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My Classroom

Julie Zielinski
6th Grade Reading and Language
Voorhees Middle School

Voorhees, New Jersey

How did you come to specialize in Reading and Language?

I came to specialize in ELA when I was in college at Glassboro State, now Rowan University (in New Jersey). I worked in the reading department and helped struggling students throughout Glassboro area. A professor in the department actually inspired me to begin my career. 


What role does humor or laughter have in your classroom?

Humor plays an important role every day. Students need to laugh and enjoy themselves while learning. I find humor helps me through the day as well. Without humor, my students could not or may not express themselves how they really would if the classroom was a different climate. 

What ways do you make reading fun to your students?

The ways to make reading fun is to allow for flex seating and choice reading. When students have flexibility, they engage more in reading. Flex seating can be a rocking chair, gaming chair, or even riding a stationary bike! Reading isn’t enjoyable for many students so with a variety of options, I feel they engage more and read more. I play fun review/comprehension activities that engage the entire class. There's talking, moving, and even hopping and jumping in class! 

Can you share a story about being pleasantly surprised in your classroom?

Being pleasantly surprised doesn’t happen a lot in a middle school classroom – or does it? I have to be honest, the best surprises aren’t great lessons. Emails from a demanding parent thanking you for a positive school year. The handwritten notes from a struggling student thanking you for supporting and empowering them to become readers. The shy, awkward student whom I make conversation with; who eventually grow out of the shy and awkward stage. The high fives and the, ”Hey Z!” from the upperclassmen make my day! It’s these moments when I think I’ve done my job as an educator, and that makes me happy. 


How much does creativity factor into your teaching?

Creativity factors into my lessons on a daily basis. I’m always trying to teach a different way from the year before. My lessons change constantly. I use my first-period class as a “test” and then I adjust accordingly. I will also ask for student input after a lesson to see what they would change. It’s always good to poll students because I may think something is a creative and fun activity, but they may not. 


Can you provide some examples of this creativity?

Creative lessons that I have used in Language Arts:

Imagery Writing. Students all receiving the same picture ( I printed for them)and they have to create a story using details from the picture. This writing piece should use all of their senses as well. Next, I collect the stories and place around the room. Students walk around the room using sticky notes and critique the writing of their peers. They rotate through the entire classroom leaving strengths and weaknesses on the sticky note. In the end, each student will receive a class set of sticky notes to use to improve that piece of writing. The students' names are not on the creative writing pieces (I gave out numbers instead). Next, I used the same final imagery piece and we had a contest called March Madness Imagery Slam. I set it up similar to March Madness basketball. Students voted on the best writing pieces and the overall “writing champion” won Starbucks. 


Creative Lesson in Reading: For an anticipatory set prior to reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, I set students up in teams. They were learning about the time period of the Great Depression. I placed clues around the school and started each group at a different clue. Rules: students had to stay together, take a picture of their group with their clues (using their school iPad) before going to the next clue. They had 45 minutes to find all 8 clues. The first group to return to me and show me all of their clues/ solutions was the winner. At each new clue was information to read about the time period of the Great Depression( presidents, Hoovervilles, soup kitchens, bank closing, stock market, Dust Bowls, and World War II). This was a creative way to have students think and learn without me standing up in front of the room lecturing about the time period. 


Thank you, Mrs. Zielinski!

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