Saturday, December 1, 2007

December 2007: Adrienne Dubiecki, Our “Getting to Know You” Superstar


December 2007 America Learns Strategy of the Month
Mentoring Partnership for Los Angeles Youth

When you think Venn diagrams, what comes to mind?

How about forming a meaningful relationship with the student or mentee you’re serving?

This month’s strategy offers an innovative way for tutors, mentors and their students/mentees to use Venn diagrams to get to know one another, and to even track the development of their relationship and one another’s personal growth.

The strategy was contributed to the America Learns Network by Adrienne Dubiecki, the Academic Mentoring Program Manager with Children Uniting Nations/mPLAY (the Mentoring Partnership for Los Angeles Youth).

More About Adrienne


Adrienne (in blue) with mPLAY mentors.

Adrienne, who earned an MSW from UC Berkeley, told us that she came to CUN/mPLAY earlier this year because she was "immediately drawn to their mission of providing mentors to youth in the foster care system, and the school-based program in particular. I love being in the position of bringing caring adults into the lives of children, especially those in our program who often lack stability in their lives."

She used this particular strategy with a group of mentors and mentees in one of mPLAY’s Saturday School programs on the first day that everyone met. "It was such a success that I now incorporate it into the handouts that all mentors get before they are matched," she said.

The Strategy


Created by: Adrienne Dubiecki, MSW/PPSC at Children Uniting Nations/mPLAY
(America Learns Network member since 2006)
Topic: Getting to Know Your Student or Mentee
Grade Levels: First - Ninth
Arrangements: Pairs or groups of three
- Best on larger poster paper, but 8.5 x 11 works as well
- Markers, pens or colored pencils for you and your mentees

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Situation: This strategy is most appropriate when mentors and mentees are meeting for the first time or in the initial "getting to know you" phase. It works for pairs or groups of three. (It gets more complicated with larger numbers.)
Step 1: Introduce Venn diagrams.

Explain what a Venn diagram is. You can say, "We use Venn diagrams to show the relationship between two or more things."

You can then give an example of how you'd create one for two people (two circles) or three people (three circles).

Say: "This circle represents Person A [draw the circle], this circle represents Person B [draw the interconnected circle]," and so on.

Then you would give an example of something that Person A and Person B have in common and something that makes them different from one another.

For example, Person A and Person B both like chocolate chip ice cream (then write the word or draw a picture of chocolate chip ice cream in the part of the circles that overlap). The next example might be: But Person A likes to rollerblade and Person B likes to skateboard (then you would write or draw each example inside the circles that correspond to each person, not in the overlapping area).

Use examples that relate to personality, goals/dreams, lifestyle, academic interests, etc. to model what you want the exercise to look like when you do it with your mentee in the next step.


Step 2: Using the large poster paper (if possible) and different colored markers/pens (one for each person), draw (or ask your mentee to draw) two BIG interconnected circles to have enough room to fit words or pictures.

Take turns or have your mentee do all of the writing/drawing as both of you come up with things you have in common or not.
Step 3: When you think you have come up with as many things as possible, read (or have your mentee read) everything that you came up with.

America Learns Note:

On top of reading your diagram together, there are a number of activities you can do from here such as:

- Finding something that your mentee is good at and setting up a plan for her to share that skill or knowledge with you.

- Finding if your mentee wants to learn something from you and setting up a plan for you to share your knowledge or skill set.

- Writing a fictional story or play together about two (or three) people who are similar and different in the same way that both (or all) of you are.

- Bringing out this chart periodically to review it and note what has changed in your lives. Perhaps as a result of your relationship or another experience in your lives, a difference between or among all of you has become a similarity or vice versa. Updating or creating a new Venn diagram throughout your relationship could lead to an innovative, meaningful journaling or diary-keeping experience.

- If you create multiple diagrams over time, consider assembling them into a collage or another art piece that tracks the changes in both of your lives.

Step 4: Regardless of any additional activities you do with the diagram, ask your mentee if she wants to keep it or if you should. Let them know that you can always come back to it if you think of more things later.
Related Resources & Materials for America Learns Network Members: If your organization is a part of the America Learns Network community, check out these additional resources to consider using with your student or mentee:
- Exploring Your Student's Culture
- Getting to Know You as a Reader (Conducting Reading Interviews)
- Getting to Know You as a Writer (Conducting Writing Interviews)
- The Sharing Game (A Group "Getting to Know You" Game) (from our partner, Peace Games)
- We All Have Things in Common


Please share your thoughts about this strategy and any messages you have for Adrienne by clicking the grey “Comments” link below.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

November 2007: Fredda Wasserman, Talking With Children About Death


November 2007 America Learns Strategy of the Month

Our team members are constantly tracking and responding to the challenges faced by the educators and mentors we support.

Earlier this year, a mentor we serve faced a serious challenge that's rarely (if ever) covered in formal trainings: her mentee's grandmother had just passed away and the mentor was left wondering how she could be supportive.

Should she ask her mentee how she was feeling? Should she bring up the mentee's grandmother in any sort of conversation? Should she try to empathize with her mentee?

We teamed up with Fredda Wasserman at OUR HOUSE in Los Angeles to create a meaningful and useful strategy for the mentor.

More on Fredda and OUR HOUSE

Fredda Wasserman

Our House

OUR HOUSE is a non-profit grief support center in Los Angeles. The organization provides support groups for grieving adults, children, and teens that are age and relationship specific. The organization also offers education, consultation, and post-crisis grief interventions.

Fredda Wasserman, MA, MPH, LMFT, CT is the Clinical Director of Adult Programs and Education at OUR HOUSE. She is a Certified Thanatologist with a specialty in living with life-changing illness, end-of-life, and bereavement. Fredda regularly presents retreats, seminars, and workshops for medical and mental health professionals throughout the country. She earned her Masters degree in Health Education & Health Administration from the UCLA School of Public Health and her Masters in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University. Learn more about Fredda’s private practice. (Be sure to check out her CDs. We’re big fans).

The Strategy

Supporting Children Who Are Grieving

Created by: Fredda Wasserman, MA, MPH, LMFT, CT at OUR HOUSE
Topics: - Your Relationship With Your Student/Mentee
- Supporting Grieving Children
Grade Levels: Pre-school - Twelfth
Arrangements: - One-on-One
- Small Group (up to five children)
Materials: Patience and understanding

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Situation: After the death of someone close to them, most children go through a variety of normal grief responses. Some of the most common reactions are shock, disbelief, confusion, sadness, fear, emptiness, guilt, anger, helplessness, difficulty concentrating, and sleep disturbances. It is helpful for children to talk with someone and express their feelings. Here are some suggestions on how you can help a child who is grieving.

Please note that while this resource was written for young children, you can adapt the following suggestions for work with older children as well as adults.

First Suggestion: When working with a young child, use correct terminology when explaining what happens to the body when someone dies.

Clearly state: “After the accident/as a result of the cancer, Dad’s body stopped working and he died”. While using the word “died” can be unfamiliar and may feel awkward to adults, remember that young children process language literally and don’t understand euphemisms such as “she passed away” or “we lost him or her.”

Second Suggestion: Accept the child’s feelings about the death.

Children often have a wide range of emotions after a death. Accept their reactions. Don’t tell them not to feel the way they are feeling. For example,

Instead of this:

Child: “Grandma died and I feel really sad that she won’t be here for my birthday party.”

You: “You shouldn’t feel that way. Think of all your friends who will be there with you.”

Try this response instead:

Your response: “It sounds like you will really miss her. Will you tell me about your grandma?”

Third Suggestion: Expect that a child will grieve differently than an adult.

Developmentally children can only handle small amounts of pain/grief at a time; therefore, they may be openly sad one moment and happily playing the next. This is normal behavior, especially for younger children.

Fourth Suggestion: Know that it is OK for you to mention the person who died.

It can be comforting for the child to hear that you remember the person who died, or you remember something that they told you about the person. If they ask you not to mention the person, always be respectful of the child’s wishes.

Fifth Suggestion: Encourage the child to express her feelings.

Provide materials that will help the child you’re working with to express his grief through drawing, painting, collage, making lists of words that describe what they are experiencing, creating music playlists, or through another medium they enjoy using. Read about one art activity called "I Remember" that you can use with your student or mentee (pdf).

If you are working with a small group of children who have experienced the death of a close friend or relative, encourage them to share their projects with one another either by going around in a circle, meeting in small groups, or having a type of fair where people can walk around, look at and discuss one another’s projects. After the sharing process, ask who else has had some of those same feelings that they heard or saw. Ask who had different feelings.

Additional Resources & Materials: Information on the normal grief process for adults, children and adolescents can be emailed to you by contacting or


Please share your thoughts about this strategy by clicking the grey “Comments” link below.

Monday, October 1, 2007

October 2007: Sarah Gaw is Getting Kids “Wired” about Books


October 2007 America Learns Strategy of the Month 
Harvard Academic Support Initiative

What would you do if you worked with students after-school and were asked to help your students:
- Appreciate reading and books;
- Improve their reading comprehension skills;
- Improve their speaking skills; and
- Do all of the above through an art project?

What if you also saw a huge need for your students to practice listening to one another during class discussions?

Sarah Gaw has an answer for you. While working in Boston as Conservatory Lab Charter School's After-School Program Coordinator, Sarah reflected on an assignment she had in seventh grade that led her to create wire sculptures to retell a story she read.  "I loved the process of creating sculptures," Sarah told us, "and my teachers loved my creations."  Doing a similar activity with her students was especially appealing to her as it would give her beginning readers an opportunity to feel really successful while retelling a story. 

More about Sarah

Sarah Gaw

Photo by Suzanne Camarata


Emily Smit, who worked with Sarah through the Harvard Achievement Support Initiative (America Learns Network member since 2005), has nothing but wonderful things to say about her.  "As the After School Program Coordinator at the Conservatory Lab Charter School, Sarah prepared a variety of engaging activities for elementary students. Combining her interest in the arts with her skills as an educator, she brought a unique perspective to after school programming.  Her creativity and consistency has had a lasting, positive impact on the school community."

Since leaving Conservatory Lab at the end of last school year, Sarah has been teaching photography at the Brookline Arts Center.  She also works as a digital printmaker at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and privately for professional photographers.

The Strategy

Using Characters to Encourage Positive Learning

Created by: Sarah Gaw at Conservatory Lab Charter School and Harvard Achievement Support Initiative (America Learns Network member since 2005)
Topics: - Book Appreciation
- Book Reports
- English Language Learners
- Listening & Speaking Skills
- Reading Comprehension
Grade Levels: Kindergarten - Third
Arrangements: - One-on-One; Small Group; Large Group
- Twistable art wire or pipe cleaners
- Optional: objects to wrap wire around to make shapes (e.g., small balls for circles, blocks or dice for rectangles and squares)
- Optional: beads or other ornaments

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Situation: My students have a very hard time listening to each other. I wanted to create a positive and creative environment where they could work on their listening skills while encouraging book appreciation, literacy, reading comprehension and speaking skills.  I also wanted to encourage the other students to watch, listen to, and interact with presenters respectfully.

I found that using artwork as a catalyst allows ELL (English Language Learner) students to feel successful even if they don't know all of the right words.  In this strategy, they may even use books in their native language to feel more comfortable.

Note: Before you begin this strategy, be sure that you have made a "wire character" of your own to model for your students later on (details are below).

Step 1: Discuss each student's favorite book or choose a book you've read in your program.

Ask your students questions that help them explore the traits of the book's main characters.  Some questions I've used include:

  • What makes it your favorite book?
  • Which characters are most dynamic?
  • What does "dynamic" mean?
  • What objects does the character use throughout the book to define who s/he is? A bicycle? a pet? Big shoes? Funny hair?
  • How does this character change other characters?
  • What emotions does s/he express? Do you ever feel those emotions?
Step 2: Tell your students that they will each make a sculpture of one of their favorite characters in their selected book today.

Show your students the wire character you made earlier, and share how your sculpture represents the character's looks and traits.

If time allows, explore the meaning of sculpture and 2-dimensional versus 3-dimensional art with your students.  Here are some prompts you can use to lead the discussion.

Sculpture: Sculpture is a type of art where you take something that doesn't have a defined shape and make it into a shape. For example, if you start with a ball of clay and create a dinosaur, that is a sculpture. A sculpture of a dinosaur can be created with wire too--just bend the wires and twist them together to create the form of the dinosaur.

2-D/3-D: A drawing of a dinosaur is two dimensional -- it tells you how tall and how long the dinosaur is. A clay sculpture is three dimensional--besides being able to tell how tall and long the dinosaur is, you can also tell how wide the dinosaur is.

Another example -- a sheet of paper is basically two dimensional -- it has width and height, but not much depth. If you fold it into a paper airplane, it is now a three dimensional sculpture--it has shape: width, height and depth.

Ask your students to pick a character that they want to make a sculpture of.  Ask them to think about the back and front of the character, and about how they could show the character's emotions  with wire.  As they share their ideas, bend some wire to help them see their ideas come to life.  For example, if they say you can bend the wire in a U-shape to create a smile, bend the wire to resemble a smile.

Step 3: Give each student some wire.  Mention that multiple colors can be used to create a different objects (e.g., if Pippi Longstocking has red hair and a blue dress, make it so!).

(Note that some students may want to draw their character first to develop some ideas about what to make with the wire.)

Give students a lot of time to make their creations (at least 45 minutes). Assist with wire-bending techniques. Show how they can wrap the wire around other objects to help create circles, squares, etc. within their sculptures. Watch for frustration and do what you can to encourage your students to overcome any challenges they face in turning their ideas to reality.  Let any frustrated students know that it takes practice to learn any new kind of art, and that your top expectations are that they put 100% into this activity, have fun, and learn more about their selected characters and stories.

Step 4: When the students are finished, go to the rug or another suitable presentation area to give the presentations a different character than the art space.  (Due to time constraints, the presentations may not happen until the next session.)

Be very clear about what you're looking for from your students.  Ask them to bring up the book and their sculpture.  Ask them to read the title and author's name aloud, to show a few pictures, and to describe the story in their own words.  Then ask them to share their sculpture and to talk about its features.  Give time for each student to answer questions from the other students.  (America Learns Note: You may want to model this process for them with a book and sculpture of your own, as well as taking the lead in asking questions at first.)

Discuss respectful listening behavior, appropriate questions (you may want to post some on butcher paper or write them on a board), and circle etiquette.  Be sure to "catch the students being good," recognizing them when they ask good questions, listen well, etc.

America Learns Note: An alternative to the presentation is to turn your space into a museum where students display and their sculptures and books, and then take turns walking around and asking their fellow students about the stories and sculptures.

Related Strategies in the America Learns Network: Please note that these strategies are only available to current Network members


Please share your thoughts about this strategy with us and with Sarah by clicking the grey “Comments” link below.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

September 2007: Wendy Tigerman, Secret Agent Writer


September 2007 America Learns Strategy of the Month 

Meet Wendy Tigerman, WriteGirl mentor and September 2007's America Learns Superstar.

Wendy has been volunteering for programs that support teens for a number of years.  "I really have a passion for helping teenagers" she told us.  "Parents just abandon them and write them off and think, 'Oh, he’s just a teenager.' I don’t think kids have to be in the excruciating pain that they’re in.” 

Wendy shared with us that as soon as she discovered WriteGirl two years ago, "I was so blown away by the girls and their writing."  Her WriteGirl mentoring experiences have even motivated her to write in new genres, including a children's book that will be released next year called If We Had Some Ooga.

Wendy's Strategy
Wendy created an engaging, energy-filled strategy that teaches young people that their own lives can be an inspiration for meaningful writing.  Here's how Wendy summarizes her strategy.  "You need to write what you know.  Write what you see.  Write what you hate.  Finally, you are the center of the universe.”

More about Wendy

Wendy Tigerman


Wendy is an award-winning radio writer/director/producer, senior copywriter and associate creative director.  Her expertise is in writing, casting, directing and producing radio spots. She also creates concepts and copy for TV spots, video projects, ads, billboards, direct mail, brochures, posters, websites, one-sheets, packaging, newsletters, press releases and bios.  Some past clients are The WB Television Network, Toyota, Intel, Universal Studios Tours and Buena Vista Television.

Wendy on Mentoring
"Mentoring is like parenting.  You have preconceptions about what it’s going to be like and what [your mentee] is going to be interested in.  And then she shows up and it’s this complex young woman.  If you don’t listen to her, it won’t work.  You need to recognize her abilities and challenge her to be more....  You really have to pay attention to who you’re working with."

The Strategy


Created by: Wendy Tigerman at WriteGirl
Topics: - Character Development
- Fiction
- Poetry
Grade Levels: 9th - 12th, Adult
Arrangements: - One-on-One
- A public setting such as a café (alternatives to public settings are listed below)
- Note paper and a pen or pencil for both of you (or a laptop computer)
- Optional: dark sunglasses for both of you so that you can stay "under cover"
- Optional: these observation sheets (pdf file)

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Situation: My mentee likes to write fantasy and I wanted to help her see her life as a valuable writing resource.  We often do variations of this strategy to help her understand this important lesson.

This strategy also offers mentees meaningful practice in using descriptive language and details to make the settings and characters in their writing come alive.

Step 1: We sat down at the café, donned our shades (this is where the "spying part" starts to come in), and began to study the people around us for a long time.

We each picked a person and studied their physical appearance, actions, body language, voice, what they ordered, what they did while they ate, etc. We took notes on all of their qualities and discussed what we observed.

When we did this the first time, I picked out a person and whispered questions like, Do you see that guy over there, the one by the counter?  Why do you think he’s here?  Do you think he’s waiting for someone?  Do you think he orders that every day?  Is that what he always orders?

I also asked questions about his appearance so that my mentee could actively think about how she’d describe those aspects of him.  For example, Why is he wearing that shirt?

America Learns Note: If your mentee needs some help with organizing her observations, consider using one of these three types of observation sheets or coming up with another format.  As she gets the hang of organizing her observations on paper, you can encourage her to organize them on her own using any format that works best for her.

Step 2: Put your observations to work.

Write fictional stories
We'd sometimes write fictional stories about why the people we observed were there, what they wanted, what their obstacles were, and whether they got what they came for. I encouraged my mentee to dig deep, thinking about where they were at in their lives, their hopes, dreams, frustrations, and how this simple scene played into that.

Following is an excerpt of what my mentee wrote about the person in the shirt mentioned above.  This piece was later published.


The Man in the Blue Shirt

The man in the blue shirt is pacing around Starbucks as if he's waiting for someone, or something.  Food perhaps, maybe a seat?  Couldn't be, there are a few places to sit.  He stares up at the menu before circling one more time.  Finally he places his order, he knows exactly what he wants -- Cafe Americana with coffee cake.

His cheeks are like Marlon Brando's in The Godfather, he even has that same scratchy mafia-like voice.  He's wearing light brown sunglasses with gold trim, light enough that you can see his eyes.  They're eyes of a man who's lived a long time.  Their color has faded and they're watery.  The man's hair is grey, almost white, with evidence of its original color.  There's a patch of gleaming baldness at the back of his head.  His arms are hairy, almost wolf-like. His black arm hairs and head hairs are clearly not on speaking terms.

Read the entire story by Aisha Holden in Untangled (WriteGirl Publications, 2006).


Write poetry
Other times we'd write poems that centered around several people in the café. We'd project them into relationships that didn't exist, and write about ones that did. We'd sometimes take turns writing a line, each of us focusing on a different person (such as in the piece below).  My mentee loved this.
The thing I was trying to teach when we wrote the following poem was, “respond to what you’ve written, let the writing talk to you, let go of preconceptions about where your writing is supposed to go...”


Poem excerpt by Aisha & Wendy

Vanessa sits all alone at a table for four.
Hope is alive at Seattle’s Best.

The nose-picker hopes nobody is watching.
But in fact everybody’s watching.

Oh my god, I think that’s Jerry Garcia.
Who the heck is Jerry Garcia?!!?

What’s stranger than a stranger?
A really strange stranger?

He’s still probing.
She’s still alone.

I still don’t know who Jerry Garcia is.
I hope someone tells me soon.


Write fantasy poetry
My mentee loves fantasy.  On the same day we wrote our regular poem, we used some of the same people as characters in a fantasy poem, which we also alternated in writing. We closed our eyes and imagined what was going on in relation to all of our senses (hideous fumes, writhing snakes on the floor), who was good, who was evil, who had power, who had none, their relationships to each other, etc. etc. The writing and fun flowed.


Poem excerpt by Aisha & Wendy

A fat green tentacle reaches out of that guy’s hat.
The monster wants some attention. Now.
Another tentacle reaches out from his shirtsleeve, across the enemy laptop and bravely thumps “delete.”
All is lost.

The Queen arrives, disguised as an old skinny woman.
Her claws flip the pages of People magazine, shredding as she goes.
She’s surrounded in swirling green fog that smells of rotting cats.

No one can see the hideous Queen and her entourage. Only us.
The King shows up. His once thorny tail wraps feebly around his lover’s bony leg.


In our imagining of what was going on in other peoples' minds and hearts, I hoped I was also introducing the possibility to my mentee of looking to one's self for the same non-fiction-, fiction- and fantasy-writing inspiration.

America Learns Note: Other types of writing you can do include writing newspaper or magazine articles, news radio stories, blog entries that the person or people you're observing might write, stories that that people may post on their Facebook or My Space pages, or songs that person may write.

America Learns Note: Alternative Locations for this Strategy

If you're unable to go to a public place with your student or mentee, the following ideas may help.

- Bring in photographs or look up photographs online or on your cell phone's web browser that you and your mentee can observe.

- If you have a laptop computer, bring in an appropriate movie your mentee hasn't seen before and play a scene without sound.  Act as if you're spying in on a scene.  Write stories or poems about your observations.

- If you're working with a group of mentees, divide the students into groups and have them come up with and act out a silent scene while other mentees observe and write stories about their observations.

- Ask your mentee to reflect upon a recent event or moment and think deeply about a person or group of people that were there who she didn't know.  Ask her to write down her descriptions and use those as inspirations for her writing.

Related Strategies in the America Learns Network: Please note that these strategies are only available to current Network members.


Please share your thoughts about this strategy with us and with Wendy by clicking the grey “Comments” link below.

Monday, July 2, 2007

July 2007: Lindsay Thomas, Sight Word Boredom Buster


July 2007 America Learns Strategy of the Month 

AmeriCorps Meet Lindsay Thomas, an AmeriCorps member with Keystone SMILES AmeriCorps and the author of the July 2007 America Learns National Strategy of the Month!

Lindsay created an engaging yet simple activity to help students learn and practice reading sight and "high-frequency" words without relying on boring methods such as flash card drills or just writing down sentences using one word at a time.  Sight and high-frequency words are ones most commonly found in print.  Some of these words are not always spelled or decoded phonetically, which is the reason  students should learn these words by "sight."

More About Lindsay and Keystone SMILES AmeriCorps

Lindsay Thomas

Lindsay decided to join AmeriCorps after reading about the position in a local job posting.  “I had just received my elementary teaching certification, and SMILES seemed like a wonderful way to fulfill my desire to teach,” Thomas told us.  SMILES implements more than 20 different programs across Western Pennsylvania addressing child development, at-risk youth, school support, service learning, fitness and recreation, human needs, environment, senior citizens and adult education. 

And check out what Lindsay's supervisor, Jen Welton, had to say about her: “Lindsay has been a wonderful asset to the Greenville School District through this program.  Upon applying to the program, Lindsay indicated that she hoped to contribute her ‘motivated spirit and passion for education.’ To her students benefit, she has done just that.  Her caring and creativity are evident in this month’s strategy and we are proud to have hosted a member of her caliber.”

The Strategy


Created by: Lindsay Thomas, Keystone SMILES AmeriCorps
(America Learns Network member since 2005)
Topic: Sight & High Frequency Words
Grade Levels: First - Third
Arrangements: One-on-One; Small Group; Large Group
- Note cards and a pen or pencil for you to make sight card words with (or download 220 pre-made cards for free)
- Chart paper, a white/black board, or a piece of 8.5 x 11 paper 

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Situation: I had students do this activity because I was looking for a fun and creative way for them to practice high frequency words.  I wanted to find an alternative to using less engaging flash card drills or just asking students to write sentences using one word at a time.
Step 1: Explain to students that you have a new game for them to play. The game requires them to draw three to five words at a time from a deck of high frequency word cards.
Step 2: Once students have their cards (you can download 220 cards here), their challenge is to use all of the words in a sentence (they can add other words as well).

Remind students to be as creative or silly as possible in creating their sentences. This makes the activity a ton of fun for both the students and for me!

Step 3: When students share their sentences, write them down on the chart paper (or ask for a volunteer to write them down).
Step 4: Once a sentence has been recorded, students draw three to five more cards and repeat the process.
Step 5: If you are working with more advanced students, have them use word cards to create sentences as they write a creative short story instead of independent sentences.  Consider asking them  act out their stories in small groups later so that they can watch their new words and stories come to life.
Step 6: Here's an additional activity you can use with this strategy, either in a one-on-one setting or in a small group:

Divide your students into two or more groups and explain that the groups are going to work together to create an amazing story about a ____ (ask for a volunteer to call out an idea or you can just name a fun topic). Have students in one group draw their three to five cards as a group and come up with a sentence together to start off the story. Write down that sentence. Next, have students in another group draw their cards and create a sentence to continue the story. Let your students know when the last three to four sentence-creating opportunities will be so that they can wrap up the story.

Before beginning this activity, you may ask for a volunteer illustrator who will illustrate the story as you're writing it down. If you do this, be sure the person you choose has opportunities during your time together to practice her sight words and doesn't spend the whole time illustrating.

Related Resources & Materials for America Learns Network Members: If your organization is a part of the America Learns Network, check out these related resources to consider using with your student or mentee:
- Sight Word Hopscotch
- Sight Word Football
- “Say Cheese!” (Helping Students Remember Sight Words)
- Connect the Dots to Spell Sight Words!
- Writing & Reading a Silly Story with Sight Words


Please share your thoughts about this strategy and any messages you have for Lindsay by clicking the grey “Comments” link below.

Friday, June 1, 2007

June 2007: Emily Marcus, “Behavior Basketball” Superstar


America Learns Strategy of the Month

Meet Emily Marcus, an AmeriCorps member with City of Lakes AmeriCorps and the author of the June 2007 America Learns Strategy of the Month!

Emily MarcusEmily joined AmeriCorps after college to explore her interests of education and the nonprofit sector.  She has spent this past year serving as a tutor/mentor and an afterschool leader at Jefferson Elementary. 

She shared that, "I love working with the kids and listening to their stories.  They all have something to say.  I'm honored to be able to have a little part in their lives."  Emily is also thankful for AmeriCorps' existence.  "[It] has provided me with a world of invaluable experience and connections," she told us recently.

And check out what Emily's supervisor, Jennifer Valley, had to say about her: "Although she is known for her great smile and positive attitude, even Emily has had her share of challenging students. This strategy is just one great example of how she has risen to the challenge and engaged her students in learning while keeping her cool. We're very proud of Emily and all she has accomplished this year!"

About the Strategy
Emily shared the following strategy that she's been using to keep her students well behaved while they're waiting in line to do something.  We hope you and any students you work with will benefit from it as well.

The Strategy


Created by: Emily Marcus, City of Lakes AmeriCorps
(America Learns Network member since 2004)
Topics: Behavior
Group Cooperation
Grade Levels: Kindergarten - 4th
Arrangements: Small Group; Large Group

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Situation: My students tend to become antsy and irritating to each other and to the teacher while waiting in line, especially while waiting for a drink or the restroom.  I observed this strategy used by a student teacher where I work.
Step 1: As the students are in line, explain to them that you have something for them in your hand. Begin dribbling an imaginary basketball.  Talk about and show the great "tricks" you can do with it by pretending to twirl it on your finger, to throw it up high in the air and the catch it with your eyes closed, etc.

Dribble it around the group while saying things like, "Watch out, I don't want to get anyone's toes..."  It is important to set up the "greatness" of the ball the first time.

Step 2: Next, tell them you are going to pass the ball, but only to those students who are quiet and listening closely.  After choosing a student to receive the ball, point to them and tell them to put their hands up to catch it.  After "tossing" it to the student, commend them on a nice catch and have them dribble it or do a quick trick before tossing it back to you.
Step 3: Allowing only a few students at a time to play keeps the game new in the students' minds, allows for more transition time, and allows you to use the game later.

Allowing another student to take the lead as the main ball passer, such as on his or her birthday, gives the activity added attraction.


Please share your thoughts about this strategy and any messages you have for Emily by clicking the grey “Comments” link below.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

May 2007: Deborah Berry, Alphabetical Order Superstar



AmeriCorps Mississippi
America Reads - Mississippi 

Meet Deborah Berry, the author of the May 2007 America Learns National Strategy of the Month!

Deborah is an AmeriCorps member with America Reads - Mississippi (ARM).  One of the reasons we love this AmeriCorps program so much is that its mission is much, MUCH larger than having its 270 members ensure that Mississippi's youth develop the strongest possible literacy skills.  ARM also works to address the state's teacher shortage by training and then motivating its best tutors to further their educations and become the state’s next cohort of top-notch teachers.  It's been an honor to watch the program realize this part of its mission since it joined the America Learns Network in 2004.

About Deborah’s Strategy
May07SSOM_HomeAs you're about to learn, Deborah Berry has the potential to become one of Mississippi's top-notch teachers.  Several weeks ago, her students were having a difficult time understanding the concept of alphabetical order.  So rather than relying upon flash cards or making lists of words, she led her students to create their own alphabetical order picture puzzles!

The Strategy


Created by: Deborah Berry, America Reads - Mississippi
(America Learns Network member since 2004)
Topics: Alphabet
Grade Levels: First & Second
Arrangements: One-on-One; Small Group; Large Group
- Magazines students may cut up
- One sheet of scratch paper for each student
- One sheet of construction paper for each student
- Scissors and glue
- One pencil for each student
- Optional: laminating machine; large freezer bags or large paper clips

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Situation: We were reviewing the concept of alphabetical order and some of my students were having problems understanding it.
Step 1: Tell your students that they'll be making puzzles today!

First, each student will need to create a list of five or six alphabetized words. Encourage your students to help one another check to see if their words are in the correct order. You should check each page as well.

Step 2: Pass out magazines and one sheet of construction paper to each student.

Ask your students to each cut out one full page from a magazine and to glue that page to the construction paper.

Step 3: America Learns: Picture Perfect Alphabetical OrderOn the side of the construction paper without the picture, have your students draw zigzag lines, making one row for each word in their alphabetized lists.

Now ask your students to write one word from their alphabetized lists in each row. Be sure the students list their words in alphabetical order.

Step 4: If possible, laminate these pieces of construction paper.  Even if you can't laminate them, cut the papers apart along the lines the students made for the rows.
Step 5: America Learns: Picture Perfect Alphabetical OrderYour students can now use these pieces as an alphabetical order picture puzzle!  They will put the words in alphabetical order and then flip the pieces over to see their pictures.  If the words are placed in the correct order, the picture will be too!

After the students have fun with their own puzzles, ask them to trade their puzzles with other students to work on alphabetizing additional word sets.


Please share your thoughts about this strategy and any messages you have for Deborah by clicking the grey “Comments” link below.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

April 2007: Courtney Harkness, Literacy Game Master


April 2007 America Learns Strategy of the Month  

Meet Courtney Harkness, a member of the University of Michigan America Reads Tutoring Corps and the author of the April 2007 Strategy of the Month!

Courtney HarknessCourtney, a graduate student studying cellular, molecular and developmental biology, tutors at New Beginnings Academy in Ypsilanti, MI.  She has been working this school year with students needing help with reading words made up of specific word chunks, sounds and vowel endings.

As Courtney brainstormed on ways to support her students, inspiration hit: the famous Plinko game on CBS's longstanding game show, The Price is Right.  Read the strategy and become inspired below!

More About Courtney


Courtney notes that she chose to tutor with America Reads because "I essentially just love to teach... any age, any subject. I haven't had the opportunity in recent years to work with such young kids (I usually teach/tutor college students), and I've really enjoyed the experience."

When we asked Courtney's supervisor, Rachel Klingelhofer, to talk about Courtney, she wrote that, "She is a really smart, thoughtful, passionate person and it comes through in her work all the time. It is always remarkable to me that education isn't her field of study, yet she's a natural at the work.  Her strategy exemplifies the way she goes above and beyond in her efforts for tutoring....  It is exactly the kind of creative, targeted work we hope for."

The Strategy


Created by: Courtney Harkness, University of Michigan America Reads Tutoring Corps
(America Learns Network member since 2004)
Topics: - Decoding & Sounding Out Words
- Sight & High Frequency Words
Grade Levels: K - 2nd
Arrangements: One-on-One; Small Group
- Cork board and thumb tacks
- Poker chips
- Sticky notes
- Black marker

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Situation: My kids needed a way to work on various word chunks, word endings, and vowel sounds, so I wanted to create a game that I could modify and use for different purposes. The inspiration for this game comes from the television game show, "The Price is Right."
Step 1: Word Link-O BoardUsing a cork board and thumb tacks, I made a grid-like arrangement wide enough for a poker chip to fall through. At the bottom of the board, I made a bank of slots to randomly catch the chips as they fell. (Think Plinko.)
Step 2: The sticky notes are what make this game applicable to many different topics (you can write whatever you need to on them). When I played the game, I had various word endings in my slots at the bottom, (-ed, -s, -ing). I wrote one word ending on each note, and then posted one note to each slot.
Step 3: I wrote simple verbs (I tried to use sight words) on the poker chips that would always or almost always make sense with any word ending I had listed at the bottom.  So if I wrote the word "want" on a poker chip, it could fall into slots that would turn that word into wanted, wanting, wants, etc.

When the poker chip was sent down the "Word Link-O" board a new word was formed (hopefully) each time.

Step 4: To drive the point home, I asked my student to either write out the word again using magnetic letters or on a sheet of paper. Sometimes we would form sentences using that word.
Step 5: This game also works for different word chunks and rhyming words. Just put a word ending (or beginning) on a poker chip, and place sticky notes with corresponding beginnings (or endings) on each slot at the bottom.


Please share your thoughts about this strategy and any messages you have for Courtney by clicking the grey “Comments” link below.