Friday, August 19, 2016

Great Childrens' Gifts Under $40

 In the past few years, our family has been blessed with the happy circumstance of the births of many precious grand nieces and grand nephews. Our brothers’ and sisters’ children are having children and they are so sweet. Social media keeps us up to date with pictures and stories of their escapades.

 Children in the family means lots of birthday gifts are needed. Never fear! I found a gift guide so I can focus on enjoying time with loved ones rather than hemming and hawing at all of the options. And while summer birthdays have been at the top of my mind, the gift guide is appropriate for any time of year so you can bookmark this page as your gift that keeps on giving. The gifts are organized by age group from toddler to teen, and all of them are under $40. Happy gifting!

For children ages 3 to 5

Geometric Building Set tegu 

Tegu Blocks combine fun colors, geometric shapes, and a magnetic snap to create a playtime experience that's fitting for the living room or the classroom. Parents (and littles!) love this toy because its production has positive environmental and social impact

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 This game helps children grow memory skills with adorable dinosaur chips! The beautiful design is a treat for parents and kids alike. Perfect for picnics, play dates, and rainy games, this game is small enough to carry in your pocket and hip enough for the coolest of pre-k birthday parties.


For children ages 6 to 8

Animal Charades Game mama_may_i_mamamayianimalaction5_fd5e
Get kids on their feet and brimming with ideas! This high-quality wooden game is a perfect gift for outgoing children and to create an atmosphere of fun and creativity.


This board game is cleverly disguised. Kids will be having so much fun that they won't even know that they were learning math from an award-winning program.


ss-worldwide_screen_shot_20160616_at_43240_pm_5e55Squishy Science Experiment The Slimy Squishy Polymer Bucket is the perfect gift for budding scientists who aren't afraid to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty in the name of...scientific learning! But they'll too be busy having fun to realize they're learning the basics of chemistry.


One great idea for a gift is coloring books. These garden flower coloring books are perfect for child and parent, and can make a great group activity.


For children 9 to 10

Food Fighte2-Player Game kids-table_fdf_box_top_jan_5daa

Food Fighter is a board game that has two children face off in a kitchen-themed battle. Children will have fun while developing higher-order thinking skills, mathematics, literacy, and executive functioning skills.


Building dreamcatchers is a classic crafting activity - this colorful kit has everything kids need to make something unique and beautiful! 


I love these experiments - little parental oversight is required, and they're so easy to do right at home! Girls and boys, readers and scientists, alike will love this colorful kit. Not to mention parents! get-it-now-200x60

Gifts for Ages 11 to 13

Pairs in Pears pairs-in-pears-lr1998-1460411317.7972.3088 

 Whether or not they love this pun as much as some of us, this game gets kids flexing vocabulary muscles while having fun with a little challenge and competition. Players build pairs of connecting words in matching patterns, like Scrabble 2.0. Best of all it's portable - a perfect gift and activity to bring along on sleepovers or for parties. For a little more "pearity," pair with two more pears! get-it-now-200x60  

Budding scientists and tweens who like hands-on fun will love this all-in-one Rainforest Biome - they get to start a whole ecosystem right at home! The biome includes cacao beans (a favorite), clay, an apple snail shell, and more to create a full-on biofeedback loop. Super cool!


Who doesn't love to solve a mystery?! The One Minute Mystery series takes a simple concept and turns it into an awesome book. Kids will read mysteries, then use their powers of deduction and knowledge of math and science to find the solution. Each is as satisfying as the next!


Thanks for reading!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Five Tips to Make Going Back to School a Breeze

Teachers know the beginning of every school year is a huge challenge and a whole lot of work. Secondary teachers are sometimes reassigned to different grade levels which can mean an entirely new set of literature materials. Going from teaching American literature to teaching British literature requires a completely new mind-set, and the lessons and materials will not transfer. Another challenge could be teaching one class of freshmen ESL students, two classes of senior AP English, and three classes of sophomore English. You don’t think this happens? Well it does. I know. I taught English and creative writing for 35 years.

Tip 1: Using Technology Can Really Simplify Your Life

Recently, some really exciting advances in technology have made teaching more interesting and more convenient. Now, because of Google Drive, Microsoft One Drive, DropBox, and other innovative web sites, students can view their assignments online, do their work online, and turn in their work online. Many times, paper is not required. Going paperless is a truly revolutionary improvement for teachers. Often they are given an allotment of paper to last the entire year and must spend their own money when they run out. And even if they do have an adequate supply of paper, they must use a copy machine before they can distribute the lesson pages to their students.

Teachers no longer have to stand in line at a copy machine to use the pages in my book. I recently converted my Simple Steps to Sentence Sense book into a Google Drive Interactive Notebook. It is now available in my store and teachers can purchase one step at a time or a bundle that has all eight steps.

If your school has Chromebooks, iPads, or other devices students can use to use to access the Internet, be sure to search for Digital Products on and other educational websites.

Tip 2: Use Software That Individualizes Instruction

I recently learned about a company whose philosophy is to be as helpful to teachers as possible. They offer 24/7 technical assistance. I find that especially important because their product is innovative and unique.

EdTech Software’s Shelfit Reader is an ebook reader that allows students an amazing level of interaction. It is possible to embed videos, audio files, and worksheets within the ebooks, and to create quizzes with answers. The quiz scores may be exported to a grade book. Teachers can provide personalized and individualized lessons and adapt to different learning styles.

The company carries all major publishers and many smaller ones, so the selection of ebooks is vast and eclectic.  Now, teachers can select ebooks for their students to use and then customize those books to suit their own teaching styles.

The software can be assessed from any device as long as there is an Internet connection. The books may be downloaded at school for reading at home if students do not have Wi-Fi in their homes.

Click here to take a look  at this new innovative reader and see what it could do for you and your students. *EdTech Software provided me with compensation in exchange for this sponsored blog post. However, all the opinions expressed here are my own.

3) Use Rubrics to Grade Writing Assignments

ELA teachers often struggle with exactly how to assign a fair grade to compositions that their students write. The grading process should always include a way to give students frequent chances to succeed and feel good about themselves. One way to do that is to be sure that students know exactly what you expect from them when you give them an assignment.

A teacher simply cannot expect students to do everything perfectly, nor does s/he have the time or the inclination to grade every aspect of every paper every time. I always let students know exactly what I was looking for by showing them the rubric I would use to grade their papers, and we would go over it together before they began their first draft. A rubric is the best method of expressing your expectations and of providing meaningful feedback.

Look for writing lessons sold on that include a rubric. If you want to make a rubric of your own, visit This website is free and helpful.

Several of my writing assignments contain rubrics. Here's one:

4)  Use a Grading Scale Chart to Save Time

When you create your lessons, be sure that there are sufficient items on each worksheet or test to allow students to succeed. If there are only five questions or five sentences on a worksheet, students can get only one of them wrong without jeopardizing their GPA.

For example, if students are asked to locate the verb in a sentence, and there are only ten sentences, it would be easy to get a low score since each answer would be worth ten points. Be sure to use a grading scale chart to speed up the process, so you won’t have to do the math. You will find my Grading Scale Chart in my store for only $3.00, or you can access this one online for free:

5) Be Prepared

The first few days of school are crazy busy. In secondary schools, much of the time is spent dealing with students being added or dropped from your class as students’ schedules are adjusted and class loads are balanced.

The paperwork piles up, and yet you meet another class of new students every hour or so. What to do?

The answer is to be prepared with meaningful activities to engage your students while you take care of the tedious, yet necessary details. Be sure that your students are busy and actively involved from the moment they enter your classroom until the bell rings. The more prepared you are, the more likely you are to start the new year off successfully.

I have a product that includes a series of activities that introduces your students to each other and to you and provides a sample of their writing and their oral presentation skills. You can use these activities to make the first few days of your school year informative and productive. Getting to Know You Activities for the First Few Days of School is available in my TpT store. You will find several Back to School first day activities on Pinterest and on

 Thanks for reading and I hope the beginning of your 2016-17 school year is a breeze.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Announcing a Google Drive Interactive Notebook Edition of Simple Steps to Sentence

I have an exciting announcement for teachers who use my grammar curriculum.

So much has changed since my book Simple Steps to Sentence Sense was published in 1996, but the method I use to teach grammar still works. It’s easy and fun. Students and teachers still love it!

I started teaching grammar to my students using my own method many years before my book was published, and I thought other language arts teachers would appreciate knowing how easy it is to teach grammar by following 8 simple steps. I was right. Teachers and students responded with overwhelmingly positive reviews, so I decided to create a digital download and make it available on several teacher/store web sites. 

Now, twenty years later, I have updated Simple Steps to Sentence Sense to a Google Drive digital format. That’s right!  Simple Steps to Sentence Sense is now an interactive notebook, and you and your students can access the pages of my book in Google Drive. Students can read the lessons, and complete the assignments and tests while in Google Drive. No paper is needed. No more standing in line at the copy machine to run off copies of the pages of my book. Students can submit their work to you electronically however you wish. 

You can purchase the lessons one step at a time or purchase the entire book (all 8 steps) in a Bundle and Save 20 percent. And, of course, the original version of Simple Steps to Sentence Sense in pdf format will still be available. Now you have a choice. Often teachers like to use both formats for different reasons and at different times.

You will find the individual steps and the bundle in my store. Take a look at the previews and see what you think. I hope you will be as excited about this new format as I am.

Thanks for reading,

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Devil Makes the Rules Is My Latest Novel

I am excited to announce that my sister, Judi Thompson, and I have just published our fifth novel. We combined our two last names into the pen name, Tess Thompson, and we have been having an amazing adventure writing mystery and suspense novels together. Click here to learn more about Judi and me.

Our latest novel, The Devil Makes the Rules, is the third book in the Chance O'Brien Mystery Series that began in When an Angel Whispers

In this new book, Brett Adams has a secret. A secret that destroyed his marriage and carved the path he would take in life. Now Brett is missing, and his ex-wife Macy and her detective husband Chance O’Brien must find him.

They travel to Key West, Florida, and El Paso, Texas, and discover a trail of blood and lies that shock Macy to the core. Now she realizes she was married to a stranger. But it isn’t just Brett’s life in peril; an innocent young woman and her mother are also missing. Chance and Macy must unravel Brett’s deception to save his life and the life of the woman he loves. 

We had fun writing this one. Judi and I were born in El Paso, Texas, and I still live there. The places in the book are real, even though the events are entirely fiction. Jerry and I spent some fun, lazy days in the Bahamas and in Key West, Florida. It was enjoyable to revive those memories in this book.

Although this book works as a stand-alone story, it is even more enjoyable if you have read the other two books in the series: When an Angel Whispers and Student Body. They are only $2.99, so you can read the whole series without blowing your summer reading budget.

I hope you will give one of my books a try. You will find all of them here.


Thanks for reading,