Letters to Malala Yousafzai

A group of my seventh and eighth grade intermediate ESL students  felt shocked and outraged after reading an article about the Taliban’s attack on 14-year-old award-winning activist, writer, and student Malala Yousafzai. They decided to write her letters in order to wish her a speedy recovery and to ask questions and express their feelings.

Quddus’s Letter to Malala: “I felt sorrow, I was weeping for your recovery.”

Diligence’s Letter to Malala: Human Rights


Muslim student Nadira felt compelled to explain the differences between her understandings of Islam and the images conveyed by the Taliban via the media. 

page 2 of Nadira’s letter

Angely’s Letter, page 1

Angely’s Letter, page 2: asking questions about regret

Mariah’s Letter to Malala: I think the Taliban should suffer.

Angel’s Letter: “You are like the second governor.”

Pearl Teaches Us The Parts of an Informal Letter

Pearl wrote a thank you letter to her grandmother who lives in Massachusetts. In this video, she explains the five components of an informal letter, and then she reads her letter.

Expository Writing: How To Complete a Word Search Puzzle

Pearl and I used shared writing to compose an expository “how-to” writing piece. In this video, Pearl explains her steps for solving a word search puzzle using her written piece as well as the word search puzzle itself.

Pearl’s Personal Narrative

Today Pearl and I completed her personal narrative, titled “The Day I Almost Drowned”.

Mrs. Dines: Hi Pearl. Can you tell me about what you did today?

Pearl: I made a plan.

Mrs. Dines: How did you make a plan?

Pearl: I made a list of plans.

Mrs. Dines: What was on the list?

Pearl: Stories.

Mrs. Dines: Then, what did you do?

Pearl: Picked one of the stories.

Mrs. Dines: Then, what did you do?

Pearl: Organized it. We were writing the story again and making a video. We made a movie, and we were done.

Mrs. Dines: Was it easy, medium, or hard?

Pearl: Hard because I had to write a whole passage.


Book Review: Black Ships Before Troy

The cover displays Helen looming above the black ships.

Black Ships Before Troy: The Story of the Iliad (ISBN:  0-553-49483-X)by Rosemary Sutcliff retells Homer’s epic poem in the form of a novel. Several themes emerge in this retelling –  betrayal, loss, revenge, and heroism.

Agamemnon Betrays Achilles

Achilles feels betrayed by Agamemnon, the king of the Greeks, when Agamemnon threatens to take Briseis – a captured maiden and spoil of war – away from Achilles, and, although he is the pride of the Greek army, Achilles refuses to fight any longer for Agamemnon.

The war wages on, however, and the Greeks become more and more disheartened. Agamemnon wants to give up on the war entirely, but Nestor, an old wise man, advises him to beg forgiveness from Achilles by offering him Briseis as well as many riches if Achilles will agree to rejoin the Greeks in battle. Two accomplished members of the Greek army, Odysseus and Ajax, are sent to make this offer to Achilles.

Achilles, still brimming with anger, refuses the offer, declaring his distrust for Agamemnon. However, upon witnessing a severely wounded friend returning from battle, Achilles sends his best friend Patroclus out to gather news from the front lines. Patroclus returns extremely distressed by the scenes of war, and he requests to borrow Achilles’ armor, as Patroclus intends to fight in disguise as Achilles.

The Death of Patroclus

Achilles allows Patroclus to borrow the armor, but he carefully instructs Patroclus to fight only until the Trojans are beaten back from the Greeks’ black ships. However, Patroclus does not heed Achilles’ instructions, and he continues to fight in battle even after the Trojans have cleared away from the ships. Patroclus perishes at the hands of Hector, the Trojan leader, who strips the famed armor of Achilles from Patroclus’s body.

The Revenge Upon Hector

Upon learning of the loss of Patroclus, Achilles becomes mad with grief, and he wishes to avenge the death of his friend. After obtaining new armor procured by his mother, Thetis, Achilles kills Hector, and then Achilles gruesomely straps his body to a chariot and drags it through the filth of the battlefield. For many days, Achilles continues to anguish in guilt at the death of his friend, and he reacts to these emotions by further abusing the body of Hector. However, upon advice of Thetis, Achilles finally returns the body of Hector to Hector’s father, Priam, the King of Troy, and Achilles and Priam weep together in their grief for those that they have lost in the war.

The Heroism of Odysseus

While Homer’s Iliad concludes with the funeral of Hector, Sutcliff continues the narrative with several more tales of the Trojan War, including two stories that illustrate the heroism of Odysseus, the central character in The Iliad‘s sequel: The Odyssey. The first story, “The Luck of Troy”, displays how Odysseus’s chicanery enables him to steal The Palladium, a black stone that symbolizes protection of Troy and the Trojans. The second, the famed story of “The Wooden Horse” and “The Fall of Troy”, shows Odysseus’s cunning and patience as the Greeks emerge as the victors of the Trojan War and as Odysseus saves the life of his long-time friend, the famed beauty Helen.


Suttcliff’s short and easy-to-read version of The Iliad serves as a supplement to or preview for translated versions of the original text. Although it omits much of the detailed descriptions, historical backdrops, and deep emotions of a translation such as that of Robert Fitzgerald (ISBN: 0-385-05941-8), Suttcliff’s retelling keeps the narrative flowing with action and purposefulness that makes the epic tale accessible to young adult readers.

Note: I found this article useful in the preparation of this book review.

The best way to begin writing is to begin writing.

“The best way to begin writing is to begin writing.” – Mrs. Dines

Perhaps I wasn’t the first person to say that. But that’s what I tell my students, and I am taking my own advice. I have been pondering the idea of starting an education blog since April when I met Lillie Marshall, the author of Teaching Traveling. As a National Board for Professional Teaching Standards candidate-in-progress, I had been thinking of ways to improve my professional leadership and advocacy, and writing about my passions online – literacy, ESL, and special education – had not occurred to me.

In public education, expressing one’s perspective too strongly can sometimes backfire or be misinterpreted. I wondered how many educators would really put themselves out there in an honest and compelling way. After all, education is honest and compelling work  – teachers work with real live human beings who contain all the beautiful messiness of life.

I began searching for educational blogs, and I noticed how the teachers who write online sound professional, capable, and interesting….and resourceful…and people are truly interested what they have to say, based on all of the comments that their blogs receive. When I came across Shelley Wright’s article on blogging as the new persuasive essay, it made me consider the idea that blogging would help me model academic risk-taking for my students. And I decided it would be worth it.

I am fairly nervous to put myself and my perspectives on education out “there” on the “World Wide Web”. What if it gets too personal? What if I get “in trouble” for something I post? What if people criticize my ideas? Or, worst of all, what if no one cares? But, I am going to take the risk because my students might see me as a model of academic writing, other people might benefit from the resources I post, and I might have the potential to help somebody that I would not necessarily connect with in another way.

My goal is to post on here every day, so look for a little something from me daily, and perhaps I can make a change in literacy for someone, somewhere. There, I began!