Guest Blog Post: National Novel Writing Month

J is vivacious, hilarious, and loves to teach outside of the box. She was a part of my cohort during my graduate studies here in Korea, and we have been bonding while pulling out our hair ever since (the hair pulling has been way less frequent since we have both received our masters^^). I always looked forward to her presentations during class, and I hope she considers writing more guest blog posts for us in the future. Love you J!

Fall is here and I am ecstatic for two reasons:  I can finally wear my extensive collection of hoodies, and National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is right around the corner.  In November, I’ll be both writing a novel and guiding my 5th and 6th grade students in their own literary pursuits.  This time last year, I was scared to attempt this with my students.  But I made the decision to jump in with both feet, and I’m so glad I did.

Just imagine your students scribbling away madly for an entire month on original fiction stories. And now imagine their faces when you can hand them a printed copy of their book.  Sound like fun?  Well, trust me, it is!  NaNoWriMo starts in just about two weeks, and you have plenty of time to get ready.  If you’ve never heard of it before, I’ll take you through everything you need to know:


Every year since 1999, thousands of writers all over the world pen 50,000 word novels in just 30 short days.  I have participated since 2006 on my own, but in 2011, I had the opportunity to get my students involved, too.  The organization that runs NaNoWriMo—the Office of Letters and Light—has a special program called Young Writers Program (YWP) which encourages students from Kindergarten through high school to also write novels in November.

YWP Basics

While the details are thoroughly explained on the YWP website, the basic idea is this:

1) Students choose a word-count goal, which can range from 20 to 30,000 words (or more!) depending on their age, writing ability, and time they can commit.

2) Students write their novels, by hand or on a computer, in any language.  They may start on November 1st (no starting early!) and must stop on November 30th.

3) It is not a contest, so there are no prizes and there are no winners.  Everyone who reaches their word count goal is considered a winner.

4) Students can receive 5 copies of their book for free, as generously provided by sponsors of the event.

My Experience

Twenty-two students—mostly boys—signed up.  They sacrificed their recess time to meet daily.  I witnessed what every writing teacher dreams of:  students that are passionate about and committed to writing.  Their eyes shone with excitement as they described their stories, and they gushed about the worlds they had created and the characters that lived there.  They pulled at their hair when the perfect word was on the tip of their tongues, encouraged one another to keep going, and counted each of their words with pride.  And when NaNoWriMo was over, we all celebrated with a pizza party.

Without a doubt it had been a success, but what I couldn’t have anticipated was the lasting effect NaNo would have on my students. Although all but two students made the choice to write in Korean, the confidence, passion, and commitment has transferred to their English writing assignments.

Although it may seem daunting at first, I guarantee that this is an experience you don’t’ want to miss out on.  The site has TONS of resources for teachers (virtual classroom, forums, lesson plans, downloadable workbook, classroom starter kits, and more!) and the reward is so worth it.

Happy Writing!

Students busy writing, such joy!


Looking for a Lesson Plan Template?

Lesson planning is a key to a teacher’s success. No matter how much we hate to do it, it MUST BE DONE. I had to spend a lot of time at the beginning of this year editing and changing my template since I am now teaching Kindergarten and First Grade.

To give you a visual of what the first page of my template looks like here is a screen shot:

To download the template just click here: blank lesson plan!

To download a lesson plan designed for older grades, here is the template Jee Young used when she taught in Korea (Geared more towards readers and writers workshop style, with mini-lessons, also you will noticed science is missing from this lesson template. She would do a unit on Social Studies and then a unit on Science every quarter.)

I love that I can see the whole week on a page, to remind myself of what my students are learning in math all week, etc. Remember those crazy lesson plans you had to make for each separate lesson you did during your years as an undergrad? We all know how completely unrealistic it is to do that for every.single. lesson. you teach, but you need the meat of what you are teaching for the week laid out. The more planning the better, you know?

Something I really like to do as I plan is make a list of all the things I need to prep for the next week, and I keep a space for that at the end of my lesson plan, a “To Do” section as I call it. I always think of great ideas as I am planning, as well as “Oh, I have to make that handout/find it online.” And by the end of my frenzy planning time, I might forget all those ideas, or much-needed handouts. Writing it in my “To Do” list as I go is incredibly helpful.

Jee Young wrote a post on her personal blog once about how she likes to start all of her lesson planning on Tuesday or Wednesday and get them FINISHED by Friday so that she can enjoy her weekend. Well, depending on  your school, you may have to turn in your lesson plans two weeks ahead of time (like me!). I realize though, the better planned I am, the better teacher I am— because I am HAPPIER.

What are some things you do when you are planning to make yourself more prepared? Do you have your own fantastic lesson planning template you would be willing to share? Let us know in the comments!


p.s. I have already had a LOT of chocolate today :/

Pinterest for Teachers

I jumped on the pinterest bandwagon last year because it was like a visual twitter site for me. I love that you can pin things by looking at photos. I’m much more of a visual learner! However, recently, besides using it to pin cute outfits, accessories and photos, I’m finding a lot more education related resources. It seems like more educators are using pinterest and it’s a great resource to find ideas for your classroom! Since we love freebies as teachers, I wanted to share some of the great things I’ve found. So check out my classroom inspiration board on my pinterest.

Also, I finally got the genious idea to put a pinterest sharing button on each of our two apples a day post! I created a two apples a day board on my page and started pinning our posts. So if you have a blog, I would highly recommend you do that! It will be a great way to help spread word of your blog as people “pin” your posts. Check out our two apples a day board and repin us!

If you have a pinterest board you want to share with us with education related resources, leave it in the comments section. We can share it out on our blog as well!


This might possibly be one of the greatest days of my life.

When you have two authors on a blog, sometimes new resources are shared and I just don’t notice (I am sure this does not happen to Jee Young, who notices everything!), or I find an amazing blog—share it— and then totally forget about it.

Well, today I was perusing around two apples a day, checking out links to other blogs that we have on our page, and I noticed a link to Jeannie’s Kindergarten Lifestyle Blog.  I am pretty sure I must have discovered and linked this website on our page at some point over the past six months or so, but I totally forgot about it!

All of this background story business is pointless. The meat of what I am trying to say is that Tammy over at Live, Love, Laugh, Everyday in Kindergarten had a brilliant idea to pool the resources of all these amazing pre-k, kinder, and first grader teachers, and dedicate a website for the sole purpose of sharing freebies with other teachers. A website ONLY for these younger grades.

I think teachers really are the BEST AT SHARING. And I am so so so so happy to have discovered this site! I will be a frequent visitor as I try to keep my head above water this first year teaching Kindergarten AND First Grade.

What’s that? Oh… you want the website?!


check it out, like them, follow them, do it all!

Musings of a 1st year Kindergarten Teacher

As many of you know, I have the pleasure of teaching a dual classroom this year.

I have decided to make a short list of things I wish I had known before I started the lovely adventure that is teaching Kindergarten (musings of a first grade teacher may make an appearance as well, since I do both!).

  • You have to teach children how to do everything. Some may come to school already knowing how to hold a pencil, or use scissors, or have the whole alphabet down pat— but most often than not, many of them do not have these skills (I mean, this is after all, why they come to school!). Still, I was shocked -utterly shocked- when I had to give lessons on how to hold and use scissors.  I think it was my brain still in second-grade mode, and having to be over-ridden, for the millionth time already this year!
  • When creating any type of worksheet (I have to make a lot of supplemental material) or when using flashcards, USE THE SAME FONT (or similar font). This may seem so silly, or simple, or both… but I never thought about it. Kindergarten students are learning their letters. Now is not the time to introduce D-Nealian font.
  • Planning is obviously VITAL, but being flexible with your schedule really helps create an environment for those “teachable moments” you are always taught about during your undergrad studies. I feel like teachable moments happen so much more in Kindergarten than any other grade I have taught. Students are so curious about everything, and they ask questions about everything. Then, I almost always see/hear them use the new vocabulary or knowledge they have learned in their free play time, and it is so cool to see!
  • Repetition is KEY. They may not get it the first or second or third time, but then all of a sudden you are asking them to do something for the fifth time and SNAP, they get it. Yes, young children soak things up quickly, but they still need to be told how to do the same thing over and over and over again. It is not as boring for them as it may get for you, really, repetition is key.
  • PATIENCE… I think I already had a small idea of the amount of patience I would need teaching five-year-olds… but, only a small idea. IT REQUIRES SO MUCH PATIENCE.

There are so many other things I am learning, and I am sure they will end up on this blog. But for now, there is my list for now. Who wants to add to it? What are some keys to success you have for kindergarten or first grade, and all the way up to second grade that you can share with our readers/me (because I really want to know!)?

Good Kindergarten flash card:

NOT a good kindergarten flash card:

Who Wants to be a Millionaire Teacher?

As teachers, we all know about UBD (backwards design) model, where we start planning by having the end in mind (what students need to learn). How many of you have a financial plan? Do you know how much money you need to start saving for your retirement? What is your “number”?

I had the privilege of sitting down at the home of the author of the best selling book, Millionaire Teacher, Andrew Hallam. He’s a teacher at my school here in Singapore and teaches personal finance in the high school. He graciously had some of us new teachers over to his place for a talk on investment and good tips for us international teachers.

Andrew shared with us the analogy of the UBD model and then grilled us with these tough questions. As we failed to answer his questions quickly and accurately, we knew we were in some trouble. It was the reality check that we needed. I think he said it best when he said that most international school teachers live in a bizarre dream world. It seems like a dream job, long vacations, cheap living costs, and amazing travel opportunities.

However, what they don’t tell us when we sign our contracts is that when we leave public school systems in the states and give up our pensions, those are substantial assets that we are loosing. Also, since most international schools provide housing, we are not going to have mortgage-free homes when we retire. So that brings us to another question, where will we live? Will we have the money we need to plan for that?

Now, if you didn’t spend many years in the public school system, and you are a young new teacher, trying this international school thing, don’t fret yet. Start saving now for retirement, by putting away money each month and you can be well prepared for retirement.

Andrew talked to us about having our “number” that we need to reach in order to retire. This is an amount that you calculate based on how much money you need to live for a year, when you retire, not including mortgages (hopefully you shouldn’t be paying a mortgage into your retirement). He goes through the steps for finding your number and all that good stuff on his blog post here: Savings and Retirement Planning for New Teachers

I’ve figured out my “number”, so now what?

Make sure to read Andrew’s book, Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School. I just started reading his book, and he writes it in a way that makes it engaging and easy to understand for us non-finance people! It was the first financial book that I didn’t want to put down.

Also, be very careful about signing up through financial services/advisors that may come to your school to invest your money for retirement because they usually have 3-4% investment costs on variable annuities, which in the end means they get a lot of your money! Many thanks to Andrew for organizing this talk with us. I know I definitely learned a lot and already made some changes in how I’m handling my finances and saving for retirement.

If you have any other questions, please leave a comment! Maybe we can have a follow-up Q&A with Andrew on a future post.