Friday, February 24, 2017

Let's Make a Deal for Test Prep Review

Hi friends!

So years ago, my wonderful mentor teacher Kelly Anne ( introduced me to TeachersPayTeachers. The VERY first thing I put up was a Let's Make a Deal/Mystery Envelope style review game for 5th grade test review. I soon added the same type of game for 5th grade math.

Since then, I have created math games for grades 4th-6th and ELA games for grades 4th-8th as well.

These review games are ALWAYS one of the most memorable things we do each year in my class and it still one of my best selling resources.

Over the years, the games have gone through a lot of much needed updates and even overhauls.

The game has extremely high engagement from students, but it does require some prep. I have made it much simpler than it used to be, thanks to some great feedback from buyers, but I hope that this post will make it even easier for you to set up.

First of all, if you have never seen the game show that is similar, there are tons of YouTube videos that will give you the gist of how it works. I will try to break it down, with how I make it work in the classroom.


In the game show that inspired this, there are 26 briefcases. The idea is that the contestant picks the briefcase that has the million dollars in it. At the beginning, they pick a suitcase. They then work through the show by telling the girls which suitcase they want to open. Each time you open a suitcase, that amount is eliminated. Your hope is that you eliminate the smaller amounts so that only big amounts are left, with the hope that your suitcase has one of the bigger amounts.

It used to be such a pain to make the prizes, but I have since added editable PowerPoints where you just type in the prizes.

I have also added some prizes that all teachers can use, but again, they are all editable. 

Here is an example from a classroom. I used to just put the amounts in envelopes (but that took forever, I hardly ever can remember to get the envelopes now, and I now have four class periods). Since then I have added the brief cases (seen below) to the resource and they are completely editable so you can add your own prizes. I just type it once and will print four times when I go to play it with all four of my class periods.

If the contestant starts to feel like their suitcase might have a small amount, they can switch it out for another briefcase, and then open their original suitcase and eliminate that amount.

I took this idea and made it into a fun review game.


I adapted this idea for the classroom. Students take the same concept, but students have to work in groups and have to answer review questions in order to be able to eliminate briefcases.

I have put students in groups of 3-5.

I am going to kind of do a scripted version of how this would go, to hopefully make it clear as mud. HA!


This game is not a no prep game. I have made it way less prep heavy for you all, but there is still one thing you will always have to do. This game is about picking the envelope with the biggest amount, but there is also some strategy and math to it.

This is what my board looks like when I list the prizes.

I have seen other teachers do prizes like Dojo dollars, Scholastic books, etc. Here is an example from Miss 5th's classroom.

Here is another example from @adventuresin5th (will explain the briefcases in a second). She made her prizes work with what she could in her classroom! 

Some teachers just do dollar amounts that mean absolutely nothing, but the competition factor gets kids excited. This is what this teacher did. Most people who choose this method have said that the kids get really into it without any tangible prizes. 


As envelopes get eliminated, the amounts and/or prizes get erased because those amounts are off the table at that point.

Any time students get a questions correct, they have two options:

1. They can pick an envelope to open and eliminate that amount for the board.


2. Based on the numbers/prizes they still see available in the envelopes, they may choose to switch out their envelope/briefcase for one still for grabs. We then open their original briefcase/envelope and eliminate that amount from the board (hoping that they didn't just give up $400).

They can switch their envelope/briefcase as many times as they want (as long as they answer correctly) or they can keep their envelope/briefcase the entire time.

We play until each group is left with only one envelope/briefcase. We open at the end, and their team (each member) gets the amount in the envelope.

All the prizes or amounts have to be listed somewhere. I have classroom money, so I just do it by dollar amount.


Who's ready to make a deal?!

We are going to play a review game, where you have a chance to win hundreds of dollars.

You are in groups of 3-4 at your tables already and those will be your teams.

The goal of this game is to answer questions correctly to eliminate envelopes.

We will eliminate envelopes, except for five of them. Five envelopes won't be eliminated because each group will end with one envelope (we have five groups).

At the beginning of the game, your group will decide which envelope/briefcase you would like. You are hoping that this envelope has the highest amount of money.

Now, pay attention, because you may not want to keep that envelope the whole time.

Each group will take turns answering questions.

If it's not your turn, you still want to discuss an answer, because if the first team get's it wrong, I will come to you next, but you will only have 15 seconds to discuss if it defaults to you.

For example, if it's group one's turn, you will have ____ amount of time to answer (I usually give them 30 second to 60 seconds, depending on the question).

If you get the questions correct, you have two choices:

1. You can pick an envelope to open and eliminate that amount for the board. Once I open the envelope/briefcase, that amount is erased and none of the groups can win that amount of money.


2. Based on the numbers/prizes that you still see available in the envelopes/briefcases (as written on the board), you may choose to switch out your envelope/briefcase for one still for grabs. We then open their original briefcase/envelope and eliminate that amount from the board (hoping you they didn't just give up $400).

At the end of the game, you are hoping that your team has the envelope/briefcase with the most money.

Teams you have 30 seconds to decide which number of briefcase/envelope you would like to start with:

TEAM 1: Number 24

TEAM 2: Number 13

TEAM 3: Number 1

TEAM 4: Number 2

TEAM 5: Number 9

TEACHER: Okay, team one ready? Remember to have your answer ready, in case they get it incorrect. Question one is: What is the different between tone and mood in literature.

TEAM 1: Tone is writer centered and mood is reader centered.

TEACHER: That is correct. What would you like to do?

TEAM 1: We would like to open briefcase 4.

TEACHER: (opens briefcase) Briefcase four had $300 in it (erase $300 from board).

STUDENTS: ohhhh man!

This same procedure continues until there are only 5 amounts left on the board.

I just display the PDF Let's Make a Deal Game questions with my overhead projector. This is an older version, but this is when we were getting ready to play!

I started by making the games for my fifth graders and have just progressed since there! These are the games I currently have made. I make the games based on the Common Core Standards for each grade level. I also really look at the standardized tests practice and released items so that the questions are kind of tough. 

Just click on the one you think you might want to check out! 

Please feel free to ask me any and all questions you may have about this! This blog post has been about 4 years in the making, but I hope I answered all the common questions! 



Sunday, February 19, 2017

Book Clubs in the Middle School ELA Classroom

I recently posted about book clubs in my classroom and I have gotten tons of questions about how I run them on both of my posts.

I am going to try and answer them all here.

First and foremost, I try to make Book Clubs and simple as humanly possible. I used to be MUCH more involved in the book clubs when I taught fifth grade, but I only had 24 students then, and I had them all day long... and well, they were in fifth grade. I used the book clubs to support them and teach them as readers.

Now that I have progressed to seventh and eighth grade English, my procedures and management have most definitely changed.

I'm going to keep it as real as humanly possible, because when I first started looking into implementing book clubs at this age, I wanted the real truth.

Here is what I have learned and here are the facts.


1. I don't do it by reading levels. GASP. I know, but honestly, I think that totally ruins the whole point of book clubs. I do it by 90% interest. I briefly show students ALL the options, my personal opinion of the book, who tends to like it, it's genre, and subject. Then they can walk around and look at them all. Then they have to give me their top 5 choices for book club books. It used to be 3, but now with so many students, I had to go to top 5, but I also have A LOT more book club choices.

2. I *try* really hard to put them with their friends. 90% of the time this works in my favor because friends have the same interests and hold each other accountable... the other 10% are a complete disaster (but I can usually predict that).

Sometimes I have kids that I know will make a book club difficult no matter which one I put them in. Not being mean, promise. Some kids just struggle with book clubs. I tend to put those 2-3 students in a book club together. Sometimes they set out to prove themselves and they have great success, or it's a complete disaster. I always have at least one group like this, but I would rather it being one group than 3 or 4 that are a total disaster, so I just prepare myself and check in with them A LOT. If one or some end up proving themselves, they go to different groups next round, which is really what I want anyway.

3. After students have given me their top five choices, I get to work making the groups. I almost always can give them one of their top two choices, but sometimes (due to not enough books, too many people in groups, or dynamics) I do have to give them their third, fourth or fifth choice. I also gave my 8th graders priority.

4. Again, I don't pay too much attention to reading levels, but I do pay attention to stamina. If I know a student struggles to finish books, if he/she has Divergent as an option, but also something like A Long Walk to Water (highly engaging, great book, but also short) then I will give them the shorter book, especially for the first time to set them up for success.


1. Wait to do book clubs. My mentor teacher told me to wait at least six weeks into school. SHE IS MORE THAN RIGHT. When I was in elementary that was really hard for me to wait that long because I loved them and management was simple. In middle school, sometimes it hasn't been until second semester, simply because I've had to wait until a point I thought they could handle it, and a point where I thought I could manage it.

2. Some kids will NEVER read and will NEVER do their book club work or homework. Or they will pretend and make up the reading and/or homework. I wish I could tell you 100% of my students do their book club homework, but it's just not reality. I REALLY do not want to give them quizzes, or comprehension activities, or just another thing for them to do. So I don't. I want book clubs to be fun, and to provoke conversations, and to give kids common things and interests to talk about. I make the homework something super simple and designed to help guide their discussions and 95% of the students do just that. I work really hard to get the other 5% to appreciate the process and idea as well. Some come around and some never do. I don't give up on them, but just know that it does happen.

3. Sometimes kids pick books they don't like, and want to quit. This is a tough one. If the whole group is on board after the first week, I will allow them to abandon and come to a new agreement for their book. If it's just one student, I try to have a discussion with them and see what's best or them and their group. Sometimes they abandon, move to another group and have to play catch-up. Sometimes they just have to suck it up. Again, it doesn't happen often, but there are always a few.

4. Some people read ahead. Let them. We as a class always make super strict rules about no "SPOILERS." If you read ahead, you need to review where your group is so you don't reveal information later in the book. They also have to make sure they only do their "homework," for that week's reading.

I mean, who doesn't want to read ahead when a book gets good, and 4 weeks is A REALLY LONG TIME for true readers. Often these kids end up in groups together, end up reading the whole book in a week (I usually tell them not to worry about the homework and just have discussions) and they will devour 3-4 books during the span of 4 weeks. UMMMM..... I call that a success. That's the real goal, so I 100% let the book clubs evolve as they need to.


I probably get this question more than anything. Honestly, I buy them all. I have been buying the sets for the last 5 years, but it's more than worth it to me. I built up a really solid collection for grades 4-6, but then switched to 7th and 8th and have started to have to buy other sets to keep up with their interests and needs.

I could sit here and tell you that I scope out the best books and the highest quality of literature, but I have a couple problems with that thinking.

First of all, I'm not sure who get to decide what "quality" literature is, except the reader... so I don't make the decision. Currently my new school has a big focus on "the classics," so we're getting plenty of that. Third, I just buy what I can get sets of.

Any time books go on sale for $1-$3 on Scholastic, I buy 5-6 copies of them. Over time, you have a pretty good collection of book club sets. Now that I have a solid collection, I focus on getting specific genres, interests to meet my current students' wants, higher reading levels, and now I've put more of a focus on getting some good non-fiction sets.

Also, hate to break it to you, but you REALLY have to read the book club books that your students read. I have read 80-90% of my sets, and if a club picks a new book, then I make sure to read as they are reading. It's not always easy, but it's kind of necessary, because kids know when you haven't read the book.

*The exception is when you have a book clubs form naturally and you know the kids are reading (again, this is the real goal go book clubs, and they don't really need you to much anymore). Sometimes groups bring in their own books and do that for the club. 99% of the time, those self-motivated groups, do it all without me and that's the best thing ever!


I almost always start our really structured and then lay off a bit, or we continue with a lot of structure as I see fit.

We use A LOT of interactive notebook pages in my class, but we actually just used the traditional roles in this resource. I used these in sixth, but when I got to seventh and eighth, I wanted something that wasn't as structured, but pushed their thinking.

Interactive Literature Circles from Lovin' Lit. 

This is the resource I used this year with my seventh and eighth graders. There are some tough pages,  but I LOVED it. The kids liked some pages more than others, but I feel like it really made them think, and they actually helped guide and spark their conversations. 

There are pages to make for the students and then there are also "role cards" so students know what their jobs are when they meet with their book club!


Okay, this changes constantly.

When I taught fifth grade, they decided how much they would read each week, they each had to come to the group with three questions to ask, we would meet (me included, to help run the groups and make them think deeply about the books), discuss the books and our questions, and then we would do it all over again.

In seventh and eighth, I have to have more structure, because I can't meet with all my groups every week, simply because of time constraints. Also, they're in seventh and eighth grade, so I would like them to truly be able to read the books they want, have conversations with each other, and see how book clubs really should be.

Something that I learned from Erin Cobb (Lovin Lit') that I loved, was a time frame for the books. She mapped out how long they had to read the books. For seventh and eighth, they had four weeks, and they just did the math themselves. They just divide the book's number of pages by 4 so they could determine how many pages they had to read each week.

I also tell them about this before hand, so students who think they don't "read fast," know what is expected of them.

Then they are responsible for one "job" each week. I usually give them some time of packet that has 4-5 pages of jobs and they have to do one weeks' reading and one page of the packet.

For example: A group is reading, "Al Capone Does My Shirts" and they had to read 60 pages during week one. Student One would be reading those 60 pages and be responsible for the "Discussion Director" for only those 60 pages, and Student Two would read the same 60 pages and be in the "Plot Profiler," for those 60 pages. The next week, they switch jobs for pages 61-120.

Here's a better example of a groups break-down.

Week One: Read pages 1-60
Week Two: Read page 61-118
Week Three: Read pages 119-183
Week Four: 184-237 (finish book)

Week One:
Mariah: Discussion Director
Richie: Plot Profiler
Mackenzie: Illustrator
Nico: Literary Luminary

Week Two:
Mariah: Plot Profiler
Richie: Illustrator
Mackenzie: Literary Luminary
Nico: Discussion Director

Week Three:
Mariah: Literary Luminary
Richie: Discussion Director
Mackenzie: Plot Profiler
Nico: Illustrator

Week Four:
Mariah: Illustrator
Richie: Literary Luminary
Mackenzie: Discussion Director
Nico: Plot Profiler


This is such a tough one, because I don't want to make reading something they hate, so I try to make it all about them and making sure they don't let their book club down. By making book clubs a really big deal and really selling the value and purpose of them (to enjoy books, and have conversations about books, with people who have similar interests) they kind of do the whole disappointed in their peers and classmates thing for me.

I do always have a group or a few who band together and act like they don't care that none of them do the work and/or reading, but the rest of the class tends to think they're lame, and don't join in on their bad attitudes. Just keeping it real. It does happen, but when they all come unprepared, I just say, "That's a bummer. Hope you guys do it next week so you can have a book discussion then." Yes, even eighth graders.

BUT, I do assign grades for the work, simply because I'm a realist.

Students are responsible for reading 1/4 of the week and one page of their packet. I make it 25 points each week... for a total of 100 points.

The packet itself gets turned in at the end of the four weeks and becomes another 100 points. That way if they get behind, miss a page, or have a bad week, they have the opportunity to go back and complete the pages and earn a full 100 points on the packet. They only get the 25 points on the day books clubs meet (it's automatically a zero, if they come unprepared, with no room to make it up, but they can and should do the reading and homework page later for when they turn in the packet).

I do this so they complete the reading later and don't get further and further behind, and because I think it shows their peers something if they mess up, but are willing to do the work to be back in the club.

If they come unprepared more than once, they are "kicked out" and have to finish the novel on their own and write an essay. I didn't have a single students miss work more than once because of this.

I just walk around when they meet (all clubs meet on Mondays) and while they're discussion, give them 25 points or a 0.

After they're done meeting, I talk to my zeros and what they need to do for next week.

Thanks for sticking with me friends! Please ask any other questions you may have and I will try to answer below!


Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Socratic Seminar Part: Research in Practice {PART 1 OF 3)

The Socratic Seminar

I have received tons of requests to do a blog post or a video about the Socratic Seminar. I keep spacing the whole video thing, but I hope that I can do that this when I am teaching middle school. I will have 5 different classes to choose from! There are also some videos on youtube: Just search Socratic Seminar classroom discussion and you will find some! 

What is the Socratic Seminar?

The Socratic seminar is a formal discussion, based on a text, in which the leader asks open-ended questions. Within the context of the discussion, students listen closely to the comments of others, thinking critically for themselves, and articulate their own thoughts and their responses to the thoughts of others (

How did you learn to do the Socratic Seminar?

During my second year of teaching fifth grade, I was blessed with the most amazing teaching partner, who had spent 5 or so years teaching in inner city schools in the Tacoma, WA area. Cute little charter school me, was still working her way through how to teach. 

Technically, my charter school didn't have a reading or writing curriculum. I had implemented daily 5, a lot of interactive notebooking, and a writing workshop *kind of. But in terms of thinking about how to teach my students to think, problem solve, and be critical readers... I was kind of just trying to keep my head above water. 

Shelly came to me with The Socratic Seminar, and my life was changed. Kind of*. At first, I just didn't get it. She had been formally trained in something called "Literacy Studio" and had working knowledge of how to create guiding and interpretive questions. 

After she made her first "Socratic Seminar" reading unit with Swiss Family Robinson, she emailed it to me (I think to look it over... possibly because I had kept telling her about doing the seller side of TPT ha!). 

I read through the unit, the questions, the idea, and was like, "OH MY GOSH. THIS IS AMAZING!" I was changed. I loved the idea of using my favorite novels to teach the kids. 

Often times, people will ask me how I come up with my questions and units The honest answer is that I read Shelly's units and then have since created units based on that. I asked Shelly when I had questions. I have no other training, but I have seen it's effectiveness, and have improved and adapted from there. 


Shelly and I did not EVER set out to teach novels. We set out to teach our students, by using novels. We DO NOT create novel studies, nor do we really believe in them. 

As a middle school ELA teacher, who is now required to teach some novels, I still believe the same thing. I could care less if they "learn" the novel (this happens naturally, if you aren't forcing it on them. Promise). I care that they learn how to think, discuss, analyze, and question. The novel is basically a resource.

How do you use the Socratic Seminar in the classroom?

If you were asking me this question personally, I would say, "For basically anything and everything!" The best way to think of use in the classroom is like the biggest, best discussion ever. The questions are open-ended, without a wrong or right answer. 

You are the facilitator of the discussion, in that you ask the questions, teach them how to be respectful and how to discuss, and then chart their thinking. The students then use information from their discussion, and your charting, to write thoughtful responses. 

You can use the concept for literally any subject. 

Here are some examples:

Reading: What character traits do you think you need to survive at Camp Green Lake? (In the book, Holes.

Writing: We are going to write an argumentative piece on whether or not pit bulls should be banned from certain neighborhoods. What do you think of this issue?

Math: How do we use fractions in our everyday lives?

Science: What would happen if animals and plants didn't adapt? Why?

Social Studies: Do you think it was right for settlers to take the lands from the Native Americans? Why or why not?

Socratic Seminar Research Base

The following information can all be found at

Socratic seminars are named for their embodiment of Socrates’ belief in the power of asking questions, prize inquiry over information and discussion over debate.

Socratic seminars acknowledge the highly social nature of learning and align with the work of John Dewey, Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget, and Paulo Friere. Elfie Israel succinctly defines Socratic seminars and implies their rich benefits for students: They learn to work cooperatively and to question intelligently and civilly. (89) 

Israel, Elfie. “Examining Multiple Perspectives in Literature.” In Inquiry and the Literary Text: Constructing Discussions n the English Classroom. James Holden and John S. Schmit, eds. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2002.

Steps for a Successful Socratic Seminar in the Classroom

Now, while I do think you can use the Socratic seminar for just about anything, I use them most consistently with my reading units and writing is continually integrated into all of my reading units.  

These are all the things that we make sure are in place, before we try to jump in with Socratic Seminars. I will go into more specific examples in Part II of this series, but this is a general overview. 

Choosing a text:  Socratic seminars work best with authentic texts that invite authentic inquiry. 

Preparing the students: While students should read carefully and prepare well for every class session, it is usually best to tell students ahead of time when they will be expected to participate in a Socratic seminar. Because seminars ask students to keep focusing back on the text, you may distribute sticky notes for students to use to annotate the text as they read.

Preparing the questions:  Though students may eventually be given responsibility for running the entire session, the teacher usually fills the role of discussion leader as students learn about seminars and questioning.  Generate as many open-ended questions as possible, aiming for questions whose value lies in their exploration, not their answer.  Elfie Israel recommends starting and ending with questions that relate more directly to students’ lives so the entire conversation is rooted in the context of their real experiences.

Establishing student expectations:  Because student inquiry and thinking are central to the philosophy of Socratic seminars, it is an authentic move to include students integrally in the establishment of norms for the seminar.  Begin by asking students to differentiate between behaviors that characterize debate (persuasion, prepared rebuttals, clear sides) and those that characterize discussion (inquiry, responses that grow from the thoughts of others, communal spirit).  Ask students to hold themselves accountable for the norms they agree upon.

Establishing your role:  Though you may assume leadership through determining which open-ended questions students will explore (at first), the teacher should not see him or herself as a significant participant in the pursuit of those questions.  You may find it useful to limit your intrusions to helpful reminders about procedures (e.g. “Maybe this is a good time to turn our attention back the text?”  “Do we feel ready to explore a different aspect of the text?”).  Resist the urge to correct or redirect, relying instead on other students to respectfully challenge their peers’ interpretations or offer alternative views.

Assessing effectiveness (I will discuss assessment in a later post): Socratic seminars require assessment that respects the central nature of student-centered inquiry to their success.  The most global measure of success is reflection, both on the part of the teacher and students, on the degree to which text-centered student talk dominated the time and work of the session.  Reflective writing asking students to describe their participation and set their own goals for future seminars can be effective as well.  Understand that, like the seminars themselves, the process of gaining capacity for inquiring into text is more important than “getting it right” at any particular point.

I think I have given you the basis of The Socratic Seminar, explained how to set it up, and some steps to make is successful

Next time I will show you specific examples from my reading units, examples of my charting from students discussions, and basically almost exactly how I do it in my classroom! I will have scripted lessons as well! 

I hope to have it up this week! 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Classroom Organization in the Upper Grades {Part 5 of 5}

Hi friends!

I'm back with my final post in my 5-part series on organizational tips and tricks for upper grades. You can check out the previous posts here:

Part 1 of 5
Part 2 of 5
Part 3 of 5
Part 4 of 5

This final post is all about small group organization, but it is also kind of a snap shot of another series of posts I did about Guided Reading and small groups in upper grades. You can see those posts by clicking here:

Guided Reading and Small Groups in Middle School PART I
Guided Reading and Small Groups in Middle School PART II
Guided Reading and Small Groups in Middle School PART III: Lessons and Novel Units

You can always click on the "Organizational Resource" images to be taken to the full resource in my TPT store. I have compiled all my organizational tips and tricks into an easy to use PDF/e-book (I'm not sure I'm fancy enough to call it an e-book, but I think that's what you'd call it).

This will be a 5 part series on all things organization.

{Classroom Organization Part 5 of 5}

Get the full resource in my TPT store by clicking here or clicking the image below.