Tag Archives: teach

A Creative Strategy to Teach the Love of Writing

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By Zemen Marrugi, M.Ed.

Need a creative way to get your students excited about writing?  Check out my video on a teaching strategy that is sure to improve your students’ writing skills.  Whether you are a classroom teacher, academic specialist, paraprofessional, or a parent looking for ways to enhance your own child’s writing craft, you will benefit from this teaching strategy.

Would You Rather Notebooks give students an opportunity to reflect on the material that is being taught in the classroom and share their opinion on two different scenarios.  Here is how you can implement this teaching strategy in your own classroom:

1) Provide each student with a notebook.  You can use any type of notebook as long as it has line paper in it.

2) Give the students a chance to decorate the cover of the notebook so that they can become excited about writing in the notebook.  Be specifics with what you would like included on the cover.

3) Place the notebook assignment as part of the students regular writing exercise.  I strongly encourage you assign this as a small group or independent work during workshop or stations.  This type of writing exercise is not meant to be taught whole group.  This strategy works best if done one-on-one or independently so that students can work on their own pace through the writing sample.

4) You can cross curriculum and have the students respond to a variety of questions related to all subjects.  Modify accordingly depending on the students’ age and content area.  This teaching strategy does not necessarily have to be used during the Language Arts or Reading block.  Students can write in their ‘Would You Rather’ notebooks during Social Studies and Science.  Ask questions like, “Would you have rather been a soldier during the American Revolutionary War or American Civil War?”  Giving the students an opportunity to reflect on the material you have taught them throughout the year will help you measure exactly how much information they were able to retain.

Share your comments below and provide me with feedback on how you feel about the information on the teaching strategy I shared with you.  Let me know what other videos or strategies you would like to learn more about and I will try my best to provide you with the resources in some of my future blog entries.

A Creative Strategy to Teach the Love of Writing

Blog and video models best practices for creatively incorporating writing in the classroom.

About Zemen Marrugi

Zemen Marrugi is an Assistant Principal and national presenter.  She’s worked as an elementary and middle school teacher and has presented countless workshops on topics like Differentiated Instruction and Creative Classroom Workshop Ideas.

In addition to presenting workshop to 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 District 5 Great Lakes Conference and the National Association for Campus Activities Regional and National Conventions. Her experience in the educational world is very broad and includes both private and public sectors.

Marrugi received her Bachelors from Wayne State University in Elementary Education and her Masters from Grand Valley State University in Educational Leadership. She holds a professional teaching certification and a school administrative certification. Marrugi also has an English Language Arts endorsement. Click here for more information on Zemen Marrugi.

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Filed under Classroom Curriculum, Classroom Resources, Classroom Teachers, Curriculum, Education, Elementary, Learn, Learning, Middle School, New Teachers, Parental Partnership, Parents, Rigor, Rigorous, Social Studies, Teach, Teacher, Teachers, Teaching, teaching strategy, writing

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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Filed under Bulletin Board, Classroom Curriculum, Classroom Resources, Classroom Teachers, Curriculum, Education, Elementary, Heart of a Teacher, Middle School, New Teachers, Parental Partnership, Parents, Teacher, Teaching, Uncategorized


By Zemen Marrug, M.Ed.

After last week’s Presidential Debate, there were a lot of people that got offended at the thought of anyone criticizing President Barack Obama’s debating skills.  However, the truth is that President Obama did not bring his A-Game to the platform and I am so glad to hear him poke fun at his own debating skills because it shows that he, too, has high expectation on himself and is prepared to grow as a leader.

This is a great example of self-efficacy because having high expectation on ourselves is more vital than any hope anyone else has for us.  To truly succeed, we must always be open to constructive feedback- no matter how good we think we are at our craft. We need to always aim high, but at the same time, be willing to look at our abilities and honestly answer the question, “How can I improve my own skills?” After all, having a goal set will lead to many disappointments if we are not willing to accept the idea of growth from every experience.

Self-efficacy is what drives a frontrunner to lead million through journeys unimaginable by others. So, whether you are an average Joe, an elementary school teacher or the President of the United States of America; everyone should be willing to self-evaluate his or her own skills and always be willing to grow and soar to new heights.

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Mothers’ Day Projects for Students

By Zemen Marrugi, M.Ed.

Here’s a great Mothers’ Day project to do with your students. You probably have most of these items already in your classroom.

The students are going to love giving these paper flowers to their moms on Mothers’ Day.

Step #1- Get your supplies: coffee filters, ribbon, pipe cleaners and markers.

Step # 2- Have the students draw colorful pictures on the coffee filters.

Step #3- Flatten the coffee filter using your hands.

Step #4- Gather the coffee filter towards its center and tie it using a colorful ribbon.

Step #5- Attach the coffee filter to a pipe cleaner.

Step #6- Voilà! Look at the beautiful paper flowers! Now, they are ready to give to mom on Mother’s Day!

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Civil War Lesson Plans

By Zemen Marrugi, M.Ed.

I wrote these lesson plans a couple of years ago for the History Channel’s Civil War Preservation Trust. Please feel free to duplicate this material for your classrooms.

Approximate Length of Time: 50-70 minutes


Students will be able to understand the important roles animals pets had in the Civil War by gaining the affection of the soldiers on the battlefields and reminding them of their lives back home.


1. Students will be able to compare and contrast the benefits and disadvantages of having different animal pets.

2. Students will be able to identify how having a pet would have made the soldiers feel more at home on the battlefield.


Anticipatory Set/Hook:

Who has a pet? What makes a pet so special? Have there been times when your pet made you feel better about a situation or made you forgot about something that wasn’t so pleasant? Why do pets make people feel good?


1. Ask students the importance of having a pet to some people. Ask them why some people chose to have a pet in their lives.

Possible Answers: Pets make people feel good and they give people unconditional support from an affectionate being. People and pets gain each other’s loyalty and affection.

2. As a class create a list of pets students have at home.

If time permits, you can have students create bar/line graphs with the animals and numbers they provided.

3. Watch the Civil War video on the History.com. The Civil War part of ‘America: the Story of Us’will give the student a good perception of the war and its impact on the nation. After watching the video, ask the students about how they think the soldiers felt being part of the war. Have them give examples of what would have made the soldiers feel a little better about the situations they were in during the war.

Possible Answers: Soldiers wrote letters to their family members. Soldiers had pets with them at the camp.

4. Have a discussion with the students about why a soldier would have enjoyed the company of a pet during a war. Have the students complete the KWL of animal mascots and evaluate their previous knowledge on the content. Use the provided KWL Handout. The KWL handout can remain with the students because they will need to complete the L section at the end of the entire unit to demonstrate what they have learned about animal mascots.

5. Students Read: http://www.reillysbattery.org/Newsletter/Jul00/deborah_grace.htm The Horse In the Civil War by Deborah Grace

6. After students read the selection, they can then compare the benefits of having either a dog or horse in the war. Give students write specific examples on what benefits or disadvantages came with having either animal.

7. Have a discussion about how much loyalty the animals would have built towards the general and soldiers and discuss what would have happened had one of the animals come up missing. Have students complete the ‘Mad as a Wet Hen’ handout.

8. Discuss the illustrations by Frank Leslie and how animals would have reacted towards wounded soldiers using the Handout and Transparency.


Why were animal mascots important to the soldiers during the civil war? How did having an animal around the company make the soldiers feel? What animals were most common to appear to be part of the different regiments?


Teacher can assess the students with the Mascot assessment and the Tri-fold Board Rubric.

Kinesthetic Leader: This lesson can be enhanced by having the students participate in a real life Civil War reenactment. Students can be divided into two separate groups. The reenactment can be of one of the battles, topped off with one student dressed as Abraham Lincoln and making the Gettysburg Address.

Rigorous Assessment: Students that demonstrate a higher understanding of the Civil War can be challenged with a more rigorous assignment of creating a bulletin board that demonstrates what the two sides were fighting for during the war. See Rigorous Assessment Rubric for more detail on grading and assignment expectation.

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Why are so many teachers leaving the profession?

By Zemen Marrugi, M.Ed.

Since 1984, Met Life has been conducting an annual survey asking teachers, parents and students their level of satisfaction within the teaching profession.

According to this year’s survey results, “Teachers are less satisfied with their careers; in the past two years there has been a significant decline in teachers’ satisfaction with their profession.”

This makes me wonder, why are there so many unsatisfied teachers out there? What makes a teacher less likely to stay in the profession and why are there so many schools full of younger teaching staff?

The answers are very clear. One of the reasons it is so hard to retain teachers today than ever before is because women today have so many more career options than they did in previous years. Years ago, a woman was expected to become either a teacher or a nurse.

Last week, I attended Grand Valley State University’s Learning Network in Detroit, Michigan. Presenter Dr. Richard Lemon did a wonderful job analyzing all of the different reasons behind the teacher attrition.

After attending the workshop and having various conversations with colleagues within the teaching profession, here are three reasons on why so many teachers are not satisfied with the teaching profession:

  • Job Security: There are fewer jobs today that are actually able to hold on to a person for over thirty years. New and incoming teachers are not as interested in staying in the profession because they’ve got more career options available with bigger pay and more benefits. They barely make the five year hurtle anymore. Teachers with stronger academic backgrounds are also more likely to leave the profession.  Some of these are moving on to administrative roles within their buildings, while others are jumping to different careers all together.
  • New School Challenges: Since there are so many charter schools opening, the highest teacher turnover takes place in charter schools. This is because the school’s culture hasn’t been set in stone and because there are so many things to do, most of the staff members at a new school have to work overtime which translates to putting in more work for volunteer hours.
  • Lack of Professional Development:  Higher expectation is placed on teachers and in most cases, the training isn’t always provided. Some teachers are not provided with the opportunity to attend valuable and research-based training in the different areas that would help them improve their craft, whether it is behavior management, creating a highly effective classroom, differentiated instruction, etc.

What can we do today to help keep more teachers? Here is my advice on how to retain more teachers:

  • Strong Mentoring Programs: The power of mentoring goes a long way in the teaching profession. I think back to my first couple years of teaching and how encouraging my mentors were to me. I was even fortunate enough to have an instructional coach when I first started teaching. Providing that extra support to new teachers will help them identifying their weaknesses and provide assistance so that they can master their skills. Without a strong mentoring program, a new teacher can easily get overwhelmed with all of the different requirements.
  • Professional Learning Communities: The use of PLC’s is so important in a building because they help utilize everyone’s true potential and help maintain a more productive work environment. Most schools also utilize a more vertical alignment with their staff discussions. Having the opportunity to communicate with other staff members enhances that “let’s work smarter, not harder” way of thinking. 
  • Train! Train! Train! The expectation on having a highly engaged classroom is even bigger today than ever before, especially with all the talks behind being a highly qualified teacher. It’s important to give feedback after observing a teacher, but it’s even more important to follow that feedback with valuable skills they can actually use in their classrooms. If you know that one of your teachers is having a hard time with behavior management, then give him/her the opportunity to attend a professional development on the topic. A very economical way of doing this would be to have them observe another teacher in the building that has masters that skill. Sometimes, utilizing other staff members in the building can be our best resource.

Just like any other job, it takes years of practice to master one’s teaching skills. Like defined in the book Outliners: The Story of Success, it really does take 10,000 hours to become a skilled professional in any field and teachers are no exception to that rule. If we want more teachers returning to the profession, than we’ve got to provide them with the support system that will make them more interested in staying. No matter how much money or time it will take to train our staff members, just keep in mind that it will take even more time and money to train someone completely new. With the proper feedback and training, every teacher can become a great teacher and if we help them master their teaching skills, then they will become much more interested in staying.


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