Feb 23

Teaching Problems and Solutions with Songs


This post “Teaching Problems and Solutions with Songs” is the final one in a series of four. This link contains a handout with the list of the songs from all four posts as well as some graphic organizers that can be used to evaluate the songs. I want to send out a special thank you to Nancy Davis’s Middle School music class for some great song suggestions! In the comment area below, I would love to hear your suggestions. Remember the songs must be classroom friendly.

Overcomer by Mandisa

Kisha’s battle with cancer inspired Mandisa to write Overcomer. The video includes a number of real life stories including Former U.S. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, Captain Mark Kelly, Gold Medalist Scott Hamilton, Good Morning America host Robin Roberts and Biggest Loser runner-up Hannah Curlee.

Wake Me Up by Avicii

This song has many interpretations, so there is not going to be one right answer. Students will probably take the words both literally and figuratively. ENJOY!

I See Fire by Ed Sheeran

This song was commissioned for the soundtrack of the 2013 movie The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The Hobbit follows the quest of Bilbo Baggins who is trying to win his share of the treasure guarded by the dragon Smaug. Students who have seen the film can name many problems and solution in the quest.

Skin (Sarabeth) by Rascal Flatts

This song tells the story of a girl’s struggle with cancer. You will tear up when you hear how the problem is solved. 

I’ll Walk by Bucky Covington

This song also tells a story with an unexpected twist.

We Shall Overcome

This song was first published in 1948 by Pete Seeger and has been rerecorded several times since then. Notable artists who recorded it include Louis Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson, Peter, Paul & Mary and Toots & the Maytals. Martin Luther King, Jr. also recorded a spoken word version. Joan Baez sang the song at the March on Washington in 1963 before Martin Luther King, Jr. gave this famous “I Have a Dream” speech. 

U.S.A. For Africa

The video below,the remake of the song, raised money for Haiti. Students are probably more familiar with the artists in this newer version. 

Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson

Be sure to watch this video before showing it in class. Some of the pictures may not be suitable for all students.


Here are a few more you might try: 

  • A Horse with No Name by America (1971)
  • Colors of the Wind by Vanessa Williams from Disney’s Pocahontas (1995)
  • Hey there Delilah by Plain White T’s (2005)
  • Piece by Piece by Kelly Clarkson (2015)Songs for Teaching Problems and Solutions



Handout for This Blog Post

chevronribbonblueLinks to the Other Posts in this Teaching Text Structures with Songs Series

chevronribbonblueFREE Problems and Solutions Teaching Ideas


Teacher Pay Teacher Unit

Gay Miller


Feb 20

The Tales of Despereaux Character Trait Cards


Despereaux is an unusual mouse. He loves reading books and has a huge imagination. One day, he goes to Princess Pea’s room and hears her father playing his guitar and singing. Despereaux talks to Princess Pea because he is so caught up in the music. When Princess Pea picks Despereaux up for a closer look, he falls immediately in love with her. Despereaux’s brother Furlough witnesses the entire exchange. Furlough then runs and tells their father Lester what he has seen. Lester calls a meeting of the Mouse Council. The Council votes to send Despereaux to the dungeon where the rats live for breaking a “Mouse Rule.” The Thread Master ties the mark of death, a red piece of thread, around Despereaux. He is then pushed down the stairs into the dungeon. To learn of Despereaux’s fate read The Tales of Desperaux

Main Characters

Character Traits Cards


Character Traits CardsDespereaux is an unusual mouse. Instead of spending his days scrounging for food scraps, he read books and listens to music. Despereaux falls in love with a book about a princess and a knight. Later he meets a real princess and falls instantly in love with her. For this “terrible deed,” he is banished to the dungeon. There Despereaux’s bravery shines through as he courageously battles the scary dungeon rats to keep Princess Pea safe after she is kidnapped.

Despereaux also exhibits his goodness when he forgives his family for sending him to the dungeon.

Chapter 40

But still, here are the words Despereaux Tilling spoke to his father. He said, “I forgive you, Pa.”
And he said those words because he sensed that it was the only way to save his own heart, to stop it from breaking in two. Despereaux, reader, spoke those words to save himself. 

Princess Pea

Character Traits Cards

Princess Pea is loved by everyone in the kingdom. Not only is she beautiful but kind and compassionate as well. She lives a carefree life until her mother’s unexpected death. After this, she spends her time creating a tapestry to remember happier times.

When Princes Pea is kidnapped by Miggery Sow and taken to the dungeon, she doesn’t hate her. Instead, Princess Pea feels sympathy for the serving girl who is so unhappy with her life that she wants to be someone else.


Character Traits Cards

Roscuro is different from the other rats that live in the dungeon at the castle. He longs to see light. One day he climbs the stairs of the castle. Infatuated with the brightness of everything, Roscuro climbs up on a chandelier to see everything. Princess Pea spots him and yells, “Rat!” This startles Roscuro so that he falls directly into the queen’s soup. Shocked by this, the queen dies. Roscuro becomes upset and bent on revenge. Together with Miggery Sow, the two kidnap Princess Pea in a plot to “get even.”

Miggery Sow

Character Traits CardsMiggery Sow is basically a slave. She was sold by her father for a tablecloth, a hen, and some cigarettes. Mig ends up with a master who beats her until she is half deaf. She dreams of being a princess. In Mig’s mind, this is all she needs to be happy. She schemes a plot with Roscuro to kidnap Princess Pea. Mig thinks she will just step into the princess’s shoes once she is gone. Mig later realizes she has made a mistake by working with Roscuro and helps Despereaux save the princess. She is rewarded for being good.


Character Traits Cards

Botticelli is a rat that lives in the dungeon. He behaves the way a normal rat should. Throughout the story, Botticeli encourages Roscuro to carry out the plan to kidnap Princess Pea.

Gregory the Jailer

Character Traits CardsGregory the Jailer stays in the dungeon looking out for the prisoners. Because he doesn’t have a light, Gregory keeps from getting lost in the maze of the dungeon by tying a rope to his ankle. Spending so much time in the dark dungeon has turned Gregory into a wild creature. He gobbles down his food eating bones and all.

Gregory does have some good qualities. He decides to help Despereaux by helping him escape from the dungeon. In the revenge plan Roscuro cooks up to kidnap the princess, Gregory must be occupied so he doesn’t catch on to the plan. Roscuro cuts through Gregory’s rope, so he is permanently lost in the dungeon’s maze.

Character Traits Cards

The Tales of Despereaux Character Cards

Have students summarize each character using these character cards. You can download the cards here.

Free Samples from The Tale of Despereaux Book Unit Book Unit

The Tales of Despereaux Book Unit Samples

If you are looking for more resources for your The Tales of Despereaux unit, check out the free samples.

The Tale of Despereaux Book Unit

The Tale of Despereaux Book Unit

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


Gay Miller


Feb 16

Teaching Cause and Effect with Songs


For February, I am creating a series of four blog posts on songs to use while teaching text structures. Cause and effect was one of the more difficult to think of songs. If you know of any classroom friendly songs, please include them in the “Comment Section” at the bottom of the post.

When You Wish Upon a Star would be a great song to introduce you “Cause and Effect” Lesson. The song has a couple of cause and effect relationships :

  • When you wish upon a star – anything you heart desires will come to you.
  • If your heart is in your dream – no request is too extreme.

The song also contains personification (fate steps) and a simile (like a bolt out of the blue).

Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh ( A Letter from Camp) 

This song was written by Allan Sherman and Lou Busch based on a letter full of complaints Allan received from his son while he attended Camp Champlain in Westport, New York. This fun song is perfect for cause and effect.

It’s My Party, sung by Leslie Gore, was recorded in black and white. The video below contains the original song played in the movie Problem Child (1990). In the movie, Junior gets revenge for not being allowed to watch the magic show. The video is full of Junior’s antics which make fantastic cause and effect discussion examples.

Spinning Wheel by Blood Sweat & Tears won three Grammys in 1970. It is a metaphor for the cycle of events we go through in life. The song begins with “What goes up, must come down.” See if students can find these:

  • You got no money and you got no home.
  • Don’t worry; things will work out. 
  • By following the  “straight and narrow highway” (moral integrity) you will shine.

The Light by Disturbed tells the story of a fireman who is injured in a fire and goes through a difficult rehabilitation process only to find happiness in the end. The message is really positive. People must go through ‘dark’ periods in order to finally see ‘the light.’ The video has a great cause and effect message.

If I Had a Hammer by Peter, Paul & Mary is an exceptional 1960’s folk song. The video below, filmed at the Civil Rights March on Washington in 1963, can be used to not only discuss the cause and effect events mentioned in the song the song but also the causes and effects of the Civil Rights March.

Teaching Cause & Effect with Songs




Handout for This Blog Post

chevronribbonblueLinks to the Other Posts in this Teaching Text Structures with Songs Series

chevronribbonblueFREE Cause and Effect Teaching Ideas


Teacher Pay Teacher Unit

Gay Miller


Feb 13

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


Feb 09

Teaching Sequencing with Songs


Last week I posted “Teaching Compare and Contrast with Songs” This week, I’m continuing the series with “Teaching Sequencing with Songs.” I’ve listened to hundreds of songs. In the comment area below, I would love to hear your suggestions. Remember the songs must be classroom friendly.

Historical Events

One genre to use in the classroom are songs that tell about an event in history. You can’t go wrong with sequencing events from the Battle of the Alamo. Here are some songs you might try:

Ballad of the Alamo by Marty Robbins

Shortly after the freighter Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior on November 10, 1975, Gordon Lightfoot, a Canadian singer-songwriter, wrote this song to commemorate the sinking.

Casey Jones was an American railroader who worked for the Illinois Central Railroad. The Ballad of Casey Jones tells the story of how he was killed on April 30, 1900 when his train collided with a stalled freight train. The song was written in 1909, so it is now in public domain. Here is a printable that includes the words to the song and a main idea activity to go along with it. 

Here are a few more history songs you might try:

  • The Ballad of Davy Crockett by Tennessee Ernie Ford
  • The Battle of New Orleans by by Johnny Horton

Biographies in Song

Coat of Many Colors by Dolly Parton

Here are a few more you might try:

  • Coal Miner’s Daughter by Loretta Lynn
  • Leader of the Band by Dan Fogelberg

Songs that Tell a Story

Love Story by Taylor Swift  

All-American Girl by Carrie Underwood

Billy Don’t Be a Hero by Bo Donalsson and the Heywoods

Here are a few more you might try: 

  • Jesus Take the Wheel by Carrie Underwood (2005)
  • Just a Dream by Carrie Underwood (2007)
  • Mary’s Song (Oh My My My) by Taylor Swift
  • Cat’s in the Cradle by Harry Chapin (1974)
  • Three Wooden Crosses by Randy Travis (2002)
  • Last Kiss by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers (1964)
  • Boulevard of Broken Dream by Green Day (2004)
  • In the Ghetto by Elvis Presley (1969)
  • The Coward of the County by Kenny Rogers (1979)
  • Wildfire by Michael Martin Murphey (1975)
  • Phantom 309 by Red Sovine (1967)Operator by Jim Croce (1972)
  • Fun, Fun, Fun by the Beach Boys (1964)
  • Ol’ Red by Blake Shelton (2001)
  • Unanswered Prayers by Garth Brooks (1990)
  • Baby Girl by Sugarland (2004)
  • The Leader of the Pack by The Shangri-Las (1965)
  • The Ode to Billie Joe by Bobbie Gentry (1967)
  • He Stopped Loving Her Today by George Jones (1980)
  • Honey by Bobby Goldsboro
  • A Day in the Life by The Beatles (1967)
  • Rocky Mountain High by John Denver (1975)

Songs for Teaching Sequencing



Handout for This Blog Post

chevronribbonblueLinks to the Other Posts in this Teaching Text Structures with Songs Series

chevronribbonblueFREE Ordering/Sequencing Teaching Ideas



Teacher Pay Teacher Unit


Gay Miller


Feb 06

Teachers Pay Teachers Sale

 Teachers Pay Teachers Sale

Teachers Pay Teachers is holding a

2-Day Sale.

All Gay Miller resources will be 20% off
with an additional 10% off with the


This means a savings of 28%. 

Enter the raffle to win a $10 gift card to use during the sale.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Be sure to leave feedback
from previous purchases
to earn credits toward your new purchases.



Gay Miller

Feb 06

The Whipping Boy Activities


Prince Horace, nicknamed Prince Brat, constantly creates mischief. But because of the custom of the time, he does not receive punishment. A whipping boy steps in to receive the whipping. Prince Horace becomes bored with his circumstances, so he forces his whipping boy Jemmy to run away for a little adventure. The two are soon captured by a couple of cutthroats who want a ransom from the king. Read this novel by Sid Fleischman to find out how Prince Horace and Jemmy survive in the hands of these cutthroats.

 Activity #1 ~ Story Elements PowerPoint

The day before beginning The Whipping Boy, I displayed the following anchor charts in the classroom. These stayed up for the duration of the novel. As students read, we added character traits. Once we had read approximately half the book, the characters’ main problems were added. At the end of the novel, the solutions to these problems were also added.

The Whipping Boy Anchor Chart The Whipping Boy Anchor Chart

Activity #2 ~ Real Word Examples PowerPoint

This short ten slide PowerPoint covers why understanding prefixes and suffixes is important in real world situations. For example, what is a non-carbonated beverage? 

Prefixes and Suffixes PowerPoint - Real World Examples

A Real World Example (PowerPoint)

Activity #3 ~ Prefix and Suffix Meanings PowerPoint

Prefix and Suffix PowerPointEach slide in this 11 slide PowerPoint asks students a question related to prefixes and suffixes. Students make guesses. To reveal the correct answer, just click. 

Activity #4 ~ The History of Whipping Boys

The History Behind Whipping Boys The History Behind Whipping Boys

In this practice students read a one page nonfiction passage “The History behind Whipping Boys.” They then highlight all words in the passage that contained prefixes and suffixes. A PowerPoint is provided for the answer key. With each mouse click the next word containing a prefix or suffix is revealed. 

The History behind Whipping Boys (Printable)

The History behind Whipping Boys (PowerPoint showing Answers)

Activity #5 ~ Writing Activity

My students had a blast with this writing activity. In the activity, students made up funny situations that could happen if they didn’t know the meanings of prefixes.

For example, to prewash means to wash before. Some clothes might say prewash before wearing. If you did not know what the word prewash means, you could wear the new shirt you bought before washing it. The purple shirt might turn your skin purple. People could make fun of you for having purple skin. It is important to know the meanings of prefixes so you do not get into a situation where your friends could make fun of you.

Prefix Writing Activity

Prefix Writing ActivityPrefix Writing ActivityPrefix Writing ActivityWriting Activity with Prefixes and Suffixes

Activity #6 ~ Comparing Book Covers

Visit this webpage to see the book covers. 

Free Samples from The Whipping Boy Book UnitFree Samples from The Whipping Boy Book Unit

This download contains vocabulary practice, a comprehension quiz, and a constructive response question for Chapters 1-2 plus a skill lesson on prefixes. The Whipping Boy Book Unit Samples 

 The Whipping Boy Book Unit

The Whipping Boy Book Unit


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

Gay Miller



Feb 02

Teaching Compare and Contrast with Songs


If you wish to wake up students a bit and get them participating in class, try using songs. Songs are a great way to teach a large number of Common Core skills. Right away, you’re probably thinking that you can teach figurative language and other poetic elements; however, you can do much more. Teaching the skill “Compare and Contrast with Songs” can be a fun and a memorial experience for your students.

Compare and Contrast

Let it Go vs. Towards the Sun

Let it Go appears on the soundtrack for Disney’s animated film Frozen. Elsa sings the song when she leaves the kingdom of Arendelle and creates her own ice palace.

Rihanna recorded Towards the Sun for the animated movie Home. The song speaks of not letting fear get in the way.

Compare and Contrast
When You Wish Upon a Star vs. Somewhere Out There

When You Wish Upon a Star comes from Walt Disney’s 1940 adaptation of Pinocchio. Jiminy Cricket sings the song at the beginning and the end of the movie. The song talks about how dreams come true. Pinocchio, a wooden doll, wishes to be a real boy.

Somewhere Out There was featured in the 1986 film An American Tail. In this movie, a brother and sister, Fievel and Tanya Mousekewitz, sing about the love they share.

Both songs speak of wishing on stars.

Compare and Contrast
Hakuna Matata vs. Don’t Worry Be Happy

Hakuna Matata, written by Elton John and Tim Rice, was featured in the 1994 Walt Disney animated movie The Lion King. The phrase Hakuna matata is Swahili meaning “no worries.”  In the movie, Timon and Pumbaa wants to teach Simba to forget his troubled past and live in the present. 

Don’t Worry, Be Happy became a hit song in 1988 by Bobby McFerrin. The phrase comes from the Indian guru Meher Baba. The song appeared in the movies Cocktail (1988) and Casper – A Spirited Beginning (1997). George H.W. Bush used the song in his 1988 U.S. Presidential Election. Mattress Firm even made a commercial featuring this song.

Compare and Contrast
Rise Up vs. Shake It Off

Rise Up was sung by Beyoncé in the animated movie Epic. The song speaks of standing up for yourself. Beyoncé voices the character Queen Tara in the movie who is trying to save her world from the evil Boggan leader.

Taylor Swift says the song Shake it Off was her way of dealing with some of her critics. She wanted to overcome her fear of bad press. In the video, Swift dances with professional dancers. She awkwardly tries to keep up. Swift says she wanted the video to spread the message that it is okay to be different.

Roar vs. Eye of the Tiger

Katy Perry’s song Roar encourages people to be strong and stand up. The word roar is used 16 times during the song to emphasize the power.

Eye of the Tiger was the theme song to Rocky III. In the movie, the song contrasted scenes between the two fighters. Mr. T trains hard to become the boxing champion of the world. In contrast, Rocky Balboa shoots commercials. He slacks off in his training program. The song shows that Rocky needs to get back his hunger to be the champ.

Both songs emphasize using empowerment.

Compare and Contrast using SongsLinks


Handout for This Blog Post

chevronribbonblueLinks to the Other Posts in this Teaching Text Structures with Songs Series

chevronribbonblueFREE Compare and Contrast Teaching Ideas


Teacher Pay Teacher Unit


Gay Miller


Jan 30

The Cay Activities


Set during World War II, The Cay tells the story of Phillip, an American from Virginia. While trying to return home from Curacao, Phillip’s ship is torpedoed by a German submarine. Phillip and Timothy find their way to a raft. After floating on the ocean for several days, they land on an island. Timothy says they are in the Devil’s Mouth. This is a group of islands surrounded by a series of coral reefs. [This doesn’t sound very promising for a rescue.] Phillip must overcome both mental and physical obstacles to survive. Your students will love this wonderful book by Theodore Taylor.

 Activity #1 ~ Story Elements PowerPoint

Story Elements PowerPoint

This 97 slide PowerPoint goes over definitions (including examples) student need to understand to complete the Story Map. The PowerPoint using examples from books students in our school have read. The PowerPoint also has familiar characters such as Batman and Ebeneezer Scrooge. Since the Powerpoint is not locked, you can easily adapt it to fit novels your class has studied.

Story Elements PowerPoint to use with The Cay

Activity #2 ~ Prepositions PowerPoint

Prepositions PowerPoint to use when Teaching The Cay


I like to begin my grammar unit with students identifying prepositional phrases. When students can isolate the prepositional phrases, it is easier to break down the rest of the sentence for study. This 23 slide PowerPoint includes six sentences related to The Cay. The artwork in this presentation was created by students. This makes a quick fun activity for students.

Prepositions PowerPoint to use with The Cay


Activity #3 ~ Edible Octopus

Edible Octopus

This edible octopus is made from a hot dog with mustard eyes. It sits on a bed of shell pasta (macaroni and cheese). The ‘shells’ are decorated with gold fish crackers. See additional photos.


Activity #4 ~ Weaving

WeaqvingTimothy showed Phillip how to weave mats. We tried our hand at weaving. A simple loom was created from a disposable plastic plate. Students used yarn to create pot holders. This simple project showed students what Phillip must be experiencing. See additional photos.

The Cay Book Unit Samples
Samples from The Cay Book Unit

Check out The Cay Book Unit samples.

The Cay Book Unit

The Cay Book Unit

The Cay Book Unit contains graphic organizers for an interactive notebook and game activities. The unit covers vocabulary, comprehension questions, constructive response writing, and skill practice.


Gay Miller


Jan 26

Story Mapping


Story Mapping

Story mapping is a strategy that uses graphic organizers to help students break down text. These visual representations help students examine different components of the story. Creating a story map improves students’ comprehension because they can more easily visualize the framework of a story.  

Common Core

Creating a story map helps students practice a large number of Common Core skills as well.

Theme and Summarizing: RL.4.2 RL.5.2 RL.6.2
Characters, Setting, and Plot: RL.4.3 RL.5.3 RL.6.3
Meaning and Tone:     RL.6.4
Structure:   RL.5.5 RL.6.5
Point of View: RL.4.6 RL.5.6 RL.6.6

Types of Story Maps

There are many different types of story maps that can benefit different levels of learning. A beginning story map may have students summarize the beginning, middle, and end of a story. Other maps require students to list key components of a story such as

  • title
  • setting
  • characters
  • problem
  • major events
  • conclusion

More advanced story maps ask for additional details such as theme, author’s purpose, point of view, tone, and mood. Story maps may even ask students to compare similar aspects of two different stories. The range of story maps is endless.

Where to Begin

Whatever level your students are on, you will need to model creating the story map you wish to use. This can be done using a poster-sized piece of paper, a dry erase board, or on a SmartBoard. If your students have not created story maps in the past, you may wish to begin with a simple one page model such as this one from Scholastic.

Graphic Organizer: Story MapAs your students’s skills grow, your story maps will need to become more advanced.

Enjoy these resources to help you teach story elements and story mapping:

Free Story Mapping BookStory Elements PowerPoint

Gay Miller



Older posts «

» Newer posts