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Do the Write Thing (DTWT) Essay Contest–Detroit Teachers Meeting

By Zemen Marrugi

The Do the Write Thing (DTWT) program is an initiative of the National Campaign to Stop Violence (NCSV).  The Do the Write Thing Challenge gives middle school students an opportunity to examine the impact of youth violence on their lives in classroom discussions and in written form by communicating what they think should be done to change our culture of violence.  “By encouraging students to make personal commitments to do something about the problem, the DTWT program ultimately seeks to empower them to break the cycles of violence in their homes, schools and neighborhoods.” DTWT

2013 winners

Each year, two student essays are selected to represent the City of Detroit in Washington, D.C. The two students are identified as the DTWT National Ambassadors and their winning essays are added to the State of Michigan Library in Lansing, Michigan and the National Library of Congress archives in Washington, D.C.

A teacher meeting will take place at Detroit Enterprise Academy on Wednesday, December 9, 2015 for all English Language Arts teachers in the Metro-Detroit area that are interested in learning more information about the Do the Write Thing (DTWT) essay contest. All teachers that are interested in attending the meeting can contact the DTWT Detroit City Chair Zemen Marrugi at  The teachers meeting will include the 2016 DTWT student applications, essay requirements, and school participation details.  The meeting will also include information about the 2016 Student Recognition ceremonies in Lansing, Michigan and Washington, D.C.

DoTheWrite (Straightened)

Download the DTWT Teachers Meeting Flyer and share with all of your teaching friends.

DTWT Teachers Meeting Flyer


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Pop Quiz Teacher Morale Booster

By Zemen Marrugi, M.Ed.

As a school administrator, I am always looking for creative ways to increase morale within my team.  Here is an easy and effective way to show your appreciation towards your teammates.

Pop Quiz Teacher Gift Tags

Pop Quiz Teacher Gift Tags

Click on the Teachers Pay Teachers link below and download the free document.  Personalize it with your teammates’ names and attach the tags to their favorite soft drink, or pop (like we Michiganders like to call it).

Pop Quiz Teachers Gift Tag by Zemen Marrugi

This is a great way to increase staff morale. Gift ideal for teacher appreciate week, holiday gifts, last day of school gift, or just an unexpected positive affirmative for all the work your teachers do in the building.

Drop me a link and let me know what you think of this freebie.  I would love to hear from you.


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January Rearrangement: Resetting Your Classroom for the 2nd Half of the School Year

By Zemen Marrugi, M.Ed.


January is a great time of the year for teachers, school administrators and parents. It is a time to go back to the drawing board and reevaluate what has worked and what needs to be revised to move the students closer to proficiency.   For starters, the teachers have just come out of a two week holiday break, a much needed vacation that rejuvenated our faith in making a difference in our students’ lives. Let’s be honest. By mid November, our exhaustion made us question why we chose such a tiring profession.  However, the holiday break does a great job reminding us that we love being in the classroom.  Here are my top five tips on how to rearrange your classroom for the second half of the school year.

#1 Time to reorganize

Although we are in the middle of the winter season and the idea of spring cleaning seems like a lifetime away (especially for my fellow Michiganders), but it is time to clean the classroom. Let us rearrange the glue bins, take down old posters, and get rid of all of the extra scrap paper that we know our students are not going to use by June.  Allocate classroom jobs that give the students the opportunity to help keep the place spick and span from organizing the bookshelves to throwing out broken crayons.  Also, this might be a good time to rearrange the students’ teams based on updated test scores and putting down new name tags since the ones you used to label desks and cubbies back in August are probably all torn. You would be amazed on how excited students get by seeing their names on new nametags. Remember, a dirty classroom is not a kid problem-it is an adult problem so teach the students to keep their learning environment clean.

#2 Update classroom supply list

Send out an updated supply list to all the parents and guardians in your classroom. This is a great time to send out a classroom newsletter, notifying all of the parents and guardians on what type of supplies their child will need for the remainder of the school year. Encourage students to save their old notebooks and to use them as their personal reference material when completing homework and studying.

#3 Reevaluate parent communication outlets

While you are sending the updated classroom supply list, you need to also think about what method of communication has worked with this year’s parents.  Every classroom is different so the same communication that worked last year might not necessarily be the best way to send out important notices to parents this year.  Whether it is by email, notes home, voicemail, or newsletter, keep track of what has worked and what has not so that you are being efficient and effective. Also, if you have not already done so, make sure you keep track of all the communication you have with the parents in your parent communication log.

#4 Update class data

By now, you have a great idea of where each student is performing and chances are, your school is probably going to participate in some type of a midyear assessment. Use the updated data to drive your instruction.  Dig deep in the scores and figure out exactly where most of your students are struggling academically.  For example, look at your math data. If your students scored low in measurement, then figure out exactly what part of measurement do most of them not understand. Are they having a hard time telling time? Or possibly, they are struggling with converting units from ounces to gallons or feet to inches?  The more you understand their deficiencies, the more you will be able to help them grow because you will teach them what they have yet to master.

#5 Time to have those serious conversations

Reviewing the data will give you the opportunity to differentiate instruction so that everything you teach is intentional. However, if you have a couple of students that continue to struggle despite all interventions, then you need to have some serious conversations with the parents and perhaps the RTI team. Sometimes, a pair of eye glasses is the missing key to solving a student’s academic needs since they are not able to see the board clearly. Perhaps, they are staying up late watching too much television without their parents’ permission and that is why they keep falling asleep in class. Or maybe, they are having a hard time staying focused and regardless of who is sitting next to them, they continue to be distracting and repeatedly blurt out during instruction. Whatever the case may be, you need to have these important conversations with their parents especially if it retaining to retention. It is never too early to have these important conversations with parents and the more updated they are about their child’s education, the more supportive they will be in the long run.

In August, we get so excited about putting up new bulletin boards, sending the first supply list and contacting our students for the first time. However, by November, teachers, like everyone else, become overwhelmed with their personal lives preparing for the holiday season that we get burned out. Take this time to reenergize your spirits about closing the achievement gap and remember that regardless of how stressful it may be at times, your work in the classroom is appreciated.

About Zemen Marrugi

Zemen Marrugi is the Founder/President of Those Who Can, Teach! and an experienced teacher and national presenter.  Marrugi has worked as a classroom teacher and has presented workshops on topics like differentiated instruction and the writing process.  In addition to working with elementary/middle school teachers, Marrugi has also presented workshops for college activities personnel at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education’s Association for Student Advancement and the National Association for Campus Activities.  Click here for more information on Zemen Marrugi.

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Different Types of Genres

By Zemen Marrugi, M.Ed.

A story’s genre identifies what type of story you are reading, all based on who the characters are and their actions. With that being said, teaching students about the different type of genres can be very confusing. I recommend breaking down the genre categories by Fiction and Non-Fiction. First, I like to teach all of the fiction subgenres since most students will be familiar with the examples I will use like fairytale, mystery, and science fiction. The scaffolding aspect of teaching is always important so since the students are able to connect the new information to prior knowledge, the lesson will run smoother if you start with something they have already mastered.

After the students learn the fiction subgenres, you can then move on to the non-fiction subgenres. Remember to go back and re-teach the previous information throughout the year to make sure they have learned the content and are able to retain the information.

Here are other ways of teaching genres:

1) Book Excerpt Sample: Use excerpts from a variety of different books and have students guess what genre each entry represents. Most importantly, students should be able to example why each book belongs to a specific genre.

2) Book Categories: Students can organize the classroom library by genres.

3) Book Reports: Students can be assigned to do book reports on themed genres. You can assign a different genre every week.

Feel free to print the attached Genre Poster I created for my students as an additional classroom resource.  This post includes a list of all fictional and non-fictional subgenres, along with a desciption of each genres.

Zemen Marrugi Genre Poster


Realistic Fiction

Science Fiction

Historical Fiction




  • Tragedies
  • Comedies

Folklore (Traditional Literature)

  • Fable
  • Fairytale
  • Tall tale
  • Myth
  • Legend


Information Text

  • Pamphlets
  • Brochures
  • Flyers
  • School textbooks/workbooks
  • Guides
  • Booklets
  • Notes
  • Advice column
  • Newspaper  Editorials




Persuasive Writing


Genre Descriptions

1)    Genre: A genre is the type of story you are reading, all based on who the characters are, the setting, and the characters’ actions during the story.

2)    Realistic Fiction: A realistic fiction story is one that can actually happened in real life, but the characters are make-believe.

Ex: Junie B. Jones

3)    Historical Fiction: A historical fiction story is one that is set during a historical event from the past, but the characters are not real. The characters of historical fiction stories behave and dress just as people would have from that time period.

Ex: Number the Stars

4)    Autobiography: An autobiography is a personal narrative that a person writes about his/her life. Note that the prefix ‘auto’ means self.

Ex: Diary of Anne Frank

5)    Biography: A biography is a story about a person’s life written by another person.

Ex: The Life of Frederick Douglas

6)    Science Fiction (Sci-Fi):  Science fictional stories are based on the just that-science! These are stories that take place on other planets, involve futuristic weapons, aliens, and advanced machinery.

Ex: The movie ‘Back to the Future’

7)    Mystery: The genre of mystery is fictional and revolves around solving some type of crime where the reader is encouraged to put together clues based on what is being read.

Ex: Sherlock Holmes

8)    Fairytale: Fairytale are stories that are told to younger children that include magical creatures and fairies. The Brothers Grimm were two German brothers that collected a ton of different folklore stories centuries ago and recorded stories that were only shared verbally. The theme of number three sometimes reappears throughout fairytales. (3 sisters, 3 pigs, 3 musketeers, etc.)

Ex: Cinderella

9)    Legend: A legend is a story that explains why certain things have come to be the way they are today, all based on information that is passed down by generations. At times, these stories can revolve on a folklore hero.

Ex: Robin Hood

10) Myth: Mythology is a symbolic genre that uses gods and goddess to deliver the meaning behind natural events. Some characters are based on real historical figures.

Ex: Hercules

11) Poetry: Poetry is a form of rhythmic writing that is meant to be represented artistically and draws a passionate response from the audience. Examples can include slam poetry, comedy, drama, epic, sonnet, erotic, nonsense, lyric, mythopoeia, romance, satire, tragedy and tragicomedy.

Ex: Works by Maya Angelo

12) Drama: The genre of drama includes plays that are made to be performed in front of a live audience with the use of dialogue between characters.

Ex: Shakespeare Plays

13) Fable: Fables are stories that are meant to teach a moral lesson, highlighting the difference between right and wrong.

Ex: The Ugly Duckling

14) Horror: Horror stories are fictional and are meant to scare the reader through suspense and creepy scenes.

Ex: Freddy vs. Jason

15) Humor: Stories that fall in the humor genre are fictional and are meant to make the reader laugh. This genre can also be a subgenre in all of the other genres. For example, a character in a mystery book can say a joke that is meant to make the reader laugh.

Ex: Diary of a Wimpy Kid

16) Tall Tale: Tall tales are funny stories that include exaggerated behavior where the character becomes a hero without really trying because the powers come naturally.

Ex: Paul Bunyan

17) Speech: A speech is a public address meant to be recited in front of a live audience.

Ex: “I have a dream” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

18) Essay: An essay is a short fictional or non-fictional writing that mirrors the author’s outlook or point of view on an issue.

Ex: “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

19) Folklore: The reasons behind the everyday norm that people have come to expect to be a part of their lives. Folklore explains why people do the tings they do because it is the study of people and their everyday lives.

Ex: Detroit’s folklore about hanging shoes from street lights

2o) Fantasy: A fantasy is a story that cannot take place in the real world because in most cases, the location does not exist in the real world. These examples include Middle Earth and Narnia. The problems the characters go through are sometimes not similar to issues people go through in the real world like rescuing a princess.

Ex: The Lord of the Rings

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The Faberge of Today’s Educational System

Faberge Egg

Faberge Egg

By Zemen Marrugi, M.Ed.

As an art enthusiast, going to the Faberge exhibit at the Detroit Institution of the Arts was a no- brainer. Walking through the sections, taking in all of the detail on the precious objects that have mesmerized millions over the past century was exciting. From the Easter egg inspired containers to the delicate crystal vase miniature floral pieces, each item was creatively handcrafted and continues to be admired today. However, it was not until midway through the exhibit that I realized the similarity between the House of Faberge and what should be today’s educational system.

What amazed me most about the House of Faberge was the emphasis on teamwork. Due to their delicate and excessive amount of work, no Faberge item was ever created by one person from start to finish. The company stood strong because each master craftsman had his specific role in contributing to the “masterpieces,” treasures that attracted the attention of the Russian aristocracy.

Just like the Faberge master craftsmen, teachers today need to work together because a success educational career does not happen by just having an accomplished fourth grade teacher. If the overall goal is to have a successful school, then the same amount of commitment to excellence needs to be emphasized by every classroom in a school building.

As a teacher, I know that every individual in a school plays a significant role in developing a student into becoming a respectful, responsible and educated young person. Everyone! From the classroom teacher to the lunch lady, office staff and administration team-every adult in a school system plays a vital role in “crafting” a successful learning environment. More importantly, all of these different entities must have a common ground for expectation in regards to behavior, homework, classroom, instruction, rigor, participation and parental involvement.

The idea of teachers closing their classroom doors and taking care of their own students is a thing of the past because our educational system is not measured by individual classroom performance but a school as whole. Just like the craftsmen as the House of Faberge shared the secrets to their craft with their fellow craftsmen, teachers need to do the same when it comes to sharing best practices with their fellow educators. After all, teaching is an art of its own and there are a lot of great educators out there so let us stop reinventing the wheel and begin leaning on each other for advice, feedback, and resources. The day teachers actually begin seeing the importance of team effort in a school’s overall performance is the day the entire school will succeed in educating every child in the building.

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Lesson Plans and Bulletin Board

This is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Quiz Bulletin Board I created in front of my class. Students were encouraged to text their knowledge of the content we had learned all week.

This is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Quiz Bulletin Board I created in front of my class. Students were encouraged to text their knowledge of the content we had learned all week.

By Zemen Marrugi, M.Ed.

This week, we will celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As a classroom teacher, I am always passionate to speak about Dr. King’s past and of his contribution to the Civil Rights Movment because he not only paved way for African Americans, but stood as a wonderful example of peace and brotherhood amongst all American.  I put together this lesson plan for my sixth graders and I think the rest of you might enjoy. Feel free to use the information below and my bulletin board design to teach our young people of the significant role Dr. King played to making our great nation what it is today.

Approximate Length of Time: 50-70 minutes

Students will be able to understand the important role Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had on the Civil Rights Movement and why he is still celebrated as one of the most influential people in American history.

1. Students will be able to reflect on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
2. Students will be able to identify why Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life mission for peace and equality is celebrated today.

MLK Lesson Plans by Zemen Marrugi martin luther king jr
Book: Martin’s Big Words, The life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. By Doreen Rappaport
Movie: The Witness from the Balcony of Room 306
The Witness Quiz
Construction paper
Bulletin Board Boarder
Colored envelopes
Favorite MLK Photos
Favorite MLK Quote
Glue Sticks

Anticipatory Set/Hook:
A great way to start this lesson would be to dress up as MLK and begin reciting the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Ask questions like who was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? What role did he play in the Civil Rights movement? Why was the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech so significant?

1) Hook the students’ attention by performing the ‘I have a dream’ speech to them.
2) Read the book Martin’s Big Words, the Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport.
3) Watch the movie, The Witness from the Balcony of Room 306 and discuss the role MLK played in the Civil Rights Movement.
4) Give the students an opportunity to complete The Witness quiz.
5) Set up the MLK Quiz Bulletin Board and encourage students to quiz their knowledge.

Why is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. remembered today as an important figure of the Civil Rights Movement? What can we do to commemorate the life of MLK?

1) Encourage the students to take the MLK quiz on the bulletin board.
2) Assign the students to complete the Witness worksheet after watching movie, The Witness.

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Earth Day Ideas For Teachers

My students made these awesome bird houses for Earth Day.

My students made these awesome bird houses for Earth Day by reycling their milk cartons from lunch.

By Zemen Marrugi, M.Ed.

As a teacher, I love celebrating Earth Day because it is so vital for my students to understand the importance of being environmental friendly. Here are some great ways to encourage your students to reuse, reduce, and recycle, regardless of grade level.

Lower Elementary

  • Reuse: Have each student create an Environmental Social Contract that she or he can take home to share with their family. The contract can list three things they can do to help the environment. For example, turn off lights when not in the room, shut the water off when you’re brushing your teeth and never throw trash on the ground.  Send a newsletter to the parents, asking them to have a discussion with their children regarding Earth Day and the importance of creating Environmental Social Contracts.
  • Plant a Tree: A great project for the younger students can begin with learning about the plant life cycle.  Purchase a package of tree seeds from your local nursery and have every child plant a seed in a cup. Have the students water the seed for the next couple of months in class. During this time, the students can monitor and measure growth. Have class discussions on all that is needed to grow plants. Once the plants start to sprout and the weather is a little warmer (for all of you Michiganders), have the students take their trees home to plant in their backyards.  This project will give you a great opportunity to incorporate a Science take home lesson. Teachers can demonstrate the different parts of a plant, photosynthesis, and even have students do a reflective piece in Language Arts. I love those cross-curriculum moments!

Upper Elementary

  • School Garden: Your school can begin a school garden.  If a community garden seems like too much of a commitment, you can have your students and parents plant flowers around the school community, instead. Planting flowers will brighten up the school and give a great opportunity for your parents to get involved.
  • Paper-Mache: Here is a great way to recycle old newspapers. You don’t have to be an art teacher for your students to make a fun paper-mache project. This project can cross curriculum with Social Studies by making a globe or even prepare for a class play by making masks.  Send a letter to your class parents, asking them to donate old newspaper and before you know it, you’ll be ready for crafting.

Middle School

  • Community Clean-up: Students in grades six to eight can help with more hands on projects like community cleanup.  A few years ago, my students helped transform an abandon alley that had not been cleaned in over twenty years. The transformation was remarkable. The work that the students were doing was so powerful that members of the community came out to help us clean the area.  This is a great service learning opportunity to add to your lesson plans.  When the students come back to class, have them write a reflection on how their actions can motivate other members of the community.
  • Bird Boxes: Have your students reuse their milk/juice boxes and reconstruct them into bird houses.  This can be done with a multiple of other household items that would regularly be tossed away.  All you need is some scissors and a bag of bird seeds and you’ve got yourself a great lesson.

High School

  • Recycling: Start a recycling program with your students. Raise funds to purchase a few recycling bins to locate all over the building. Make sure you place one in the lunch room. You would be surprised to discover how many soda cans do not get recycled during the typical school lunch hour.
  • Compost:  Having a school compost bin can go a long way, especially if your school donates it to a local farmer or your school’s garden.  The students can creatively decorate the bin and encourage the school-community to get involved with their mission.

College Students

  • Community Hours: College students are always looking for creative volunteer opportunities. Some, especially those that are part of Greek life, are also required to do a certain number of volunteer hours for their membership. Check out local organizations that have multiple projects taking place in your area and get involved!
  • Paint Tires: Reuse those abandon tires near the local elementary school and turn them into colorful flower pots. Paint the tires with bright paint, get a few bags of soil, some already bloomed flowers and you’ve got yourself a great opportunity to brighten a community. Partnering the college students with the elementary students would be an even better addition to an already awesome project.  Talk about positive role models!

Whether you are painting tires or cleaning up a local park, the ideas are endless when it comes to celebrating Earth Day with your students. These projects are creative and fun. Most importantly, they will give your students the opportunity to understand the importance of taking care of the environment.


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