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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 info@zemenmarrugi.com.  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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10 Fun Snow Day Ideas for Parents

By Zemen Marrugi, M.Ed.


Everyone loves an unexpected Snow Day every now and then. However, it is easy to run out of ideas on how to keep your children busy throughout the cold day, while at the same time keeping the content educational. Here are some fun activities to do with your children on the next unexpected Snow Day.

Crafts Corner
Take some construction paper, glue and markers and get creative with your child. If you are short on supplies, recycle old newspapers and make a papier-mâché project. Another inexpensive project would be to make a snowflake banner out of copy paper. Have a conversation on why it is important to recycle.

Couch Potato Movie
Get a couple of blankets and enjoy a movie of their choice. If you have more than one child, have them each add a movie title in a cup and randomly pick one for the whole family to enjoy. Use this moment to review their elapsed time skills. If we start the movie at 3:00PM and it will last an hour and a half, then when will the movie finish? Also, if we only have three hours before dinner, then how many movies can we watch?

Baker’s Delight
Nothing says snow day like the smell of freshly baked cookies. Have your child help you make breakfast, lunch or prepare the table for dinner. Utilize this time to review their measuring skills by using related vocabulary throughout the whole process like cups, quarts, gallons, etc. Do fun things like encouraging them to figure out how many cups are in a quart by pouring liquids from one into the other.

Write a Letter
Help your child write a friendly letter to their grandparents or a friend that moved away. This will help them practice what a friendly letter includes and also give them a great opportunity to keep in touch with a loved one. FYI-A friendly letter includes the date, heading, greeting, body, closing and signature.

Virtual Museums Tours
Some museums have virtual tours on their websites. Take a tour and learn something new with your child. Parents should also monitor local museums for any special exhibits coming to town regarding their child’s area of interest and grade level content.

Spelling Word Games
Keep a folder of your child’s spelling words for the whole year and review them throughout the school year. On days like this, take out the words and make a game out of them. For every word spelled correctly, they can earn a minute towards an incentive of their choice like playing their video games. Also, you can also place each word on an index card and have them practice putting them all in alphabetical order.

Make a Snow Man
Bundle up and let Frosty greet all of your neighbors with his corncob pipe and button nose. Have fun making a snow man and snow angels with your children and remember to take lots of picture because these are the moments they will cherish for many years to come.

Snow Candy
Growing up, my siblings and I loved eating the snow. Drizzle some syrup on the white snow and have fun comparing old fashion candy with today’s traditions. This can be a great lesson on discussing how modern technology has changed the way candy is made today. You can also take this time to add a quick Science lesson by analyzing the tiny snowflakes. Get a magnify glass and have your children critique different snowflakes and before you know it, they will realize that no two snowflakes are alike.

Flash Cards
Flashcards are easy and inexpensive to make and can be used for review of alphabets, vocabulary, colors, and shapes. Regardless of your child’s age, flash cards are a great way to review grade level content material. Place a vocabulary word on one side and the definition on the other side.

Educational Websites
Most schools are purchasing online subscriptions for their students to websites like studyisland.com, Accelerated Reader, Accelerated Math, etc. These websites provide personalized assignments to students based on grade level. A personal record is kept of each student’s completed assignments so parents can monitor growth and give their child an opportunity to complete additional work for much rigorous instruction.

Snow Days can be unexpected, but if you prepare some of these projects in advance, then it can also be a great opportunity to teach your child something new.  I recommend you complete some of these items in advance and store them in small plastic bags. These activities can also be fun during the weekends. Remember, above all things, keep it fun, keep it educational and keep taking those pictures because these are priceless childhood memories that they will love to look back on when they get older.

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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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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The Power Of Positivity

This is the apple container that currently houses all of the Nerds candy in my classroom.

By Zemen Marrugi, M.Ed.

A few months ago, my fourth graders were involved in another highly engaged discussion when I threw at them a very challenging question. As I waited for my students to think about the problem, I began to contemplate if the assignment was too challenging.   As educators, we have all heard it many times before; a rigorous classroom will produce higher performing students, but had I gone too far this time? Had I finally delivered a lesson far beyond their capabilities?

I remained patient for a few seconds as the class pondered in silence and then a shaky hand went up a few desks back. The two-pigtailed little girl made me smile as she recited the answer I was waiting to hear. I was so proud of her for answering such a challenging question and it was at that very moment that I realized that my students’ capabilities are only limited by my expectation. Benjamin Bloom, himself, would have given her answer a standing ovation. My smile soon faded as I heard a voice in the class say, “What a nerd.” The little girl’s smile also vanished as her intelligence was discouraged by a fellow classmate.

As an adult, nothing bothers me more than when a person is discouraged by their peers for going above and beyond the call of duty. Being an “over achiever” is sometimes seen as a negative thing by some people, when it should be encouraged.  This behavior is evident in a lot of people’s reactions towards other people’s success and as a society, we are so quick to bash the person who stands out in a positive way, than provide words of praise for their continuous effort to grow.

This reminds me on how excited I used to get about my Science fair projects, but nothing used to dishearten me more than when my own peers made fun of such activities. Making comments like how stupid it was to participate in such time-consuming school rituals was so unnecessary. They did not know that I was so excited about being involved in the fair that I used to start my projects at least a year in advance.  Yup, total nerd alert right here.

Anyhow, I came home that night and wondered for hours on how I can change the culture in the classroom where a little girl can never get dispirited for knowing more than her peers.  My frustration reached its peak when I thought of how unfair it was for that little girl in my classroom to feel the way she had and it seriously brought me to tears when I realized that since she is a regular Honor Roll student, that she had probably experienced a lot of similar situations and will continue to do so for many years to come.

So, I sat down and started to think of how I can make being called a nerd a cool thing in my classroom? How can I make it where a fourth grade student that is being challenge with seventh grade content material be proud of the fact that she got the answer right? What can I do, as an educator, to create an environment so positive that you would want to be called a nerd?

Later that evening, while grocery shopping with my Mother, I still could not help but feel frustrated at the thought of a child being teased for being smart. Going through the aisles, I came across the Valentine candy and my eye caught a bag of mini sized Nerds candy packets and it hit me! I figured out a way to make being called a nerd in my classroom a cool thing.

The next morning, when the first child answers a tough question, I looked at him and said, “Wow, I just love it when a person is a nerd and knows such a hard answer. You, my dear, deserve a Nerd.” I tossed a mini packet of Nerds candy his way.

Yes, incentives work, but my goal was not just to give out candy with this project. My goal was to turn an insult into a positive phrase. Today, I am very happy to announce that being called a nerd in my classroom is not only a cool thing, but a titled more sought after than any other award. My students are proud of being able to answer tough questions.

As educators, we will come across a lot of misbehavior over the years, but what we need to always do is get creative with how we react to certain actions.  Our tone and our comeback need to be in a less authoritative voice and more of a kid friendly message that makes them understand that certain things are not appropriate.   The power of turning such dissenting phrases into a positive title makes it one of the best incentive I have ever incorporated into my class.  I will always have a high expectation on my students’ academic and social skills, but the expectation I have on myself for creating an environment that is safe for all of the students will remain higher.

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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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