A Great Resource for Lesson Plans

Are you familiar with The New York Times Learning Network blog? Since 1998 they posted lesson plans, writing prompts, student contests, news quizzes, and much more based on articles and multimedia from The New York Times. All articles referenced on the blog are free, not behind a paywall, and new content is added daily during the school year.  I am a freelance contributor to the blog but I am also an avid user of the blog.

The blog contributors and editors do a great job developing lesson plans and they are often interdisciplinary.  I love that they are simple and easy to present.  I love to use the lesson plans as my emergency sub plans because they are high quality and can be led by someone who does not have a lot of background knowledge.

I’ve used many of the lessons on the blog so I can recommend the following for use in secondary classrooms looking to bring science topics into the English classroom:

These are just a few of the many, many lesson plans available from The Learning Network.  The resources available through the blog are practically endless and each lesson plan has many extensions and cross-curricular ideas.  Spend some time this summer browsing the site!

The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science

51VP9aDb4SL._SX348_BO1,204,203,200_The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science: Poems for the School Year Integrating Science, Reading, and Language Arts by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong is aimed at grades K-5 but can definitely be adapted for secondary students, too.  Available in a student and teacher edition, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science includes poems by 78 poets about topics in science. Topics range from science fairs to biology to physics to chemistry and everything in between.

While the book is aimed at K-5 students and teachers I have used the poems as mentor texts for my high school students.  Poetry is often intimidating for my students as they believe it must be deep and life-changing.  Sometimes, poetry is just a great way to stretch your brain and think about topics in a new way.  The poems in this collection do just that!  I’ve shared poems with students and then challenged them to write poems about what they are currently studying in science.  One student now writes rhymes to help himself study for science tests!

The teacher’s edition includes lesson plan ideas in the form of Take 5!

The “Take 5” Mini-lesson for every poem includes 5 steps:
#1: Here you will find an easy suggestion for how to make the poem come alive as
you read it aloud by pairing the poem with a prop, adding gestures or movement, trying
out specific dramatic reading techniques, adding multi-media, and so on.
#2: This tip suggests how to engage students in participating with you in reading the
poem aloud again. For example, look for any repeated words, phrases, lines, or stanzas
in the poem and invite students to chime in on those words as you read the rest of the
poem aloud.
#3: You’ll find a fun discussion prompt here, tailored to Nit the poem. It’s usually an
open- ended question with no single, correct answer. Encourage diversity in responses!
#4: Here we connect the poem to a specific science skill or concept offering a
targeted focus for quick explanation,simple demonstration, or a multi-media connection.
#5: We share related poem titles and book titles that connect well with the featured
poem based on the poem content or science topic.
This PDF from the publisher includes more information.

I highly recommend this book for students and teachers of all grade levels. The poems can be used in science or English class and because they support the Common Core Standards and Next Generation Science Standards they are easy to adapt to the curriculum in any class.


The Nerdy Book Club is a must-read blog for teachers. They are always sharing information about amazing books and ideas for literacy across the content areas.

Earlier this week author Patricia Newman posted an entry about her new book, Sea Otter Heroes, that would be great for students to read. She talks about why she writes about science and the process of writing a book about a conservation issue.

Nerdy Book Club

When I was a kid, I loved science. It was so relevant. It helped me make connections to the rest of the world, like the time my second-grade class designed an experiment to understand the concept of one million by making Xs on graph paper during our free time. (It took us forever!) Or when my biology class injected chicks with hormones. The testosterone chick grew larger and developed an aggressive personality. A light bulb went on about why boys do the things they do.

I’m also a nature-lover. I remember our warm-up run for field hockey practice on the cross-country course that took us through the woods. The crunch of fall leaves beneath my sneakers, the earthy smell, the bird song, the peacefulness. I loved that run. And today, my ideal vacation takes me back to nature.

I think that’s why I gravitate toward life science topics—and specifically…

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Slice of Life #2- Field Guide to NJ Species

Yesterday I shared an assignment that my students just completed that I think could be adapted to English classes at any grade level. Feel free to steal!

The Reading Zone

Last week I tried a new assignment with my 9th graders and I’m so proud of how it turned out! Our current unit is called Literature and the Land and we are focusing on nature writing.  Specifically, we began by studying writers like Edward Abbey and John Muir and moved to writers who focus on New Jersey.  Right now the students are reading excerpts from John McPhee’s The Pine Barrens. I’ve also been sharing picture books like Coyote Moon, Finding Wild, and Faraway Fox.

It’s too cold to go outside most days so I wanted to come up with a way for my students to learn about species found in NJ without forcing them to freeze.  I’ve always loved field guides so I decided to challenge them to create a field guide to NJ species. I borrowed a bunch of field guides from the biology teacher to use as mentor…

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Authors for Earth Day- Conservation and Books

How was I not already aware of Authors for Earth Day?  What an amazing concept!

Authors for Earth Day (A4ED) is a grassroots coalition of award-winning children’s authors and illustrators who directly mentor young readers by giving them “an authentic research project with real-world impact.”

Wow! The list of authors is available on their website and it’s a great list.  Visits are available year-round and visits costs the same as a regular author visit.  The difference is that in this case the author donates at least 30% of their fee to a non-profit conservation organization as chosen by the students. Their website has lots of information and all genres are represented.  I’d love to see some more YA authors on the list, but right now there are over 100 participating authors and they’ve done visits all over the world.

This would be a great way to encourage collaboration between different subject areas and to build enthusiasm for literacy and conservation.  It’s a win-win situation!

Get Those Kids Out of the Room:  Books to Get Your Students Outside and Immersed in Nature by Sarah Gross

Check out my post on The Nerdy Book Club today!

Nerdy Book Club

The onslaught of testing required by the No Child Left Behind Act has resulted in schools pressuring teachers to prepare students for tests, and time spent outdoors has suffered as a result. Nature-deficit disorder is a term used to describe the loss that children and teens experience when they are not given opportunities to have direct contact with nature.  Richard Louv coined the term when researchers began to realize the impact that nature had on children’s health and ability to learn.  Unfortunately, one way that schools have found more time for academics is by cutting recess and physical education, according to the National PTA survey.  Packed schedules after school, rigorous homework, and extracurricular activities too often keep my students inside, bound to their computers and cellphones, rarely giving them the time to be outside.

I am passionate about the need to do more interdisciplinary work in the classroom as a…

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Why this Nature Lover is Embracing Pokémon Go

27541305793_f19c00519a_bFor years I’ve lamented the fact that my students, of all ages, don’t spend any time outside.  They are over-scheduled, overworked, and over-parented (sometimes); there is no time to play outside. During my first year of teaching we went on a field trip to the local nature center and I can still picture a group of students standing on the bus steps exclaiming, “But there’s mud here!  I can’t walk in mud!”. They promptly pulled out their phones, tablets, and video games.  My current students have asked me to ban cell phones in our classroom because the temptation to Snapchat, play Clash of Clans, or send a text is just too much. And now there is Pokémon Go.

I somehow missed the Pokémon craze as a kid.  I think I was a little too old for it the first time around (or I was just too busy reading) so considered me shocked to find clumps of players wandering my local park.  My husband has downloaded the game and we’ve walked the dogs all over town in order to help him catch and hatch more monsters.  Last night we took a group dog walk at a county park, a county park that would normally be close to empty at 8pm, and stumbled upon dozens of people of all ages playing the game.  I could not believe it! There were shouts of “I missed the Jigglypuff!” followed by “No!  The park is red now!”.  They may not have been identifying local species, but they were spending a lot of time outside playing.

Then my SAT students started talking about the game.  Today, during a heatwave when it felt like it was over 100 degrees outside, half of my students took a walk during our break.  A walk!  Usually they just whip out their phones and put their headphones in their ears, shutting out the world.  But today there were no headphones!  No sitting at their desks!  One teen told me, “I walked 5 miles yesterday.  I don’t think I’ve ever walked 5 miles in my LIFE”.  I had to laugh at his exaggeration, but I understand what he was trying to say.  Suddenly these teens are walking around their neighborhoods and visiting local parks and landmarks.  They are meeting people in these places, friends and acquaintances, and walking together trading tips.  It’s beautiful to watch.

So this teacher will probably still ban phones in the classroom next year, especially because students requested it, but I will also encourage them to play Pokémon Go during lunch.  And after school. Maybe even before school. And we will talk about the parks they visit and what else they notice in those parks.  I may not love the fact that they are still glued to a screen, but any time spent in nature is time well-spent.  Time outside can help reduce stress and help kids and teens feel more connected to the environment.  I’m loving that! Pokémon Go might be the lure we need to get students outside and involved with the ecosystems in their own neighborhood.  Because they may start out with their faces looking at a screen but I hope that they will also start to pay attention to the landscape around them.  Maybe the next time they go outside they’ll leave the phone at home and go wade in that cool creek they found or climb that really weird looking tree.