Posted by: Debby | August 25, 2016

National Secondhand Wardrobe Day–Imagine a Life

Imagine a LifeHere is how the National Calendar Day website describes National Secondhand Wardrobe Day:

There is nobody who does not like to save money and today is a good day to do just that.  National Secondhand Wardrobe Day is observed each year across the United States on August 25.

The practicality and thriftiness of second-hand shopping in today’s economy, its earth-saving benefits as well as donating some of your own slightly worn clothing is what National Secondhand Wardrobe Day is all about.

And it’s true. Shopping second-hand stores is one of my and my hubby’s favorite recreational activities. We’ve saved a lot of money (and I have purchased some of my most complimented wardrobe items) just this way. In addition to saving money on things you need, however, second-hand stores, both those featuring just clothing and those of a more general nature, can provide great fodder for pursuing your goals, creating characters and worlds, and exercising your imaginative skills.

Imagine a Life

Think beyond the question of who am I? In “The Career Mindset Comes Before the Writing Career”, author Jamie Raintree discusses how acting “as if” can help you reach your goals. Who do you want to be? What do you want to be? Browsing through the racks of a secondhand store can help make your vision for your life more concrete and the outfit that matches your goals more affordable.

Imagine a WorldImagine a Character

Are you working on a novel or a story? Who is your main character? How does he or she dress? What colors does they character like? What might he or she have sitting around their homes? What one object does your character treasure? What one object is symbolic of your character? Of his or her goal?

Browsing a thrift store (and maybe making a purchase or two) exposes you to a wider range of fashions and accessories than any retail store ever will. (And if you are looking for even more out of this world ideas–October secondhand stores are awesome!)

If you don’t want to buy it, jot down a description in a notepad or text it to yourself. Snap some pictures with your phone. Add these to your character file.

Family Field Trip

Second-hand stores are great places for a fun outing. Give each of your children a few dollars and head out second-hand shopping. Tell them there is just one rule for how they can spend their money–they must be able to make up a story to share with the family in which their purchase plays a major role.

After the outing, sit down together–maybe over lunch or a snack–and each of you share what you bought and tell it’s “story”.

Literacy Field Trip

Follow the same procedure as the Family Field Trip, but when you get home, ask you children to write the story of their purchase (and you do the same–modeling is very important in teaching and learning). Encourage your family to illustrate their stories if you wish.

If you and your family have been engaging in literacy activities or will continue to do so in the future, start a “book” of family stories. A three-ring binder works great. Date the stories and put them in the binder. Encourage your children to add stories whenever they want.

Now, Go Boldly Forth & Shop!

Have fun, enjoy National Secondhand Wardrobe Day, but don’t limit yourselves, and when you come home, use the response section below to tell about your purchase or record your story!

Pug w SunglassesMy favorite unit I ever did with my students was a Summer Vacation Poetry unit. I liked that it was different from the usual “write an essay about your summer vacation,” that it allowed us to play around with poetry, and that working with poetry is a great way to build word choice.

The length of time it ran varied from year to year, depending on how many types of poetry I want the students to try, and the final product was a hand-crafted book of poems.


To begin the unit, I had kids get out pen and paper and brainstorm the things they enjoyed doing during their summer. (I usually timed this: 1-3 minutes depending on the needs of the class.)

Next, I had them circle three that they are most interested in writing about.


The next time we worked, I asked the students to choose one item from the three circled on their list around which to focus their poetry.

I also introduce the various techniques of poetry. I used this handout for the lesson.

Summer Techniques of Poetry Notetaking Guide

At the end of the lesson, I discuss how these can also be used for mood and emphasis in prose writing.


At a rate of two forms a day, I introduced different forms for poetry and require the students to write a poem using at least one of them relating to their chosen summer activity.

Some of the forms I’ve used over the years are:

  • Haiku
  • Tanka
  • Acrostic (using the name of the destination or activity)
  • Diamante
  • Couplets
  • Quatrains
  • Free Verse
  • Concrete
  • Farewell Poem
  • List Poem
  • Letter/Post Card/Wish You Were Here Poem
  • A Sensory Poem (using at least 4 of the 5 senses to describe a particular object or moment

The number of options is tremendous!

For each form, I modeled a poem of my own from my summer vacation experience.

I did this as a writers workshop, and so during our writing time, while students are required to try one of the new forms, they were also welcome to try the other new one, one from a previous day, or revise their poems working in some of the techniques of poetry.


Finally, I asked the students to select 8 poems they wish to incorporate in their books. (Of course, they were always welcome to select more if they want to. This day is then spent selecting and revising each poem, focusing especially on word choice and the techniques of poetry.


On this day, I had students pair up to peer edit their selected poems.


With plenty of art materials on hand, I shared a book with the class, Making Books That Fly, fold, Wrap, Hide, Pop Up, Twist, and Turn by Gwen Kiehn, which has examples of a variety of ways to make their books. (You can likely find books like this in your school library and most assuredly online.)I encouraged them to consider a way that most interests them and welcome to use their own ideas as well.

I allowed a couple of class sessions for the students to make their poetry books


I instruct the students to write me a letting including the following criteria:

Paragraph 1

  • The strengths and weakness you see in your poetry
  • The title of your favorite poem and the reason it is your favorite

Paragraph 2

  • Explain your understanding of:
  • Types of poetry
  • Techniques of poetry
  • Cite examples from your own book.

Paragraph 3

  • An explanation of what was the easiest and the hardest part of writing your poetry
  • An explanation of how you helped yourself to overcome your challenges

In addition to the letter, I also ask them to staple together (and label) a copy of their pre-writes, drafts, and evidence of revision and editing.


In addition to scoring using the school’s standards for scoring writing (which count for 40% of the score.)

I also scored for:


  • Pre-writes (5)
  • Rough Drafts (5)
  • Evidence/Revisioning and editing (5)

The Book

  • Title (2)
  • Table of Contents (2)
  • Creativity (2)
  • Color (2)
  • Illustrations/Graphic Elements(2)


Your school or districts writing rubric = 40% final score

The Letter

  • Discussion of Strengths (4)
  • Discussion of Weaknesses (4)
  • Most Proud/Why (4)
  • Mastery of Types (3)
  • Mastery of Techniques (3)
  • Conventions (2)
  • Examples Cited (3)
  • Discussion of what was Easiest (4)
  • Discussion of what was Hardest (4)
  • How you handled the challenges

The total of points will come out to x/100. You can then apply the percentage to whatever you want this unit to be worth.


First of all this unit was fun. (A great way to start the year.)

Second, each poetry book was totally unique to each student. (A great way to begin to get to know your class.)

Third, word choice skills are highlighted as well as the rhetorical skills in the techniques of poetry that students can draw on in their writing throughout the year.

Fourth,the  writing process has been established and practiced.

Fifth, the results were a delight to read.

Litlives Purpose

Last spring, a dear friend and I talked about Literate Lives and just what I was trying to do with this blog. She helped me come up with a list of improvements and clarifications then asthma and allergies knocked me flat before I could implement them.

This summer, as in previous years, I have been working to rejuvenate Literate Lives, and I hope and pray I have come up with reasonable goals and a doable schedule for the blog that I can sustain for you, my readers, during the coming school year.

But back to the title question: What is my purpose here? Why am I investing time and energy in Literate Lives at all? Why do I feel compelled after each of my “fails” at consistent blogging to try to get Literate Lives up and running once more?

The Purpose of Literate Lives

The purpose of this blog is four-fold. It is about friendship, encouragement, celebration and giving.

Friendship First

I want Literate Lives to be the friend you find in your inbox, the “new post” alert that makes you smile. One of my main purposes in creating Literate Lives is to connect with others, but not just anyone! I love to read and write, and I want to connect with others who likewise value these practicesl and care about the development of these practices in the lives of young people.


One of my favorite things to do, despite my introvert tendencies, is to encourage others. As a wife and mother I love encouraging my spouse, children, extended family, and friends. As a teacher, I love helping students discover that they know more than they think they know and can do more than they think they can do. And as a fiction writing critique partner, I love directing my colleagues attention to what is going well in their work.

Here at Literate Lives, I want to encourage you, my readers, to read and write, to experiment and play with words, and help others expand their reading and writing skills. I want to give you the permission you may find hard to give yourself to invest time and attention in these pursuits and bring you information that supports the value of these practices.


Here at Literate Lives, I want to celebrate the joys and benefits of a reading/writing lifestyle. I want to celebrate authors whose books have enriched my life. I want to celebrate the actions you take to build your own Literate Life, and that of your students or family, and share with you my delights.

Last, I want to Give

So many people have given so graciously to me in my personal, teaching, and writing life, that I burn with a desire to give also.

What do I want to provide for readers of Literate Lives?

  • book recommendations
  • fun and interesting writing exercises
  • home literacy practices
  • ideas for expanding and developing not just the practices of reading and writing, but the roles of thinking and creativity in our lives and those of young people.
  • language arts lessons and tips
  • my experiences pursuing a reading writing lifestyle
  • ways to make reading and writing fun for you and your family
  • writing craft tips

I love reading, writing, and teaching, and I want this to be a place to celebrate these practices and to give something of value back to the reading, writing, teaching world.

What About You?

What do you hope to find here at Literate Lives? How can I be your friend?

*background for image courtesy of Depositphotos_91248272_original_vect

Posted by: Debby | August 4, 2016

July 2016: My Reading List

This month, I read three, almost four books (but I didn’t finish the fourth until August 3rd, so, much as I loved it, it will have to wait until next month.)

My Reading List

13144870Eva of the Farm by Dia Calhoun: This book was loaned me by a friend because it is written in verse and I am working on a novel in verse. This is a sweet book about a girl, her family, and their struggling farm, and how poetry enriches their lives.

572584Stealing Fire From the Gods by James Bonnet: This is an interesting book that takes a look at story structure, archetypes, and the heroes journey and proposes a new story model based on some of the great stories of all time.

4537The Second Mrs. Giaconda by E.L. Konisburg: I love Konisburg’s historical novels. (A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver is my all time favorite.) This novel focuses on Leonardo DaVinci’s years in Milan and his relationship with his young apprentice Salai and the  Duke of Milan’s externally plain, but internally beautiful young wife. My only complaint about the book is that it ended too abruptly.

Your Reading List

What books did you or your family enjoy this month? And did you find some delightful locations in which to enjoy them?

Please, comment below. I’d love to see your suggestions.

Tool Time Family Field TripI have been putting some time into brainstorming and planning for the future content of Literate Lives, and one of the ideas that I thought would be fun is doing a little writing prompt “blast from the past.” Today, to kick off this feature, I thought I’d revisit my first summer writing prompt:

A Tool Time Family Field Trip

So, with a little editing, here goes!

Last weekend I found myself in a hardware store with my husband, and not just any hardware store but one that focuses on tools for customers who know what they were looking for (few items have instructions on their packaging).

We spent some time on the welding aisle. It was amazing! There were so many objects whose purposes were a mystery to me. 

 I saw something called a “Chipping Hammer” that had a spiral metal wire handle with a rod and a hunk of wood located at its end. Pointing upward from the wood were bristles like on a hairbrush, only they were made of metal. Protruding from the end of the “hairbrush” base was what looked like a hatchet blade. It got me thinking. What is this used for? What can I imagine it to be used for? What would some space alien, coming upon it, think it was used for?

There was a welding helmet shaped and painted like a skull with silver teeth and a rectangle where its eyes should be and a cool 24 inch magnetic claw that I know a bunch of third graders could have a lot of fun with. It had a spring powered handle at the top and a bright orange casing that held two little magnets at the bottom and from which emerged a little metal spider-hand when the handle was activated.

The Field Trip         

Suddenly it ocured me. What a great family field trip this would make. You could go to a store that sells things you know nothing about (a farm machinery or a tractor parts warehouse, an auto shop, craft or hobby store). Each person should take a tablet or paper and clipboard and a pen or pencil for taking notes (or use your cell phone to snap a picture). You might even want color pencils or pens for drawing your finds.

 After a reasonable time browsing, each person should select one object. (You might want to choose an aisle to focus on so you won’t have to split up if you have small children.) Each family member should take notes describing their object or make a picture of it, and speculate on its potential uses. If there are instructions, DO NOT READ THEM.

Next, go somewhere you can sit down and write. (Mmm. An ice cream parlor sounds pretty amazing right now, but a picnic table in a park would serve just as well.) Each person must write a catalog description of their object, including a physical description of the item and instructions for how they have determined it is to be used. (Other options might include a short story, script, or comic strip showing their object in use.)

Then, of course, it is time to share your masterpieces. Read aloud and praise one another. Specifically highlight where each person’s writing really shines.

Remember, have fun! And if you want to, share the results of your field trip in the comments  below.

*image: Radekkulupa, Pixabay



Posted by: Debby | July 21, 2016

Summer Reading: Let’s Make a List!

A Gazillion Places to Read

An Alarming Statistic

Did you know kids can lose up to two months of reading skill if they do not read during the summer? And take it from me, a GED Writing and Language Arts coach, those losses add up by the time a student is trying to complete high school, let alone excel in college.

Summer is half over (more than half in some communities), and so I thought it might be time to support each other in supporting young people reading. Therefore, let’s make a list.

What are some of your favorite places for summer reading? I’ll start out with a few, then it’s your job to help us reach the “Gazillion” mark. (And it’s okay if you want to list some of you recent favorites. No need to limit the list to places you liked to read as a kid.)

Awesome Places for Summer Reading

  1. During the lifeguard breaks at the pool or beach
  2. While you wait for a sibling (or child) at his or her sport’s practice/gym/art/_____ class
  3. In a treehouse (I know a writer who writes in a treehouse!)
  4. In a cool, air-conditioned library on a sweltering day
  5. In the backseat while running errands or on a trip (Oh, you lucky kids who don’t have to drive!)
  6. On a picnic (What if the whole family goes on a reading picnic–bring a blanket, yummy snacks, comfy chairs, and–of course–lots of books? Mmm, fun!)
  7. At the bus stop, bus/rapid transit/train station, airport or wherever waiting for a ride
  8. Under a shady tree beside a river or stream (My personal favorite)
  9. In at tent–at a campground or in your own back yard
  10. Before going to sleep (Want to know the true sign of an awesome parent? His or her children do not need flashlights to read in bed. However, if you want to read under the covers with a flashlight–enjoy the fun.)

Okay your turn. I’ve listed my first 10. Now, please, help me bring the list closer to a gazillion!

Where are some of your favorite places to read in the summer?

Photo: Depositphotos_6644031_original

Posted by: Debby | July 13, 2016

My June 2016 Reading List

June marked the end of the school year and so I had to really push to finish two books I was reading from our school library. The rest of the month’s reading was guided by fascination and fun.

23383399The Eternal City by Paula Morris: This book was a great launch into summer. It takes an intriguing look at a high school classics student’s visit to Rome with her class and the strange events that occur starting the day of their very first day in the city. Watch out for the birds!

47304The Freedom Writer’s Diary by The Freedom Writers and Erin Gruwell: This is a fascinating and inspiring story that shows the difference one teacher can make in the lives of her students. The students’ journal entries are eye-opening and heartbreaking for someone who has lived comfortably in the middle class, even if it was often in the low-end of the middle class. However, as a teacher, I also find it alarming. Gruwell pours so much of her life into her students, and while it works for the four years she has them–not, I am certain, without some stress, this cannot be the recipe for an effective teaching career. It simply demands too much of Gruwell’s life.

15723286Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger: This was another marvelous romp through Carriger’s YA steampunk series. Sophronia and her dirigible finishing school embark on a mysterious trip to London. As in her previous novel, intrigue and adventure ensues.

22824188Charlotte and Emily: A Novel of the Brontes by Jude Morgan: A challenging and fascinating look at the lives of the Bronte’s told, primarily, through Charlotte’s eyes. The point of view, while mostly Charlotte’s, but occasionally including that of her siblings and other people closely involved in her life, is such a tightly written first person that it can be confusing at times. However, having the patience to follow rewards you with a highly engrossing read. Even though you most likely already know how this story ends, you can’t help hoping somehow this reading will show you something different.

What books have you recently read that you would like to recommend?

Posted by: Debby | July 4, 2016

A Fourth of July Blast From the Past

4941bfa021c7c1594a9eae51ac64b200I am visiting my mom this Independence Day, so I thought I would share a “blast from the past.” To read the full post click here.

My husband, son, and I went to a bar-b-que at my daughter’s house. In addition to our family, which includes my absolutely adorable granddaughters, were my daughter’s sister-in-law and husband who came with their five little girls.

As always when I visit her house, my granddaughter, Gracie, wanted me to come play in her room. We played house. I was the mommy and she the little girl, when two of her cousins caught up with us and joined in. We “ate” breakfast (plastic waffles and eggs), “went to the park” (the living room), “went home” and “ate” lunch (more plastic food), “went swimming”(the living room area rug),  “ate” invisible goldfish crackers followed by dinner (plastic cake with fruit on it–Grace was running out of healthy food that came in quantities of four), and went to bed.

Now Grace, nearly four years old, likes to go to bed with a flashlight, and she has several, so me and the girls curled up in her bed, each of them with her own flashlight. One brought a book and asked me to read it.

There we snuggled in the dark, me pointing to the part of the page where the words were printed and three little girls training their flashlights on them. We read Ten Naughty Little Monkeys by Suzanne Williams, then Up All Night Counting by Robin Koontz.

My delightful audience giggled as I did the voice of the doctor in Ten Little Monkeys, and marveled as they lifted the flaps and jiggled the pages of Up All Night Counting.

Who cares if I missed the poker game in the backyard or the firing up of the fire pit for s’mores! The time I passed reading with those three little girls was magic, and I hope the memory will be one they savor as well as I.

My Gracie has now completed third grade and this week is borrowing Edward Eager’s Half Magic. She has two delightful sisters and a new baby brother, and they are the joy of my life.

I hope this 4th finds you enjoying the holiday with loved ones and provides a little literacy magic.

Please share your happy happenings, and have a safe and blessed holiday!

Posted by: Debby | June 29, 2016

May 2016 Reading List

41BfcrI4hML._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Tardy again, aargh! (Read this post for a bit of an explanation)

However, better late than never, right? So it is, my May 2016 reading list:

Girls on the Edge: The Four Factors Driving the New Crisis for Girls, by Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D. My husband is in school earning his MAT, but when I saw this book sitting around, I had to read it too. In addition to having three precious granddaughters, I am  a teacher who works daily with at risk teens. Sax’s contention is that there are four factors at play in society that negatively impact the lives of girls and young women: premature pressure to address questions of sexual identity, the pressures of living in a cyberbubble, the dangers of obsessions, and the presence of environmental toxins. Sax cited numerous situations that have already had me concerned, and offers tips for parents (but also useful for educators) to help our young women grow up healthy and strong.

urlLockwood and Company: The Whispering Skullby Jonathan Stroud. This one I got from our school library. It is the second in a series (the first is: The Screaming Staircase). This is a YA fantasy novel set in a modern/futuristic London where “the problem” (ghosts, specters, and all kinds of disturbing supernatural phenomena) has been going on for a long time and young people are the only ones sensitive enough to the phenomenon to be able to get rid of it. The protagonists run an independent ghost-busting agency and are hired to provide protection when a graveyard is prepared for relocation. Darkness, chaos, and a contest with their most aggravating competitors ensues.

urlThe Skin Map (Book I of the Bright Empires Series), by Stephen Lawhead. For my husband and I, anything written by Stephen Lawhead cannot go terribly wrong. And so, with trust, when The Skin Map opened with a contemporary setting (something I very rarely have any interest in whatsoever) I hung on for what was for me a slow start. It paid off. Lawhead unfolds a mind bending (time bending) adventure that pops into ancient Egypt and 18th century England, China, and Prague. Enjoy.

If you were to ask me what was the best book of May, I would not be able to decide. However, Girls on the Edge was certainly the most alarming and thought-provoking and The Whispering Skull the best romp. I would recommend any of the three.

Posted by: Debby | June 24, 2016

The First Day of Summer: A Remembrance

sun_in_shades.svg.hiCue the Alice Cooper: School’s Out for Summer! (Please, Jay, don’t take this too seriously. I’ll be quite happy to come back in September = ).)

However, we teachers at the DTLC were as ready for summer as the students. For me, it had been a year that started with post-concussion recovery, ended with allergy season, and was filled for the last six months with colds and asthma attacks.

On the last school day of the 2015-2016 year, I stood with delight on the threshold of summer. Let’s channel my own version of Cooper here:

  • No more getting up to the sound of an alarm clock before any time that could even begin to be classified as decent (ie. before 8:00 A.M.)
  • No more limping through the work day on the heels of another blasted cold.
  • No more regimented schedules with microscopic amounts of time for writing.

Summer. It’s here at last!

So, on the second day of summer break I wrote this to capture the magic of Day One and to remind myself that for every teaching year, this day will come:

The First Day of Summer Break

Slept late.
Read long.
Wrote all afternoon.

What about you? Any days you would like to commemorate? Write yourself a little list poem and keep it somewhere to encourage yourself. If you’d like to share, I’d love to preserve your treasure here for you here.

Tell me about one, wonderful day!

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