Slice of Life: Shuffle the Cards and Make Stories

(This is a Slice of Life post, as facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. Lots of educators are writing about the small moments of their days. You write, too.)

kevin 2 storyteller cards pic

I recently wrote a piece for my Working Draft blog over at Middleweb about using a fun, new way to get my students to write stories. Storyteller Cards. They’re pretty nifty and strange, and perfect for sparking interest from my young writers. At the time, I had just introduced the cards to some students, and asked them for suggestions.

Each card has information: a character in a setting, with an object, doing something. Other bits of information along the edges of the cards include a mood, a season, a letter and a playing card suit/number.

This is an image from the Storyteller Card site: An Anatomy of a Card.


Yesterday, I pulled out the deck of cards for all four of my classes and we created a story-writing game of sorts that engaged my sixth graders so much, they were leaving the class asking when we could write again.

This is how we played:

  • Everyone gets two cards, face down. No looking.
  • We all flip one card together, spend a few minutes examining it (lots of excitement when this happened), and begin a short story with that character and some information from the card.
  • We write for 7 to 10 minutes. Keep writing.
  • Then, we flip the second card and add a new surprise character into the story underway (this flip kicks in the giggles and sharing with friends and “what is this?” comments all over the room)
  • Write for another 10 minutes.
  • Share out stories.

Ideally, the third step of this “game” would have been to trade your card with someone next to you, but we never got there. This activity engaged my students and also provided a nice creative break from our Parts of Speech unit and open response prep work that we are doing as we eye our state tests on the horizon.

My co-teacher, seeing the engagement of our writers, made the astute observation:

What if the state test was all about this kind of writing?

What if? As if.

Peace (in the cards),


Slice of Life: I Got a Rock in a Box

(This is a Slice of Life post, which is part of the daily writing challenge facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. You write, too.)

Write, Share, Give

When I got home from school yesterday, a package was waiting for me. I thought maybe some publisher had sent some books for me to review and then I saw the return address and thought, did I win some Slice of Life prize that I didn’t know about?

You see, it was a package from my good friend, Stacey Shubitz, who is part of the Two Writing Teachers team of teacher/writers. I ripped it open and found … this inside.

Cool. A rock with a message that keeps getting sent forward to other people. Yes, it is part promotional gimmick to spread the word of a new book about teaching students to be Upstanding citizens of the world through inquiry and decision-making but I like the main author (Smokey Daniels), I like the message, and I like the way something in the mail connects us to others. And I know just who I am going to send the Upstander rock forward, too, and why. They will be surprised (unless they are reading this right now.)

Peace (in the standing up),

Slice of Life: It’s Quidditch and We’re Cold Fusion

(This is a Slice of Life post, which is part of the daily writing challenge facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. You write, too.)

Quidditch Cold Fusion 2015

Well, some of those who read my blog regularly (thank you) or who read it as part of Slice of Life (thank you) know that March brings Quidditch to our school, and this year is no exception (although it almost did not happen due to reverberations of funding cuts at our school – that’s another story).

Yes, we play Quidditch at our school, a version first created by students more than 10 years ago and adapted over time by our gym teacher, sixth grade team and of course, input from other students over that time. The Quidditch Tournament takes place next month and right now, we are in the midst of deciding class names.

We go through a pretty elaborate nominating process and then voting process. The image above is a screenshot from the voting process (there was some panic in the classroom that The Elsinators would get the top spot.) This year, when all was said and done, my class voted on Cold Fusion for their team name. We’re the blue team, so they always seem to lend towards cold and ice. Cold Fusion is a theoretical idea of creating a contained explosion that creates energy at room temperature. So, yeah, good name for a Quidditch team.


They begin working on t-shirts in art class today, are brainstorming symbols for our team, and making brooms in library, and we have read a chapter from the first Harry Potter novel to connect them to the book, and we will be doing various kinds of writing. I’ll be writing more about our Quidditch for Middleweb, I think.

For now, fuse the cold and create some energy. We are Cold Fusion!

Peace (in the game),


Slice of Life: Writing Kanye

(This is part of Slice of Life, a daily writing challenge throughout March — and every Tuesday during the year — facilitated by the team at Two Writing Teachers. You write, too.)

Yesterday, my youngest son wrote a two-sides handwritten letter to Kanye West. He would not let me read it, other than with a quick glance, and then he asked me to help with the formatting of the envelope (I guess he was never really taught that in school or at home). He went online and found Kanye West’s fan mail address in New York City, or maybe it is the address of the publicist, and promptly went out to the mailbox.

“Does the mail come on Sunday?”


“How about Monday?



We did have a discussion, or reality check, about the possibility that Kanye West may never get his letter, will read his letter and will respond. I felt like Daddy Downer by bringing the reality into the mix. Still, I wanted him to understand how the world of Pop Stars work. He seemed to accept the slim chances of it all happening, but he was proud of his writing and began bragging to his older brothers “that I wrote a letter to Kanye West.”

The letter is more than fan mail, though. My son is in the midst of producing a movie with his friends and they want to use one of Kanye’s songs during a chase scene. The letter follows a few long conversations about copyright infringement and permission from an artist, and my own push “to make your own music for your own movie.” They want Kanye. And now, he sent the letter, asking permission, just as I talked about with him.

Ye, if you read this blog (ha), and find a letter written in 10-year-old handwriting, give it a read, why don’t you, and if you find it in your heart, send us a few lines via the post about whether he can use your song. Thanks.

Peace (in the mail),

Slice of Life: Of Readers, Writers and Citizens

It’s morning and I am sitting in Reagan National Airport, waiting for my plane to head home. It’s been a whirlwind weekend at the Teaching and Learning Conference in DC, with plenty of interesting sessions and keynotes, capped with a fantastic overview of a new National Parks Initiative unveiled with the help of filmmaker Ken Burns and NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis. (Did you the know the plan is to get every single fourth grader in America to visit a National Park in 2016? Wow.)

I was a co-presenter in two different sessions yesterday with the theme of “Readers, Writers, Citizens”, although both were on the theme of digital literacies and digital learning. My focus was on video game design as literacy practice, and both sessions went well, with plenty of sharing and discussions among educators in a very meaningful way. My colleagues were Troy Hicks, Janelle Bence, Gail Desler and Tanya Baker — all of the National Writing Project.

Kevin at TLearning

One of the participants shared this out via Twitter, which I appreciated (Thanks, Genevieve!). Here is our handout and more resources can be found at this Digital Is resource that Troy Hicks and I put together yesterday morning (Well, he created and I looked over his shoulder, offering suggestions).

Readers, Writers, Citizens: NWP at TL15 by KevinHodgson

I am now ready to get home and relax ….

Peace (in the share),

Visual Slices of Life: Views from Conferences

Here are two photo collages from two conferences that I am in the midst of: our Western Massachusetts Writing Project Spring Symposium and the Teaching and Learning Conference (tied in with Digital Learning Day).

And the session I facilitated around remixing …

Lots to share and little time to do it …

Peace (in the whirlwind),

PS — Here’s a bonus from a session on Scratch that I sat in on:


We Play with Language and Words

invented words 2015

We play with language and words a lot in my classroom, and we recently finished up our Word Origins unit, which culminates in each student inventing a new brand-new word. They then use our classroom wiki account to add their invented word and definition (and podcast) to a collaborative dictionary project that has been underway for many years, with hundreds of invented words now in our online space.

Here is this year’s collection of words. I have students working to move these words into the larger wiki dictionary site.

Peace (Word!),

Slice of Life: The Teaching Conference Anxiety Rush

(This is a Slice of Life post, for a month-long writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments of our days. You write, too.)

Teaching and Learning Sessions

The next couple of days are just going to be nutty, and I am hoping I can still Slice. I’ll make time, of course, and I probably will share out what’s going on in the two conferences that I am attending in three days.

This weekend, I am flying down to Washington DC for the Teaching and Learning Conference. I was only vaguely aware of this conference, but I guess it is pretty huge, and the National Writing Project (facilitated by Tanya Baker) is sending me, Troy Hicks, Janelle Bence and Gail Desler (four of my favorite NWP people .. actually, that list is pretty long) to do two sessions on Saturday around digital learning. My own area will be talking about video game design as literacy practice.

I’ll be sharing out:

The conference also collides with Digital Learning Day this year. I’m not sure what to make of the conference, as the tone of the programming seems very different from the writing project-flavored conferences that I often attend. There are a lot of consultants and administrators/education officials on the program, and my very informal and very unscientific analysis of the presenter list a few weeks back indicated this:


I’m not sure what to think of this analysis (will it be all EduSpeak all the time? Will teachers’ voice be front and center, or sidelined?) but I am going in with an open mind and see what I can see, learn what I can learn, and hang out with friends.

WMWP Invite to Spring Symposium

Meanwhile, tonight, I am helping to facilitate our Western Massachusetts Writing Project Spring Symposium, with the theme of Technology, Assessment and Justice for All. I am also co-presenting a session around the Remix Culture and learning, and our hope (crossing fingers here) is that we will get everyone making media with Webmaker Popcorn Maker. Our session is in a lab that I have not ever used … so, yeah … a little antsy about that unknown element. I am interested to hear our keynote speaker, and to learn more about the work he has done empowering urban students with media and social justice themes.

So, late night tonight for WMWP and then a very early flight to DC tomorrow for Teaching and Learning (plus, a visit with one of my best friends who lives in the DC area) …. lots going on!

Peace (in the whoosh),

Slice of Life: Theater Critic

(This is a Slice of Life post, for a month-long writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments of our days. You write, too.)

It may be that I am a little sensitive in role as teacher of sixth graders. I am not naive about the world, of course. But I am sensitive in my role as filter. And yesterday, that made me a silent theater critic sitting uncomfortably in the audience of a preview show of a stage production of Little Shop of Horrors.

Let me back up …

Our sixth graders, along with fifth and sixth graders from the other elementary schools in our district, took a bus trip up to our regional high school yesterday to see a preview performance of Little Shop of Horrors, which the high school theater group is putting on this coming weekend. This was an invite from the high school, which paid for the busses and cost us nothing. Let me say up front: the performance was wonderful, with great acting and singing, and the brief appearance by the plant was a huge hit with the elementary-school audience.

Here’s where the filter critic in me comes into focus.

It has been many years since I watched Little Shop of Horrors (all I now remember is Steve Martin) and I guess I forgot that the female protagonist is in an abusive relationship, entering the story with a black eye, and then an arm in a cast, and deflecting jokes about handcuffs in the bedroom. I forgot that the dentist tells the audience how he happily tortured dogs and cats as a kid (with support of his mother?), and how he enjoys inflicting pain on people. I didn’t remember the character in a long trench coat who flashes girls on stage nor the stumbling drunk with a bottle in his hand, falling down, evoking laughter from the crowd.

I forgot all that until I saw it on stage and thought, maybe this preview is not for this age group? You think? Of course, by then, it was too late. We were there, seated. The show goes on. We watched, and then the best part for me was the end, when some of the high school actors came out on stage to answer questions about acting, production and being in front of live audience.

When I got home, I told my wife about the performance, and she said, “Doesn’t that play have sadomasochist overtones?” Eh. Yep.

Peace (in the play),

Slice of Life: The Overlooked Moments

(This is a post for Slice of Life, a writing challenge throughout March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We notice the small moments. You write, too.)

Night outside

In another writing space with National Writing Project colleagues (including Bonnie), our good friend Kim Doullard hosts a Photo Fridays feature, where she shares photos on a theme and asks us to keep our lens open for possibilities. This week’s theme is all about “the overlooked” moments. Last night as I was taking the dog out, I looked at the sky from our driveway and saw a plethora of colors in the night. The tree provides a nice frame, as does the stars in the sky, and the street/house lights give off yet another color.

It’s the perfect image for a visual slice of life, and Kim’s advice to notice the overlooked dovetails so nicely with our writing activities, of noticing those things we see all the time but now we see them in a slightly different light. Turn your head a bit. Squint your eyes. Reframe what you see. Notice the overlooked.

LATE ADD: This morning, when I went outside after writing, I saw this:
Morning sky

Peace (in the visual),