Thursday, 30 October 2014

Book Talk Thursday: The City Of Ember

The book I'm featuring this Book Talk Thursday is The City Of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. I hope you will link up with me at the end of this post to share one of your favourite books. 

Summary: The City Of Ember tells the story of a city in darkness. The power is failing more regularly and Lina and Don are determined to find a way to save the people of Ember, even if it means venturing into the Pipeworks…

Themes: fear, determination, hope, light/dark, dystopia/utopia. 

Ages: 9+ 

Quote: "There is so much darkness in Ember, Lina. It's not just outside, it's inside us, too. Everyone has some darkness inside. It's like a hungry creature. It wants and wants and wants with a terrible power. And the more you give it, the bigger and hungrier it gets."

This is one of my favourite books, and it has so many uses in the classroom. Written in vivid detail the adventure will pull in even reluctant readers. This is a great book to look at themes such as lightness and darkness and how they are represented through symbolism in the text. Its richly textured description and dialogue paints a picture of a fanciful yet sinister town cast in darkness, yet the adventure moves at a fast enough rate that the description does not weigh the reader down. Lina and Doon's friendship is one that students can relate to as they use teamwork and rely on one another to solve the mysteries of Ember. 

The descriptive writing in The City Of Ember is also perfect to look at similes and metaphors. I have a hanging graphic organizer that you might like to use if you do a book study of The City Of Ember with your students. It has a light bulb theme that ties in to the book perfectly, though it can also be used for other studies. You can get it here. 


What are your favourite books to use in the classroom? That's the question Book Talk Thursday is all about. I'd love for you to link up and share one of your favourite books.

How To Link Up
1. Add a link to your blog post in the Inlinkz at the bottom of this post. 
2. Place the Book Talk Thursday button (below) somewhere in your post linking back to this one. 
3. You can grab the link up code from the Inlinkz tool at the bottom and share on your blog if you wish. 
4. Explore! Come back to this post to see what other bloggers have shared. 

get the InLinkz code

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

tsū who?

You might have recently heard about the new social media platform tsū (pronounced sue) gaining momentum across the web. But what is it? Should you join? And what makes it different than any other social media site? These are all questions I asked myself before signing up. Here are a few of my main takeaways now that I've had a chance to explore the platform.

1. Users Are Valued

On other platforms the company makes money from advertisers as users share content. With tsū 90% of these profits are distributed to the users that are networking and generating and sharing the content. Regardless of the monetary model this demonstrates a company that cares about its users and values their time and work put into creating content.

2. Easy Peasy

When I started using Pinterest I felt that I was over my head as I tried to learn about pins, boards, and the etiquette of sharing. With tsū I feel none of this learning curve. It looks very similar to Facebook, with all the post, like and share options. I had my account up and running in under 3 minutes. Users sign up using the link of a current user, (if you are interested you can use mine This creates a 'family tree' as networks are grown, and it is along these connections that the site is monetized in a pay-it-forward process of proceeds that get divided the further you go in the network.

3. Friend vs. Follow

No more dealing with tricky privacy settings. On tsū you decide wether you want a post to be 'public' (so that both followers and friends can see it), or 'friends only' so that only people you are friends with see your post.

4. See Everything

On tsū your followers will see all of your posts. Yes, let me repeat that, all your followers see all your posts. Wow. With Facebook changes within the last year it was easy to get disillusioned by the fact that out of 110 followers only 6 people would see my posts because of Facebook's algorithm. I like to share content. And I like to share content that I think my followers will find valuable. So I would like them to see it! With tsū your posts will show up in all of your followers news feeds. This is the #1 reason I decided to sign up.

5. #Hashtags

I love that Google+ and Twitter have hashtags that can help you network and find others talking about the same subjects you are. Social networking is designed for just that- networking, and I find that hashtags make it easy to find like-minded individuals.

Though I will still post on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ I'd love for you to become part of my tsū network by signing up with the link below, or following me if you already have an account.

Do you use tsū? What are your thoughts on the social network? I'd love to hear in the comments below or at 

Friday, 24 October 2014

5 Tips To Implement Free Exploration & Promote Critical Thinking In The Classroom

In my time as a student the moments that made the greatest impact to my learning and the development of my love of learning was when I was set free to explore a topic of my choice. I was lucky enough to experience a learning environment in which the the question of "why did they build the pyramids?" was responded to with "I don't know, you should look it up". Off I would go to the library to pull out every book on the pyramids. This of course would lead to a multitude of additional questions, and before I knew it I was undertaking a giant self guided study of Ancient Egypt. Then I wanted to share my newfound knowledge with my fellow students, who challenged my information with new questions, "do you think the workers wanted to build the pyramids?" "maybe they were forced to because they didn't have any power?". Though oftentimes there were more questions than conclusions I was learning while engaged in respectful debate, discussion, and student-lead learning steaming from the natural curiosity and need to explore. Rather than looking to the authority of my teacher for definitive answers I learned to rely on myself to produce answers and ask questions. This is the type of free exploration that is unfortunately difficult to facilitate in an overcrowded traditional classroom setting, however it is not impossible. 

Here are a few ideas you can use to incorporate free exploration and self guided learning in your classroom:

1. Library Time

There is nothing better than giving students free time to explore the library. Before going you might want to have students make a list of three topics they are interested in, or a section they would like to explore (ie. trains, Canadian geography, or ancient China) so that they do not get overwhelmed by the variety of choice.

2. Pick A Topic, Any Topic

Where possible, try to have students do research projects or writing on a topic of their selection. If they are interested in a subject because they chose it the quality of their work and the effort they will put into it will be greater. 

3. Free Exploration Friday

Try to find at least 45 min in your schedule one day a week. At the beginning of the month have students select any topic of their choosing that they would like to research. They must research the topic and create a poster, model, video, dramatic scene, story, or report about that subject to share with their classmates at the end of the month.

Week #1: students select a topic and begin researching it (if possible during a computer lab or library time).

Week #2: students finish their research and decide which format they would like to present it in.

Week #3: students bring any necessary materials and create their presentation (ie. they make their poster, or write the script for a dramatic scene).

Week #4: students present their creation to their classmates (give each student about 3 min to share their work). 

Why is it great?
  • students gain valuable research skills
  • students are passionate about the topic they research
  • peer-to-peer learning
  • creation of a positive learning environment where everyone's work and opinions are valued
  • students can pick the presentation style that best fits the way they learn (ie. visual learners can create a poster about horses while active learners can write and perform a dramatic scene about the invention of the telephone).  
4. Say "I don't know"

If a student comes to you with a question, and time permits their exploration, respond with "I don't know". The first few times you do this you might get blank stares or shocked looks from students. Prompt them into self guided learning by suggesting that they ask the class to see if they know, or that they should look it up. This provides students with the valuable opportunity to see their learning as something they have control over and can self-source.

5. Collaborative Lessons

Don't underestimate the contributions of students. Instead of launching straight into a traditional lesson begin with a question, or a 'what I know vs. what I don't know' schema about a topic. As students contribute their information write it on the board in a giant 'brainstorming' format. When a student asks a question, first ask the rest of the class before contributing the knowledge you are working to present in the lesson. Have them throw out hypothesis, questions, and debate with one another, look up information online, in the textbook, or using reference books. Guide the conversation but take the backseat while writing down what students say. Near the end of the lesson as questions wane and the information you sought to cover is presented, make a summary of the schema you created with students. Highlight the main points, and have them reflect on the process. This is a great way to introduce a unit or a particular subject. 

Some great posts on similar topics from around the web: 

How Collaborative Learning Leads To Student Success 

Student-led, Flipped, Inquiry Based Learning Classroom Doing Authentic Work 

How A Radical New Teaching Method Could Unleash A Generation Of Geniuses 

The Power Of I Don't Know

How do you promote free exploration and critical thinking in your classroom? I'd love to hear in the comments below, or a 

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Book Talk Thursday:

Welcome to another Book Talk Thursday! I hope you'll link up with me at the end of this post.

Book: The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Ages: 13-16
Quote: "Do you understand how amazing it is to hear that from an adult? Do you know how amazing it is to hear that from anybody? It's one of the simplest sentences in the world, just four words, but they're the four hugest words in the world when they're put together. -You can do it."

This book is ideal for a grade 8 book study. It deals with some difficult and emotional subject matter, and there is some swearing. For those who have read the 'Outsiders' I find the maturity levels are comparable. Issues discussed: alcohol, family troubles, abuse, loss.

The images used in this book work to illustrate the emotion of the main character and engage students with the text. Written in the voice of a boy named Junior, as he makes the controversial decision to attend a high school off reservation. As issues of alcohol abuse, family troubles, abuse, and loss are presented Junior maintains a positive outlook as he overcomes these challenges and reflects on what they mean for his community, his family, and himself. It presents the struggle of balancing one's identity when it seems they are being pulled in opposite directions. There is also an overarching discussion of friendship, and belonging. It looks at the need for cultural understanding, and the idea that people should not be defined by their ethnicity, beliefs, or socioeconomic status.

Despite the heavy subject matter this book deals with it sill has a place in the classroom. With the proper supervision to facilitate critical discussion about this book, students benefit from a character who shows that the family, community, or economic status you were born into does not have to define your life.


What are your favourite books to use in the classroom? That's the question Book Talk Thursday is all about. I'd love for you to link up and share one of your favourite books.

How To Link Up
1. Add a link to your blog post in the Inlinkz at the bottom of this post. 
2. Place the Book Talk Thursday button (below) somewhere in your post linking back to this one. 
3. You can grab the link up code from the Inlinkz tool at the bottom and share on your blog if you wish. 
3. Explore! Come back to this post to see what other bloggers have shared. 

get the InLinkz code

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Top 10 Books For Boys: Ages 9-12

Though I'm a believer in the fact that there's no such thing as books for boys vs. girls, many parents and teachers report that they have an especially difficult time getting boys interested in reading. I think the right story can draw in even the most reluctant reader, so here are my top 10 picks for books that boys ages 9-12 are sure to enjoy.

1. Gordon Korman Adventure Books: Dive, Everest, Island

In the Dive trilogy students on a marine expedition fight over sunken treasure, add sharks to the mix and you get a riveting adventure. In the Everest trilogy youth from across the country compete to reach the top of Mt. Everest, facing all the danger along the way. The Island Trilogy: shipwreck, a storm, and survival.


2. The Edge Chronicles

A vividly written fantasy world of adventure and monsters. Charming and funny illustrations help the reader imagine the world of the main character, Twig, as he ventures into the Deepwoods. Beware the Gloamglozer.


3. The Alex Rider Series

Normal teenager Alex Rider becomes pulled into the world of spies and nefarious plots after he unravels the mystery of who his uncle really was. This series is action packed, filled with gadgets, villains, and quick getaways.

4. The Hardy Boys Series

With an extensive selection of books to choose from there is a mystery adventure for everyone with the Hardy Boys. A classic series with fast-moving plots so that readers get quickly pulled into the story.


5. Hatchet

Brian is stranded in the Canadian wilderness with nothing but a hatchet. Self discovery and self confidence ensue as he struggles to survive. Readers will stay enthralled as they follow Brian's journey through different survival methods. There are five books in this series in total, though it can also be read as a stand-alone book.


6. Books Of Ember

The City Of Ember tells the story of a city in darkness, the power is failing more regularly and Lina and Doon are determined to find a way to save the people of Ember, even if it means venturing into the Pipeworks.

In The People Of Sparks, the people of Ember have come to the surface, into a new world. At first they are taken in by the people of Sparks- but there are so many unanswered questions and curious differences, will they be able to live alongside these people?

The Prophet Of Yonwood is a prequel to The City Of Ember. Its 50 years before the City Of Ember is settled, with war looming on the horizon and a woman with a vision, this is a story of hope in a world that is out of control.

In the Diamond Of Darkness, after coming to the surface Lina and Doon are living with the people of Sparks, and the village is struggling through the winter. Doon has found a mysterious book, it tells a tale of something lost, and he and Lina go back into the dark city to find it.

These books are amazingly written, with vivid detail and adventure that pulls the reader in.

7. The Roman Mysteries

Telling the story of youth in ancient Rome, this vast series (17 books) is an amazing work to bring history to life. Through its stories the ancient world is painted in vivid detail, as it touches on subjects of power, social hierarchy, democracy and more, through well-worked narratives and endearing characters.

8. Percy Jackson And The Olympians (5 book series)

Sea monsters, titans, and other mythological monsters fill these books as Percy Jackson and his demigod friends embark on their adventures.


9. Holes

Accused of theft and sent to Camp Green Lake, this book tells the story of friendship, an outlaw, and a *hole* lot of digging.

10. Harry Potter

Though I consider this series mandatory reading for any age, the story of The Boy Who Lived is sure to entice even the most reluctant of readers. Enter a world of magic, friendship, good/evil, and adventure. The teaching potential of these books is endless.

If you'd like this list in an easy-to-read format you can save or pin this image below.

Many of the books listed here are adventures or mysteries, where the reader is always guessing what is going to happen next. These types of stories are great for making predictions as a reading strategy. I have a fun product here that you might enjoy using with your students as you make predictions before, during, and after reading a story

What are your favourite books that boys ages 9-12 love? I'd love to hear in the comments below, or at