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Repurpose those Valentine cards! Or, if you prefer, use the pdf I created to make these validations for your special little writers. I printed mine on cardstock and taped it to a Valentine’s Day necklace. Marti Gras necklaces would work fine, too.

Click the image below to view the PDF.




It is important to me that we come back to the fact that children did not plan or choose the lives they are living. They have to cope with the families into which they were born or adopted. They have to work with the bodies they received at conception. They have to learn with their own particular sets of abilities and limitations. In spite of their differences, all children are worthy; all children are precious; all children are unique individuals in spite of the labels we sometimes put on them. This poem is a great reminder.


Special Learner

I didn’t choose to be this way

I wanted to be smart

To gain your praise, my friends amaze

with gold stars on the chart

You’ll never know how very much

I wanted to be fast

To turn in work with time to spare

Instead, I’m always last

I don’t know why I ask you things

then ask you to repeat it

I don’t know why I try to

fi nish work and can’t complete it

I don’t know why for me it’s hard

to grasp the things you teach

It seems I almost get it

then it slips beyond my reach

My heart’s desire is to inspire

succeed, achieve, and fl ourish

But I’m a kid in desperate need

of one who’ll teach and nourish

All my expectations,

all my hopes so wild

For underneath the labels, see?

I’m just another child


Click Here to print: SpecialLearnerPoem.pdf




Last year, I made an amazing discovery on a teaching trip to San Antonio. I was invited to present two days of workshops at Briscoe Elementary and found some of the most outstanding writing from fourth graders I have seen. The samples were posted on one of the bulletin boards in the main hallway. I tracked down the teacher and found María Elena Arellano, a caring, nurturing DREAM of a teacher. Her passionate, motivating style of teaching is legendary at Briscoe. Another teacher told me her daughter had been in Mrs. Arellano’s class and is still talking about what a great teacher she is. Back at Briscoe this year, I asked María Elena her secret. “I simply LOVE teaching writing. I aspire to create a positive, fun-filled, non-threatening writing environment for my students. Once this is established, they feel free to become risktakers. This is where the magic begins.” Now I wish I could transform myself into a fourth grader and spend a year with this incredible teacher. María Elena, the magic comes from YOU.


            I told you about my church youth group from when I was a teenager and how much fun we had. We went on choir trips, mission trips, held services at the hospital, helped old people clean up their yards, packed one ton of candy into stockings for poor children at Christmas, played practical jokes on each other, went to camp, sang concerts, produced puppet shows, and some things I can’t divulge because the statute of limitations has probably not run out yet. We were comrades in arms. Soldiers in the foxhole. Partners in crime. Not to mention all the times So-and-So got a crush on You-Know-Who, and we kidded and ribbed and let the cat out of the bag. When two of us actually hooked up, we stuck our fingers down our throats and made vomiting noises and said how gross it was. We were sick with jealousy. We went to Jungle Survival School together, but that’s another story.

             A few weeks ago, many of the group got together for a reunion in Dothan, Alabama, since the Panama Canal Zone doesn’t exist anymore and most of us live up here. I looked forward to it eagerly but also with curiosity. After all, it had been almost 40 years since we had seen each other. You know how that goes. Life encroaches, and the years and the miles and the weather and the job and the marriages and the two-point-five children and the extra piece of pecan pie add up. As Rick drove me up to the reunion, I wondered, Will they know me? Will I know them? Will we have anything to talk about?

            The minute we saw each other in the hotel lobby, it was as if time and space and distance didn’t exist. It was as though we had seen each other just the day or week before. It was surreal, getting together with so many kids who had meant so much to me in my childhood, almost an out-of-body experience. The connection was profound. When we hugged each other, it was not words that rushed out—it was tears. We were bubbling with laughter, to be sure, but I was knocked out by how emotional it was. We spent the evening singing old choir and camp songs, sharing memories, and honoring our choir director and his wife, both now 90 years old. It was magic. Get this: the reunion was actually planned and carried out by a girl who had been much younger than us. It had always been her dream to be a part of the group when she watched us as a kid. Now as an adult in her forties, her dream was to see all of us together again. What she did was give us a gift. For one night, I stepped into a time machine and got to recapture the spirit, the unity, the camaraderie, and the ambiance that had once been ours.

            We really existed. We really were. We really lived.


Melissa loves to share ideas and resources with aspiring authors. Click the image below to see her recommended reads for those who are beginning their own writing journey.




In primary and intermediate classrooms each student needs his own picture file. "Free" pictures are lurking everywhere: old calendars, greeting cards, travel brochures, magazines, junk mail, newspaper ads, flyers, wrapping paper, banners, entertainment brochures, etc. Make sure you screen all the pictures yourself to make sure they're appropriate. I like to use photos, drawings, and pictures that depict people of all colors, sizes, shapes, ethnicities, cultures, and age groups. These picture files provide great resources for ideas and discussions, word games, critical thinking, explanations, sequencing, and especially VERBAL SKILLS and WRITING. When your students tire of their own pictures, have a picture "garage sale" and let them swap out with other kids. They can always opt to keep special pictures they don't want to part with.


Purchase some inexpensive car/truck/vehicle erasers. You can find these at most dollar stores, discount stores, and teacher stores. Or, if you prefer, kids can make their own tiny vehicles.

Give each primary writer a “vehicle” and explain that this race will start at the bottom. Won’t that be fun? Even their name is to be printed at the bottom. I’ve included numbers and arrows on the left to help guide your little racers.

The idea is to start with their race cars down at the bottom right. Every time they correctly write the word you ask for, they get to advance up towards the finish line. As a kid, I would have loved this type of learning game.

You can use the “race” for spelling words, unit words, sight words, Dolch words, frequently misspelled words, or even words to copy from the board. Dictate the word several times and give them time to print it. Then ask, “Does yours look like mine?” and show them the word on a small white board.

Allow time for students to make corrections. Encourage those who spell the word correctly the first time to make an engine noise: “VaROOM!” The goal, of course, is for everyone to have a ball!

Click here for the template for your little racers! 


These little boards are at Target, right up front where the inexpensive gadgets and toys are displayed. They're great for all sorts of ideas in the classroom. When you're asking questions that require one word or very short answers, students can write their answers and then hold their white boards in front of them, so you can easily see who knows and who doesn't. They're also great for learning letter formation. "Let's write the letter m." Pause. "Does yours look like mine? Show me!"


Have you ever done something so dumb, so destructive, so heinous that the memory stays with you for a lifetime?

 My husband and I lived in New Orleans but went away every weekend to minister to a small church in Port Sulphur, Louisiana, 50 miles away. I was young and poor and stupid. Emphasis on the stupid part. I still had so much to learn about the savvy of running a household.

 On Friday afternoon, I set out a frozen chicken to take with us to cook for Sunday dinner. I left it on our gas stove where I would be sure to see it and take it with us when we left. Before we closed up the apartment for the weekend, I made certain the lights were out, the windows were locked, and the AC was off. We were too frugal to keep the AC running while we were out of town. And, let me tell you, Sister, the temperature was about a thousand degrees in that apartment without the AC running.

As soon as we got to Port Sulphur, church friends invited us for Sunday dinner. I was thrilled that I wouldn’t have to cook and clean up on such a busy day. I never gave the frozen chicken a second thought.

Sunday night we returned to our New Orleans apartment, and it was dark in the little alcove by our front door. My husband fished around for his keys, unlocked and opened the door, and WAS PHYSICALLY KNOCKED BACK. Instantly. On moment he was fine, the next his arms were flailing, and he was making unintelligible sounds. Then a horrible stench almost knocked me over. Actually, horrible isn’t even in the ballpark. Putrid. Deathly. I am not exaggerating. I wonder to this day why the neighbors hadn’t already called Homicide to investigate.

Now, the weird part was we were still in the dark. Neither one of us had yet made any intelligible sound. All efforts went into pushing and shoving to distance ourselves from the horrendous odor. That’s when we heard a thin, eerie WHISTLING. Demonic. Otherworldly. A high-pitched keen calling from the grave.

I managed to hit the kitchen light switch, and we both saw it at the same time. The raw, three-day-old chicken had spoiled to the point where the bag had blown up as large and as tight as a BASKETBALL. There was a tiny pin-prick in the plastic bag and the escaping gas was making the eerie whistling.

It all came to me in a rush. I had left the chicken. It was rotting in the bag. I had to get it out before my husband left me for someone with better sense. I rushed to the stove and reached out to grasp the now giant sized plastic bag. But, the minute my hands touched it, IT EXPLODED.

I am simply not gifted enough to fully describe the full impact of an exploding, rotten chicken. Mere words are not adequate. The stench, my gyrations, the flying parts, the rain of juices, my disrobing, my language. I think I actually experienced the Dark Side.

It took hours…no, days…to clean everything and fumigate the apartment. Even the curtains had to be taken down and washed. Twice.

I’m older, I’m smarter, and I still do dumb things sometimes. But, this experience gave me a gauge for judging all other situations. No matter what I’m confronted with, deep down there is the comforting assurance that it couldn’t be as bad as the chicken.



 I keep a “Bag of Tricks” that is ONLY used when we have the little ones with us and are waiting at restaurants, doctors’ offices, etc. I keep it in the car, and I add new items when I find interesting things around the house, freebies, or things from discount stores. I can’t tell you how many times the Bag of Tricks has occupied grandchildren or visiting friends and kept them from getting into trouble. Some of the items can be used independently, and others are things that I can do with them. Where. Has. This. Been. All. My. Life?