Our Writers’ Teas are Coming – Let’s Celebrate Student Writing!

Let’s celebrate student writing!

Our 2015 Writers’ Teas are as follows:

Timber Creek: Wednesday, May 27th!

Triton:Thursday, May 28th! (different than the date on the original school calendar)

Highland: Tuesday, June 2nd!


Other than People’s Choice, the Writers’ Tea celebrations of writing are my favorite warm-and-fuzzy nights of the year!

As always, we are looking for students (and teachers) to share all kinds of original writing on these celebration evenings.  We will publish the work in a booklet (and perhaps online in some way if I can figure that out) and provide them with certificates of participation.  There will be food – and family & friends are encouraged to attend with them. We even have NJEA Pride money again this year to help us fund the event.

This year, thanks to a suggestion from the February in-service, we will have emcees who will enthusiastically tie the program together! Thank you to Joe Hart, Cathy Stelling, and Beth Marks for taking on this task and sharing your awesomesauce, humor, and general delightfulness with all.

We would also LOVE if you can encourage Project V.O.I.C.E. participants to try their hand at sharing an original composition.

In addition, I’m thinking we’ll advertise it as a “Open Mic Night.”  Submissions will still have to be in ahead of time (and reviewed by the teacher), but “Open Mic Night,” sounds a bit more rad than a “Writers’ Tea.”  I will put together advertisements for schools and classrooms within the next week, but please start talking to your students now if you haven’t already.  (I know many of you have! Thank you :))

I have a bit of money to spend on decor, so if you have ideas for that or for set-up, let me know.  I’d like to continue to make this a successful and enjoyable event. 🙂

Feel free to check out the writing workshop tag or writer’s tea tag for ideas on ways to get them writing creatively (teacher’s choice for 4th mp?) in preparation for the Tea!  I’ll also post some additional ideas on the blog in the coming days.

Have a great writing assignment that you’d like to share?  Shoot me an email and I’ll post it for all to enjoy!

Infographics for the Week of 4/27-5/1: Happy Birthday Billy Shakes!

Today’s infographics are all about William Shakespeare because it’s the bard’s birthday!

romeo and juliet

Without further ado about nothing, Behold! the infographics!

3a8307f6bb01311fc90478857d32e891 a452d067fa3145dfcc81dcbb99f357e6 a-grand-taxonomy-of-shakespearean-insults_5253298546552_w1500 shakespeare-in-statistics1

Remember that we can use infographics for many purposes, including as a visual text for analysis.

Here are some ideas borrowed and adapted from this google doc:



Have students identify and note details.

Describe what you see.  What do you notice first?

Is there any text you can read? What does it say?

Describe anything you see on the page besides words, such as images or decorations. How is the text and other information arranged on the page? ·

Describe anything about this text that looks strange or unfamiliar.

What other details can you see?

What information is provided that would help us determine if this information is current and reliable?


Encourage students to generate and test hypotheses about the source.

What was the purpose of this text? How do you know?

Who created it? With what bias might they be approaching this infographic?

Who do you think was its audience? How do the choices the author makes reflect the audience?

Can you tell anything about what was important at the time it was created?  What situations or issues were prevalent at the time? How do these affect what is presented on the infographic?

What tools and materials were used to create it?  What colors and designs?  How do they contribute to the overall impression of the infographic?  In what ways do they suit the topic?

What is the larger story or context within which this was designed? What can you learn from examining this?

If someone created this today, what would be different?


Have students ask questions to lead to more observations and reflections.

What do you wonder about…  who? · what? · when? · where? · why? ·how?

Consider providing them question stems from multiple levels (like in Socratic Seminar): question levels

How could information on this infographic inspire a research question?

What is the over-arching question the infographic-creator seeks to answer?

#WCW Stephanie has a crush on . . .


Pablo Neruda

a guest blog post by Stephanie DeCosta

Neruda, born Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, in Chile at the turn of the 20th Century became famous for his poetry from a very young age, having his first work published when he was all of 13. “Pablo Neruda” was the name he used to avoid being found out by his father, who did not approve of his son’s writing aspirations. This pen name is believed to have been a combination of Czech Poet Jan Neruda and French Poet Paul (or Pablo) Verlaine. Despite his father’s disapproval, Neruda continued to write under his pen name, and eventually adopted it as his legal name. His illustrious and varied career not only included verse, journalism, and other writing, but also diplomatic office, political leadership, and international negotiator and peace-maker. He wrote in a variety of styles, including surrealist poems, historical epics, overtly political manifestos, a prose autobiography, and erotically charged love poems such as the ones in his collection Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (1924). He often wrote in green ink, which was his personal symbol for desire and hope.

“… dark smell of seaweed…”    

“… blaze of the rose-tree…”

“…pale stones of your fingernails…”

What imagery. What gorgeous, delicious, unique imagery. Pablo Neruda and I are having a love affair—unbeknownst to him. How can you not fall in love with him? I mean, not only is he a poet but just look at the above picture: dark, deep in thought, impeccably dressed. His words wrap around my heart like a velvet sash and tug tight tearing me between emotions. There is SO much that can be done with his work…

  1. There is a movie about him. Check out http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0110877/ (The Postman: Il Postino). Students can experiment with genre writing and compose a film review.
  2. I have attached a file called “Pablo Pieces” that has several project outlines which can be used with his work:  pablo pieces
  1. Pablo Neruda wrote surrealist poems; Salvador Dali created surrealist art. Both were alive at the same time as well. Below is one of Dali’s most famous paintings. Students can write an art response OR use this painting as the inspiration for their own poem
The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali

Below are my 3 favorite Neruda poems. Students can get into groups to explicate them, deliver a dramatic reading, identify literary devices and create “found” poem based on them.

Perhaps not to be is to be without your being,
without your going, that cuts noon light
like a blue flower, without your passing
later through fog and stones,
without the torch you lift in your hand
that others may not see as golden,
that perhaps no one believed blossomed
the glowing origin of the rose,
without, in the end, your being, your coming
suddenly, inspiringly, to know my life,
blaze of the rose-tree, wheat of the breeze:
and it follows that I am, because you are:
it follows from ‘you are’, that I am, and we:
and, because of love, you will, I will,
We will, come to be.

Carnal apple, Woman filled, burning moon,
dark smell of seaweed, crush of mud and light,
what secret knowledge is clasped between your pillars?
What primal night does Man touch with his senses?
Ay, Love is a journey through waters and stars,
through suffocating air, sharp tempests of grain:
Love is a war of lightning,
and two bodies ruined by a single sweetness.
Kiss by kiss I cover your tiny infinity,
your margins, your rivers, your diminutive villages,
and a genital fire, transformed by delight,
slips through the narrow channels of blood
to precipitate a nocturnal carnation,
to be, and be nothing but light in the dark.

I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair.
Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets.
Bread does not nourish me, dawn disrupts me, all day
I hunt for the liquid measure of your steps.

I hunger for your sleek laugh,
your hands the color of a savage harvest,
hunger for the pale stones of your fingernails,
I want to eat your skin like a whole almond.

I want to eat the sunbeam flaring in your lovely body,
the sovereign nose of your arrogant face,
I want to eat the fleeting shade of your lashes,

and I pace around hungry, sniffing the twilight,
hunting for you, for your hot heart,
like a puma in the barrens of Quitratue.

#WCW for Poetry Month: I’ve Got a Crush on . . .

Wislawa Szymborska!


Wislawa Szymborska (Vi-slav-ah Sshm-bor-ska) is a Polish poet who lived between 1923 and 2012, living through tumultuous times in Poland that included Nazi occupation and Soviet rule.  She was a quiet and private person who spoke eloquently through her poetry, which were published in sixteen poetry collections throughout her life.

Her poems have been translated from Polish into English, German, Swedish, Danish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Czech, Slovakian, Serbo-Croatian, Romanian, Bulgarian, and other languages.  They have also been published in numerous poetry anthologies (nobelprize.org).

The Poetry Foundation (poetryfoundation.org) describe her poetry: “Readers of Szymborska’s poetry have often noted its wit, irony, and deceptive simplicity. Her poetry examines domestic details and occasions, playing these against the backdrop of history.”

In the New York Times Book Review, Stanislaw Baranczak wrote, “The typical lyrical situation on which a Szymborska poem is founded is the confrontation between the directly stated or implied opinion on an issue and the question that raises doubt about its validity. The opinion not only reflects some widely shared belief or is representative of some widespread mind-set, but also, as a rule, has a certain doctrinaire ring to it: the philosophy behind it is usually speculative, anti-empirical, prone to hasty generalizations, collectivist, dogmatic and intolerant.”

Wislawa Szymborska @ PoetryFoundation.org

Wislawa Szymborska @ NobelPrize.org

Here are a few of her poems:

The Three Oddest Words

When I pronounce the word Future,
the first syllable already belongs to the past.

When I pronounce the word Silence,
I destroy it.

When I pronounce the word Nothing,
I make something no non-being can hold.




Despite the geologists’ knowledge and craft,
mocking magnets, graphs, and maps—
in a split second the dream
piles before us mountains as stony
as real life.
And since mountains, then valleys, plains
with perfect infrastructures.
Without engineers, contractors, workers,
bulldozers, diggers, or supplies—
raging highways, instant bridges,
thickly populated pop-up cities.
Without directors, megaphones, and cameramen—
crowds knowing exactly when to frighten us
and when to vanish.
Without architects deft in their craft,
without carpenters, bricklayers, concrete pourers—
on the path a sudden house just like a toy,
and in it vast halls that echo with our steps
and walls constructed out of solid air.
Not just the scale, it’s also the precision—
a specific watch, an entire fly,
on the table a cloth with cross-stitched flowers,
a bitten apple with teeth marks.
And we—unlike circus acrobats,
conjurers, wizards, and hypnotists—
can fly unfledged,
we light dark tunnels with our eyes,
we wax eloquent in unknown tongues,
talking not with just anyone, but with the dead.
And as a bonus, despite our own freedom,
the choices of our heart, our tastes,
we’re swept away
by amorous yearnings for—
and the alarm clock rings.
So what can they tell us, the writers of dream books,
the scholars of oneiric signs and omens,
the doctors with couches for analyses—
if anything fits,
it’s accidental,
and for one reason only,
that in our dreamings,
in their shadowings and gleamings,
in their multiplings, inconceivablings,
in their haphazardings and widescatterings
at times even a clear-cut meaning
may slip through.


I prefer movies.
I prefer cats.
I prefer the oaks along the Warta.
I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.
I prefer myself liking people
to myself loving mankind.
I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.
I prefer the color green.
I prefer not to maintain
that reason is to blame for everything.
I prefer exceptions.
I prefer to leave early.
I prefer talking to doctors about something else.
I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.
I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
to the absurdity of not writing poems.
I prefer, where love’s concerned, nonspecific anniversaries
that can be celebrated every day.
I prefer moralists
who promise me nothing.
I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind.
I prefer the earth in civvies.
I prefer conquered to conquering countries.
I prefer having some reservations.
I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.
I prefer Grimms’ fairy tales to the newspapers’ front pages.
I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves.
I prefer dogs with uncropped tails.
I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark.
I prefer desk drawers.
I prefer many things that I haven’t mentioned here
to many things I’ve also left unsaid.
I prefer zeroes on the loose
to those lined up behind a cipher.
I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.
I prefer to knock on wood.
I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.
I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility
that existence has its own reason for being.

The End and the Beginning



After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won’t
straighten themselves up, after all.
Someone has to push the rubble
to the side of the road,
so the corpse-filled wagons
can pass.
Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.
Someone has to drag in a girder
to prop up a wall.
Someone has to glaze a window,
rehang a door.
Photogenic it’s not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.
We’ll need the bridges back,
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.
Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls the way it was.
Someone else listens
and nods with unsevered head.
But already there are those nearby
starting to mill about
who will find it dull.
From out of the bushes
sometimes someone still unearths
rusted-out arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.
Those who knew
what was going on here
must make way for
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.
In the grass that has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.

Nobel Prize Winner


Szymborska was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996 “for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biographical context to come to light in fragments of human reality.”

The Nobel Prize site (nobelprize.org) describes her this way:

“A Mozart of Poetry”

Wislawa Szymborska was a Polish-born poet, essayist and translator. Her first collection, ‘That’s What We Live For’ (1952), was written under Poland’s communist regime and was an expression of socialist realism. She has been described as a “Mozart of Poetry”, as her words fall into place with a veritable ease, and during her lifetime, she wrote around 400 poems, seemingly simple, but subtle and deep. She used common everyday images to reflect on larger truths – an onion, a cat – in her poems about life’s big subjects: love, death and passing time.

Here’s an article/interview with the New York Times after Szymborska won the prize.

Here’s her Nobel Lecture, “The Poet and the World.”

“The world – whatever we might think when terrified by its vastness and our own impotence, or embittered by its indifference to individual suffering, of people, animals, and perhaps even plants, for why are we so sure that plants feel no pain; whatever we might think of its expanses pierced by the rays of stars surrounded by planets we’ve just begun to discover, planets already dead? still dead? we just don’t know; whatever we might think of this measureless theater to which we’ve got reserved tickets, but tickets whose lifespan is laughably short, bounded as it is by two arbitrary dates; whatever else we might think of this world – it is astonishing.”

#WCW for Women’s History Month, Delayed, But Stephanie’s Still Got a Crush on . . .

Jeanette Walls!

jeanette walls


 The summer of 2014 was the “Summer of the Memoir” for me. I must have read at least 6 of them, but my favorite was The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls. It sounds very English teachery, but the language of the book is absolutely gorgeous—it reads like poetry. I feel that students would embrace this memoir for several reasons: the characters are deliciously vivid, the chapters are easy to read, both male and female perspectives are represented, the themes are obvious, and the anecdotes are both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Below is an excerpt…

glass castle

Reprinted by permission of Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., NY.(pages 19-22) 

We were always doing the skedaddle, usually in the middle of the night. I sometimes heard Mom and Dad discussing the people who were after us. Dad called them henchmen, bloodsuckers, and the gestapo. Sometimes he would make mysterious references to executives from Standard Oil who were trying to steal the Texas land that mom’s family owned, and FBI agents who were after dad for some dark episode that he never told us about because he didn’t want to put us in danger, too. Dad was so sure a posse of federal investigators was on our trail that he smoked his unfiltered cigarettes from the wrong end. That way, he explained, he burned up the brand name, and of the people who were tracking us looked in his ashtray, they’d find unidentifiable butts instead of Pall Malls that could be traced to him. Mom, however, told us that the FBI wasn’t really after Dad; he just liked to say they were because it was more fun having the FBI on your tail than bill collectors.

We moved around like nomads. We lived in dusty little mining towns in Nevada, Arizona, and California. They were usually nothing but a tiny cluster of sad, sunken shacks, a gas station, a dry-goods store, and a bar or two. They had names like Needles and Bouse, Pie, Goffs, and Why, and they were near places like the Superstition Mountains, the dried-up Soda Lake, and the Old Woman Mountain. The more desolate and isolated a place Wise, the better mom and dad liked it.

Dad would get a job as an electrician or engineer in the gypsum or copper mine. Mom liked to say that Dad could talk a blue streak, spinning tales of jobs he’d never had and college degrees he’d never earned. He could get about any job he wanted, he just didn’t like keeping it for long. Sometimes he made money gambling or doing odd jobs. When he got bored or was fired or the unpaid bills piled up too high or the lineman from the electrical company found out he had hotwired our trailer to the utility poles — or the FBI was closing in — we packed up in the middle of the night and took off, driving until Mom and Dad found another small town that caught their eye. Then we’d circle around, looking for houses with for-rent signs stuck in the front yard. Every now and then, we’d go stay with Grandma Smith, Mom’s mom, who lives in the big white house in Phoenix. Grandma Smith was a West Texas flapper who loved dancing and cussing and horses. She was known for being able to break the wildest broncs and had helped Grandpa run the ranch up near Fish Creek Canyon, Arizona, which was west of Bullhead City, not too far from the Grand Canyon. I thought Grandma Smith was great. But after a few weeks, she and Dad would always get into some nasty hollering match. It might start with Mom mentioning how sure we were on cash. Then Grandma would make a snide comment about Dad being shiftless. Dad would say something about selfish old crones with more money than they knew what to do with, and soon enough they’d be face-to-face in what amounted to a full-fledged cussing contest.

“You goddamned flint-faced hag!” Dad would shout back.”You flea bitten drunk!” Grandma would scream.

“You no-good two-bit pud-sucking bastard!”

“You scaly castrating banshee bitch!”

Dad had the more inventive vocabulary, but Grandma Smith could outshout him; plus, she had the home-court advantage. A time would come when Dad had had enough and he’d tell us kids to get in the car. Grandma would yell at Mom not to let that worthless horse’s ass take her grandchildren. Mom would shrug and say there was nothing she could do about it, he was her husband. Off we’d go, heading out into the desert in search of another house for rent in another little mining town.

Some of the people who lived in those towns had been there for years. Others were rootless, like us — just passing through. They were gamblers or ex-cons or war veterans or what Mom called loose women. There were old prospectors, their faces wrinkled and brown from the sun, like dried-up apples. The kids were lean and hard, with calluses on their hands and feet. We’d make friends with them, but not close friends, because we knew we’d be moving on sooner or later.

We might enroll in school, but not always. Mom and Dad did most of our teaching. Mom had us all reading books without pictures by the time we were five, and Dad taught us math. He also taught us the things that were really important and useful, like how to tap out Morse code and how we should never eat the liver of a polar bear because all the vitamin A in it could kill us.

He showed us how to aim and fire his pistol, how to shoot Mom’s bow and arrows, and how to throw a knife by the blade so that it landed in the middle of a target with a satisfying thwock. By the time I was four, I was pretty good with dad’s pistol, a big black six-shot revolver, and could hit five out of six beer bottles at 30 paces. I’d hold the gun with both hands, sight down the barrel, and squeeze the trigger slowly and smoothly until, with a loud clap, the gun kicked and the bottle exploded. It was fun. Dad said my sharpshooting would come in handy if the feds ever surrounded us.

Mom had grown up in the desert. She loved the dry, crackling heat, the way the sky at sunset looked like a sheet of fire, and the overwhelming emptiness and severity of all that open land that had once been a huge ocean bed. Most people had trouble surviving in the desert, but Mom thrived there. She knew how to get by on next to nothing. She showed us which plants were edible and which were toxic. She was able to find water when no one else could, and she knew how little of that you really needed. She taught us that you could wash yourself up pretty clean with just a couple of water. She said it was good for you to drink unpurified water, even ditchwater, as long as animals were drinking from it. Chlorinated city water was for namby-pambies, she said. Water from the wild helped build up your antibodies. She also thought toothpaste was for namby-pambies. At bedtime we’d shake a little baking soda into the palm of one hand, mix in a dash of hydrogen peroxide, then use our fingers to clean our teeth with the fizzing paste.

I loved the desert, too. When the sun was in the sky, the sand would be so hot that it would burn your feet if you were the kind of kid who wore shoes, but since we always went barefoot, our soles were as tough and thick as cowhide. We’d catch scorpions and snakes and horny toads. We’d search for gold, and when we couldn’t find it, we collect other valuable rocks, like turquoise and garnets. There’d be a cool spell come sundown, when the mosquitoes would fly in so thick that the air would grow dark with them, then at nightfall, it turned so cold that we usually needed blankets.

There were fierce sandstorms. Sometimes they hit without warning, and other times you knew one was coming when you saw batches of dust devils swirling and dancing their way across the desert. Once the wind started whipping up the sand, you could only see a foot in front of your face. If you couldn’t find a house or car or a shed to hide in when the sandstorm started, you had to squat down and close your eyes and mouth real tight and cover your ears and bury your face in your lap until it passed, or else your body cavities would fill with sand. A big tumbleweed might hit you, but they were light and bouncy and didn’t hurt. If the sandstorm was really strong, it knocked you over, and you rolled around like you were a tumbleweed.

IDEA #1- write your own memoir

IDEA #2- pair these 2 links for Socratic Seminar



 IDEA #2- use this picture as a creative writing story/poem starter OR art response OR connect it to the novel


Dorothea Lange‘s Migrant Mother depicts destitute pea pickers in California, centering on Florence Owens Thompson, age 32, a mother of seven children, in Nipomo, California, March 1936

by guest blogger, Stephanie DeCosta