Enhancing Education through Technology

Successful Practices


Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg!:A Grade 7 Language Arts Unit



Task Title


Task Discipline








†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Lesson/Unit


CT Curriculum Frameworks


CT Student Technology Standards




Student Work




Material Resources


Technology Resources

Submitted by

Mary Blain

Grade Level

Grade 7


Language Arts

Email Address of primary author


School / District

Windham Middle School, Windham Public Schools

RESC / Contact person and email

EASTCONN/Jane Cook, Donna Drasch & Rebecca Pilver

jcook@eastconn.org, ddrasch@eastconn.org & rpilver@eastconn.org


Task Title Spice It Up A Notch With Nutmeg!


Task DisciplinesLanguage Arts



††††††††† Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg!, is a collaborative project developed by EASTCONN Staff Development Specialists, Donna Drasch and Rebecca Pilver for teachers and their students in grades 4 through 8.The project provides supports to classroom teachers to use Connecticutís Nutmeg Book Award program in a way that addresses Connecticutís Standards through an authentic, engaging, online project.The project is designed for student work to be showcased on the World Wide Web and for teachers to share their ideas with colleagues.



††††††††† Each year since 1993, Connecticut youth in grades 4-8 have had a unique opportunity to participate in choosing ďthe best of the bestĒ in childrenís and adolescentís literature.The Nutmeg Book Award (http://www.nutmegaward.org/index.htm), jointly sponsored by the Connecticut Library Association (CLA) and the Connecticut Educational Media Association (CEMA), encourages children to read quality literature and to choose their favorite from a list of ten nominated titles.Any child who has read one or more books on the Nutmeg nominee list may vote for his or her favorite book.Votes are compiled from students across the State of Connecticut and the winner is announced and posted on the Nutmeg Book Award archives (http://www.nutmegaward.org/Archives/index.htm) Web site each year.

††††††††† The Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg! project began as a collaborative brainstorm.Gail Zeba, Childrenís Librarian at Windham Public Library, had purchased multiple copies of the 2006-07 Nutmeg Books but she was having difficulty attracting students to the library and getting them excited about reading the Nutmeg nominees.At the same time, EASTCONN Staff Developers, Donna Drasch, Rebecca Pilver and Helen Weingart, were percolating the idea of creating a virtual Standards Based Learning Center (http://www.sblceastconn.org) where teachers could go to find materials and resources to support teaching and learning.

††††††††† During the fall of 2006, Gail met with EASTCONN Staff Developers, Jane Cook and Donna Drasch, to discuss possibilities for how to spread the word about the wonderful Nutmeg books and how to get Windham students reading and voting on their favorites.Jane and Donna went to the staff at Windham Middle School (WMS) and put out the word about a wonderful opportunity to give WMS students access to high quality literature and participate in the Nutmeg Award voting.Then Donna and Rebecca began working on creating resources and materials that would support an online collaborative project related to the Nutmeg Book Award.Thus the Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg! (http://www.sblceastconn.org/nutmegbooks.htm) project was hatched.

††††††††† Mary Blain, a gifted Language Arts teacher at WMS, is constantly searching for high quality literature and resources that support teaching and learning.Mary heard about the Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg! online collaborative project and the possibilities of bringing the Nutmeg Award nominees to her students and happily volunteered her class to participate.It was a perfect union.


The Lesson / Unit

        Unit objectives

Spice It up a Notch with Nutmeg!:

  • Develops and builds Big Ideas about effective persuasive arguments
  • Promotes discourse as a way to build knowledge and understanding
  • Encourages student voice through persuasive writing and dialogue
  • Requires students to defend/support a position citing evidence
  • Requires students to use a rubric to develop and evaluate a product for submission
  • Includes research-based effective teaching strategies
  • Helps prepare students for the new literacy skills required by information and communication technologies such as participating in online discussion boards, blogs, and monitored chats.


        Task description

††††††††† Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg! began in Mary Blainís class with book talks to introduce students to the teen Nutmeg books.Gail Zeba, Childrenís Librarian at Windham Public Library, came to the Windham Middle School bearing boxes of Nutmeg Award nominee books and presented the highlights of each book through a brief book talk so that students would have more than just a book cover and jacket blurb when choosing which book theyíd like to start reading.After listening to Gailís book talks, the students were eager to select their first book.

††††††††† Mary asked students to rank order the top 5 books that they would like to read from the Nutmeg Award nominee list.She grouped them into Literature Circles base on the books they selected, giving each child his or her first or second choice so that the size of the Lit Circles would be roughly equal.The students divided their books into 7-8 sections for reading.Longer books were 8 sections while shorter books were 7 sections.As they read, they wrote in their reading journals.In their reading journals they included a summary of what they had read as well as questions that would stimulate a discussion in their Lit Circle.

††††††††† After the Lit Circles completed their reading and discussions, the class brainstormed possible projects.In the individual Lit Circles, each group listed those projects from the class list that their group might be interested in doing.Mary had the students use a Decision-Making Matrix from her Kids as Planners materials. Each group established the criteria that they would use to help them choose their particular groupís project.

††††††††† Once they had chosen their project, they used the Time Line tool from her Kids as Planners materials to plan their project.This tool helped them set out their target activities and assign group members responsibilities for the work and deadlines for completing the work.

††††††††† As they worked on their projects in their groups, they had to keep a Record of Group Work.This served as a record of their accomplishments along the way and as a formative assessment of how well their group was working collaboratively.

††††††††† When the projects were finished, each group developed a class presentation of their project.After finishing their presentation, each group completed the Reflection (assessment).Include student work samples.

††††††††† Once everyone had read at least 2 books, they also had the opportunity to go into the computer lab and log into the Nutmeg Books eSchool Builder online course site and participate in the Discussion Board.They jumped right into the threaded discussions in ways that Mary didnít expect.Instead of doing a formal written response, they were looking at in a more conversational way.After Mary read their responses and talked with them about it, she asked Donna and Rebecca if they could open up the blog feature in eSchool Builder so that students could ďblogĒ with each other about the books they were reading.The Blog was set up but unfortunately there were technical difficulties in the computer lab on the day they were scheduled to use it.However, some of the students have independently gone to the Blog and made entries.Some still continue to use the Discussion Board and the Blog on their own even though the Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg! project has been officially completed.

††††††††† Since the Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg! online collaborative project has a student showcase section, some of the students converted their print materials into electronic format, using the expertise of their Computer Teacher, Syndney Gilbey.Once Sydney forwarded the projects for posting on the Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg!participant Showcase, the students viewed their projects and reflected on what went well for them and what they might have done differently.Interestingly, even though they had been offered PowerPoint as a choice for their final project, all groups chose to develop print products.After viewing their print projects converted into electronic format, they said, ďWe could have just put it on the computer to begin withĒ.Mary expects that many more of next yearís students will start with electronic formats for their projects.


        Context within which the work was produced

††††††††† Students in Mary Blainís class are required to read 2-3 books each marking period.The Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg! project was incorporated as part of their regular class assignments.After completing the projects, each student was required to read at least one more Nutmeg book and complete an Outside Reading Response.

        Prior learning required

††††††††† Mary had previously already reviewed questioning and summarizing techniques using the Reciprocal Teaching techniques that were presented in last yearís professional development sessions at Windham Middle School.Students had a clear sense of what makes a good, thought-provoking question.They also understood what to include in a good summary.Mary did team building and establishing ground rules in the small groups before students started their Literature Circle discussion.


        Types of groupings used in this task

††††††††† Students worked in small groups that were created based on interest in specific books.Students were asked to prioritize their top five book choices.Mary gave all students either their 1st or 2nd choice because she wanted to have fairly even sized groups of no more than 5 or 6 students.



        Any differentiated strategies used in this task

††††††††† The entire project was designed to provide opportunities for differentiation in content, process and products:

*       Content - Students were given choice in their Nutmeg Book reading.Their book choices then directed what content they would learn.Each group focused reading and discussing their chosen book and then on doing research on the topic of their book so that they could acquire the background knowledge they needed to develop their final product.

*       Process Ė Though all students engaged in Literature Circles and in developing a final product that represented their learning, each group was given opportunities to design their own discussion questions and to develop a final project that represented the interests and learning styles of the group.

*       Products - Students were given choice in their culminating projects.Each group chose to approach the final product in its own unique way.Every product was different but each product was a reflection of what the students had learned during the course of the Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg! project.


CT Curriculum Frameworks

English/Language Arts

Standard 1:Reading and Responding

Standard 1.1 Students use appropriate strategies before, during and after reading in order to construct.

-Select and organize relevant information from text to summarize.

-Draw conclusions and use evidence to substantiate them by using texts heard, read, and viewed.

-Make and justify inferences from explicit and/or implicit information.


Standard 1.2 Students interpret, analyze and evaluate text in order to extend understanding and appreciation.

-Interpret information that is implied in a text.

-Make and support judgments about texts.

-Discuss and respond to texts by making text-to-self, text-to-text and text-to-world connections.


Standard 1.4 Students communicate with others to create interpretations of written, oral and visual texts.

-Elicit, discuss and respect the opinions of others about written, oral and visual texts.

-Persuade listeners about judgments and opinions of works read, written and viewed.


Standard 2:Exploring and Responding to Literature

Standard 2.2 Students explore multiple responses to literature.

-Develop a critical stance and cite evidence to support the stance.


Standard 3:Communicating with Others

Standard 3.1 Students use descriptive, narrative, expository, persuasive and poetic modes

-Use the appropriate features of persuasive writing.

Standard 3.2 Students prepare, publish and/or present work appropriate to audience, purpose and task.

-Determine purpose, point of view and audience, and choose an appropriate written, oral or visual format.

-Use strategies to generate and develop ideas for speaking, writing and visual activities.


CT Student Technology Standards

Student Technology Competency Standard 3: Technology Productivity Tools and Student Technology Competency Standard 4: Technology Communications Tools

Educational experiences in Grades 5-8 will assure that students:

         Design, develop, publish, and present products (e.g., Web pages, videotapes) using technology resources that demonstrate and communicate curriculum concepts to audiences inside and outside the classroom

         Collaborate with peers, experts, and others using telecommunications and collaborative tools to investigate curriculum-related problems, issues, and information, and to develop solutions or products for audiences inside and outside the classroom

         Use technology tools (e.g., multimedia authoring, presentation, Web tools, digital cameras, scanners) for individual and collaborative writing, communication, and publishing activities to create knowledge products for audiences inside and outside the classroom

         Use telecommunications and online resources (e.g., e-mail, online discussions, Web environments) to participate in collaborative problem-solving activities for the purpose of developing solutions or products for audiences inside and outside the classroom



††††††††† Mary reviewed the studentsí work during the Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg! project with both formative and summative assessments.Students were assessed while they were reading, while they were working on their projects and after they had completed their projects.

††††††††† While students were reading their first Nutmeg Award nominee, they were required to show the written summaries of their reading in their reading journals.They were graded on their journals.Mary set the expectation that all students would get an A as long as they had written an adequate summary of the book they were reading and appropriate questions that provoked stimulating discussions in their Literature Circle.Mary also devised a teacher-made checklist that she used when she observed the students in their Literature Circles to ensure that students were actively participating and contributing to the knowledge of the group.

††††††††† While students were reading their second (or more) Nutmeg Award nominees, they were required to write an Outside Reading Response. This gave students a way of summarizing and evaluating their Nutmeg Award nominee books based on a series of questions.

††††††††† While students worked in their small groups on their projects, they were required to complete a Record of Group Work sheet on a regular basis.This encouraged groups to assess their progress along the way and to evaluate the effectiveness of their groupís process and product.

††††††††† After completing their projects, students presented their small groupís work to the whole class.As students reviewed each othersí work, they received feedback on their projects from their classmates and from their teacher.

††††††††† The summative assessment consisted of a written Reflection on the Nutmeg Book Project. In these written pieces, students reflected on both their process and their product.These reflections also gave Mary feedback to inform her planning and preparation for the next yearís Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg! project.

††††††††† Mary reviewed all of the student work as well as the formative and summative assessments and incorporated that into each studentís final grade for the marking period.


Student Work (files attached)

Student Projects Ė All of the groups created print materials as their final products.In order to showcase their products on the Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg!Web site, those print materials needed to be scanned and stored in an electronic format.The following links show examples of student final products from the Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg!project.These are PowerPoint presentations with scanned images of the printed products:


Reflections on the Nutmeg Book Project Student Work Samples - The following links show examples of student reflections on the Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg! project:

Reflections Student Work Sample 1

Reflections Student Work Sample 2

Reflections Student Work Sample 3




††††††††† I think that the Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg! online collaborative project is really neat.Teachers in grades 4-8 can so easily adapt the activities to whatever theyíre doing within their classroom, yet it gets kids connected to other classes and to other schools.When the students started participating in the threaded discussions, they took off in a way that I never expected.Iíll definitely be doing it again next year.

††††††††† It will be different next year because of the time factor.Weíll get the books earlier so we wonít have the same time pressure that we had this year.This year we got started on the day before the Thanksgiving break and the students had to complete their reading and projects by the end of January so they could participate in the Nutmeg Award voting.Next year, I might choose to do one book as a whole class reading and then do the Literature Circles and outside readings afterwards.Since we know what next yearís Nutmeg Award nominees are, Iíd like to find more resources for the topics to help support the kids as they read and work on their projects.This will give them more background knowledge about the topics of next yearís books.

††††††††† Iíll also incorporate even more technology next year by scheduling more time in the computer lab.I can anticipate now what the studentsí reactions will be when we go into the computer lab.Iíll be better able to prepare them to use the different aspects of the eSchool Builder online collaborative tools Ė the threaded discussions and the blog - before we even go into the computer lab.Iíll also encourage the kids to develop their products on the computer to begin with rather than converting them to PowerPoint afterwards.

††††††††† Another change Iím planning for next year is to engage the students in developing a rubric for evaluating the final products.This will encourage the students to use higher order thinking skills when helping create the rubric and when assessing each otherís work.



Material Resources

        Poster boards






Technology Resources and Web Links


        Power Point (part of the MS Office Professional Suite)

        High speed Internet access

        eSchool Builder Course site (www.eastconn.org/eschool)