It’s a New School Year: What to Expect at Literate Lives

Back to School

School houseHappy New Year!

September always feels like the true new year. Maybe that’s because nearly all my life the school year has determined mine and my children’s schedules.

What You Can Expect at Literate Lives This Year

I have spent some time reflecting over the summer and have determined a number of features I would like to commit to for this upcoming school year.

For the 2015-2016 school year, readers may anticipate a variety of blog posts and the following regular features:

  • “Play with Your Words” writing prompts to inspire you, your students, or your family to write in a variety of genres
  • “Reading Response Exercises” to develop the skill of extending your understanding of and responding to reading, in writing or discussion
  • “Poetry Writing Prompts” to engage in work play, capture memories, develop word choice and writing fluency skills, and just plain have fun
  • Introduction of  Greek and Latin roots to develop vocabulary and new-word “attack” skills
  • Quotes to ponder
  • And my monthly, annotated reading log

Why Might You Want to Follow Literate Lives?

You love to read.

You love to write.

You have children you want to encourage to read and write.

You are a teacher eager to help you students improve their reading and writing skills.

My Hope

My heartfelt desire is to help you nurture a reading and writing lifestyle, be it at school or in the home. Literacy is the key that unlocks the door to bright tomorrows. A committed adult can make a world of difference in a child’s life. I hope to help you make that difference and wish you a wonderful back-to-school experience and a rich and literate life!


Literate Lives Summer Hiatus

Desire by Jane Kiskaddon
Desire by Jane Kiskaddon

Despite my best intentions, I seem to have stumbled into a summer hiatus.

I had intended to get back into regular blogging once school got out and I finished my revision of The Swallow’s Spring for gerunds and non-simultaneous “as” statements. (I thought this would take a week after school let out. Ha ha, the joke is on me. Due to ongoing issues with my concussion recovery, I only finished yesterday.)

This does not mean I will be ignoring the blog this summer. I need to do some behind the scenes work on the site in general and some organizing of my “Inspirations” system (which right now is little more than a folder that says “blog this”).

I hope to track down and create some original art for the blog.

And, I need to dream up a workable “rotation” for next year. Some things I would like to do include:

  • share interesting and inspiring quotes with you
  • share interesting and inspiring articles with you
  • reflect on my writing and teaching practices
  • update you on my writing projects
  • encourage engagement in literacy in the home
  • provide “Play with Your Words” exercises every week or two
  • provide reading response exercises to use with your child, your students or for your own journalling
  • begin a very slow, but somehow, still irresistable-to-me, exploration of Greek and Latin roots.

What a wish list! Please let me know what you would like to see. Look for a fresh start in September–a new adventure in nourishing our literate lifestyles.

About the Artwork, Ms. Kiskaddon  writes:

My name is Jane Kiskaddon  and I am a painter. Please walk with me for a while in a magical inner landscape of color and light…

Working from my imagination, I conjure up interesting landscapes, drawing from all the places I’ve been lucky enough to visit (Vietnam, Peru, Egypt and the Australian rain forest). Walking in beautiful Marin and traveling in my Airstream also informs my paintings.

Most of the time I use only five colors… black, white, yellow, orange and purple (once in a while I’ll sneak in a little magenta or blue).  Because these colors have become so familiar to me it’s as if they’re in my blood.

The forgiving nature of acrylic paint (its rapid drying time) allows me the freedom to make quick decisions and run with them. I build up many layers of paint to give the painting a richness and depth.  Reproductions are available.

Many Apologies: Reality Therapy

J Tower LogoI am now three weeks into the school year and feel compelled to issue a heartfelt apology. I really wanted to get back to blogging regularly this year (and have even made commitments–like resurrecting Greek and Latin Roots). Already, however, I have found that goal impossible to meet.


Well, I work 32 hours per week coaching student writers in my school district’s GED center. I have two completed novels for which I am searching for an agent/publisher. I am working on a third novel. I am also working on a non-fiction picture book. In addition, I am a wife, mother, and grandmother, and the kind of person who needs to read daily and requires 9-10 hours of sleep in order to feel human. I have also agreed to be the Published and Listed Communications Coordinator for my local SCBWI–an organization that has been very good to me and that I am happy to serve.

Therefore, I have discovered I cannot commit to 3, 2, or even 1 blog post weekly.

Yesterday, I decided I would discontinue the blog completely. However, today I woke up thinking, “Hey, wait a minute! I have a lot of things I want to share.”

And so, while I cannot promise to blog at anything that looks like regularly scheduled intervals, I do commit to continue posting when time and interest allows.

I wish you all happy and fulfilling reading and writing times. The value of both in my life are what led me to accept this latest round of reality therapy. Alas, there are only twenty-four hours in a day, no matter how much I wish otherwise–hmm. Maybe there’s a story in that. What if…

Welcome Back, Greek and Latin Roots

Column.ExercisesDespite the fact that I discontinued Greek and Latin root spelling lessons back in 2012, these lessons remain among the most frequently visited of my posts. And, it is easy to understand why.

While Latin has long been regarded as a dead language in terms of modern usage, and the Greek of the ancients is not the same as the Greek of today, English (and French, and Spanish, and many other European languages) is littered with their offspring!

In my teaching, I have found the vocabulary/spelling study of words using classical roots to be a great way to expand usable vocabulary and build word deciphering skills. Over the years, I done my own research, collected roots and words, built lists of my own, and created a Greek and Latin Root Vocabulary/Spelling program.

While I am no longer responsible for teaching spelling, my interest in these words will not leave me alone. Therefore, this school year, I have decided to post (both here and in my classroom) a root, or root pair, each week along with definitions and some words to play with and explore that utilize the root.

Over time, I will share some of the methods I adopted and devised to help my students learn these roots and make them their own.

I hope you will find this little jaunt into word history as intriguing as I do, and as beneficial to yourself or your students as I have. Watch next Monday for the Greek/Latin root of the week.


Greek and Latin Roots Vocabulary and Spelling, Unit I Lesson V: Eu, Bene, Caco, and Mal

1. eu = well/easy/agreeable
2. euphoria
3. bene = good
4. beneficial
5. caco = vile/diseased
6. cacophony
7. mal = bad/defective
8. malignant

Review Roots

9. mater/matri = mother
10. patr = father
11. filia/filius = son/daughter
12. zo = animal
13. avi = bird
14. saur = lizard

Simplified List use only the roots and the following words:

4. benefit
8. malice

Challenge List use only the roots and the following words:

2. euphemism
4. benevolence
6. cacophonous
8. malnutrition

Greek and Latin Roots Review Strategy: Puzzlers

When teaching the Greek and Latin Roots Vocabulary and Spelling System, it is a good idea to have a variety of strategies to use to help your students make the meanings of their roots their own. After Roots for Early Dismissal, Puzzlers was one of my students’ favorite exercises.

To start, have your students get out:

  • the current list of roots
  • a sheet of paper
  • pens or pencils

Instruct them to pair up with partners.

Assign each set of partners one of the roots from the list and have them write the root and its meaning at the top of their paper.

Discuss how roots are “pieces” of words whose meanings influence the definition of the word.

Instruct them to create words of their own by combining their assigned root with other roots or  words then write a definition for this “new word” that is influenced by the root’s meaning. Emphasize the fact that you do not want your students to find real words that include the root, but rather to make up their own words using the root.

For example, from this week’s list they might come up with something like:

Zoodeli = a zoo animal gourmet feed store

Sauroskin = a skin condition in which a person’s skin becomes dry and scaly like a lizard

Require each set of partners to create at least three new “words.” (I offered extra credit points if they created more than five.)

After the students have created their words and definitions, tell them look over their list and circle the Puzzler word they like best.

Call on each pair of students to stand up and tell the class:

  • their root
  • its meaning
  • their Puzzler word
  • its definition

Through sharing their Puzzler words with each other, the students will have the opportunity to not only reinforce the meaning of their own particular root, but to make associations with the meaning of the other roots as classmates share their roots, Puzzlers, and definitions.

Have fun with this strategy.  And please share the wonderful words your students create as a comment here. I look forward to reading them!

So Many Books, So Little Time

One thing is consistent in life and likewise with this blog—change. This month the big change in my life is I have finally landed a job I love. I am working three days a week teaching writing to GED students, and two days managing a middle school/high school library. I love both jobs and the variety they weave into my workweek.

However, my writing and blogging time are now greatly diminished. Like most otherwise employed writers, I squeeze in time to write before work, during lunch, and on the weekends.

Blogging time and reading time has been a little tougher to keep up with. This month I finished reading just one book. (No Mom, I’m not sick; there is no need to come over and take my temperature.) This was the result of a combination of forces—first a number of commitments on my calendar based on the assumption I would not be employed this month—including a one-day writing conference, a writing retreat, and a church women’s retreat. (Whew! It makes me tired just listing them.) All were great experiences, but the combination, along with my new job, left me exhausted. Therefore…I went to bed each night solely to sleep, and not, as is my habit, to read then sleep.

However, I can wholeheartedly recommend the one book I did finish reading—it was a revisit with an old friend: Elizabeth Goudge’s Gentian Hill. It is always interesting to come back to a novel you read long ago. There are several storylines in Gentian Hill, and the only one I had any recollection of was that of the young people. However, as a no-longer-so-young person myself, I was deeply drawn to the older characters and their equally significant roles in the novel. Read it if you can find it. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

As November rolls in, my personal calendar is beginning to look a lot less tiring. However, to keep it manageable, I am revising my blog schedule.

As a writer, the “Play With Your Words” writing prompts are one of my favorite parts of the Literate Lives blog and will continue in their weekend-kick-off position, Friday.

Mondays will be the grab-bag day. Best Books of the Month, Wonderful Words, Teachers’ File Drawer, Websites to Check Out, Reading Response Exercises and random posts will appear here.

Lastly, I am deeply committed to the Greek and Latin Roots Spelling and Vocabulary Program. Therefore new root and word lists (every other week during the school year) and tips and strategies for helping students learn their roots will appear on Wednesdays of each week.

I’m looking forward to the upcoming month. And I can hardly wait to begin reading some of the many books that have been placed in my care. I love reading; I love writing; I love books. As writer, reader, writing teacher, and librarian, I am one happy lady.

Unit I Lesson IV: Zo, Avi, Saur

1. zo = animal

2. zoology

3. avi = bird

4. aviation

5. saur = lizard

6. dinosaur

Review Roots

7. quin = five

8. hex = six

9. sept = seven

10. oct/octav = eight

11. non/novem = nine

12. mater/matri = mother

13. patr = father

14. filia/filius = son/daughter

Modified List use only the roots and the following words:

2. zoo

4. aviator

Challenge List use only the roots and the following words:

2. zoomorphism

4. aviculture

6. saurischian

Apologies: No Greek and Latin Roots This Week


I went on a writer’s retreat last weekend, started a new job this week, spent time with my parents who came up from California to visit, and attended a school function last night. Consequently, I have not had time to pull together this week’s Greek and Latin Roots lesson.

I am so sorry! I hate letting people down. Unit 1 Lesson 4 should be up next week. Thanks for your patience.

Roots for Early Dismissal Vocabulary Exercise

One of my students’ favorite ways to review their Greek and Latin roots was to play “Roots for Early Dismissal.”

What do you need to play?

  • The list of the week’s roots and review roots
  • Popsicle sticks or slips of paper with your students’ names on them
  • A container to hold the names

How do you play?

Give your students enough time to clean up and gather their stuff leaving about 2-3 minutes before the bell rings. Do not start the activity until everyone is sitting quietly in their seats with their things, ready to go.

Draw a name and say a root. If that student provides a definition for the root, she may leave. If she can’t, continue to draw names until someone finally defines it and leaves. Allow students only five-ten seconds to define the root before you move on to a new student. In order to review as many roots as possible, this is a staccato, rapid-fire game.

Once a root has been defined, proceed to a new name and the next root on the list.

When you come to the end of the root list just go back to the beginning and keep playing until the bell rings.

My students loved the opportunity to get out of class early, even if it was only a few seconds, so they were all eager to participate in the game. Furthermore, students who had not yet learned their roots benefited from hearing their classmates correctly define them.

The pace moved so fast, there was not much time for any one student to be embarrassed if he missed a root, and students who needed the practice got a second chance at success–if they have been listening.

Give it a try. I guarantee, “Roots for Early Dismissal” will become a favorite in your classroom as it did in mine.