Category Archives: Lessons

The Outsiders Project Choices


Going way off the beaten path with this post here, I know. But some of my teaching posts are more most popular so I have to roll with this. I really wanted to share. The Outsiders is a favorite book of so many of my students. I would love reading it and looked forward to it all year. Several readers who just “hated” reading cited this as their favorite book. 

Students would be captivated and just love culminating the year with watching the movie, which has some SUPERSTARS I may add. Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, PATRICK SWAYZE!!, Matt Dillon and even the author herself!!! I can’t believe she wrote that book when she was 15. It’s unreal! 

So we usually read The Outsiders at the end of the year that’s why I like to have a little fun with the projects. I seldom give students a regular test at the end of the book. I like to see them be creative. These project choices let them pick and choose how creative they want to be. There’s always some students who just want to do a simple pencil and paper project. 

Many of the projects require technology especially Ipads. If you would like the word document version please contact me at 

Who is your favorite Outsiders character? I think I have to go with Soda Pop. 

Check it out here:




Common Core Expository Essay Writing Tools

Whaaaat?  A school post. I don’t even remember the last time I did one…..

tools for an  informational essay

But alas, I have some tools to share with my fellow teachers. This year I have been making videos to accompany my lessons for students who are absent or struggling with concepts. Have you heard of flipped classroom? It’s when the students watch instructional videos and come to class with the material already “learned” so you don’t have to waste class time taking notes/doing direct instruction. Instead, class time is used to do “homework” or “practice” the skills you “taught” in the video. This isn’t so cut and dry with English. I don’t think it works very well with an ELA class, but a colleague is doing it with her math class and I think the flipped model is a great idea for math. I feel like in math the teacher has to give the notes on how to do the problem, and half the kids probably aren’t listening….then they go to do the homework and they don’t know how.

So with flipped classroom in a math setting the kids would watch the instructional video at home, then come to class and practice the problems. Now the kids who didn’t watch the video and or are struggling can get face to face time with the teacher while the advanced kids move on with the problems and videos. My friend has had great success with this method. I just don’t think it works for ELA per say. BUT…

I still like the idea of having instructional videos for lessons available for kids who were not here or are still struggling with a concept. With my short, 68 minute, every other day blocks it’s hard to differentiate or pick up students who don’t understand after the fact. I make videos for every lesson outlining what we did and the key concepts and students who are absent or struggling can just watch the video! We have a lot of attendance issues this year and it makes giving students back work a breeze. It becomes THEIR responsibility to learn what they missed.

Yes, making the videos is time consuming but I think about the fact that next year they will all be done. So I think it’s worth it. I know there are tons of resources like Learnzillion to get videos from but I really just like making my own stuff.

I made a set of videos that explains how to write an introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion of a common core expository essay. This essay would work for any simple, explanatory essay especially to prepare for state exams. Our essay was based off of the short story “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros (excerpt from the novel- first chapter). So for your students you can just tell them to plug in the applicable story. Here is the example of the essay question I give my students. This is for the first chapter of the novel “The House on Mango Street.”


Body Paragraphs


Also, I have a great graphic organizer that students can use, available on my Teachers Pay Teachers site! This organizer corresponds to the items in the videos. It is also completely aligned to common core standards! This is for 8th grade but anything in the middle grades is pretty much the same.

Informative Essay Graphic Organizer

What do you think about the “flipped classroom” idea?



Picnic “no-tato” salad

Happy Saturday! I wanted to come back from my blogging hiatus to share an accidentally delicious recipe I made up last weekend for Memorial Day.

Last weekend was an amazing holiday weekend with amazing food as well. I tackled homemade graham crackers & marshmallows for homemade s’mores…with amazing results….



Making them homemade knowing they included only wholesome ingredients made them 100% better. Never buying marshmallows again!!!

I also knew I wanted to do a paleo-style potato salad with homemade mayo. I easily could have (and considered) taken the easier route and used regular mayo but after glancing at the ingredients I decided against it. Making your own mayo seems complicated but it’s actually pretty easy. I’ve done it a couple of times now with great results. I used Melissa Joulwan’s recipe.

As far as why no potatoes? I love the tang of rutabaga and the added sweetness that sweet potatoes add. It makes a FAR more interesting tasty salad with a twist! The added crunch and texture of the almonds and celery complete this wholesome side dish. Enjoy and bring to your next potluck picnic. We’re certainly getting some great weather that calls for it!

potato salad

Paleo no tato salad 2


Paleo "No-Tato" Salad
Serves 5
Write a review
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
5 min
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
5 min
  1. 1 large rutabaga, peeled and diced into 1-2" chunks
  2. 1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced into 1-2" chunks
  3. 3/4 cup homemade mayo
  4. 6-7 stalks of organic celery, diced
  5. 1/4 cup almonds, sliced
  6. 1/2 tsp salt
  7. 1/2 tsp pepper
  8. 1 tablespoon curry powder
  9. 1/2 tsp coriander
  1. Place the rutabaga and sweet potato in a large saucepan and cover with water
  2. Bring the pot to a boil and cook until softened, roughly 15 minutes
  3. Meanwhile, chop your celery and almonds and make your mayo (see linked recipe)
  4. When rutabagas and sweet potatoes are done cooking, drain and rinse with cold water
  5. Add ice to cool root veggies
  6. When veggies are cool, mix all the ingredients and the spices together
  7. Place in the fridge and serve cold!
Pencils and Pancakes
Paleo notato salad

Soaking up the great weather again today! If anyone wants to join me by the pool I’ll be here! 😉


Test Prep Memes

‘Tis the week before the NYS ELA exam. It’s really not as nerve wracking as I make it out to be. It is what it is. I do the best I can to prepare students but to stress out too much is a lot of work. We try to make it as positive as possible for the kids and not use “scare” tactics. Part of the way I’m trying to make it positive and not unbearable as we prepare is with an extra credit assignment.


Test prep memes!!!! I‘m sure you know what memes are if you have the internet. If you don’t….they’re kind of hard to explain. So instead, I’ll show you some examples of ones my kids made!

(AC2E is a writing format I teach my kids)




LOL….you get the idea. Students are loving it! Just a little something to make the week go by faster and remind them of strategies for the test! I also baked one of my classes cookies just because I thought they were working hard!! #bestteacherever










SO excited for after the test because I get to teach Omnivore’s Dilemma again!!!! My school ordered the books so it’s going to be way more in depth this year. So excited to drop some REAL FOOD knowledge on my little minds.

What have you done to make test week more bearable??



Are we raising a society of enabled kids?

Let me start by saying that I love my job, and as a teacher I try my hardest to do whatever it takes to help students be successful and not make excuses and complain (like the people I mention in this post). I just got to thinking the other day about what the heck in the world I can do in order to make my students WANT to do well in school, and realize that they CAN achieve whatever they want if they truly try. Aaaand I’m not ashamed to do a little late link up with one of my FAV bloggers Amanda for her Thinking Out Loud post.


I already mentioned some of my previous motivators, one of them being bacon, but believe it or not, I don’t want my students to only do homework because that means they’ll get bacon.

I want them to WANT to do the work.

As a teacher I do A LOT to try to inspire kids to try their hardest, but sometimes I feel my efforts are wasted. Again, I’m not trying to place blame or make excuses, but it seems like many students that I encounter have way more excuses than I do.

And it also feels like they like playing the victim, doing the least amount of work possible, and getting rewarded for simply doing what they are asked to do.

Don’t get me wrong, I also have a ton of amazing, over achieving, kind, talented students as well, I’m speaking in generalities as a result of my teaching experiences for the last 5 years in several different districts.

Kids don’t just come up with ideals, values, and work ethic on their own. They learn it. Not only from their parents and teachers, but from society at large. You have to wonder if the things our society values are affecting the attitudes, values and behavior of the people who hold the future of our world in their hands.

It constantly amazes me how some kids will recite, word for word, a popular TV commercial, but cannot recall the subject of the paper we’ve been writing for two weeks.

That when I notice 30 minutes into the period (because I’m so busy) that a particular student has been sitting there doing nothing because she doesn’t have a pencil. Like seriously!?!?!?? You just sat here for 30 minutes because you don’t have a pencil?

What if I simply just didn’t show up for work one day because I didn’t have a car. Yet I didn’t do anything about it. I didn’t call for a ride….I didn’t leave in time to take the bus…I didn’t start walking….I just sat there on the couch and stared aimlessly at the floor until someone asked what I was doing?

You have to wonder if our country and society, who seems to reward people who do the least and punish people who work the hardest, isn’t fostering this type of behavior. Why get a job when you could probably just get government assistance and sit home and do nothing? Why try hard in school when you can simply become successful by being a hot mess on some reality show? Why are these the role models that are acceptable for our children?

Not naming any names….

I’ll tell you I’m scared to bring a child into a world that thinks appearing drunk on a reality show is the epitome of happiness and success. Our kids expect instant success, immediate gratification, and expect to get high rewards for little risk.

I listened to an NPR podcast describing how we, as a Western culture, don’t value struggle as much as Eastern cultures (most specifically Asian cultures). We think that someone is either “smart” or “dumb”. If you are struggling with something, you are dumb and might as well give up. Eastern cultures consider struggling and perseverance as more valuable than simple intelligence. The podcast suggested this as a reason for Asian students succeeding so much in American schools. They are willing to try, persevere and struggle, while the American student is taught that if you’re struggling, it means you’re stupid and it’s something to be ashamed of.

Who is out there teaching that struggle is valuable? That hard work WILL pay off in the end, and you NEED to go above and beyond and constantly try to be better in order to get ahead in life. I feel like when most of my students face things they struggle with they give up and start playing flappy bird on their Ipads.

Anyway, at the risk of you completely abandoning this post (if you already didn’t) because I could probably go on forever about this, I’ll end it here and hope that I’ve given you something to think about. And again, I don’t want to make it seem like I’m complaining. I know the missing link. I, as a teacher, have to work tirelessly creating meaningful, authentic, engaging and FUN activities to create drive in my students. To be honest that’s what I love about being a teacher and I’m okay with that task. It’s not always easy to do every day when you’re being pulled in 10 different directions, but since I DO value struggle, I think I’ll keep working on it.


Thoughts? Do you think our society encourages enabling behavior?

Is it the school or the parent’s job to teach kids the value of hard work?



Planboard: Digital planning tool for teachers

The other day at work I set out to find a solution to the current time consuming way I plan lessons. I’ve worked at many different schools and sometimes I have been required to write and submit lesson plans and sometimes it is not required. When I worked at a school that required it for two years I just got into the habit. I know it is time consuming and many veteran teachers scoff at it, but I feel like writing out my lesson plans traditionally (like it was required to in college) helps me know the end goal of the lesson. I’m always the type of person who likes to plan things out. So even though my current school doesn’t require it, I still do it.

For the past three years my method has been this:

1. Type up the lesson plan on a format that my former school gave us. Print it out and give it to my co-teachers.


2. Name the lesson plan Unit: #1 (sequential number for each lesson).

3. Go over to my notebook planner and label the calendar for each lesson (Ex: On a certain date, write “Anne Frank #4”)

4. Place the lesson and all materials for the lesson in order in a large binder labeled with the year.


Exhausting. And easy to get behind on. So that’s why I needed an easier way. It took me awhile because sometimes I get so ingrained in habits it’s hard to try something new. But I’m glad I did! I found this website and app, Planboard, that I can use and combines all the things I have been doing into one.

You can type up the lesson and add common core standards automatically. This was a pain in the butt before, I was actually copying and pasting the standards from a PDF that the state gave us.

You can look through the database of common core standards, or add your own.


This puts each lesson you type up on the specified day. Eliminating my need to go between my binder and my lesson plan book. ALSO you can print all the lessons at once, or you can email them. So this means I can email them to my co-teachers without having to print and hunt them down. Awesome.


Glad I could share this tool with my fellow teachers. It takes a minute of playing around with it to figure it out but I promise it’s well worth it. Oh….did I mention it’s FREE. That’s the best thing. Because through my searching the other day I found many of these tools and this was the only one that was free.

Does your school require you to do lesson plans?

Any cool digital planning tools I should know about?



Christmas Cookies 2013

Time to run down the inventory on the cookies I ended up making this year! I can’t wait for the next five days and all the amazing friends, family and food that will be involved.

Today was the last day of school before two weeks off and the kids were INSANE!!!! That’s an understatement. They were able to pull it together though this year to decorate our door again:


Those were real branches left over from my tree!

They didn’t win the pizza party but I decided to make them cookies since they worked so hard on it.


Great brownie recipe from The Foodie Army Wife. I might have sampled a couple.


So I realized as I packed all of my goodies today to bring to co workers and to bring home for presents that I made a TON of Christmas cookies:

Spritz- finally figured out how to use that cookie press!!! It took a couple times. I didn’t realize that I had to stick the press down on the cookie sheet to actually make it work.


Pineapple Macadamia Nut Bars


White chocolate fig Paleo cookies made with lard!


Roasted almond and coconut chocolate bark- omg this was good.


They’re ready to be boxed up and given as gifts!!!


Other gifts I put together…sorry for the spoiler if you get one!!!!!


Oh fun…I love Christmas and I am getting better at baking after this year! So excited to celebrate and share all my goodies!!!

What cookies did you make this year?

What cookies look the best? I think the chocolate bark and the fig ones were my favs.


Inside out and Back Again Book Unit Ideas

Inside out and Back again: Chances are sometime this year whether you’re a teacher, work in a school, know someone who’s a teacher or have kids you have heard the words “Common Core”. What is it? A new set of standards that the country is implementing to get all states on the same page about what is taught in schools. This means all states have the same standards, instead of separate standards for each state like it used to be.

The common core standards are designed to make underperforming U.S students more college and career ready. I believe they are  more authentic and will be more helpful than the old standards for meeting that goal.

Some teachers are irritated with my state, New York, because they have gone ahead and designed whole book units on books for each grade level and “suggested” to schools to teach these units. This takes away creativity of the teacher as she is no longer able to design her own lessons. No one wants to be a robot and just follow a script, which is what essentially the NYS modules are.

My school district has not mandated that we use these units, however I really liked one of the books, Inside out and Back Again by Thannha Lai so I decided to go ahead and teach it. I haven’t followed the scripted lessons word for word; I have taken what I could use and implemented changes that will fit the needs of my students. Okay, since I’m probably boring you with teacher speak, here are some ideas that I used to spice it up.

1. Include websites and more supported material on Vietnam that is student friendly.

Many of the articles and websites that the state used were dry. So here are some that I used to spice it up.

Vietnam War Facts

Fall of Saigon Video

Helicopter Pilot recalls Fall of Saigon

Sweet refugee stimulation video game <<<< really cooL!

Refugee Background

2. Real life correspondence with refugees.

The school I used to work at was an area that serviced a lot of ESL and refugee students. I got in touch with a friend (thanks Judy!) and we organized a little “pen pal” type activity. My students are so excited to see what our refugee student has to say in response to questions they created! We’re reading them tomorrow in class. This will help with their refugee research for the final project. I also reached out to local agencies and organized an office supply drive at my school. Some refugees at a center in Buffalo are having a hard time with supplies for applying for jobs and learning English. I organized a drive at my school and I will deliver the office supplies to the agency when the drive is over. Another great real life connection!

3.Differentiated final project

The final project of the module was the write a poem. I offered them multiple choices utilizing my school’s 1:1 I pad situation. They will use apps like Instablend, Piccollage, Videolicious, and Podomatic to create these projects.

Final Projects for Inside out and Back Again

Also, here is a daily vocabulary bell work packet that I give my students when we start this unit. I do this with all of my units. I take a selection of words from the unit and students work with the words every day upon entering the classroom. 


See also: Creative Projects for The Outsiders


I can’t wait to share the projects when they are completed! This blog topic was way far off from my regular topics but I am excited about the ideas I tried and just wanted to share! Thanks for reading!

If you’re a teacher, how do you feel about the common core?

Does your state have scripted lessons? Would you follow it?



Are you working for the weekend?

The world of education lately can be pretty discouraging. I see daily posts from teachers and parents who are struggling with changes none of us can control. And it’s easy to lose sight of what we’re all in this for: the kids. I think a lot about my choice to become a teacher and how it may or may not be what I thought it was going to be. Regardless, it’s what I do, and I have to find ways to return to the reasons I chose it. If you don’t like you situation, you can sit there, complain, do nothing about it and blame others (which is what most people do), or you can choose to live your life a different way.

The negativity in education is almost overwhelming. I can’t even walk into the doors of my school without another teacher jokingly saying on the way in “Is it Friday yet!? Heheh!” I don’t want to live every week just waiting for Friday. Isn’t it weird that complaining and negativity just tend to seep into your pores as soon as the other person opens her mouth? That doesn’t mean I’m upset about Friday rolling around and taking the time to relax after working all week, but I truly want to find ways to enjoy each day and find happiness in little things instead of getting bogged down in all the complaining and negativity. I’ve decided to compile a list of things I LOVE about my job and my kids this year, and brainstorm ways I can capitalize and focus on the things I love instead of focusing on the negative which too many of us do.

Inspirational Quotes

1. I love the how fun, quirky and unique every single one of my kids is.

This year I am gifted with the most amazing, individual and fun students I’ve EVER had. The funny thing is was all last year, the teachers kept warning us about how ‘bad’ this class was and how we were going to have a terrible year next year. I just tried to block it out and it couldn’t have been farther from the truth. I absolutely am overwhelmed with the amount of fun I have with these kids. Everyone has such an individual personality, and everyone of them is accepting of one another’s differences. When I was in middle school it was all about being ‘popular’ and ‘cool’. There IS no “popular” group in this class because they all just let their individuality shine and I love it. And they are also some of the most caring, self-less kids I have ever met.

2. I love being able to have deep conversations about literature with my students.

Many people are complaining about the “common core” and how it’s so horrible. When in fact, some of the standards regarding literature are asking me to have discussions with students about literature that I would never have dreamed we would be having because I thought it was ‘too advanced’. I never thought my 8th graders would be analyzing literature. That’s something I did in college. Believe it or not, I LOVE analyzing literature and it’s one of the reasons I became an English teacher. So being able to pass my passion on to my students makes me happy.  I thought getting 8th graders to understand symbolism was a thing of the past. I’m happy to bring it back!

and i'll feel sorry for the students who are forced to read my book and write essays on it :( pin by kay

3. I love designing lessons that will excite and engage my students.

I want to branch out and not do the same thing all the time. With the prescribed lessons that NYS is distributing to us, it’s quite easy to follow along to the lesson without deviating. However, that’s boring. What I like is bringing new things to the table that I know will interest and excite my own students. I love just trying something crazy that I know is completely impractical. Many times I think of creative projects that I’m scared to do because it takes up “test prep time”. However in the back of my mind I know how much my students will enjoy it and how much fun we’ll have doing it.  I try to do at least one of these big projects a year. Last year, we rehearsed and filmed scenes from Anne Frank’s Diary. The year before, we created graphic novels based on unrequited love for the Romeo and Juliet unit. A lot of times I’ll have a crazy idea and I know it will be fun but take a lot of work. I do it anyway.

If your dreams dont scare you they aren't big enough

4. Every class, every day, every year is different.

I cannot fathom how people go to work at desk job day after day, year after year. No offense if you do and you love it. I’ll admit there are some days when I think “why can’t I just go sit at a desk all day??”. But the truth is I would HATE it every day. Every day to me just flies by without even thinking about it. I blink and its 3pm. I’m busy up to the minute I leave. And every day is a new challenge, a different experience. Even from class to class- one lesson can go poorly and the same exact lesson can go great. That happened today! My lesson in the morning was very rocky and I got discouraged (actually why I thought of writing this post lol) and then the same lesson was amazing in another class! I love trying to figure out who my students are and what will work best for each class. I love noticing what went well and why and how I can improve it the next time. Every lesson I get to do 5 times since I have five sections of 8th grade. So by the fifth time you can bet I’ve made some tweaks. And it definitely keeps it interesting. And who else has a job where every September you get to start over?!? Like you get a new reputation. It’s like changing towns and nobody knows who you are and what you’re like and you can change things about the way you teach and no one will ever know!

I challenge you to start noticing what went well in your day. The good things. Instead of focusing on all the negatives. Whether it be in your job or just life in general. What are you grateful for and how can you focus on it to make each day count and stop living for the weekend? Seeing the good in every day truly makes a difference in your overall happiness.


Favorite Posts

I guess I should acknowledge that my blog turned a year old the other day! Happy Birthday Pencils and Pancakes! It’s weird that I’ve more or less been documenting my life on the internet for a year. Sometimes I feel self conscious. A lot of people who have never heard of what a blog is or are unfamiliar with it don’t understand why anyone would want to do post their life on the internet, or constantly be taking pictures of food to post….but all I know is I enjoy blogging, reading others’ blogs, and writing. So I’ll keep doing it for now!!! I know…you were worried 😉

Since my blog is a year old I though I’d run down some of my favorite and most popular posts from the last year:



Sometimes I doubt if I should continue blogging about teaching, since I feel like the blog has morphed into more of a food blog, but teaching posts continue to be what people searching come for. So I’ll be happy to throw up a couple teaching related posts a month.

How to teach counterclaim

Book unit on Micheal Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma



Over the past year I have been experimenting with the Paleo diet. I love how it makes me feel! Although I don’t stick to it 100% of the time. Here are some of my favorite recipes from the past year (not all of them are Paleo).

Paleo Cereal

Butternut Squash and Chicken Curry over Coconut Cauliflower Rice

Spinach and Garlic Pizza

Grilled banana and peanut butter stuffed french toast

Spicy Roasted Carrot Fries <<I make these at least once a week

Game Day Treats: Roasted red pepper poppers



Quest Bar Review

Gordon Biersch Brewery and Restaurant Review


pro 10

Pros and Cons of planning a wedding on Pinterest

Rustic Wedding Crafts

Bachelorette Party

Ceremony and Bridal Party

Miscellaneous Favorite Posts

What to buy organic

How to grocery shop on a budget using coupons

Working out in the morning: pros and cons

How to change your mindset and become happier


WOW it’s kind of fun to look at all the posts and reflect over the past year. I haven’t really taken the time to re-read much of my blog. Anyways, for the 2-3 people that might read this blog 2 of which include my husband and mother, thanks for reading! Next goal is trying to get this baby self hosted. It scares me whenever I think about it…any tips?

Do you ever go back and read your own blog posts?

How hard is going to self hosted? BE HONEST!!!