Welcome! My name is Fallon, and I am a gifted and talented ELA teacher and instructional designer. I am a huge proponent of gamification in education. I try to make my materials as engaging and creative as possible. I believe that a good teacher is like an artist, passionately in love with their work. I hope my resources and tips can save you valuable time and effort!

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Poe Fest Projects and Study

One of my favorite units I have ever taught is my Edgar Allan Poe unit for 7th grade. Students learn about connotation, analyze figurative language/poetic devices, tone, and more.  I think Poe's work is great for student engagement, and what better time to focus on his work than the month of October? In this post, I will be sharing tips for a successful unit and my favorite projects/activities for middle schoolers.

Recommended Texts from Edgar Allan Poe for Middle School:

"The Tell-Tale Heart"

"The Raven"

"The Black Cat"

Recommended Activities and Lessons to Accompany Your Literature Study:

  • Text to Media Comparison 
    Many of Poe's works have been retold in new media.  I love having students compare two versions of a single work to draw comparisons, make connections, and critique the retelling. Please make sure you preview any of the videos I have used before you use them with your kids. What was appropriate for my students, may not feel appropriate for your own. Some of my favorites are:
"The Raven"

"The Tell-Tale Heart"

Graphic Novel with Many Tales Inside:


Recommended Culminating Activities to Accompany Your Literature Study:

Edgar Allan Poe's work leads itself well to adding theatrics which can help engage students.  We always ended our Poe unit with an annual Poefest! Our Poefest featured final projects, costumes, and refreshments! Our Poefest celebration typically took place in November.  

My Lessons & Ideas for Your Poefest:

Let me know if you have any questions or a cool idea to share!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Maternity Leave Tips for Teachers

Preparing for maternity leave as a teacher is a daunting task.  It is difficult to leave your kids, classroom, and everything else with someone else.  I learned a lot from my first maternity leave and wanted to write everything down, so I won't have to struggle to remember for my second maternity leave.  (I am hoping I will eventually have a second child.) **Update!  I have had my second child and this advice is still sound!

Without further ado, here are my maternity leave tips and tricks for teachers!

1.  Finances - Saving is so Important!

The best thing you can do as an educator preparing to have a baby is to save up as much as you can.  

Short-Term Disability Coverage
For my first maternity leave, I just relied on having short-term disability coverage and it really didn't make a dent in my medical expenses.  If you haven't looked into your school district's short-term disability coverage, you may want to at least explore that avenue, but I ended up getting out less than I paid for the coverage over the course of the two years I paid into the program.  The company I used, required you to have coverage for at least a full year before they would pay out any benefit, so in my case, it just wasn't worth it. 

How Much Can I Expect to Spend?
This time around, I plan on saving up as much as I can with every paycheck.  I hope to put at least 100-150 a pay period into a special savings account for my maternity-related expenses.  With my first child, our out-of-pocket max was 4,500 dollars a person.  By the time we were out of the hospital (normal delivery with zero complications),  we both had hit our out-of-pocket max for the year.  Then I also had to figure out how to cover the time I took unpaid.  I wanted to be home with my baby as long as possible.

Luckily, I planned/timed it right and had a baby in late April.  I was able to take 6 weeks off at the end of one school year, enjoy summer vacation with my baby, and then take 6 weeks off at the beginning of another school year.  My son was almost 5-months-old when I went back to work!  How did I afford this?  It wasn't easy.

First, it is important to note that I rarely ever take off work and had four years' worth of sick and personal leave saved up. I used almost all of my days on my leave.  I saved a bank of 8-10 days in case my son was sick or an emergency turned up when I went back to work.   I have to take about 12-15 days unpaid to cover the difference in my leave. (I forget the exact amount I had to take unpaid because it has been two years since my first leave.) That ended up costing me over 4,000 dollars as we only work a 190-day contract.  Additionally, I had to pick up more of the medical costs typically covered by my school district for those days.  Luckily my school district was able to break that loss out over the entire school year of paychecks, and it was only a couple hundred a pay period, but it was definitely a huge hit on top of the medical bills coming in.  As you can see, it is EXTREMELY important to start saving for your maternity leave as soon as possible.  Kids are a huge undertaking and maternity leave is no different.  

2. Planning

It is easy to begin stressing about what lesson plans to leave for an extended absence, but you shouldn't have to!  First, you need a great teaching binder to help your substitute understand and easily follow everyday procedures and your classroom setup.  I spent a long time creating my substitute binder for my super extended absence.  Save yourself hours of work and grab a copy of my binder.  I even left a lot of my wording in the binder, so you should only need to make minimal changes to the binder.

Long-Term Sub Binder - Maternity Leave - Extended Leave - Medical LeaveLong-Term Sub Binder - Maternity Leave - Medical Leave
Long-Term Sub Binder - Maternity Leave - Extended Leave - Multiple Covers

If you aren't an ELA teacher, you may want to skip this part of my post.  I really can only offer advice for ELA teachers as it is the only thing I have ever taught.  Guys, you need to leave a novel study and that is that.  Why a novel study?  

1.  It is a concrete plan.  Your substitute will have something secure to walk into.  I would have to be a long-term substitute and walk into super complex plans.  Walk into a 6ish week novel study?  Perfect!

2.  Novel studies can cover all of your ELA standards.  

3.  It's easy to have a wide range of graded assignments with a novel.

4.  Most people enjoy teaching novels.

5.  Students typically enjoy novel studies.

Need help gathering materials for your sub?  I have you covered with three different novel study options!

The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton - Novel Companion - Student WoThe Giver - Lois Lowry - Novel Companion - The Giver JournFlipped by Wendelin Van Draanen - Novel Study Companion -

3. General Advice

1. Diaper showers are extremely helpful.  If your family can help you throw one, it will help out to start with a stash of diapers.

2. Find a newborn photographer.  Newborns are beyond cute and change rapidly.  I recommend finding a professional to capture your newborn.

3. Don't check in to school more than needed and keep your baby out of your school building.  It isn't worth the risk of exposing your baby to all of the germs we know are at school.

4. Give yourself time to recover after having your baby.  See if you can line up relatives to help you around the house your first few weeks home.  This ended up being a lifesaver for me.

5.  Have something I missed?  Please share it in the comments below and I will add it to this resource.  

Good luck!

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Making ELA Test Prep Engaging and Exciting

Well, friends, we are in the heart of testing season.  I know the pressure put on teachers and students can be nearly unbearable, but I have some ideas and tips that can hopefully ease the pain of end-of-the-year testing.  

Tip 1:

Don't wait for the last minute to prep for end-of-the-year testing.  I use daily warm-ups that rotate between grammar skills, test prep questions, and academic vocabulary.  (I commonly share my warm-up of the day on my Instagram account in my stories, if you are interested in seeing them you can follow me by clicking here.) I find that it gets students used to the types of questions they will see on end-of-the-year testing without having a last minute cram session.  As a first year teacher, I made the mistake of trying to cram a bunch of test prep the last two weeks before testing started.  It did not help improve scores.  It probably did the exact opposite.  I was stressed.  The kids were stressed and bored out of their minds.  I learned a great lesson that year, and I will never repeat that rookie mistake.

Tip 2:

Get your kids involved in the lesson.  The most successful test prep units or lessons are going to be engaging.  (I know huge shock right?) I love using digital escape rooms with my students as they get to work with a small group and it gets them thinking critically.  I find that my kids get so wrapped up in the "game" of the activity that they do not even realize they are working on a test prep lesson!  Win, win!


It's an added bonus if you can get them moving!If you need help adding movement into your end-of-the-year review, I highly recommend trying a question loop or question trail.  Even better than getting kids moving, these activities also get kids CHECKING THEIR OWN WORK!!!!  I will say that again, they get kids checking their own work!  How amazing is that?!  Students start at a question and based on their answer are directed to a different question. (usually they do not go from question 1 to question 2 and etc.) If kids notice that they end up a question a second time, they will know that they got an answer incorrect somewhere along the line.  They will need to pause and check their answers before continuing through the loop.  I love the conversations I hear during these activities!  

ELA Test Prep Question Review Loop - Question Trail - Kinesthetic Learning Middle School ELA Question Trail/Loop - Engaging & Kinesthetic - GROWING BUNDLE

Tip 3:

Keep Calm and Carry On.
No matter what at the end of the day, the most important thing is letting your kids know that you care about them and believe in them.  Kids will only care about their scores if they know that you care about them.  Enjoy your kids and talk to them!

Do you have a tip that should be on my list?  Comment with it below!  I'd love to add to this list.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

How Having a Class Mascot Changed my Classroom

Hey Friends!

So I created this blog to share what works in my room with other educators, and one of the things that I believe makes my classroom special is having a class mascot. When I was a second-year teacher, my favorite animal, a sloth, became a major part of my classroom climate, theme, and even a class motto.  Was this an intentional move?  If I am honest with you, not really.  I mean if I look back at my own education, one of my favorite teachers had an obsession with Sponge Bob, and I still remember that detail about him and his class.  Whenever one of us would see something Sponge Bob related, we would bring it into the classroom and it would become part of our classroom.

So, I did like the idea of adding something memorable to my class, but again, this change was something my second group of kids actually helped bring about.  Like many of you, I begin a new school year by introducing myself to my kids.  Part of that introduction includes talking about sloths and how I believe they are a reminder to "stay positive" because they constantly have a smile on their faces.  My second group of 7th graders really took to this message.  I started receiving multiple pictures, drawings, and other sloth related gifts.  All of those things became part of our classroom.  Fast forward to our field day celebration, and the kids designed #slothsquad shirts for our class.  We all loved the idea of being a "sloth squad".

A super old photo of my second-year group, taken from my beginning of the year Prezi.

I am now in my 6th year of teaching and have more sloths than ever before.  I like to think that my classes and love of sloths have made them the new "it" animal.   Now at the beginning of the school year, I introduce the sloth and the idea of being a sloth squad to my kids from the very start.  I love how it adds to our culture and community.

On my last student feedback survey, I asked specific questions about our class mascot and how it made students feel.  I am excited to share that feedback with you!   Students responded to the question, "What are your thoughts about our class mascot? Does it make you feel included or like part of a team? #slothsquad".  Here are just a few of their responses:

 I like our mascot because it's kinda like a more peaceful vibe."
yes,having a sloth makes me think we don't have to stress about anything and can stay calm."
I think are class mascot is very unique. It does make me feel included."
I like the class mascot and I yes I do feel included."
i think that sloths are very interesting and i love having one as our mascot"
I like having a class mascot, it makes everyone who is in this class feel like one big team."
it make me feel like everyone is accepted"
Sloths are slow and I am too. Yes it makes me feel included."
I did not have one of my 139 survey takers rip on our mascot!  A few were indifferent, but the great majority love it and did mention feeling like part of a team.  YAY!  If having an animal around our room and mentioning the #slothsquad helps reinforce a positive classroom environment, I am totally sold forever! 

 I put together a list of animals that I feel would make great class mascots!


Or whatever your favorite animal is!

I'd love to see your photos if you have a class mascot or add one to your room!  Tag me on Instagram @HowesintheMiddle!

Saturday, January 19, 2019

January 2019 Teacher Finds!

Hey, friends! 

Do you ever feel like January drags?  As much as I love being a teacher, it can be incredibly difficult to get back into the swing of things after Christmas break.  I know my teaching family (pretty much everyone in my family is an educator of some sort) and friends talk about the January blues/slump.  To combat the blues, I found some new products, lesson ideas, and games to spice up your January!


If you know anything about my classroom, you would know that I LOVE making engaging and FUN lessons.  Gim.Kit.com was created by a high school student, and as soon as you check out the gameplay, you will see why the game platform is so popular with students.  You can take any questions and quickly make them into an engaging strategy game!  I quickly created a Gim.Kit.com game with my kids to review the parts of an essay.  It was a great way to end the last 15 minutes of our class.

Gim.Kit.com in my Classroom!  


So, I have teamed up with Formulate to give away a custom shampoo and conditioner set!  The products are absolutely amazing!  My hair has been a frizzy mess since I was a middle schooler, and they have finally found a way to tame this crazy mane!  This giveaway only takes seconds to enter and is about to end!  Enter by following my custom link below!

Formulate Giveaway!

Question Trails & Loops

The last January game changers are question trails and loop activities!  Why do I love them?  1.  They are standards-based and make an amazing assessment.  2.  They are kinesthetic; the activity gets my kids up and moving!  3.  Students have to check their own work!  If students get a question wrong, they will figure it out because they will end up at a question they have already answered.  4.  The activity visually shows me who needs additional support on the topic.  5.  The activity is totally student-centered!  I have two question loops that are already made and ready to go!  Save yourself some time and check them out!

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Hey, I'm Fallon!

So I am going, to be honest with you guys, I do not consider myself to be a writer.  I did not become an ELA teacher because I thought I had the talent to write.  On the contrary, I became an ELA teacher because of my appreciation of truly talented wordsmiths.   When adult responsibilities do not get in my way, I love to get lost in a novel.

I am restarting this blog as an avenue to continue to improve my practice as an educator.  Teaching is one of my greatest passions, and I strive daily to become a better teacher.  My kids deserve only the best.  I am a mother, artist, and coffee lover.

Image may contain: 3 people, including Fallon Nicole and Jon Howes, people smiling, people standing and outdoor

 I hope we can help each other on this teaching journey!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Are You Considering Instructional Design?

          After looking over my last post, I decided to pull a few more resources that would have been helpful when I first started this journey.  If you find yourself considering instructional design, navigate through the materials listed below and in the links section of this blog.

This first video continues to explain what instructional design is and how the average job works.  Blackboard and Articulate are discussed.

The next video I am going to share covers what an instructional designer does.

I hope these videos help you decide if you are interested in instructional design.  In my next post, I plan on sharing how I decided where I would get my instructional design degree.  Keep an eye out for it.