Book Talk Thursday: The City Of Ember

The book I’m featuring this Book Talk Thursday is The City Of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. I hope you will link up with me at the end of this post to share one of your favourite books. 

Summary: The City Of Ember tells the story of a city in darkness. The power is failing more regularly and Lina and Don are determined to find a way to save the people of Ember, even if it means venturing into the Pipeworks…

Themes: fear, determination, hope, light/dark, dystopia/utopia. 

Ages: 9+ 

Quote: “There is so much darkness in Ember, Lina. It’s not just outside, it’s inside us, too. Everyone has some darkness inside. It’s like a hungry creature. It wants and wants and wants with a terrible power. And the more you give it, the bigger and hungrier it gets.”

This is one of my favourite books, and it has so many uses in the classroom. Written in vivid detail the adventure will pull in even reluctant readers. This is a great book to look at themes such as lightness and darkness and how they are represented through symbolism in the text. Its richly textured description and dialogue paints a picture of a fanciful yet sinister town cast in darkness, yet the adventure moves at a fast enough rate that the description does not weigh the reader down. Lina and Doon’s friendship is one that students can relate to as they use teamwork and rely on one another to solve the mysteries of Ember. 

The descriptive writing in The City Of Ember is also perfect to look at similes and metaphors. I have a hanging graphic organizer that you might like to use if you do a book study of The City Of Ember with your students. It has a light bulb theme that ties in to the book perfectly, though it can also be used for other studies. You can get it here. 


What are your favourite books to use in the classroom? That’s the question Book Talk Thursday is all about. I’d love for you to link up and share one of your favourite books.

How To Link Up
1. Add a link to your blog post in the Inlinkz at the bottom of this post. 
2. Place the Book Talk Thursday button (below) somewhere in your post linking back to this one. 
3. You can grab the link up code from the Inlinkz tool at the bottom and share on your blog if you wish. 
4. Explore! Come back to this post to see what other bloggers have shared. 

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tsū who?

You might have recently heard about the new social media platform tsū (pronounced sue) gaining momentum across the web. But what is it? Should you join? And what makes it different than any other social media site? These are all questions I asked myself before signing up. Here are a few of my main takeaways now that I’ve had a chance to explore the platform.

1. Users Are Valued

On other platforms the company makes money from advertisers as users share content. With tsū 90% of these profits are distributed to the users that are networking and generating and sharing the content. Regardless of the monetary model this demonstrates a company that cares about its users and values their time and work put into creating content.

2. Easy Peasy

When I started using Pinterest I felt that I was over my head as I tried to learn about pins, boards, and the etiquette of sharing. With tsū I feel none of this learning curve. It looks very similar to Facebook, with all the post, like and share options. I had my account up and running in under 3 minutes. Users sign up using the link of a current user, (if you are interested you can use mine This creates a ‘family tree’ as networks are grown, and it is along these connections that the site is monetized in a pay-it-forward process of proceeds that get divided the further you go in the network.

3. Friend vs. Follow

No more dealing with tricky privacy settings. On tsū you decide wether you want a post to be ‘public’ (so that both followers and friends can see it), or ‘friends only’ so that only people you are friends with see your post.

4. See Everything

On tsū your followers will see all of your posts. Yes, let me repeat that, all your followers see all your posts. Wow. With Facebook changes within the last year it was easy to get disillusioned by the fact that out of 110 followers only 6 people would see my posts because of Facebook’s algorithm. I like to share content. And I like to share content that I think my followers will find valuable. So I would like them to see it! With tsū your posts will show up in all of your followers news feeds. This is the #1 reason I decided to sign up.

5. #Hashtags

I love that Google+ and Twitter have hashtags that can help you network and find others talking about the same subjects you are. Social networking is designed for just that- networking, and I find that hashtags make it easy to find like-minded individuals.

Though I will still post on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ I’d love for you to become part of my tsū network by signing up with the link below, or following me if you already have an account.

Do you use tsū? What are your thoughts on the social network? I’d love to hear in the comments below or at 

5 Tips To Implement Free Exploration & Promote Critical Thinking In The Classroom

In my time as a student the moments that made the greatest impact to my learning and the development of my love of learning was when I was set free to explore a topic of my choice. I was lucky enough to experience a learning environment in which the the question of “why did they build the pyramids?” was responded to with “I don’t know, you should look it up”. Off I would go to the library to pull out every book on the pyramids. This of course would lead to a multitude of additional questions, and before I knew it I was undertaking a giant self guided study of Ancient Egypt. Then I wanted to share my newfound knowledge with my fellow students, who challenged my information with new questions, “do you think the workers wanted to build the pyramids?” “maybe they were forced to because they didn’t have any power?”. Though oftentimes there were more questions than conclusions I was learning while engaged in respectful debate, discussion, and student-lead learning steaming from the natural curiosity and need to explore. Rather than looking to the authority of my teacher for definitive answers I learned to rely on myself to produce answers and ask questions. This is the type of free exploration that is unfortunately difficult to facilitate in an overcrowded traditional classroom setting, however it is not impossible. 

Here are a few ideas you can use to incorporate free exploration and self guided learning in your classroom:
1. Library Time
There is nothing better than giving students free time to explore the library. Before going you might want to have students make a list of three topics they are interested in, or a section they would like to explore (ie. trains, Canadian geography, or ancient China) so that they do not get overwhelmed by the variety of choice.
2. Pick A Topic, Any Topic
Where possible, try to have students do research projects or writing on a topic of their selection. If they are interested in a subject because they chose it the quality of their work and the effort they will put into it will be greater. 
3. Free Exploration Friday
Try to find at least 45 min in your schedule one day a week. At the beginning of the month have students select any topic of their choosing that they would like to research. They must research the topic and create a poster, model, video, dramatic scene, story, or report about that subject to share with their classmates at the end of the month.
Week #1: students select a topic and begin researching it (if possible during a computer lab or library time).
Week #2: students finish their research and decide which format they would like to present it in.
Week #3: students bring any necessary materials and create their presentation (ie. they make their poster, or write the script for a dramatic scene).
Week #4: students present their creation to their classmates (give each student about 3 min to share their work). 
Why is it great?
  • students gain valuable research skills
  • students are passionate about the topic they research
  • peer-to-peer learning
  • creation of a positive learning environment where everyone’s work and opinions are valued
  • students can pick the presentation style that best fits the way they learn (ie. visual learners can create a poster about horses while active learners can write and perform a dramatic scene about the invention of the telephone).  
4. Say “I don’t know”
If a student comes to you with a question, and time permits their exploration, respond with “I don’t know”. The first few times you do this you might get blank stares or shocked looks from students. Prompt them into self guided learning by suggesting that they ask the class to see if they know, or that they should look it up. This provides students with the valuable opportunity to see their learning as something they have control over and can self-source.
5. Collaborative Lessons
Don’t underestimate the contributions of students. Instead of launching straight into a traditional lesson begin with a question, or a ‘what I know vs. what I don’t know’ schema about a topic. As students contribute their information write it on the board in a giant ‘brainstorming’ format. When a student asks a question, first ask the rest of the class before contributing the knowledge you are working to present in the lesson. Have them throw out hypothesis, questions, and debate with one another, look up information online, in the textbook, or using reference books. Guide the conversation but take the backseat while writing down what students say. Near the end of the lesson as questions wane and the information you sought to cover is presented, make a summary of the schema you created with students. Highlight the main points, and have them reflect on the process. This is a great way to introduce a unit or a particular subject. 
Some great posts on similar topics from around the web: 

How Collaborative Learning Leads To Student Success 

Student-led, Flipped, Inquiry Based Learning Classroom Doing Authentic Work 

How A Radical New Teaching Method Could Unleash A Generation Of Geniuses 

The Power Of I Don’t Know

How do you promote free exploration and critical thinking in your classroom? I’d love to hear in the comments below, or a 

Book Talk Thursday:

Welcome to another Book Talk Thursday! I hope you’ll link up with me at the end of this post.

Book: The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Ages: 13-16
Quote: “Do you understand how amazing it is to hear that from an adult? Do you know how amazing it is to hear that from anybody? It’s one of the simplest sentences in the world, just four words, but they’re the four hugest words in the world when they’re put together. -You can do it.”

This book is ideal for a grade 8 book study. It deals with some difficult and emotional subject matter, and there is some swearing. For those who have read the ‘Outsiders’ I find the maturity levels are comparable. Issues discussed: alcohol, family troubles, abuse, loss.

The images used in this book work to illustrate the emotion of the main character and engage students with the text. Written in the voice of a boy named Junior, as he makes the controversial decision to attend a high school off reservation. As issues of alcohol abuse, family troubles, abuse, and loss are presented Junior maintains a positive outlook as he overcomes these challenges and reflects on what they mean for his community, his family, and himself. It presents the struggle of balancing one’s identity when it seems they are being pulled in opposite directions. There is also an overarching discussion of friendship, and belonging. It looks at the need for cultural understanding, and the idea that people should not be defined by their ethnicity, beliefs, or socioeconomic status.

Despite the heavy subject matter this book deals with it sill has a place in the classroom. With the proper supervision to facilitate critical discussion about this book, students benefit from a character who shows that the family, community, or economic status you were born into does not have to define your life.


What are your favourite books to use in the classroom? That’s the question Book Talk Thursday is all about. I’d love for you to link up and share one of your favourite books.

How To Link Up
1. Add a link to your blog post in the Inlinkz at the bottom of this post. 
2. Place the Book Talk Thursday button (below) somewhere in your post linking back to this one. 
3. You can grab the link up code from the Inlinkz tool at the bottom and share on your blog if you wish. 
3. Explore! Come back to this post to see what other bloggers have shared. 

get the InLinkz code

Autumn Sensory Bin

Slide2An autumn walk in nature is the perfect time to pick up materials for an autumn sensory box. Natural textures and interesting objects abound, from acorns and beechnuts, to pinecones and leaves. Wooden acorns of various sizes add a fun texture and size contrast to real acorns. Lentils provide a good base for this sensory box, mixing orange and green lentils creates a nice colour contrast. Popcorn is also seasonal and fun. Fresh or dried leaves or fossilized leaves are a good addition as well. If you wish to add scent to this sensory box you can place a few drops of a mandarin essential oil at the centre of a pinecone, or add a few cinnamon sticks.


The dried leaves pictured above are fossilized leaves I have from many years ago that are unfortunately no longer available. Similar items can be found online however, or you can press and dry your own leaves.

Small wooden acorns can be purchased here.

Top 10 Books For Boys: Ages 9-12

Though I’m a believer in the fact that there’s no such thing as books for boys vs. girls, many parents and teachers report that they have an especially difficult time getting boys interested in reading. I think the right story can draw in even the most reluctant reader, so here are my top 10 picks for books that boys ages 9-12 are sure to enjoy.

1. Gordon Korman Adventure Books: Dive, Everest, Island

In the Dive trilogy students on a marine expedition fight over sunken treasure, add sharks to the mix and you get a riveting adventure. In the Everest trilogy youth from across the country compete to reach the top of Mt. Everest, facing all the danger along the way. The Island Trilogy: shipwreck, a storm, and survival.


2. The Edge Chronicles

A vividly written fantasy world of adventure and monsters. Charming and funny illustrations help the reader imagine the world of the main character, Twig, as he ventures into the Deepwoods. Beware the Gloamglozer.


3. The Alex Rider Series

Normal teenager Alex Rider becomes pulled into the world of spies and nefarious plots after he unravels the mystery of who his uncle really was. This series is action packed, filled with gadgets, villains, and quick getaways.

4. The Hardy Boys Series

With an extensive selection of books to choose from there is a mystery adventure for everyone with the Hardy Boys. A classic series with fast-moving plots so that readers get quickly pulled into the story.


5. Hatchet

Brian is stranded in the Canadian wilderness with nothing but a hatchet. Self discovery and self confidence ensue as he struggles to survive. Readers will stay enthralled as they follow Brian’s journey through different survival methods. There are five books in this series in total, though it can also be read as a stand-alone book.


6. Books Of Ember

The City Of Ember tells the story of a city in darkness, the power is failing more regularly and Lina and Doon are determined to find a way to save the people of Ember, even if it means venturing into the Pipeworks.

In The People Of Sparks, the people of Ember have come to the surface, into a new world. At first they are taken in by the people of Sparks- but there are so many unanswered questions and curious differences, will they be able to live alongside these people?

The Prophet Of Yonwood is a prequel to The City Of Ember. Its 50 years before the City Of Ember is settled, with war looming on the horizon and a woman with a vision, this is a story of hope in a world that is out of control.

In the Diamond Of Darkness, after coming to the surface Lina and Doon are living with the people of Sparks, and the village is struggling through the winter. Doon has found a mysterious book, it tells a tale of something lost, and he and Lina go back into the dark city to find it.

These books are amazingly written, with vivid detail and adventure that pulls the reader in.

7. The Roman Mysteries

Telling the story of youth in ancient Rome, this vast series (17 books) is an amazing work to bring history to life. Through its stories the ancient world is painted in vivid detail, as it touches on subjects of power, social hierarchy, democracy and more, through well-worked narratives and endearing characters.

8. Percy Jackson And The Olympians (5 book series)

Sea monsters, titans, and other mythological monsters fill these books as Percy Jackson and his demigod friends embark on their adventures.


9. Holes

Accused of theft and sent to Camp Green Lake, this book tells the story of friendship, an outlaw, and a *hole* lot of digging.

10. Harry Potter

Though I consider this series mandatory reading for any age, the story of The Boy Who Lived is sure to entice even the most reluctant of readers. Enter a world of magic, friendship, good/evil, and adventure. The teaching potential of these books is endless.

If you’d like this list in an easy-to-read format you can save or pin this image below.

Many of the books listed here are adventures or mysteries, where the reader is always guessing what is going to happen next. These types of stories are great for making predictions as a reading strategy. I have a fun product here that you might enjoy using with your students as you make predictions before, during, and after reading a story

What are your favourite books that boys ages 9-12 love? I’d love to hear in the comments below, or at  

Paper Hack: Time Saving Uses For Receipt Paper In The Classroom

How many hours of the week do teachers spend cutting paper? Though I don’t know an exact number I know how annoying it can be to spend time cutting paper to the right size when there are a hundred other things you could be doing. Though I haven’t figured out a way to make cutting out tiny laminated game pieces any easier, I do have a paper sizing ‘hack’- receipt paper. These are the rolls of paper 2-3 inches wide that you can get at many office supply stores in boxes of 12 or more. Easy to cut to any length and a variety of uses. 

Here are just some of the many uses of this nicely sized paper:

1. Word Wall

No more running out of space at the end of a long word. Simply cut after you’re done writing. 

2. Student Comics

No more messy tape and glue and paper bits as students run out of room. Easily size length for the perfect comic strip paper. A great way for reluctant writers to tell stories.

3. Cork Board Border

A fun alternative to purchasing pre-designed borders. Have students draw on a length of receipt paper. A great way for them to see their handiwork around the classroom. You could also have each student draw a picture associated with one key term you are covering in a particular unit to decorate a display about that topic. 

4. Desk Strips

Sometimes a particular student will have difficulty with a particular concept and would benefit from a reminder on their desk. Rather than sourcing one online or printing off copies, make personalized desk strips with receipt paper. For example: one student might need help with their 6’s multiplication, while another needs a reminder of the 9’s. 

Fun Fact: receipt paper fits perfectly with clear packing tape. No need to laminate, simply take a piece of packing tape and fold over the paper lengthwise. There will be the perfect amount of border remaining. 

What are your time-saving teacher hacks? I’d love to hear in the comments below, or by email at 

Book Talk Thursday: Stella Star Of The Sea

Book: Stella Star Of The Sea by Marie-Louise Gay 
Ages: 4-8 (though I’ll admit to reading as an adult)
Genre: Fiction
Quote: “Where do starfish come from?” asked Sam. “From the sky,” answered Stella. “Starfish are shooting stars that fell in love with the sea.” “weren’t the stars afraid of drowning?” asked Sam. “No”, said Stella. “They all learned how to swim.” 
Stella Star Of The Sea is one of my all-time favourite books. It explores the relationship of a brother (Sam) and sister (Stella) as they explore the seaside. Sam asks all sorts of questions as he delays getting into the water, while Stella has a creative answer for them all as she encourages her brother. It highlights the curiosity of children and the need to imagine and explore. 
You could use this book as a read-outloud prior to an ocean or sea-creature unit. Many ocean creatures are mentioned, and students can try to find them in the illustrations. It can also be used to have a discussion about how trying new things can sometimes feel scary, but eventually when we’re brave enough to try them they can be wonderful. 
All in all this book will give you the warm fuzzies as you meet Stella and fall in love with her sunny character. 
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Book Talk Thursday

Books are an instrumental part of teaching. Wether you are a classroom teacher, homeschool, or are a parent, books are part of every educator’s life. Of course we aren’t all librarians and it can be difficult to find that perfect book that will be just right for your students. What can we do?

Introducing book talk Thursday. My goal is that each Thursday I will share one of my favourite books and why I love it. I welcome other bloggers to link up and do the same.

If you link up…
1. Add a link to your blog post in the Inlinkz at the bottom of this post.
2. Place the Book Talk Thursday button somewhere in your post linking back to this post.
3. Explore! Come back to this post to see what other bloggers have shared.

The Middle Ages Unit Study- Book List

Are you an elementary teacher or a homeschooler looking to do a unit study on the Middle Ages? It can be difficult to sort through the stacks of books at your local library or bookstore to find the best ones. After immersing myself in the Middle Ages to create my Middle Ages: A Time Travel Unit Study I decided to rustle up some good books. Here are my recommendations for great reads to supplement your studies of the Middle Ages.


The Knight at Dawn
The Magic Tree House series is always a favourite. Jack and Annie explore a midlevel castle and feast. This is a great supplement to generate student interest prior to starting the unit.

A Medieval Feast
Great for a younger audience, this book has beautiful illustrations as it explores life in a castle as a feast is prepared for the nobility.

Castle Diary: The Journal of Tobias Burgess
Students get a glimpse at castle life through the eyes of an 11 year old boy as they read his journal entries. A good look at everyday life through a narrative form.


The Middle Ages: Everyday Life In Medieval Europe
Generally good information about all the different aspects of daily life in the Middle Ages. It is rather text heavy and focuses on everyday life, rather than major historical events. Look at hygiene, entertainment, food and more. 


Eyewitness Books: Medieval Life
Though a more pricy option Eyewitness books are always a good investment. With a nice balance of text to images. This book provides general information about life in the Middle Ages with high quality artifact and recreation photos to bring the time period to life.

What are your favourite books to use when studying the Middle Ages? I’d love to hear in the comments below or at