An Open Letter to…


We’re finishing out the 2017-2018 school year by writing open letters to fictional characters.  Some of us are writing in order to pay tribute, and others of us are writing to (constructively?) criticize.

Regardless of our take on the subject, we all agreed that a strong open letter has several characteristics:

  • a clear controlling idea is presented in the introductory paragraph
  • supporting points are made in the body of the letter, and those points are then elaborated with relevant details AND commentary
  • the controlling idea is echoed in the conclusion, perhaps accompanied by an appeal to action
  • the letter writer’s VOICE is engaging and authentic
  • the letter has an appeal to a wider audience

Many students enhanced their letters with GIFS and other images.  We learned in our digital citizenship lessons that Fair Use laws can protect the use of copyrighted images as long as those images are used in conjunction with critique of a product.

As you enjoy the following open letters, feel free to share your own opinions in the comments!

Esha’s open letter to Severus Snape

Joseph’s open letter to Leo Valdez

Sanaya’s open letter to Indiana Jones

Daniel L’s open letter to C-3PO

Kate’s open letter to Bella Swan

Kayley’s open letter to Wonder Woman

Austin’s open letter to Shrek



Image credit:  Wikimedia Commons CC0
J’accuse” is an influential open letter written by Émile Zola in 1898 over the Dreyfus Affair.

Descriptive Narrative Writing: The Phantom’s Lair


In our Writer’s Notebooks this week, we played around with writing our own descriptions of the Phantom’s lair.  Drawing upon the noticings and author’s craft lessons from previous units, we each worked to develop a description of the lair that created a strong mood.

Students had full creative license here:  their description could reflect any characterization of the Phantom they wanted to work with. Was the Phantom evil, lonely, dangerous, pathetic, mysterious, depressed, romantic, bitter…?  The choice was up to the writer.

Each worked to create that chosen mood through a variety of means:

  • choice of details to include and emphasize
  • use of imagery and figurative language
  • use of devices such as repetition and magic three
  • variety in sentence structure, such as the use of fragments or questions to create tension
  • choices in paragraphing, such as the use of a dramatic one-sentence paragraph
  • use of movement in the scene as opposed to description of a static space (the “narrative” part of the descriptive-narrative composition)

Enjoy the work of the following writers.  What do YOU notice about the choices each made?





James D.








Katelyn (who wrote her post as a poem!)

For some of our thinking about theme and  Phantom of the Opera, check out our responses to a question about compassion.

Image credit:  Pixabay CC0

Crafting a Poem


One of the assignments every West Ridge student completes in seventh grade is writing an original poem.

This composition is a process piece:  after spending time reading and discussing mentor text poems, students spend time independently exploring our school library’s large collection of poetry.  After experimenting with possibilities in their writer’s notebooks, students then draft, conference, revise, edit, and publish their own poems.

Below are just a handful of the 130 poems written this December.  Each is accompanied by an author’s note that provides insight into the writer’s inspiration for the poem and experience in writing it.

“At First Glance” by Aoibhin

“The Beach” by Charlie

“The Team” by Benjamin T.

“The Whale Shark Swims” by Ava

“Unless…” by Daniel L.

“A Surprise in the Lake” by Brittany

“Snowflake” by Avery

“I Stand at the Block” by Cannon

“Hunger Games Poem” by Charan

“Flying High” by Emaan


Image credit:  Pixabay CC0

A Closer Look at A Christmas Carol



Take a look at Charles Dickens’ original manuscript of A Christmas Carol:


Scroll through Dickens’ handwritten manuscript page by page by clicking HERE.

Turn the pages by using the buttons in the upper left corner. Zoom in to more clearly see Dickens’ revisions by using the controls at the bottom of each page.

Notice that even the most talented writers (especially the most talented?) revise their work!

For more background information on Dickens and A Christmas Carol, check out this website.


New School Year, New Bloggers!


Our 2017-2018 West Ridge Wildcats have been blogging for a few weeks now, and we’re off to a great start!

The topics we choose to write about each week can vary widely, but there’s always a common skill we’re focusing on.  Recently, that skill has been paragraphing.  No one wants to read a long block of text (especially when reading online).

We’ve been noticing the various ways in which paragraphing can be effective:

  • paragraphing helps our readers follow our thinking
  • paragraphing can add emphasis to a moment, helping our readers see, hear, and feel what we want them to see, hear, and feel
  • paragraphing can enhance mood and add voice to a piece of writing

Check out these blog posts on a variety of topics, and notice how we’re organizing our thoughts into paragraphs 🙂

We invite you to leave us some comments.  We’d love to hear from you!

  • Luca reviews the “old’ Blade Runner in preparation for the release of Blade Runner 2049
  • Abbie shares her experiences at summer camp
  • Troy has some thoughts about the game Overwatch
  • Miranda writes about her pet lizards
  • Ian is writing a fiction story featuring a real-life gangster
  • Scott has some thoughts about DNA and individuality
  • Mary explains her disappointment with Texas weather
  • Ethan describes his love of soccer
  • Austin educates us about the history of Nintendo
  • Joelle argues that dance is a sport
  • Morgan introduces us to a dragon named Luna

For more of our work, see all 140 names on the sidebar to the left!

Image created via

Banned Books Week


Banned books display


What do Charlotte’s Web, Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, and Harriet the Spy have in common?

All three have been banned at one time or another.  School districts received complaints that Charlotte’s Web had talking animals (a sure sign of witchcraft!), that Harry Potter promoted dark arts, and that Harriet talked back to adults and was therefore a poor example for young people.

Other banned children’s books include The Giving Tree and The Lorax (both considered a threat to the foresting industry), Bridge to Terabithia and Alice in Wonderland (both involving overly elaborate fantasy worlds) and Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl (too depressing).

School boards were successful in removing these titles from some libraries; however, many of those decisions to ban the books were successfully challenged and overturned.

Curious about more titles?  Check out this list of banned classics.  How many are you familiar with?  Several of these are studied today in Eanes ISD schools.  This year, we’ll read the sometimes-controversial book The Giver.

For more about Banned Books week, visit our West Ridge Middle School library display.


Image Credit: covs97 via Compfight


EXpository EXplains


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More students EXpress their thoughts in EXpository posts:

“Why don’t you join me in this awesome place?  See for yourself the beauty of the city that never sleeps.”    
Noelle explains why New York is a great place to visit.

“Netflix is a disease, and there is no cure.”
Kristi explains why Netflix is addicting.

“…we live in Texas, and when temperatures range from 70 to 80 degrees in December, you start to realize a crucial fact that all Texans have learned: Texas winter is awful.”
Ava explains why Texas winters are awful.

“The Bruins will be dangerous come tournament time, and they are a team that everybody should be putting in their Final Four.”
Flynn explains why he’s betting on UCLA to make it to the Final Four.

“Everyone loves to be able to stay awake at night and stay asleep in the morning for some weird reason, so any break from the usual go-to-bed-early-wake-up-early routine is welcome”
Alice explains why she’s looking forward to Spring Break.

“For those of you viewers that know how Adobe Animate works, please give me some hints, because I am hopelessly lost with this program!”
Andrew explains why he finds a certain computer program frustrating.

“Running late to class because you couldnt open your locker? Or maybe it was because you had to grab different supplies, and it took a minute to switch out your stuff. What about hallway traffic and you still have to go by your locker to get your things? Well, fear not, there’s an amazing solution to your problems: a backpack.”
Maddy explains why backpacks should be allowed in the classroom.

Expository Writing


Over the next few weeks, we’ll be working on expository writing:  writing that explains. Textbook chapters, magazine articles, and instruction booklets are some of the many kinds of expository writing.

As a seventh grader, you’ll focus on expository writing that explains your opinion about a topic or your thoughts about an idea.

Check out these short expository compositions from previous WRMS seventh graders:

Lauren explains why summertime is the best time of the year.
Steven explains how NOT to play video games.
Kevin explains his hatred of pep rallies.
Rachel explains why the Hill Country Galleria is a great place to hang out.
Joseph explains his love of football.
Tori explains why sidewalk chalk was one of her prized possessions as a kid.

What do these posts have in common?  Can you identify some of the strengths of effective expository writing?


A Question About Compassion



In Phantom of the Opera,  Christine’s compassion for the Phantom leads to transformation:  the Phantom’s heart softens and he lets Raoul and Christine go free, he himself is set free from his bitterness and hatred, and he escapes the mob after physically transforming himself to elude capture.

Think about other stories you have read or seen in which a character  shows compassion for another.  How did that compassionate act change a character or move the story in a new direction?  Name the story or character and share your observations.

Another way to think about the question is to turn it around:  can you think about a story in which the withholding of compassion has turned a character or a story in a different direction from what it might have otherwise gone?

Can these questions apply to nonfiction as well as to fiction?  You may answer with a nonfiction example if you prefer.

Write a comment in order to respond to the question, or respond by elaborating on another student’s comment.


Image credit: Phantom of the Opera. Digital image. The Phantom of the Opera Official Website. Cameron Mackintosh, Ltd., 2008. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.

#16stubc Australia: What We THINK We Know…


Pixabay CC0

Pixabay CC0

Recently, we’ve received visitors from Mrs. Flannery’s class in Australia.  How cool is that?! We’re excited to be sharing our ideas with students in another part of the world.

Today we put together a list of what we think we know about Australia.  No iPads allowed…this is what we came up with without using the internet:

  • lots of kangaroos!
  • lots of scary, deadly animals live in Australia
  • more plains than mountain ranges
  • many tourist attractions, such as the Sydney Opera House
  • koalas!
  • rain forests!
  • Australians speak with an accent
  • famous for the Great Barrier Reef
  • emus! cassowaries!
  • great surfing!
  • had a national election in June

Mrs. Flannery’s class, how did we do?  What more can you tell us about where you live?

The Hero’s Journey


In recent weeks, we’ve been reading some mythology, including Robert Nye’s Beowulf: A New Telling. Our discussion of the book led to discussion of stories in general and the common elements we find in so many of them. Beyond the basics of plot and setting, character and conflict, climax and resolution, we often discover the hero’s journey, a narrative pattern found both in mythology and our modern stories and made famous through the work of scholar Joseph Campbell.

We had some fun thinking about our own lives in terms of the pattern:  a call to adventure in an unknown world, challenges faced the help of mentors and opposition from enemies, an abyss of darkness to be passed through before we could emerge with greater understanding of ourselves and our abilities, and the rewards gained from our experience.

Here are some of those journeys, shared via Tackk and our Edublogs accounts:

Let’s Visit! #16stubc


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Pixabay CC0

One of the reasons we are blogging is to make connections with other student writers. Take some time to visit these classrooms from other parts of the world.  Introduce yourself as a student from Texas (remember, no last names!) and ask a question or share a thought in response to what the student you are visiting has to say.

Be sure to leave the link to your blog so that you can receive a visit in return!

Mrs. Flannery’s class in Australia

Mrs. Gordana’s class in Serbia

Mrs. Carvalho’s class in Portugal

Mr. Dahl’s class in China

Mr. Webb’s class in New Zealand

Learning from Mentor Texts


Mentors teach and inspire us.  They set examples for us to follow, and we benefit from their guidance.

The same is true of mentor texts.  These are pieces of writing that we read and analyze so that we can figure out what the writer is doing that is so effective.  What moves does the writer make to set a scene, create a mood, or sketch a character?  Once we’ve figured that out, we can try those same moves in our own writing.  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?

In some of our blog posts this week, you’ll notice us giving credit to Suzanne Collins and Gayle Forman for inspiring our writing.  The following passages were lifted from the first chapters of The Hunger Games and If I Stay:

     Sitting at Prim’s knees, guarding her, is the world’s ugliest cat. Mashed-in nose, half of one ear missing, eyes the color of rotting squash. Prim named him Buttercup, insisting that his muddy yellow coat matched the bright flower.  He hates me. Or at least distrusts me. Even though it was years ago, I think he still remembers how I tried to drown him in a bucket when Prim brought him home. Scrawny kitten, belly swollen with worms, crawling with fleas. The last thing I needed was another mouth to feed. But Prim begged so hard, cried even, I had to let him stay. It turned out okay. My mother got rid of the vermin and he’s a born mouser. Even catches the occasional rat. Sometimes, when I clean a kill, I feed Buttercup the entrails. He has stopped hissing at me.
      Entrails. No hissing. This is the closest we will ever come to love.

                                                Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games

      You wouldn’t expect the radio to work afterward. But it does.
 The car is eviscerated. The impact of a four-ton pickup truck going sixty miles an hour plowing straight into the passenger side had the force of an atom bomb. It tore off the doors, sent the front-side passenger seat through the driver’s-side window. It flipped the chassis, bouncing it across the road and ripped the engine apart as if it were no stronger than a spiderweb. It tossed wheels and hubcaps deep into the forest. It ignited bits of the gas tank, so that now tiny flames lap at the wet road.
    And there was so much noise. A symphony of grinding, a chorus of popping, an aria of exploding, and finally, the sad clapping of hard metal cutting into soft trees. Then it went quiet, except for this: Beethoven’s Cello Sonata no. 3, still playing. The car radio somehow still is attached to a battery and so Beethoven is broadcasting into the once-again tranquil February morning.

                                                          Gayle Forman, If I Stay

What do YOU see in these passages?  What are the writers doing to help you hear, feel, see and understand what is being described?  We’re learning to recognize and name writer’s craft, and we’re starting to apply our new understanding in our own writing.

For examples of student work inspired by the above mentors, see Carly’s blog post, William’s blog post, and Tristan’s blog post.

For an example of student work inspired by our use of Beowulf: A New Telling as a mentor text, see Erin’s blog post and Julia’s blog post.


Up and Running!


Digstar StarTop USB mechanical gaming keyboard 05

                                           Hideya HAMANO via Compfight

Why do we blog?

  • To share our knowledge

“Climate Change” by Lucus

“The Discovery of Planet Nine” by Jack

“Never Give Up” by Kristi

  • To express our opinions

“My Lullaby” by Jackson

“Clinton vs. Trump” by Sinan

“Collin Kaepernick and His Protest” by Bobby

“The Ups and Downs of the Cowboys” by Ben N.

  • To relate our experiences

“Home Run” by Ava L.

“My First Soccer Game of the Season” by Preston Z.

“Nervousness” by Ingrid

“Jingles” by Katie M.

“Here Comes the Bride” by Sophie M.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be looking at other blogs to notice more about digital writing: What draws us in as readers?  What keeps us reading?  How is digital writing different from other kinds of writing?

Watch our posts for improvement!  We’re excited about the possibilities.



Blogging Begins Soon!


As we prepare to set up our blogs for the 2016-17 school year, we need to have a sense of what it is that we are creating.  What is a blog? What makes some blogs more inviting and effective than others?

First, a brief overview of blogs, courtesy Edublogs:

One way to learn more about blogging is to visit some blogs.  As you explore the sites below, think about what you like (or don’t like) about the design and layout of the blogs. How important is ease of navigation?  Which posts draw your interest more than others?
What’s the difference between a page and a post?

Paper Fury is a blog by Cait, a young Australian writer who likes to review books.

Mrs. Smith’s class in Canada blogs about what they are learning.

Our Westlake High School librarians keep a blog.

This teen homeschooler blogs about life on her family’s farm.

Anthony Wyatt is a chef who publishes a food blog.

Amanda Eccleston blogs about her career as an elite mid-distance runner.

Sky is a student who blogs to share his passion for cars.

Mrs. Kriese publishes a blog about her interests, experiences, and random thoughts.


Welcome Back!


The first day of school is here, and we’re ready to start learning!

Enjoy this message from John Green about why we’re all here at WRMS today:



“We need you.  We believe in you.  And we’re counting on you!”

Welcome back, everyone.

Voice in Writing


Pixabay CC0

Pixabay CC0

What is voice in writing?  Read the following posts and think about what these writers are doing to capture your attention and connect with you as a reader.

“Fifty Minutes of Freedom” by TJ
“Advice for Future Seventh Graders” by Kendall
“My Trip to Mexico” by Reece
“The Starter That Nobody Wants (Is Better Than the One You Choose)” by Sloane
“Basketball Season Is Over” by Harper
“The True Meaning of Tired” by Alex
“Technology…” by Alec
“Star Trek vs. Star Wars:  Which Is Better?” by Tae-Kyung

What are some of the ways a writer can show personality through words?

Spotlight on 7th Period


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Pixabay CC0

When we talk about VOICE in writing, we mean that we can hear the writer’s PERSONALITY come through his or her words.  Our seventh period writers have done a great job developing voice in their compositions, and you’re sure to enjoy those wonderful voices as you read their work:

Aaron shares his thoughts about a certain presidential candidate.

Briana relates a rather scary hoverboard experience.

Caroline has us all hungry for Girl Scout cookies!

Carter takes us hunting over the holidays.

Drew has a new game to tell us about.

Emma tells us about her favorite store.

Kaleb shares what it was like to have his tonsils out.

Kendall reviews a book she enjoyed reading.

Kyrstin remembers a frightening swimming pool incident.

We know that we still have some work to do in editing our writing for correct punctuation, capitalization, and grammar, but hey, we’re making progress!  Watch us this spring as we continue to grow in our ability.

That’s a look at the first half of the alphabet.  We’ll visit the second half of our roster next week!

On Broadway!



This week we begin our study of Phantom of the Opera, one of Broadway’s most famous musicals.  Some of you are already familiar with the play and are fans of the music.  Most of you have heard of the story, but you don’t yet know the details.  You’re in for a treat!

Every year, students say this is a fun unit, and that’s true.  We do have fun! But we also learn a lot. Our study of the plot gives us a better understanding of the terms rising action, internal and external conflict, character motivation, climax, resolution, and theme.  We’ll discuss the influence of setting on mood and plot, and we’ll explore the nuances of diction and tone. We’ll debate some difficult questions, and if past years are any indication, a few of us will even be moved to tears.

What musicals have entertained and inspired you?  Are there some Broadway songs that you and your family know by heart and can sing without prompting?  Share your favorites in the comments!

Welcome, 2016!


A new year has begun.

What will we do with it?  How will we grow?

The answers to those questions as they pertain to English class are partly determined by the Texas TEKS, but also by teacher and student choice.  We as individuals can decide a lot about how we want to stretch ourselves and develop our abilities as writers and readers.

What do we want to know more about?  Let’s explore!  We each have the tools:  curiosity, ability, resources…and time.  That’s the key, isn’t it?  We have to make the time to learn what we want to learn, to do what we want to do.

Here a few places to visit to get started on some individual inquiry:

What are some of your favorite resources for learning?  Leave us a link in the comments!

 Image credit: Pixabay CC0


Last Post of 2015 due Friday…What to Write About?


The approach of a new year can be a great opportunity for reflection. Who are we, and who are we becoming? What have we accomplished, and what do we want to make of our lives going forward? What do we value about ourselves and our lives?

The suggested topics above encourage such reflection. As 2015 comes to a close and we prepare for 2016, think about these questions. Consider choosing one and writing about it for your final post of the year.

We look forward to learning more about what makes YOU you!

Read Aloud ?


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After we finished our reading of Fish for the Global Read Aloud, students were asked to share their thoughts about read aloud in general.  Was it something they valued and would want to continue?

In our district, students used to have 84 minutes of Language Arts each day, and with that amount of time, it was easy to incorporate read aloud into the curriculum.  Now that Language Arts classes are 52 minutes long (30 fewer minutes each day, or 2 1/2 fewer hours each week), it is difficult to incorporate and sustain a meaningful read aloud time.

Here are some of the student responses:

  • “I love read aloud because we get to talk about the book and the things we enjoyed.” –Thomas
  • “I really like read aloud because I understand more when someone else reads out loud.” — Briana
  • “I enjoy read aloud because it give the characters a voice.” — Zach D.
  • “Read aloud is a time that I can relax, and I enjoy that after a long school day.” — Anonymous
  • “I enjoy read aloud because our class actually knows what’s going on as a  group.” — Carter
  • “When someone else reads aloud, it helps make imagery.  We can also discuss our thoughts and questions, so we can opinions from everybody.” — Shamya
  • “Read aloud is a relaxing time to listen, think, and not work.” — Jedi
  • “With read aloud, I get to hear stories I never heard about before.” — Sebastian

Students definitely want to continue read aloud, and so do I.  Research backs us up:  among this study’s 13 reasons to use read aloud with older students is the fact that the practice improves student reading and writing, and reading and writing is what we are all about in English class!

It’s up to me as the teacher to make time in our curriculum for this valuable practice…and to develop the stamina to read aloud daily to five different groups of students instead of the three that I used to have 🙂


Image by Mrs. Kriese via Canva 

Our Bake Sale Success!


BeFunky Collage

For three days last week, our seventh period class held a bake sale to raise money for Heifer International. The students were inspired to help by our reading of the book Fish by L. S. Matthews, and they put that inspiration to work!

Our goal was to raise $120 to buy a goat for a family in need, and we are happy to announce that we raised far more than that! The grand total after three days of selling doughnuts, cupcakes, and cookies was $339.35. Wow!

Students browsed the Heifer International catalog of livestock gifts and voted on how to spend the remaining money after the pledged $120 goat was purchased. Our results? In addition to the goat, we gave a llama, a hive of honeybees, and two flocks of chicks. How cool is that?

Our project was a success thanks to the many West Ridge students and parents who baked items for us to sell, who worked the sale table each morning, and who purchased the treats so that we could make a generous donation.  Congrats to all involved!

Planning Our Project


On Friday, period 7 students made progress in planning their Heifer International Project. Realizing the importance of including their parents in their plans, they wrote the following letter to Mom and Dad:

Dear Parents–

We would like to inform you that our class has had an idea. We’ve been reading the book Fish, and we’ve learned more about what it is like to be a refugee. The main character Tiger helps refugees, and eventually he becomes one when all the helpers have to flee the village. This book made us think about all the people who have been suffering in the world. We feel compassion for them, and we are passionate about helping.

Our plan is to have a bake sale to raise $120 (or more) to buy a goat for a family through Heifer International. You can read about that organization and watch a video about them in this blog post.  We’ve learned how owning a goat can help a family that is struggling with hunger and poverty.

We would like your support in helping us make cookies, cupcakes, and other baked goods for the sale. Mr. Ramsey has approved our bake sale for November 17, 18, and 19. Next week, we will make a schedule of who is going to bring what items and who will sit at the table to sell the things.

Thank you for your support. We appreciate all the trouble you go through to help our cause!


Mrs. Kriese’s 7th Period

We’re excited to see how much money we can raise to help people!  Maybe we’ll be able to give the gift of more than one goat, or have money left over to donate to the United Nations Refugee Agency.  We’ve seen pictures of children sleeping in the cold. A gift of $150 would buy sleeping bags for three families.

Pixabay CC0

Pixabay CC0

The Gift of a Goat


Looking to me

For the past few weeks, our seventh period class has been participating in the Global Read Aloud.  Along with hundreds of other classes from all around the world, we are enjoying the book Fish by L.S. Matthews.

We’ve been moved by the experiences of Tiger.  The child and his (her?  Matthews never reveals whether Tiger is a boy or girl) family are aide workers in a country that has been torn by war.  When the fighting gets close to the village the family  has been working in, they become refugees along with the villagers.

As we discuss character, plot, conflict, and author’s craft, we also discuss the real world situation that this book parallels.  Although the current Syrian refugee crisis wasn’t happening the year that Fish was published, the story is much the same as those being told in today’s headlines.

These stories of refugee suffering have touched our hearts and prompted us to consider what it is like to be a refugee or a member of a family that is battling hunger and extreme poverty.  We’ve been talking about how we could help people in need, just like the family in Fish did.

One concrete project we talked about in class involves helping families like those that Tiger’s family was helping before they had to flee.  Through the tweets of other teachers whose classes are reading Fish, we’ve found Heifer International.   This organization provides a goat, a cow, chickens and other livestock to very poor, hungry families so that those families then have the means to feed themselves and, with guidance, turn their animal into a source of income.

We found out that the cost of providing a family with a goat is $120. We’re exploring fundraising options now, and we will post again when we have our plan in place! We’re very excited to start a project that will help people who are struggling with hunger and poverty.

Image credit: Cloudtail via Compfight

Poppies Grow, Row on Row…


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae, British soldier
Poem composed in May 1915

Artist Paul Cummings had a vision: one poppy for every British soldier who died in World War I, each planted at the Tower of London as a tribute to the sacrifice of those men. The resulting imagery is powerful indeed.

What do you think and feel as you view the result of this artist’s work?

Take out your Writer’s Notebook and turn to the next blank page. Can you capture the sight with imagery of your own?

Read Any Good Leads Lately?



When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.  My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress.  She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother.  Of course, she did. This was the day of the reaping.

                                                            –Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games


The writer of an article, essay, story or book begins with a lead to draw the reader in–to make the reader want to read more.  Suzanne Collins opened her book with a lead that gave us information about the setting:  it was the day of the reaping, apparently a day that poor families had cause to dread.

In the comment section of this post, share an interesting lead to an article, essay, story or book you’ve read recently.  Be sure to include the author’s name and the title of the work.  See the first few comments for examples.  Try not to repeat a lead that has already been given.



Image Credit:  The Hunger Games, Scholastic Press, 2008

What We’ve Learned About British Columbia


We took out our iPads and started exploring Comox Valley, Vancouver Island, Canada.  What a beautiful, interesting place!

Here are some of the facts we learned:
British Columbia is one of the world’s top three producers of blueberries and cranberries.
The provincial flower is the dogwood.

Fishing is essential to the economy.
Vancouver is home to one of the longest suspension bridges in world.

Forty per cent of Vancouver residents are foreign-born (in our home of Austin, that number is twenty per cent).
Vancouver Island the largest Pacific island east of New Zealand.
Some of the best caving areas in the world are in Vancouver Island.
The island was first colonized in 1861.
Average winter temperatures hover in the 40s; average summer temperatures are in the 70s.  We’re jealous!

We decided that the British Columbia flag is one of the most awesome flags we’ve ever seen!

Pixabay CC0

Pixabay CC0

 We also watched this video tour of Comox Valley, home to Mrs. Smith’s seventh grade class.  Looks like a great place to live!

After watching this video, we have to say that the scenery is beautiful!  Wow!

British Columbia: What We THINK We Know


In the past few weeks, we’ve been excited to receive visits from students in Mrs. Smith’s class in British Columbia.  We want to learn more about where they live, but first we asked ourselves what we already know about their home.  Some of our ideas may not be as accurate as others, but in the coming days, we’ll investigate which of our statements are true and which not.

Here’s what we think we know:

British Columbia is a province in Western Canada
The people there are British!
They have British accents.
It’s very cold there much of the year.
The scenery is very green…lots of evergreen trees grow there.
British Columbia is in the Taiga Biome (someone’s paying attention in science class!)
Hockey is the big sport (others said no, it’s rugby).
Skiing is also huge.
British Columbia has recently hosted the World Cup.
Many American television shows are filmed there.
It’s the only other country with “American” football.
The people there speak French (others said nope, British Columbia is the only Canadian province where French is NOT the language).
The people there like maple syrup!
The flag is red and white striped with a maple leaf.
The time zone is Pacific, same as California.

Mrs. Smith’s class, how did we do?  We’ll post again after we learn more!

Visiting New Zealand!


One of the fun things about blogging is that we can exchange ideas with other students in other parts of the world. For a couple of years now, Mr. Webb of New Zealand has had his students visit us in Texas, and we here in Austin have enjoyed our visits to their town in South Taranaki.

Here’s a funny conversation we had about those visits this week:

Sure enough, we did some investigating and found out that New Zealand is so far ahead of us in time (is there a better way to say that?) that when we are in 7th period class, it is already the next day there! As we blogged at 3:00 P.M. on Monday, Oct. 19, it was about 9:00 A.M. on Tuesday, Oct. 20 in Mr. Webb’s class. Wow!

I think we need to have a Skype session soon to get our students talking “face to face”!

Meanwhile, we’ll explore the Taranaki region of New Zealand by browsing this website.


Learning About Serbia, Part 2


Pixabay CC0

Pixabay CC0

Well, we’ve done some research, and we’ve discovered some interesting facts!

Serbia is in Europe! (the southeast part)

The Serbian currency is based on a unit called the dinar.

Like us, Serbs drive on the right side of the road.

Serbia is led by a prime minister.

Serbia gets snow in the winter, and there are many popular ski resorts there.

When it’s 4:00 PM here, it’s 11:00 PM there–seven hours ahead of Texas.

The total population of the country is smaller than that of New York City.  This was a surprise!

Serbia is the largest exporter of raspberries–how cool is that?!

“Vampire” is a Serbian word that is spoken all over the world.

We also watched this travel video about Serbia.  It’s such a beautiful place!


Learning About Serbia


What do we think we know about Serbia?  Here are some of the student responses we got when we asked that question today:

“It’s in the Middle East.”
“It’s in Africa.”
“It’s in Europe.”
“It’s in Russia.”
“Serbia is near the Balkan Peninsula and Ottoman Empire.”
“Serbia is mostly desert.”

(Obviously we need to work on our geography!   Even the map included in our blog post didn’t help some of us.)

“People in Serbia don’t speak English.”
“The government is democratic.”
‘The government is communist.”

(Hmmm…some investigation needed here.)

“Serbia used to be part of Soviet Union, but it fought for its independence.”
‘Serbia played a role in the beginning of World War I with the assassination of an archduke.”
“The primary religion in Serbia is orthodox Christianity.”

We’ll do some exploring and be back tomorrow with a post about what we learn about this country and our new friends there!




Visitors from Southeast Europe



How cool is it to have visitors from other parts of the world?

This week, several students will see comments have been left on their blogs from students in Mrs. Milacic’s class in Kragujevac, Serbia. We’ll spend some class time this week learning more about that country.  What do we want to know about Serbia?

Meanwhile, check out this photo of Belgrade, the capital city there:

Pixabay CC0

Pixabay CC0

Would you like to read and comment on the blogs of Marija, Andrea, Vlada, Milica, Tamara, Janko, Tamara, Stasa, Tijana, Jana, Bogdan, Luka, Dimitrije, and Djole?  You’ll find those links on the sidebar of their class blog…but first you’ll want to use the Google translate widget on the class blog’s home page to translate their work into English!  Check out the students’ “About Me” pages and find someone who has interests similar to yours!

Image Credit, Map: By Dgaulle (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Spotlight on Fiction and Descriptive Writing from Periods 4 and 6


Pixabay CC0

Enjoy these stories from Periods 4 and 6…but beware, some will have you shivering with fright!

 “The Woods” by Audrey

“An Amazing Cycle” by Andrew

“Alone” by Hiya

“2072, Chapter 2” by Emma T.

“Gone” by Sarika

“Cold” by Ella C.

“Darkness, Part 4” by Annabelle




Spotlight on Fiction from Periods 2 and 3



Do you enjoy a good story?  Many of our bloggers are working on original fiction.  Pull up a chair and lend an ear to these intriguing tales:

“The Calling” by Kelley

“The Decay Method” by Tae-Kyung

“Morph, Chapter 1:  The Apocalypse” by Hunter

“The Agony” by Annie

“Johnny Stories, Part 1:  The Wagon” by Ryan

“The Visitor, Part 5” by Christopher

“In the Shadows” by London

“What Do You Think You Saw?” by James


Image Credit: Drew Bandy via Compfight

Art and Writing Contest


Pixabay CC0

Pixabay CC0

Wow.  As we’ve been sharing our writing via our notebooks, group work, and blogs, it’s become apparent that we have many students who are passionate about writing!  There are some young authors among us, and it’s wonderful to see.

Scholastic has a program that showcases the work of young writers and recognizes their talent.  Check out the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards:  a competition designed to honor the creativity of “young artists and writers, filmmakers and photographers, poets and sculptors, video game artists and science fiction writers.”  There are 26 categories in the contest.

Are you interested in participating this year?  The contest specifics that pertain to our part of the country are found here for writing and here for art. Choose a category, read the guidelines, download the forms, and start polishing your work, because the deadline for submission will be here very soon:  December 16, 2015.  Category winners receive scholarship awards and the opportunity to have their work exhibited and published!

One such winner is former West Ridge Middle School student Arthi Kozhumam. Arthi has won Gold Key, Silver Key, and Honorable Mention awards for her poetry.  Congratulations, Arthi!  We’re proud of you!




Pixabay is a great resource for bloggers.  The site offers thousands upon thousands of images that are in the public domain, which means they are free for use (even commercial use) without attribution.

Need a photo to represent a post about your sport, hobby, or talent?
BeFunky_ballet-335496_640 (2).jpgLooking for an image to go with that post about your trip to Disneyland or
cruise through the Caribbean?

be funky vacationWanting the perfect picture for your writing about favorite food, books, or games?

befunkyfood.jpgbefunkybooks.jpgHow about images to help create a mood or set a scene?

befunkymood.jpgOr perhaps the photo can come BEFORE the writing, as a prompt for inspiration:

befunkyprompt.jpgPixabay also offers illustrations, backgrounds, and clipart:

befunkyclipart.jpgAll images are available for download without registration with the site (registration is restricted to age 13 and up). Occasionally, a non-registered user may be asked to type in a Captcha code to continue 🙂

Although Pixabay’s FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page specifies that attribution is not required, it is always a good idea to indicate your source below the photo or at the bottom of your post.  You wouldn’t want to give the impression that you were the photographer or that you used someone else’s photo without permission.

Pixabay is a great addition to our other resources for images:  MorgueFile and the Compfight Photo Plug-In — and your own photography!

Happy blogging!


Image credits:  All images via
Images put together with collage maker






Getting Ready


Welcome, new bloggers!

We’ve been in the computer lab for the past few days, getting everyone set up with his or her own blog.  This week, we’ve been learning blog vocabulary and other basics as we explore options for style and content.  Next week, we’ll have lessons on adding media, respecting copyright, and linking to supplementary articles.  Our blogs are taking shape!

By October 1st, we’ll be ready to email family and friends, inviting them to subscribe to our blogs.  We look forward to exchanging our ideas with others as we share our writing.

Talk to you soon!

The Journey Begins with a Call to Adventure


During our discussion of Beowulf:  A New Telling, we also talked about characters from Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter. In those stories, Luke, Frodo, and Harry each receives a call to adventure: a summons to leave the world he has known and to embark on a journey.

Last year, students came up with a longer list of people who have received such a call:

  • The Avengers are called to adventure by Nick Fury
  • Ender Wiggin is called to adventure when he is accepted to Battle School
  • Katniss is called to adventure when her sister’s name is drawn in the reaping
  • Amy Pond is called to adventure when she discovers the crack in her bedroom wall
  • One Direction is called to adventure by Simon Cowell
  • Superman is called to adventure by his father
  • Peter Parker is called to his life as Spider Man when his uncle is killed
  • Eragon is called to adventure when he finds a dragon egg
  • Percy Jackson is called to adventure when he discovers he is a demigod
  • Tris is called to save the factions from the Uprising
  • Tony Stark is called to adventure when his father dies, leaving him a legacy to fulfill
  • Stuart Little is called to adventure when the husband drops the wife’s wedding ring down the drain
  • Brian Robison is called to survive in the forest after the plane crash

Here in Dan Priest’s video are more scenes from more stories that develop around a character called to adventure.

Can you think of your own list of examples from fiction?

How about from reality? Can you think of people called to their life’s accomplishment by circumstance or inner voice?

In what way have YOU been called to adventure?

Give an example in the comments.

Why Do We Have to Write Today?


Notebooks for little girls

In English class, we read “Why Do We Have to Write Today?” by Todd Finley.  Students wrote their own responses to the question, some of which you will see in individual blog posts.  As a group, students came up with these reasons:

  • to ask a favor
  • to request more time
  • to sign a card
  • to obey teachers
  • to tell parents you’ve left
  • to observe lab results
  • to be known
  • to connect with friends
  • to be a teenager
  • to role play
  • to tell stories
  • to explain why
  • to figure things out
  • to feel better
  • to be safe

Why do you write?  Leave us a comment and share your thoughts.


Image credit: Andrea R via Compfight

For Mr. Webb’s Class in New Zealand


Our sixth period students are excited about their upcoming Skype chat with Mr. Webb’s class in New Zealand.  The two classes have been visiting each other’s blogs, and now the kids will get to visit in person…sort of 🙂

We started preparing for our chat by brainstorming what we think we know about New Zealand:

  • New Zealanders have little tiny ponies that are awesome
  • The Lord of the Rings movies were filmed there
  • “Kids ride kangaroos to school,” said Clark (really, Clark, really?!)
  • You can order kangaroo meat at a restaurant
  • Some schools let the kids go barefoot
  • People in New Zealand have really cool accents
  • There are tiny cows in New Zealand
  • It rains more there than in Texas
  • It’s hot and humid in New Zealand
  • People drive on the left side of the road
  • The Auroa School kids are amazing 🙂
  • There are volcanoes in New Zealand

When we compared the size of Texas with the size of New Zealand, we were just as amazed as Mr. Webb’s kids. We know Texas is big, but wow, Texas is BIG!


Some students insisted that our above “facts” are wrong, with some saying kangaroos are in Australia, not New Zealand. We’ll have to do some investigating in the coming days!

Independent Reading: What Did You Think?


We’re about to complete our reading logs for the last nine weeks, and this class blog is the perfect place for sharing our thoughts about the books we’ve read.

Choose one of the two prompts below and respond to it as a “comment” to this blog post. I’ve made the first two comments myself as examples. Notice that the first thing we’ve got to do in the comment is IDENTIFY THE BOOK WE’RE TALKING ABOUT! Since we can’t use italics, underlining, or bold text in a comment, we’ll have to set titles apart from the rest of the comment by capitalizing correctly and using quotation marks. Comments should be about five sentences long.

1. One of the overarching themes for this year’s study in seventh grade English is the idea of the Call to Adventure: the idea that a person’s journey begins when some person or some event sets a character on a path of discovery.

In the case of Helen Keller, that call came from Anne Sullivan, who called Helen on a journey to discover language and all of the ways that it could enrich her life. In many stories, a character is called to adventure by a mentor or by circumstances that lead the character to his or her challenging journey. This journey might be an actual journey to new people and places, or it might be a figurative journey to self-discovery and the realization of some important truth.  How were Scrooge, Max, and Christine called to adventure?  How about Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins, or Harry Potter?

In one of the books you chose to read, did a character receive a call to adventure? Was he or she guided by a mentor who set an example or taught valuable lessons? Elaborate and give an example.

2. One of the reasons we teachers assign independent reading is so that you discover authors whose work you enjoy. This is important because the more you read, the better your reading and your writing will become.

Which of the books on your independent reading list did you enjoy reading the most? What was it about that book that kept you reading? Was it something about the plot (the action in the story that made you want to find out what was going to happen next), the characters (who they were, how they interacted, what they thought and felt), or the style of writing (the way the author put together sentences, chapters, descriptions, dialog, etc)?

Be specific in your answer without giving away any spoilers!

Image credit:  Pixabay and BeFunky

Student Spotlight: Fifth Period Free Topic Posts


For most of this year, students have been enjoying the freedom to blog about any topic they choose in any mode they choose.  Check out this sampling of the wide variety of subjects covered by fifth period students so far:

Jenna celebrates her dog’s first birthday.

Do you love musicals?  Madeleine shares her favorite Broadway hits.

Meghana finds Draco Malfoy to be a sympathetic character.

Surya explains why studying a second language is a good idea.

Want to understand Javascript? Ian does an excellent job of explaining a complex topic.

Lorena enhances her writing with photos, color, and special effects.  Cool!

What’s your favorite season?  William explains why his is winter.

Ananya writes a poem to capture the beauty of a new day.

Blake has some information and questions for you about 4-D printing.

Erik enjoyed an opportunity to meet a favorite author.

The misery of flu season is expressed in this post by Layna.

Madeline takes you into the Phantom’s lair…and into his mind.

You’ll appreciate these amusing tips from Varun on how to avoid telemarketers!

Milan describes his dread of state testing.

Pranu shares her thoughts about an unsettling documentary she recently watched.

Shreyaa describes the complexities and joys of one of her hobbies:  Bharathanatyam dance.

You’ll want to visit Hawaii after reading what Tiffany has to say about it!

Student choice is an important factor in writing instruction.  Students who have something to say will work to say it well, and maybe even have some fun in the process!

Exploring Your Life for Expository Essay Topics


Need an idea for your next expository writing assignment?

Let’s think about this together.  We know that expository writing can explain:  it can explain why you think something or how something is done.

You can think about aspects of your own life and explain the how or why of topics you know well:

  • Think about family vacations.
    Explain why _______ is a great place to visit.
    Explain why your family will never again vacation at ______.
    Explain how to make the best of a rainy day stuck in _______.
    Explain why air travel is _______.
    Explain how to survive a long flight (or a long airport delay).
    Explain why family road trips are _______.
    Explain how to irritate your siblings on a family road trip.
    Explain why Disney World never gets old, no matter how many times you’ve been before.
    Explain why _______ is the best ride at _______.
  • Think about your school life.
    Explain why _______ is your favorite subject.
    Explain how to make ________ grades in class.
    Explain why school dances are _______.
    Explain how the school day could be better organized.
    Explain why the school’s technology policy is ________.
    Explain why grades are ________.
    Explain your ideas for improving the appearance of your campus.
    Explain why homework is _________.
  • Think about your social and extracurricular life.
    Explain why being the new kid (or a cheerleader, or a “nerd”) is  ________.
    Explain how to crash a friendship in three easy steps.
    Explain why participation in sports is ________.
    Explain what participation in ___________ has taught you.
    Explain how __(insert social media)__ can ________relationships.
    Explain how your parents’ rules for you should change.
    Explain how you are different now than you were in sixth grade.
    Explain why students need more down time during the week.
  • Think about your hobbies and passions.
    Explain why ________ is a favorite activity.

    Explain how to play a better game of ________.

    Explain why you love ________.

    Explain how your love of _________ enriches your life.
    Explain why the haters are wrong about your passion/fandom/celebrity crush.
    Explain what your most important possession is and why.
  • Think about the people in your life (those whom you know or have read about).
    Explain why you admire _________.
    Explain why ___________ is  an example for others to follow.
    Explain how ___________ achieved success or overcame adversity.
    Explain how ___________ has taught you ___________.
    Explain why you are grateful to __________.
  • Think about what you have learned recently.
    If you like history, explain how a key event happened or why it is significant.

    If you like science, explain why an experiment was successful or how a process happens. Explain how discoveries in __________ will change the future.

    If you like health and PE, explain how __________ affects the body or why people should stop/start ______________.
    If you like math, explain how you solve a type of problem.

    If you like English, explain how a certain character ________ or why a certain character ________.  Explain why you ________ reading or why a favorite book has been important to you.
    If you like your independent studies, explain how ________ is done or why _________ is something you want to learn more about.
  • Think about the wider world around you and life’s bigger questions.
    Explain why it is important to help others.
    Explain how one person can make a difference in the world.
    Explain why it is important to speak up for what is right.
    Explain how technology is making life more _______.
Once you’ve found your topic, remember to organize your thoughts into paragraphs:

***an introduction to establish your controlling idea (don’t give your reasons or make your points yet)

***body paragraph(s) to develop that idea with your reasons, supporting them with specific support/elaboration/commentary

***a conclusion to echo the controlling idea and leave your reader with something more to think about.     

Blog Power


BeFunky_Wildcats-1 (2).jpgAs we prepare to complete our blog self-assessments next week and set goals for the spring, let’s take a look at what some other student writers have done with their own blogging.  Do you have a particular passion that could become the focus of your blogging this semester?

Jake’s Bones
Jake is a thirteen-year-old Scottish student who has been collecting and studying bones since he was six.  His blog has been featured on television and radio, and his work has become a book by the same name.

Cayla and Ashley
Cayla and Ashley are two sisters, age fifteen and thirteen, who have used their blog to showcase their singing and song-writing talent.  They now have a YouTube channel, and they have released two CD’s via iTunes.

Sky’s Cars
Sky is a fifth grader who has been blogging about cars for two years.  His visits to car dealerships and his interviews with car experts have given his blog a wide readership.

British student Maelo Manning started blogging about politics when she was only ten years old.  Since then, her blog has won many awards for political commentary, and she has been a guest on several political talk shows in England.

Tolly Dolly Posh
Tolemia is a fourteen-year-old who has been blogging about fashion since she was eleven. Her blog has been featured in many publications, television segments, and radio spots.

Call Me Hannah
Hannah Alper is an eleven-year-old blogger who describes herself as a “Change Maker, Activist, Eco Warrior, Animal Lover.” Her blogging has led Hannah to roles as a TEDx speaker and a student ambassador for Free the Children.

Check out the work of these “kid reporters” from SIKids and Time for Kids.

Student bloggers also share their work at TeenInk (must be at least 13) and their book and movie reviews at DogoBooks and DogoMovies.

What do you want to do with your blog in 2015?

Image created with

First Lines


First lines, first sentences, first pages–the beginnings of books are important. An intriguing cover may entice us to open a book, but it is the engaging text that makes us want to keep reading.

Below are some first lines of famous books, along with their cover art.  For more examples and links back to sources, click here

In the comments, add your own example of a great first line!  Include the title and author’s name.










Spotlight on Third Period


Found Blur Motion
Photo Credit: ilouque via Compfight

Students have a choice of what to write about each week.  Enjoy this collection of posts from third period:

Avery writes about her love of Christmas.

The possibilities of time travel are explored by David S.

Eli shares his thoughts about schoolwork and his study habits.

Jonny writes about the fun of fishing.

Jack wrote a poem about hockey.

Are you a hunter? Kirk tells about getting his “first bow deer.”

Thomas writes about a day spent at home, too sick for school.


Just Arrived


Once again, West Ridge has earned the “No Place for Hate” designation from the Anti-Defamation League of Austin.  We’re proud of the work that goes in to making our campus more aware of issues affecting our school climate.  Our administrators, counselors, and teachers work with the students to hopefully create a safe place in which every student feels they belong.

No place is perfect, of course.  Perhaps you feel that West Ridge could do better…or that you yourself could do better when it comes to treating everyone with respect. We’ve all atttended the assemblies and had the classroom lessons:  we know what we are supposed to do when we hear or see another being made fun of, excluded, or threatened.  It’s up to us to do what’s right and kind.

When we see this banner hanging in its place next to the previous years’ banners, let’s all think about what we are doing (or not doing?) to make WRMS no place for hate.

Spotlight on Second Period


Wonderful work this week from our bloggers!  It’s great to see the effort students are putting in to improving their composition skills while at the same time sharing their thinking with their readers.

Enjoy these posts from second period, and we hope you will join in the discussions by leaving your comments!

Jason shares a podcast on the topic of bliss and one man’s search for his own.

Emily and Annakate are looking forward to Halloween.

Jillian and Ananya have recommendations for our reading and movie watching.

Sadie writes about her fun experience at IFly, while Meg writes about a not-so-fun experience at camp.

Ethan expresses gratitude for his piano teacher.

Grace and Veronica write about favorite places.

Caroline teaches us more about the recent solar eclipse, and David informs us about upcoming game releases.

We’ll be back after the 31st with more posts! Happy Halloween!

Celebration West Ridge


 Celebration West Ridge 2014

Celebration West Ridge is our school’s annual festival and fundraiser.   In the collage above, you see just some of what CWR offers.  What you can’t hear is the awesome music, and what you can’t taste is the delicious food!  Pizza, snow cones, candy–and more candy!–are part of the fun, as are photo booths, karaoke, and cake walks.  More adventurous students can enter games and competitions up on the field.  CWR is a day of laughter and prizes, treats and eats, dancing and playing.  An extra bonus?  This year the weather was perfect, with not a rain cloud in sight!

Author! Author!


We’ve been talking about what we like in the books we are reading.  What does the author do to make the book good?  What choices has he or she made that are really effective in making us want to read more?

Here are some of the thoughts shared by students:


Mikaela on Caragh M. O’Brien (The Vault of Dreamers):
“I like how the author makes you ask questions.  It makes you want to finish the book before it eats you alive!  And she makes you review the questions later to see if you were thinking logically.”

Reda on Heather Anastasiu (Glitch):
She knows how to end a chapter with a cliffhanger.  With other authors, they seem to make me angry and aggravate me to the point where I want to stop reading, but this author makes it so that I need to know what’s on the other side of that page.”

Tori on Dawn Metcalfe (Luminous): 
“This author has created a story that is unique to all others.  It doesn’t have a very generic plotline, such as one with an obvious antagonist.  This, I think, is an important part of a good story because it creates that tension.  My book keeps taking sharp turns that make the ending harder and harder to guess.”

Niko on J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets):
“Unlike most authors, she expands her universe and keeps a good story at the same time!”



Layna on Kelly Bingham (Shark Girl):
“I like how the author writes the book in letter form.  I feel like books that are made up of letters are unique because it is a whole different style of writing.  Letters are shorter so there are more stopping points, while in other books there are chapters that are 20 pages long and you sometimes have to stop in a middle of a chapter!”

Madeleine J on Agatha Christie (The Hollow):
“I love this author’s work because she knows how people think and you never can guess who the murderer is.  I also love her work because there is so much of it, and she always gives an extensive background on the people involved.”


David S on Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl:  The Last Guardian):
“I like Colfer’s work because he always has a riveting and suspenseful plot.  He never fails to merge suspense and humor, so I always find myself smiling or on the edge of my seat.”

Mia on Suzanne Collins (Mockingjay):
“I like that the author elaborates and is very descriptive.  She is very specific about the words she chooses to use in her sentences.  She uses very big words that have even bigger meanings, along with some I have never heard before.”


Book Cover Images: Scholastic Reading Club Online. Scholastic, Inc., n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2014.

Fiction Becomes Fact?



This invention is like something straight out of Star Trek, isn’t it? I know the article makes mention of Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, but before there were the deathly hallows, there was first a cloaking device.  I’ve known about the concept since I first watched The Enterprise Incident in the early 1970’s.  Kirk’s ingenious plan to steal the secret cloaking device from the Romulans makes for one of my favorite Star Trek episodes ever.  Just think of the military implications of an invention that could hide the presence of a ship!  The Federation certainly couldn’t leave such technology in the hands of their enemies.

There are other examples of Star Trek technology becoming real-life inventions.  Spock, Dr. McCoy and Mr. Scott would be proud of us 21st century humans.  Gene Roddenberry and his team knew what they were doing!

Interested in more articles like this? Dogo News is all about current events for kids.  Just click the tab that interests you the most:  science, social studies, sports, entertainment, international, green, fun…there’s something there for every reader.

Find an article that interests you, click to get the embed code, and put it in a blog post. Then share your thoughts by adding a paragraph or two of your writing beneath the embedded article.

Notice that in addition to Dogo News, you can also find Dogo Books and Dogo Movies…all reviewed by kids for kids! If you create an account with your school email (ask your parents first), you can post your own book and movie reviews on the Dogo website.


#14stubc: Hello from Austin, Texas!


Or should we say “Howdy, y’all!” instead?

Challenge bloggers from #14stubc (the fourteenth Edublogs student challenge) and other visitors, we are glad you have stopped by for a visit. Most of us are new to blogging, but we are excited to get started on our posts and to reach out to new friends across the world.

Have you ever been to Texas? Our city, Austin, is the capital. It’s located in the beautiful hill country in the center of the state. Check out the video to get a sense of the place we are proud to call home:

That’s the Colorado River flowing through our town. Did you notice the bats that fly out from under the Congress Avenue bridge? We’ve been known to have bats in our school from time to time!

In the comments we’ll share more about why we love our city. You can see our Austin posts from earlier challenges here and here.

Note:  We realize there is a misspelling in the video title.  We wish that it was our mistake to fix, but alas, it isn’t, and we can’t!

Making Connections


“Holler, RT put yer hands up if you dig nerdy pursuits i.e. comics, Dr. Who, Star Wars, cosplay, and mixing with learning…#nerdyedu”

I smiled as I responded to this tweet from Maine high school teachers Dan Ryder and Jeff Bailey, and I attached a collage of images from our classroom walls: several movie and television show posters, all of them representing popular shows with large fandoms.  You’ll find Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Star Trek, Doctor Who and a few more.


Why not more posters about steps in the writing process? about grammar, capitalization, and punctuation?  about vocabulary and reading?

Because together we will be creating wall charts to show our learning of the “school” stuff.  Because those charts will make more sense if we develop them in class, as we are practicing the work of reading and writing.

Because just like the ELA charts,  the movie and television posters help us make connections around our reading and writing!

Let’s take a look at the “big questions” that organize our Holt McDougal literature textbook:

  • What is courage?
  • Is life always fair?
  • Where is home?
  • Can we achieve the impossible?
  • Who sees the best in you?
  • What makes you brave?
  • What stands in the way of your dreams?
  • Who deserves a second chance?
  • What has the power to heal?
  • Where do people find hope?
  • What is honor?
  • Why do we need memorials?
  • What is our duty to others?
  • How can we change what’s wrong?

and more.

Stories explore all of these questions, and some of our most powerful stories have been told or retold via television and film.  Frodo lives up to the faith that Gandalf has in him and finds the courage to battle great evil. Luke discovers his true identity but decides for himself who he will really be.  Harry realizes the terrible truth of his life but finds the strength to overcome it.  The Doctor is burdened with deep sorrow but spends his life helping others.  Belle believes the Beast deserves a second chance, and Simba uses his to change what is wrong.  The Phantom finds that love has the power to heal–and the power to free.

BeFunky_class posters.jpg

The posters aren’t up because they represent stories we will study (we won’t even be watching the movies).  They are up to make us think, to help us make connections between the stories we are studying and the stories we each are living.

How do the “big questions” above connect to books, movies, and shows you love?  How do the questions relate to you and your life?






Photos to Enhance a Post


What do you think of when you hear the word rain?

It probably depends on the circumstances and your mood.  We all know that rain can be an uplifting thing or a disappointing thing, a weather event that ruins your plans or a welcome gift to relieve drought.

Look at the following photos.  All five depict rain, but they each have a different “feel” to them.

In your Writer’s Notebook, do a quick write in response to the pictures.  Spend two minutes writing about each photo and its depiction of rain.


It´s just an illusion.
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Daniela Hartmann via Compfight

Water drops on grass
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Sergiu Bacioiu via Compfight


Against the drops #2
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Le Tchétché via Compfight


118/365 :: Specks of Light and Water
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Matt Katzenberger via Compfight


Day 227: Rain
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Snugg LePup via Compfight

Do you find a difference in tone (your attitude toward the topic) and mood (the feeling your words create) depending on which photo you are responding to?

Think about the power of images as we continue with today’s lesson on using images in posts.

About Us


We have been working on our new blogs this week.  Drop in for a visit and read some of the “About Me” pages that have been created:

About Avery O
About William
About Madeline McG
About Ethan H
About Lorena
About Madeleine J
About Thomas
About McKala
About Maddy B
About Reda
About Samantha
About Caroline
About David S

and over 100 more!

What fun to hear our students’ vivid voices come through in their writing.  Our blogs are looking good and sounding great!




What are we reading? We’ve copied the titles of our current or recent book selections into this Wordle. Can you tell which novels are currently the most popular among us?

WordleWe also used Wordle to take a look at our answers to the questions  “What’s happening now in your book?  Or if you’ve just finished a book, what was a main plot event?”

Isn’t it interesting to see what words were most often used in our plot summaries of these popular YA novels?

plot 2

Crafting with Imagery


Students were asked to reflect on poetry they had recently created.

Q: Think about a significant image in one of the poems you have been working on. Quote the line(s) in the space below, then elaborate on the meaning that imagery brings to your poem. What do you want your reader to feel?

We are making the connection between our crafting choices and the resulting experiences of our readers. 












Imagery in Poetry


Click the “full screen” icon to view poems.

We invite you to read some of the poems we crafted after a study of imagery in mentor texts “The Shark” by Edwin Pratt, “Abandoned Farmhouse” by Ted Kooser, “Poppies” by Roy Scheele and “When It Is Snowing” by Siv Cedering. Students were invited to pattern their poems after the work of the published poets.

As students worked on their poems, they were asked “What do you want your reader to feel?”  The answer informed the use of imagery, and all that goes into that: details, word choice, graphic elements, and more.

These are some of the efforts of the second week of school. We look forward to sharing more as we learn more in the months ahead!

Week One


As we approach the end of the first week of school, my students and I have much to be proud of.

We’ve done good work together: writing our thoughts, writing our hearts, writing our selves. We’ve shared our ideas with each other, even though it might have felt a little intimidating at first. We’ve taken those first important steps toward building a community, practicing the work of respectful talking and listening. We’re realizing just how powerful a tool the writer’s notebook can be.

Next week, we introduce more powerful tools into our community of readers and writers. With the iPad will come the collaboration features of Google Drive and the discussion opportunities of Edmodo. The week after that will bring the introduction of blogging, and then wow! Watch us go!

What a great beginning.

Wildcats write, indeed!


Photo by Mrs. Kriese

Back to School




One week from today, you’ll be here! We teachers are getting ready for you, unpacking boxes, hooking up computers, and setting up our classrooms. In the picture above are cartons of new science and math textbooks. Bet you can hardly wait!

I look forward to meeting all 110 of you on the 25th. Meanwhile, enjoy that last week of summer before the real fun begins ;- )

Mrs. Kriese


Photo of WRMS cafeteria by Mrs. Kriese

Who Am I?


When Peter Parker walks in late to his English class, he interrupts a lesson on plot in fiction. His teacher is explaining that a mentor of hers used to say that there are ten basic plots in all of fiction, but that she disagrees…she thinks there is only one: the question of who am I?

Certainly the exploration of that question is key to many stories.  It is key to the story of Spider Man as Peter Parker must figure out the origin of his identity and who he wants to be going forward.  The question of identity is one we each must answer as we grow up, and it makes sense that if literature is the exploration of human experience that its stories strive to answer that question, too. Who are we, as individuals and as part of larger communities?

“Who am I?” is a question that is key to understanding the theme and plot of many stories we have discussed this year, among them

  • Beowulf, A New Telling
  • Freak the Mighty
  • A Christmas Carol
  • The Lion King
  • Mulan
  • Star Wars
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
  • Phantom of the Opera
  • Les Miserables

Can you think of more stories you have read or watched that explore the question of identity?  Share your answer in the comments.

New Novels


animal farm book cover

Intrigued by the history and enticed by the opening pages, pre-AP classes are off to a great start with Animal Farm this week.  Many students left class on Friday saying they were looking forward to reading more, and might even finish the book this weekend!

Those who do finish Orwell’s novel before May 5 may want to explore further resources:

This Brain Pickings article highlights the incredible Animal Farm illustrations of Ralph Steadman as well as key quotes from author George Orwell.

The History Channel website has short, interesting biographies of Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Lenin with several related video links. A YouTube search will yield many videos about Nicholas II or any other figure of Russian history you’d like to learn more about.


Students in second and third period enjoyed the first chapters of Freak the Mighty so much they didn’t want to stop reading on Friday.  The popularity of the book is due in part to the wonderful voice of Max, our teenage narrator.  We’ll follow the story of Max and Kevin’s improbable friendship this week and talk about the important lessons these two boys learn from each other.

Students interested in more Kevin and Max might be interested to know there was a movie made of the book.  Author Rodman Philbrick talks about that and other aspects of his popular novel on his official website.  If you love Freak the Mighty, consider reading its sequel, Max the Mighty.




Edmodo for Book Thoughts



Descriptive-narrative sketches,  personal narrative essays, narrative poems–we’ve been talking a lot about narrative writing lately.

Most of us are reading books that tell stories.  We’re enjoying the unfolding of a plot and the development of characters.  We’re sticking with our novels because we want to find out what’s going to happen, and because we’re entertained while we wait:  the author’s style is just right for us.

Whatever genre we are reading, we all have something to share about our books.  We are thinking, wondering, noticing, feeling as we read, and many of us would like a place in which to share our book thoughts.

One virtual space that my classes have used in the past is Edmodo.  We’ll use this secure, safe education tool to create an invitation-only, password-protected Kriese 7th ELA “room” where we can talk about our books (and other stories).  Parents will be invited, too :- )

Students are likely familiar with Edmodo via science classes in earlier grade levels.  I’m excited to use this tool again in English class.

Let’s get the conversations started!



Image credit:  Elements of Literature. Digital image. McDonald Publishing, n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2014.

What Are You Reading Now?


At the beginning of class last Tuesday, students were asked to summarize what was currently happening in the books that they were reading.  They typed their answers into a Google form, with reminders to incorporate the sentence variety and conventions we’ve been working on in class.  I’m especially happy to see the use of appositives in the responses!

Most importantly, I’m happy with the level of engagement I’m seeing with most students and their books.  Spending time in the library and in silent reading has given me insight into students’ reading lives.  I’m learning who is familiar with which authors, who reads reluctantly and who reads willingly, and who throws up big roadblocks to reading…and perhaps why.  Several students and I are now working on finding books that will get them interested again after many, many months of not reading any book at all (true confessions have been one of the benefits of this return to library visits and reading time). 

Some of the many intriguing plot summaries from last week:

Ben on Perfect Season by Tim Green:

“A new kid, Chuku, has just moved in and is a potential star wide receiver. He met Troy, the main character one day at the Jets facility and Troy was impressed. Since Troy has to attend a poor school because his dad ran away with all of his money, he tried to “recruit” Chuku to attend and he did. So now, with a hall of fame player, Seth Halloway, as their coach, they are looking forward to a perfect season.”

Jane on Size 21 Is Not Fat by Meg Cabot:

“Heather Wells, a college dorm monitor, has been hearing strange screams going down the elevator shaft and she has been finding people dead at the bottom. She knows these types of people wouldn’t elevator surf  (jump from elevator cars to the next) so she calls the police, and of course they don’t believe her and no one else does either. She starts to investigate and finds the president of the colleges son as a suspect.”

Joseph on Gregor and the Code of Claw by Suzanne Collins:

“Gregor is getting ready to go on a hunt to find the Bane — the biggest baddest rat in the Underland — and kill it. Gregor knows that he has to do this even though the prophecy calls for his death. Him and Ripred, a rat that is on the humans side, are going to do whatever they can to kill the Bane and let Gregor keep his life, but it will be very hard.”

Francesca on The Cupcake Queen by Heather Hepler:

“The main character, Penny, just arrived at a new school in Hog’s Hollow. She and her mother baked cupcakes for a party and they have just arrived to set up the party room. An embarrassing accident happens and the birthday girl, Charity, now hates Penny. She then ‘welcomes’ Penny to her new school with a locker full of pennies.”

Kevin on The Fourth Stall, Part II by Chris Rylander:

“Earlier in the book, the protagonist Mac and his best friend Vince, along with a few other assistants, conducted a mass cheating operation for the SMARTS test, the book world’s equivalent of STAAR, where they corrected every answer. Unfortunately, everyone failed the test, despite the corrections. As the punishment for a failure on this scale results in the school being closed down, Mac and Vince must find out who is trying to take the school down. If they can’t–it’s the end of the world.”

Dahlia on The Chase by Janet Evanovich:

“FBI agent Kate O’Hare was captured by Carter Grove’s elite private security agency called Black Rhino. Nicholas Fox, her partner and international con-man and thief, is caught, and even though her bosses know what she’s doing, she’s on her own. Kate successfully talks her way out of the tricky situation, finds Nick Fox, and heads back to the states, finds Carter Grove in possession of stolen paintings, and arrests him, with help of a rag-tag crew and her dad, ex-Navy Seal, Jake O’Hare.”

Sam W. on Hothead by Cal Ripken, Jr:

“The main character, Connor, has a big baseball game coming up against his biggest rival, Billy Burrell and the Red Sox. Connor runs into Billy at school, where Billy starts to threaten Connor about ‘accidentally’ hitting him during the game. Connor then watches as he walks off and walks right into a locker door, sneding Connor home laughing. Connor then finds the tires on his bike slashed with some jagged glass, which only could have been done by the one and only….. Billy Burrell!”

What are you reading now?  What’s happening in your book?


Recommended Apps


 For the Edublogs Student Challenge Week Three, we adapted the sixth activity to write about our favorite apps.   You’ll find some great ideas here for your iPhone or iPad, whether you are looking for entertainment, productivity, or education.

Dillon’s Amazing Apps

When I turn on my iPad, I have a bajillion things I could do, and all of these things come from apps. There are apps for texting, gaming, school, typing, recording, movie-making, emoji

Around Austin


The State Capitol of Texas at Dusk
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Trey Ratcliff via Compfight

In this Edublogs student challenge for Week 3, one of the activities was to tell a visitor to our area about a must-see place or attraction.  Enjoy the following compositions from students in Periods 4, 6, and 7 about the highlights of Austin, Texas!

Gabriel recommends the Alamo Drafthouse for movie night.

Izzy  loves visiting South Austin’s SoCo for shopping and fun.

Hannah describes the enjoyment of a day spent downtown.

Izadora captures the fun of ACL Music Festival.

Ryan B. explains his love of Lake Austin.

George reminds us that no trip to the capital is complete without a trip to the capitol.

Tarun chooses Torchy’s Tacos for food and sports.

Dahlia enjoys dining at Tony C’s for the best in Italian food.

Dylan reviews Tres Amigos, a Westlake favorite for Mexican food.

Alena says Rudy’s serves the best barbecue, but Emma loves the Salt Lick.

Saira has an alternative recommendation for those with vegan tastes.

Olympia shares the best place for a game of laser tag after dinner!

Visitors, where are you from?  Leave us a recommendation about where we should eat, shop, or play if we ever tour your town!


Challenge Posts: Favorite Places in Austin


Students in Periods 2 and 3 have responded to the blog challenge of posting about a favorite place.  The following writers not only have great ideas to share, but they do so in blog posts that are well-organized, with introductions, body paragraphs, and conclusions.  Well done!

Karsten insists he’s found the best burger joint in Austin, but Nina disagrees.  Not in the mood for a hamburger?  Nick recommends a great Italian place.

Where do you like to shop in Austin?  Bryce has a favorite sports store.

Summers in Austin are hot!  Where to go to beat the heat?  Clara recommends Barton Springs, famous for its natural beauty and cold, cold water.

And then are the places we just love because they are our personal havens:  Jered and Madiha write about their own backyards, Eric about time spent in virtual reality, Lauren about her favorite golf course.


Barton Springs Pool. Digital image. City of Austin, n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2014.

Introductions for the #2014gbc


Students in periods 2 and 3 are entered in the Global Blogging Challenge, and for the Week 1 challenge we’ve been asked to introduce ourselves and share information about where we are from and what we love about our home. This Haiku Deck is one that some visitors from the fall may have seen before, but for those new to our blog, here are some photos we collected to showcase our city:

Created with Haiku Deck, the free presentation app

And here is a list of what we agree are some of the things we love most about Austin. Click on the links to see more.

What do we enjoy about living here?

Visitors, have you ever stayed in our city?  What did you enjoy about your time here?  If we were to come to your home town, what would be your top recommendation of things to do while we were there?

New Zealand!


We’re excited to have new blogging partners in Mr. Webb’s Room 1 in Auroa, New Zealand.  After introducing ourselves, Room 1 wrote a post about what they knew about Texas, so we thought we’d put together a list of what we know about New Zealand.  Like Mr. Webb’s class, we realize we have some research to do in order to complete (or correct?) our knowledge and impressions.

From period 2 and 3, here’s a compilation of what we think we know:

  • New Zealand is near Australia
  • The fly fishing for trout is supposed to be awesome there!
  • Some students have heard of a famous NZ rugby team called All Blacks
  • Cricket is a popular game (but most of us aren’t sure what it is)
  • There are many sharks in the waters off the coast of NZ
  • New Zealand has a sister city to our Aspen, Colorado…but we can’t remember its name
  • There are REALLY big turtles in New Zealand
  • New Zealand is in the Ring of Fire
  • The countryside is beautiful (we saw the scenery in the Lord of the Rings movies!)
  • People in New Zealand say “mate” after their sentences

We look forward to learning more about New Zealand and Mr. Webb’s class in the weeks ahead!



Reading and Reading Logs: Time to Re-Think?




The message of the above graphic is one we already know:  reading is important, and reading every day fosters academic strength.  Chances are that the more you read, the better student you will be…the better thinker you will be.

At the seventh grade level, we ask that you strive to read 800-900 pages in a nine-week time period, that you log the titles of the books you read, and that you obtain a parent signature next to each title as corroboration of your reading.  Reading that many pages means reading regularly, even though you may not keep to a 20-minutes-a-day schedule you had when you were younger.  We all have more time to read some days than we do on others.

Recently, we teachers have lifted the requirement that you read at least one book of a specified genre per nine weeks.  The most important thing isn’t what you read, but that you read.  I appreciate these words by educator and reading expert Donalyn Miller: “Reading belongs to readers, not to teachers. If we want children to see reading as anything more than a school job, we must give them the chance to choose their own books and develop personal connections to reading, or they never will.”

We’ve made that small change, but I’m thinking there need to be more changes.  I’d like to open a conversation about how we do reading at school, and I’m asking for your input.  Parents, feel free to add your thoughts, too.

  • Independent, Sustained Silent Reading is something we used to do daily in seventh grade when ELA classes were 84 minutes long.  I’d like to find time for ISSR again at school. Some schools with only one period of ELA have their ISSR time one period each week or once every seven school days.  Others use the first ten minutes of every period.  What are your thoughts about how often and how long we should have independent reading in the classroom?

  • Reading Logs don’t have to be lists of titles with signatures.  If we are reading at school again on a regular basis, there could be time for reading conferences with the teacher.  With our iPads, we could record small group conversations about what’s happening in our books and turn in those conversations.  What would be your preferred way of receiving credit for your reading?

  • Regular library visits are important to supporting an ISSR program.  Should we start going to the library every two weeks? Some students have said they have trouble finding a book to check out, so perhaps we should arrange for Mrs. Martinez to spotlight some titles for us each time we visit.  How do you think we could make the most of regular trips to the school library?

Parents and students, I look forward to hearing your answers to these questions (and any other thoughts you may have about reading) in the comments section of this post.




Second Period Spotlight


It’s wonderful to really hear students’ voices come through their writing.  We’ve talked about the progress they’ve made as writers, and the kids observed that they are writing with more expression and with better organization.  They’d love to have your feedback on their compositions!

Cierra had a great time at summer camp.  Read about why she loved it so much.

You’ll enjoy Ethan’s humorous explanation as to why kids should not have to do the dishes.

Grant’s description of his favorite food will make you hungry!

Nina is a poet.  Read this poem, then visit her blog for more.

Tired of the cold?  Not Regina.  She explains why she loves winter!

Ryan’s narrative about his recent fishing trip puts you right on the water with him.

Overdue library books?  You can empathize with Valerie as you read about the pain of late fines.



Fourth Period Focus


Our expository writing has been so enjoyable to read!  Check out the following links (and others to be found in the student blog roll) for compositions that are alive with voice and filled with thought.

Don’t be a corner-camper!  Steven explains how NOT to play video games.

Soham informs us of the disadvantages of using electronics.

A student who DISLIKES snow days?  That’s Matthew.  He explains why.

Ryan sees long car rides as great opportunities for fun.

Izzy shows why Telluride is a great place to visit.

“Bow ties are cool!” declare the Doctor and Gabriel.

Amulya explains why she enjoys pep rallies.

Ava explores the many meanings of the color red.


Third Period Thoughts


Short expository essays, fiction, poems, and personal narratives have been posted by third period students.  Enjoy this sampling of their work!

“The fun is in the risk.”  Eli explains why he loves riding his mini-bike.

Irma calls shotgun!  Read about why the front seat is the best seat.

“The sun falls back underneath the earth.”  Clara’s sunset will leave you in awe.

Sam has written a clever how-to guide for those who want to irritate a brother or sister…

“Too bad it’s not turkey season, I thought.”  Clay narrates a hunting adventure.

“The Merchants’ Village” is a chapter story written by Jane.

Bryce explains the different ways in which people can wear masks.

You’ll be counting the days until summertime after you read this post by Lauren.


Some Highlights from Sixth Period


Our writing from the week of February 10 has been entertaining and informative.  Enjoy this small sampling of student work, and visit the links in the blog roll at the left to read more of what our Wildcats have to say.  Comments welcome!

Dahlia shares her D’Var Torah.

Emma paints with the color blue.

Alena expresses her thoughts on the Olympic sport of curling.

George explores the qualities of effective leadership.

Grant shares the pressures of being a baseball pitcher.

Lucca explains his love of lacrosse.

Joseph shows why football is awesome.

Emma Bernice evaluates her iPad ownership.



Elements of Plot


We are about to begin an exploration of another story, this one told through music. Even though Phantom of the Opera is mostly delivered through song, all of the elements of plot that we find in fiction books are there:

  • exposition
  • setting
  • characterization
  • rising action
  • conflict
  • climax
  • resolution

Enjoy this video as a review of those elements.

My Favorite Mistake: Spotlight on 7th Period


After reading several Newsweek “Favorite Mistake” columns, we wrote about some favorite mistakes of our own:

“There was nothing positive about this. My head lowered. My stomach sank. What had I done?  Julius recalls an incident involving the family pet and auto repair.

“I can’t remember what happened next, only my father coming in with a bowl of water, him yelling, and the unbearable stench of smoke.” Microwave mishaps befall  Mara and Yasmine.

“As if things can’t get any worse…they do.”  Read Vayda’s account of signing up for P.E.

“My hands were shaking and my heart was pounding so hard that I could hear it.”  Rachel shares a story of anxiety.

“There I was lying flat on the ground— eyes widened as if the world had just flashed before them—and to me— it was.”  Learn why Vivian was so upset.

“The whole thing seemed like it was in slow motion.”  Caitlyn narrowly avoids disaster.

Note that the Newsweek columns are based on interviews, written in first person but by a third party who had talked with the man or woman who had actually had the experience.

In class, we discussed how our favorite mistakes would be different:  ours would be personal narratives, written in first person by the student who had had the experience. For this assignment, our goal would be to show the event in more detail than the news magazine columns had, in a way that the reader could feel what the writer had felt.

Leave us your comments and let us know how we did!

Voice Through Punctuation


In our study of mentor texts (most recently, the prologue to Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, the thirty-fourth chapter of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and James Ramsey Ullman’s “A Boy and a Man” from our Prentice-Hall literature textbook), we’ve paid attention to how the authors have used punctuation to bring out the emotion of what is happening on the page.  Hyphenated adjectives can add voice, dashes can add a sense of immediacy and urgency, colons can add dramatic emphasis, and ellipses can show hesitation or doubt.  Of course, these aren’t the only uses for these punctuation marks.  We’ve been playing with them in our writing over the past few weeks to see what more they can do for us.

Here are examples from student work that I collected in my classroom about six or seven years ago. These sentences were all taken from personal narratives written in response to the prompt “write about a moment you’ll always remember.”

Hyphenated Adjective

We weren’t just scared.  We were scared-out-of-our-wits scared. Shelby

We didn’t call our full-court, man-to-man, get-the-ball defense “Duracell” for nothing.  In our last game alone, we had created fifteen turnovers.Ryan


I was having the time of my life.  Something was bound to happen—something bad. –Jesse

Confused, I glanced at the clock.  It was only—wait—that couldn’t be!  Nine o’clock?!! –Annie

There were no birds singing, no plants swaying, no clouds moving—another breathless day. –Carly

Every minute—every second—was precious to me, because every instant we weren’t there was a moment he might die.  I don’t remember whether or not I cried.  It wasn’t important.  What was important was how much I needed him—how much I would miss him—how much I loved him. –Hetty

I was trapped. The towering oak which had once captured my imagination now held me prisoner in my own treehouse.  I yelled for my mom, for my dog—for anyone!  –Jaci


It was World War III:  older brother vs. younger sister.  There were pillows, books, even food being thrown.  Soon we were throwing ourselves at each other!  — Myles

I knew something then:  this dog needed me, and I needed him too. –Emmi

It was only later that I realized what I had accomplished:  not only had I broken my own record, but I had broken the all-time record! — Katy

Victory was mine:  I had decimated his army and captured his king in the most strategic and graceful game of chess I’d ever played.  — Clifton


I felt strange…not good, not bad.  Only one thing was certain:  I had to make the best out of a sad situation—new house, new room, new things. –Mary

“Ummm…sure…I’ll do it,” I finally answered.  Oh my God, I thought…What did I just do?Jessie

“Hi, I…I’m Je…Jessica.”  My lips were paralyzed and my heart was pounding furiously.  Three hundred pairs of eyes were staring up at me, watching my every move. –Jessica

Students, use the comments to post examples of punctuation craft from your recent essays or blog posts.

Author’s Craft



Show, don’t tell.

Use vivid verbs.

Paragraph for effect.

Create images that the reader can see, hear, and feel.

Open your writer’s toolbox: dialog, metaphor, simile, personification, ellipsis, dash, colon, sentence variety, repetition, inner thoughts, leads…

And more.

All good advice, but none of it as effective as it could be without models–mentor texts–to serve as guides for imitation and inspiration.

So in recent weeks, we’ve been reading Michael Crichton, James Herriott, J. K. Rowling, and more published authors to enjoy their work and the way their words made us feel, and to ask how they did it.  What choices did those writers make that were particularly effective, and could we do apply the same “brushstrokes” (thank you, Harry Noden) to our writing to achieve the effect we wanted?  Students were also encouraged to pay attention to the crafting in the books, articles, and posts they read outside of school and to ask the same questions:  What do I like about this?  How did the author do it?

I’m excited to see our attention to author’s craft showing up in student blog posts.   Read the following Flipboard magazines spotlighting our student writers…what craft lessons can you recognize in their work?

Word Play:  Fiction–Setting, Mood, and  Character

Word Play:  Expository and Personal Narrative







Some students have asked about how to add some special text effects to their blogs. Enjoy playing with the possibilities below! You can search the web for more options. If you find more cool bling for blogs, leave your recommendations in the comments!

Glitter Text @


Get this text and many more glowing fonts here .  After you create your message, choose “get web code” and paste it into your post.  Remember to use the “text” option when pasting in codes.


Do you like Minecraft? Check out this site for generating text. When you finish designing your message or header, there is no html code to copy. Just download your text for use in your blog, or use a tool like the snipping tool to cut out and save the image for upload as you would any photo. That’s what I did for “Purple Power.”



We have enjoyed getting to know our iEARN project partners this fall and exchanging our writing with them.  Our poetry and expository compositions have now been published:  we created Weebly websites for our poetry projects, Ms. Gorelova’s class created a blog for their friendship project, and Ms. Mitrofanova’s class created a newspaper for their teen life project.  Click on the links below to read our work!

Friendship by Ms. Gorelova’s Class
The Footprints of a Generation by Ms. Mitrofanova’s Class
Mrs. Kriese’s 4th Period Poetry Project
Mrs. Kriese’s 6th Period Poetry Project
Mrs. Kriese’s 7th Period Poetry Project
Mrs. Schoch’s 5th Period Poetry Project
Mrs. Schoch’s 2nd Period Poetry Project

Reading, Writing, Thinking…


Reading, writing, thinking…and thinking some more after more reading and writing.  What have we been up to?  Here’s a summary of the past few weeks:

  • Reading of The Hunger Games and Beowulf:  A New Telling, discussing not only what happened in the stories, but the “why?”  and the “how?” questions, too.   How did Suzanne Collins and Robert Nye craft their writing to show character  motivation and conflict, to create mood and advance plot, to  develop theme and make meaning?  What connections do we see between those stories and others that we know and love?  Students in periods 2 and 3 applied the connection between imagery, mood, and theme to create poems inspired by The Hunger Games.  You can see some of their work here and here.
  • Exploring our own voices through the varied assignments of our iEARN MindWorks Learning Circle project.  Our project partners from Belarus asked us to write about teen culture, and we sent them a fun collection of narrative and expository pieces sharing our take on young teen life.  Our partner class from Pakistan asked us to write about what students need to be psychologically healthy, and our responses included a poem as well as short essays and opinion pieces (more free time and less homework was a common theme!).  Our Russian friends live in a closed city, and they wanted to know about building and sustaining friendships over time and distance.  We wrote personal anecdotes, advice columns, and summaries of interviews with parents about their own long-term friendships.  When all the iEARN projects are published in January, Mrs. Schoch and I will post the link on our blogs!
  • Writing poetry for our own iEARN project.  Students from Pakistan, Indonesia, Russia, Romania, and Belarus are writing with us about family, home, and heritage.  You can see some of our own work here and here, and we have received the wonderful poems from Ms. Gorelova’s class in Russia and from Ms Mitrofanova’s class in Belarus.  Mrs. Schoch and I will have our students put together a collection of poems from all participating iEARN classes for January publication.  It promises to be a beautiful look at how much we all have in common even as we value our own unique roots and cultures.
  • Understanding phrases, clauses, compound sentences, complex sentences, and comma usage.  We learn the rules, look at models from published writing, and then practice in our own work.  We’re also paying attention to sentence fragments and how effective they can be.  Katniss’s voice would not have been the same without them…and Robert Nye used plenty of  fragments (and very short, simple sentences) in his new telling of Beowulf.
  • Studying Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  We’re learning to use the awesome Subtext tool to facilitate deeper reading and discussion.  Our narrator is the delightful Jim Dale–you can listen to him read a part of Stave One here.

What’s ahead?  More Christmas Carol reading, more Writer’s Notebook explorations, and of course, more blogging  :- )

Student Poetry: Where We’re From


These poems were inspired by a reading of George Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From” and by our own explorations and excavations of childhood, home, and family in our Writer’s Notebooks.

Enjoy these ten. More student poetry will be posted over the next couple of days.

A Favorite Mistake



“Mistakes are painful when they happen, but years later a collection of mistakes is what is called experience.”  — Denis Waitley

Making mistakes can be frustrating, but we can grow from them.

Newsweek magazine has a regular column called “My Favorite Mistake” in which people of note are invited to tell about mistakes they are glad they have made because the mistakes taught them  valuable lessons or gave them insight they wouldn’t otherwise have.  In class, we’ve read about the favorite mistakes of violinist Joshua Bell and Congressman Jason Chaffetz.

Now it’s our turn to write personal narratives about our favorite mistakes and what we learned from the experiences.  Perhaps some of those essays will appear in our blogs. 

Do you have a favorite mistake?  What did it teach you?

Spotlight on Weekly Free Topic Posts



Read Nina’s poem about Daylight Savings Time.

Visit the beach with Madilyn.

Experience a thunderstorm through Anisha’s vivid description.

Savor a just-right cheeseburger with Kelly.

Enjoy Valerie’s post in recognition of our nation’s veterans.

Ava writes about a favorite place in her home.

Have you ever heard of a smartwatch?  Matthew can tell you all about it!

Julius gives us insight into our reading of Robert Nye’s Beowulf:  A New Telling.

Ryan shares a story of a childhood treehouse and has a question for us to answer about our own experiences.

Myles shows us what Science Day is like for the middle school students who present lessons to the elementary school kids.






A Call to Adventure


Today in class, we watched scenes from Star Wars, The Fellowship of the Ring, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. In those clips, Luke, Frodo, and Harry each receives a call to adventure: a summons to leave  the world he has known and to embark on a journey.  We talked about Jonas from The Giver and his call to adventure.

Students watched and then came up with a longer list of people who have received such a call, highlighted here:

  • The Avengers are called to adventure by Nick Fury
  • Ender Wiggin is called to adventure when he is accepted to Battle School
  • Katniss is called to adventure when her sister’s name is drawn in the reaping
  • Amy Pond is called to adventure when she discovers the crack in her bedroom wall
  • One Direction is  called to adventure by Simon Cowell
  • Superman is called to adventure by his father
  • Peter Parker is called to his life as Spider Man when his uncle is killed
  • Eragon is called to adventure when he finds a dragon egg
  • Percy Jackson is called to adventure when he discovers he is a demigod
  • Tris is called to save the factions from the Uprising
  • Tony Stark is called to adventure when his father dies, leaving him a legacy to fulfill
  • Stuart Little is called to adventure when the husband drops the wife’s wedding ring down the drain
  • Brian Robison is called to survive in the forest after the plane crash

Here in Dan Priest’s video are more scenes from more stories that develop around a character called to adventure. Can you think of your own list of examples from fiction? How about from reality? People called to their life’s accomplishment by circumstance or inner voice?  In what way have YOU been called to adventure?

Free Topic Posts


By now people were pouring out of the gates while the rain picked up into a downpour, turning dirt into mud, puddles into ponds and everyone else into an irritated, soggy mob.

                               —Grant A, in his post about having to leave ACL

For the past couple of weeks, students have been writing about topics of their choosing, and the results have been wonderful to read.  Some students incorporate imagery into short pieces of fiction or personal narrative.  Others write expository pieces (though we haven’t introduced that term yet) about topics that interest them. 

One aspect of writing we’ll be focusing on more and more is the importance of paragraphing:  how it helps the reader follow and understand a piece of writing, and how choices in paragraphing can enhance the mood the writer wants to achieve.

Here is a sampling of this week’s student work:

Amulya and her love of a favorite pair of shoes

Hansika and the anxiety of waiting

Rachel and the experience of adopting her puppy (check out the link to the Humane Society)

Dylan and his scary Halloween night

Emma Bernice and the thrill of a rainstorm

Joseph and the challenge of the P. Scary

Shampurna and the nerves before a piano recital

Ariana and the quiet joy of a moonlit walk on the beach

Hannah and her confrontation with a zombie

Neha and her love of jellybeans (don’t miss the hyperlink to a Pinterest page of incredibly designed desserts!)



Howdy from Texas!


Check out the introduction message and slide show that students in Mrs. Schoch’s and Mrs. Kriese’s Pre-AP classes made for their iEARN project partners in Russia, Romania, Belarus, Pakistan, Indonesia, Colorado, and Tennessee. The kids did a fantastic job!

Playing with Imagery


Students in second and third period classes prepared for writing their first drafts of a personal narrative by zooming in on a scene, capturing details for the reader.  Imagery creates the experience through sight, sound, and sensation, evoking a mood so that the reader feels what the writer felt.

Here are some examples of student bloggers playing with language to create powerful images:


Weekly Posts


New posts are up for the week, and I’ve enjoyed reading what students have to say!  A variety of topics are covered in a variety of formats and styles.  Here are just some of the highlights:

  • Grayson expresses the best part of fall season.
  • Human rights is the topic of Sofi’s most recent post.
  • Have an opinion about gaming platforms?  Advice to share about computers?  Brian’s blog is the blog for you!  There’s also a great ongoing fiction story for your reading pleasure.
  • Francesca writes about an interesting incident in Europe.
  • What are you afraid of?  Olympia shares her fear and asks us about ours.
  • Soham has turned a Writer’s Notebook entry into a poem.
  • A swim meet is described by Jane.
  • Ethan, Izadora, and Andrea all shared their thoughts about The Giver.

Great job, bloggers. Visitors, we all welcome your comments!  Student blogs are listed in the blogroll in the sidebar on the right.

Introducing a New Class Project


We are excited to welcome our Pre-AP students to iEarn (the International Education and Resource Network ) in a collaborative writing project with eight other teachers and their students from around the country and the world!

Over the next fifteen weeks, we will be learning more about each other and ourselves as we plan a writing project together and exchange our composition work with each other. Eventually, all ten of our classes will produce a literary magazine highlighting the best of our writing. The theme and format of that final product has yet to be determined by the students, but that’s part of the fun: deciding together what it is that we will accomplish.

First things first, though. We’ve got to open the lines of communication and get to know more about each other. We teachers have made our first posts to the teachers’ forum, and over the next couple of weeks, students will be creating, taking, and then sharing a survey of who they are as a group of young WRMS Wildcats, Austinites, and Texans. We’ll gather items for “welcome packets” (eight of them!) that we can send to our fellow iEarn classes. As we await welcome packets in exchange, we’ll be proactive in learning more about the home states and countries of the schools we are collaborating with.

We’ll officially get started on the project next week, but in the meantime, meet our iEarn partners:

Ms. Hockert from Hixson, Tennessee, United States
Ms. Gorelova from Sarov, Nizhny, Russia
Ms. Graham from Dolores, Colorado, United States
Ms. Popa from Botosani, Romania
Ms. Shabbir from Karachi, Pakistan
Ms. Suaib from Bekasi, West Java, Indonesia
Ms. Zubair from Rawalpindi, Punjab, Pakistan
Ms. Mitrofanova from Belarus

Students, do some exploring of these places on your own between now and Monday. Perhaps you can use Google Earth to take a quick journey across the country or across the oceans to see where our soon-to-be new friends live!

~Mrs. Kriese
~Mrs. Schoch

Student Preposition Poems


After a lesson on prepositional phrases, students used their lists of prepositions to write poems with the words.  It was a fun activity to help learn prepositions and to practice crafting with prepositional phrases, adding details of when, where, how, what kind, and which one to their writing!

Ryan writes about the excitement of a football game.  Bryce captures the rivalry between Hill Country and West Ridge.  The thrill of scoring a touchdown is described by Andrew,  Ryan and John.

Lucca and Matthew each tell about the beauty of music.  Christina and Grace enjoy the wonders of a carnival.

George transports us into a basketball arena, Kevin takes us camping beside a still lake underneath a starry sky, and Ethan has us see the world from the viewpoint of his kitten as it’s confined in its carrier.

Beware the haunted houses described by ClaraJenny and Emma!  Enjoy the cake baked by Izadora and Carmen.  Experience a delightful holiday scene with Alanna.

Smile with Irma for picture day!  Go fishing with Malone, work out with Kelly, dream with Saira and Shampurna.

Can you name all six of the games that Isaac takes you through?


Poems with Prepositional Phrases


Inspired by this lesson from Read, Write, Think, we are writing poems to help us learn prepositional phrases. Here are two that my daughter Karen and I wrote together last night:

Between the lines of a diary’s pages,
Within the ring on a blackened hand,
From the locket beyond a lake of monsters,
  In a cup among glittering jewels,
In a diadem among abandoned treasures,
Inside a snake under a cloak of scales,
Behind the lightning scar of the boy who lived,
The Dark Lord survives


Harry Potter
Out of the cupboard
On to Hogwarts
At age eleven
Beside loyal friends

Across the years
After so much pain

Into the forest
Among those he loved
With new understanding
Beyond fear of death
Toward Voldemort

Write a poem of your own using prepositional phrases.  Students, perhaps you could revisit your Writer’s Notebook entry about your favorite shoes and where they have taken you and turn it into a poem.  Other ideas include writing a poem about a favorite hobby, sport, book, movie, vacation, game–anything goes!




Students, I’ve been so pleased to see the enthusiasm for reading that you have shown in these first weeks of school!  Already you are bringing your public library books, paperbacks, Kindles,  and Nooks to class.  You’re browsing the classroom library and checking out titles from best-selling young adult authors. Extra minutes in class have been spent productively, with you choosing to read once your binders are organized and your letters are written.  This is exciting!  We are building a community of writers and readers in our seventh grade classroom.

We can all foster this enthusiasm for reading and support the growth of our class library by ordering books from Scholastic.  You can browse each month’s book flyer and order online here or from the link on my website (it’s under the “resources” tab).  Our class ordering code is GNM2B.  

I’ve been thinking about what I want to read for my reading log this nine weeks. I’ve almost finished my audiobook How the Light Gets In, the recent Louise Penny mystery I mentioned in my letter to you, so I think I’ll get started on my required biography/autobiography.  I’ve checked out a book about the Bronte children:  Charlotte, Emily, Anne.  I know a few of you are familiar with Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, and both are on my list of favorite books.  I’ve listened to my Jane Eyre audiobook three or four times over the years, and I know I will listen to it again.  I am really looking forward to learning more about the lives of Charlotte, Emily, and their lesser-known sister.  All were writers, and all are interesting to me.

What person have you chosen to learn more about in your reading this nine weeks?  What makes you interested in the life of that person?

Visitors, have you read an interesting biography or autobiography recently?  Leave us a comment here.



To Group or Not to Group?


Now that we are done with our five days in the computer lab, it’s back to the classroom.  Some students noticed that the desks, which had been arranged in groups the first week of school, had been placed in rows for Back-to-School Night to accommodate all the parents who rotating in and out of the small space for their eight-minute class periods. 

We quickly moved the desks back into groups for our purposes, but I have to say, there’s a real place in my heart for rows.  I wrote a poem about school seating when I was monitoring Saturday School a few years ago.  You can read it here, and then I’d love to hear what you have to say about the subject of desks and seating charts at school.  What works for you, students?  Adult visitors, what are your memories of your preferred seating options at school?  Any particularly good or bad experiences associated with where you had to sit in a class?  Comments welcome!

Poem for My Eighth Grade Self

I like a sturdy desk,
One that doesn’t rock.
I want to be able to move in it, use it, solid and sure.

And I want it to be in a row.

Not at the front, where I might be seen.
Not at the back, where I might also be seen.

Put me in the middle, just left or right of center,


Desks in rows anchor me–
Keep me in a defined place–
Approachable, yet not.

My desk is my space,
Perfect for doing my perfect schoolwork,
Then perfect for reading after my
Perfect math quiz or my perfect history test,

An island for my personal thoughts and daydreams.

Is that why I hated science?

Maybe it wasn’t the safety goggles and the frog guts–
Maybe it was the tables,
The sharing of space with other kids.

Yes, science had tables that facilitated

All things I did not want.

Spanish had desks in rows, but it also had
role plays and fake names…


Give me my math desk instead,
With two pages of silent, independent work–

A math desk to offer

A math desk where I could sit
With homework complete, ten minutes left til the bell, and then

a leaning back
a slouching down
a private escape
into Anne of Green Gables

A Busy Week


What a difference a week in the computer lab makes.

All two hundred and fifty WRMS seventh graders now have blogs, and wow, are they looking good!  We borrowed inspiration from Mr. Miller’s Blogging Boot Camp (thank you for posting this, Mr. Miller) and brought everyone into the computer lab for five consecutive days to get our blogs up and ready here at the start of the school year.  Lessons on proper use of images and video will come later; for now, we’re ready to write!

The timing of our abbreviated boot camp was just right to coincide with iPad roll out and this week’s library/lab orientation.  Soon students will download the Edublogs app and connect their new blogs to their tablets (and to their smartphones if they have them).  We are grateful to be a 1:1 iPad campus and plan to make good use of our technology in English class this year.

Eventually, students in my class will be authorized to post here to the class blog, using it as a sort of literary magazine.  In the meantime, check out some first posts on the individual blogs of period 4 and 2 students:  Dillon discusses character arcs in a post about book endings, Ellie extols the deliciousness of cheesecake,  James describes the fun of fishing, Olivia explores the “Writer’s I”  and the joys of PB&J, and Steven writes about a mysterious adventure in his neighborhood.  Keegan has a love for animals, Nick loves to read, Nina enjoys Friday night football games, Ryan is excited about his second year playing French horn in the band, and Sam compares and contrasts soccer with other sports.

Do you like our avatars?  Students found that their favorite avatar-building sites were Face Your Manga, Build Your Wild Self, and The Hero Factory.

Tomorrow is our last day in the lab.  Students who still have their first posts in draft status will publish, and everyone will create an “About Me” page by the mid-week.  Our class is participating in the Edublogs Class Blog Challenge, so we’ll come up with a class “About Me” page for this year, too!

“Favorite” Is a Verb? Ask Anyone Who Tweets!




verb:  1.  The act of placing something onto a list of favorite items.
2.  The act of placing a website onto the “favorites” list on a computer.

I love the website so much that I am going to favorite it.

Today we were talking about vivid verbs, and one group of students brainstormed a list of verbs that are relevant to the Facebook/Instagram/YouTube lives of today’s kids. Here they are in an Image Chef word mosaic:

What verbs did we miss?

First Day


And we’re off!

My students and I began a wonderful new year of learning together with a discussion of a few welcome-to-school letters, including this one sent to us by John Green:

John makes some interesting points about the importance of public education, a topic that’s been in the news quite a bit lately. We’re fortunate to have a great school here at West Ridge, and I’m excited about the year ahead as we begin this seventh grade journey together.

What are your thoughts about John Green’s message? Does he say something in particular that resonates with you?