Tricky Titles

title notecard

Distinguishing titles is a tricky punctuation kind of thing for students. After reviewing the rules for capitalizing titles, I usually give kids a guideline for formatting titles. I don’t know what to do with every type of title, but I have a rule for the major ones we come across in most school situations.

Big things are underlined; little things have quotations marks around them.

Think about a basic chapter book. The name of the whole book will be underlined (a big thing), but the chapter titles within the book will be identified inside quotation marks (a little thing). The name of a newspaper is underlined (big thing), and the name of an article within the newspaper (little thing) is in quotes.

If students can remember this tip, they can usually take a stab at marking titles correctly in their writing. Different English language and editing resources have different guidelines, so the important thing is to be consistent with whatever style you choose to use. For school-aged kids, it is best just to give a “rule” that they will follow while in the classroom. When the students go to high school or college, they can consult a current style guide, which will probably have changed multiple times by then anyway.

Should be Underlined

  • Chapter books (Charlotte’s Web)
  • Name of a poetry anthology or a poem that is the length of a book (Where the Sidewalk Ends, The Odyssey)
  • Newspaper names (New York Times)
  • Plays and movie names (The Lion King)

Should be in Quotes

  • Name of a chapter within a book (“Wilbur”)
  • Picture book (“Brave Bitsy and the Bear”)
  • Poem name (“Fog”)
  • Individual newspaper article (“Light Earthquake Felt in Anchorage”)
  • Song title (“Second Hand News”)

There is one final option. If you are using a computer for your writing assignment– italicize every title. According to most editing sources, titles can be italicized whether it is a big or small document. Word processing eliminates the need to remember the difference between underlining and using quotation marks. Since I am old school, I would still probably have students know the difference between titles… and maybe even handwrite them… in cursive. Do you have a policy for marking titles? Please share.

Click Writing Titles for a copy of the notes for your classroom or refrigerator at home.

Capitalize It!

I am always miffed when I collect a paper, and a student has forgotten to capitalize his or her name. (I also get ticked when students misspell their name, but you can refer to the cursive post for help with that problem.) I recognize that there may be some things that are difficult to know whether or not to capitalize in the 4th grade, but other things are not.

capitalization rules

The students just finished up their research papers about American businesses, and I had to have a capitalization rant with them. There are some capitalization rules that I think we should all live by and use without being reminded. Capitalizing the name of the company and the company founder a person researched for 2 weeks should happen automatically without any outside assistance. And, as I had to remind my students, auto-correct and spell check won’t catch everything!

Capitalize “I” by itself— no questions asked, always and forever.

  • I should capitalize proper nouns.
  • I often forget to capitalize proper nouns.
  • My teacher reviewed capitalization, and I listened carefully.

Words that are related to a country name are capitalized.

  • I am an American.
  • I speak English.
  • I love junky Mexican food (and margaritas) on Friday nights.
  • We used to refer to Native American people as Indians, but now it really means the people who live in India.

ladybug girl poster

In titles, the first word, the last word, and the “important” words in between are capitalized. Deciding if the middle words in a title should be capitalized can be tricky. When in doubt, count the letters in a word. Words in titles that have 4 or more letters will probably be capitalized (this is a guideline only– the trick won’t work for every short word).

  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • The Phantom of the Opera
  • The New York Times
  • The Statue of Liberty
  • Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters

research paper outline

The first word in a sentence is always capitalized. No other words in the middle of the sentence should be capitalized unless they meet the “proper noun” criteria. Proper nouns are the words that name a particular person, place, or organization. Proper nouns name a specific, one-of-a-kind item.

The words “mom” and “dad” may be capitalized in some situations. Students write these words a lot, so they should be familiar with the capitalization policy for their parents. When a person is using “mom” and “dad” like a first name, and the words could be replaced with a first name like Jennifer or Scott, capitalize. If the words are being used to describe a person that is like many other people, do not capitalize.

  • I did my homework, and Mom checked my assignment book.
  • I did my homework, and my mom checked my assignment book.
  • After dinner, Dad played basketball with me.
  • After dinner, my friend’s dad played basketball with us.

Up next… whether or not to underline titles or put them in quotation marks. Is that a problem for anyone else? We had to have a class discussion about that too.

I Believe in Cursive

cursive handwriting

Almost every year, I develop a new learning theory that is not based on research or educational best practices of any kind. It is simply an opinion based on my experiences with students. This year’s theory relates to the deterioration of spelling skills and the de-emphasis of handwriting instruction– cursive handwriting in particular. I partially blame e-mail and texting for the spelling problem, but I think the fact that schools do not demand better penmanship is a larger contributor to the increase in poor spellers I see every year.

I suspect that students spell better when they spend time learning, practicing, and using cursive handwriting in the elementary grades. Cursive connects letters together creating a muscle memory between your hand and brain. Your brain will then remember common letter connections, patterns, and rules and subconsciously guide the hand to order letters correctly more often. Try to spell your own signature with a different letter order. It is difficult to force your hand not to put the letters of your name in the correct order. Your hand is on auto-pilot to write the name correctly. Students can achieve the same success with common words and common spelling patterns if they correctly write them in a connected way on a daily basis.

Here are a few activities I am asking my students to complete this year. They work well at school or at home to reinforce the correct spelling of the words we use most often and the patterns that repeat frequently. If you are looking for a new way to study for that weekly spelling test, have your child practice writing the words in cursive.

cursive handwriting spelling patterns

Make a list of words that a student often misspells. Have the child write the word in his/her best cursive multiple times. Provide a sample to copy, so the letter order and letter formation are correct.

Group words that have similar letter patterns and write the portion of the word that is the same in all words multiple times. For example, if the student has a handful of words in a list that end with the letters le (settle, riddle, struggle), require the student to write the letters le together 5 times or 10 times or 10+ times.

I watch my students’ papers and track the cursive letter connections that are hard to form. M and n are particularly tricky because kids want to add an extra “hump” and don’t see that the hump is actually a connector piece. O is also hard to connect to the next letter because it ends “high.” Letter pairs like os and ol are challenging. Compare the difficult connections with misspelled words and make a list of those letter groups. Practice writing the letter pairs together correctly.

cursive handwriting connections

Always provide a sample with the correctly formed letters. Sometimes, this is the hardest part because my own cursive handwriting is adequate at best. I have tried harder this year because I need my students to be able to use cursive more effortlessly, so I can prove my theory.

I will admit that I completed a mini Google search about handwriting and spelling. There are articles here and there that support my theory (ha, I knew I was right). While I also have my students complete a lot of keyboarding and typed writing assignments, I think there will always be a place for handwritten documents. If you have read any of my letter writing posts, you know how I feel about handwritten thank you notes! Does anyone else have an opinion?

To purchase cursive handwriting practice pages at my TeachersPayTeachers store, CLICK HERE.

Grown Up Kid Food

chicken nuggets bite

TheRoomDad was reminiscing about the days when I used to prepare delicious meals most evenings. That was before we had children, and I was trying to impress him. Fast forward to today. I only get excited about preparing food for parties and school snacks. If it is bite sized food, snack food, or party dips, I am all about it. Otherwise, I don’t want to be bothered.

One recipe that I have not used in awhile is something from my childhood– a recipe for homemade chicken nuggets. They may seem like kid food at first glance, but they actually have a slightly more sophisticated taste than your average chicken nugget, and I used to make them for TheRoomDad. It is a recipe adults and kids enjoy. I was gracious enough to dust off the family cookbook and make the chicken nuggets last night. I was going to say how much healthier they are than a box of nuggets from the freezer section of the grocery store, but then I remembered that the chicken is dredged in melted butter before being coated in seasoned bread crumbs. Enjoy!

chicken nuggets ingredients


  • 2-3 boneless chicken breasts (or 1 pkg of chicken tenderloins, ~1 lb.)
  • 1/2 c. Italian bread crumbs
  • 1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 t. dried basil
  • 1 t. paprika
  • 1/4 t. thyme
  • 1/2 c. melted butter


  • Cut chicken into 1 1/2″ squares. If you are using the chicken tenderloins, cut each piece into 2 or 3 nugget-y pieces. The tenderloin can also be left as is to make a chicken strip.

chicken nuggets assembly

  • Mix dry ingredients in a shallow dish.

chicken nuggets coating

  • Pour melted butter in a separate shallow dish.

chicken nuggets melted butter

  • Dip chicken pieces into the melted butter and then into the dry mixture to coat.

chicken nuggets bread crumb coating

  • Arrange coated chicken pieces on a jelly roll pan (baking pan with a lip).

chicken nuggets covered

  • Bake at 400 degrees about 20 minutes or until browned and chicken is cooked through. If you are using larger chicken pieces, you may need to turn once while baking.

chicken nuggets cooked

Mr. Star Wars Gets a Job

rainbow loom materials

Mr. Star Wars is that kid who will knock on your door and ask to rake your leaves for a nominal fee. He likes earning money. He reminds me a little of Henry Huggins. One of my dearest friends’ parents is organizing a convention for a large organization and needs 500 Rainbow Loom bracelets. TheRoomFriend threw out a request for the bracelets probably without really expecting a response. I offered Mr. Star Wars’ services. As you may have gathered, when we dive into a project at TheRoomMom’s house there is no tolerance for low effort or half assed commitment. It’s over-the-top extreme project work or nothing at all.

Since Friday, we have “loomed” 189 bracelets. Mr. Star Wars is getting paid per bracelet. More importantly, he has used just about every 3rd grade math and time management skill he has to complete this job. Here is the list of skills we covered with this job order. I am tempted to match it to the Common Core Standards that are all the buzz right now, but I will refrain.

rainbow loom single

The Prototype

  • Pre-Planning Before we committed to the order, Mr. Star Wars made one sample bracelet. We needed to know the time it would take to finish one bracelet and how many bands we would use in each bracelet. We created a ladies’ size (24 bands) and a men’s size (28 bands).
  • Setting Manageable Goals (Ha! As if I ever limit myself to the manageable and appropriate level)– We committed to 100 bands and agreed to try to make more.

The Materials

  • Mental Math The order is for green and yellow bracelets. I hit every store in our area for the right colors. We bought bags of 600, 300, and 100. There were fewer yellow available and various shades of green. We had to do a little mental math at the store to calculate how many bands we would need to make at least 100 bracelets. 
  • Rounding we rounded each bracelet to 25 bands since that divides into 100 so nicely. A bag of 600 would give us about 24 bracelets. I bought extra… just in case we felt like making more than 100 (as if there was any doubt).

rainbow loom counting

The Assembly Line

  • Patterns We couldn’t just open every bag of bands and dump them on the table. The bracelet colors had to be consistent. We use 2-3 shades of green and 1 yellow in each bracelet.
  • Math Facts Do you remember the math facts tips from last week? Mr. Star Wars had to calculate how many bands he needed in each color for each sized bracelet. He came up with several groupings. In the ladies’ size, we have 3 colors of 8 bands each or 4 colors of 6 bands each. In the men’s size, we have 3 colors of 9 bands each and add one extra of the starting color or 4 colors of 7 bands each.
  • Grouping We count out the groups of bands in coordinating colors into a 12-cup cupcake pan. We produce 12 bracelets at a time and then re-fill the cupcake pan. After 4 groups of 12 in one size, we make 2 more for a total of 50. We then switch to the other sized bracelet.

rainbow loom sorting


  • Collaboration When we started, it took Mr. Star Wars about 5 minutes to make 1 single chain Rainbow Loom bracelet. Pulling the bands off the crochet hook and over the next band was slowing him down. We figured out a tandem system where one person holds the crochet hook, and the other moves the bands. We cut the production time to less than 3 minutes per bracelet.

rainbow loom color order


  • Problem Solving We negotiated a price per bracelet that did not include the materials. When we set the price, we worked out the number of bracelets we could make in an hour, and Mr. Star Wars came up with an hourly rate. We then divided the number of bracelets by the cost per hour and proposed a price.
  • Earnings Mr. Star Wars constantly calculates how much he will earn every time we finish another group of bracelets. Our price per bracelet is less than a dollar, so he is having to convert cents to dollars.


  • Time Management We need to mail the bracelets by Saturday in order for TheRoomFriend to get them in time. We set a goal (200) and divided that by the days we had. We had more time to work this past weekend than we will this week, so we adjusted for that. We set a quota for each day.
  • Rewards TheRoomFriend offered us a bonus for any bracelets we make above 200. We should hit 200 by tonight (Mr. Star Wars and Miss Priss are looming while I type). We now have an incentive to go above the goal. I have to say, I am impressed and would hire Mr. Star Wars in a heartbeat.
rainbow loom bracelets

Almost 200 Rainbow Loom bracelets. They are like big bags of green Ramen noodles.