Category: Writing

Comparing Parallel Stories using Number the Stars

Number the Stars

Terrific free activity to use with Number the Stars

The Reading Crew is a group of primary through middle school reading specialists. About three to four times a year, we share materials and ideas through a link up. This time we are sharing mentor texts. Enjoy collecting a lot of great teaching ideas and free printables. Before you leave, be sure to enter the rafflecopter at the end of this post. We are giving away copies of each mentor book from the posts. Have a great time exploring our blog posts, and I hope you have the best school year ever!

Number the Stars Activity #1

Number the Stars is a phenomenal story of courage. This makes it a great book for students to use as a writing prompt.

In Number the Stars, Annemarie is going alone on a dangerous mission through the woods to take an important package to her uncle. The mission reminds Annemarie of the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood. Annemarie tells herself Riding Hood’s story as she travels through the woods where German soldiers lurk as a way to remain calm. Author Lois Lowry does a beautiful job interweaving Annemarie’s and Riding Hood’s stories together.

In the first activity, students complete a chart to compare the parallel events taking place to Annemarie and Little Red Riding Hood.

Free Teaching Activity to use with Number the StarsThe Wizard of Oz Activity #2

After completing a chart of comparisons, students will try writing in this style using an excerpt from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the story of “The Engine that Could.”

A Free Google Digital Activity to use with Number the Stars

This link will take you to both activities.

Hurricane Harvey

I can’t imagine beginning the new school year in the situation the teachers in Houston are in. Your students must have a million questions especially with Irma on her way. Here are a few links to check out:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Gay Miller


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Weasel by Cynthia DeFelice

Weasel by Cynthia DeFelice is a historical fiction novel.

After the Removal Act of 1830, the U.S. government hires a man, known as Weasel, to remove the Shawnees from the Ohio Territory. Once all the Native Americans have fled, Weasel stays in Ohio. He then turns on the white settlers. 

One of Weasel’s victims is eleven-year-old Nathan’s pa. Nathan struggles between taking the law in his own hands and letting Weasel go.

Teaching Ideas for the Book

Book Opening Lines 

Great First Lines in Children's Literature

Weasel has a great opening line:

The dogs were dozing in their usual places by the fire when the knock came.

This free set of cards contains 20 cards with great opening lines from children’s literature. Have students sort the cards by type:

  • dialogue
  • question
  • vivid description
  • interesting fact
  • sound effect

Bringing Ezra Back by Cynthia DeFelice

Cynthia DeFelice reads from Bringing Ezra Back, the sequel of Weasel. The sequel takes place five months after the book Weasel ends. In the next book, Nathan sees a handbill advertising a show with a ‘white injun.’ Nathan plans to save Ezra from being an exhibit in the traveling show. He sets out from Ohio to Pennsylvania with Orrin Beckwith, a peddler. Along the way, Nathan encounters others who are both helpful and mean.

Book Covers

Compare book covers for the book Weasel.

 Weasel Weasel

 Weasel Book Unit

If you would like to try out the Weasel Book Unit before you buy it, this download contains free samples including:

  • Vocabulary Practice for Chapters 1-2
  • Comprehension Questions for Chapters 1-2
  • Reading Skill Page on Analogies
  • English Lesson on Plurals

Weasel Book Unit

Weasel Book Unit contains printables for

  • vocabulary
  • comprehension
  • constructive response writing
  • reading skill practice
  • English skill lessons
  • Activities

Gay Miller

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Among the Hidden Writing Prompts


In Among the Hidden, twelve year old Luke lives in a future dystonia society where the government has passed a law banning parents from having more than two children. The story opens with Luke, an illegal third child, enjoying his last minutes of freedom outdoors. The government has bought the woods behind Luke’s house to build a neighborhood of mansions. Without the woods as cover and with neighbors living so close, Luke must hide indoors. 

Writing Prompts for the Book

Among the Hidden Writing Prompts

What is it like to be a shadow child?

Imagine you are a third child. What would your life be like? Would your family be more like Jen’s who don’t believe the government has the power to monitor citizen’s lives through the telephone, television, or computer? Does your home have technology? If so, what types? Would your family be more like Luke’s who completely believes the government has the power to practically read the minds of its citizens? Where would you spend your days? Would you hide in an attic room the way Luke does, or would you have the freedom to move around the house? How would you spend your time? Would you read quietly or play computer games?

Among the Hidden Writing PromptsWhat are the pros and cons of having a third child law?

Imagine your country is facing a major population explosion. People are starving. This could be because the food is not distributed correctly or simple not available. You are on a panel of government officials having to make some tough decisions about whether or not a third family law should go into effect. Make a T-chart and list the pros and cons of having a third child law. You may wish to read up on the laws that China created to get some background information for your T-chart. Here some good sites:

Among the Hidden Writing PromptsWhat is the city like?

Haddix tells the reader that Among the Hidden is set in the future. When you read about Luke’s and Jen’s lives, no mention of any advanced technology is mentioned. Could their society be like The Hunger Games where advanced technology is owned by a few wealthy citizens living in the capitol city? Write a description of the advancements that the futuristic society has created. 

Among the Hidden Writing PromptsWhat is a totalitarian government?

Luke lives under a totalitarian government. His parents worry about having enough money to pay the bills especially after the government tells his family they must sell their hogs. Jen says the government wants everyone to be vegetarians. Just how much control does a totalitarian government have? Can they dictate what people eat? Research what a totalitarian government can do and how they keep their citizens from disobeying the strict rules. You may wish to begin with Hitler’s Nazi Government.

Among the Hidden Writing PromptsWhat types of propaganda could the government use to keep its citizens under control?

A number of propaganda techniques can be uses to convince people to think a specific way:

  • bandwagon
  • loaded terms
  • testimonial
  • name-calling

Research each of these types and decide which would be the most successful for a totalitarian government to use to control its citizens.

Create a one of the following:

BILLBOARD (picture and words) Billboards must be read by drivers as they are quickly driving down the highway.Your drawing must be large and simple. Your words must be quickly read.

MAGAZINE LAYOUT (picture and words) A magazine illustration uses details. Your writing may be a paragraph.

RADIO SPOT (words only) You will need to persuasive your listeners with vivid descriptions, slogans, or a creative story.

TELEVISION NEWSCAST (story map – series of at least 4 pictures with words for each) You will draw a series of pictures with words depicting what the actors will be saying under each drawing.

Among the Hidden Writing Prompts

Free Samples from Among the Hidden Book Unit

Among the Hidden Book Unit Samples

If you would like to try out the Among the Hidden Book Unit before you buy it, this download contains the following free samples:

  • Vocabulary Practice for Chapters 1-2
  • Comprehension Questions for Chapters 1-2
  • Constructive Response Question – Course of Action
  • Photos to Show What the Rest of the Unit Looks Like

Among the Hidden Book Unit

Among the Hidden Book Unit


Among the Hidden Book Unit contains graphic organizers for an interactive notebook and game activities covering vocabulary, comprehension questions, constructive response writing, and skill practice.


Gay Miller


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The Castle in the Attic


William has used the magical Janus medal to shrink Mrs. Phillips, his beloved nanny, down to the size of his index finger. He thinks this is the only way to keep her from leaving him and returning to her home in England. William takes her to the attic to live in a magical toy castle.

Sir Simon who also lives in the magical castle has lost his kingdom to the evil wizard Alastor. He asks William to shrink himself, so that he can go on a quest to not only help Sir Simon defeat Alastor but to retrieve the second half of the Janus medal so that Mrs. Phillip can return to her normal size. Will William be able to defeat the evil wizard Alastor, help Sir Simon, and return Mrs. Phillips to her normal self? Read The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop to see if William is successful in his quest.

Creating a Bibliography

The Castle in the Attic Book Unit includes a series of nine lessons that teach students how to complete small research projects. This free sample contains the entire first lesson “Creating a Bibliography.” 

Activity 1

Free Foldable Organizer for Writing a Citation

Free Lesson Creating a BibliographyStudents create a foldable graphic organizer that goes over the steps for creating a bibliography. The organizer provides examples of five commonly used sources using the MLA format.

Activity 2

Students create a bibliography with citations from four sources.

Free Samples from The Castle in the Attic Book Unit

Free Samples for The Castle in the Attic Book Unit

The Castle in the Attic Book Unit

The Castle in the Attic Book Unit

The Castle in the Attic Book Unit contains graphic organizers for an interactive notebook and game activities covering vocabulary, comprehension questions, constructive response writing, and skill practice.


Gay Miller


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Sentence Problems Unit (Combining Sentences and Correcting Run-Ons)

This Sentence Writing Unit includes a PowerPoint and set of graphic organizers that teach students about sentence problems, combining sentences, and correcting run-on sentences. 

Inclusion Classroom Activity

As an inclusion teacher, I was responsible for creating/planning every other unit. One unit I created was a series of lessons on sentences. I used themes and sample sentences from the upcoming novel we were going to study. The unit was great. Students learned a lot and enjoyed the lessons. All was well.

Then, the next year I worked with a different teacher who wanted to use different novels. I reworked the unit, and again the unit was great.

The next year, you guessed it, I worked with a new language arts teacher. [I worked with two teachers who retired, one who took a leave to have a baby only to decide to be a full time mom, one teacher who got married and moved, etc.] Each new teacher that filled the position wanted to read different books. This meant I had to adapt this series of lessons over and over again to go along with different novels.

I decided that I would “fix this.” I reworked the unit a final time. This time, I decided to theme the lessons on our county. The unit would work at any time during the school year with any novel we were studying. YEAH!


I ran across the lessons and decided to share. I went through the PowerPoint and removed Tennessee and textbook specific slides. The PowerPoint is not locked, so you can change it to fit your needs.


The PowerPoint

Lesson 1

In this lesson, students learn to identify three types of sentence problems: choppy, run-on, and stringy. The sentences tell general information about Johnson County.

Lesson 2

In this lesson, students learn how to correct choppy sentences by combining that have words that are repeated in two or more sentences. All the sentences are about Daniel Boone.

Lesson 3

In Lesson 3, students learn to take choppy sentences and correct them by making compound or complex sentences. These sentences are about Johnson County history.

Lesson 4

In this lesson, students correct run-on sentences. The sentences are about Johnson County’s geography.

Get the PowerPoint.


Foldable Graphic Organizers

The lessons have graphic organizers that can be placed in an interactive notebook. Before uploading these organizers, I rewrote the sentences to topics unrelated about Johnson County. This way they can be used without using the PowerPoint.

Foldable Graphic Organizer for Lesson #1 –  Recognizing Sentence Problems

Recognizing Sentence Problems Organizer

Organizer Chart for Lessons 2-3 – Combining Sentence Rules

Combining Sentence Rules Organizer

Organizer for Lesson 4 – Correcting Run-on Sentences

Ways to Correct Run-On Sentences Organizer

Correcting Sentence Problems Organizers

Gay Miller


The organizers in this blog post are an updated version of ones I created for this post.  If you prefer to print on only one side of the page, use the organizers from the original  post. You can get the pdf file here.

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Expanding Vocabulary


When students use the same tired words over and over, their writing becomes dull. The Internet is full of lists you can provide students; however, students learn by creating their own “Wow Word” lists. 

First, decide what you wish to call overused words:

  • Dead Words
  • Other Ways to Say …
  • Worn Out Words
  • Use Wow Words
  • Use Muscle Words
  • Tired Words

Once you decide, stick to it, so students won’t be confused. Here are three activities that will help students expand vocabulary. 

Activity #1 – Word Wheels

Word Wheel

Have students create word wheels. Write an overused word in the center of the wheel. Have students think of words that can be substituted for the overused word and write them in the outer spaces. In this free printable, you will find a full page and half page size sized word wheel.

The half page size makes great books. Print multiple copies of the page. Cut them in half using a paper cutter. Stack the pages together and staple them across the top or side (your preference). You may wish to add construction paper front and back covers to the books to make them more durable.

Throughout the school year, when you come across a word students overuse, have students complete the next page in their books. The books can be used as a reference any time students are writing.

Activity #2

Wow Word ActivitiesThis free printable, published by Educational Insights, has a cute tombstone printable for teachers who like to use the idea of “Dead Words.” This printable also includes some teaching ideas and a word list.

Activity #3

Ideas to Present Students from Using Overused Words

Wow Word Thesaurus is a mini book listing nine commonly used words:

  • very
  • nice
  • good
  • bad
  • mean
  • scared
  • happy
  • funny
  • cool

The printable book contains a partial list of synonyms for each word plus blanks for students to write additional synonyms. This booklet can easily be glued into an interactive notebook for students to use as a reference.

Download Wow Word Thesaurus
at Teachers Pay Teachers.

Gay Miller


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When the Shoe Fits – A Writing Project to use with Crash by Jerry Spinelli


Red shoes are an important symbol in the book Crash by Jerry Spinelli. This made me think about what types of shoes would represent the main characters. This turned into “When the Shoe Fits – A Writing Project to use with Crash by Jerry Spinelli.” This is a free printable activity that can be used as an interactive notebook activity. 

Free Writing Project to use with the book Crash by Jerry Spinelli

Crash by Jerry Spinelli Symbolism Activity

Crash is extremely athletic. Because he excels in sports, he gets attention from the other students in his school. He is especially proud when he can beat the older (8th graders) students.

Crash is obsessive about winning during football games. He doesn’t just want to win the game, but destroy the other team. He is ruthless, running right over top of the other players in an attempt to reach the goal line.

Crash’s attitude about football spills into the way he lives his life. In life, he is also ruthless and doesn’t treat others as he should. Cleats represents Crash both on and off the field as he “walks” on and hurts others.

When the Shoe Fits...A Creative Writing Project to use with Crash by Jerry Spinelli

Crash by Jerry Spinelli Symbolism Activity

Abby becomes good friends with Penn. She loves his Quaker beliefs. She becomes a vegetarian, wants to buy her clothes at the thrift store, and tries to turn her backyard into a wildlife refuge.

Abby joins Penn in trying to stop workers from building a mall in a nearby grassy field. Abby actually gets on television during her protests, but her success is short-lived as construction begins the day after the protest. Scooter does help pull off Abby’s wet and muddy shoes when gets home the day of the protest, but the author makes no mention of the kind of shoes she is wearing; however, Crocs seem suitable for a young girl who wants to build a refuge in her backyard.

Crash by Jerry Spinelli Symbolism Activity

Penn does not have many material things: a Conestoga wagon his great-grandfather made for him, a small house that looks like a garage, no television, and a pet turtle. Material possessions do not matter to Penn. On the first day of seventh grade Crash laughs at Penn thinking — It was Webb-and I mean the same old Webb. Same old supermarket sneakers, same prehistoric pants, probably from that great-grandfather of his.

Later Crash pulls a terrible prank on Penn. Mike gives Crash a squeeze bottle full of mustard. During class when Penn takes off his shoe, Crash empties the mustard from the bottle into Penn’s shoe. He even paints the tongue and laces with mustard. Ironically, Crash sees Jane (the girl he has a crush on who doesn’t return his feelings) at the water fountain helping Penn wash out his sneakers. 

Crash by Jerry Spinelli Symbolism Activity

Scooter is Crash and Abby’s much loved grandfather. He comes to live with the family. They love his cooking and story telling. Scooter also supports his grandchildren in their interests. He attends Crash’s football games and practices. He also supports Abby in her backyard habitat project.

Boots seem to fit Scooter. He is a tough fellow with a big heart.

Crash by Jerry Spinelli Symbolism Activity

Jane is the new girl in seventh grade. When Crash first sees her, he is instantly smitten. He makes it his mission to get her attention. This come to head at the school dance. Jane is friends with Penn. She wants to dance with Penn not Crash. His jock status holds little interest to her. Crash really shows himself when he tries to force her to dance with him and she refuses.

A simple sneaker seems to fit Jane’s personality.

Crash by Jerry Spinelli Symbolism Activity

Scooter has a massive stroke and is hospitalized. Crash realizes that Christmas is day after tomorrow and he hasn’t bought Scooter a present. He thinks this means that he doesn’t expect Scooter to live. Crash throws on his clothes and dashes out on his bike to find a gift, any gift.  He tears into a store and buys the first thing he sees, a pair of bright red high-heeled shoes with glitter all over and a red bow in front. The shoes cost $6. Buying the shoes is a comfort to Crash because he has his grandfather a present.

Later Crash learns the shoes were bought in the thrift shop. This is the place Crash despises because it represents all the things he is trying not to be.

Free – A Writing Project to use with Crash by Jerry Spinelli 

Crash by Jerry Spinelli Writing Project - Students must explain using proof from text why each character would wear a specific type of shoe based on their character traits.


Free Samples from Crash by Jerry Spinelli Book Unit

FREE Samples from Crash Book Unit

If you would like to try the Crash Book Unit before you buy it, this download provides the following samples:

  • Vocabulary Practice for Chapters 1-4
  • Comprehension Questions for Chapters 1-4
  • Constructive Response Question – Character Traits of Crash
  • Plus a lot of photos to show you what the rest of the unit contains

The Crash Book UnitCrash by Jerry Spinelli

Crash Book Unit contains graphic organizers for an interactive notebook and game activities covering vocabulary, comprehension questions, constructive response writing,and skill practice.

Gay Miller


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