Our Student Blogs are Open for Visitors…Come On Over!

After giving another blogging platform a go earlier in the year, I’m back to Edublogs. I love Edublogs, and the autonomy that it provides my students delivers a learning experience unparalleled by other blogging formats. So, I’ve reunited with my one love–and set up  blogs for over 70 students  who are eager  to connect with  their peers around the globe. We just started our last quarter of the school year, but when it comes to blogging, my students are pumped up and ready for action.

I’ve asked my students to post a link to their blogs below. If you stop by for a visit, please stay long enough to visit a blog or two and leave a comment. In addition, you’ll find links to their blogs in the right sidebar. For most of my students, you’ll be the first comment they ever receive. Thanks so much for leaving a note of encouragement for any one of my amazing students.

Advantage Alexander: Kwame Scores Another Power Shot with BOOKED

photo credit: boswellbooks.com

photo credit: boswellbooks.com


     Through his two best-selling verse novels, The Crossover and Booked, author Kwame Alexander is telling us something very important: Kids connect with poetry.

     As a teacher, I find that my students, with round-the-clock schedules rivaling our President’s and hypnotizing little black hole screens, aren’t reading much outside of the classroom. I’m working overtime to change that, but it all boils down to the book. Does it hook my student? Is it “cantputdownable”? Could it potentially cause Mom or Dad to holler about reading past your bedtime? Will my student open the book to sneak a few sentences when there’s think time in the classroom? For The Crossover and Booked, the answers will always be “yes”.

     Over the past two years, I’ve found myself recommending verse novels to all my students–regardless of their reading ability. From kids who just can’t seem to finish a straight-up prose novel to those reading a book a day, verse novels deliver universal appeal. Kwame Alexander gets it. My middle grade students crave the heavier subject matter. Even in sixth grade, they’re already deep thinkers. They just don’t want to start a book that’ll take them 2-3 weeks to finish. In come verse novels, the year-round champions of my classroom bookshelf. The topics are thought-provokingly real. The characters are multi-racial, multi-dimensional kids dealing with the same junk that’s cluttering up the mind of any 12-year-old: fitting in and standing out, school struggles and successes, romance, self esteem, bullying, friendships, and tough family issues like chronic illnesses or divorce. Despite weighty topics, the pages of a verse novel b  r  e  a  t  h  e  with white space. In Alexander’s case, the black words artfully placed on the vanilla page pulse with the rhythm of humanity.  The laughter and tears his stories generate are 100% authentic. Did I fall in love with Booked? Definitely–just like The Crossover!  Yes, I have a book crush on literary fraternal twins. 🙂

     What’s all the fuss about Booked? Nick, a middle school, travel team soccer standout, has a linguistic anthropologist for a father. Big plays are Nick’s forte, but his professorial pop is obsessed with big words. In fact, he insists that Nick read a dictionary (his Dad’s) every day before he does anything else. That anything else includes soccer or hanging out with his best mate and fellow soccer phenom, Colby. Nick’s daydreaming about the girl of his dreams and an invitation-only soccer tourney in Dallas, but trouble is brewing in paradise. Bullies are on his back, and Mom and Dad’s perfect marriage isn’t storybook after all. Life is messy, and Nick’s is no exception. What is exceptional about this verse novel is that Alexander’s meticulously crafted words magnetize us. I was hooked on Booked from page one. Twenty-four hours later, I ordered another copy for my classroom bookshelf. I know exactly which book I’ll be promoting on Book Talk Tuesday. I plan to have a drawing to see which two lucky students will be the first to read Booked!

photo credit: kwamealexander.com

                       I found an NPR interview with Kwame Alexander that I have to share. “How to Get Kids Hooked on Books? Use Poetry!” Check out the transcript by clicking here. Or, simply listen to the audio here!


The Nest by Kenneth Oppel: Worth Buzzing About!


photo credit: http://animaliaz-life.com

photo credit: Amazon.com

Springtime is wasp time. I don’t know about your house, but a day doesn’t go by that my kids aren’t hollering, “Mom, there’s a wasp in the house.” Thanks to Kenneth Oppel’s The Nest, I have an entirely new, somewhat menacing, perspective on  these ubiquitous flying insects. My GoodReads review on this  phenomenally engaging book follows.

The obsessive compulsive handwashing has started up again. Steve’s baby brother has arrived, and something’s just not right. While his parents aren’t elaborating on the baby boy’s heart trouble, Steve knows one thing for certain: his once-attentive parents are exhausted from sleepless nights and countless hospital visits. Hushed voices whisper behind closed doors, and Steve feels his normal existence crumbling apart.

After allergic-to-everything Steve is stung by a wasp, the dreams of a black-eyed angel begin. The gossamer-winged creature promises to “fix” everything, and normally nervous Steve is mesmerized by the angel’s rhythmic voice. Every night, the angel appears, at first soothing Steve’s fears. Then, fueling them by feeding into the young boy’s deepest fears. What if the angels could replace Steve’s critically ill baby brother with a perfect model? One little three-letter word is all it takes to unleash a horrific chain of events: y-e-s.

Even though Steve realizes it isn’t an angel that visits his dreams, but rather a wasp queen, he gives into the temptation. Soon, a wasp nest is abuzz outside of his bedroom window. It isn’t long before Steve begins to see a baby forming inside the nest. When the wasps are done, all Steve must do is open his window and let the angels replace his damaged brother (who Oppel brilliantly leaves nameless for most of the book) with a flawless copy, carefully crafted by thousands of yellow-striped workers.

I couldn’t put this thriller of a little book down. The Nest stings the soul. It got me thinking about the potential repercussions and moral tightrope of genetic engineering. In fact, months later, The Nest is still buzzing around my brain. Toss in a little sister whose plastic toy phone receives incoming calls, and a knife sharpening salesman that shows up at only one house on the street: Steve’s, and you’ve got mega middle school creepiness. I so loved this book that I put two hardcovers in my classroom library. After I showed the publisher’s book trailer to my class, a swarm of students raided both my class library and the school library (We need more copies both places!).

The best endorsement: Owen, one of my first student readers, said he couldn’t put down the book. In fact, for the first time ever, his mom actually yelled at him to stop reading and go to sleep. For any author, there’s no greater compliment than a 12-year-old boy who willingly gets scolded just to keep turning pages. 🙂  Fly out and pick up a copy!

Fish in a Tree: Six Word Memoirs

Thank you, Lynda Mullaly Hunt,

for giving my sixth graders a community-building novel

with characters of the utmost character–

authentic young people with whom we’re all identifying.

photo credit: nerdybookclub

photo credit: nerdybookclub

I typically read two chapters of Fish in a Tree daily–before we have independent reading. Each day, I look out into the eyes of my students, and I see engaged learners who’ve begun to feel as though Ally, Keisha, and Albert are classmates, even friends. (Shay, for the time being, isn’t well-liked, but I have a feeling  we’ll start to understand that mean-spirited young lady soon enough.)

Today, after we wrapped up our typical two chapters, I introduced six-word memoirs as a way to give all the Fish in a Tree characters a voice–and show what we know about characterization. Students crafted their own six-word memoirs in their choice of character. Then we shared out, trying to guess which character “authored” the memoir. I’m posting some of these inventive memoirs that crystallized fictional characters in a way that made this teacher mighty proud. Any fellow FIAT devotees who happen upon our blog, we encourage you to try your hand at naming the character behind each six-word memoir. By all means, leave us a comment with your guesses.

When it comes to teaching, there isn’t impossible, only possible. Thank you to all of the gifted authors who enter our classroom and in a few hundred pages alter how we view one another and our world.

Can you guess which Fish in a Tree characters “penned” these six-word memoirs?

1. I am the queen bee, loser. – Sam

2. I am alone. You can’t help. – Michael

3. I am not who she says. – Derek

4. One day, fish will climb trees.  – Zoe

5. Mean is cruel. Add some sugar. – Mackenzie

6. Stuck in a spider’s web. Alone. – Thiviya

7. There are mean people in life. – Amanda

8. Cars and tools are my life. – Ananya

9. Ally is smart. She’s something else. – Cecilia

10. Mr. Daniels is the kindest person. – Bryan

11. I don’t know what I’m writing! – Minahil

12. Star Trek. Star Trek. Star Trek. – Sean

13. Pickle color is my new style. – Kayla

14. The world of chess is unpredictable. – Alexa

15, Stuck under a hovering black cloud. – Rylie

16. Am I doing the right thing? – Spencer

17. Everyone is equal. There’s no favorites. – Owen

18. There’s more inside her, I know. – Rachel

19. Wooden nickels. Silver dollars. Love coins. – Jordan

20. Mental capability isn’t defined by writing. – Marissa

21. Dreams are determined by your will. – Kayce

22. Old things have lots of value. – Andrew

23. Broken. Being fixed by Mr. Daniels. – Ella

24. Why do people pick out differences? – Amanda

25. You can do it. I believe. – Ashrita

Until the next chapter,

Mrs. Rombach




The Thing About Jellyfish – New Book!

“I’ve written about astrophysicists and athletes, cosmologists and Arctic conservators, geologists and psychologists and farmers and awesome children. What I enjoy, above all, is telling a good story.This world of ours is complex, but  it’s filled with plenty of wonder and sparkle.”

– Ali Benjamin

credit: Good Reads


Sometimes, I get really lucky and simply stumble on the kind of book I found in The Thing About Jellyfish, the 2015 debut novel from author Ali Benjamin. On one of my many weekly trips to Amazon’s virtual bookshelves, the stunningly beautiful cover of this book populated my screen. I clicked on the image, read the description, and instantly clicked Add to Cart. I finished The Thing About Jellyfish about two weeks ago and it continues to thump  around in my still-in-awe brain like a damp beach towl in the dryer. 

From Goodreads.com:

After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy was a rare jellyfish sting. Retreating into a silent world of imagination, she crafts a plan to prove her theory–even if it means traveling the globe, alone. Suzy’s achingly heartfelt journey explores life, death, the astonishing wonder of the universe…and the potential for love and hope right next door. 


The Thing About Jellyfish should be on every adult bookshelf, too. Who hasn’t ever hurt or been hurt by a friend, struggled with inexplicable grief, or wanted an impossible happy ending? We’ve all been there, like Suzy and Franny, trying to find our place in this physically and emotionally challenging world.  Plus, there’s real science poured into every delicately moving page.  The Thing About Jellyfish , recently named a National Book finalist, will touch your heart. Below are two videos about the book, one from me, and one from the author. I discovered Kizoa this morning  through Edublogs’ Student Blogging Challenge. I’ve given it a try so I can show my sixth graders  one way they might create a book trailer. See what you think.


Letter to my newest Sixth Graders

Tomorrow, I’ll welcome 94 brand new sixth graders to my classroom. Am I ready? You bet I am. The past two weeks have been all about preparation–from attending professional development workshops to devoting full days to readying my classroom for its young occupants. I turned out the lights on Friday evening and couldn’t help but smile. I am eager to meet the new arrivals. I’ll be a little nervous, of course, but I simply must remember that they’re 100 times more nervous than me. We’re in this together–from the first day jitters to the last day goodbyes. Some days will drag; others will flash  by like comets. We’ll laugh, we’ll cry (well, at least I will during our many read-alouds), and we’ll make memories together.

One of my first-day activities is  to have every student write me a letter. I’ll read and respond to all 94 letters by Friday. Tonight, I’ve written  mine to them. 

Dear Awesome Sixth Graders,

     I’m thrilled to welcome you into our Language Arts classroom! I know we’ll have a wonderful year together.

     Today, I’m asking you to write a letter to me, so I thought it only fair that I write a letter to you. Let’s start with introductions. Who am I? I’m Mrs. Martha Rombach, teacher, writer, reader, and mom of five awesome kids ranging in age from 12 to 21. I graduated with an English degree from James Madison University, where I met my husband, Mike. I grew up in Yorktown, Virginia, where I built forts, rode my bike for miles, shot archery in my backyard, captured every type of wild critter I could raise in a box or tub, and even worked summers at Busch Gardens when I was a teenager.

     I love being outdoors. I enjoy hiking, traveling to unfamiliar places, and blasting music in my canary yellow Jeep. If I’m not outside, I’m probably curled up inside with a good book. Forget about trying to talk to me when I’m reading. I’m in another world. I read over 20 books this summer, and I can’t wait to tell you about them. In fact, our first read-aloud will be Fish in a Tree, one of my summer best.

     Speaking of favs, I’m a candy fiend. Hot Tamales and Twizzlers are my go-to sweets. Look around our classroom, and you’ll see I’m a huge Steelers fan. Music keeps me grounded; I can’t go a day without it. What am I afraid of? Heights! I’ll happily remove spiders from our classroom, but don’t ask me to climb a ladder or peer over a ledge.

     I’m a teacher who’s connected to technology–Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and a couple of blogs. That means we’ll be using technology in our classroom nearly every day–really! Bring in those devices. 🙂 Before becoming a teacher, I was a newspaper and magazine writer. Now, I write on two blogs–and will open blogs for each of you soon!

      I have the best job in the world. I love coming to work every day because of you. You are one of a kind. You are amazing. You have the power to change the world. As we embark on this year together, know that I believe in you. If there are bumps in the road,we’ll navigate them together. If you have questions, ask them. When you need to talk, I’ll listen. I’m here for you 100%. Be kind, be motivated, be ready to make your first year in middle school absolutely awesome (just like you)!


Mrs. Rombach



Poetry Emotion – Teachers Write 7/13/15 (I’m late!)

Teachers Write!

photocredit: booktown.com

Author Liz Garton Scanlon photocredit: booktown.com


photo credit: amazon.com

photo credit: amazon.com










Last night, I joined my daughter and one of her best friends for the sold-out Taylor Swift concert at Nationals Park Stadium in DC. Loved every minute of this 25-year-old’s extraordinary performance.

Now, I’m sitting down (ever so briefly) to post the poem I struggled to complete for Monday’s mini-lesson from Teachers Write! guest author Liz Garton Scanlon. Liz is the author of picture books like All the World and Noodle and Lou as well as a brand new middle grade novel, The Great Good Summer.  Here’s the assignment:

1. Commit to writing a 12-line rhyming poem or story.

2. Use either 6 couplets (aa/bb/cc/etc) or 3 quatrains (abab/cdcd/efef)

3. After you’ve written the first 2-4 lines, count the syllables. Even them out as necessary and then stick with that count as you finish the piece.

4. Read it over. Does it make sense? Did rhyme force you to do anything you didn’t want to do? Adjust as necessary.

5. Wrap it up. Read it aloud. Read it aloud again. You hear that? You did that!

Here’s my result, which, despite being less than thrilled about, makes me realize how important it is to exercise my writing muscles. 🙂 I wrote this after getting some cruddy news that sent my stress level through the roof. Rhyming is challenging! Still, I need to work all of my writing muscles, not just the stronger ones. 🙂 I’ll take the next Teachers Write! challenges one word, one line, one story at a time–and be okay with it taking me a little longer than I’d like. This isn’t a race, it’s a self-focused, self-paced education and exploration–for the writer in me. 🙂


The phone calls come in a hurry.

Breathe deeply. Quell the firing nerves.

Questions explode in a flurry.

Situation no one deserves.


Nubby nails, haphazardly chewed

Chattering heart, wildly racing

Squash this madness,; answers elude

Frustratation soars, mindless pacing


Dozens of phone calls required

Monotone voices do not hear

My fear from all that’s transpired

Listen! Did I make myself clear?




Pearls of Writing Wisdom – Teachers Write! Day #3

Teachers Write!


I am determined to catch up with the Teachers Write! author-generated writing prompts. Yesterday’s challenge came from guest author Melanie Crowder whose debut novel, Parched was one of Bank Street’s Best Books of the Year and a Junior Library Guild selection. Her second book, Audacity, has received three starred reviews and is an Editor’s Choice at BookBrowse and a Top Pick from BookPage. Needless to say, I’m thrilled to find inspiration from a published author. 

The assignment:

Pick one character, and one image connected with that character. Either as you rewrite an existing scene, or as you draft a new one, bring that image with you. Use it when you describe your character or when it’s time for a metaphor to reveal your character’s emotion, and hey—if all else fails, throw that object into the scene with them and see what happens.

To get started, if you haven’t already, draw up some sketches for a few of the characters in your story. I don’t mean actual drawings; brief descriptions will do. (What they look like, their hobbies, their habits, their flaws, their nervous tells.

PearlsCreative Commons License Milica Sekulic via Compfight

Transparent Pearl

Eyes float over my existence

First impressions are impressionless

Despite the bronze badge that states otherwise

I am nameless, faceless, useless — to you

Clattering dishes litter my slow-moving cart

A uniformed, puckered, splotched obstacle in your path

Arthritic knees scream in silent protest

You refuse to meet my grey-blue eyes

Judging my sweat-tinged, curling silver hair

Viewing my pained shuffle as an inconvenience

My sturdy brown Rockports as fashionless

How dare you

I am as priceless as the heirloom pearls

 regally encircling my aging neck

A peacock-proud mother of five grown men

A recent widow of a 47-year love affair

A lifelong churchgoer who knits baby blankets

for infants like the one in your protective arms.

I am an unbreakable string of indelible life experiences

perfectly, delicately, lovingly woven together.


Before I wrote the poem, here’s what I jotted down as my list of potential character details (based on my previous night’s observations at Panera). Obviously, I didn’t use them all. I’ve spent about 45 minutes on this poem, which is all I have today because there’s another writing prompt to conquer. I hope that if you’re reading this, you’re enjoying this writing camp as much as I am! If you’re a middle-school English teacher, let’s connect!

  • middle-aged women, in her early sixties, about five foot two if she didn’t slouch a little
  • works at local chain bakery, cleans up after customers
  • wears cornflower blue short-sleeved golf shirt with bronze name badge on her left chest
  • khaki pants, a little baggy around the waste and bottom
  • brown leather shoes, probably Rockport or another walking-friendly variety
  • short, gray wavy hair that curls up around the edges of the matching cornflower blue visor
  • gray-blue eyes looking downward as she performs her duties
  • simple but class pearl necklace around her neck; single pearl stud earrings
  • more shuffling than walking, seems to be lost in thought
  • no eye contact with any customer; works silently as customers unload their dishes and trash into the marked bins
  • hobby – knitting silently while watching Steve Harvey’s talk show
  • habit – rubbing pearls between thumb and index finger when lost in thoughts, also dipping her right to an unknown beat–a tick she picked up from her mother

If You Give a Student a Writing Prompt…

If you give a student a writing prompt, she’s going to imagine herself writing a thrilling short story. When she imagines herself writing a thrilling short story, she’ll realize she needs to open a new blog post to get started. When she opens a new blog post, she’ll see a blank white page craving words. When she sees the empty  white screen, she’ll type in her writing prompt. When she types in her writing prompt, hundreds of words will rain down on her page. With every keystroke, a thunderstorm of creativity will flash across her screen. When she stops to read and admire the amazing story she’s written, she’ll decide she needs a photo to accompany  her brilliance. Once she’s added a perfect, properly credited photo to her story, she’ll consider  all the student bloggers who are staring at empty pages, unsure about what to write . When she imagines her peers in the blogosphere struggling to  conquer  writer’s block, she’ll decide she needs to end her blog post with a supremely clever writing prompt. We all know what happens if you give a student a wickedly wonderful writing prompt: He’s   sure to write a thrilling short story.

Thank you, Laura Numeroff, author of If You Give a Moose a Muffin, for providing the inspiration for my  opening paragraph.

Dear students, your  writing inspiration comes direct from Mrs. Donofrio’s Hey Kids! student bloggers.  Like us, our  Florida-based counterparts are  ticking down the days until summer break. They’ll be drafting blog posts based on your wild and wacky writing prompts–and you’ll be doing the same here today. Wherever your story goes, focus on delivering your very best descriptive writing. Allow your one-of-a-kind voice and writing style to take centerstage on your latest, greatest blog post.

Click here to view and choose one of the Hey Kids! writing prompts. Then, get busy blogging. 🙂  If you’re a teacher who’d like a copy of these prompts, please  leave me a comment with your email address.  I’m happy to share, but can’t do so through our school Google account.

Will we share these stories in class? You betcha! 

See you at The End.

Mrs. Rombach 

credit: http://www.learningarchitects.com/


Student Blogging Challenge Week #9: Let’s Shine!

 Week 9: Let’s shine

Shiny, Capt.

Ken-ichi Ueda via Compfight

This is our penultimate week in the blogging challenge.

When you come to the end of a topic, what does your teacher often do?

  • That’s right! We give you a test.

This week’s challenge is a test about your blogging skills.

Having read many of your posts, Miss W came up with the following essentials in a great post.

  1. catchy title
  2. includes at least two visuals whether photo, cartoon, video or another web 2.0 tool like padlet, animoto (use Mrs. Rombach’s class login), tagxedohaikudeck (check out Mrs. Rombach’s example below)
  3. interesting topic with the passion of the author coming through, shows well-researched topic
  4. well written and not copy/pasted from somewhere else
  5. shows it has been proofread and spellchecked
  6. written in paragraphs – at least three of them
  7. includes links to other websites on similar topics – at least two of these
  8. attribution for any images, video, music or clip art used – including those used in slideshows etc

Here are some examples of posts from a previous challenge:

When you have finished your post, please leave a comment for Miss W at the Student Blogging Challenge so she can have a peek at your work. Make sure to include your blog URL! 

Presenting this week’s topic:


Yawn! jerkylicker via Compfight

1. Do a quick Google search on your favorite animal and share out your findings.

2. Address problems like poaching, cruelty, or extinction (you might share the social issues presentation you’ve already done!)

3. Should wild animals be kept in zoos? Write a persuasive argument for or against zoos.

4. What are the benefits of pet ownership and which animals make the best pets?

5. Share your persuasive writing about exotic pet ownership.

6. Have a different idea? Go for it!

cows are cool – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Make sure you check hints 2, 7 and 8 in the essentials of a great post

Still got time left this week:

  1. Visit Namitha to add some words of help for people in Nepal or write your own post sending words to Nepal.
  2. Keep visiting other student and class blogs to leave comments and continue conversations.
  3. Check out the Flipboard magazine to see if your post is mentioned there and visit some of their blogs
  4. Leave links to your posts on the student blogging challenge blog post so Miss W can visit and leave comments or flip your posts to the magazine.