Is Your Classroom Literacy Rich? Part 3: Classroom Libraries

I believe that a classroom library is the heartbeat of a teacher’s environment. It is the window into an educator’s own personality, and it reflects the importance of literacy in the classroom. I believe that every teacher — no matter what subject he or she teaches — should have one.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron on Edutopia

Growing up, my favorite place in the world was a library, and it still is! As an adult, I have continued to frequent public libraries, first with my daughters while they were growing up and now on my own.  I love that the majority of tutoring I do takes place in public libraries! I remember clearly being in the library of Hartman Elementary School in Omaha Nebraska, around 1968 and discovering Little House on the Prairie, the book that for me, changed my life.  I had been a voracious reader before that, but this was a book I connected to in a powerful way.

Teachers need to ensure that our students have opportunities to connect with books, right in their classrooms. Classroom libraries are one of the most important elements of a Literacy-Rich Environment.  In my previous post on this topic, I provided an overview of all the important literacy elements for a classroom. Now it’s time to delve more into how to make your classroom library the best it can be!

All students must be able to access, use, and evaluate information in order to meet the needs and challenges of the twenty-first century. – NCTE Statement, May 2017

Note the use of the words “all students”. Classroom libraries are most often associated with primary classrooms, but they need to be in intermediate, middle and high school classrooms. One of my former school colleagues, who now teaches middle school writing, sent me photos of her classroom library in response to a request for photos. She said that her students always ask why she has a classroom library if she teaches writing! I applaud her for having the library, pictured below, because as Stephen King says, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

Middle School Classroom Library
Carol’s Middle School Writing Classroom Library

But classroom libraries are not just for reading and writing teachers in middle and high school! Content area teachers should not only have books on and about their content in their classrooms but all kinds of reading material…fiction, informational books, resource, magazines, etc. There will always be those early finishers…of assignments or tests. Why not have reading material handy? Perhaps one of those students in your math class might come across one of your favorite books and ask to borrow it? Every teacher can make a difference in the reading life of a student! Check out the classroom libraries in these classrooms: (l–r, top to bottom – science, art, art again and music). By the way, I put out several requests to teachers for photos of classroom libraries in math, science, social studies, industrial arts, etc. and received NO response.  Do you know of any teachers who have one? Let me know!

Now, down to the nuts and bolts of putting together a classroom library. In a presentation at CCIRA many years ago, Linda Cornwell, formerly of Scholastic books, stated that students in classrooms with well-designed and well-stocked library collections:

  • exhibit more positive attitudes toward reading
  • read more widely for a variety of purposes
  • demonstrate higher levels of reading achievement

In addition, she suggested the classroom library should:

  • look inviting to all students
  • be organized for easy access and materials
  • include a comfortable area for reading
  • offer an array of materials from many genres

Some things to consider when organizing your library:

    • How will you store your books to make sure they can be easily accessible to students?
      • My personal preference is colorful, plastic tubs, or even just clear ones. But years ago, while in observing in a classroom, I found this unique storage system…one of those rotating racks they have in stores for browsing!
    • Do you have guidelines for the use of the library?
      • I’m sure you don’t want students getting up in the middle of an important lesson to browse for books, so you need to let them know then the library is “open” and when it is “closed”. You could create some signs for your library letting them know when it’s okay to browse. In addition, there need to be guidelines for when students are using the library…here are some ideas:
        • how to respect books
        • how to shelve books back in the correct place
        • the use of quiet voices in the library and the importance of respecting others’ reading time
        • And for even more ideas on guidelines, you can find so many ready-made posters on Teachers Pay Teachers!

  • Have you shown students how to find materials?  Are there signs to help them?
    • Just as modeling when teaching something new to your students, you will need to model and/or explain how to use and check out and return materials from the library. The younger the student, the more modeling is needed. For secondary classrooms, the procedures can be more relaxed, but I’m sure you still don’t want to lose everything in your library! Check out this teacher’s blog post on how she introduces her classroom library to her students!
  • How have you categorized and arranged the materials?  Does the organization promote the reading of different types of materials?

    • I love that Teachers Pay Teachers have sellers who offer book bin labels in all genres! And of course, you can always make your own!
    • I found several blogs and websites for ideas on how to organize your library. This blog discusses organizing the library by genre; Reading Rockets stresses that there is no right or wrong way to organize and they offer several suggestions, including the reminder to LABEL your books so they can find their way home if misplaced. Here’s a blog on Scholastic with more organization ideas.
  • Does your library invite browsing and using? Is there a comfortable area to read?
    • Check out these photos and decide for yourself! (Note that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to make it inviting and have comfortable seating…pillows, a rug, a lamp, beach chairs….just simple things will work!
  • Do many of the books have their covers facing out?
    • I had never even thought about having my books facing out (probably because I was an intermediate teacher coming from a high school teaching job) until I read the chapter in Jim Trelease’s book, The Read-Aloud Handbook, and learned about rain gutters in the classroom…wait, what? Rain gutters? YES! Trelease promoted the practice of hanging rain gutters on your classroom wall in order to house books with their covers facing out. Think about it…when you go to a book store next time, look around to see HOW many books are facing out so buyers will notice them.  So, the same thing in the classroom; books facing out will help the “buyers” in your classroom notice books easier. And while you are teaching a lesson, those students whose minds wander can study all the books and decide which one to check out sooner.
    • After I talked about this idea and showed photos at our district literacy training sessions, we suddenly had a rash of rain gutters popping up in classrooms! Eventually, when new schools were built, shelves specifically for this purpose were added. But even if you don’t have shelving like this, there are other ways to have your books facing out. Check out the photo gallery below.

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Oh, and last but not least…if you are a new teacher who does not have many books for your library, and you can’t necessarily afford a binge at Barnes and Noble…here are a few ideas for finding books:

  • Retiring teachers
  • Garage and estate sales
  • Library used book sales
  • Donors Choose
  • Ask parents for book donations
  • Use book club points
  • Craig’s List and eBay
  • Scholastic warehouse sales
  • Create an Amazon wish list and share with parents
  • Kids Need to Read donation application

A classroom library: If you build it, they will read.

– Jim Bailey, title of his Nerdy Book Club blog post

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Genre Study: Comic Books & Graphic Novels

The motivational quality of comic books constitutes an enticing appeal to reluctant readers that may serve to hook them on reading. If we can get students to read and enjoy reading, strategy instruction will become both meaningful and effective.

Melissa Barbee, ILA Literacy Daily

In my last post, I discussed how I used to teach literacy to my 5th and 6th graders through genre study… the best thing I ever did in teaching literacy! I also introduced my new Teachers Pay Teachers product, a complete genre study unit for both elementary and secondary teachers!

TpT Genre Study Unit Cover

One of my genre categories in the product is graphic novels and comic books. I was a HUGE fan of comics back in the 60s and 70s…my two favorites were the Archie comics and DC Illustrated Classics (two VERY different comic book genres!). I was already a passionate reader of regular books, so unlike other children, comics weren’t instrumental in me learning to read, but just another genre I loved!

However, for many of today’s children, who grow up surrounded by a plethora of visual media, comics can provide the perfect gateway into reading, as can graphic novels. While teaching my genre units back in the 90s, I did not even remotely think about using comics as a genre (I wish I could go back and yell at myself!), and graphic novels were not common yet. Today’s teachers have a wealth of resources in both of these areas to share with their students!

Back in May of this year, I attended the Denver Pop Culture Con, which is presented by Pop Culture Classroom, whose mission it is to “inspire a love of learning, increase literacy, celebrate diversity and build community through the tools of popular culture and the power of self-expression” (taken from the home page of their website). This organization provides a wealth of resources for teachers who want to introduce the genres of comic books and graphic novels into their classroom, as well as resources on how students can create their own comics!

I attended several sessions led by authors and artists of comics and graphic novels who shared some of the latest and greatest graphic novels out there; so many of them turn events and people in history into a comics format; others include more diversity in their characters.  I took plenty of photos of the books they were discussing…check them out below in the slideshow with my descriptions/thoughts!

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Back in my literacy coaching/training days (2006=2009), I learned about Comic Life and loved all the ways the teachers in my district were using these! I’m sure Comic Life is bigger and better now, so students can do so much more with this app! Take a peek at the slideshow:

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Of course, being a tech geek, I had to try it out as well, so I made a comic about my cat! But see how much fun your students could have both writing and reading through a comics medium?

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I plan to have several of my tutoring students explore this genre in the near future, and will share what they read and create. See below for all kinds of resources for you…and thanks for reading my blog!

Pop Culture Classroom:
Graphic Novels Teaching Guides
Educational Comix Series
Curricula Units
Lending Library (currently only for schools in the Denver Metro Area)
More Comics Resources

Other Resources:
Comic Life in Education
Copetoons: Comic resources for kids and educators from Mike Cope
Abdo Digital Bookshelf (Comic books that can be checked out digitally!)
My Google Drive Folder
Hoopla: Check out digital comic books with a library card
Comics Plus app: Another site where you can check out digital comics with a library card
My Pinterest board for elementary comic books and graphic novels, and my secondary board for the same genre

If you have or are currently using comic books and graphic novels in your classroom, please add your thoughts and ideas down in the comments!

Pinterest Poster: Comics & Graphic Novels
Image by InspiredImages from Pixabay

Teaching Literacy through Genres

..when students learn how to recognize and use genres, they are building the background they need to cope with new and unfamiliar texts. – Emily Kissler, ASCD

Growing up, I was a voracious reader, and all the books I read were from many different genres.  While raising my own daughters, I encouraged them to also read a wide variety of genres…and when I started teaching, I taught literacy through genres. No state standard, principal, or colleague told me I had to do it that way; it just made sense to me! By organizing my instruction around genres, I was able to meet both the state and district standards in both reading and writing. In addition, I was able to teach such skills and topics as reading strategies, as well as grammar, punctuation, and spelling throughout our work in the genres.

Here were the steps I used 25 years ago to teach each of the genres and how I think it should be done now:

  1. I would first introduce each genre, going over the defining characteristics of the genre. Now, I would have the kids read several short excerpts or passages from the chosen genre and have them come up with common elements for the genre.
  2. Students would then choose novels from the targeted genre, either from my classroom library or with the help of the school media specialist. One change I would make: in addition to their novel, I have them read several short reading passages in each of the genres, perhaps during guided reading groups. One book in the genre is not enough to expose a genre to the students.
  3. For some of the genres, I would have students write a story in that genre. For example, during our historical fiction unit, I combined literacy and social studies by having them choose a period in history, research that period, then write a short fiction story set during that time period. One year we had a “History Fair” where the students created a display board on that time period, gathered or made artifacts and other books, and shared their historical fiction story with parents and other students.  Here are a few photos from that event! Now in our technology era, students could now do a multimedia presentation on their historical period!

    After our Folk and Fairy Tale unit, I had students write their fractured Cinderella story. We had stories set on ranches where the Cinderella character lost her cowboy boot, and one in a bowling area where she lost her bowling shoe!
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  4. If I did not have students write a story in that genre, we would integrate the arts into the genre study…such as creating Medusa masks to go along with our Mythology unit, or performing fractured fairy tale skits! No updates; this stuff is STILL fun!

5. During our poetry genre unit, my students read, discussed and wrote many different types of poems: haikus, narrative, concrete, free verse, cinquain, diamante, etc. Each student then had their poems put together in a booklet. Later, while working with my GT students, I did the same thing but had them create their portfolio in Google Slides.

After retiring from the school district, I started my own tutoring business and still used the genre approach with many of my students. I found that struggling readers, in particular, have not been exposed to many genres and really need that exposure to them before secondary school. I created a Google Doc listing all the genres so the student could keep track of each genre read and answer questions about the genre.

Miah Genre Study_Page_1Riley Reading Genre Project_Page_1I also have my tutoring students write in some of the genres. Here a few examples of their writing!

Riley Gregory Fable draft
Fable!
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After reading mysteries, my student wrote her own mystery!
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Fractured Fairy Tale based on Hansel & Gretel

I also created a Quizlet so my students can test themselves on all of the reading genres; click HERE to access it!

I love teaching about and through genres so much that I had to put this entire unit together into a Teachers Pay Teachers product. This is a COMPLETE unit that can be accessed in Google Drive for both elementary and secondary teachers!  The unit includes:

  • Links to my Elementary Genre Study Pinterest board and Secondary Genre Study Pinterest board with hundreds of book choices for ALL genres! Oh, now YOU have the links! 🙂 Many picture books are included in addition to chapter books. These boards will continue to be updated as I find more books!
  • A link to my personal Google Drive folder with hundreds of reading passages, short stories and teacher resources in ALL genres! (Sorry, no link…it’s in the product, though!)
  • A Google Doc for students with activities based on Bloom’s Taxonomy for ALL genres!
  • A Google Doc with hundreds of links to teacher resources!

Here’s a sneak preview:

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Click HERE to check out my Genre Study unit on Teachers Pay Teachers!

And don’t forget to follow my 50 Pinterest boards JUST for teachers! Click HERE!

And as always, I welcome your questions and comments below! Thank you for reading this blog!

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A Back to School Unit: The I Am Journey

How do I show up in the world? How do I want to show up in the world? What do I want to give and receive out of life?”

Joy Thomas, on the Crixeo website

On the first day of school, and the first week and the first month…students and teachers are busy getting to know one another through a variety of activities. But it’s also important for students to get to know themselves! In this post, I will share with you a few ideas that will serve as both a way for you and other students to find about each other and for students to explore themselves as individuals, learners, and citizens of the world. I call of these activities the “I Am Journey.”

The first idea is a super fun activity I did with my 5th and 6th graders during the first week of school! I can’t remember where I got the idea from (this was 23 years ago!), but I found directions for you online on how to create these. Using butcher paper and markers, I had students help each other to trace their body outlines, and then cut it out. Next, they created a “Me Collage”, adding in words, designs, photos, and illustrations of who they were as a person, and as well as their favorite hobbies and passions. The students presented their Me Collages to the class, then we hung him in the hallway. Check out some of their creations below!

 

While working as a Gifted and Talented Facilitator, I used a poem format that I’m sure many of you are aware of…the I Am Poem! I chose this poem because my goal for the year was to help students develop a sense of identity and become self-regulated learners.  I then discovered a unit in the Autonomous Learner Model book by George Betts, called “Journey Into Self.”  The same publisher also has another unit called “Journey Into My World”. I decided to build my year-long theme around this concept and to launch the theme, I had students create visual I Am Poems!

To start with, I created an I Am Poem for myself to serve as a model for the students, then walked them through the creation of their own poem, using THIS template. You can find many variations of this same template online.  Here’s a sample poem that one of my students created. Next, I had students use copyright-free images they found online (that’s an entire lesson in and of itself!) to turn their poem into a visual I Am Poem. Most students used Google Slideshows, but some used other media such as a movie with music. Another student used Glogster to create her visual poem.  You can check out some of their presentations HERE; many had their photo on the initial slide and throughout the poem, so I had to delete those for student privacy. Below are some images from their presentations.

The classroom teacher for my 5th grade GT students wanted the students to create math goals in their Advanced Learning Plan, so I had them all create a math version of the I Am Poem.  Then, at the end of the year, I had all of my students complete an End of Year I Am Poem to reflect on their learning throughout the year. Many added in this update to their original Google Slide presentations. Here are some examples of what they added about their learning during the past year:

My younger students did something called an I Am Story.  Click HERE for an example by one of my students and HERE for the template.

And here’s an idea I always wanted to do, but never got around to it…creating an “I Am” Wall with the students’ names and the first line from their poem!

I Am Wall

I hope that you will use the “I Am” poem with your students! Let me know your thoughts or questions in the comments below!

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Travel and Teaching: Washington D.C. Part 2

IMG_1087Here’s the second post in my Travel and Teaching series (check out the FIRST one) about how teachers can bring their own travels back to their classrooms and enrich global and cultural awareness in their students. In a blog by Kay K. from Educational Tours, she writes “…[travel] promotes cultural understanding and encourages open-mindedness during key formative years.” Even if your students can’t travel, or have not traveled much, they can learn so much about other places if their teachers share their own experiences.

My first visit to the Washington D.C. area was an incredible learning experience for me! While there, I kept wishing I had a class full of students I could share all of this with, as I did in the past. Fortunately, I have been able to use my experiences on this trip to create some learning activities for my tutoring students and readers of this blog!

Arlington Cemetery

Arlington Cemetery…WOW! When I asked my elementary and high school tutoring students if they had heard about this place, most said no and none had visited there. So wrong! All students need to know about this beautiful, historic cemetery and the sacrifices our American soldiers have made for us over the last few hundred years. We were able to see the Kennedy gravesites, the gorgeous cherry trees in full blossom and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Below I shared a professional video of the Changing of the Guard as we were on the wrong end of the viewing area to get a good video. The one thing that impressed me the most about seeing this ceremony was the incredible respect and silence the hundreds of tourists had while watching this…even the children. Very amazing and moving! While walking through the cemetery I tried to read as many gravestones as I could; these people deserve to be remembered and I’m sure many Americans have ancestors buried here.  Below are some teaching resources for your students; feel free to use my photos as well (I have captions on all of them so you can explain them to your students).

Arlington Resources:
My Photos of Arlington
Kiddle Info on Arlington
Ben’s Guide Info on Arlington
Ducksters Info on Arlington
Kiddle Info on Robert F. Kennedy
Info on Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Info on the Kennedy gravesite at Arlington
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Facts for kids: Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Video of the Changing of the Guard

IMG_0077National Archives Museum

We were so fortunate to be able to visit this incredible museum before hours and with just a few people! My stepson was re-enlisting in the army and this time, his ceremony was held in the rotunda of this beautiful place. Along with our family, and his wives’ family, there was just one other soldier re-enlisting, his family and the commanding officers of the two soldiers. This was an extremely moving ceremony to watch, especially as the soldiers vowed to uphold the Constitution right in FRONT of the actual document! We also had a tour guide who told us about all the documents on display, as well as the beautiful murals above them. We were not allowed to take photos, but they had an official army photographer who took pictures of my husband and me in front of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights! Needless to say, this teacher/history geek was in heaven!

Mount Vernon

Another exciting first for me…visiting the home of our first President! We had not planned this trip in advance and we would have had to wait three hours for the tour inside the home, so we will plan to do that on the next visit. However, we still able to walk around the home, see the recreated gardens and farm buildings, visit the slave quarters and the museum. I think one of the hardest things to teach our students is why our founding fathers had slaves, especially since they espousing freedom for all. Here’s a resource to help with that topic,  another and one more.  My favorite area of Mount Vernon was the front porch with the gorgeous views of the Potomac River. Thankfully, this view has been protected with no hotels, restaurants or other commercial buildings in sight. I found out later that this protected view took a great deal of effort and contributions!  I can just imagine George, Martha and their family and visitors sitting on the porch and enjoying this vista.

My Photos
Mount Vernon Official Website
Info and resources for teachers
Info and resources for students
Primary Sources
Dusksters Bio on George Washington
Ducksters Info on Martha Washington
Kiddle Info on Mount Vernon

Miscellaneous Washington D.C.

Sadly on this visit, we didn’t get into the White House or the Capitol Building…but for sure on the next visit! But here are some teaching resources for you and your students!

IMG_0146White House
(Can you see the sharpshooters on top of the White House? The security is crazy there!)

Kiddle Info on the White House
Fact Monster: The White House
American History for Kids: The White House
The White House history
The White House history in photos
Secret Service facts for kids

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The U.S. Capitol Building
U.S. Capitol Building
Kiddle Info for kids
Education resources for teachers and students

 

 

 

That’s it for this blog…until next time! Please post any comments or questions below!

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Persuasive Writing Project: What Famous American Needs a National Monument?

In my last blog post, I shared resources for helping students learn about our nation’s capital and national monuments, as well as a new TpT product I created, inspired on my trip to Washington D.C. I have been using this activity with a few of my tutoring students, and it’s going SO well! I hope that you will get just as excited about this idea as I am and consider using this in your elementary or secondary classroom next year!

Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 7.07.46 PMI first started out showing a presentation (the TpT product) to see if they recognized and knew what the monuments were for and who/what they honored. Next, I showed my students photos of some Americans who do NOT have a national memorial and may deserve one (this is also in the presentation).

Famous Americans without monumentsI had my students choose one of these individuals or groups I had on a list (see right) or they could also choose someone of their own choice). Next came research to find out what these people did to make them worthy of our acclaim. To save time in our hour-long tutoring session, I linked some Newsela articles and web pages from kid-friendly sites such as Ducksters and Kiddle. After researching and taking notes, I let the students choose to do either a persuasive writing piece or presentation to convince others that this person or group deserves a monument!

Finally, I plan to have the students design the memorial, using online tools/apps, drawing or building. (I will update on that later!) I also love the idea of using Legos…this idea came from a recent blog from Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher!

Miah Research Organizer (1)Code Breakers_Page_1

One of my students chose Katherine Johnson, the famed NASA “computer” whose work helped astronauts get to the moon.  She is using this graphic organizer on the left to research. Another student chose the female codebreakers from WWII and chose to not do the organizer, but still is taking notes in an organized method (photo on above right).  This student and I are beginning our tutoring sessions with code-breaking activities; some from the Kid’s Zone on the CIA website and some Crypto Mind Benders from The Critical Thinking Co.  He brought one of his school papers to show me that he had written his name in code and his teacher figured it out! Check out our photos below:

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To help him with his thesis statement for his persuasive presentation, I had him use a graphic organizer from ASCD that I’ve used with students in the past. It is such a simple, visual way for students to craft this statement. I first modeled for him as if I was doing my research on why Sacagawea needs a national monument. Our thesis statements actually ended up more like opening paragraphs, but that’s okay. He got the idea!

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I am so excited to see what my other students do with this activity; I plan to have more do it over the summer, so watch for further updates! My next blog will continue my “Travel and Teaching” theme, with more resources for students to learn about our nation’s capital and another TpT product to go along!

In the meantime, be sure to check out this National Monuments presentation and activity in my Teachers Pay Teachers store (and please follow me on TpT as I only have six followers…)

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Our School Wide Star Wars Day

A long time ago (well two years ago today), in a school far, far away (actually about a 30 minute drive), my students and I planned a school-wide Star Wars Day for May the 4th!  Enjoy our photos and hopefully this will give you some ideas for your own classroom or school Star Wars Day! May the 4th be with you!

During my last year before retirement, while working as a GT Facilitator, my entire theme for my gifted and talented students was Growth Mindset. Check out this past blog on how I used this theme throughout the year. My students and I were all big Star Wars fans, so I led them through some project-based learning to plan and carry out a school-wide Star Wars Day! I gave the reins to the kids and had them meet with the principal to get permission, plan with the building engineer for what we would need for the day, and create presentations, a trivia game, and morning announcements promoting the event.  Check out the slideshows below to see all we did! And a HUGE thank you to my former students who helped me plan and carry out this day!

Planning

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The Big Day

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Star Wars Day Fashion

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Be sure to check out my Pinterest board on Star Wars in the classroom!

A huge thank you to George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars saga, and founder of the George Lucas Educational Foundation (Edutopia)!

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