Archives For 7th Grade

Books read in Grade 7; generally young adult literature

While there are whirlwind changes in education such as new evaluation programs, digital devices in school, or flipped classrooms, one element remains constant: vocabulary. In order for students to succeed, they must understand the content area vocabulary in each subject area.

“Vocabulary knowledge is fundamental to reading comprehension;
one cannot understand text without knowing what most of the words mean.”
(Nagy, 1988)

The Common Core Literacy Standards have dedicated an anchor standard to the acquisition to vocabulary: 

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.

So what strategies work best? While there are familiar ways to teach vocabulary such as flashcards and word lists, every now and then there are the vocabulary lessons that are so effective, that they must be shared…like this political campaign using biology terms.

All month the 10th grade biology teacher centered a political campaign on vocabulary. The campaign immersed the entire school in domain specific words on the parts of a cell.  Teams of students were assigned to promote each part of the cell (EX: nucleus, endomembrane  system, chloroplasts, mitochondria)  for a political election designed to let students determine the most important member of the cell. Students made posters that hung in the hallways, and each poster featured characteristics and functions of the cell’s “candidate.” The posters were filled with content area vocabulary; there were explanations with diagrams or pictures.

For the first week, the campaign posters for different parts of the cell were explanatory in nature:

  • Do you enjoy moving, growing, breathing? Vote for the Mitochondria!
  • Chloroplast: Makes your green last! Carry out Photosynthesis!
  • Let’s assemble or die! Vote for Ribosomes or go home!

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The final week was dedicated to a “smear” campaign. Additional information was added to posters; opposing candidates countered the claims on posters with even more content area vocabulary:

  • Algae blooms? They are caused by pollution! Look in the mirror! It’s not the chloroplast’s fault
  • Don’t vote for the mitochondria: They cause heart disease, diabetes, and cancer? Why vote for something that is bad?
  • Ribosome: Subject to mutation and damage that can cause illness
  • The Nucleus: if coded improperly can cause all sorts of defects
  • The mitochondria causes stupidity and mental disorders. The nucleus knows you’re smart and will support you through everything.

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Wall space became a premium.  Attack ads increased the amount of information and featured even more content-area vocabulary. The stairwell going down to the middle school wing was a cluttered word wall.

Finally, election day arrived. To ensure there would be no favoritism, the students in 7th grade were selected to vote on their choice of the most important part of the cell. They had read the posters and become familiar with each of the candidates. They knew the strengths of each part of the cell. They knew the weaknesses of each part of the cell. They knew how each candidate functioned in the cell. They could separate the facts and the hype. The 10th grade waited to hear the results of their campaign.

Who did they vote for?
The Chloroplast.
Because of its contributions to plant life?
Because of photosynthesis?
Because it synthesizes fatty acids?


No….Because, “The poster had green glitter that was pretty.”
Apparently, campaigns for the most important member of the cell do not differ that much from real political campaigns.

Even with all that domain specific language…bling wins.

House of the ScorpionThere they were. Four used copies of Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion, and they were my find of the day at the Friends of the Danbury Public Library Fall Book Sale last weekend in Danbury, Connecticut. The unmistakeable bright red-orange and black spines were scattered in the author-alphabetized “F” section of the fiction offerings. They should have been in the young adult (YA) section, but a volunteer’s shelving error was probably why they were still available when I arrived. In this case, chance favored me.

I first became acquainted with Farmer’s science fiction novel two summers ago when I heard the plot involved cloning. I was looking for YA literature that could be used as a companion pieces to  Frankenstein; novels that incorporated many of the ethical questions raised by recent advances in the science of cloning. Science fiction was the genre that offered the most obvious choices. Farmer herself recognizes how science fiction anticipates the problems created by real science, saying:

“Science fiction allows you to approach a lot of social issues you can’t get to directly. If you wrote a book about how cloning is horrible, it would read like a sermon and no one would pay attention to it. “

The genre of science fiction is amazingly prescient in predicting technological advances.  H. G. Wells’ offered  The First Men in the Moon in 1901, 68 years before Neil Armstrong exited Apollo 11 and took steps on the lunar surface.  Digital books, submarines, droids and robots were features in science fiction novels before they became real nouns in our vocabulary. Credit for dreaming up the Internet is given to a wide spectrum of  fiction writers, from Mark Twain to Arthur C. Clarke, and manipulating human life has its genesis with 18 year old Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Therefore, Farmer is following the successful literary tradition of predicting man’s future. Her prediction takes the form of another dystopia, the equivalent of a political science crash course in failed nation-states for young readers.

Her opening mimic another great science fiction read, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. His great satire’s opening scene is in a factory that is manufacturing embryos. With streamlined industrialized precision, conveyor belts carry embryos that are then deprived of oxygen in order to create a caste of mindless workers. Farmer borrows some of Huxley’s ideas and begins her story with images that recall that frightening scenario:

A dull, red light shown on the faces of the workers as they watched their own arrays of little glass dishes. Each one contained a drop of life. (1.2)

In addition, Farmer’s predictions of a territory between the United States and Mexico controlled by drug cartels is plausible. That is the setting for her “coming of age” story of a young clone named Matt. The medical breakthroughs that create Matt, a clone of the drug lord El Patrón, are also feasible. Matt is unaware that his life is both protected by his status as the clone for the most powerful man in the land of Opium and endangered by El Patrón’s mortality…and at 146 years old, El Patrón is very mortal.

Farmer combines the issues of organ-harvesting, the economics of drug use, and adds a few Zombies for an exciting read that contains several amazing plot twists. I remember my jaw dropping…I didn’t see one twist coming at all. Farmer’s inventiveness with plot and skills as a storyteller resulted in the book receiving both a National Book Award for Young Adult Literature and a Newbery Honor in 2002. 

Last year, we offered 7th grade independent choices in literature circles centered on their interest in dystopias. The House of the Scorpion was one title offered along with other science fiction novels including Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, M.T. Anderson’s Feed, Neil Shusterman’s Unwind, and several of Scott Westerfield’s selections from his Pretties series. Students fresh from reading Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Game Trilogy were ready for other predictions for the future, and those who had not completed the series were given the opportunity to read these as well.

The cost for the four gently used copies at the book sale was $8.00; copies normally retail for $8.10, so this was a “buy one get three free” bargain in comparison. Based on other used book sales, we now have a class set (30) of The House of the Scorpion. The novel could be an all class read, however, as some of the topics in the novel require mature readers, we opt to make this and the novel Feed independent choice books.

The ethical questions raised in Frankenstein and The House of the Scorpion makes them good companion pieces, but that is not the only reason to pair them together. Our English Department’s essential question is “What does it mean to be human?” Literature gives students the language and the models for answering that question. The Monster in Frankenstein and the protagonist Matt in The House of the Scorpion are “non-human” characters that make students consider that being human may not be limited by the definitions in science, but by the possibilities in science fiction.

Of course, I received multiple links to the NY TimesMacbeth Mashup“from fellow English teachers, and yes, I thought that Claire Needell Hollander wrote a very funny piece. Yes, I believe students should be exposed to Shakespeare regularly, with or without the recommendations of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). But, Macbeth for seventh and eighth graders? No!  That is just wrong. Wrong on theme, wrong for content, and very wrong for 11 and 12 year olds.

Hollander began her feature article making a great point about classroom dynamics:

“We say the classroom, as if an ideal classroom exists that somehow resembles every other classroom in America. In reality, every classroom has its own dynamic, and every class I’ve ever taught looks different from every other class. Perhaps more important, they also sound different.”

She is right. A chemistry of personalities creates a different dynamic in every classroom. The age of those personalities is also a factor. As I read the piece, however, I grew more and more frustrated. Macbeth features witches, warfare, murder, and, like most Shakespeare plays, sexual language. The word “blood” is repeated 41 times over the course of the play. Even the play itself is cursed; actors will not say the name of the play in the theatre. Many critics consider this Shakespeare’s “darkest play”.

Hollander herself questioned the appropriateness of this play for middle school students. She writes:

Lady Macbeth

John Henry Fuseli/ Johann Heinrich Füssli, Lady Macbeth Sleepwalking. Musée du Louvre, Paris Date: 1784. Creative Commons. Lady Macbeth driven to madness and suicide because her guilt in participating in the murder of King Duncan which leads to the murder of the guards, Macduff’s family, Banquo, and others…the stuff that nightmares are made upon.

“The kids have copies of the play with a modern English version on one side, but this isn’t easy either.”

“Tears of hilarity. Maybe middle school is too young for “Macbeth.”

Maybe? Definitely! So, why choose Macbeth?

Apparently, Hollander was attempting to satisfy a recommendation for archaic language for the secondary level in the English Language Arts Common Core. This is explained in Appendix A Language Conventionality and Clarity:

Texts that rely on literal, clear, contemporary, and conversational language tend to be easier to read than texts that rely on figurative, ironic, ambiguous, purposefully misleading, archaic, or otherwise unfamiliar language (such as general academic and domain-specific vocabulary).

In other words, the CCSS state that students should be exposed to complex diction, and the CCSS has made specific recommendations for grade 8 including:

  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1869)
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyerby Mark Twain (1876)
  • “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost (1915)

Hollander could consider the how the wording in CCSS Reading Standard 8  should guide her in selecting material for her combined seventh and eighth graders:

Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on themes, patterns of events, or character types from myths, traditional stories, or religious works such as the Bible, including describing how the material is rendered new.

So many students come to high school without the necessary content to understand many of Shakespeare’s allusions. Perhaps the students know little about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table; why not Malory’s Morte d’Arthur? Or understanding the Pantheon of Greek Gods and Goddesses would be helpful; why not Edith Hamilton’s Greek Mythology?  Beowulf is usually taught in grade 10; the opening begins, “He was spawned in that slime, /Conceived by a pair of those monsters born/ Of Cain, murderous creatures banished/ By God, punished forever for the crime/ Of Abel’s death” (Raffel). Student should know this Biblical story of Cain and Abel. Students must come to high school prepared with the content needed to understand increasingly complex texts.

So why choose Macbeth? In fact, why choose Shakespeare at all? Ultimately, by not considering the recommendations of the CCSS to saturate students with the grade appropriate texts in our rich literary tradition, Hollander leaves them ill-prepared for Shakespeare at the high school level, when they are more mature to appreciate his themes.

So please, leave Macbeth, with his nihlism, his “...tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing” for older students.  Please leave Lady Macbeth with “…the smell of the blood still” where “all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand”, and leave Macbeth for high school. Besides, if Hollander is trying to meet the recommendations of the Common Core, she should leave Macbeth where the Common Core placed it, as a complex texts for 9th and 10th grades. The noisy mashup of Macbeth will still be crude and rowdy and demanding; but the students will be older, and these few additional years of maturity are necessary for dark tragedy in “the Scottish play”.

Today is Digital Learning Day! To mark the occasion, let me take you through a quick walkthrough of the halls of Wamogo Regional Middle/High School and give you a snapshot on how digital learning looks in the English classrooms grades 7-12. We have 1:1 computers in grades 7 & 8; in grades 9-12, we have a “bring your own digital device” policy. Here are the digital learning activities on Wednesday, February 6, 2013:

Grade 7: Students responded to a short story they read, “The Amigo Brothers”. They accessed the wiki ( in order to respond to “close reading” questions on the author’s use of figurative language. (Students are required to use evidence in their responses; digital copies of text helps student correctly add and cite evidence).

Grade 8: Students uploaded their reviews of the books (Mississippi Trial, 1955; Chains; The Greatest) they have been reading in literature circles to These reviews are connected to the Common Core Writing Standard #6:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.8.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas efficiently as well as to interact and collaborate with others.

Grade 9: Students responded to a “writing on demand” journal prompt in preparation for the novel Of Mice and Men. This prompt is connected to the theme of hopes and dreams, and the students were asked:

What is your hope for life, your goal, or even your dream?  What do you think you want from the future? What would you live without, dream-wise?  What couldn’t you live without?

The students also posted their responses on a discussion thread. Selections from responses included:

  • Something I couldn’t live with out would be my grandparents because they are like another set of parent to me, just better. They mean so much to me, that I really couldn’t see my life without them.
  • I hope to be a plant geneticist in the future, that is my hope but no matter what happens I would like to have a career involving plants and even if I can’t get a career in genetics I know it will always be a hobby of mine.
  • My house will be by the ocean, so close I can see it out of my kitchen window. I will grow old and drink coffee on my porch, while I read the paper and wave to my neighbors who walk by!
  • I could live without being famous around the world but I would like to be known town wise. I cannot live without family and their support in my decisions. They help me to stay confident and get through whatever I want to accomplish in life.
  • I think I could live without wanting a huge house or a huge boat “dream-wise”, but that still doesn’t mean I don’t want those things. I couldn’t live without music or my family.
  • My biggest hope and dream is to have a really big plot of land and have the world’s biggest tractor and a bunch of snowmobiles and ATV’s.
  • I want to be able to adopt kids from Uganda but also have my own, and I want to live in a nice house with a big yard. I want to work with little kids as a job.

10th grade Honors English students are reading Great Expectations. They took a quiz on, a software platform for timed quizzes. The College Prep English classes are reading Animal Farm. Today, they had to access “The International” MP3 and the of the Beatle’s song “Revolution.

For homework tonight, students will write their own “protest” song.

Grade 11: Students can access the vocabulary list from the film The Great Debaters through the class wiki ( while the Advanced Placement English Language students watched a YouTube video of a Langston Hughes poem “I, Too, Sing America” read by Denzel Washington:

They prepared responses to the following questions which were posted on the class wiki:

  1.  To whom is the poet writing?  How do you know?
  2.  Choose one stanza and discuss what you feel is the key word in this stanza and explain why you chose this word?
  3.  What feelings does the poem create?  Which words create this feeling?

Grade 12: Students in the Grade 12 Mythology class accessed the following Google Doc Template and filled in the chart with their own research about the mythologies of different cultures. This activity meets the CCSS writing:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.7 Conduct short research projects to answer a question; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject

Screen Shot 2013-02-06 at 11.43.41 AM

The Film and Literature class “flips” the content by having students watch films for homework in order to discuss them during class. Tonight’s assignment? Watch the following YouTube clip and be ready for an open note quiz:

Students in the Advanced Placement English Literature class read the short story “Barn Burning” by William Faulkner that was embedded with a quiz on They then created a list of four themes from the short story on a Google Doc. Each student selected a theme and placed his/her responses in the Google Drive folder to share with other members of the class. Examples included:

  • Actions we take with the grotesque: Shun? Avoid?

This story embodies an ultimate grotesque atmosphere. Even Colonel Satorius Snopes’ sisters are described as, “hulking sisters in their Sunday dresses” (2). These sisters are emulated throughout the story as disgusting, rotund, lethargic, and hog-like beings. This grotesque physical trait emulates the family’s condition in society. Satorius’ clothes are described as, “patched and faded jeans even too small for him.” (1).

  • Family over law or law over family

For the boy to go against his family in the end further proves his actions of courage and strength, and portrays the theme of law over family. “Then he began to struggle. His mother caught him in both arms, he jerking and wrenching at them. He would be stronger in the end, he knew that. But he had no time to wait for it” (10). His whole family is holding him back, but he chooses to go against all of them and do what is right.

This quick walkthrough demonstrating the use of technology in the English classrooms on one day demonstrates that for the teachers and students at Wamogo, everyday is a Digital Learning Day!

tragedy“On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below.”

That is the opening sentence from Thornton Wilder’s novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey. A monk who witnesses the fall of those travelers searches for answers as to whether the accident was simply chance or an act of the Divine. In writing The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Wilder was addressing the genre of tragedy which was defined by Aristotle in his Poetics as “an imitation of a serious act” in literature. The purpose of tragedy is to provide the reader, or viewer in the case of drama, an experience of loss without having to suffer what a fictional character suffers. Through his literature, Wilder, like the authors and playwrights before him, provided the experience and language to us to respond when there is a tragedy. Great literature does this well which may be why the literature taught in high school classrooms is, more often than not, tragedy.

Of course, tragedy is not always a popular curriculum choice. I am always being confronted by students,  “Why do we have to read such depressing books?” or “Why does every book we read in English have to be so sad?” Predictably, when I hand out a book for a whole class read, student will examine the cover, the length of the text, and ask, “So, who dies?” Through literature, students learn a number of different approaches or definitions of  tragedy. In grades 9-12, students are taught about Greek tragedy (Oedipus, Antigone, Medea) where fate or Nemesis cannot be avoided. They learn about catharsis, the purging of pity and fear, and pathos, the empathy one has for the tragic hero. Students are taught about how the Shakespearean tragedy (King Lear, Macbeth, Richard III) centers on the willful downfall of a character who brings about the destruction of others. We have also included a modern interpretation of tragedy by Otto Reinherdt as students read contemporary works of literature (Death of a Salesman, The Road):

“Tragic Man demands that an imperfect world conform to his notions of right and good, and he is defeated because discord, injustice, pain, and moral evil are the world’s warp and woof. The final paradox is man in his tragic vision saying, ‘I do not believe in the invincibility of evil but in the inevitability of defeat’.. . . But in the absoluteness of his commitment, the tragic hero triumphs in the very inevitability of his defeat.”

The indoctrination to tragedy as a “serious action imitated” begins early in the student’s educational career. In grade 5, whole class reads can be The Giver, a dystopian novel that features the euthanasia of a small child. In grade 6, students may read The Devil’s Arithmetic, a book that brings students closer to an authentic understanding of the Holocaust and the deaths of six million Jews. In young adult (YA) literature, there are so many stories about the deaths of pet dogs  (Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, Love that Dog) that author Gordon Korman fought back against that literary trope with his  YA novel, No More Dead Dogs. Our 7th grade reads that book as an opening bonding experience in September, but they also read Pearl Buck’s short story “The Big Wave” about a tsunami that wipes out a small coastal village in Japan. The recent tsunami in Japan gave our young readers a new appreciation for the tragedy caused by nature.

In high school curriculums everywhere, students decry the death of a character, “Why does the author make us like him and then kill him?” They rail against the death of Johnny in The Outsiders (grade 8); the death of Lenny in Of Mice and Men (grade 9); the death of Kat in All Quiet on the Western Front (Grade 10); the death of John Proctor in The Crucible  (Grade 11); and the death of Hamlet (Grade 12). They claim to want a happy ending.

But do English teachers force an unwanted genre on students? Do students hate tragedy? Not really. Look at the two most popular series of books students chose to read independently. The Harry Potter series began with two deaths, the sacrifice of Lily and James Potter for their infant son, Harry. Seven books later,  JR Rowling had bumped off over 50 characters, and one beloved owl Hedwig (although, admittedly the death of Bellatrix Lestrange was satisfying). Student loved these novels. In Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games trilogy, killing and death is a form of entertainment, an entertainment made even more horrific when teenagers are the assassins. In the first book, eleven “tributes” are killed on the first day of the games. The protagonist Katniss kills four tributes herself before she “wins” this round of games with Peeta; the deaths pile up as the series continues with Collins disposing of major characters at a furious clip. I cannot keep these books on my classroom shelf.

Ultimately, tragedy in literature prepares a reader for the experience of tragedy in life. My own first experience with death was from Louisa May Alcott in Little Women when the sickly Beth March finally succumbed to illness:

“As Beth had hoped, the `tide went out easily’, and in the dark hour before dawn, on the bosom where she had drawn her first breath, she quietly drew her last, with no farewell but one loving look, one little sigh.”

I remember reading and re-reading that passage over and over and thinking: “Had I read correctly? Were there only three March sisters left? How could Alcott do this to me?” Well, she did this to me and millions of other readers because in real life people die. Nice people. Good people. Young people. Beth’s death was not a tragedy in the literary sense, but the hole left by her death for the fictional family was “a serious act imitated in literature” like the many real deaths that leave holes in the lives of real families.

Our society confronts news that is tragic everyday.  The recent death of 20 schoolchildren and six teachers in a school shooting not far from where I teach just before the Christmas holiday season is a tragedy so horrific that many have been left speechless; I hear, “There are no words.” But there are words, words in great literature written to prepare us, from a young age through high school and beyond, for exactly this experience. Thornton Wilder’s fictional story of The Bridge of San Luis Rey concludes with a paragraph that offers his response to a tragedy. Through literature, Wilder provides a language for readers to respond to a tragedy such as the one in Newtown, Connecticut, and other heartbreaking events:

“We ourselves shall be loved for awhile and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

The original purpose of this blog was to explain how used books were purchased in order to increase the classroom libraries at Wamogo Middle and High School, grades 7-12. The name of the blog, “Used Books in Class”, was initially chosen to indicate the condition of the texts. The term “used”, however, can also serve to mean how the text are used in class. In other words, how are the used books being used in the English Language Arts Classrooms at each grade level?

A carload of Used Books after a summer book sale!

In writing this blog, I have found myself increasingly commenting on English/language arts curriculum, lesson plans, and current issues in education. This means the purpose of the blog has grown to include topics that are all related to the use of reading materials in the classroom, and reading is the most important skill that students will need to be successful students at every grade level. Providing a wide variety of books-new and used- is critical to engaging readers.

To date, the used books purchased in the secondary markets have helped in four specific ways:

Used books have replaced copies at each grade level. Used books have been used to replace lost or damaged copies of books assigned to a particular curriculum. For example, there have been replacement copies of The Giver for Grade 7, Of Mice and Men in 9th grade, and Animal Farm in Grade 10. These titles are taught in almost every school system in Connecticut, and are titles that are relatively easy to find locally in the secondary market. These are also titles that are readily available in large quantities online on used book dealer sites such as Better World Books.

-Used books have increased selections for independent reading in classrooms. The English Department has incorporated more time for silent sustained reading (SSR) in class at each grade level, and classroom libraries have been increased to allow students the opportunity to choose books to read. For example, students in grade 9 are provided 40-45 minutes each week to read self-selected books during the school year. Students may choose a book from the school’s library media center, or choose a book from one of the carts in the classroom.  Titles vary in genre, subject and reading level in order to meet student interest. Students are responsible for blogging reviews about the books they read at least twice a quarter.

Other classes that take advantage of independent reading are the Advanced Placement English Language and English Literature classes. Students select independent reading that meets the critical standards of the Advanced Placement program. These selections range from the classics (Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment) to more contemporary titles (Roth The Plot Against America) and write responses to these books.

-Used books are added titles as “satellite texts”. English teachers have extended thematic units to include titles that complement a text from the literary canon. For example, the 11th grade thematic unit “Coming of Age” is usually associated with Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Purchasing used books have increased selections to include Sittenfield’s Prep, Cormier’s The Chocolate War, Lamb’s She’s Come Undone, Gibbons’s Ellen Foster, and Chbosky’s Perks of Being a Wallflower. Students select a text to explore the thematic idea through the lens of another author.

Score! A set of books for Grade 10

-Used books have allowed for the addition of new texts. The purchase of used books has expanded curriculum at several grade levels with high interest titles.  For example, Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, Coelho’s The Alchemist and Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (see picture) have been added to the World Literature curriculum in grade 10. In addition, Walls’s The Glass Castle has been added to Grade 12 Memoir class while Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion will be added to grade 7.

Ultimately, the re-stated purpose of this blog will be to continue to discuss the inclusion of specific used book titles in English/language arts classrooms as well as discuss how we are working to improve reading in and out of the classroom  at every grade level. Used books in class is also about using books in class to improve reading!

Southington Goodwill Store book haul....16 quality texts for $33.33!

Traveling back from an afternoon in Massachusetts, I stopped for quick break at exit 32 on I-84 (Queen Street) in Connecticut. Lucky for me, I noticed the Southington Goodwill Store store. In ten minutes, I collected a bagful of titles worth bringing back to school.

This Easter Seals Goodwill Industries store opened in January 2006 with 8100 square feet of space. According to the website, the mission of the store is to “to enhance employment, educational, social and recreational opportunities for people with disabilities and other challenges in the greater New Haven area.”

The prices for the books at this location were a little more expensive than the $1.00 or $2.00  books at the Goodwill Stores in Danbury, Brookfield, and New Milford. Maybe the Easter Seals affiliation has a different pricing criteria? Books here were marked $2.99, $1.99 or .99. These prices are still far below retail, and there were many bargains I left on the shelves for others to find. The organization of the books was excellent at this location.  Titles were correctly placed in genres (non-fiction, fiction, children’s literature, cookbooks, etc) and the quality of the books was very good.

I located five core texts: The Giver by Lois Lowery, No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman (Grade 7), Nothing but the Truth by Avi (grade 8), Night by Elie Wiesel and an edition of Brave New World (grade 10) by Aldous Huxley that matches our collection.

I also located a copy of Soldier Boys by Dean Hughes for our War and Conflict unit and two copies of A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson for our junior year Adventure unit or Transcendentalism study and a copy of Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom for Coming of Age. Soul Surfer by Bethany Hamilton, Peak by Roland Smith and two texts by Mike Lupica, Miracle on 49th Street and Heat, can be placed in literature circles for grade 7.  Mirror, Mirror by Gregory Maguire, and Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin (we now have four copies) will go into 9th grade independent choice. Finally, I am looking to include a historical fiction unit in middle school; Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi is a possible choice.

While I was on the webite for the Southington, CT store, I noted that Goodwill sells books on Amazon under the heading of Ivy League Books. The proceeds from sales on this site “help Easter Seals Goodwill Industries to enhance employment, educational, social and recreational opportunities for people with disabilities and other challenges.” Visit to see a list of  available titles.

The Easter Seals branch of Goodwill Industries also “owns and operates 11 secondhand retail stores and 1 outlet throughout south-central and eastern Connecticut. All proceeds from store sales directly support the mission of Easter Seals Goodwill Industries. The stores also provide employment to Easter Seals Goodwill Industries’ clients with disabilities and other special needs.”

I am always pleased to shop at Goodwill. The budget for my department is stretched even farther with great bargains, and all proceeds help a worthy organization. I will make sure that Queen Street in a regular place for me to take a break on 1-84 because shopping at the Southington Goodwill location was a win-win!

As I anticipated, The Westport Book Sale offered the variety of texts I need to create the “book flood” in my classrooms. After two hours of “grazing” through three tents of books, I had another 10 bags of books to add to the department’s collections for grades 7-12. A quick breakdown of titles included:

Adding to mystery unit

Grades 7 & 8: Copies of The Giver by Lois Lowrey (6) , The Schwa Was Here by Neil Shusterman (2), and Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (4).  All these are core texts. I also found a copy of the London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd which is a great mystery for this age level. I am considering getting a set of 20 to add to our 8th grade mystery unit, but I would like some student feedback first.

Grade 9: The curriculum for 9th grade is centered around independent reading and choice, but there are units devoted to Greek/Roman Mythology and Anglo-Saxon legends such as King Arthur. I did find a dozen assorted copies of The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters and The Titan’s Curse all by Rick Riordan. While these books are a little below 9th grade level, they dovetail very nicely into the mythology units, and students who may have missed these books in middle school can now make connections to the gods and goddesses of ancient cultures. I also picked up a bagful (20+!) of Anthony Horowitz books: Point Blanc, Scorpia, Crocodile Tears, and Stormbreaker. Thank you to those avid Alex Rider fans!

Grade 10: Night by Elie Wiesel is a core text, as it is in most high schools, and I picked up 11 copies of this memoir. I added 14 almost new copies of Khaled Hosseini’s  The Kite Runner; we almost have 100 copies now for this core text for world literature.

A popular text for 10th grade boys

I found five copies of A Long Way Gone: Memoir of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah.Many of my sophomore students, mostly boys, read this book as an independent read. When I asked them what was good about this book, several indicated the pace and action kept their interest. Perhaps the most important testimony came from a student who said the worst part of the book was, “that what happened to Ishmael was real.” Savings on this text ($7.20/paperback) alone was $31.00.

Grade 11: I found two brand new copies of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. I was pleased to see this book re-released and I am planning on adding a few more copies to the Native American unit that starts the year. To complement this non-fiction classic, I located four copies of Michael Dorris’s Yellow Raft in Blue Water, a more contemporary view on Native American life.

Adding this to Memoir class

Adding this to Memoir class

Grade 12: The Memoir class is the easiest to find books for independent reading. I found two copies of It’s all over but the Shoutin‘ by Rick Bragg which came highly recommended. I also located more copies of Alice Sebold’s Lucky which is very popular with my female students. After today, I now have enough copies (50+) of our core text of The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, so other buyers will not have any more competition from me.

Will be a core Text in Journalism

I found one copy of Dave Egger’s Zeitoun which will be a core text for Journalism in 2011. This amazing story follows Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a successful Syrian-born painting contractor, who stays in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Eggers recounts Zeitoun’s journey through the city in acts of heroism, compassion, and tragedy in a riveting narrative. This text is always a “find” for me.

Other: I found five copies of Dava Sorbel’s Longitude, which I plan to share with some science class….not sure who will be the lucky group? The gentleman who tallied up my large order (Thank you, Dick L.?) asked if he could have the sixth copy I had found. I would have happily paid for that copy based on his service; tallying ten bags of books is serious work, but he was happy to have a copy to purchase on his own to give to his grandson. For the psychology teacher, I collected four copies of Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand, and for social studies department, I located five copies of Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis.

There was something for every reader at this book sale. The efficiency of the volunteers re-stacking the tables (always appreciated)  and those working the cashier’s tables made for a smooth event. The chairman of the sale, Mimi Greenlee, and her team of volunteers are to be credited for their efforts. Book dealer “return” bins, well-marked  sections for literary genres, and an express lane for smaller orders made the sale run efficiently. A tent full of Children’s Literature separated from the other genres this year was also appreciated; my biggest competitor here was an eleven year old girl with an armful of paperbacks, which is always a wonderful sight for a teacher.

Total cost for 10 bags of QUALITY TEXTS? $306.00 Several of these books retail for substantially more than $10.00 copy; I figure that my retail cost would have been over $3,000.00.

I felt like Julius Caesar: I came, I choose, I conquered!

The Giver-

July 8, 2011 — Leave a comment

If there is a core text for middle school students, then Lois Lowry’s The Giver is high up on the list; our students read The Giver in Grade 7. This novel follows  Jonas, who receives his life assignment at the age of 12 as the community’s “memory keeper”, a position that requires him to accept serious responsibilities. Jonas is able to experience a wide range of emotions that his community has suppressed in others; he feels joy, despair, terror and can see colors that others cannot. Jonas escapes the community in order to save the life of his baby “brother” Gabriel, and the last pages of the novel find the pair in the snow facing an uncertain future.

Lowry confronts the reader with uncomfortable situations, and many middle school students do not enjoy the book, but they do remember the book. I can use references to Jonas and his community throughout high school, and students will make connections to The Giver in their responses to literature.

The novel was first published in 1993 and is usually categorized as science fiction. A more appropriate category would be dystopia. The popularity of the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins has highlighted this growing trend in YA literature; other dystopic visions of the future that I have been looking to include on our classroom shelves include:
Feed (2002) by M. T. Anderson,
Never Let Me Go (2005) by Kazuo Ishiguro,
Uglies (2005) by Scott Westerfeld (and other books Pretties, Specials, Peeps)
The Maze Runner (2009) by James Dashner

There are always used copies of The Giver in the children’s sections at book sales. I have never found the book mistakenly shelved with adult books; apparently, everyone is familiar enough with the book to know where to place a copy. These copies are usually pretty worn- some have highlighted text, others show “backpack” abuse. I will purchase most of these copies so that we have extra copies for students to write in or maybe create “found poetry” with pages from a disassembled text. Occasionally, I will come across a newer copy to add. Since children’s books are generally $.50 or half the cost of an adult trade paperback, I am not overspending when I get these copies.

The cover has not changed since the book’s first printing, except to add the Newberry Award medallion to the upper right corner. The old man’s face and torn left corner are evocative of the novel’s themes. Here is a cover students can write about! The novel’s size is a mixed blessing- small enough not to intimidate the reader, but also small enough to be lost in a pile of used books. I often have to dig into piles of children’s books to find a copy.

Currently the book retails for $6.99.

The Giver will remain as a core text for our 7th graders. This is one of the books Wamogo middle school students who have come from three different elementary schools from three different towns will share together. Lowry’s novel marks a similar “coming of age”; as 7th graders, our students also have new responsibilities. Many of our students feel at times that middle school is a dystopia (a police state?), and they share these connections and their ideas of their future when they read this text. Many students may not enjoy the book, but all students keep memories of The Giver.