just like everyone else. He has the same fears and struggles to find love and belonging from his peers and family. And though Joe may be gay, all he wants is to be able to hold hands with somebody that he likes, just like everybody else.

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