9 Ways to Prepare for a Sub

Nine Ways to Prep for a Sub1. Don’t bother. Ignore that cough. Cancel that meeting. Show up to class with a box of Kleenex and a bottle of DayQuil.

2. Don’t bother #2. Let the sub fend for him- or herself.

3. Don’t bother #3. Put a kid in charge. Your students can tell the sub where to find all the “worksheets,” the tempera paints, the science chemicals.

4. Stay up late the night before to get all those sub notes written out. Why not? You’re gonna sleep all day tomorrow, right?

5. Go in early. You’ll probably already be up vomiting at 4 a.m. anyway.

6. Leave a collection of Disney movies and Bill Nye videos on your desk.

7. Leave the same sub plans your neighboring teacher used last week and hope the sub can adjust.

8. Hope for a snow day.

9. Or, download EZSubPlans. It’s the easiest and most professional way to prepare for a sub. We all know preparing for a sub is tedious and time consuming, but it doesn’t have to be. Just click, print, and relax! Rather than staying up late, showing up sick, or throwing your sub under the bus, give our emergency lesson plans a try. Because they provide your students with quality, standards-based lessons that don’t interfere with your regular instruction, EZSubPlans represent good practice. And they’re just a click away. Download your EZSubPlans today so you’re prepared tomorrow!

Whether a classroom teacher, substitute, or administrator, EZSubPlans will provide you with inexpensive, kid-tested plans at the touch of a button. Each EZSubPlans package includes at least seven hours of grade-specific lessons designed to make your next absence easy and worry-free. Classroom teachers wanting to avoid the frustrating and time-consuming process of preparing for an absence and substitute teachers needing back-up material will find everything they need with EZSubPlans. And what better time to prepare than before the school year begins! Days are labeled by grade level, but each can be easily adapted to suit one grade level up or down. A fifth grade teacher, for example, could use the lesson plans for grades 4, 5, and 6–that’s six days in all. Teachers need only to download, print, and photocopy–the sub does everything else.

Imagine, your first six absences of the school year already prepared. On each of those mornings, you merely set the EZSubPlans file on your desk and walk away! Click here for more information about EZSubPlans or click here to preview or purchase at TeachersPayTeachers. How much is a stress-free sub day worth? Who can say? How much does a stress-free sub day cost? Just $5 a day with EZSubPlans. Don’t wait for that first cough, download your EZSubsPlans now and have them ready to go come the first day of school!

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Why You Should End the Year with Algebra

The Little RascalsI think much of what I know about teaching, about kids, about life itself, I learned from Spanky and Our Gang.

Like many of us here near the end of the school year, exhaustion has just about got the best of me. The wide-variety of year-end responsibilities and activities coupled with the cumulative day-to-day stress of the job itself has become a bit overwhelming. It has me looking for some fun but easy lessons to wrap up the last few weeks of school. It got me thinking that I’d like to share with my students some Little Rascals episodes, so I went looking for them on YouTube. If you’re not familiar with the Little Rascals, it’s the depression-era film shorts featuring the antics of impoverished kids such as Spanky, Alfalfa, Darla, and Stymie (and a mule named Algebra). I grew up watching “Spanky and Our Gang” on Channel 42 out of San Francisco—beamed to my home in Oregon via the relatively new innovation called cable-tv.

Sure enough, YouTube has a wide variety of clips and as I watched a few, my wife suggested that my love for kids and my destiny to become a teacher may have roots in the Little Rascals. The more I think about this, the more I believe it. There’s no doubt I admired the ingenuity and resiliency displayed by these kids. There were rarely any adults on the show. The kids had to solve complex problems and overcome difficulties without the assistance, guidance, or even supervision of grown-ups. I think this “can-do” attitude has helped me forge my way through life. And there’s no doubt I enjoyed the innocence and sweetness of all these kids. Yes, I think “Our Gang” had a profound impact on my career choices, as well as my penchant for using plays in class.

I have particularly strong recollections of the Our Gang “Follies,” in which the kids built a make-shift theater in a barn and staged a vaudeville show. Although these were not among my favorite episodes, I’m certain they influenced my teaching. In 1998, when I built a stage inside my classroom, I sewed together a heap of scrap fabric to make curtains that, not surprisingly, looked a lot like those that parted for Alfalfa’s performance of “I’m in the Mood for Love” or Darla’s tap and baton-twirling routine. I’m still using those curtains today, and I think about the Little Rascals every time I put them up for a play.

I intend on ending the year with an algebra lesson (that is, a segment of Little Rascals featuring Algebra the Mule), but another good activity with which to fill these last days of schools is reader’s theater. I believe read aloud plays are most beneficial when they’re read repetitively, when kids read and re-read the same text over and over again as they practice for an eventual performance. However, this time of year, there’s nothing wrong with giving kids a set of scripts and letting them wing it. Give them a session or two to utilize their “Spanky-esque Can Do Attitude” and then watch the follies unfold. To help you along, here’s a free PDF of my play based on O.Henry’s depression-era story, A Retrieved Reformation, but you should also try Peter Rabbit, Penelope Ann Poe’s Amazing Cell Phone, A Tell-Tale Heart, and Fly Me to the Moon, all of which are available on my TeachersPayTeachers page, as well as The Nose, Rikki Tikki Tavi, and The Open Window, from my book: Read Aloud Plays: Classic Short Stories. Finally, Read Aloud Plays: Symbols of America contains Argument at Mount Rushmore, As American as Apple Pie, and Eagles Over the Battlefield, each of which make for fun, impromptu entertainment that beats a real algebra lesson any day.

Happy directing!

Is There an App for That?

Indestructible NokiaI’m told school districts around the country are investing millions of dollars into iPads and other online devices. The idea is that students can use these devices to access their textbooks, dictionaries, and encyclopedias via the Internet. After all, hand-held devices, not printed volumes of the World Britannica, are the future.

Me, I’m salivating over a class set of laptops with which my fifth graders can do their writing, post to their webpages, watch student-created instructional videos, and bombard me with in-lesson feedback via Twitter.

But it’ll never happen. My district just can’t afford to invest $15K for a single classroom set of machines that will be outdated in just a few years. When put to the daily abuse levied by fifth graders, I doubt the machines would survive that long anyway.

But a funny thing keeps happening in my classroom. Whenever we need something that my generation had to find in a book, some student will invariably say, “Can I use my phone?” Need to know the definition for lugubrious? Need a picture of the state flag of Georgia? Need to know the formula for calculating the area of a circle? It’s all there at their fingertips on each student’s individual phone.

Kids can use their phones to record themselves reading, to film your next class play, to create short movies, to document field trips, and more. So why invest tax dollars in electronics the students already possess? Sure, you’ll have to bust a kid from time to time for texting when he’s supposed to be studying. But how’s that any different than busting him for passing notes? Do we ban pencils and paper? True, you may have that kid who uses his phone to cheat on a test. But that’s probably the same kid who’ll have notes scribbled on his arm or have his binder suspiciously open beneath his desk.

What about those kids who don’t have phones? Well, it wasn’t but a few years ago that only a handful of my students had online access at home. Today, that figure is around 95%. It won’t be too long before we see the same circumstances with phones. In fact, I estimate that nearly half of my 5th graders–eleven year olds!–already carry phones, and every one of ’em is vastly superior to my own woefully-outdated but indestructible Nokia. And before you go thinking my school is in some wealthy suburb of Portland, know that it has a 70% Free-and-Reduced population.

Consider this: we require $100 calculators for high school calculus (and I’ll bet you there’s an app for that), and those that can’t afford it have access to loaners. What’s wrong with applying the same logic to hand-held devices?

Cell phone technology creates life-long learners who are always just a click or two away from finding the information they need to accomplish nearly any given task. It’s how adults operate these days. It’s how we should be teaching our kids.

The future is already here, and most of our kids are holding it in their hands. We just have to let them turn the dang things on.

Happy Directing!

When Your Character Gets Questioned

SCOPE-110113-PlayWhat can you do when your character gets questioned but you’re unable to defend yourself? In my new play in the November issue of Scholastic’s Scope Magazine, a peasant in 19th-century France is accused of a crime he didn’t commit. The harder he tries to clear his name, the less people believe him. Does he get what he deserves? Guy de Maupassant’s classic story, A Piece of String, makes a great characterization activity. Vivid characters, a compelling plot, and a interesting moral make for great classroom discussion. You can get A Piece of String by becoming a Scope subscriber, and you can preview the play here.

State Testing Linked to Premature Baldness

The Birthmark scope cover pageI’m willing to admit to a high degree of frustration when it comes to standardized testing. In fact, during the latter part of the most recent school year, state testing had me secretly yanking fistfuls of grey hair from my head. I had so many kids being pulled out of my fifth grade class to either test or get remedial instruction, rarely (if ever) did I have my full group. It made for some dysfunctional lessons requiring reteaching material to kids who were already being retaught material from previous years. Still, as my Admin is fond of saying, “testing is the reality in which we live.” Embrace it or die (at least that’s how I translate it).

Well, I’m happy to say my students did just fine on state standardized tests, especially in reading where nearly all either met standards or growth targets and average fluency scores soared. Why mention it here? Because I long ago abandoned traditional text books and instead built my reading program around read aloud plays. Along with chapter books and content reading (primarily history content from Storyworks magazine), read aloud plays are the mainstay of my instruction. Not only do they build fluency and provide the framework to teach comprehension skills, they also increase the love of reading. It was no surprise to me that during our annual book give-away the last week of school, one of my reluctant readers eagerly snatched up a copy of A Christmas Carol. He’d had a small part in our movie adaption back in December and was still enthusiastic about it.

While some of my colleagues look at the new Common Core Standards with trepidation, I’m confident my young thespians will continue to thrive. In fact, I’m already mapping out another year of read aloud plays. You can see my tentative plans below, and if you’d care to jump on the reader’s theater bandwagon, you’ll find all of the titles either on my TpT Storefront, in one of my books^, or coming soon via this website*.

I’ll close with one warning: using read aloud plays to improve test scores means more than just handing out scripts and inviting kids to read. To see the nuts and bolts of how it’s done, download my free article, Why Use Drama?

September–Exploration: The Fountain of Youth, Lewis & Clark and Bird Girl, Fly Me to the Moon

October—Halloween Theme: Penelope Ann Poe’s Amazing Cell Phone, The Tell-Tale Heart^, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow^, The Monkey’s Paw, The Birthmark*

November/December–Christmas Theme: Ebenezer Scrooge, The Gift of the Magi^, Gabriel Grub*, The Necklace^

January–American Revolution: The Secret Soldier*, The Legend of Betsy Ross^, Eagles Over the Battlefield^

February–Slavery & Civil War: Spies & Rebels, Freedom for the First Time, Box Brown’s Freedom Crate

March/April–Civil Rights: Sitting Down for Dr. King, Freedom March, We Shall Overcome, Selma to Montgomery: Let it Shine*, The Girl Who Got Arrested, In the Jailhouse with Dr. King, I Have a Dream: The Childhood of MLK^

May—Just for Fun: Peter Rabbit, A Retrieved Reformation, Cyclops v Odysseus*

All right, I’ll close (for real this time) with the fine print: Read Aloud Plays won’t stop your classroom instruction from being interrupted by standardized testing. Nor will it decrease your risk of premature baldness due to the same. But done right, read aloud plays will have a positive impact on your reading test scores.

Happy directing!

With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino

Click here to preview or purchase at TpTIt’s spring, and aside from being that glorious time of year when we can finally start replenishing our supply of Vitamin D, it’s a great time to consider alternative settings for classroom play performances. “All the world’s a stage,” writes Shakespeare in As You Like It, which sounds to me like a good excuse to ditch the school auditorium and head out of doors. Take a walk around your school campus. That grassy knoll, that bridge across the playground structures, and the steps in front of the dilapidated main building might all be excellent venues. Have the performers present their play at the top of the steps, or seat your audience on the steps themselves and stage the play down below. Keep props and costumes to a minimum, provide your kids with multiple opportunities to practice (which builds fluency), and be sure to invite other classes to come watch.

Excellent plays to perform out-of-doors include How Jackie Saved the World (see previous post), Fly Me to the Moon (about the Apollo moon landing), Bird Girl (about Sacagawea), and my personal favorite, Peter Rabbit (a great one for olders to perform for youngers). If you’re lucky enough to have access to back issues of Scholastic’s Storyworks magazine, try Aesop’s Fables, Tom Sawyer’s Saturday, or Babe, the Valiant Pig. Finally, plan to take your back-to-school plays outside as well. Consider using my play, Cyclops vs. Odysseus, which originally appeared in Scholastic’s Scope magazine in September 2012. It’ll be available through TpT this August.

Happy Directing!

Why You Need a Cardboard Box for Black History Month

Box Brown's Freedom Crate graphicIf you’ve never heard one of your students attempt a southern accent you must give Box Brown’s Freedom Crate a whirl this February during Black History Month. Ever since I wrote it for Scholastic’s Storyworks magazine back 1999, Box Brown has always been a favorite among my students. Consequently my class learns and performs it almost every year. Even if you’re teaching in the Southern U.S.—where the dialect might not be so unique—there remain many compelling reasons to teach with this play.

Box Brown’s Freedom Crate is based on The Autobiography of Henry “Box” Brown. Henry was the slave who mailed himself to the North inside a wooden crate and lived—just barely—to tell the world about it. Why do kids like this play so much? The Deep South dialect of slaves and slave bosses is certainly one reason. So too is the large cardboard box we use as the main prop. It’s painted to look like an old-fashioned shipping crate and is just big enough for a moderately-sized fifth grader to climb inside. The student playing Henry disappears within it during Scene 4 and then discreetly exits while the curtains are closed. From there he appears to get battered as the box is tossed from wagon to train to steamer until it finally gets cracked open at the Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia. Henry then rises from his coffin only to quickly swoon away from exhaustion and dehydration. This is of course a dramatic moment in Henry’s true story, and one kids don’t soon forget.

There are sound academic reasons to enact plays such as Box Brown’s Freedom Crate. For example, because kids are willing to read and reread their lines over and over again, Read Aloud Plays build reading fluency. The brain science behind this repetition suggests it actually forms the neural pathways that make reading possible. Read Aloud Plays are easily leveled and they provide the exposure to drama the new Common Core Standards demand. They also allow students to experience history “first hand,” which helps them to relate to people like Henry, to understand some of the heartache and suffering Henry might have felt. …Plus there’s still that whole southern accent thing.

Visit my storefront at TeachersPayTeachers to download a free preview of Box Brown or one of my other Black History plays. I’ve used every one in my own classroom, and because most have been previously published in Scholastic classroom magazines, you can rest-assured they’re of the highest quality.

Box Brown’s Freedom Crate is suitable for 4th-8th graders and includes parts for from ten to twenty students depending on your needs. Hear Box Brown being performed by students by clicking on the “podcasts” tab, and to get the most out of your reader’s theater, be sure to download my free article entitled “Why Use Drama?” Happy directing!

How Engaging are Read Aloud Plays?

Why Use Drama cover 220x291How engaging are read aloud plays? Consider this bit of anecdotal evidence: In December my students were working on my adaption of Guy DeMaupassant’s The Necklace for presentation on stage, as well as a movie version of A Christmas Carol (which you can view if you scroll down a couple of posts). Consequently the kids went home for vacation with both these scripts tucked away in their binders. Upon returning, one of my students shared how on Christmas her family decided to use the scripts and act out the plays themselves. Imagine the scene: Dad croaking out “Bah Humbug,” middle school brother haunting him in the night, and Grandma chiming in as The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Note, too, that my student at the core of all this receives SPED services. These plays have gripped her (and her family) in a way that novels and text books haven’t. In my classroom, students regularly read chapter books in our “Book Clubs” and get plenty of instruction with short works, poetry, and non-fiction using Storyworks classroom magazine, but over twenty years of teaching, it’s consistently been the read aloud plays that most engage them. And let’s conclude with this, when was the last time your students took the text book home and read it around the Christmas tree? Visit my TeachersPayTeachers store for access to dozens of engaging play scripts. Each has been classroom-tested, most were originally published by Scholastic–which means they meet the highest standards–and all come with full production rights, meaning your $3 gets you a class set you can use year-after-year. Happy directing!

Engaging Kids for MLK Day

King and Johnson With Martin Luther King Day just around the corner, I’ve frequently been asked of late, “How do you get kids meaningfully engaged in Civil Rights and Black History?” It’s a good question. Other than the appeal of the teacher, why should some white kid in suburban Flagstaff care about King’s work fifty years after the fact?

I’ve heard about good simulations, such as the one where classrooms segregate students based on eye-color, hair-color, or by lottery and allow one group to abuse the other for a day. Such activities are powerful—but they’re also controversial. Civil Rights is an important topic, but there’s no reason to do something that’s going to make your students cry, land you in your administrator’s office, or possibly require the services of an attorney.

A better way, I’m convinced, is to re-enact actual events through Read Aloud Plays. Imagine your students actually marching in Birmingham, getting thrown off the bus in Montgomery, or being tear-gassed in Selma.
How can we create in our students true empathy for what victims of racism experienced? How about having them enact the play The Girl Who Got Arrested in which—a year before Rosa Parks—a teenaged girl becomes the first to get thrown in jail for challenging Montgomery’s segregated bus system?

How do we get kids today to feel what the crusaders felt? Have them enact the play, Sitting Down for Dr. King, in which a white boy in Greensboro watches the Lunch Counter Sit-ins unfold around him and ultimately sacrifices his own interests to join the protestors.

Using Read Aloud Plays to teach Civil Rights comes with the added benefits that the approach improves reading fluency, aids comprehension, and helps meet 47 Common Core Standards. Forty-seven! Nearly all of my Black History plays have been previously published in Scholastic classroom magazines such as Storyworks and Scope, so they meet the highest standards. And because I’ve been writing and using Black History plays with my own students for nearly twenty years, I can attest to the fact that kids LOVE enacting these plays and learning about these events.

We Shall Overcome, my most popular Civil Rights play on TeachersPayTeachers, re-enacts the Birmingham Children’s Crusade. Television reporters cover the events as Bull Conner bullies protestors and school kids, and firehouses blast away as crusaders sing, “We shall overcome/we shall overcome/ we shall overcome someday…” Donning the persona of these characters, be they Bull Conners, MLKs, or Ruby Bridges, changes a person. Kids love to discuss how it makes them feel.

So, how do you get kids meaningfully engaged in Civil Rights and Black History this MLK Day? With Read Aloud Plays. For tips on how to get the most out of Read Aloud Plays, download my free article, “Why Use Drama?”